Why India wants a bigger navy and build the ships on its home soil

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In recent years, the focus of India’s military strategy has broadened, with increasing emphasis on building up its sea power.

India now spends up to $110 billion a year on its military, and the navy, which had been somewhat neglected, has become an increasingly important part of its armed forces.

Last week, it bolstered its naval might with its first locally-made aircraft carrier – the $3.7 billion INS Vikrant – setting sail.

“The security concerns of the Indo-Pacific region and the Indian Ocean have been ignored in the past, but it is our top priority today,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi Modi said during the inauguration ceremony. in service of the ship.

However, experts say that goal is hampered by the lack of a major domestic arms manufacturing industry.

What is the state of play in the region?

Vikrant is a Sanskrit word for “powerful” or “brave”.(PA: Prakash Elamakkara)

India’s moves to build up its naval might come – and it’s no coincidence – as China rapidly develops its own.

Historically, land borders with Pakistan and China have been India’s main concern and while they continue to be important, things have changed, said Ashok Sharma of the Center for Strategic and Defense Studies in India. the ANU at the ABC.

“In the past, it was the India-Pakistan border, the India-China border, so the navy was ignored,” he said.

“It was the rise of the Indo-Pacific in strategic importance that prompted India to invest more and more [in its navy].”

Ian Hall of the Griffith Asia Institute said India remains the dominant sea power in the Indian Ocean, capable of projecting power into the South China Sea and even the Western Pacific.

But China over the past decade has gone from zero to three aircraft carriers in service, with plans to have a fleet of six in the near future.

In total, he has more than 300 ships and builds another 50 or more.

An infographic provides an overview of the number and types of ships in the navies of India and China.
There have been rumors that China will build a fourth carrier, but no solid evidence has emerged yet.(ABC News Graphic: Jarrod Fankhauser)

“The Chinese navy is growing very rapidly,” Dr Hall told the ABC.

“India is unlikely to acquire that many ships anytime soon, so China will soon have a numerical advantage, at least.”

While INS Vikrant is one of the largest warships in the world, with a crew of 1,600 sailors, it is dwarfed by China’s newest aircraft carrier.

Launched in June, Fujian is named after the province located opposite Taiwan.

“Fujian is almost twice the size of INS Vikrant,” Dr Hall said.

According to Dr Hall, the challenge for other countries, including Australia, is how best to combine their fleets to ensure China is deterred from using all that power.

“Tensions are already high [in the region]“, Dr. Hall said.

“If anything, a robust Indian army, including a capable navy, will help deter China from military adventurism in the Indo-Pacific.”

Maritime military conflict “unlikely”

Edward Chan of the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific said the only Chinese naval base with direct access to the Indian Ocean was in Djibouti.

However, Beijing has also built a network of military and commercial facilities, he said.

“Chinese companies are investing and buying ports in Indian Ocean Rim countries, claiming they are for civilian rather than military purposes, which strategists are watching closely,” he said. declared.

Since the main function of the Chinese navy in the region was to protect the country’s economic interests, he said, there would be strategic tensions between Beijing and New Delhi, especially as the Chinese presence would increase. .

“But it’s unlikely to turn into a military conflict,” Dr Chan told the ABC.

He added that the Chinese navy was powerful due to its numbers, but was limited by a lack of operational experience and joint operational warfare.

“It gets there with training and structural reforms,” Dr. Chan said.

“Chinese carriers are still unable to fully sail to the Indian Ocean due to lack of operational experience and complexity in the South China Sea.”

India wants another aircraft carrier and nuclear attack submarines

Dr Hall said INS Vikrant would help India defend its interests throughout the Indian Ocean and beyond, and could also provide humanitarian aid and disaster relief.

“The only challenge India faces at this stage, however, is to procure the planes and helicopters it needs for this new vessel,” he told the ABC.

Two deck crew members lean forward to keep their heads down as they run from where a gray helicopter lands.
India has in the past relied on Russia for much of its arms supply, but is also looking to France and the United States.(Supplied: Indian Navy)

India has long been the world’s largest arms importer and, like its other carrier, the ex-Soviet INS Vikramaditya, much of India’s military development has come with the help of the Russia.

“India is expanding and modernizing its fleet, but the navy doesn’t get the biggest share of the defense budget, so progress is slower than it could be,” Dr Hall said.

“A third aircraft carrier is planned and a further batch of six conventional and six nuclear-powered attack submarines are planned, as well as new nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines.”

New destroyers, frigates and helicopter berths are also under construction, with much of the work done locally.

“India has benefited from Russian assistance in the past and is looking to the United States and France, in particular, for assistance with new projects, including the aircraft carrier and sub -sailors,” Dr Hall said.

Construction of the 262-meter INS Vikrant began in 2009 and was due to be completed in 2016, but the project suffered from cost explosions and delays.

Although INS Vikrant is taking longer than expected and costing more than expected, Dr Hall said he believed India would speed up its shipbuilding programme.

“The Chinese Navy now has a presence in the Indian Ocean, and relations between the two have deteriorated significantly in recent years,” he said.

“The war in Ukraine has made it more difficult to acquire Russian-made planes and New Delhi may have to buy French or even American planes for INS Vikrant.”

Is reliance on Russia hurting India?

People in silhouette watch as a large aircraft carrier cruises past land and heads out to sea.
India abstained in several key United Nations votes condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine.(PA: Melton Antony)

India’s dependence on Russia for arms supply and support could hamper its ability to operate freely in the geopolitical arena.

All of India’s Quad allies – Australia, the United States and Japan – hit Russia with sanctions and provided military and financial aid to Ukraine following the invasion.

But India has so far refused to join them.

Mr Modi called for peace in Ukraine, but India abstained in several key UN votes condemning Vladimir Putin’s aggression.

Some estimates suggest that more than 60% of Indian weapons rely on Russian technology.

“It’s a huge challenge,” said Dr Hall.

“Getting away from this addiction will take decades.”

India would likely need to maintain a working relationship with Moscow – even if only for ammunition, maintenance and spare parts – “for some time”, Dr Hall said.

“It will condition his position on the war in Ukraine,” he said.

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