The extensive modernization of India’s navy represents its desire to become not only a major regional player, but a major global one as well. Throughout most of the 20‘ century, India’s naval priorities were essentially focused on containing Pakistan and securing the maritime approaches to Indian territorial waters.
This kept India’s naval outlook confined to its own waters. The expansion of India’s economy since the late-1990s, along with its growing domestic interests and desire to be a regional power has, however, led it to expand its outlook to the wider Indian Ocean region.
Since 2002, India has undertaken a major naval modernization program, with the overall aim of upgrading its military in a 15-year timeframe. The US$40 billion that the Indian Government plans to spend between 2008 and 2013 forms part of this modernization program.
Numerically, the plan intends to make the Indian Navy the third-largest fleet in the world. It currently stands as the fifth-largest, with 171 vessels and around 250 aircraft. In January 2011, India’s Defense Ministry released the Defense Procurement Procedure 2011 (DPP-2011), which contains separate guidelines for government-owned and privately-owned shipyards to promote competition and increase the efficiency of indigenously-built ships.
The centerpiece of the Indian Navy’s modernization scheme revolves around the acquisition of aircraft carriers and nuclear-powered submarines. Presently, India has allocated funds for the acquisition of three aircraft carriers. The first, INS Vikramaditya (formerly the Russian Navy’s Admiral Gorshkov), has been in the process of retrofitting in Russia since 2008.
After considerable delays, it is expected to be delivered in 2012. The Vikramaditya will carry 16 MiG-29K aircraft. India’s other two aircraft carriers are locally built — the first, INS Vikrant, is due to enter service by 2014 and the second carrier is due in 2017 and is expected to carry 29 MiG-29K aircraft. These aircraft carriers would essentially make India a true blue-water navy and consolidate its force projection capability over a far greater portion of the Indian Ocean.
In 2009 India launched the INS Arihant; its first indigenously-built nuclear submarine, with the intention of commissioning it in late-2011. This will give India a nuclear triad (land and sea-based ballistic missiles and bombers carrying nuclear-tipped bombs/missiles), a capability currently only possessed by the United States, China and Russia.
The Arihant will carry Shaurya missiles, which are capable of carrying a 1‑tone nuclear warhead with a range of 750 kilometers and designed specifically for submarines. The vessel will also contain 12 Sagirika missiles, which have a range of up to 1,900 kilometers. Five indigenously-built nuclear-powered submarines are planned for the next decade at a total cost of $2.9 billion. The allocation of $11 billion for six diesel-electric submarines featuring improved land-attack capabilities has also recently been approved.
While aircraft carriers and submarines dominate the naval modernization program, there are other elements. In 2010 India signed a contract with the Pipavav Shipyard to build five patrol vessels. It has also built three multi-role, stealth-featured Shivalik-class frigates, with the first of these, INS Shivalik, being commissioned in April 2010.
Three Russian-built Talwar-class frigates have also been acquired, with the first, INS Teg, to be commissioned later in 2011 and the remainder due to start service in 2012. These will double the number of Talwar-class frigates, with the INS Talwar, Trishul and Tabar having already been commissioned in the last decade.
In addition to such measures, which are consistent with India’s expanding Indian Ocean profile, India has sought to establish either bases or listening stations in many of the Indian Ocean islands.
Among the most significant of these was the establishment of a listening post in northern Madagascar in 2007, giving India a naval position near southern Africa and the sea lines of communication from that area. India has also sent a naval patrol vessel, along with a Dornier-228 maritime reconnaissance aircraft to the Seychelles, reportedly to control piracy in the region.
The Indian Navy has also regularly assisted Mauritius in conducting hydrographic surveys, thus ensuring a near-constant naval presence in that country. India has acquired berthing rights in Oman, following joint military exercises in 2006 and a subsequent defense agreement between the two countries. Such initiatives have allowed India to obtain a naval influence in the western Indian Ocean from the Middle East to south-eastern Africa.
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