India will unveil its first home-built anti-submarine warship tomorrow in a move to deter China from conducting underwater patrols near its shores.
Defense Minister Arun Jaitley will commission the 3,300-ton INS Kamorta at the southeastern Vishakapatnam port. The move comes a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced the largest indigenously built guided-missile destroyer and vowed to bolster the country’s defenses so “no one dares to cast an evil glance at India.”
India is playing catch-up to China, which built 20 such warships in the past two years and sent a nuclear submarine to the Indian Ocean in December for a two-month anti-piracy patrol. The waters are home to shipping lanes carrying about 80 percent of the world’s seaborne oil, mostly headed to China and Japan.
“As China grows into a naval, maritime power, it will be more and more active in the Indian Ocean,” Taylor Fravel, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies China’s ties with its neighbors, said by phone. “Of course, it will not be due to some hostility or targeted at India, but because of its economic interests in the Indian Ocean, as a lot of trade passes through. Such a presence will certainly raise questions in India, but it need not necessarily be a cause of major conflict.”
India has lacked anti-submarine corvettes in its 135-warship fleet for more than a decade now, with the decommissioning of the last of the 10-ship Petya-class of 1960s-vintage Soviet corvettes in December 2003. It plans to build 42 more warships, including three more anti-submarine corvettes, over the next decade, according to Rear Admiral A.B. Singh, an Indian navy official.
About 90 percent of Kamorta’s components are local, with the hull developed by Steel Authority of India Ltd., medium-range guns by Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. and torpedo launchers by Larsen & Toubro Ltd, India’s largest engineering company. The ship is two years behind schedule, according to Commodore B.B. Nagpal, the navy’s principal director for naval design.
“It’s a beef up of the Indian Navy’s anti-submarine warfare capabilities against Chinese submarines,” Rear Admiral Raja Menon, a retired Indian official, said by phone, referring to the Kamorta, which is named after an Indian island that was a convict settlement in the 1800s.
Even so, he said, “Indian warship building is not comparable to an aggressively modernizing Chinese navy. There is no way we can match China’s efforts.”
China has built 20 Jiangdao-class anti-submarine corvettes since February 2013, when it unveiled the first one. At least 10 more will join the Chinese naval service in the coming months, according to data from IHS Jane’s.
China’s Jiangdao-class anti-submarine ships are about half the size of the Kamorta and designed to operate in shallow water, said Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, a retired Indian navy officer. The Indian ship can store helicopters on board and possesses surface warfare and air defense capabilities, he said.
Jaitley, who’s also India’s finance minister, eased rules for foreign investment in the nation’s defense sector and raised spending 12 percent in the current fiscal year to help modernize the armed forces.
China spent $188 billion on defense in 2013, about four times more than India, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
China has at least 52 submarines in its fleet, including three nuclear-missile vessels and three operating on nuclear power, the U.S. Congressional Research Service said in July, citing Jane’s Fighting Ships 2013-2014 and previous editions. India has a fleet of 14 diesel-electric submarines and a Russian-origin nuclear-powered submarine, according to the Indian Navy.
Chinese warships voyaged to the Gulf of Aden for the first time to join anti-piracy patrols in December 2008, two months after India deployed its warships in that role, and have since maintained a presence there. About half of China’s oil imports pass through the Strait of Hormuz and three-quarters of Japan’s, according to data from the Observer Research Foundation.
China’s growth means its future energy needs can be met only by supplies from the Gulf region, Africa and North America, according to a 2010 study from the U.S. Defense Department. Such supply points will keep China reliant on maritime transport even as it seeks to develop pipelines to avoid sensitive sea routes such as the Strait of Malacca, it said.