India’s new warship and maritime expansion: Implications for Pakistan
The indigenous manufacture of the first aircraft carrier, ‘INS Vikrant’ in India is indeed a major technological accomplishment and places India among those few nations that have developed this capability. It is also a reflection of India’s maritime ambitions and its aspirations to match China’s growing influence in the region. In this it has the patronage of the US and major Western countries. India has also benefited from its traditional relationship with Russia in building its naval fleet.
However, the success of the project is the implementation of the policy and long-term view that successive Indian governments and the security establishment had taken to build a blue water Navy. It is a demonstration of its ambitions for dominating the sea lanes and project air power far from its shores, along with a full fleet of frigates, submarines, destroyers and missile cruisers.
India already has experience of having aircraft carriers of Russian and British origin in the past. The earlier UK built ‘Vikrant’ was a 19,500-tonne warship that was deployed by India during the 1971 war. Still the quantum leap that has taken place in technology and systems over the years will require extensive training and exercises before the potential of the modern carrier can be fully actualized.
China may not show any reaction but will certainly be eyeing this development and step up its own naval capabilities to ensure the defense of its territorial waters and its ability to project power. Recent tensions over Taiwan and the territorial integrity of the South China sea have given additional reason to China to step up its naval defense. This and other naval activities of major powers in the Pacific and Indian ocean are valid reasons for China to ensure that it has a strong fleet to project power and be able to deal with unforeseen contingencies.
The defensive and preventive measures that China will no doubt take to maintain its freedom of navigation and project its power over waters that it claims fall within its territorial limits, will be viewed with suspicion by US and India and lead to further build-up of their fleets in the Pacific.
The quantum leap that has taken place in technology and systems in India over the years will require extensive training and exercises before the potential of the modern carrier can be fully actualized.
The BJP government and the media are likely to play up and use the induction of the carrier for political advantage. Pakistan has been very much aware about India’s growing maritime power and has been building its defensive and offensive capabilities with Chinese assistance, foreign deals and strengthening its indigenous capability. The Pakistan Navy’s modernization long term plan aims at procuring or building 50 vessels including 20 major ships. China and Turkey will be the major suppliers of Naval systems and assist in indigenous manufacture, and establishing indigenous repair, rebuild and manufacturing infrastructure.
India’s relatively wide industrial and technological infrastructure was a major facilitator in the construction of the Vikrant. But it is possible that the US and Western ship building industry provided support in high tech areas with the tacit approval of their governments. A major spin-off of indigenization has been that it is claimed that India has become self-sufficient in warship steel and gained invaluable experience in systems integration and several other niche areas. It is expected that it will give a fillip to several supporting industries thereby increasing national output.
Promoting naval power remains India’s current goal and as a part of this strategy, it recently launched two missile carrier warships. It is BJP government’s official position that projection of India’s naval and military power beyond its boundaries is a prerequisite for being a potent regional and global power. This probably even takes precedence over improving the plight of millions of Indians who still face abject poverty.
The support of the US and Western countries in strengthening India’s defense capability is a critical factor. President Biden is aggressively pursuing a policy of placing impediments in China’s economic and defense build-up and has taken several policy measures in that pursuit. PM Modi is taking full advantage of this policy.
By strengthening its naval and overall defense capability and raising its strategic profile, India is likely to become more arrogant and uncompromising on Kashmir and in its relations with Pakistan. There are already ominous signs of these developments.
– Talat Masood is a retired Lieutenant General from Pakistan Army and an eminent scholar on national security and political issues.
E-mail: [email protected]