Guest Column - Force Magazine
The Game Changer
INS Vikramaditya’s arrival signifies a gradual progress towards a balanced navy
Vice Admiral Anup Singh (retd)By Vice Admiral Anup Singh (retd)

The commissioning of the ex Gorshkov as INS Vikramaditya last month, was not just path breaking for the Indian Navy (IN) but more significantly for this important maritime nation. Many prophets of doom had predicted a ‘dead bargain’ and ‘unrealistic time and cost overruns’ as the forerunner of uncertainty for the future of naval aviation. They stand proven wrong.

Vikramaditya is not about keeping the art of carrier-aviation ‘alive’ for India (that was never in peril); nor was it a mere case of the current carrier being replaced. The 45,000 tonne Vikramaditya is about power projection, as against just air defence of the fleet, and, force projection that Light aircraft carriers are capable of. So, where are we and what does Vikramaditya bring with her? Well, we are somewhere there and she will surely be a game changer after a long, long time.

Along with two other seminal events last August (criticality of the Arihant’s reactor and launch of IAC 1 or Vikrant), the navy’s force structure is looking closer to plans than ever before. The navy’s current strength of 137 ships, 14 submarines, 216 aircraft and steadily expanding support infrastructure may seem impressive for a regional power; but it is never mere numbers that announce potential. What is of essence is capability which always hinges on technology and age.

An important factor that remains submerged in force strength is the struggle to beat the rate of ‘attrition by age’ and succeed in growth rate (number of platforms). To the question, when will we reach full potential as a formidable, complete naval force, the answer is: still some distance and some more review of plans may be called for, before we reach the desired pinnacle. The journey of India’s navy needs to be revisited to understand how did she get here, and, what next?

The first recorded transformation of Indian maritime forces took place in the year 1829 when the Bombay Marine — one of Indian Navy’s predecessors — received the first steam propulsion system on the ‘Hugh Lindsay’ and simultaneously changed its nomenclature to the Bombay Marine Corps. That was a change that catapulted the force into contemporary technology, altering the very nature of operations.

The next time a major transformation was sought was in an effort to determine the force structure of India’s armed forces. This exercise was undertaken by the Chiefs of Staff Committee towards the end of war in 1944-45. They had noted that:

“India’s central position in the Indian Ocean is likely to make her particularly sensitive to the need for an increased naval force and especially for larger warships than she at present possesses… The principal responsibility of India’s navy after the war will be the safety of Indian shipping in the ports of India and their approaches…

An important task of the navy (will be) to provide facilities for the combined operational training of Army formations… to land these formations on a hostile shore, should this prove necessary… In addition, the navy, in conjunction with the air force, must be prepared to take its share in intercepting and attacking any foreign invading force…”

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