MORE PUNCH FOR THE INDIAN NAVY : A VIEWPOINT
India definitely requires two to three aircraft carries operational at all times but it should also have a larger number of submarines considering that Chinese submarines are already lurking in the Indian Ocean
India catapulted into a top elite club with the launch of the 37,500-tonne INS Vikrant, the indigenous aircraft carrier. With this, India is the fifth country in the world after the US, UK, Russia and France to have demonstrated the capability of designing and building a ship of this size. Post-extensive sea trials, it is likely to be inducted into service by 2017-18. It has the capacity to carry 36 fighter aircraft; 19 on the deck and 17 in hangars and in all probability will house the MiG-29K, indigenous light combat aircraft (LCA) and Kamov-31 helicopters. Nearly 90 per cent of the aircraft carrier parts are reportedly indigenous.
A concurrent achievement has been the miniaturised nuclear reactor on board INS Arihant, India’s first indigenous nuclear-powered submarine going critical, which the Prime Minister described as “a giant stride for the nation”.
This development beefs up the country’s capability for making the nuclear triad a reality. The Arihant class submarines are of 6,000-tonne submarines that can carry 12 x K5 SLBMs (750 to 1,900 kilometres range) or 4 x K4 SLBM (under development with range of 1,890 to 3,500 kilometres. The torpedo tubes on the submarine can launch torpedoes, missiles or mines. Four such submarines vessels are being built and are expected to be commissioned by 2023.
In addition to the above, the Russian aircraft carrier Gorshkov too is likely to be inducted into the Indian Navy in 2014 as INS Vikramaditya. This will boost the blue water capability of the Navy.
However, reports emanating after the tragic explosion and loss of life on board INS Sindhurakshak indicate that we need to accelerate replacement of our existing submarines most of which have outlived 75 per cent of their service life. There is also a case for boosting up the overall number of our submarines considering India has a coastline extending 7,863 kilometres, exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 1.02 million square kilometres, island territories, and offshore assets extended over 17,000 square kilometres (including 30 processing wells, 125 well platforms and 3,000 kilometres of seabed pipelines) and 97 per cent of our trade is by sea.
In fact, China has given priority to submarine development over aircraft carriers for obvious operational advantage. China, India and Pakistan today have 65, 15 and 8 submarines respectively. India definitely requires two to three aircraft carriers operational at all times but it should also have a larger number of submarines considering that Chinese submarines are already lurking in the Indian Ocean, enlarging China and China-Pakistan collusive threat and Chinese attempts to rig up a possible China-led alliance in the Indian Ocean region including efforts to establish bases/refuelling and rest and recoup for Chinese Navy under pretext of developing commercial ports.
Chinese have invested heavily in submarines and guided missile destroyers to counter probable American Carrier Battle Groups (CBGs) in possible stand-offs, making sea capability the answer to a superior US forces sea control capability. Not that they do not consider CBGs important but that perhaps is the reason that China is yet to launch an indigenous aircraft carrier though they have acquired a refurbished one from Ukraine in year 2012.
Of course the Chinese also have advanced ICBMs, nuke delivery systems, undeclared chemical weapons capability, advanced satellite and anti-satellite capabilities, extensive third dimension capability, a formidable air force, potent cyber warfare capability and advanced subconventional/asymmetric warfare capabilities.
We could draw lessons from what the Chinese are up to including undertaking a review that considering the threats that we face at sea and the security of our sea lanes of communications (SLOCs) on which our economy is heavily dependent, whether our submarine development plan is on course in the overall mosaic of acquiring true blue-water capability. The views expressed herein are the personal views of the author.