Days before cyclone Biparjoy hit coastal Gujarat and Sindh in Pakistan, there was another deadly force making waves in the Arabian Sea, as the Indian Navy conducted a massive exercise involving two carrier battle groups (CBG), multiple frontline warships, submarines and over 35 combat and reconnaissance aircraft.
The twin CBG exercise involved seamless integration of the recently refitted INS Vikramaditya and the indigenously built INS Vikrant, ‘floating sovereign airfields’, which can host and launch a wide array of aircraft, including MiG-29K fighter jets and Kamov-31, MH-60R multi-role helicopters and Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) and Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) (Navy).
The Navy said the exercise “underscores India’s commitment to safeguarding its national interests, maintaining regional stability” and marked a “significant milestone in the Indian Navy’s pursuit of enhancing maritime security and power-projection in the Indian Ocean and beyond”. It was also a “powerful testament” to the pivotal role of sea-based air power in maintaining maritime superiority.
“These mobile bases can be positioned anywhere, allowing for increased mission flexibility, timely response to emerging threats and sustained air operations to safeguard our national interests across the globe,” the statement said, in an obvious reference to Pakistan and of course China’s growing maritime belligerence, apart from its insidious attempts to change the land border with India in the north.
The long-range Boeing P8I, anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare (ASuW), and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) provided air cover, while the lethal Visakhapatnam-class (P15B) guided-missile destroyer and Nilgiri-class (P17A) stealth frigates with cooperative engagement capacity prowled the exercise area to ensure no other hostile ship or aircraft could get close to the exercise area. No details were provided about submarines deployed for the exercise.
“At sea, 90 percent of the ships are commercial, only 10 per cent are warships,” Vice Admiral (retd) Shekhar Sinha, former Commander in Chief of the Western Naval Command told Bharatshakti and StratNewsGlobal editor -in-chief Nitin Gokhale in a recent discussion.
“Therefore, to identify a hostile ship, one has to have a very good reconnaissance. Now we live in a cooperative world. We have a lot of friends, and we do give them a lot of assurance of security. We are what is called a security partner of choice for the Indian Ocean littorals. So what you have to have is a strong projection power. A submarine is required, but it is not visible,” he said. “A carrier battle group, with its aircraft, accompanying ships, destroyers, frigates, are not there to just protect the carrier, but for specific tasks, capable of moving roughly 400-500 nautical miles in a day, allowing you to shift your power projection and make the adversary very very unstable,” he said.
Commissioned in September last year, the 262 m long and 62 m wide Vikrant (which means victorious and gallant) displaces approx 43000 T when fully loaded with 30 aircraft, and has a top speed of 28 Knots with an endurance of 7500 NM. It has a Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR), a ski-jump for launching aircraft, a set of three ‘arrester wires’ for their recovery onboard, and six helicopter spots, or helipads.
Equipped with extremely sophisticated air defence network and anti-ship missile systems, the ship can accommodate 1600 crew and pilots including women officers and sailors, and a medical complex with facilities which rival the best hospitals in the world.
INS Vikramaditya, a modified 45,400 ton Russian Kiev class helicopter carrier formerly known as Admiral Gorshkov, has been in service with India since 2013, and was recently upgraded and refitted with modern electronic suites and systems.
According to the Indian ministry of defence, “The Indian Navy’s present force level comprises about 150 ships and submarines. The Indian Navy’s perspective-planning in terms of ‘force-levels’ is now driven by a conceptual shift from ‘numbers’ of platforms – that is, from the old ‘bean-counting’ philosophy—to one that concentrates upon ‘capabilities’. In terms of force accretions in the immediate future, we are acquiring ships in accordance with the Navy’s current Maritime Capability Perspective Plan.”
“The US Navy has the largest fleet of carriers in the world, with eleven supercarriers currently in service. China and India each have two STOBAR carriers in service. The UK has two STOVL carriers in service. The navies of France and Russia each operate a single medium-sized carrier. The US also has nine similarly sized Amphibious Warfare Ships. There are five small light carriers in use capable of operating both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters; Japan and Italy each operate two, and Spain one. Additionally, there are eighteen small carriers which only operate helicopters serving the navies of Australia (2), Brazil (1), China (2), Egypt (2), France (3), Japan (4), South Korea (2), Thailand (1) and Turkey (1),” says Wikipedia.