– Penned by Varnika Gupta
“In the past, security concerns in the Indo-Pacific region and the Indian Ocean have long been ignored, but today the area is a major defence priority of the country for us and we are working in every direction, from increasing the budget of the Navy to increasing its capability.”
Recent commissioning of India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant marked a significant milestone for India in terms of India’s capability to guard its turf in Indian Ocean and project power far from mainland. This Macroscan we delve into the need for an aircraft carrier and resulting power play with the South Asian economies across the Indian Ocean. Commissioning of the INS Vikrant has been a stepping stone for India where it now stands in the leagues of the US, Russia, UK, France and China; the only countries which have designed and built their own aircraft carriers.
The docking of the Chinese Vessel Yuan Wang 5 at the Sri Lankan Port of Hambantota from August 16 to August 22, was a matter of red alarm for India. Labelled as “research vessel”, the ship has been suspected of tracking missiles and satellites. It explicitly exposes China’s willingness to coerce India’s neighbours, who are locked in its debt trap, into acting in China’s military interests. Essentially, it conveys that China can weaponize its financial debt among South Asian countries against India, thus creating a significant security risk and a major trust gap in the region. Towards this, China has already acquired a naval outpost in Djibouti and invested in developing the Gwadar port in Pakistan. The Chinese Navy will use these basing facilities to support its ships. Recently, China also launched its third aircraft carrier, Fujian, and is rapidly building two more aircraft carriers, including its fleet of destroyers. The incident brought to the fore the complexity of challenges India faces on its near and far seaboards, with competition never far from surface. Even during peace time, intrusion of hostile vessels needs to be tracked while dealing with drugs, human trafficking etc. In the light of the standoff with China and possibility of escalation of the political, economic and military spheres into the naval dimension involving access to India’s sea routes in the Indian ocean gave way to a new and urgent step in India’s military planning. Moreover, maritime defence has always been a matter of concern for India given India’s vast coastline and varied threats.
China has long wanted to control the Indo-Pacific region, which is essential for its security and commercial shipping. In accordance to “Hormuz-Malacca Dilemma,” China is attempting to encircle India by constructing a series of naval bases to surround India’s neighbours and various neighbouring island states, thereby safeguarding its imports totalling to 80% of its oil through the Straits of Malacca and 40% through the Hormuz Straits. In purview of the above circumstances India is now being seen as a sort of protector of the international order set up by US in the area.
The commissioning of INS Vikrant serves to focus attention on ocean-based policies and uplift India’s naval program which has been lagging in key areas like submarine building leading to a gap in India’s defence readiness. Built by the Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL), the vessel is named Vikrant in honour of India’s first aircraft carrier, which was instrumental in the war of 1971. The Navy fielded two aircraft carriers between 2013 and 2017, the former Viraat, which it purchased from the United Kingdom, and the present INS Vikramaditya, which it purchased from Russia. Once the Vikrant becomes fully operational, the Indian Navy will once again be able to deploy two full-fledged carrier groups, greatly expanding its footprint throughout the Indo-Pacific. The giant vessel is a floating airbase and its flight deck is capable of carrying, arming, deploying and recovering aircraft. The warship can accommodate at least 20 fighter jets and 10 helicopters.
The successful launch of INS Vikrant with its strong validation of Indian expertise in critical areas like steel making, control systems, flights and gun operations provide an opportunity for India to establish its stronghold in sea. The use and maintenance of various indigenous equipment and machineries have led to a creation of ancillary businesses and also led to generation of employment opportunities for 2000 CSL personnel and 13000 employees in ancillary industries. Over 40,000 people were also indirectly employed.
Besides augmenting Navy’s strategic capability ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, the Navy said technologies evolved in constructing the warship would be used for civil purposes and products can be exported as well. Vice Admiral SN Ghormade also stated that over 500 Indian firms and 100 MSMEs pitched in for making the aircraft carrier over 13 years, beginning with keel laying in February of 2009.
With this commission of INS Vikrant, the Indian Navy will have a lead over China as it will have 2 aircraft carriers and become the only country in Asia. Moreover, Chinese defence experts have said ‘INS Vikrant’ would have great significance for India as it would allow the Indian Navy to wade into the Pacific Ocean – which Beijing considers as its backyard.
However, amidst the cacophony of rejoice, there has been a push for a second indigenous aircraft carrier while INS Vikrant sets sail. This demand for new aircraft carrier arises as China plans to increase its navy fleet. India has a long way to go before becoming Blue Water prowess however, the indigenous aircraft carrier is proof of the country’s technical acumen and engineering skills. This demonstration of India’s self-sufficiency to produce an aircraft carrier warship will reinforce the country’s defence indigenization programs and ‘Make in India’ campaign.
The Economics and International Business Club
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