The delivery of the INS Vikramaditya will provide India its second aircraft carrier. Along with the indigenous carrier scheduled to be launched by 2016, India’s Navy will be able to claim a genuine blue water capability.
Three carriers will effectively fulfill the Indian Navy’s dream of being able to field at least one air platform on the high seas at any given time. It is important to keep in mind that the INS Vikramaditya is just one part of a broader Indian maritime security need. This maritime requirement is necessary to secure the country’s security and economic interests in the Indian Ocean and, arguably, in waters beyond.
There will be some who will argue that India is wasting its time worrying about securing the Straits of Malacca or watching the Gulf of Aden when it has pressing problems at home. Unfortunately, such things cannot be separated so neatly.
The Mumbai 26/11 attacks is a reminder of the danger of seaborne terror. The Somali pirate problem helped drive shipping costs in the western Indian Ocean endangering shipments of fuel, fertiliser and other goods to India. Almost all of India’s natural gas, oil and now even coal imports come across the waters. Almost all of India’s exports leave from its shores. India’s ability to solve its problems at home is inextricably linked to its ability to secure the air, sea and land on its periphery.
There is an additional concern. Though the United States has received little praise for doing so, the truth is that for the past half-century its huge navy has helped protect the global sea lanes, clear the waters of pirates and otherwise ensure the free flow of ships and trade.
The US is today surrendering this role and has signalled that other countries need to take on the burden of being global lifeguards. This is evident in the Indian Ocean where US warships are becoming less and less frequent. India needs to prepare to fill this vacuum in the ocean that bears its name or face the likelihood of other, potentially less friendly, powers doing so in the coming decades.