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India near to adding two carriers, nuclear sub to naval service

August 12, 2013

India today launched its first indigenously build aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant.   The Vikrant will now undergo several years of sea and air trials before full commissioning in 2017.  The Vikrant is one of two indigenous carriers to be produced by the Cochin shipyard.  The other, the Vishal, is expected to be commissioned by  2020, but that is not the second carrier referred to in the title of this post.  Rather, that references news that the Vikramaditya has passed its sea trials and has begun air trials in Russia’s far north White Sea (Vikramaditya is a former Soviet Navy ship that has been refurbished and updated by Russian shipbuilders for the Indian Navy).   The Vikramaditya is due to be delivered to and commissioned by the Indian Navy later this fall.  Thus, the INS expects to add two modern (or, at least, modernized) carriers to its fleet in the next four years.

In addition to its expanding air wing, the INS is also building a modern sub sea component.  Late last week, India announced that the reactor on its first nuclear submarine had gone critical, indicating that the INS Ahirant can proceed to sea trials and could also see commissioning within a year.

To summarize the recent large scale developments in the Indo-Pacific Naval Arms Race:  2013 will close with China and India both having commissioned refurbished former Soviet aircraft carriers; China has begun construction of its first indigenous carrier; India has launched its first indigenous carrier; India has launched an indigenous nuclear submarine.

Also, Japan has launched a new “helicopter carrier” that is actually larger than all the Indian and Chinese carriers under discussion, and which observers say can be quickly converted to a full carrier capable of launching and retrieving F-35s, making it probably the most impressive addition of all.

INS Vikrant

INS Vikrant

INS Vikramaditya

INS Vikramaditya

INS Arihant

INS Arihant

PLA-N Liaoning

PLA-N Liaoning

JDS Izumo

JDS Izumo

President Obama famously ridiculed Mitt Romney’s fears about a shrinking US Navy during last year’s presidential debates.  Obama is correct that today’s naval ships have substantially more fighting power than they did even 25 years ago . . . but Romney was, in my view, more correct in pointing out that more missions for fewer ships obviates that power.   The world is building up while the US is building down.  It’s not critical . . . yet.  But there is an inflection point lurking out there somewhere . . .

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