Editorial - Deccan Chronical - dated Jan. 22, 2004.
Given its size, geographical location, the length of its coastline, and the compulsions of maintaining a constant strategic sea-control capability, India could do with at least three aircraft carriers in its navy. However, aircraft carriers do not come cheap to buy or build.
Even the proposed acquisition of Admiral Gorshkov from Russia an agreement over the deal was signed in New Delhi on Tuesday by the Indian and Russian defence ministers will cost the exchequer a massive Rs. 7,000 crore ( $ 1.5 billion). The size of the deal is smaller relative to the Rs 8,000 crore India has invested in the purchase of 66 BAe Hawk AJTs.
However, in the long history of Indo-Russian defence cooperation dating back to the Soviet days, the Gorshkov deal is the biggest ever. Does our Navy really need such an expensive vessel, particularly when the regional (and global) strategic situation is neither turbulent nor threatens to become disturbed in the near future, and when Indias relations with both Pakistan and China are turning more and more peace-oriented?
It will be extremely short-sighted to assess defence requirements solely from limited points of view like financial affordability, the imminence of war, and the identifying and targeting of specific enemies.
For India, defence preparedness is a perennial strategic necessity in a region ( and world) already rendered unsafe by the nuclear capabilities of nations in the neighbourhood and beyond. Secondly, thanks to the recent fast-changing situations, the Indian Ocean and its rim have acquired even greater strategic importance than the Pacific and the Atlantic.
It is vital for India to ensure adequate blue waters control capability, an objective which can be attained only by maintaining a strong, modern, nuclear-powered sophisticated class of vessels in its fleet.
Indeed, considering that the existing carrier Viraat is aging and will have to be jettisoned soon, there has already been an inordinate delay in completing the arrangements to replace it.
As it is, the Indian navy will have to wait for another four years before a fully refurbished Admiral Gorshkov, equipped with its complement of 28 MiG 29-K fighters and other systems, is inducted. But both the long wait and the heavy expense will be worth it in terms of enhancing the navys strike power.
Indo-Russian defence cooperation, already on a mutually beneficial fast track, is obviously poised for large-scale expansion aimed at strengthening other wings of the armed forces.
The two Defence Ministers have expressed optimism over the success of the ongoing negotiations for a ten-year lease of two Akula-class nuclear submarines (which will help counter the Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean region) and of four TU-22 bombers which can double as long-range reconnaissance aircraft.