Indian Naval Ambitions: a 12 Month Outlook

The Indian Navy accepted delivery of its first indigenously produced aircraft carrier last month, the INS Vikrant [source]. The formal delivery of the Vikrant to the Indian Navy comes after extensive sea trials which began last August. India is gradually bolstering its naval power in the last few years. The country deployed its naval forces in counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and on humanitarian missions across east Africa. India’s growing naval capabilities are driven by Beijing’s rising presence in the Indo-Pacific region and naval cooperation with India’s regional rival, Pakistan [source], [source].

KJ-1: It is unlikely that construction on the INS Vishal will begin in the next 12 months. 

  • The INS Vishal is a proposed super-carrier to be built by the Cochin Shipyard [source]. It will replace the aging INS Vikramaditya (ex-Soviet carrier Admiral Gorshkov) and potentially use a nuclear propulsion system [source].
  • India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC), the Vikrant, was delayed by six years prior to being formally delivered into service last month [source].
  • India’s second attempt at an IAC has encountered major budgetary constraints. The overall cost of the program is expected to near 10-11 billion USD by completion [source].
  • The Indian Ministry of Defense does not have the resources to entertain such a costly project without cutting vital spending in other areas [source]. 
  • The Indian Air Force (IAF) is lobbying against the construction of the Vishal. The IAF wants to retain land based air assets and air bases along the Indian coast line [source]. 
  • General Bipan Rawat, India’s Chief of Defense Staff, believes that the IAF’s existing maritime squadrons could potentially be based on the Nicobar and Andaman Islands, creating an unsinkable albeit stationary ‘aircraft carrier’ [source]. 
  • General Rawat also believes the Indian Navy should be focusing on replenishing the nation’s submarine fleet before investing further into the IAC program [source].
  • Nevertheless, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence issued a report last year stating that the Indian Navy had a pressing need for a third carrier [source]. 
  • This need arose from the fact that the INS Vikramaditya was undergoing a major refit since December 2020 [source].

KJ-2: It is likely that heightened Indian naval activity in the Indo-Pacific will amplify regional tensions with China in the next 12 months.

  • China inaugurated its first overseas military base on the shores of the Indian Ocean in Djibouti [source]. 
  • There are prospective efforts to establish a similar People’s Liberation Army Navy naval base on Africa’s Atlantic seaboard [source]. 
  • India is increasing naval patrols in the eastern Indian Ocean to counter the presence of Chinese warships [source].
  • India conducted naval exercises off the Straits of Malacca with nations unfriendly to Chinese interests, such as Japan and the United States [source].
  • China and India have unresolved border demarcations issues in the Himalayas which threaten to develop into war [source], [source]. 
  • Moreover, China is conducting joint naval exercises with Pakistan in the Arabian Sea. The exercise was conducted close to a number of vital Indian ports [source]. 
  • Pakistan is set to obtain four Type 054A/P frigates in the next year and eight submarines from China by 2028 [source]. 

KJ-3: It is highly likely that India will use enhanced naval capabilities to support its regional partners in the next 12 months. 

  • India is offering collaboration on coastal radar system developments with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Myanmar [source]. 
  • India released a video of an Indian Navy Il-38 testing its the Advanced Light Torpedo developed by the Naval Science and Technological Laboratory [source].
  • India is offering its naval forces as first response units for natural disaster prone areas which may lack adequate [source]. 
  • India began an initiative known as Operation Sogar to provide COVID-19 pandemic related relief to lesser developed Indian Ocean nations. Food supplies and medicines were provided to the program to the Seychelles, Madagascar and Comoros [source].  
  • The Indian Navy took a larger role in maritime policing operations against human and narcotics trafficking [source]. 
  • The INS Kesari, a Shardul Class tank landing ship, arrived in Mozambique last year and delivered weapons and humanitarian aid. Training was also provided on the operation of fast interceptor craft [source]. 
  • The Indian Navy’s budget rose by 19% this year [source]. Moreover, the navy is actively running recruitment schemes to bolster its ranks. 
  • This growing budget and levels of manpower reflect the Indian Navy’s new role in regional leadership [source].
  • India recently signed a ‘Mutual Logistics Agreement’ agreement with Vietnam, bolstering defense cooperation between the two beyond 2030. India operates a number of oil fields off the coast of Vietnam [source].

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