New Delhi: With China flexing its muscles, the Narendra Modi government is now looking favourably at the Navy’s need for a third aircraft carrier as the “situation of peace” has changed, ThePrint has learnt.
Top government sources told ThePrint that while the current focus is on submarines, for which the government will soon set the ball rolling for six more conventional submarines under Project 75I, there is a change in the government’s position regarding a third aircraft carrier.
“The times have changed. Earlier it was time of peace and now it is not,” a top government source said, in what appeared to be a reference to the current tensions between India and China in Eastern Ladakh.
The Indian Navy operates the Russian-built INS Vikramaditya and a second indigenously-built carrier is in the final stages of construction.
But even though the Navy has been firm on its plan to have a second indigenous aircraft carrier, the government wasn’t so convinced until now.
Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat in February had said that the approval for a third carrier would take time as, according to him, the Navy needed submarines and not aircraft carriers as “anything on surface can be picked up by satellites and knocked off by missiles”.
Explaining the new thinking, government sources said there is no doubt that future operations and requirements have to be kept while planning.
“The role of India in the global scene is increasing,” a government source said. “For us to have a larger presence in the Indian Ocean Region and beyond where trade and commerce is increasing, a third aircraft carrier is important.”
Navy’s pitch for another aircraft carrier
The Navy has been pitching for a third aircraft carrier.
Just last week, Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh had emphatically come out in support of a third aircraft carrier.
Addressing the annual press conference, the Admiral said the Navy will formally move the proposal to the government for a third aircraft carrier after gathering technical information sought from various countries.
“As the Navy, we are absolutely clear of the utility of the carrier,” he said. “This is because air operations are integral to naval operations, and air power at sea is required since the Navy is all about reach and sustenance.
“If you are a nation that is aspirational and you want to become a $5 trillion economy shortly and you want to do well, you will have to go outwards and seek the world,” he said. “The nation does not want the Navy tethered to the shore. For that, aircraft carriers are absolutely necessary.”
Navy sources in February had told ThePrint that even if a decision is taken to have a third carrier now, it will come into action only by 2033 at the earliest.
They also said shore-based air operations were still limited by range, and this is where the aircraft carriers come into play.
They had said that External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had defined the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) as including countries fringing the entire Indian Ocean, from the Strait of Hormuz to Reunion island, from East Africa to Australia, and from Lombok Strait to Malacca Strait.
This vast oceanic expanse, they said, was well beyond the capability of strike aircraft operating from the Indian mainland, which would barely cover even 20 per cent of this area and thus leave vast swathes of IOR unchallenged.
According to reports, China plans to have a six aircraft carriers by 2035 including nuclear powered ones.