China and the United States are having a faceoff with the continued deployment of aircraft carriers in the South China Sea. It was reported that the Chinese deployed their Liaoning aircraft carrier with other warships escorting them near the Hainan Island. The United States too had its Roosevelt, Nimitz class carrier sailing in the South China Sea. Over the past few days, the Chinese have also been engaging largest ever naval parade in the South China Sea.
The parade presided over the by President Xi Jinping himself, included 48 naval vessels, 6 nuclear powered submarines, 76 aircraft and the country’s aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. More than 10,000 personnel participated in the event and President Xi had emphatically told the naval personnel that China is in need of world-leading naval force. He also urged them to devote their unswerving loyalty to the party.
After displaying its mightly naval power, the Chinese are now likely to begin the sea trials of its fully indigenous aircraft carrier. Unlike the Liaoning, the first aircraft carrier which was a refurbished from Soviet cruiser Varyag, the Type 001A, will be fully home built. It was also reported that during the annual National People’s Congress, the Chairman of the Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Corporation confirmed that Type 001A was ready for trials.
China’s rapid pace in developing and operating aircraft carriers surely is a strategic setback for India. India which has only one operational aircraft carrier will severely lag behind China and its advancing naval power. TOI reported that the new 40,000-tonne indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-I) or the INS Vikrant might begin its sea trials only after October 2020. It will take a year further for it be completely operational and be fitted with combat ready weapon systems. The total cost of the aircraft carrier is estimated to be Rs. 19,000 Cr.
“What China has done in the South China Sea is not a mere show of force. The Chinese want to compete with the U.S. and they are focused on being the world power. I am sure the Indian Navy took note of what is happening. But the impetus is for the government to react”, told Admiral (Retd) Arun Prakash to Financial Express Online.
The INS Vikrant which is in its final stages, would take a year or so to be completely operational. “INS Vikrant was sanctioned in 2004 and INS Vishal has remained nothing but a dream for the Indian Navy. The Government must understand that it must buttress economic growth with military strength”, added Admiral Arun Prakash.
Experts also suggest the reason for successive governments to lag behind is because none of them have come up with a national maritime strategy. Admiral Arun Prakash welcomed the Make in India initiative under Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. But he also said that for any policy to be bear fruit completely it would take at least take 10-15 years.
On the contrary, Abhijit Singh, Senior Fellow who heads the Maritime Policy at ORF, writes that India need not fret too much about a Chinese carrier threat. He says, “For all the hyperbole surrounding the Shandong, there is little evidence China’s aircraft carriers will cross the operational threshold for sustained far-seas deployment in the near future”. According to Singh, the real threat that India faces is from Chinese submarines and not Chinese aircraft carriers.
However, China will soon induct its domestically built Type 001A aircraft carrier. It is designed for short take-off but arrested recovery (STOBAR) operations and is also likely to be upgraded to have nuclear propulsion and catapult assisted take-off recovery (CATOBAR) technology as well. The carrier is likely to have the capacity to carry 48 fighter jets.