With India’s first aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya expected to resume sailing and fighter operations after major refit by mid-December, the Indian Navy is actively considering leasing a jetty at a private port north of Chennai to berth an aircraft carrier as it plans to deploy one of the two aircraft carriers on eastern seaboard.
Today, French defence minister Sebastien Lecornu will be going on board India’s newly commissioned aircraft carrier INS Vikrant off the coast of Kochi as the Modi government moves towards finalising the contract of 26 maritime fighter jets for the indigenous aircraft carrier. Dassault manufactured Rafale-M is one of the contenders for the contract with Boeing manufactured F-18 fighter the other candidate.
In the meantime, China has pushed its Indian Ocean agenda by holding a virtual meeting of 19 countries and three organizations at Kunming on November 21 in Yunnan province albeit the level of participation is not known. It is understood that Beijing has come up with China Industrial Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCO) to rival USAID ostensibly to develop Indian Ocean region littoral states. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during his last trip to Sri Lanka had talked about building a forum to develop Indian Ocean islands. It is another matter that countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Maldives and Myanmar already reeling under Chinese high interest debt for Belt Road Initiative infra projects will be interested in taking further loans from the communist regime.
Given that China has decided to increase its naval footprint in the Indian Ocean Region, the Indian Navy is also pushing for deployment of major warships on India’s eastern seaboard for faster response to any developing situation in Southeast Asia. Even though it will take INS Vikrant at least an year to get battle-ready, the Indian Navy has plans to deploy on carrier task force at Karwar and other on eastern seaboard. A carrier strike force on the eastern seaboard will not only provide military deterrence but also faster response time to any military emergency around Malacca Straits or South China Sea.
The original plan was to build a jetty outside the Visakhapatnam harbour for berthing an aircraft carrier, but the ₹2000 crore plan has been hanging fire in the South Block between equally indecisive Naval Headquarters and the Defence Ministry. It is understood that the Indian Navy wants to lease a jetty at Kattupalli port north of Chennai to berth the Indian aircraft carrier till such time green signal is given to the Visakhapatnam jetty. Fact is that till now the Vishakhapatnam project has not been even sanctioned by the Defence Ministry.
While the Indian military-civilian bureaucracy debates over much needed strategic projects, the PLA Navy is already mapping the Indian Ocean sea bed using Yuan Wang series of strategic survey and missile tracking ships with Sri Lanka providing logistical support in the past through China leased Hambantota port or even refueling PLA vessels on high seas.