India’s military engagements are focused on defending the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and dominate and prevent infiltration along the Line of Control (LoC), defence sources said questioning the need of a third aircraft carrier in the present circumstances and budgetary constraints.
“The immediate requirement is to have a strong Army duly supported by a capable Air Force,” sources said. “The Navy will require to project power in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and locate and degrade enemy ships. For this we may not require a large number of aircraft carriers. It can be accomplished by a combination of smaller ships, submarines, good information, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and missile systems,” sources said.
With impending budget cuts, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen. Bipin Rawat had earlier questioned the priority of the third aircraft carrier and said naval aviation assets can be utilised on land borders when not utilised at sea.
Sources pointed that China too had decided to invest in an aircraft carrier after it developed overall military prowess. Its force modernisation, which began in 1978, focused on military and developed capabilities to strengthen it which could settle land borders, which they have done successfully except with two nations, sources said. “They are now focusing on generating sea power and air power as they are moving towards becoming a global power.”
With several big ticket acquisitions lined up, Navy sources had recently said they are undertaking a fleet optimisation measure with focus on adopting unmanned platforms. However, the Navy is firm on the need for both a third aircraft carrier and the next line of six advanced submarines under Project-75I.
With the Finance Minister announcing several measures to support domestic defence manufacturing and also reduce the import bill, sources said the military, heavily dependent on imports, has to “look inwards at indigenisation, only when the political leadership steps in”.
Do we have an immediate requirement of a large Navy to fulfil our geo-political aspirations like securing IOR, Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOCS) and counter China? the source asked stating this was done by the U.S. and the U.K. during the cold war era to protect far away territories and to keep military confrontation away from home soil. “This is not the case for India in the immediate future.”
India is grappling with two strong military powers with land borders and past military engagements have all been land centric.
Future war scenarios will be short and swift with limited objectives along limited axis, the source said adding the Navy has seen action only twice, 1965 and 1971, on the sidelines of the land operations and the aircraft carrier had minimum role. The Karachi harbour attack in 1971 was executed by missile boats, sources said.
The Navy envisages its force structure centred around three aircraft carriers with one carrier each on the East and West coasts while one is in refit and maintenance. The proposed third carrier or the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC)-II is envisaged to displace 65,000 tonnes, conventionally powered and a steam-launched catapult for launching and recovering aircraft.