It's a force multiplier

The launch of the 40,000-tonne INS Vikrant, India's first indigenously manufactured aircraft carrier, is a milestone in the nation's military history and a key addition to our force projection capabilities on the high seas.

Together with aircraft carriers — the Russian-built INS Vikramaditya and the British-origin INS Viraat — INS Vikrant will spearhead the Indian Navy that has long reach, great firepower and deterrence capabilities.

One reason for celebrating the dedication of INS Vikrant to the nation is the scientific achievement of the Directorate of Naval Design (DND) and its partners at the Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL).

The lack of a robust and world-class domestic defence production paraphernalia and our dependence on imports of most hi-tech weaponry have been huge hurdles that held back India's national security choices and freedom for decades.

The bureaucratic failures of our indigenous defence industry, time and cost overruns, and the less-than-perfect war-fighting quality of its end products have been agonising.

That only 30% India's total defence procurement in terms of value comes from local companies has created an unenvious image of our country as a bonanza market for foreign suppliers, and drained our foreign exchange reserves.

Since advanced weapons affect the geostrategic balance of power, dependence on outside suppliers is an Achilles' heel that constricts our foreign policy options.

Stifling end-user agreements, fears of suppliers upsetting their allies who are opposed to India's growing power, as well as blackmail are the negative consequences of not having a homebred defence manufacturing base.

INS Vikrant is a role model for reversing the pathetic history of a 'wannabe' great power like India lacking domestic means to compete with the best in the world.

It can inspire other landmark projects for the navy, army and air force. Being open to foreign trade in the civilian sector makes eminent economic sense, but dependence on whims and calculations of foreigners for military needs is a political deficiency that India needs to overcome through technological breakthroughs like INS Vikrant.

Another reason for celebrating INS Vikrant and the recently activated indigenously-built nuclear reactor aboard the submarine, INS Arihant, is that they are transforming the global security environment for the better.

The fact that India will have multiple aircraft carriers in service by 2018, as well as nuclear triad abilities to launch unconventional weapons from land, sea and air, is being noted with reassurance in the Asia Pacific by many countries fretful about China's bullying behaviour.

News about INS Vikrant is making headlines in Japan, whose Izumo-class helicopter destroyer is being touted as a new aircraft carrier in disguise. If India propels forward in its ambitious naval modernisation, it brings relief to Japan and smaller Southeast Asian players like the Philippines which are struggling under intense Chinese military pressure.

The Chinese State media has interpreted the inauguration of INS Vikrant as an omen that would "disrupt the military balance in South Asia" (ie give India's navy a reach-out capacity beyond patrolling its backyard of the Indian Ocean) and "quicken India's pace to steer eastward to the Pacific."

The landing and take-off options for fighter jets from an aircraft carrier of the size of INS Vikrant is such that India will begin walking the talk of being an actor, if not a major power, in the Asia Pacific region.

Should a maritime contingency arise in East Asia — say a direct threat to our energy infrastructure or commercial vessels, or even to the territorial integrity of friendly countries — India can soon field its complete aircraft carrier battle group.

This compelling demonstration of Indian might will be beneficial for maritime security in the western Pacific theatre, where China has built up a scary military lead.

On the eve of Independence Day, we should congratulate the makers of INS Vikrant for steering the nation towards self-sufficiency and stabilising Asia.

Sreeram Chaulia is Dean of the Jindal School of International Affairs, Haryana

The views expressed by the author are personal


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