In the backdrop of a constant Chinese military threat in the Indian Ocean Region, the Indian Navy is pushing for a third aircraft carrier, whose construction will start in the next three years. It is also planning to induct 56 ships and six submarines, including of an advanced class- the Project 75I.
The developments were shared on Monday by the Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba, who also revealed that the second Scorpene class submarine, Khanderi, has undergone the requisite trials and will be commissioned soon. The first Scorpene submarine, INS Kalvari, was inducted last December. The remaining Scorpene submarines are undergoing pre-induction trials. This comes in the backdrop of INS Arihant, a nuclear armed submarine, recently conducting its first deterrence patrol. The navy is also progressing with three helicopter projects, including 111 Naval Utility Helicopters under the Strategic Partnership (SP) model and two cases of Multi Role Helicopters- 24 from the US under the Foreign Military Sales route and 123 more under the SP model.
Boosting its other capabilities in the Indian Ocean Region, a naval air station at North Andaman & Nicobar Islands for better connectivity to the region and improving surveillance capabilities. Sources explained that initially Dornier aircraft will land in the air strip there. The navy also conducted 20 exercises with partner nations in the region this year to enhance interoperability. India is also building maritime partnerships with countries in the Indian Ocean Region such as conducting EEZ patrols with Maldives and negotiations going on constructing a naval base in Assumption Island in Seychelles. “In Maldives, there is a government which is favourable to India. We are providing EEZ patrols with Maldives. We continue to do so…we will move forward in all discussions, not only in maritime,” said Lanba.
Lanba explained that the third aircraft carrier is in its third and final phase of construction at Kochi. “The Sea trials for the ship are expected to commence mid 2020 and we are closely working with all stakeholders to achieve the delivery timelines,” he said.
It is important for the navy, because it builds the capability to have more carrier battle groups. Having three carriers will ensure that two are operational all time, while the third is undergoing refit. “We are working on the IAC-2 at the naval headquarters. We are deciding on the form and fit. It will be a conventional carrier, CATOBAR and will be 65,000 tons. We are having discussions with the defence ministry on working out the money. It will take seven to 10 years to construct. We are hopeful the process will go forward. We will see start the construction of aircraft carrier within three years,” he said.
On being asked if it is more feasible to have submarines over carrier battle group, the navy chief explained that a carrier battle group cannot do what a submarine can and vice versa. “A submarine is for ‘sea denial’, while the a carrier battle group is for sea control. Carrier battle groups will enhance the navy’s role in the IOR, ” he said.
Lanba explained that while the Indian Navy has ‘overwhelming superiority’ over Pakistan, the ‘balance of power’ rests with India over the Chinese naval forces in the Indian Ocean. “However, in the South China Sea the balance of power rests with China,” he added.
In the Indian Ocean, at any time there are six to eight PLA Navy ships in the Indian Ocean. “There is an anti-piracy force, consisting of three ships, in the Gulf of Aden, besides three to four survey vessels. In October, a Chinese submarine was deployed and spent a month in the Indian Ocean. All this was in 2018,” he said.