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India: Navy Superpower?

As we set sail in 2012 with global navy power swinging to the East, how well placed is India to emerge as the dominant naval superpower over the next decade?

The Indian Navy has 132 ships under its command, 14 of which are submarines. As we speak India has commissioned 49 ships and submarines which are under construction in country and abroad.

“49 ships and submarines, which are under construction, would be inducted in the next five years. Out of these, 45 are being built indigenously at the Indian shipyards, while four are being built outside India,” Vice Admiral Anil Chopra, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Eastern Naval Command, told IBN.

With India doing an admirable job on coastal security and anti-piracy operations recently, and with the induction of this new fleet, the Navy seems well placed to increase efficiency and tackle future threats. But is it?
Relations with neighbouring Pakistan and China remain frosty; if India is to secure its borders and maintain its influence in the region, it must invest further in its naval presence. Challenges from terrorism, piracy and Pakistan and China’s growing sea power will force it to.

According to the Deccan Chronicle by 2025 Pakistan will have acquired four frigates, six submarines, and a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from China.

Robert Knapp outlined China’s increasing naval power in his Review of 2011 article recently. “China, India, Japan, Australia and virtually all of the middle ranking regional powers are all currently engaged in dramatically expanding or modernising their navies. China has spearheaded this naval arms race, feeling that it should have naval capabilities to match its economic might. During the past year the most significant development has been the commissioning of China’s first aircraft carrier – the ex-Russian Varyag. While the limitations of this vessel have been much discussed it serves much more as a symbol of China’s ambitions; by the end of the decade there is the intention to have three carrier battle groups in service. The arrival of the Varyag has overshadowed the continuing expansion of both the large (and increasingly capable) surface fleet and what is expected to soon be the largest submarine fleet in the world.”

Delays, overruns and bureaucracy aside, India does have plans to continue growing its Navy in the future, as Chopra went on to state: “Other ships to be inducted include, three Shivalik class stealth frigates, four Kamorta class ASW corvettes, three Kolkata class project 15A, four project 15B ships, seven project 17A ships, three follow on 1135.6 ships, nine offshore patrol vessels, two cadet training ships.”

Consistent with India’s growth strategy in other parts of its defence industry, as well as its economy as a whole, the government wants to build and invest in its own infrastructure, rather than relying on imports.

“Since imported platforms are expensive and make us dependent on imported spare parts, India needs a home-built Navy, which can protect India’s seas and borders while providing the nation with strategic second-strike capability,” reports the Deccan Chronicle.

It’s not just the mainland where India must improve its naval infrastructure though. To protect against the threat from China Admiral Nirmal Kumar Verma, Chief of the Naval Staff for the Indian Navy, explained to India Today that strategic outposts in the surrounding region must be established.

“We are creating infrastructure in the Andaman and Nicobar, Lakshadweep and Minicoy islands which form our country’s strategic outposts,” Admiral Verma told IT. “They enhance our country’s forward operating capability.”

With lead times reaching 15 years from the original RFP to order completion and delivery, India is under pressure to hurry this process along. Or at least it ought to be. To achieve this though there must first be more cooperation between the public and private sectors, and more specifically the drawing up of joint ventures between public and private shipyards. The red tape dogging India’s rapid ascent is no less apparent in its naval infrastructure as it is in any other part of its defence industry. This has to change.

Want to learn more about this subject? Join us at the Offshore Paqtrol Vessels Asia-Pacific conference from 20 – 22 March 2012 at Swissôtel Merchant Court in Singapore (www.offshorepatrolasia.com)

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