The breakneck speed at which China has been moving to build up its naval might is causing concern in the international community, particularly in Japan, the United States—and here in India.
Recent decisions by China’s People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) have left China-watchers wondering where the Chinese juggernaut will stop. The latest decision to garner attention has been the apparent decision by the Central Military Commission—China’s highest military planning body—to give the green light to the building of two new nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
One aircraft carrier—the Kuznetsov class Varyag—is already being refitted after being taken off Russian hands. All three aircraft carriers will be available to China by 2017 and will be responsible for patrolling the South China Sea, Western Pacific and Indian Ocean, thus signaling to the world that China has indeed truly become a superpower.
So what is India doing to counter the growing Chinese naval might? The Chinese naval buildup is a matter of deep concern for Indian security managers. However, New Delhi is busy developing an effective counter. Two aircraft carriers—the INS Vikramaditya (Admiral Gorshkov of Russia) and INS Vikrant—are under construction. In addition, the Indian government in March 2009 approved Project 15B under which next-generation warships are in various stages of construction. Meanwhile, at least three Kolkata class destroyers are under construction under Project 15A.
But there’s more. The Indian Navy has also launched several new projects to develop a beefed up fleet of stealth frigates. The lead vessels will be the Shivalik class of frigates—India’s first such stealth vessels. The Sahyadri and Satpura are also in advanced stages of construction, meaning the Indian government is well on its way to achieving its goal of maintaining a force of more than 140 warships.
Meanwhile, construction work on at least four nuclear submarines is in full swing, while the indigenous Arihant nuclear-powered submarine has already been launched (India plans to have at least 30 submarines by 2030 (although this target may be tough to achieve with the submarine fleet expected to shrink to 16 by 2012 with the decommissioning of two Foxtrot submarines).
Clearly, China has set off a naval race in the region. Japan and the United States, which are set to lag far behind in the Asia-Pacific, need to stand by India if the international community’s unfettered access to the South China Sea, Western Pacific and Indian Ocean is to be maintained.