India: the other budding naval power

Indian Navy aircraft carrier Vikramaditya. Seen here in northern Russia, following reconstruction to Indian specifications.

*Originally published on Hubpages, 4 April 2013.*

A naval legacy

Upon India’s independence from the British Empire following World War II, the modern Indian Navy was already in existence. Though only having a handful of warships, in time this grew into a sizable battle fleet which by the 1960s included aircraft carriers, guided missile destroyers, frigates, fast attack missile boats, submarines, and maritime sea control aircraft.

India’s policy of remaining outside of both the Soviet and Western Blocs during the Cold War brought courtship by the defense industries of both. This augmented India’s own nascent design and construction of warships, combat aircraft and weapons systems by merging the best of both alliance blocs.

One product was ‘hybrid’ warships of western design, but armed with the best the Soviet bloc had to offer. Throughout the Cold War period however, the one thing India maintained technical consistency with the most, was aircraft carriers and the aircraft they carried.

Type 209
German Type 209 submarine of the Indian Navy, built to Indian specifications.

New strides in naval power

Design and innovation stagnated following the end of the Cold War and the drying up of the aforementioned courtship. But, the Indian Navy is once again expanding, developing and becoming more capable than ever before. By the early 2020’s, India will have large aircraft carriers at the core of its surface fleet, and new submarines capable of tactical and strategic land attack.

The former Soviet carrier Gorshkov was rebuilt in Russia for India. Though unlike most such outsourced projects, was rebuilt specifically to Indian Navy re-design specifications. The next two aircraft carriers will be built in India with assistance from Italy’s Fincantieri Corporation. This is a sore spot with Indian admirals. But, India has not yet attained the engineering abilities for an entirely indigenous carrier construction program.

What has been attained indigenously is operations training and doctrine development, with little to no assistance from foreign naval powers. Whether air, surface, or subsurface warfare, the Indian Navy develops and shapes its own doctrine in each warfare field.

Indian naval forces, together with long-range maritime patrol aircraft recently detected, and successfully tracked multiple Chinese submarines making incursions near Indian territorial waters adjacent to Sri Lanka and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

This is noteworthy in light of the single, 50-year-old Chinese diesel submarine which managed to maneuver inside the formation of a US Navy carrier battle group completely undetected, until it surfaced a few hundred yards away from the carrier.

Indian Navy IL-38 Mainstay Maritime Patrol and anti-submarine aircraft.

Carriers will have many tasks

India’s aircraft carriers and fleet air arm will have multiple roles including sea control, anti-submarine warfare (ASW) surface strike, tactical and strategic land attack, surveillance and detection.

Equipped with modern combat & surveillance aircraft, and helicopters, India’s carrier battle groups will be potent forces in the Indian Ocean. Those questioning the reasons for India to maintain such forces need only look at a map or globe to understand them.

India is strategically located astride major east-west shipping routes between Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. India itself is very reliant on seaborne commerce and with effective naval forces, is strategically located to keep those shipping lanes open in time of conflict.

Given China’s strides in submarine construction, and their establishment via commercial port funding of potential submarine bases in the Indian Ocean, other naval powers whose economies rely on Indian shipping lanes would do well to develop operations with the Indian Navy.

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