Naval ambition: Plan to add 40 ships in 10 years is doable only if current practices on shipbuilding are changed 


With China flexing its muscle in the Indo-Pacific and acquiring the world’s largest navy, there’s no denying that the most consequential strategic battles of this century will play out on the high seas. This means that India needs to reorient its military – which has traditionally been focussed on land-based forces – to boost its naval prowess. Against this backdrop, it’s welcome that the Indian navy aims to become a 170-warship force from its current strength of 130 warships over the next decade. This is absolutely crucial to protect India’s maritime boundaries and cultivate force projection capabilities to counter China’s aggressive tactics – exploiting Beijing’s Malacca Strait Achilles’ heel depends on it.

However, the pace of India’s naval modernisation leaves a lot to be desired. The initial plan was for a 200-plus naval force, including both warships and submarines. This was scaled down to 170 warships by 2027. The new plan extends that time by at least another five years. In contrast, China already has 355 warships including at least 50 conventional and 10 nuclear submarines. India currently has just one nuclear-powered submarine with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, the INS Arihant. Therefore, the question is if India’s pace and scope of naval modernisation are enough.

Considering that China is estimated to acquire 460 warships by 2030 and now poses a collusive threat with Pakistan – to whom it recently transferred its largest and most advanced warship – India can’t afford to lag behind. True, the target of 170 warships for the Indian navy seems doable given that 39 naval ships and submarines are already under construction in various Indian shipyards. Additionally, two more of our warships are under construction in Russia. But the time taken from contract signing to commissioning of warships is still 8-10 years. This time frame needs to be drastically cut along with faster approvals and enhanced budgetary allocation for the navy. The strategic parts of Asia are seascapes. India must strengthen its sea-legs.

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This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.



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