India has plans to add about 100 warships to its navy over the next decade as it seeks to modernise its armed forces, and develop its low-cost shipbuilding capabilities.
Captain Alok Bhatnagar, director of naval plans at India’s ministry of defence, said on Thursday that 32 warships and submarines were under construction in the country’s shipyards. Work on 75 more ships, including aircraft carriers, destroyers, frigates and amphibious vessels, would begin over 10 years.
New Delhi is sensitive to lagging behind Beijing's naval might in the region. China has three times the number of combat vessels as India and five times the personnel. Officials are wary of port developments in neighbouring Pakistan and Sri Lanka that offer Chinese warships anchorages and potentially greater control of the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea.
However, India has one of the fastest growing navies in the world. Its fleet of about 120 vessels is the fifth largest. At the weekend, it launched a locally built nuclear-powered submarine, based on a Russian design, to join only a few countries with the technical prowess to produce such a war machine.
Speaking at a seminar on naval self-reliance in New Delhi, Capt Bhatnagar said it was a “strategic necessity” for India to develop its own naval shipyard capabilities to avoid “being held hostage to foreign countries in a crisis situation”.
Since the end of British rule 62 years ago, India has relied heavily on Russia to supply its fleet. Capt Bhatnagar identified its maritime priorities as energy security, protecting sea lanes, combating Islamic fundamentalism and responding to China’s aggressive modernisation plans.
“China is developing its navy at a great rate. Its ambitions in the Indian Ocean are quite clear.”
Admiral Sureesh Mehta, chief of naval staff, said the navy would spend more than Rs200bn ($4bn, €3bn, £2.5bn) a year on new capabilities, with about 60 per cent devoted to acquisitions of naval hardware. He stressed the need to develop the indigenous defence industry with a view to becoming an exporter of technology to Middle East and south-east Asian countries. He advocated the creation of a business framework that encouraged international defence companies to “set up shop” in locally-based shipyards.
India has partnered Italy’s Fincantieri in the design of the aircraft carrier, and Thales, the French defence company, to build six Scorpene submarines in Mumbai. Larsen & Toubro, the listed Indian engineering company, is building a Rupees 30bn shipyard near Chennai and supplies weapons and steering systems.
A Mumbai-based defence contractor said the government was considering raising the foreign direct investment cap in the defence industry to 49 per cent from 26 per cent.
FT.com / Asia-Pacific / India - India plans to build 100 warships