Mar 29, 2023
Mar 29, 2023
Navies are meant to project power, protect sea lanes and defend the country fair distances away from the coastline. They can serve to blockade enemies in their offensive role and platforms to land forces. India has no territorial ambitions and is currently interested in being a regional power with no present intentions beyond the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and the sea lanes from the Straits of Hormuz to the Straits of Malacca, through which traverse its own energy supplies and those of its potential allies and opponents.
The first step in defense planning is to determine the most likely nations which may wage a war against our nation. In India's case these are Pakistan, China and Bangladesh in descending order. Of these Pakistan and Bangladesh have adjacent maritime boundaries. Bangladesh Navy is mainly a coast guard with few ocean going frigates and no submarines. Thus our aging carrier Viraat and a few frigates with a small reconnaissance and anti-ship warfare capable air-arm and two submarines would suffice to blockade and have complete domination over the waters of the Bay of Bengal. Air and naval bases at Vishakhapatnam and Andaman islands could be expanded and modernized to fulfill that role. A war with Bangladesh is a remote possibility, but it is best to be prepared for a coming world, where oil and water are likely to be the reason for future wars.
A much more likely scenario is war with Pakistan. Its newer Agosta submarines and P3C Orion anti-submarine and anti-ship warfare capabilities require the Gorshkov-Vikramaditya and a large force of submarines, ASW frigates, destroyers and an air-arm with the equivalence of P3C Orion or Nimrod planes. Our aircraft carrier, a billion plus dollar equipment needs a support group of ASW ships, ship based helicopters, missile frigates, destroyers and submarines. This is one of the main reasons that bigger powers like Russia and China have not fielded aircraft carriers. These assets are very difficult to protect against hunter-killer and attack submarines and cruise missiles. Thus the use of an aircraft carrier to project power is only feasible against Pakistan and foolhardy or impossible against China, Russia, France, Germany, UK or the US. Except for China, the rest are unlikely opponents and even China is unlikely to go to war with us again. Nevertheless, all possibilities must be considered and the way to deal with superior or stronger powers is to retain the capability of severe punishing retaliatory damage to inhibit misadventures by pre-emptive aggressors.
The next factor to be considered is the cost benefit ratio. Aircraft carriers even like the Gorshkov and its aircraft and the support vessels to protect it, would cost two billion dollars for one carrier group. Thus two aircraft carriers should suffice. They would be unusable against any major power and are likely to lose their effectiveness even against Pakistan with time, as it acquires more sophisticated submarines, planes and missiles. On the other hand missile and ASW frigates or destroyers and ASW and air to ship missile carrying aircraft and newer quiet diesel submarines can be built or purchased for 25 to 100 million dollars per piece. India's 7500 kilometer shoreline permits two or three naval air-arm bases with one or two squadrons of reconnaissance, rescue and attack aircraft at three coastal areas from Gujarat coast to Kerala coast, and two from Kanyakumari to Kolkata because of the bases at Andamans and Vishakhapatnam.
Thus the top priority is a buildup of blue water ships, quiet submarines and a substantial and independent air-arm for the Indian Navy. The big bucks spending should be for a nuclear powered submarine with sea-based ballistic nuclear missiles of long ranges to serve as retaliatory deterrent. Twenty-four modern submarines, Thirty blue water navy frigates and destroyers armed with missiles, helicopters and ABMs, about 100 land based naval aircraft for reconnaissance, rescue, Anti-Submarine Warfare and equipped to attack ships and submarines, and two nuclear powered submarines with nuclear missiles would ensure India's safety. It needs considerable time to build up navies, so foresight, planning and adequate funding are essential for India's security. Unlikely though the scenario may be, in the event of a war with China, there must be sufficient naval power and assets to blockade the Straits of Malacca, the bottleneck of oil transit to China.
More by : Gaurang Bhatt, MD