by Moksh Gadia

“The essence of leadership is to make a difference in your sphere of influence” said by O.O Isaac, fundamentally describes the role India has to play in the coming years more effectively in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The young Indian Republic, is a power raised from the crumbling ruins of the British Raj, who albeit not present, still hold a place among the armed forces through the customs and traditions left behind by them in the forces. Howsoever, brutal the British may have been, few can discredit their role for shaping India’s modern military doctrines. These doctrines are ever more important as we face a strong, aggressive and power-hungry China knocking at our doorsteps, coupled with our old friends in GHQ Rawalpindi waiting as hyenas to eat of a dead carcass.

“The British Army should be a projectile fired by the British Navy” this quote by Edward Grey the 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon should be the crux of our military policies- a strong blue water navy! For too long Raisina Hills ironically has been focussed on the hills, the mighty Himalayas. That young mountain range has been the historic seat of modern India’s most tensed and high-pitched battles and thus the most attention-grabbing sector in Indian policy making circles. Howsoever important the Siachen Glacier might be at 5,400 m above sea level, the real test of the Indian Superpower dream would be at sea level, in the vast Indian Ocean and beyond.

The most important debate in our Navy is Sea Control or Sea Denial. To put it in layman terms, Sea Control is the policy of strengthening your navy in such a way that your opponents can’t attack you directly, while sea denial ensures that you can deny your opponent complete access to your operating regions. Sea Control is an extremely costly modus operandi that usually involves the use of aircraft carriers as power projectors and deterrents to ensure your enemy has virtually no footprint in your sphere of influence. While Sea denial encompasses using less expensive platforms such as submarines, fast attack missile boats, etc. to deny your enemy easy ingress into your sphere of influence.

As the Coronavirus Pandemic rages through our financial coffers, the bureaucracy is doing what it does best-stalling. Economic constraints are posing a real danger to a project that in my best opinion will bring about the biggest paradigm shift in Asian Geopolitics- IAC 2 (INS VISHAL). INS Vishal was earlier planned to be a nuclear powered CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take-off with Assisted Recovery) supercarrier, the key to a Sea Control policy. Such a complex weapon system has the potential of changing the status quo in the IOR completely.

However, this ambitious project is currently stuck in a deadlock at the Finance Ministry over its financial viability and geo-political necessity. The simple question is does India need a third aircraft carrier over a larger submarine fleet? The answer isn’t that simple.

To understand the problem at hand we need to first look at the Indian Navy’s current fleet strength and how it compares to that of China’s and Pakistan’s combined force. The most problematic area where we are drastically outnumbered is in submarines where China’s 76 overshadows India’s 15. Chinese submarines have consistently been pushing the Indian Navy by regular ingresses in the IOR. This tactic of the Chinese is known as ‘Salami Slicing’, where the battles aren’t fought for large areas of land or sea but for inches and through these inches, they hope to gain a mile and then some. Now, Chinese Submarines have done so in the South China Sea and the IOR as well. To counter this several experts have stated that a similar doctrine encompassing the use of submarines in a similar manner would help India counter China. I beg to differ, the only and only way to counter this sort of salami slicing is to completely push China on the backfoot using an aggressive Carrier Battle Group. It is only Sea Control that will be able to hold off repeated Chinese incursions by applying extreme pressure on any forward deployed Chinese subs or ships.

I cannot reiterate this enough India NEEDS as many aircraft carriers as it can get it hands on. Why? There is no greater power projection asset than a moving airstrip of fighter jets lurking around your shores. Secondly, attacking an aircraft carrier is politically and militarily extremely difficult. No country has ever attacked an aircraft carrier successfully since World War 2 and there are many reasons for it. Attacking an aircraft carrier is a decision that would most likely be taken only after a “no-quarters given” military engagement between countries begins, but as seen during Balakot and Ladakh standoffs the age for such an all-out war has essentially gone. It is not an age of Peace but of Deterrence. He who has the biggest sword wins the war and INS Vishal is a sword that can win a war before even beginning it. If an asset has the ability to prevent a war simply using its fear, what more do you want?

Don’t get me wrong submarines are essential tools in warfare, but they can be bought in favour over an aircraft carrier. The threat posed by Chinese Submarines can be easily countered by P8I Poseidon aircraft and MH-60R helicopters already bought, since Chinese Submarine have essentially no protection from an air attack and cannot even launch a Surface to Air Missile.

Another idea given by several experts is converting our island territories into airstrips. But that essentially gives the enemy an accurate location of your fighter planes and the maximum range they can go and easily target such an island. During the Battle of Midway it wasn’t the Airstrips of Midway that won the Americans the war but their carriers. The simple reason is that a moving airfield is a 1000x times better than a stationary airstrip.

Thus, I would like to rest my case for INS VISHAL right here. The necessity for INS Vishal exists and if South Block doesn’t take a more proactive aggressive strategy, China would continue pushing around us. The greatest victory is the one where you don’t need to fight. INS Vishal would make any adversary weary of going to war with India.

Moksh Gadia works at the Law Firm Reddy & Reddy, and he tracks military and aerospace issues closely. Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IDN