India will get a $2.33 billion Russian-made aircraft carrier on November 16, an acquisition that is likely to prompt China to accelerate its carrier programme to expand its military might.
Defence minister AK Antony will commission the second-hand INS Vikramaditya (formerly Admiral Gorshkov) into the Indian Navy during his upcoming visit to Russia, barely two months after China's first aircraft carrier, Liaoning, completed crucial sea tests.
The Chinese carrier - a discarded vessel bought from Ukraine - may be limited to a training role. However, the take-off and landing of J-15 fighter planes from the refurbished carrier signal that Beijing is taking steady strides towards delivering airpower from sea.
Two more carriers are likely to join the Chinese fleet over the next 12 to 15 years. China, however, is nowhere close to India when it comes to operating these complex floating airfields.
"The arrival of INS Vikramaditya is bound to fuel China's carrier ambitions. But the Chinese Navy has to catch up a lot as operating fighter planes from carriers involves completely different techniques," a senior navy officer said.
The Indian Navy has been in the business of operating carriers for decades. INS Vikrant, bought from the UK, was commissioned as the navy's first carrier in 1961. It was retired in 1997.
India currently operates only one aircraft carrier - INS Viraat - a second-hand British warship inducted in 1987. The navy plans to keep her in service until 2018 when it inducts indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC) Vikrant being built at the Cochin Shipyard.
The navy plans to deploy two carrier strike groups (CSGs) with INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant at the centre. Meanwhile, China may take at least 20 more years to deploy full-fledged CSGs, experts say.