China’s strategic power projection in the Indian Ocean has made it necessary for India to build a stronger navy, according to defence analysts. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has been expanding at a breakneck pace commissioning its third aircraft carrier in ten years recently and beginning to build its fourth ‘flat-top’.
‘String of Pearls’ ::
Although the Indian Navy traditionally had only one aircraft carrier, the need for more floating armouries was felt with the Chinese rise as a naval power. Though China initially focused on building its submarine fleet, its offshore naval bases made it necessary to induct aircraft carriers. Indian defence analysts have been wary of the Chinese effort to encircle India by what they call the ‘String of Pearls’ by which they mean a series of ports around the strategically important western Indian Ocean to keep a watch on all ship movement.
It started with Pakistan’s Gwadar Port, which China has developed as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) programme. The Chinese navy has expanded control to ports in Myanmar, Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Kenya.
Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh recently said India’s long-term programme is to acquire a third aircraft carrier to augment its offshore capabilities by complementing INS Vikramaditya, which is currently in service, and indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant (IAC-1), whose basin tests have begun after firing up its engine for the first time at the Cochin Shipyard Limited. Admiral Karambir Singh also assured the nation that the Navy was fully prepared to deal with national security challenges, a report on the Economic Times website said.
While the Indian Navy has ambitious plans to expand the fleet, its annual budget allocation has come down from 18 per cent to 13 per cent in the last five years. This will be a major hurdle in achieving expansion targets, analysts say.
The naval authorities have been seeking more collaboration with friendly navies in the neighbourhood. The admiral saidthe Navy would not allow any action of any other player in the region to have an impact on the nation. “We are ready to work with like-minded nations in the region,” he said.
Stressing India’s stabilising role in the region, the Naval Chief said the presence of seven to eight Chinese warships in the Indian Ocean region is usual and not of much concern. Naval sources said the first indigenously built aircraft carrier would also have onboard indigenously developed Tejas Naval version, apart from MiG-29K and helicopters equipped with anti-submarine warfare suit.
Aircraft carriers have been vital in power projection of naval forces around the world and the 11 flat-top behemoths serving the US Navy are proof of this, with USS Gerald R Ford, commissioned in 2017 being the latest. The Royal Navy of the UK also returned to the aircraft carrier club by commissioning HMS Queen Elizabeth the same year. Russia has stuck to its only aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov because of economic constraints. India would need a third aircraft carrier considering the hotbed of naval tensions that the Indian Ocean is becoming.