India's Navy Expanding Rapidly



While Chinese naval modernization efforts are capturing the attention of Western naval officials and analysts as well as journalists and even bloggers, little attention is being given to the Indian Navy's massive expansion effort. Mohammed Ahmedullah, a leading defense writer, wrote in Military Technology (2/2008):

"With the second biggest Army in the world and a rapidly expanding Navy, India knows that it needs to modernize fast, leapfrog in technology and accumulate military assets rapidly over the next decade if it has to safeguard it growing economic might with military teeth. . . ."

Within a decade the naval forces of India will include two large aircraft carriers, a large force of missile-armed surface warships, and a significant submarine flotilla, probably including three nuclear-propelled attack submarines. The rationale for the expansion of the Indian fleet is to protect the flow of oil to India's rapidly growing economy.

However, the Indian subcontinent sits astride the tanker sailing routes from the Middle East to Chin and Japan. And, Indian naval forces could come into play with respect to the continuing turmoil and quest for resources in Africa.

The current Indian Navy expansion program provides for the rehabilitation of the Soviet-built, 44,570-ton carrier Admiral Gorshkov in a Russian shipyard. That project is far behind schedule and over cost; the ship should be fully operational about 2015. India has also begun construction of an "air defense ship" -- a 40,000-ton carrier to be completed about 2018. (India now operates the 28,700-ton, ex-British VSTOL carrier Hermes; she was originally launched in 1953 and completed in 1969, and has been extensively rebuilt.)

Now being procured are advanced missile-armed destroyers and frigates. Some are being fitted with the highly-touted Israel Barak-8 air-defense system.

With respect to submarines, the Navy currently operates 14 relatively modern submarines: four German Type 209/1500 (built in Germany and India) and ten Russian-built Kilo/Project 877EM. Some of the latter are being fitted to fire the Russian-developed Klub-S submerged-launch, anti-ship missile. However, there have been some problems encountered with that modification to the submarines.

Six French-built Scorpene torpedo-attack submarines are under construction in at the Mazagon Dockyard in Mumbai. These will replace the last of the Foxtrot/Project 641 submarines operated by India.

Most significant, India will again operate nuclear-propelled submarines in the near future. Three Akula/Project 971 torpedo-attack submarines are on order, being constructed in Russia. These are 33-knot, relatively quiet submarines, capable of operating to 1,970 feet feet, armed with four 21-inch and four 25.5-inch torpedo tubes and carrying 40 tube-launched missiles and torpedoes. (India previously operated a nuclear submarine from 1988 to 1991, when a Soviet Charlie I/Project 670 cruise missile submarine was leased to India. Soviet personnel operated the submarine's reactor-propulsion plant.)

For the past two decades India has also been working on the development of an indigenous nuclear-propelled submarine, officially labeled the Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV). The project has encountered numerous difficulties, but there are reports that the first ATV submarine is now under construction at the Mazagon Dock Yard. The first of several such craft may be completed as early as 2010. She will have a submerged displacement of some 7,000 tons and will carry cruise missiles as well as torpedoes.

The Indian Navy is also procuring advanced aircraft to support fleet operations: These include MiG-29K multi-role aircraft and Ka-31 airborne early warning helicopters for the carriers, and land-based Il-38D maritime patrol aircraft.

Whereas in the past few decades the Indian Navy has relied upon Soviet and -- to a lesser degree -- British naval technology, Indian leaders are shopping world-wide. Israeli, French, and South African as well as Russian weapons are being sought. And, the former U.S. amphibious ship Trenton (LPD 14) was transferred to India in 2007 and it is likely that six Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules aircraft will be acquired. Obviously, there are other U.S. naval platforms and systems of interest to India.

Thus, the Indian Navy is undergoing a massive expansion. By some criteria the naval expansion is greater than that of the other services. And, unlike the Chinese naval modernization, India's efforts are taking advantage of essentially all of the world's naval technologies and are being undertaken with relatively little publicity.

-- Norman Polmar

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