India is extensively modernizing its navy. Admiral Suresh Mehta the then-Chief of Indian Navy in 2008 stated that till 2022 India planned to have 160 ships, which included three aircraft carriers, 60 combatants that includes submarines and approximately 400 aircraft of different types.
This modernization is not only quantitative, but also qualitative by replacing its older vessels with modern vessels. Regarding quantity there is an increase in the Navy’s tonnage. In 1991 it was 167,697 tons whereas in 2011 it was 217,426 tons. The missile cells on Indian Navy ships increased. As in 1991 there were 21 cells while in 2011 there were 402 missile cells on Indian Navy ships. India acquired the INS (Indian Nuclear Submarine) from Russia and commissioned in India in 2014. This is the most important modern vessel.
There are other two carriers that are indigenously produced and expected to be commissioned by 2015 and 2018. India’s first nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine is the INS Arihant. India obtained six stealth frigates from Russia. It is intended to develop three more frigates indigenously. It commissioned Kolkata destroyer by 2014. India’s conflict for beefing up its armed forces started after China-India border conflict in 1962. Its initial preference was to modernize its army and air force. Its naval expansion was delayed due to the lack of funds and lack of naval vessels. Indian naval expansion was started with the Soviets’ supply of naval equipment.
India’s quest for great power status has motivated India to develop and modernize its blue water navy. To get this objective India not only desires the dominant position in the strategic environment of South Asia but also it desires for the ability to be the policeman of this region to play a greater role in the Indian Ocean. For this India started to strengthen its armed forces during 1960s. After the 1971 war India was intended to launch a fast military build-up that would eventually lead its place in the major powers.
In past four decades India not only made economic and military growth, but also it demonstrated its capability for the intervention in the regional crises. But the process of military build- up was slow in early 1990s because of the lack of funds. Its navy was certainly expanded during 1980s. Indian military planners were well known of the essential pillars of the navy such as ships, submarines, arsenals, bases and manpower. They ensured to keep the balance among three areas. India established trilateral command in the significant Indian Ocean Islands namely Andaman and Nicobar which are near to mouth of Malacca Straits.
It has modernized its submarine fleet with the assistance of France. Indian economic growth rate became sufficient and adequate to spend enough funds for the induction of modern ships, submarines, naval aircrafts, helicopters and equipment related to surveillance. India has acquired cruise missiles and submarine based missiles. Currently India’s Navy has 70,000 men, 130 ships, 200 aircraft with aircraft carrier. The Indian officials are suggesting to double the size of India’s Navy and to triple the size of coast guards. It is intended to have 32 more new ships and six more submarines along the Russian aircraft carrier named INS Vikramaditya. One source told that India has rapidly increased its navy and have joined the list of those countries which have large navies.
India was expecting to acquire three more submarines which would be nuclear power capable and three aircraft carriers to its stock by 2015. India’s Navy signed bilateral agreements with the Indonesian Navy and Navy of Thailand for the coordinated sea patrols every six months. Till now India projected the appearance of a blue water navy acquiring sufficient strength and capability. India’s defense cooperation with U.S. and Israel is providing India advanced or modern weapons.
One aircraft carrier is already operational and the other is under the process of refurbishment. India is intended to get three aircraft carriers; the third one is under refurbishment by the Russians. India revised its naval doctrine after the Mumbai incident which focused to counter maritime terrorism, piracy and to increase coastal security. India’s primary objective of the “Look East” policy of 1990s was to create strategic relations with the Association of South East Asian Nations to make place for itself in the Asia-Pacific to demonstrate its potential for investment.
India’s strategic thinking perceives a strong link with maritime ambitions and its future destiny therefore it perceives Indian Ocean as India’s Ocean. The former Indian External Minister Pranab Mukherjee stated,
“India is once again focusing seaward which is natural direction of view for a nation seeking to reestablish itself not as a continental power but also as a maritime power as this is of significance on world stage”.
The India’s quest to operate deeply into Indian Ocean compels it to expand its military and naval capabilities. India is capable to have six submarines which were developed under license with French technology and is following the order of six more submarines. There are six improved Project 17A frigates and a nuclear capable missile submarine. India has also obtained Russian MIG-29K jet fighter for its aircraft fleet. In the last three decades India worked on the Advanced Technology Vessel Program.
On July 26, 2009 the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh launched India’s 6000 ton nuclear powered submarine INS Arihant which has 85-megawatt nuclear reactor. This was the remarkable day in Indian maritime history. On this occasion he said, “Today we join a selected group of five nations who possess the capability to build a nuclear-powered submarine; i.e. the five Permanent Members of the UNSC — the US, Russia, UK, France and China. India’s 95 percent foreign trade passes via the sea”.
India is moving towards its air force base’s expansion in the Andaman and Nicobar. It intends to station Su-30MKI fighters, mid- air refueling tankers and unmanned aerial vehicles which would be short and mid ranged. It enhanced its cooperation with Indian Ocean Regions playing its role in the secession of Bangladesh, operation in Sri Lanka and the suppression of the coup in the Maldives.
Some observers describes that India perceives Indian Ocean as its backyard. It’s natural and desirable for India to be dominant in this region. This is the world’s only region in which the ocean is after the single state’s name.
India’s naval capability is playing a vital role in its aspirations to be a maritime power. During cold war the ability of India constrained its maritime ambitions. Since its independence, Indian Navy was referred as Cinderella of the Armed Forces of India. It was the 1990s when India was intended to develop its blue water navy which involved the substantial increment in naval expenditures. Indian budget for armed forces has been increasing. It was at annual rate of 5 percent from 2001 to 2005.It was at 10 percent annually from 2005 to 2008.
These increments have encouraged making changes in the force structure of India’s Navy. India emphasizes on the sea control capabilities. In 2008 it was announced that Indian Navy intended to get ships more than 160 by 2022. The Indian cost guards may play a complimentary role in the navy. Since the last decade through the expansion in its naval capabilities India has been putting more influence in the Indian Ocean. It is playing an active role in developing the security relations restricting China in building security relations with the Indian Ocean Littoral States.
According to India’s Maritime Strategy which is a 147 pages document is looking forward from 2007 to 2022. This indicates India’s current naval strategy described by its authors as a rationale for the resurgence of India’s maritime military power. India is an emerging power in 21st century growing both military and economically. India’s economic growth is strengthening its military power. Its military is growing in its all three branches army, air force and navy. India’s growing economic power and military power are contributing factors to achieve its ambitions to be regional hegemonic power in the South Asian region. Its military build-up and military modernization both conventional and non-conventional is creating asymmetry with its neighboring nuclear state Pakistan in South Asia. It is ambitiously moving to play hegemonic role in this region.
*Asia Maqsood is research associate at Strategic Vision Institute Islamabad