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India needs four, not three aircraft carriers to dominate Indian Ocean and to project power beyond: Defence Analyst

Source : Deccan Herald

By Prakash Chandra

India’s maritime ambitions are premised on a balanced fleet of surface ships, submarines, and an independent air arm. This includes, besides at least three aircraft carriers, a couple of dozen conventional and nuclear-powered submarines, and ship-borne aerial assets like unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to support the fleet.

The Indian Navy’s push for its third carrier, therefore, could not be happening sooner. That it is to be built at a domestic shipyard underscores India’s credentials as one of the few countries in the world with the capability to design and build aircraft carriers.

India needs four, not three aircraft carriers to dominate Indian Ocean and to project power beyond: Defence Analyst

India needs four, not three aircraft carriers to dominate Indian Ocean and to project power beyond: Defence Analyst
Indian Navy Aircraft Carriers INS Vikramaditya (Left Top) and INS Vikrant (Right Bottom) along with other destroyers, frigates during a show off force exercise in June this year (Image Creadit: Twitter @indiannavy)

The doctrinal and strategic significance of aircraft carriers to any major naval force cannot be overstated. The absence of an aircraft carrier with its range and depth of combat capabilities could potentially force a fleet commander to alter battle plans into a defensive mode.

Strategically, albeit nuclear-powered submarines with long-range ballistic nuclear missiles are indispensable for retaliatory deterrence, it is primarily aircraft carriers that are used for power projection. The latest example of this is the deployment of the super carrier, USS Gerald R Ford, in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea to help Israel. No wonder the late former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, famously quipped: “An aircraft carrier is 100,000 tons of diplomacy.”

The Indian Navy needs at least two operational carriers at any given time, while a third is docked for routine maintenance. This allows two carrier battle groups (CBGs), comprising multirole destroyers, frigates, anti-submarine vessels, and submarines, to guard India’s eastern and western seaboards while a third carrier is docked.

IMAGE 1678441018
India’s 1st indigenously designed and built and overall, 2nd Aircraft Carrier of the Indian Navy, INS Vikrant (R11)

Although the Indian Navy’s Maritime Capabilities Perspective Plan 2022 envisions three aircraft carriers, a three-carrier force structure with a fighter aircraft strength of 150 aircraft was proposed by the MoD a quarter century ago. That it remained on paper had a lot to do with bureaucrats arguing that naval acquisitions tend to take more time than buying equipment for the Indian Army or the Indian Air Force (IAF).

The IAF too is guilty of trying to trip the three-carrier concept, as air chiefs claimed that they could provide enough air support to the CBGs from shore-based airfields. Never mind if the limited range of fighter aircraft would be of no use to a CBG operating far away from the coast.

India’s defence planners should ideally look at not three, but four CBGs so that the peninsular flanks as well as the Andaman naval base could be flagged without disrupting fleet activities. This is imperative given the expansionist plans of the People’s Liberation Army Navy of China in the IOR that include the construction of some 20 bases.

So, the sooner India’s carrier fleet is bolstered, the sooner the Indian Navy will be able to sail towards its goal of having a 200-warship fleet with integrated technology, concepts, and systems in the next 10 years.

(Prakash Chandra is the former editor of the Indian Defence Review. He writes on aerospace and strategic affairs).

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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