Watch Out, China: India's Navy Wants 200 Warships

July 15, 2015 Topic: Security Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz

Watch Out, China: India's Navy Wants 200 Warships

By 2027, India wants a 200-ship naval fleet.

India aspires to have a 200-ship navy by 2027, a senior naval official revealed this week.

According to India’s Economic Times, Admiral P. Murugesan, the vice chief of India’s naval staff, said that the navy is seeking to have 200 warships operational by 2027, up from just 137 at present.

“The senior officer shared that the aspiration of the Navy—which currently has 48 ships under construction on various shipyards across the nation—is to become a 200 ship navy by 2027. At present, the Navy operates 137 combatants with new ships being added at a rate of 4-5 a year,” the Economic Times report said.

This means that India’s shipyards will have to ramp up production in the coming years, especially when factoring in that some of India’s current warships will have to be retired by 2027. A more likely scenario is that India will purchase more foreign ships in the years ahead in order to reach its target of 200 ships.

Already, India is one of the largest purchasers of foreign arms. In fact, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a Swedish think tank, India was the largest arms importer for the years 2010-2014. During that time, India was the recipient of 15 percent of all international arms transfers, up from just 9 percent in the five years prior. India’s arms purchases increased 140 percent during this period.

By contrast, India’s domestic arms industry continues to suffer from severe delays in rolling out new systems, due partly to the excessive red tape involved in India’s bureaucracy. Thus, it is safe to assume that if India’s Navy boasts 200 warships by 2027, a large part of its fleet will have been purchased from abroad. Russia has traditionally been India’s top arms supplier, although the United States has been challenging Moscow for this title in recent years.

India’s desire to have 200 warships by 2027 is indicative of its growing concern over China’s rising military might. As The National Interest has previously noted, in recent months Delhi has been particularly concerned about Chinese submarines patrolling the Indian Ocean, where India seeks to be the dominant power. One recent report in India’s media noted that “the deployment of the relatively advanced Shang Class nuclear fast attack boat, [is] a significant cause of concern at [India’s] Naval Headquarters.”  

And for good reason: some in Chinese defense circles have boasted that Beijing could blockade most of India’s important ports using just six nuclear attack submarines.

Back in May of this year, a Chinese nuclear submarine docked in Pakistan for the first time ever. This followed Chinese submarines docking at Sri Lanka, another neighbor of India, on a number of occasions last year.

One way that India is seeking to combat this threat is by building up a more potent undersea fleet of its own. In that regard, during his interview with the Economic Times this week, Admiral P. Murugesan revealed that Delhi has begun work on building six indigenous nuclear attack submarines.

"The government has given approvals for six new SSNs (nuclear attack submarines) earlier this year. We have started work but still are at the pen to paper stage," Murugesan said.

He added that India was hoping to complete the project within the next 15 years.

"These things take time but we will be able to improve on the timelines that the pioneers (nations) have set which typically took over 15 years for such a project," Murugesan was quoted as saying.

India is also currently in negotiations with Russia over leasing another Russian-built nuclear attack submarine.

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @Zachary Keck.

Image: Indian Navy