India, China and Naval Developments

IITM CSC Article #46
18 January 2013

India, China and Naval Developments

The naval developing strategies between India and China are captivating with ever-increasing hardware purchases and dependable advancement of military capabilities. Both India and China are undergoing rapid expansion, increasing competition in and around the Indian Ocean. New Delhi and Beijing have been developing their naval capabilities and extending their regional influence and increasing operational significance in strategic maritime key points. 

Geoffrey Till argues, “Expeditionary operations call for power projection capabilities (aircraft carriers, marines, sea-launched land-attack missiles etc) and a very special kind of sea control, aimed mainly at providing force protection in narrow and local waters against everything from accidents, mines, and fast patrol boats to 'swarming' terrorists on jet skis.”  Accordingly, India and China have been modernizing their fleet and been persistently interested in acquiring nuclear submarines, constituting aircraft carrier groups, obtaining destroyers and frigates, pushing for longer range capacities in its surveillance and communications programme, and developing new cruise missiles.

The Indian Naval doctrine (2004) clearly places emphasis on nuclear submarines, equipped with nuclear missiles for developing reliable Minimum Nuclear Deterrence (MND).  The MND capability establishes a firm case to acquire a “non-provocative strategic capability” through the nuclear submarines like INS Chakra (on a 10-year lease form Russia) and the indigenously developed INS Arihant.  On the other hand, the Chinese Naval modernizing programme includes the replacement of old Romeo and Ming class conventionally powered submarines by much more capable Song and Kilo-class submarines.  China’s nuclear powered submarines (SSN) of the old Han-class are being replaced by the new type 093-class SSN.  Also, China is planning to deploy the new Type 094-class of nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN). 

To exercise any control over the Indian Ocean, India and China need an effective aircraft carrier force, as these carriers are power projection platforms, acting as a deterrent.  India’s specific focus on developing power projection capabilities can be seen in terms of three operation carrier battle groups- INSVikramaditya, Indigenous Aircraft Carrier’ (IAC-I) and IAC – II. The operation of these aircraft carriers would guarantee that the Indian navy has two operational carriers at any given point with the third one in for refits. In the case of China, its first aircraft carrier formally entered into service on 25 September, 2012, although the ship is not expected to be ready for combat for some time.

The Indian Navy centered on three aircraft carrier battle groups  including INS Vikramaditya carrying 16 latest MiG-29 K series of aircraft likely to join the service by 2013; IAC -I to be inducted into the fleet by  2018, and IAC II  is due in 2022 and is expected to carry 29 MiG-29K aircraft. Indian Navy is getting ready to operate five nuclear submarines by 2020, including two leased from Russia and three built indigenously.  As well, the Indian Navy has planned crucial additions in the years ahead. These include 4 Project 15B Destroyers by 2022, 3 Project 17 A Frigates by 2018, 4 Anti-Submarine Warfare Corvettes by 2013, and naval aviation assets like 8 Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance (LRMR), Medium Range Maritime Reconnaissance (MRMR) after 2015, Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) by 2020, 56 Naval Utility Helicopters by 2018, and 16 Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) Helicopter by2016.

In terms of military comparisons with China, David Scott observes that China may have the advantage in land and nuclear forces, but India has the edge at sea.  Former navy chief Admiral Suresh Mehta agrees that India currently has an edge but the equation may change in a decade due to the significant advances of the Chinese navy in building new destroyers and alleviation of its integral air elements.  It is discernible that China’s ambition to become a naval power with capabilities to safeguard its interests far into the oceanic domains, through its construction of 14 different classes of warships and nuclear submarines including destroyers (Shenyang Lanzhou Guangzhou and Hangzhou Class - all above 6500 tons), frigates (Jiangkai and Type 054A Class), 093 SSN, 094 SSBN, Song,Yuanzheng and Yuan class SSK submarines, Type 072-II Class Large Amphibious assault ship (5,000 tons), Type 2208 Littoral Combat Ship and Dong Feng 21D missiles. 

The naval pursuit has also taken significant shape in terms of cooperation with other states in the region.  To strengthen its profile, Indian navy has quietly stepped up the frequency of naval maneuvers with the France, Russia, Association of South East Asian Nations and West Asian states including Iran, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).India has expanded its security relations with Singapore (Defense Cooperation agreement of 2003, SIMBEX naval exercises in the Bay of Bengal and South China Sea), Japan (MALABAR naval exercises) and Vietnam (1994 defense agreement and include military training and bilateral naval exercises carried out in the South China Sea). Meanwhile, China has successfully managed to secure vital choke points by cooperating with states like Myanmar (Intelligence gathering station to monitor Indian naval activity), Pakistan (Gwadar Port on Pakistan’s western coast), Sri Lanka (Development of the port of Hambantota) and Iran (Aid to Iran's efforts to modernize its military hardware).  These relations are further complemented by expanding ties with Maldives (Plan for a submarine base), Seychelles (Facilities for Chinese ships engaged in anti-piracy operations) and Mauritius (Investment on a special enterprise zone).  By doing so, China now has greater access to ports and naval bases in strategic locations in the Indian Ocean and the Middle East. 

A careful analysis of naval conduct of India and china indicates that both the navies have significantly improved their capability to operate in “blue water” and can embrace convergent maritime strategies, cooperative activity with other navies in the region and world.


Dr. R. Bhanu Krishna Kiran,
Independent Researcher International Law and Strategic Affairs
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