Translate in your language!

Saturday 26 August 2017

India’s Maritime Aspirations: Zone Defence and a Bubble

Written by Periklis Stampoulis *

India’s maritime “destiny” was early cited by K.M. Panikkar, an Indian diplomat and influential scholar: “The vital feature which differentiates the Indian Ocean from the Atlantic or the Pacific is the sub-continent of India, which juts out far into the sea for a thousand miles. It is the geographical position of India that changes the character of the Indian Ocean...”[1].

Talwar class frigates of the Indian Navy in formation
By fulfilling its “destiny”, India bumps into Chinese regional interests. Attempting to expand its own interests, commercial activities and energy goods imports, the “String of Pearls” project, namely the construction of a web of naval infrastructure (ports and bases) throughout the IOR, has been issued. These activities along with the arms sales to IOR states cause fears of Chinese encirclement [2]. Moreover, China has already built and fully operates a military base in Djibouti and according to a U.S. Pentagon report “most likely will seek to establish additional military bases in countries with which it has a longstanding friendly relationship and similar strategic interests [3]”. Already, a naval base/logistics infrastructure has been built in Gwadar, Pakistan, and certain ports in the IOR, such as Hambantota in Sri Lanka [4] and Chittagong along with Sonadia [5] in Bangladesh provide amenities to Chinese Navy ships. Therefore, the best way of countering Chinese descent to the IOR is a strong Indian Navy.

Following Panikkar’s thought and China’s aggressive ambitions, India issued a Maritime Security Strategy where it states that its primary interests region is the IOR [6]. Implementation of this Strategy is mainly based on the Indian Navy (IN), its cardinal pillar.
INS Chakra, a Russian-built Akula II class submarine (SSN), is the first
nuclear-powered submarine of India after an Indian Charlie class submarine
(also INS Chakra) that served in the Indian Navy
from 1988 to 1991
Indian Navy’s current capabilities

Current force structure of IN, comprises of the following units [7]:
  • One (1) modified Kiev class aircraft carrier (INS Vikramaditya), capable of carrying 26 MiG-29K fighters and 10 Ka-31 AEW&C and Ka-28 ASW helicopters.
INS Vikramaditya
  • 11 destroyers (3 Kolkata class, 3 Delhi class, 5 Rajput class)
Infographic of a Kolkata class destroyer, made by D-Mitch for a Defencyclopedia article
For a high resolution image click here.
  • 14 frigates (3 Shivalik class, 6 Talwar class, 3 Brahmaputra class, 2 Godavari class)
Infographic of a Shivalik class frigate, made by D-Mitch for a Defencyclopedia article
For a high resolution image click here.
  • 10 corvettes (2 Kamorta class, 4 Kora class, 4 Khukri class)
An upgraded with new sensors Kora class corvette of the Indian Navy
  •  10 Veer class fast attack missile craft (FACM) and three (3) Abnay class torpedo/ASW boats
A Veer class FACM from the latest (improved) batch
  • 15 submarines including one (1) Arihant class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, one (1) nuclear-powered submarine (INS Chakra), one (1) Kalvari class submarine and 12 Sindhughosh and Shishumar class attack submarines
Indian Sindhughosh and Shishumar class attack submarines in formation
  • Four (4) Pondicherry class mine countermeasures vessels
Pondicherry class MCV
  • One (1) landing platform dock (LPD) and 8 tank landing ships (LST)
The sole Indian LPD Jalashwa, entering Visakhapatnam
  • 10 Saryu and Sukanya class offshore patrol vessels (OPV)
A Saryu class OPV
  • Various ships such as numerous patrol vessels, giant replenishment ships, training vessels etc.
The largest replenishment ship of the Indian Navy, the 36k ton INS Jyoti
  • Helicopters and Maritime Patrol Aircrafts (MPAs)
All eight P-8I Neptune MPAs in line
Indian Navy has only one aircraft carrier, thus one fully operational Task Force (TF). This means that only one of India’s two vital sea masses (Arab Sea, Bay of Bengal) can be covered in case of armed conflict. TF’s missions could vary from Sea Control of the assigned area to escort of the Amphibious Task Force (ATF) formed by LPD and LSTs. Therefore, the Indian Naval High Command can only prioritize which of these areas is more critical and assign the CBG within. Remaining units would deploy in the “secondary” area, maintaining a more defensive posture and being aided by aircrafts operating only from shore bases, thus reducing their range of action. At the same time submarines could monitor critical points (e.g. the vicinity of Hormuz Strait, Bab el Mandeb, etc) or establish patrols along the SLOCs. Strategic missiles submarine would deploy in the open sea, ready to launch its missiles if ordered.

Formulation of the future Indian Navy

Tensions with neighboring states and China’s descent, forces India to re-evaluate its Naval Strategy and strengthen its Navy. Therefore the “200 ships Navy” project is underway, utilizing Indian shipbuilding industry and indigenous Research and Development Programs (R&D), along with foreign Defence Industries (e.g. Rafael) [8].

By 2025, the Indian Navy will consist of the following units:

  • Two (2) plus one (1) aircraft carriers (CVs): INS Vikramaditya, Vikrant [9] and perhaps also the nuclear-powered INS Vishal [10] which is though doubtful if she manages to enter service before 2025. Nevertheless, by possessing three carriers, the Indian Navy will be capable of monitoring the Arab Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the southern territory of the Indian Ocean. Their tasks range from Sea Control to long range support of an Amphibious Task Force (ATF).
The largest and the first indigenously-built, 40,000 tonne aircraft carrier (IAC)
named INS Vikrant was undocked on 10 Jun 2015 at a simple ceremony held at
the Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL).
  • Seven (7) destroyers: 3 Kolkata class [11] and 4 Visakhapatnam class [12]. Their primary role is that of AC escort and protection.
Conceptual drawing of a Visakhapatnam class destroyer, an improved version of Kolkata class
  • 17 frigates: 7 Project 17A [13] and 6-10? Talwar class (according to the latest news, the last two unfinished Grigorovich class frigates which were initially were built for Russia, will be purchased from India while two more will be built in India) [14]. Their task will also be Carrier or LPD escort.
A Talwar class (Batch II) frigate, Indian Navy expects to receive 2+2 additional ships
  • 34 corvettes consisting of 12 Kamorta class ASW corvettes [15], 16 Swallow Water ASW corvettes [16] and 6 ASuW corvettes [17], for CBGs’ ASW protection and littoral ASW/ASUW coverage (ASUW Corvettes are capable of contributing CBGs’ ASUW capabilities or defending the littorals).
Kamorta class ASW corvette of the Indian Navy
  • 12 minesweepers [18], for clearing the vicinity of enemy ports or bases, thus making a safe passage for upcoming CBGs or ATFs. Another task for these vessels could be the clearance of Indian littorals from enemy mines.
  • +16 diesel-electric attack submarines (including six new Kalvari class boats) and two nuclear-powered attack submarines (INS Chakra and another Akula II class boat leased from Russia [19]) for monitoring SLOCs and choke points across the IOR, and for SSK coverage of the CBGs.
INS Kalvari during sea trials
  • 4-6 Arihant class nuclear ballistic missiles submarines (SSBN) aiming enemy infrastructures such as “String of Pearls” bases and harbors. Some of them are expected to be deployed in South China Sea ready to hit enemy centers of gravity.
INS Arihant and the rest submarines in Indian service. Source: [20]
  • 4-5 LPDs ready to project power (aka marines) in every “Pearl” of the “String” (Gwadar, Hambantota, Chittagong, etc), or form an ATF capable of reclaiming national territory.
  • Various offshore patrol vessels capable of carrying SR SAMs (e.g. IGLA SA-18), capable of acting in the littorals, contributing to the whole ASUW/AAW network and harassing enemy forces by commencing swarm attacks.
A Project 21 OPV during construction
  • Various and mumerous multi-role helicopters MPAs and UAVs for real time and multi-sensor contribution to surveillance, reconnaissance, early warning efforts and ASW/ASUW coverage of existing Task Forces and at-sea units, especially in the vast sea mass of the Indian Ocean. 
  • Various other support vessels such as one Missile Range Instrumentation Ship, survey vessels, replenishment ships, etc.
With a fleet of this size, India hopes to address any regional tension in the IOR from countering smaller regional states (e.g. Pakistan) to a full scale war against a higher level naval power (China??). In this effort, indigenous shipbuilding and R&D capabilities have a large share. Despite delays, Indian political leaders remain optimistic for this enterprise’s outcome. Time will show if they are right...

* Periklis Stampoulis is a researcher in Eastern Mediterranean Observatory and Maritime Strategy and Security Department, of Panteion University’s Institute of International Relations. He holds a Master (MA) in International Relations and Strategic Studies (Panteion University).

  1. Panikkar K.M.1945, India and the Indian Ocean: An Essay on the Influence of Sea Power on Indian History, The MacMillan Company, New York, p. 19.
  6. Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defence (Navy) 2015, Ensuring Secure Seas: Indian Maritime Security Strategy (Naval Strategic Publication (NSP) 1.2), October 2015, p.32, [online], available in <>, access 16/06/17
  7. The Military Balance 2016’, p.252
  8. Further information at  


  1. Third carrier INS Vishal will not be ready before 2025 by any stretch of imagination.

    1. Well said. I have adjusted the text. Thank you for your comment!

  2. The 3 Delhi and 3 Shivalik class won't be retired before 2040s,
    10 destroyers and 20 frigates by 2027.