Report on Defence: Neighbours Envy, Owners Pride
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Goa on June 14 to dedicate the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya to the nation shows his earnestness to make India a great power.
A nation’s status in the comity of nations is determined by its capacity to influence things far off from its borders and navy is the tool that allows it to do so. An aircraft carrier is the most powerful component of the navy that allows a nation to influence environment far off from its geographical boundaries. Consequently, most global powers have historically focussed on their navies and in recent times on aircraft carriers. For a nation possessing an aircraft carrier, it is undoubtedly the most powerful symbol of its military might. By making INS Vikramaditya, the first destination of his visit to a military unit, the Prime Minister has given new impetus to the Indian Navy, which has unfortunately facing setbacks in the recent times.
India is the only country in the world to have an ocean named after it and of having realised the potential of the navy quite early. It had consequently, acquired an aircraft carrier in the fifties. However, the military setback in 1962, forced the country to direct its meagre resources for building up its land forces and rightfully the navy had to face the resource crunch. It is only after the existential threat to India across its land borders was neutralised, and its economy started rising that the country began looking at its navy again.
Today Indian Navy is the largest and most powerful littoral navy in the Indian Ocean Region. It can interdict any ship passing through the Indian Ocean and enjoys leverage against other countries like China, who are dependent for their economic well-being on their ships that passes through Indian Ocean. However, to exercise sea control, the navy needs a Carrier Battle Group, which comprises an aircraft carrier surrounded by other warships. The main component of the force is the aircraft carrier, which provides it a command platform with numerous sensors, vital air defence to monitor early warning. The aircraft can be used to strike enemy far beyond the force and can be used against shore targets. The other ships escorting the carrier defend it against surface, air and sub-surface threats. Till now Indian Navy had had only one aircraft carrier that severely restricted its deployability as it had to undergo periodic maintenance that could extend for years. During these periods of maintenance, the ships operated without air cover once they were outside the range of shore based aircraft and their operational effectiveness was severely hampered. With Vikramaditya in the fleet, the navy is assured of the availability of at least one aircraft carrier at all times. More significantly, Vikramaditya is a quantum jump over India’s existing aircraft carrier, INS Viraat. It has better sensors and weapons is much larger and has more endurance. More significantly the main aircraft that it carries MiG-29K, which is a far more superior and capable supersonic aircraft, unlike the Sea Harriers carried by Viraat. MiG-29 has a larger reach, is much faster, agile and carries much more armament and can outmanoeuvre best aircraft of most air forces in the region.
This powerful aircraft enables Vikramaditya to be used as a powerful tool of diplomacy. It can also be a useful tool to provide succour in times of natural disasters.
Ideally India needs at least three aircraft carriers so that one operational aircraft carrier is available on each coast at all times. Accordingly, an assembly line for the construction of aircraft carriers has been established at Kochi Shipyard and if it continues to receive government support, India in due course will have three aircraft carriers. PM by his visit has shown his resolve upgrade defence forces and has heralded India’s arrival as the next big power in the global arena.
-Alok Bansal (The writer is a retired naval officer, is currently with the Centre for Security and Strategy of India Foundation)