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As India plays catch up with China’s aircraft carriers, high costs loom large

India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said last month that his country would soon start building its third aircraft carrier, the proposed INS Vishal, adding that New Delhi “will not stop at that [three carriers]. We will make five, six more”.

Swaran Singh, an international-relations professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, said the strategic challenge from China’s increasing naval presence across the Indian Ocean had been a matter of concern for Indian policymakers and defence planners.

But the time needed “from visionary blueprints to operational trial sails on blue oceans” was long, he said, and acquiring five to six carriers could take decades.

“[This] means one has to really plan far in advance to meet future needs, which is what Defence Minister Singh seems to be doing,” said Singh, who is also a member of the governing board at the Delhi-based Society of Indian Ocean Studies.

Beijing deployed its navy and submarines in the Gulf of Aden in 2008 and 2014 in support of anti-piracy operations.

Long seen as within India’s sphere of influence, the Indian Ocean is strategically vital to Delhi as roughly 80 per cent of the country’s crude oil and 95 per cent of its trade passes through the region.

Singh added that there had always been a contest between the building of an “offensive submarine force versus defensive aircraft carriers”.


US and India agree on defence cooperation road map in the face of China’s regional influence

“India has had a mix of both of these,” Singh said, noting that given Delhi’s growing role in naval diplomacy, its navy would be expanded to address security and development challenges.

The Indian Navy currently operates 14 conventionally powered diesel-electric submarines and two