By: Nantoo Banerjee
The capital budget for Indian Navy needs a rapid escalation in the coming years for its fleet expansion and modernisation to become a strong force to deter the growing threats from the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), the world’s largest naval power in size, in the Indian Ocean and Pacific regions. The government must recognise the fact that PLAN is four times larger and stronger than the Indian Navy. It is true that for the first time the Indian Navy’s capital expenditure target is raised by as much as 45 percent, this financial year.
The budget allocation for ships and equipment alone was Rs 35,452 crore for 2022-23 compared to 21,000 crore last year. A whopping 75 percent of the total capital outlay has been earmarked for its fleet, which includes warships, submarines and other equipment. The country’s Naval force needs a similar budget push for 2023-24 and beyond. The Indian Navy needs to strongly gear up its capability to face the growing PLAN threat in the region, especially in the context of the latter’s growing military alliance with India’s three ocean sharing neighbours – Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
Unfortunately, the Indian Navy did not receive the priority it deserved from the government in earlier years. The present fleet strength of the Indian Navy is even smaller than that of North Korea, Colombia, Egypt, Thailand and Iran. As of 2020, the PLAN’s fleet size (777 warships, including aircraft carriers and submarines) was simply overwhelming compared to the Indian Navy’s actual fleet strength. A US defence department report states that PLAN’s total fleet size “does not include 85 patrol combatants and craft that carry anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs).”
A bumper budget allocation for the Indian Navy in the coming financial years will help it modernise the existing ships and submarines and also enhance its fleet size as China further ramps up its naval reach. India’s growing involvement with such state of the art naval powers such as the US, Japan and Australia – all members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) – will be of little value if the Indian Navy itself is not strong enough. Though the US fleet size (490 ships) is smaller than China’s, it is much stronger than PLAN’s in lethal power. In fact, the US Navy is, in terms of striking capability, is rated to be the most modern and versatile having an unmatched strength of aircraft carriers and submarines.
The World Directory of Modern Military Worships (WDMMW) 2023 considers the US Navy as the world’s strongest naval power, followed by PLAN, Russian Navy, Indonesian Navy, Republic of Korea Navy, Japan Maritime Self Defence Force and Indian Navy. The US Navy has as many as 11 aircraft carriers, 10 helicopter carriers, 68 submarines and 92 destroyers. Only PLAN has more submarines (79). Russia has 64 subs. The US has 92 destroyers as against China’s 50 and Russia’s 15.
However, these estimates do not always tally with other global ‘naval watch’ reports. Also, “largest” naval forces do not necessarily mean “most powerful” forces. Different ‘naval watch’ agencies carry contrasting guidelines about which types of ship they consider part of a country’s navy. For example, China’s navy (PLAN) includes more than 100 hovercrafts, which may or may not be considered as naval ships. Modern naval forces often incorporate not just commissioned ships on active duty, but non-commissioned ships, support vessels, reserve fleets, and even under-construction ships. Such calculations can have an impact on the number of ships a country’s navy is estimated to have.
Going by official reports, Indian Navy has 150 warships and submarines, four fuel tankers, one countermeasure vessel, 24 corvettes, anti-submarine warfare shallow water craft, 17 attack submarines, one ballistic missile submarine, 14 frigates, 10 destroyers, 300 aircraft, eight landing ship tanks, one amphibious transport dock, two aircraft carriers, various small petrol boats, supplementary vessels and ships. The Indian Navy has some 75,000 reserves and over 67,000 active personnel. It has fully equipped and training bases in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Kerala, Lakshadweep, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Gujarat. These bases are supposed to provide ammunition support, logistics and maintenance support, marine commando (MARCOS) bases, air stations, forward operating bases, submarine and missile boat bases, missile defence and coastal defence. India Navy aspires to become a strong global naval power soon.
A 2021 report on NationalInterest.org expert picks by military analysts projected five top navies in the world in 2030. Interestingly, it put the Indian Navy in fourth position, ahead of Russia. The report may appear to be overoptimistic about the Indian Navy’s expansion in the next eight years. The US Navy is ranked No.1, followed by the British Navy and PLAN. The analysts expect that the US will remain the dominant global naval power, thanks to an unmatched combination of sheer tonnage and technological advancement. The US Navy doesn’t just have many ships; it has several massive, cutting-edge ships.
While the UK’s total number of ships is expected to decline, the addition of two new aircraft carriers and the progressive updating of its submarine fleet should establish Britain as the No.2 maritime power. Though larger in terms of the number of vessels (if not tonnage) than the US Navy, the PLAN fleet, projected No.3, is somewhat overaged. However, it has ambitious plans to keep adding more and more vessels. The analysts feel Russia’s ageing naval fleet is likely to suffer some budget constraints as older equipment is decommissioned, but Russia is still expected to have eight ballistic missile submarines (with 20 missiles each) patrolling the seas in 2030.
The report observed that India is expanding its naval presence and should have three operating aircraft carriers by 2030, collectively capable of deploying 110-120 aircraft. Official reports show that the Indian Navy has as many as 45 vessels of various types under construction. They include destroyers, frigates, and corvettes, conventional and nuclear-powered submarines among others. The plan is to build a strong navy of 200 warships and 500 aircraft by 2050. The time frame appears to be rather long considering China’s aggressive posture and rising tension in the Indo-Pacific region. The government must continue to raise annual capital expenditure fund support to the Indian Navy to significantly hasten its expansion programme to stay relevant in the current context. (IPA Service)