India’s ‘Carrier Culture’ and Pakistan Navy’s Build Up — ‘in a Historic First’

“The new inductions in Pak Navy (PN) are so rapid in scale and time, that it may be difficult for PN to man these platform with current force levels. “All in all, I see PN in comfortable position to confront IN in next decade, again a historic first in the history of PN”.

IRSHAD SALIM — The United States leads in carriers. The UK is next. Italy also operates two carriers. France, India, Russia and Spain are next, each with a single carrier in service, and all of varying designs and capabilities.

The new entrant to the carrier game is China, which has played catch-up with remarkable speed. One of the Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) carrier’s under construction — once complete — will be second only to the US supercarriers in displacement — estimates put it anywhere between 75,000 and 85,000 tons.

These third class of Chinese carriers is already in the works.

Two of these new ships are being built. With four carriers in service, this would nevertheless leave the PLAN with the largest carrier force outside the USA.

The PLA Navy, said to be currently in a period of unprecedented expansion is part of China’s rise (as global power NOT imperial power), which has the Nato worried — even India.

These new ships will be conventionally powered — conventional power makes the ships cheaper to build and operate. Their configuration notably enables a much more capable air wing, including heavier fighters, drones, and large long-range surveillance aircraft.

These carrier-related news and naval aviation updates keep appearing amid a strong chatter about them since 2011 and onward.

According to an analysis recently published, Indian aircraft carriers are little more than ‘carriers in being’ — able to influence adversary thought and action at sea by virtue of their very existence, but with serious questions around their actual efficacy in combat. The Indian Navy (IN), already operating far fewer capital ships than planned, will also have issues putting together escorting battle groups for the carriers it will operate. For the moment these are not pressing issues given that the principal naval opposition in the IOR is only the Pakistan Navy (PN). However, a four-carrier China’s PLAN will not be content in the Western Pacific. When full-fledged PLAN carrier battle groups with nuclear attack submarines and Type 055 destroyers begin to make their way into the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the IN will be hard pressed to match them. A Pakistani defense analyst agrees.


Three factors combined are providing PN a necessary edge. 1. Close proximity of Strait of Hormuz and Bab Al Mandab will always (till hydrocarbon last/reign supreme) give Pakistan a strategic advantage. It will be guarded and exploited by PN. 2. The ascent of Pakistan-China Economic Corridor (CPEC) linking the Middle East and China thru Pakistan (Pakistan and China call their relationship ‘Iron Brothers’). 3. The speed with which PN is enabling a new (maritime) security environment. These three stitched up together is a blanket many in the region are envying.

Commenting on Pakistan’s naval capabilities and capacity, the Pakistani analyst says (on condition of anonymity as he’s not authorized to speak) that IN vis-a-vis the inspired role (domination of IOR — Indian Ocean Region, from Strait of Hormuz/ Bab Al Mandab in the West to Strait of Malacca in the East) is grossly under-equipped.

According to him, despite localization of Hull construction, IN remains woefully dependent upon imported weapons, sensors and engines. “Maintaining a Blue water navy, on imported technology is an impossible task”.

Last October, Christophe Jaffrelot, a Senior Research Fellow at the CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS gave a similar opinion — that a new arms race is underway in the region, but India suffers from a clear disadvantage: it still has not created a proper arms industry, hence its dependence on foreign suppliers.

All the contemporary dominant naval powers have well established industrial bases though.

IN, which prides itself in long history of carrier-based aviation operations, is all based on imported ( carrier and their air wings) technology, says the Pakistani analyst. “The only operational employment of carrier-based aviation was against Pakistan in 1971 in Eastern Theater. Pakistan had no sea/ shore-based defenses at that time, and its Air Force was out numbered by 10 to 1, a situation not likely to happen in near to medium term.”

Sputtering Indian economy, he adds, may not be able to support the ambitious naval build up India needs to dominate IOR.

Pakistan Navy after induction of 4 Type 54 A frigates from China, 4 Jinnah  Class Frigates from Turkey, 2 Demen Corvettes from Romania, 8 Type 39 submarines from China and emplacement of 400-600 kms range shore based anti ship missile batteries, is any this but a push over, which it has been since independence, the expert said.

According to him. all new inductions in PN — as it builds up to front-end maritime security for the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor (CPEC) — are expected to materialize between 2020 to 2028. By that time CPEC is expected to become a fully functional economic autobahn — snaking from Gawadar in Balochistan to China’s Kashgar province.

In fact, he adds, “the new inductions (in PN) are so rapid in scale and time, that it may be difficult for PN to man these platforms with current force levels. “All in all, (However) I see PN in comfortable position to confront the IN in next decade, again a historic first in the history of PN”.

The original report appeared in Observer Research Foundation.