Future of Indian defence and the role of aircraft carriers

India needs aircraft carriers – large ones with assisted take off at that, to secure the seas of the Indo-Pacific, to maintain peace, secure trade routes, provide security to the region, and in the event of a war, bring in lethal firepower. However, due to resource crunch with a slowing economy which has been further impacted by Covid-19, there is now a question mark over the acquisition of the proposed 65,000 ton aircraft carrier called Vishal with the Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat saying that the navy will have to prioritise between submarines and aircraft carriers. The navy has made it clear that it needs three carriers so that it has at least two in operation at all times – one for each of India’s seaboards.

India will be the world’s third largest economy in less than a decade. Trade constitutes 40% of its GDP, and nearly 20 million of its people live in foreign lands, many of which are in volatile regions. The navy needs all the resources to secure the country’s interests. Asking it to prioritise submarines over aircraft carriers is like asking the Air Force to prioritise air defence systems over fighter jets. While submarines are best for sea denial, the aircraft carriers are for sea control and power projection. Both are important and needed for a major power like India.

The arguments against aircraft carriers are, that they are expensive, obsolete and vulnerable to new generation of missiles. It is akin to the obituaries of the tanks which have been written for decades now in the face of advanced anti tank missiles, attack helicopters and close air support aircrafts. But the tank continues to survive.

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