Indian aircraft carriers play key role in Indo-Pacific strategy

NEW DELHI (AP) — India is preparing to restart its aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya after a major overhaul, a major step towards fulfilling its plan to deploy two carrier battle groups as it seeks to bolster its regional maritime power to counter rising Chinese assertiveness.

Vikramaditya, a former Soviet aircraft carrier purchased from Russia, is expected to be launched shortly to join India’s first aircraft carrier launched in September, INS Vikrant, which is undergoing refitting and sea trials. later this year.

“This is important in terms of India’s ability to project power, primarily in the Indian Ocean,” said Viraj Solanki, a London-based Indo-Pacific defense expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“It really gives India an opportunity to showcase its ability to stand up to China in the Indian Ocean, which is a priority for the Indian Navy.”

The Navy of the People’s Liberation Army of China has been expanding and modernizing for more than a decade and is currently the largest in the world. In June, it launched its first domestically designed and built aircraft carrier, the third nationwide, as part of a program to increase range and power and turn it into a more “sea-going” force that can operate around the world.

At the same time, China’s People’s Liberation Army has invested heavily in ballistic and cruise missile technology, and the US Department of Defense says they will have the ability to deliver “long-range precision strikes against land targets from their submarines and surface warships” in the “closest perspective.”

As Beijing increases its naval presence around Taiwan and advances its claims in the South China Sea, the US, UK and other allies are responding with regular naval exercises in the region and passages through the Taiwan Strait as they pursue a policy of “free and open Indo- Pacific Region”.

China has yet to send an aircraft carrier to the Indian Ocean, but is expected to do so in the next few years. It already has other vessels operating regularly in the region and has set up its first overseas base in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, giving it easy access to the Indian Ocean.

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China sounded the alarm in New Delhi in August when it docked what India called a “spy ship” at the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka off India’s south coast, which was leased to China in 2017 for 99 years.

“New Delhi believes that Beijing is invading its traditional sphere of influence, especially in the Indian Ocean region,” said Rizvan Rahmat, a Singapore-based analyst at defense intelligence firm Janes.

“While a potential war with China is likely to be fought inland, China’s presence in the Indian Ocean region could severely disrupt India’s maritime communications, which would be essential to sustaining the war effort. such people will not take root,” Rahmat said.

Like China, India possesses nuclear weapons and builds nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines as part of its “nuclear triad” of air, sea and land-based platforms. It currently has two such submarines and plans for two more, as well as multipurpose nuclear submarines.

Its fleet also includes 10 destroyers, 12 frigates and 20 corvettes.

India and China clashed at their land border in 2020, killing 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers. The skirmish escalated into a long standoff in rugged mountainous terrain, with tens of thousands of troops on each side.

Retired Indian Navy Commander Arun Prakash suggested the experience could make the seas more important in the event of future conflict.

“The 30-month military stalemate between China and India in the Himalayas and China’s strategic position in the South China Sea should be clear signs to India’s decision makers that maritime power will play a critical role as a public policy tool in the future. results,” Prakash wrote in December in The Indian Express.

With two aircraft carriers, India plans to deploy one on each coast, said Captain DK Sharma, a retired Indian Navy spokesman who now advises on defense matters.

India’s attention tends to be focused on Pakistan to the west, Rahmat said, but given the presence of Chinese ships on critical shipping lanes east of India, it makes sense for the Indian navy to make itself known there as well.

However, he warned that India still lacks many support systems, among other things, to make its carriers efficient.

“The ships themselves may be operational, but the Indian navy still has a few years to go to securely move its forces to the Indian Ocean region,” he said.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the launch of Vikrant as a victory in his “Make in India” campaign to become more defensively self-reliant.

The Navy is pushing for another aircraft carrier to be built at home, but political concerns, combined with lengthy delays and huge cost overruns in the construction of Vikrant, have left many skeptical that it will ever come to fruition, an Indian military analyst said. Rahul Bedi.

“The government doesn’t really have the money or the vision to take on another aircraft carrier,” he said.

In its proposed budget for 2023-2024, presented on Wednesday, the government increased defense spending by less than 2%, further calling into question large new investments in air carriers. Even if that happens, it will take years to build a third aircraft carrier.

It is expected that in connection with the equipment of the Vikrant, India will soon decide on the purchase of 26 maritime strike fighters – either the French Rafale-M or the American F / A-18. The Indian Air Force is already using Dassault Aviation’s version of the Rafale, which will make maintenance easier, while the Boeing F/A-18 can carry more missiles.

Vikramaditya will continue to operate Russian-made MiG-29K fighter jets that India already owns.

India has sought to reduce its reliance on equipment from Russia, which currently provides about 60% of its stocks, as the war in Ukraine casts doubt on their effectiveness and the availability of spare parts. The United States and other allies are promoting themselves as an alternative to New Delhi and expanding their cooperation with a key regional player as they increase their focus on the Indo-Pacific.

However, experts say that even with domestic production and diversification of purchases, it could take India 20 years to get rid of dependence on Russian supplies and spare parts.

According to Solanka, even before the Russo-Ukrainian war, India was building up its diplomatic engagement with the quadruple grouping of the United States, India, Japan and Australia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and other countries separately.

“It really accelerated after the clashes between India and China on the border in June 2020,” he said. “That’s when we saw a real shift and focused on engagement with the Quad, with France, more engagement with the UK, further work with Europe…and also work with the ASEAN countries.”


The rise was reported from Bangkok.

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