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Eye on China, India wants 56 new warships and six new submarines over next decade - Times of India

NEW DELHI: India may not be the economic powerhouse that China is, but has plans under way to counter the latter's expanding strategic footprint in Indian Ocean Region (IOR). With Chinese warships and submarines making regular forays into the region, the government has given initial approvals for construction of 56 new warships and six submarines for the Indian Navy over the next decade.

The Navy, which currently has 140 warships and 220 aircraft, already has 32 warships under construction in domestic shipyards at a total cost of Rs 1.26 lakh crore to replace its aging fleets and plug operational gaps.

But it will take long-term dedicated funding, especially since the annual defence budget has not registered any tangible hike for the last five years, to ensure the Navy comes anyway close to its original target of becoming a 212-warship and 458-aircraft force by 2027.

But Admiral Sunil Lanba, speaking ahead of Navy Day on Tuesday, is confident of tackling an aggressive and expansionist China in India's own strategic backyard. "We have overwhelming superiority over Pakistan in all domains at sea. In the case of China, with the forces it can currently bring to bear in the IOR, the balance of power is in our favour. Similarly, of course, the balance of power in South China Sea will be in China's favour," he said.

"The entire world's attention is focused on IOR, where our Navy is increasingly seen as a net security provider. Our maritime security strategy is aimed at providing a maritime environment that is free from all forms of traditional and non-traditional threats to our national development," added the Navy chief.

The Navy is undertaking "recalibrated mission-based deployments" from the Persian Gulf to Malacca Strait, with around a dozen warships spread across "choke points" in the IOR on regular patrols. China deploys six to eight warships in IOR at any given time, and the eighth Chinese submarine since 2013 to enter the region returned to its base in October, said Admiral Lanba.

With China fast establishing logistical hubs in IOR, including its first overseas naval base at Djibouti in the Horn of Africa in August 2017, India too has inked military logistics pacts with the US and France to ensure "long legs" for its Navy. These will allow Indian warships access to US bases in Djibouti, Diego Garcia, Guam and Subic Bay as well as French ones in the Reunion Islands (near Madagascar) and Djibouti. A logistics pact with Russia is also on the anvil now, said Admiral Lanba.



Simultaneously, India is stitching up turnaround military facilities at Duqm (Oman), Changi (Singapore), Assumption Island (Seychelles) and Sabang (Indonesia), while also progressively bolstering force-levels and infrastructure at the strategically-located Andaman and Nicobar archipelago.

But budgetary constraints remain a major problem. The defence ministry, for instance, is yet to give even initial approval to construction of the 65,000-tonne indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-II) that was sought in May 2015. This despite the Navy junking its plan for IAC-II to have nuclear-propulsion to bring down the overall cost to around Rs 45,000 crore.

"We need three aircraft carriers to ensure two are available at all times, while the third is in refit. Carrier battle groups are the most potent platform for sea control," said Admiral Lanba. India is currently making do with just one Russian-origin aircraft carrier, the 44,400-tonne INS Vikramaditya, while the under-construction 40,000-tonne INS Vikrant (IAC-I) will be fully operational only by 2023 at the earliest.

The Navy is keeping its fingers crossed, especially since China is constructing aircraft carriers at a rapid pace. China eventually wants six carrier strike groups, with at least two of them being nuclear, and just last month unveiled the ongoing construction of its third aircraft carrier. After inducting its first carrier 65,000-tonne Liaoning in 2012, China is set to induct its second Type-001A carrier by 2019-2020.

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