With China increasing its naval footprint in the Indian Ocean, India is increasing its capacities and fleet strength on the eastern seaboard, apart from building an entirely new naval base that will be the nation’s largest.
China has in recent years built naval ports for Myanmar and Sri Lanka, besides exhibiting its assertiveness by warning foreign players not to venture into the oil-rich South China Sea.
The Navy is rebalancing the fleet and infrastructure of the Visakhapatnam-based Eastern Naval Command (ENC),in consonance with Navy Chief Admiral D K Joshi’s recent assertions that the force is training to take on challenges to Indian interests in the South China Sea.
The Mumbai-based Western Naval Command is the “sword arm” of the Navy with nearly 60 warships. Since 2007, the Navy has added 14 major warships to ENC, including five Rajput-class guided missile destroyers, two Shivalik-class stealth frigates and a number of smaller vessels such as fast attack craft, taking its fleet strength to 52 vessels. In 2005, ENC was home to only 30 warships.
The five Rajput-class Kashin-II destroyers were earlier part of the western fleet and these carry BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles at present. The two Shivalik class frigates have joined the eastern fleet soon after commissioning in the last two years. A third in this class of warship will also be berthed at Visakhapatnam soon. The Shivalik class warships are the first lot of stealth frigates armed with BrahMos missiles.
Among the new additions to the eastern seaboard are INS Jalashwa, the amphibious USS Trenton vessel with six onboard helicopters that were bought from the US in 2007. Once India gets the Russian-built 45,000-tonne INS Vikramadiya carrier, the Navy will deploy INS Viraat too on the eastern seaboard.
The Navy has also assigned its latest induction, the Italian-built INS Shakti fleet tanker, to Visakhapatnam which, incidentally, faces congestion due to heavy shipping traffic. Being the strategically important dockyard for two nuclear-powered submarines, Vishakhapatnam’s security concerns are always high. INS Vasha,a new 20 sq km exclusive naval base about 50 km south of Visakhapatnam is being developed.
The Navy also plans to distribute its fleet among its bases at Kolkata, Paradip, Tuticorin, Kakinada and Chennai on the East and at Goa and Kochi ports on the West, apart from having fleets in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Lakshadweep and Minicoy Islands on either side of the mainland.
The Navy has opened its latest naval air base, INS Baaz, at the southernmost tip of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to keep an eagle’s eye watch of the strategically important Malacca Straits.
It is also looking forward to opening a naval air station at Kolkata to base an unmanned aerial vehicle squadron there.