General Rawat said the People's Liberation Army Navy is expanding exponentially and suggested that the Chinese could deploy their aircraft carriers beyond the Pacific and the South China Sea.

On Wednesday (25 August), General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Defence Staff of India, and Admiral John C Aquilino, Commander of the United States' Indo-Pacific Command, participated in a discussion on the US-India partnership organised by the Observer Research Foundation in Delhi.

Apart from questions on the situation in Afghanistan and the cooperation under Quad, the two were asked to comment on the possibility of China deploying aircraft carriers in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

General Rawat said the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is expanding exponentially and suggested that the Chinese could deploy their aircraft carriers beyond the Pacific and the South China Sea.

"Well, certainly, the carriers that the Chinese are building are not just for the Pacific or the South China Sea. They will definitely foray beyond that because they are aspiring to become a global power. If that is their aspiration, then we will see these carriers all over the oceans...they may be on the cost of America...or go to the African continent," he said, adding, "the Indian Navy has been given a fillip and we are moving in the right direction".

"We surely see the threat emerging in the Indian Ocean Region. We have to counter this threat by ensuring that also we develop our naval armada accordingly...ensure that we are able to take control of at least the Indian Ocean Region and the Indo-Pacific along with the other strategic partnerships that we are evolving," the Chief of Defence Staff added.

Admiral Aquilino said China's under-construction flat-deck carrier represents a desire to build a larger and more capable naval force.

"The carrier program [of China] is certainly one of the programmes in which we have seen the largest growth, from the initial purchase of a former Russian carrier and then indigenously produced second one. We believe the third one will be a much larger carrier with catapults and flat deck...clearly a desire to build a larger, more capable carrier force," the Admiral said.

"They could operate anywhere. I can't predict where they will be. They could be off the cost of India. They could be off the cost of the United States. The question is not where they are going to go with them but what they intend to do with it," Commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command said.

China's under-construction aircraft carrier, its third, is not only larger than its predecessors but also represents a major technological leap for China. It will feature a flat-top flight deck with a catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) system for the launch and recovery of aircraft from the deck of an aircraft carrier, an upgrade over the short take-off but arrested recovery (STOBAR) system used on China’s Liaoning and Shandong aircraft carriers and India’s INS Vikramaditya and IAC-1.

In the STOBAR system, aircraft are launched from a carrier using their own power with a ski-jump ramp on the bow of the carrier assisting take-off. However, in the CATOBAR system, mechanical assistance is provided to the aircraft for take off using a catapult, which is built into the carrier’s flight deck. In both these systems, arrestor wires, which rapidly but smoothly decelerate an aircraft as it lands on deck, are used for recovery.

A new pier that has come up at China’s overseas naval base in Djibouti is large enough to support aircraft carriers of the PLAN, US Army General Stephen Townsend, commander of the US Africa Command, told the US House Committee on Armed Services in April this year, confirming what many experts have been pointing out for over a year.

The base, located in the Horn of Africa and close to the Bab el-Mandeb, the entrance to the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aden, was opened in 2017. Since then, the base, China’s first overseas military outpost, has expanded significantly. The new 1,120-foot pier, located in deep waters, was completed in 2020.

The structure, experts say, is just long enough to accommodate the PLAN’s aircraft carrier. Interestingly, it could also be capable of accommodating up to four of China’s nuclear-powered attack submarines.