Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Friday, August 23, 2013

India's Navy: New Ships and Challenges

India has long aspired to be a competitor with China. Both countries are the proud bearers of ancient civilizations that have influenced the countries around them and both competed during the Cold War to present different models of development to the non-aligned countries. India was originally supportive of China's new revolutionary government. So it felt betrayed when Chinese forced suddenly attacked Indian military posts without warning in the icy wastelands of the Himilayas in the area between India and Tibet in October 1962. After delivering a sharp blow to India's prestige, the Chinese withdrew and even returned some of the Indian artillery tubes that they had captured. But since then India has felt that China, as much as Pakistan, is her regional enemy. 

The Indian-Chinese rivalry has shaped not only the development of India's nuclear deterrent force, but the development of India's navy as well. Under the British Raj, the Indian navy was just basically a coast guard meant to protect India's coasts and not project power. But since her independence that has changed dramatically. The Indian navy came of age during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 when Indian missile boats fired Styx missiles at Pakistani oil tanks at Kerachi on Pakistan's Indian Ocean coast. A  Pakistani submarine also sank an Indian frigate--the first ship sunk by a submarine since the Second World War and only one of two sunk since 1945. Before and since the Pakistan Navy has concentrated on its submarine arm and on aerial reconnaissance missions.  Indian naval aircraft flying off of India's sole carrier provided air cover for operations in East Pakistan, which became independent Bangladesh as a result of the war. 

Today India's navy is growing to maturity as a force meant to safeguard the sea lanes of communication across the Indian Ocean from East Africa to South East Asia. This is at the same time that China is developing a blue-water navy to project power and enforce China's territorial claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea. It is in the latter sea that the two navies would be most likely to clash in any likely confrontation, possibly driven by a future Indo-Pakistani war in which China intervenes on behalf of its regional ally or in a clash between China and a South East Asian ally of India. 

In August the Indian navy demonstrated both its strengths and weaknesses by launching its first indigenous aircraft carrier--its second carrier over all--and by suffering an explosion on board one of its Russian Kilo-class diesel submarines that sank it. It was not clear yet what caused the explosion. At the same time the nuclear reactor on India's first indigenous nuclear submarine went critical.

India, although capable of designing and building very advanced naval ships, is still forced to send its submarine fleet overseas to Russia for servicing and periodic upgrades to weaponry. The submarine that suffered the explosion also suffered problems while returning to India after refitting and had to be towed into port by the Egyptian navy for repairs there.  As a result of all this, the Chinese media has been ridiculing the Indian Naval Service in an obvious propaganda exercise in its state-controlled media. Once upon a time the term "paper tiger" was reserved exclusively for the United States. Next the Chinese will be referring to the Indians as the "running dogs of imperialism." But if the Indian navy is so weak why bother to ridicule it? It may be that China actually fears India's navy and its potential in confrontation. What is clear is that the INS now dwarfs the Royal Navy of India's former colonial master.

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