Prime Minister Modi on the deck of India's first indigenous aircraft carrier INS VIKRANT

The Indian Navy currently operates two aircraft carriers - the Russian-built 40,000-ton INS Vikramaditya and the 44,000-ton indigenously produced INS Vikrant

The government of India should "seriously" consider the navy's request for a much larger third aircraft carrier, a veteran who served in the country's blue water force for three decades from 1981 to 2011 has urged.

According to retired commodore Anil Jai Singh, vice-president of the Delhi-based naval think tank Indian Maritime Foundation, unlike a 40,000 or a 44,000-ton aircraft carrier, a 65,000-ton warship has immense advantages because it can carry large planes, strike deep into enemy territory and incorporate several modern technologies.

Commodore Jai Singh said the navy has set its sights on this heavier new aircraft carrier.

"A 65,000-ton warship gives the force far more capability, both in terms of the kind of aircraft you can carry and the reach of those planes because the bigger the fighter jet, the further it can go, the further it can carry out a strike," he said.

But as per Indian Navy chief Admiral Hari Kumar's interview on Navy Day, the government may not be of the same opinion. Kumar asserted that the force would be quite happy to get another 44,000-ton carrier like the Vikrant.

Singh, however, feels that if India goes for an aircraft carrier like the Vikrant, it may be a "compromise arrangement."

Explaining his rationale, the former navy officer stated that India was not looking at an aircraft carrier for tomorrow's war or for "deterring China tomorrow."

"An aircraft carrier means it is looking 20 years ahead - what will be the requirements 20 years from now in the Indian Ocean and beyond, what kind of power will India be 20 years from now, that is what we need to keep in mind, that is the capability the navy is looking at. For that capability, let's say in 2040, we have to start working on it now," he pointed out.

He then laid out the reasons why India must build a third aircraft carrier, at least a 44,000-ton one if not a 65,000-ton vessel.

Singh emphasized that India was now looking to play a certain role on the global stage. For that and as a leading maritime power in the Indian Ocean, it has to ensure that at any given time it enjoys a favorable maritime balance.

He further elaborated that 90 percent of India's trade and 80 percent of its energy comes by sea, meaning Delhi is dependent on the sea for its economic well-being and energy security.

Therefore, India should take steps to ensure that there is nothing that can jeopardize this, and having a third battleship will help achieve this.

Singh noted that India has always been structured as a carrier-centric blue water navy, which means that if its carrier capability has to be credible, it must at least have one or two carriers operational at all times.

"For many years, India had only one carrier, so if that carrier was in refit, the Indian Navy had no carrier for six months, nine months, or one year, whatever the length of the refit was. With two carriers also, if one of them is in refit you only have one carrier," Jai Singh stressed.

The former Indian Navy commander reckons that the Indian Ocean is becoming a very contested space and with China building four-five aircraft carriers, India's dominance in the region was under threat. The only way India could thwart the Chinese challenge is by having a third aircraft carrier, he argued.

"By 2030, China will have at least four to five aircraft carriers. Once it has anything more than three to four aircraft carriers, it will deploy those aircraft carriers, at least one aircraft carrier battle group will always be in the Indian Ocean," Singh commented.

"Now if India has to retain what I called a favorable maritime situation, it has to be able to ensure that the Chinese aircraft carrier battle group cannot dominate the Indian Ocean," he said.

He remarked that it was important for India to have two aircraft battle groups at all times. Both from a point of view of countering the future Chinese presence and projecting its own power, not only in the Indian Ocean but even beyond in the Indo-Pacific in peacetime.

On the other hand, in wartime, an aircraft carrier is an extremely potent platform as it carries a large number of aircraft and has a complete multi-dimensional battle group around it. So, when that carrier battle group moves 400-500 miles in a day, it can change the complexion of the maritime battle space wherever it is operating.

Moreover, the aircraft carrier also has a very good command and control platform because of its size, its capability, and the sensors it has. With network-centric warfare becoming prevalent, the area that a carrier battle group can cover is much wider than it would cover earlier.

"That's why the carrier is important because then it can control much larger battle spaces because of the advantage of network-centric warfare with tactical data links, multi-static sensors, etc. being used by ships," Singh affirmed.

"The rationale behind having three aircraft carriers is very clear - we need to have two operational at any given point of time," he said.

Commodore Anil Jai Singh also put out the reasons why the construction of another aircraft carrier was vital for its defense industrial base, given that its last warship, Vikrant, was manufactured in a local shipyard.

"It is not about a carrier, you have created a whole ecosystem. You have created a skill set in a shipyard that can build aircraft carriers. Creating this kind of resource costs money, it takes time, it takes energy and it takes valuable human resources," he remarked.

Such a program must be continued, he stressed.

"We learned this bitter lesson with our submarine program, we built two submarines in 1992 and 1994 and then stopped the submarine building program and now we are still struggling to build our own submarines 25-30 years later," he said.

Around 700 MSMEs (micro, small & medium enterprises) were involved in the construction of India's newest warship, the Vikrant, which got commissioned last year.

Singh believes that India has to keep those industries going. Otherwise, they will lose the capability that they have picked up.

"This is one rationale for ensuring that the aircraft carrier is a series production. By the time the third one gets ready, the first one will start getting old, you can start building your fourth one then, so that by the time the fourth one is ready, the first one gets decommissioned, so it has to be a series production," he concluded.