By Lt Col JS Sodhi (Retd)
The quote by Sir Walter Raleigh, a British adventurer in 1829 “For whosoever commands the sea commands the trade, whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself” holds true today as it did almost two centuries back.
As India readies to commission its second aircraft carrier Indian Naval Ship (INS) Vikrant on its Independence Day as a part of “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav” to celebrate and commemorate 75 years of Independence on August 15, 2022, the importance of Mother of Pilots or Flat Top as an Aircraft Carrier is also known in the naval parlance, is the pride of any nation as the entry of an aircraft carrier in a nation’s navy signals a tectonic shift in the blue water supremacy for any country.
There are a total of 47 aircraft carriers/helicopter carriers also called as helo carriers, in the world.
The USA has 11 aircraft carriers while China, Italy, United Kingdom and India (including soon to be commissioned INS Vikrant) have two each. France, Russia and Spain have one each. Thus, only seven countries have 22 aircraft carriers amongst them.
As regards helo carriers, the USA has nine, Japan has four, France has three, Australia, Egypt and South Korea have two each and China, Brazil and Thailand have one helo carrier each.
With the induction of INS Vikrant, built at a cost of Rs 23,000 crores which is also India’s first indigenously built aircraft carrier under the Atmanirbhar Bharat and the Make in India visionary initiatives of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the already in service aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, India is now well poised to contain China’s String of Pearls.
The String of Pearls is a network of Chinese military and commercial bases from the Chinese mainland to Port Sudan in the Horn of Africa. This network passes through important maritime choke points that include the Strait of Malacca, Strait of Hormuz, Strait of Mandeb, Gwadar Port in Pakistan and Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka.
The String of Pearls coupled with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and some parts of China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) pose a major threat to India’s security.
China has a diverse landscape with the Gobi Desert and the Taklamakan Desert in its north and the Himalaya, Pamir, Tian Shan and the Karakoram Mountain ranges in its west. It has sub-tropical forests in its south and a 14,500-kilometre coastline in its east.
The Chinese coastline is bounded by the South China Sea, East China Sea, Bohai Sea and the Yellow Sea.
The Yangtze River and the Yellow River, which are the third and the sixth largest rivers in the world respectively, run from the Tibetan Plateau in western China to eastern China. Other major rivers in China are Xi, Mekong, Brahmaputra and Amur.
With this kind of a geographical layout, it is but natural that eastern China would be the centre of gravity of the country. No wonder eastern China is home to about 90% of the Chinese population and has the most important cities like Beijing, Jinan, Shanghai and Shenzhen located in its eastern part.
Hence, the eastern part of China is the most vulnerable and China is aware that an attack on its coastline would make things difficult as it would get cut off from the world. It is this belly that is the most critical for China.
China has since long wanted to control the Indo-Pacific region which is of immense importance for its security and commercial shipping. The String of Pearls is one such initiative by China in this direction.
Preparations for India’s third aircraft carrier INS Vishal at a cost of Rs 50,000 crores have already commenced. India is well sailing forward to be a Blue Water Superpower.
A Blue Water Navy can operate globally in any ocean across the world in deep waters and is a potent force in establishing a country’s supremacy.
The Indian Navy needs to be equipped with 7 aircraft carriers to counter China. The rationale of having 7 aircraft carriers is one each for the east coast of Africa, Diego Garcia, Malacca Strait, Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. And having two aircraft carriers as reserves so as to be deployed when any one of the aircraft carriers undergo maintenance. The maintenance of any aircraft carrier is a time consuming and periodic process and we should at any point of time have 5 aircraft carriers in service.
These 7 aircraft carriers would give us total dominance in the waters and send a strong signal to China that in case of any misadventure by them on our northern and eastern borders, there would be a sure and a swift response on the Chinese coast.
The quote of Theodore Roosevelt “A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guarantee of peace” quite sums up the importance of a strong navy.
The author retired from the Corps of Engineers of the Indian Army is an alumnus of NDA, Khadakwasla and IIT Kanpur. He is an M.Tech in Structures and has also done MBA and LLB. He has been featured in the India Book of Records and Tweets and Koos at @JassiSodhi24.
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