As India expands its naval fleet, it looks to build additional navy bases to berth new warships. Satellite imagery acquired by DigitalGlobe of Rambilli, a location 50km southwest of India’s East Fleet HQ Vizag, shows recent construction activity to support India’s new builds.
Imagery from 2013 and 2014 reveals new underground entrances, additional perimeter fencing, and substantial land clearing activity. This and other satellite imagery would suggest that construction on the new facility started between 2012-2013, a time-frame that fits well with public reporting. The base first made big headlines back in late 2011 when over 2,000 displaced persons marched in agitation of the government’s seizure of their land to build the new facility.
Code-named Project Varsha, the base is being built to house India’s proposed fleet of 5-6 nuclear powered SSBNs, support India’s indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant (currently under construction in Cochin) and a host of other warships. When it is complete, INS Varsha will be the largest of India’s naval infrastructure to date, eclipsing previously touted projects like INS Kadamba.
INS Kadamba, formerly known as Project Seabird, supports India’s latest and single most expensive foreign acquisition, the Russian-built and refurbished INS Vikramaditya in Karwar. According to Indian Navy public statements, Kadamba was built primarily to relieve the congestion of ships berthed at India’s West fleet HQ in Mumbai. Like Project Seabird before it, Project Varsha is planned to do the same for India’s East Fleet HQ.
Of course that may not be the only reason. China’s construction of the massive underground SSBN facility on Hainan Island which allows China to deploy SSBNs undetected may have played a role in India’s decision-making. Like Indian defense writer Ajai Shukla points out, India hopes to acquire a similar capability. Unfortunately for India that capability appears to be far off.
Public statements from Indian Navy Vice Admiral Satish Soni, head of Eastern Naval Command, suggest the base will not be complete for another 7-8 years. That should hopefully provide plenty of time for India’s engineers to work through the cost and time over-runs in constructing Vikrant and India’s other SSBNs. In the meantime, imagery from April 2014 still shows India’s first SSBN, INS Arihant, under cover at Vizag.