Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi is making a noticeable push to expand India’s navy. The nation announced that it was close to deploying its first nuclear-armed submarine this past week1 and also came out of talks with the United States regarding technology for a second indigenous aircraft carrier.2 A particular aspect of this discussion involved the incorporation of the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System which would increase India’s capabilities to launch small and medium sized aircraft. India currently has two active aircraft carriers -one built by the British and the other by the Russians, and is constructing a third set to be commissioned by 2017. The one currently being discussed, INS Vishal, is scheduled to be completed in 2025.
These naval advances can be seen as a counter to an aggressive Chinese foreign policy. The recent issue in the South China Sea seems to have convinced Modi that a powerful fleet is the best measure against India’s eastern neighbor. China has also been selling submarines to Pakistan. In 2014, Pakistan agreed to buy eight Chinese submarines although it is unknown whether these ships are capable of carrying nukes. The reasoning behind this could be to put pressure on India while simultaneously building up China’s own navy.
This presents the potential for a Cold War between China and India which are already competing as export driven economies. Interestingly the dividing lines are slightly different from what they were during the American-Russo conflict. The Americans will continue to support the Indians as long as Modi is adversarial towards the Chinese. In contrast, the Chinese government will support their long-time ally Pakistan in order to keep the Indians pressed on two fronts. The other incentive with providing the Pakistanis with funding and ships is to occupy the Indians while the Chinese protect their interests in the South China Sea.
While the Indians have made steps towards improving their navy, they are still fairly outclassed by the Chinese fleet. Until Modi completes the two planned carriers and unless the government adds four or five more nuclear subs, China will hold the upper hand.