As far as naval-vessel-building facilities are concerned, China and India are not at the same industrial level. Over the past ten years, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has built 16 large missile frigates and at least ten guided-missile destroyers, as well as advanced submarines. Most of the weapons have been designed and made by China. On the other hand, India has begun to build six destroyers and six frigates over the past ten years but currently only one of those frigates is in service.10 Currently, the Indian Navy is seemingly relying on overseas purchases in order to maintain its fleet in the future.
The MiG-29K swing role fighter is the main offensive platform providing a quantum leap for the Indian Navy’s maritime strike capability…
INS Vikramaditya procured from Russia, which joined the Indian Navy on November 16, 2013, was dedicated to the nation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, off the Goa coast on June 14, 2014. The latest vessel, an aircraft carrier to be inducted into the Indian Navy, is the most powerful symbol of the nation’s naval might.
The 44,500-tonne INS Vikramaditya is the second aircraft carrier in service in the Indian Navy after INS Virat. Incidentally, India is the only Asian power currently to have two aircraft carriers in active service, though China is working on two more such vessels after commissioning its first aircraft carrier Liaoning on September 25, 2012.
INS Vikramaditya has the ability to carry over 30 aircraft comprising an assortment of MiG 29K ‘Fulcrum-D’ including four dual-seat MiG-29KUB/Sea Harrier, Kamov 31, Kamov 28, Sea King, ALH-Dhruv and Chetak helicopters, torpedo tubes, missile systems and artillery units. The MiG-29K swing role fighter is the main offensive platform providing a quantum leap for the Indian Navy’s maritime strike capability. These fourth generation air superiority fighters with a range of over 700 nm extendable to over 1,900 nm with in-flight refueling, will provide a significant fillip to the Indian Navy.
The ship will also be fitted with an array of weapons including the state-of-the-art Indo-Israeli Barak-8 air defence missile system, anti-ship missiles, Beyond Visual Range air-to-air missiles, guided bombs and rockets. The ship is equipped with state-of-the-art launch and recovery systems along with aids to enable smooth and efficient operation of ship-borne aircraft. Major systems include the LUNA Landing system for MiGs, DAPS Landing system for Sea Harriers and Flight deck lighting systems.1
The core of the operational network that infuses life into the combat systems onboard the INS Vikramaditya is the Computer-aided Action Information Organisation (CAIO) system – L ESORUB–E, which has the capability of gather data from ship’s sensors and data links and to process, collate and assemble comprehensive tactical pictures, thereby helping in creating comprehensive situation awareness. The CCS MK II communication complex is installed for external communications and the Link II tactical data system enables integration into the Indian Navy’s network-centric operations.2
Over 70 per cent of the ship and its equipment is new and the remainder has been refurbished…
Installation of modern launch and recovery systems on the ship has been facilitated for handling different aircraft – the LUNA landing system for Mig-29Ks and the DAPS Landing system for Sea Harriers. The Resistor-E automated air traffic control system provides assistance to pilots during approach for landing down to a distance of 30 metres short of flight deck and short range navigation. In conjunction with various other sub-systems, it also makes available navigation and flight data to ship-borne aircraft operating at long distances from the carrier.3
As of now, INS Vikramaditya does not have the Close-In Warfare System (CIWS) and the long range missile firing capability that can pick up targets up to 100 km. The CIWS is slated to be fitted in April-June 2015. According to media reports, the Indian Navy is looking at two options, either the Israeli Barak or the Russian Shitil missiles.
According to defence experts, the CIWS system is needed on board large warships as the last protection layer against incoming missiles as well as aircraft. It is like the ship’s own air defence system. When deployed, a carrier does not operate alone but with a small flotilla of warships. The Navy depends on ships in the flotilla for air defence and also for long range missile strike. Some of the Indian warships carry the sea version of the 290-km range hypersonic missile (BrahMos).4
The Long Range Surface-to-Air Missile (LR-SAMs) can be fitted on the warship when it goes for its first re-fit after three years. However, some experts feel that fitting the LR-SAM will be a complex procedure and as it will entail some cutting through the deck, a period of eight to nine months has been factored in for this. The LR-SAM, a joint venture between the Israel’s IAI and India’s DRDO, is to undergo a series of tests that are slated between November 2014 and March 2015 at the integrated test range in Odisha. The LR-SAM has been designated Barak-8 by the IAI. This can be housed in vertical launch units each of which will hold eight missiles. The warship could carry up to 32 or 48 LR-SAM’s.5
China is fast emerging as a crucial determining factor in India’s naval and maritime security…
Israel is reportedly working on the seeker head of the LR-SAM, that guides the missile and the warhead. The DRDO is working on the rear section – the rocket motor, thrust vector control and fins that can be folded.
The lifespan of INS Vikramaditya is officially expected to be 40 years; the carrier is unlikely to require any major repair work at least in the coming decade. Over 70 per cent of the ship and its equipment is new and the remainder has been refurbished. The Sevmash Shipyard, which upgraded the carrier, will provide warranty servicing including maintenance for the next two decades.6
The China Factor
China is fast emerging as a crucial determining factor in India’s naval and maritime security. It is another country in Asia, apart from India, which possesses an aircraft carrier Liaoning commissioned in September 2012. One Russian expert has claimed that the Chinese aircraft carrier is merely a test platform and does not have the capability to sail on high seas beyond the regional waters of China.7 Chinese Shipyards took more than a decade to get the aircraft carrier Liaoning sea-worthy despite the fact that the ship never required any major design changes to its hull.
Media reports in September 2013 indicated that the Liaoning was still unable to operate the J-15 with a heavy weapons/fuel load because of the ship’s limited size and lack of catapults. The US Department of Defense has reported that the J-15 will have below normal range and armament when operating from the carrier, due to limits imposed by the ski-jump take-off. A Canadian government report casts doubt on Chinese claims that the Liaoning has even tested aircraft operations in anything other than perfect visibility and calm seas.8
Viewed in a broad perspective, India and China embarked on different paths to acquire aircraft carriers. After purchasing the Gorshkov, the earlier name of Vikramaditya, from Russia, India chose to get it repaired in Russia because it lacked the capacity and technology to undertake such a difficult project. India has spent billions of dollars upgrading the carrier Vikramaditya without improving its own shipbuilding abilities.
India has to take into consideration the long-term maritime ambitions of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN)…
On the other hand, China purchased the unfinished aircraft carrier Varyag from Ukraine at a price of $20 million. Depending solely on its own industry and advanced ship-building craft, China repaired and made improvements to the carrier. By doing so, China spent less money, accumulated experience in aircraft carrier remodeling and learned valuable lessons which will help it to construct its own carrier.9
Broadly speaking, as far as naval-vessel-building facilities are concerned, China and India are not at the same industrial level. Over the past ten years, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has built 16 large missile frigates and at least ten guided-missile destroyers, as well as advanced submarines. Most of the weapons have been designed and made by China. On the other hand, India has begun to build six destroyers and six frigates over the past ten years but currently only one of those frigates is in service.10 Currently, the Indian Navy is seemingly relying on overseas purchases in order to maintain its fleet in the future.
India has to take into consideration the long-term maritime ambitions of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and the role that its new aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, is likely to play in China’s Indian Ocean strategy. China can use its new aircraft carrier both for the PLAN’s power projection, as well as an instrument for its soft-power diplomacy – a major component of the ‘far-seas’ naval strategy. According to one opinion, the PLAN is also contemplating to use the aircraft carrier in a hard-power role for the implementation of “a new conception of maritime strategy, based on the principle of sea control rather than sea denial.”11 indeed, some analysts concede that China is most likely to embark on the construction of additional aircraft carriers in the future, which only reiterates the PLAN’s belief in the long-term utility of pursuing its aircraft carrier programme.12
The INS Vikramaditya is expected to be a ‘game changer’ in shaping the strategic environment of the India Ocean Region…
Currently, the Indian Navy is operating two full-fledged Carrier Battle Groups (CBGs) – one each for the Eastern and Western seaboards and it is a key component of its operational strategy. In the wake of the INS Viraat nearing the end of its operational life, the INS Vikramaditya brings it one step closer to achieving a desirable end-state. As the situation obtains now, by the close of 2018, the Indian Navy will induct the 40,000-tonne INS Vikrant being built at the Cochin Shipyard. The Vikramaditya, in the words of India’s former Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral D K Joshi, is intended, “to bridge the gap between the INS Viraat’s decommissioning and the entry of the INS Vikrant.”13
It is interesting to note that induction of the INS Vikramaditya into the Indian Navy has revived the debate over the relevance of aircraft carriers in a maritime environment in the contemporary context.14 Supporters of the possession of aircraft carriers opine that it forms the core of maritime strategy and must play a vital part in the operational plans of a blue-water navy.15
However, those who are opposed to this viewpoint argue that the aircraft carrier’s high vulnerability to new disruptive weapons and technologies and inadequate logistical sustainability, render it an irrelevant asset. It is also argued that apart from being a financially expensive proposition, it is also incapable of projecting significant offensive power. It has been further suggested that the virtual defenselessness of an aircraft carrier against underwater attacks, long-range strategic airpower and ballistic missiles “makes it a near liability in war.”16
Nevertheless, a vast majority of maritime experts are in favour of retaining the giant ships especially the aircraft carriers. The blue-water navies of developing countries like India with a vast coastline, offshore assets, chain of islands and sea-trade, are required to have aircraft carriers for self-defence. Viewed in a broad perspective, blue-water navies require three types of conventional assets. The first category consisting of ‘hard-power assets’ inter alia includes fighting platforms such as destroyers, frigates, missile boats and attack submarines meant for the real combat operations in a naval battle. These are used in both offensive and defensive operations and are meant to influence the tempo and outcome of a maritime conflict.
Induction of the INS Vikramaditya into the Indian Navy has revived the debate over the relevance of aircraft carriers…
The second category comprises ‘soft-power-assets’ which include hospital ships, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) platforms and survey vessels. These are meant for providing a valuable regional or global service and are helpful in a navy’s soft-power outreach. Finally, a navy requires assets for ‘power projection’, which is usually a vital segment of a country’s maritime strategy. It has been pointed out that power projection assets embody a country’s strategic capability and political intent and “navies strive to accrete power and project it far beyond the home country as a metric of national influence and their own regional relevance” and aircraft carriers fall into this category.17
The INS Vikramaditya is expected to bring transformational capabilities to the Indian Navy and will be a ‘game changer’ in shaping the strategic environment of the Indian Ocean Region while enabling the Indian Navy to meet maritime threats effectively.
- Indian Navy, “INS Vikramaditya – The Newest Aircraft Carrier of Navy”, available at http://indiannavy.nic.in/news-events/about-ins-vikramadita-newest-largest-ship-indian-navy, accessed on 16 June 2014.
- Indian Navy, “‘Vikramaditya’ to be Commissioned on 16 Nov 2013”, available at http://indiannavy.nic.in/news-events/about-ins-vikramaditya-newest-largest-ship-indian-navy, accessed on 17 June 2014.
- Jane’s, “Indian Navy chief: Vikramaditya deployed with MiG-29s embarked”, janes.com, 7 May 2014, available at http://www.janes.com/article/37623/indian-navy-chief-vikramaditya-deployed-with-mig-29s-embarked , accessed on 17 June 2014.
- Ajay Banerjee, “Close-In Warfare System on INS Vikramaditya next year”, The Tribune, 16 June 2014.
- Cited in ibid.
- Vivek Raghuvanshi, “Indian Navy to open search for Carrier Air Defense System”, 11 March 2014, defensenews.com, available at http://www.defensenews.com/article/20140311/DEFREG03/303110023/Indian-Navy-Open-Search-Carrier-Air-Defense-system , accessed on 18 June 2014.
- Chinese Aircraft Carrier Liaoning vs. INS Vikramaditya”, Defence News, 19 November 2013, available at http://www.defencenews.in/defence-news-internal.sapx?id=5D$$LrxuXxkY, accessed on 18 June 2014.
- Cited in ibid.
- India Defence Review, “How does China eye India’s aircraft carrier Vikramaditya”, IDR News Network, 27 July 2012, available at http://www.indiadefencereview.com/news/how-does-china-eye-indias-vikramaditya, accessed on 17 June 2014.
- For details see Sukjoon, “China’s carrier forces US Navy rethink”, Asia Times, 16 November 2012, available at http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China/NK16Ad01.html, accessed on 19 June 2014.
- Robert Farley, “The Carrier Dilemma: How many is Enough?”, the diplomat.com, 12 September 2012, available at http://thediplomat.com/2012/09/the-carrier-dilemma-how-many-is-enugh/ , accessed on 17 June 2014.
- Cited in Nitin Gokhale, “India’s Blue-Water Navy”, thediplomat.com, 19 November 2013, available at http://thediplomat.com/2013/11/indias-emerging-blue-water-navy/, accessed on 17 June 2014.
- For details see Ajai Shukla, “INS Vikramaditya settles the aircraft carrier debate”, Business Standard, 15 November 2013, available at http://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/ins-vikramaditya-settles-the-aircraft-carrier-debate-113111501134_1.html , accessed on 18 June 2014.
- Why Aircraft Carriers sail on?”, thediplomat.com, 18 September 2012, available at http://thediplomat.com/2012/09/why-aircraft-carriers-sail-on/, accessed on 19 June 2014.
- Robert Haddick, “Shipping Out”, foreignpolicy.com, 31 August 2012, available at http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/08/31/shipping_out, accessed on 19 June 2014.
- Abhijit Singh, “INS Vikramaditya and the Aircraft Carrier Debate”, the diplomat.com, 10 December 2013, available at http://thediplomat.com/2013/12/ins-vikramaditya-and-the-aircraft-carrier-debate/, accessed on 20 June 2014.