Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Indian Navy (IN) - Holy Cow! :: By GB Reddy

Wake Up “Blindmen of Hindustan” – political leaders, bureaucrats, technocrats and Admirals. 

Time to understand the nuances of the IN - Holy Cow! Never late to promote an informed debate.

The IN demand for third aircraft carrier (cost estimated for full complement - over Rs.1,50,000 crores likely to be spread over 5-8 years times span between laying the ‘Keel’ and commissioning) as strategic means to deter and dominate the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), besides power projection and influence over the Asia Pacific Region needs in depth review. Inevitable will be cost escalation due to time over run and advanced technologies thereof.

“Hawks” believe India to be a regional power, aspiring to global power status - strategically a blinkered or warped view. Time-frames for such enhanced power are indeterminate.  Even in the present strategic environ-ment context, India cannot lay claims to be a South Asian power which exercises hegemony or dominance on its peripheral nations. Strategic deadlock or stalemate persists.

An in-depth cost-effective study is, therefore, an imperative. Geopolitics, National Maritime Security interests and Roles assigned to IN by Government of India, Defence Strategy enunciated by Ministry of Defence, “New Operational Environment”, and IN’s Maritime/Naval strategy – ways, means and ends at the least or optimum costs to execute the assigned roles must be evaluated in detail. “Sea based v/s Air based v/s Land based” systems, concepts and their operational effectiveness and costs must determine “multi domain” choices instead of archaic “uni-domain centric” numbers/size obsession.

Fact - unique India’s and Andaman-Nicobar Island Territories geostrategic significance – like a “Dagger” jutting into the IOR and “Shield” straddling Sea Lines of Communications (SLOCs) through Straits of Malacca. No other nation enjoys such a unique geo strategic advantage for dominating the international shipping lanes passing through IOR by a variety of means like the Navy and Air Force...

Undeniably, such a geo-strategic significance provides alternate options to deter and dominate the IOR in short and mid-term contexts and project influence over the Asia Pacific Region in a long term context based on enhanced ‘power’ status – economy, technology and soft power.

Integrated “Multi-Domain Air-Sea-Land” integrated strategic approach is a compelling imperative in the face of China’s PLA Navy (PLAN) incremental build up, particularly projected high-end technology spectrum of air and missile threat capabilities and UAVs over High Seas. No illusions!

Let me recall roles of IN includes: Sea control; Security of Sea-Lines of Communication (SLOC); Maintaining Influence in IOR; Safeguarding Vital Interests Overseas; Security of Island Territories; Non-military Missions; and politico-diplomatic forays.

Let me also briefly outline the IN threat concerns in the IOR and Asia Pacific region. Pakistan Navy’s capability is quite insignificant. Pak Navy’s naval combat systems include: Attack Submarines – 3xAgosta 90B and 2xAgosta 70; 10 Frigates; 11 fast attack missiles patrol craft; 3 Mine Hunters; and other Auxiliary fleet ships. Recently, Pakistan has test-fired Harba anti-ship cruise missile, which appears to be a variant of the Babur-series LACM, which is deployable from land and has a stated range of 700 km. In January 2017, Pakistan also tested the 450-km range Babur 3 SLCM.

In contrast, the IN’s current fleet is 137 vessels all types; by 2027, likely to have 198 warships. Ships and submarines under construction include: one aircraft career; ASU submarines - six conventional Scorpene, six nuclear powered and two midget for special operations; four stealth guided destroyers; stealth frigates - seven under Project-17A and 10 Talwar class; corvettes (ASW) – 4+8 Kamorta class, 16 Shallow water and six Next Gen; 12 mine countermeasure vessels (MCMV);  and others.

Thus, understanding Chinese PLAN developments, based on its multi-front, multi-domain force levels, strategic threat concerns and vision, is, therefore, critical. PLAN current force level is around 492 warships (excludes auxiliaries) deployed in three fleets include: 1 aircraft carrier; 68 submarines; 94 submarine chasers; 29 destroyers; 50 frigates; 37 corvettes; 109 missile boats; 17 gunboats; 29 mine countermeasure vessels; 4 amphibious transport docks; 32 landing ship tanks; 31 landing ship medium; 12 replenishment ships; and 232 auxiliaries.

In the “Sea” domains, both surface and sub surface, China faces US Navy force projectionIts vision is to deter and limit US Navy Supercarriers operations beyond “Second Island Chain”.  So, it is accelerating its efforts to acquire sophisticated anti-ship missiles, aircraft carriers and submarines. DF-21D, known as “carrier killer” with a range of 1000 to 1200 kms is to strike at hostile carrier based fleets inside the “First Island Chain”. The improved DF-26 (3000-4000 km), known as “medium-size ship killer” is to reach the “Second Island Chain” in the western Pacific Ocean, all the way to the US base on Guam.

As per the present plan, PLAN is to field two new aircraft carriers with the present one being used as a training platform. As per naval experts, China would need at least 6+1 aircraft carriers to gain naval ascendency in the Pacific with the Liaoning retained as a training carrier. China will also begin construction on a new Type 081-class landing helicopter assault ship within the next five years.

Most important, PLANs modernization effort in the submarine fleet is awesome - world’s biggest attack-sub fleets, with five JIN-class nuclear models (JL-2 nuclear capable missile range more than 8000 Kms) and at least 50 diesel models.  China has expanded its force of nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN). Two SHANG-class SSNs (Type 093) are already in service, and China is building four improved variants of the SHANG-class SSN. In the next decade, China will likely construct the Type 095 guided-missile attack submarine (SSGN). In contrast, the USA has 14 boomers and 55 nuclear attack subs.

The PLAN’s other combat warships include:  guided missile destroyers (6 + 12 x DDGs); guided missile frigates (12 + 6+? x FFGs), with the versatility for both offshore and long-distance operations; JIANGDAO-class FFL (20 -30 ships); and 60 HOUBEI-class wave-piercing catamaran missile patrol boats (PTG) (Type 022), each capable of carrying eight YJ-83 ASCMs, for operations in littoral waters. The new DDGs and FFGs provide a significant upgrade to the PLA Navy’s area air defence capability, which will be critical as it expands operations into “distant seas” beyond the range of shore-based air defence. The PLAN is increasing its amphibious force.

More importantly, China has developed long-range aircraft equipped with anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), submarines and surface ships capable of launching these long range missiles that could target US aircraft carriers while evading the US Navy's Aegis Defence System. Today, any carrier operating within 1,000 miles of the Chinese coast knows that it can be targeted at any moment.

To counter emerging “anti-access/area denial” (A2AD) technologies that include ballistic and cruise missiles that can reach ships over a thousand miles from shore, the U.S. Navy has invested billions of dollars in anti-A2AD capabilities — such as electronic-spectrum jamming, directed-energy weapons, electromagnetic rail guns, and ballistic-missile defences — in a vain attempt to defend the carrier.

Thus, the compelling need for informed debated of acquisition aircraft careers Vis a Vis other means and options available to execute assigned roles. Only INS Vikramaditya, 45,400 tones, modified Kiev class (STOBAR carrier), was formally commissioned in 2013. Earlier aircraft careers - INS Vikrant and Viraat - were retired from service.

Today, the construction of a 40,000-tonne carrier, the second one, in Cochin Shipyard powered by four gas-turbine engines with a range of 15,000kms, carrying 160 officers, 1,400 sailors, and 40 aircraft, is progressing. The ship was launched in August 2013 and likely to be commissioned in 2018.  The 3rd Vikrant-class carrier INS Vishal, nuclear-powered with CATOBAR system for heavier aircraft and unmanned combat aircraft, with a displacement of over 65,000 tons is planned.

“Hawks” justify aircraft carriers since they represent an awesome symbol of national power. Its overseas missions and port-calls, when used with prudence and in a non-threatening pose, can yield intangible, but substantial, dividends to the country.

Next, the current total submarine fleet of 16 includes: two nuclear-powered submarines, including an Akula II-class boat leased from Russia. In 2016 India commissioned it’s first indigenously built nuclear-powered submarine, INS Arihant. However, Arihant spent ten months out of action due to a hatch being improperly sealed; but damage fixed. The estimated cost to build six nuclear submarines is less than Rs 35,000 crores. These submarines would be based on the design of INS Arihant.

Also, the indigenization of the $11 billion Project 75 (I) to build six advanced stealth submarines marks a new chapter in our submarine capability. Induction of Kalvari, the first of six Scorpene-class, suffered a five-year delay due to issues relating to technology transfer. Plans are to induct the rest by 2020 to help meet the target of building 24 submarines by 2030.

Understanding the classification of aircraft carriers is a key basic factor – four categories. One, by roles of four categories: fleet carriers (largest with fastest speeds), escort carriers, light aircraft carriers and helicopter carriers. Two, aircraft carriers classified by configuration - Catapult-assisted take-off barrier arrested-recovery (CATOBAR); Short take-off but arrested-recovery (STOBAR); Short take-off vertical-landing (STOVL); and; Helicopter carrier.

Three, classified by size of displacement like Supercarriers, displacing over 70,000 tones or greater, have become the pinnacle of carrier development. Mostly, they are powered by nuclear reactors. Finally, by power of propulsions: nuclear powered and conventional.

As of January 2018, there are 41 active aircraft carriers in the world operated by 13 countries. The US Navy has 11 active nuclear powered Supercarriers carrying 80 fighter jets (from around 50 in post World War II era). In addition, the US Navy has nine amphibious assault ships used primarily for helicopters, although these also carry up to 20 vertical or short take-off and landing (V/STOL) fighter jets and similar in size to medium-sized fleet carriers. Future Supercarriers are under construction or in design phase of development by China, India, Russia, and the US.

Russia, China, France and India have one medium-sized conventional carrier each with capacity from 30 to 50 fighter jets. Others nations include: two light fleet carriers operated by Italy and one by Spain (1); and Helicopter carriers are operated by Australia (2), Egypt (2), France (3), Japan (4), South Korea (1), Thailand (1) and the UK(1).

Today and even in mid-term context, neither Russia nor China can lay pretensions of challenging USAs supremacy in aircraft carriers and their global roles.

Writing in the National Review in 2015, retired US Navy Captain Jerry Hendrix made the case that aircraft carriers are simply not suited to the future of naval warfare. Carriers, although larger and more technically impressive than ever, are systems designed in a different historical age to deal with a very different historical context: a time when states fought major naval engagements while operating at a comparable technological and operational level.

Most important, since World War II, aircraft carriers have been operating in low-threat, permissive environments almost continuouslyAt no time since 1946 has a carrier had to fend off attacks by enemy aircraft, surface ships, or submarines.

Also, the efficacy of the carrier lies not in the ship but in the capabilities of its planes. Today, combat range of most of those planes is only 500 miles. This means that, even steaming at 30 knots, the carrier would spend 15 hours under an A2AD threat in order to carry its planes close enough to hit land targets. Also, they do not have sufficient in-flight refuelling capacity.

As per US experts, the probability of operational effectiveness in the “New Operational Environment’ is low. But while sinking an aircraft carrier is difficult, it’s not impossible. The U.S. defence community has debated whether or not aircraft carriers are a bit pointless since the late 1940s. Technological developments have placed the carrier’s survivability into question.

Precision-guided missiles (unmanned Kamikazes, in a sense) and high performance “true” submarines threatened to make carriers impossible to defend, especially in combination with nuclear weapons.

Also, costs of Super carriers are extraordinarily expensive. "At $14 billion apiece, one of them can cost the equivalent of nearly an entire year's shipbuilding budget," Hendrix notes. A Nimitz-class Supercarrier carries around 5,000 people on board with functional internal economy. Furthermore, U.S. carrier strike group costs $25 million per week for routine operations, rising to $40 million during combat operations. Thus, its life-cycle cost will be phenomenal. Since they concentrate an enormous degree of firepower in one (potentially vulnerable) platform, they represent an unwarranted expense.

And, the loss of a single carrier could conceivably demoralize the nation. "For this reason, the modern carrier violates a core principle of war: Never introduce an element that you cannot afford to lose," Hendrix writes.

Further, losing a platform with nearly 5,000 souls on board would extraordinarily demoralizing to the nation. So Admirals would refrain from employing in a high-threat environment.

No aircraft carrier has ever been hit by a modern torpedo of any sort. Also, shooting anything at an aircraft carrier is a costly, difficult operation. And beyond the monetary cost, launching an open attack against a carrier strike group, with its own cruisers, destroyers, and submarines, is almost certainly a suicide mission. However, China has adopted a variety of different cruise missiles launched from different platforms to threaten US carrier groups with ALCMs, and ASBMs.

Given carriers' vulnerability in combat and to peacetime asymmetrical warfare attacks, the use of more and smaller carriers rather than large vessels has been suggested over the years. However, Supercarriers advocates consider them to be more cost-effective than a larger number of smaller carriers.

Thus, Navy’s fixation with the huge ships is always under criticism. Such critics suggest that smaller, cheaper vessels could perform many of the same tasks. But Navy’s Admirals practically revolt at such a proposition.

Less known are some of the INs historic facts. In 1965 War, INS Vikrant was in dry dock for maintenance. In 1971, it was deployed in the Bay of Bengal in low threat environment. In almost all Indian Navy exercises, the Blue Land Forces Commander deploys the aircraft career South of Goa and out of range of Pakistani air or ship launched cruise missiles. So, force projection is ruled out.

Even the employment of aircraft carrier on ‘fleet escort’ missions in the limited war scenario does not arise. For sea control mission, Indian Navy has other means available like “Sea Control destroyers and frigates” besides submarines of different types.

Just either for show of force or rescue missions in peace times, no need to opt for “White Elephants”.  No nation can afford to waste lakhs of crores to hand out water, food, and blankets. Similarly, escort missions can be ruled out. Although 90% of nation’s trade by volume is done via sea (14th largest shipping industry with 515 vessels), yet bulk of it transported in foreign ships (around 258 vessels are only engaged in foreign trade).

In the light of the foregoing, IN must overcome its obsession with the Supercarriers as the centre-piece of naval warfare.  IN must prepare for a shorter and less expensive war in its IOR backyard with strategy based on disruptive campaign of sea control and economic blockade. Additional guided-missile warships, submarines, sea mines and under water anti sub nets, must be acquired integrated with “Air based and Land based” combat systems to deter adversaries.

No point in the IN, year after year, crying hoarse over shortfalls in budget allocations. To address its budget crisis, it must pragmatically review the “Emerging Strategic and Operational Environment”, threat perspective and aircraft carrier now-marginal combat effectiveness preceded by extraordinarily unique geo- strategic advantage of mainland jutting like a “Dagger into the IOR” and Andaman Nicobar Islands like “Shield blocking the Malacca Straights” to identify and determine the most optimal inter se “Multi Domain” opportunities available to exploit thereby optimizing costs but enhancing operational effectiveness.

After all, India is on course to embrace technological innovations in air delivered and land based combat systems and to increase their effectiveness. Its implications are clear: India needs to stop building aircraft carriers; and opt for more potent naval war vessels to counter PLAN threat in the IOR.

Surely, the nation deserves an innovative solution to the strategic problems in IOR and Asia Pacific.

IN should opt for a fleet-mix to win the war it’s likely to fight instead of fantasizing. Resources recouped from ceasing construction of an Rs.1, 50,000 crores carrier could be redirected to the construction of additional air bases and shore based infrastructure, missile-laden destroyers, or nuclear powered submarines, or frigates, or high-speed vessels, or any combination thereof.

A revolutionary new fleet that is marked by lower costs and ruthless efficiency is the need of hour. The simple fact is that there is enough money to purchase surface and sub-surface ships in sufficient numbers to seize and maintain strategic initiative and imposing costs on adversaries.  Advanced technologies such as directed energy, electromagnetic rail guns, and hypersonic propulsion systems must find place instead of defending a legacy platform.

This article worth its weight in gold. I have interacted conside-rably with Submariners in the privacy of their homes and they hold much the same views as the Author. As a student Officer I had interacted with Admiral Pereira in the question and answer session at the end of his lecture at the Defence Services Staff College. Admiral Pereira had been a great Carrier enthusiast. I had asked him that if sea control could be affected from the air and undersea, would there be a requirement for Aircraft Carriers? 

Being an ex-fighter pilot, I have always believed in Giulio Douhet's (father of Air Strategy) dictum that the bomber will always get through. So what does the bomber (or cruise missile!) find after he gets through? A single point at which all the enemy's  offensive power is concentrated. One hit and its all over at enormous cost to the enemy.  In my opinion the Admiral did not provide convincing answers. Later on I was chided for not being polite enough to the Admiral by the Directing Staff.  The Carrier won the day by pulling rank on me. I think rank is still on the side of the Carrier. Kudos to the author for saying that the Emperor has no clothes. Another thing, in today's world a Carrier has nowhere to hide. There is no surprise element of overwhelming power

Rajesh Khosla      


Tks for appreciating the contents of my paper. At least, I have one positive response to my paper.

Laughable it is to commit huge expenditure - life cycle costs.  

The task of deterring Chinese aircraft carriers can be done better from land based air and surface combat weapons systems.

As on date, China has limited aircraft carrier capability with prime task orientation focussed towards Korea-Japan (East Seas) and South China Sea.

Even when it fields the 3rd carrier some years later, will China deploy it in the IOR region within the strike range of our "INTEGRATED" combat power that includes subs, warships, underwater mines and a horde of other combat systems.

Chinese Admirals would be fools to employ their "Carrier Fleet" in "Power Projection" role on Indian land mass. At best what they can do is excise sea control out of range of our systems and well beyond conventional international SLOCs.

In fact, I am a firm believer to send the "Right" message to China: U try any stunts on the land frontiers, we would play havoc in the IOR, particularly its major "Oil and Gas" pipeline through "Sitwee" port in Myanmar.

Be that as it may, China does not want to enter into any major wars as of now for it is against its "Xi Jinping's Dream" of regeneration of Middle Kingdom" status by around 2030 AD. 
Our "Integrated Plans" should be based on such a scenario to cater to the "New Operational Environment" due to technology breakthroughs.


Thank you sir for your response. In my idle moments I have looked at the Indian Ocean Map and found that there are enough Islands within the Ocean to provide "unsinkable" Aircraft Carriers and within comfortable air range to cover the entire ocean. Since the Second World War, it has been air power that has dominated the oceans. Islands/land masses well defended by air were never attacked by carriers. On occasions I have discussed this matter with my MEA friends on the golf course. They threw up their hands in horror at this espousal of "gunboat" diplomacy.

The crying need of the hour is a Monroe Doctrine for the Indian Ocean. With no strategic vision in the eyes of the Politician, Babu, Policeman nexus in Raisina hill, it is but natural for the Chinese, who think far, far ahead to make inroads. We need to look at the Army's dictum of one foot firmly on the ground before we can think of moving ahead. The carriers may come when we think of expansion into the open Pacific.

Would the Navy like to comment? I know from past experience that this is a closed subject to them.

Rajesh Khosla 
A real interesting, valuable and frank initial article by GB Reddy, with equally valuable comments by Rajesh Khosla, that demands a read by all Servicemen - including retd guys - to get a 'broader picture', as also by 'political leaders, bureaucrats, technocrats and Admirals,' as suggested by GbR, and even Generals and Air Marshals.

I found the article with the comments very interesting. In fact, it should be published in national newspapers and mags for 'general awareness'.

Unfortunately, I have not had the pleasure of meeting/knowing either of these gentlemen. Shall be happy to know more about them.

(Very) slight 'editing' and emphasising (colour) has been done by me, which may please be pardoned.

 Colonel Ronnie Burjor Mistry



  1. A very interesting article. Hope the Admirals of the IN get it.

  2. An anti Naval aviation lobby is active since the purchase of old INS Vikrant from UK in 1958. TO day same type of people are joining together and doing harm to indian navy by suggesting carrier operation is expensive and we should not go for it by quoting an very huge price of 150000 cores of rupees.USA,UK, china ,japan are developing nuclear powered carrier with VSTOL capacity without understanding all this problem and those with submarine background feels war can be won by underwater arm alone .I feel this is quite childish thinking and country like india with such a vast coast line, a fleet with modern aircraft carrier will deter the enemy to act on us.

  3. This website has the title of 'Ex Servicemen's Welfare'.
    I don't see how this article on strategy and acquisiition of an aircraft carrier is relevant to that title!

  4. This Blog is titled 'Ex Servicemen's Welfare'
    I do't see how such a long winded article on acquisition of an aircraft carrier by India is relevant to Ex Servicemen's Welfare!

  5. Quite surprise blog and looks like some illegal data and ileegel informtion to mis guide people beware of this blog before reading

  6. An interesting and thought provoking article. Really one is compelled to think with other means available to us to defend our maritime interests do we really need a white elephant?.