The Indian navy, with a total of 58,350 personnel, now has a large operational fleet consisting of a British-era aircraft carrier, 15 frigates, a nuclear attack submarine, an amphibious transport dock, eight guided missile destroyers, 14 conventional submarines, 24 corvettes, 30 patrol vessels, seven mine countermeasure vessels and various auxiliary ships.
The navy also has rich experience in commanding aircraft carrier fighting. In 1957, India purchased its first aircraft carrier, the HMS Hercules, from Britain and renamed it INS Vikrant R-11. That carrier went into service in 1961 and it has played an important role during the Indo-Pakistani Wars—a factor for which the Indian navy was keen to developing its aircraft carrier.
In recent years, India has sped up construction of its own aircraft carrier. After the INS Vikrant's induction into the Indian navy in 2018, the overall capabilities and power projection of its navy will be greatly enhanced, Zhang said.
However, the use of the term "indigenous" in describing India's aircraft carrier is slightly misleading, as the warship combined designs from both Russia and Italy. The air-defense missiles it is equipped with are from Israel, while its engines were made by U.S.-based General Electric Co. Its radar systems are from Britain and France, while its aircraft is purchased from Russia.
Yin said the main equipment of India's navy still relies on import as the country has not created an independent and comprehensive national defense industry, which constrains the development of its domestic navy. India still has a long way to go before its military capacity is truly homegrown.
No arms race
Third-party pundits obsessed with geopolitical rivalry wasted no time after the launch of INS Vikrant in hyping the Indian feat as a threat to China, fanning speculation that the two Asian neighbors would slide deeper into an arms race aimed at regional supremacy. However, Chinese observers said the standard buildup of defense capabilities is no cause of concern.
Zhang claimed that the new aircraft carrier will not necessarily lead to any race for more carriers in the region. However, he added that it is logical for both India and China to have more carriers due to their vast coastlines and huge populations, as well as the fact that they must defend far away sea lanes due to their dependence on external trade.
Lou of the CICIR said that India is both a continental country and a maritime power. Traditionally, India believes its military threats come from land border areas in the north. But with the upgraded strategic status of the Indian Ocean as well as the scale of India's interests, the country has begun investing more in its maritime capability.
"Though India's unremitting pursuit of developing an aircraft carrier would have an impact on the regional landscape and Sino-Indian relations, China should avoid becoming mired in a malicious circle of confrontation with India," Lou said. "We should look at its impact from a more macroscopic point of view."
In addition, Lou added, the enhancement of India's strength and position in the Indian Ocean is conducive to combating non-traditional security threats and protecting sea lane security as well as balancing the United States' dominant position within the region. "If both sides manage their bilateral ties properly, maritime cooperation could possibly become the next key cooperative field between China and India in future," he said.
Yin said that although the Indian aircraft carrier could be partially aimed at China, the latter should not be overly concerned about it. "Indian aircraft carriers are still mainly focused on the Indian Ocean," he said. "India has always been dissatisfied with the naval presence of Western powers here."
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