Chief of Defence Staff’s statement of shifting priority from third Aircraft Carrier i.e. INS Vishal to much needed Submarines both nuclear and non-nuclear merits consideration.
Earlier also both our RM (Mr Parrikar) and MOD floated a similar idea to scrap the astronomically costly 65,000t INS Vishal for a much cheaper 45,000t INS Virat II which will be identical to INS Vikrant, thus also giving the economy of scale!
Before, however, we discuss any further, let me mention a few points which require consideration:
- Navy, in consultation with highest political leadership, must publish a “White Paper” detailing out India’s sphere of influence in short as well as, in long term, strategy, doctrine etc.
- During WW II countries that had enemies nearby did not require aircraft carries. Aircraft Carriers were mostly used by British who had empire all over the globe as well as by USA and Japan who had to fight far away from their home countries.
- Even today only USA having super carriers for power projection throughout the globe.
- Aircraft Carriers are too costly an asset and are too venerable to operate alone, particularly in any hostile environment. They will always be protected by a “Carrier Battle Group (CBG)” consisting of number of Submarines (mostly SSN), Destroyers and Frigates. So, while planning for the aircraft carrier for power projection at far of places, we must also plan our budget for the entire CBG along with the operating cost for the entire CBG!
- Normally sea denial is much less costly than sea control. Nobody must forget how a hand full of German U-boats created havoc to Atlantic convoy. Pakistan used it effectively against a superior Indian Navy by sinking INS Kukri in 1971 Similarly a small Russian naval contingent with a single SSN could prevent both British and US Navy (7th fleet – the entire CBG) to enter Bay of Bengal during 1971 war.
- Sea control with surface ships are always very costly and risky. It was, however, done very effectively by USA during Cuban Missile crisis and may be the main reason for Nikita Khrushchev to lose his job. Blocking of Karachi Harbour by Indian Navy in 1971 was also a case in the point.
- As per Rand report 1140, projecting a military engagement between USA and China ( two time frames : 2015 & 2025), the losses for US surface fleets including AC could be substantial due to missile attacks ( DF 21 etc.) unless they could be kept outside the range.
- Advent of Ship / Air launched Cruise Missiles have also change the strategy / doctrine for the naval war. One should not forget Karachi attack and Falkland war. It has become more devastating now with the introduction of Brahmos ( relatively a short distance of 290 km as of now, but could be used as a standoff land attack / anti-ship missile by Su 30MKI), DF-21 or Kaliber missile ( small frigates could fire 2500 km range Kaliber from Black Sea to targets in Syria!).
- Overspending on military asset which may not be commensurate with your immediate need may really ruin your economy. There is a saying that the gigantic “Typhoon” SSBNs really sank Russian economy and finally lead to disintegration. If you overlook history, history will overlook you!
- India’s wedge like shape with nearly 7500 km coastline does give enough coverage for the shore-based aircraft with conformal / drop tanks and air-to-air refueling facilities. Use of standoff munitions / cruise missiles will only increase the range further.
- Airfields at India’s far-flung islands both A and N and Lakshadweep as well as signing of logistic agreement with USA, France, Maldives, Seychelles, Oman, UAE, Singapore and other IOR countries will increase the coverage further.
With the preamble as above, I just wanted to explain that there was no case for a 65,000t AC with nuclear propulsion and with EMLS etc. Priority wise it would be better to go in for additional six SSK and six SSN for sea denial, a slightly larger size SSBN with K4 / K5 missiles for second strike, 2 to 4 LPD / LHD to protect A and N island and may be …. only may be a second AC identical to AC-1 but with CATOBAR facility! With the advent of F 35B stealth fighter, any LPD/LHD or Helicopter Carrier could also be converted to a mini-aircraft carrier! As far as naval diplomacy is concerned, LPD / LHDs are much better suited than an Aircraft Carrier.