The Future of India's Blue Water Navy

In August 2015, the United States Navy hosted a delegation of senior Indian naval officers for the inaugural Joint Working Group on Aircraft Carrier Cooperation. The Indian delegation consisted of aircraft carrier designers who are expected to aid the joint U.S.-India effort to build a second domestic aircraft carrier. These plans are a reflection of India’s intent to enhance its blue water capabilities, thereby projecting power by carrying out operations beyond its territorial boundaries.

Senior naval officials stated that within the next three years, the Indian Navy aims to have around 200 warships, with three aircraft carriers in each of the three naval commands. Whether this goal can be achieved within the designated timeframe remains to be seen as presently, the Indian Navy has around 137 ships. Given recent developments, there is no doubt that India is aggressively expanding and modernizing its navy for various reasons. In 2014, India acquired the Russian-made aircraft carrier, the INS Vikramaditya, for over $2 Billion dollars. The INS Vikramaditya is expected to be operational through 2018, which is also when India is scheduled to complete its first indigenous carrier, the Vikrant.

India’s long term Maritime Capabilities Perspective Plan identified two major goals for its navy – one, to develop blue water capabilities and two, to effectively counter threats close to its coast. India seeks to project its power in the Indian Ocean and beyond. The navy has increased its presence in the Persian Gulf, the Horn of Africa and the Malacca Straits. Working with other major navies, the Indian navy also conducts partnership exercises and anti-piracy missions in these areas. In the islands of Andaman and Nicobar, India has established a Far East Command to enhance surveillance around the region.

The Indian navy aims to counter China's influence in the Indian Ocean, which is highlighted by the Chinese "String of Pearls" strategy. The strategy indicates Beijing has ambitions to build maritime facilities in countries such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Pakistan. With China building up its own blue water navy, India seeks to counter Beijing’s influence in the Indian Ocean. In addition, China’s claims to the hotly contested waters of the South China Sea give India greater reason to bulk up its naval power. While India is not yet a prominent player in these waters, it does not want to be excluded from the possibility of scouring resources in the region.

India’s blue water ambitions have not gone unnoticed by other countries. India has held joint naval exercises with countries like Vietnam and Indonesia – countries that view Chinese claims in the region as a threat to their security and economy - and expects India to take on a greater role in the region. Furthermore, in October of this year, India is expected to take part in joint naval exercises with Japan and the United States. This expresses a desire, on India’s part, to strengthen military relations with both countries. The Indian navy is also expected to hold bilateral naval exercises with Australia next month for the first time.

The Indian navy continues to transform into a self-sufficient force with aggressive plans to continue developing indigenous platforms, carriers, and systems. It remains to be seen how India’s blue water ambitions will tilt the balance of power in the Indian Ocean and beyond.