India adding 2 aircraft carriers to counter China's might

August 22, 2011

By EISHIRO TAKEISHI Correspondent

KOCHI, India--India, which until now has relied on just one antiquated aircraft carrier to guard its waters, is adding two flattops to its naval fleet in an apparent effort to counter China's rising naval might.

Regional power India is building its first domestically constructed aircraft carrier at a dock in Kochi, southern India, and plans to commission it in 2015.

The body of the 40,000-ton class vessel has been almost completed with assistance from Italy and Russia.

India will also purchase the Admiral Gorshkov, a 45,000-ton Soviet aircraft carrier originally deployed in 1987, from Russia for $2.3 billion (176 billion yen) by the end of 2012.

While Russia is refitting the vessel, India has already taken over 11 MiG-29K carrier-based fighter jets and sent 150 crew members to Russia for training.

The Indian navy's only aircraft carrier, the Viraat, was built in 1953.

The vessel, then known as the Hermes, was the flagship of Britain's Royal Navy during the Falklands War in 1982.

India, which purchased the vessel in 1986, spends two to three months each year on repairs.

The captain of the Viraat said the vessel should be in active service by around 2018.

There have been reports that India plans to construct a 60,000-ton class aircraft carrier, its second to be built domestically, to maintain a fleet of three, even after the Viraat retires.

India's decision to add aircraft carriers to its fleet is apparently intended to counter China, which is expanding its naval activities in the South China Sea and tested its first flattop this month.

China has been developing a string of seaports around India, known as the "pearl necklace." It includes Gwadar in Pakistan, Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Chittagong in Bangladesh, Sittwe in Myanmar (Burma) and the Coco Islands.

India has been worried that China may eventually use these ports for military purposes.

Of particular concern is Sri Lanka, which is in India's backyard.

China, through large-scale military and economic assistance, has become Sri Lanka's main backer at a time when Colombo remains internationally isolated over alleged war crimes committed against the Tamil minority during the Sri Lankan civil war that lasted until 2009.

Most of the Chinese vessels dispatched for anti-piracy operations off Somalia are refueled in Sri Lanka, according to Indian naval sources.

India opened a consulate in Hambantota, in Sri Lanka's south, soon after a Chinese state-owned enterprise completed a port there. The diplomatic facility was set up apparently to monitor comings and goings at the port.

The Indian navy, meanwhile, has been working closely with the navies of other countries as a counterweight to China.

In April, India and the United States conducted the Malabar joint naval exercise, the 14th in a series, in the Pacific Ocean.

The Indian navy also conducts a joint training exercise with its counterparts from Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries around the Andaman Islands close to the Strait of Malacca once every two years.

A senior official of the Indian navy said India has a much longer history than China with regard to aircraft carriers and that its superiority will not be shaken easily.

India purchased its first aircraft carrier, the 20,000-ton class Vikrant, from Britain in 1957. During the third India-Pakistan War of 1971, jet fighters used the aircraft carrier to stage aerial attacks on East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.

By EISHIRO TAKEISHI Correspondent
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The Viraat aircraft carrier, the flagship of the Indian navy, is anchored at Kochi, India. (Eishiro Takeishi)

The Viraat aircraft carrier, the flagship of the Indian navy, is anchored at Kochi, India. (Eishiro Takeishi)

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  • The Viraat aircraft carrier, the flagship of the Indian navy, is anchored at Kochi, India. (Eishiro Takeishi)

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