The Asian naval arms race is relentless: military ships and related technologies recorded a further spike in sales to the continent during the first six months of 2013. China and India are the major export markets of the West.
Last May, Singapore hosted the biennial Asia Pacific International Maritime Defense Exhibition, the foremost international maritime defense show. The event was not only an opportunity for the military industry to present the latest maritime defense technologies, but also an occasion to take stock of the naval defense market. The conference held on this occasion highlighted how, in the coming years, the world naval market will reach a total spending of 800 billion dollars, a quarter of which will be spent in the Asia-Pacific region.
According to Bob Nugent, Vice President, Advisory Services, AMI International, within this global market, Asia-Pacific nations are expected to spend about 200 billion USD between now and 2030. Analysts forecast that Asia-Pacific region will build over 1000 new naval/coast guard platforms, including 100 submarines of different types, 40% of the world’s underwater crafts. It is clear that naval expansion is linked to recent or long simmering border and territorial disputes.
It is no coincidence that those countries along the Malacca Strait, where, every year, over 60,000 vessels transit, are among the most interested ones in buying military ships. Or also those emerging powers such as India and neighboring countries that fear China’s growing naval presence in the region. Developing a powerful navy able to dominate the region is a goal far from easy to achieve.
The Indian Navy
The aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, – formerly the Russian Navy’ Admiral Gorshkov -, refitted for the Indian navy and set sail for final sea trials prior to handover, is on the rocks again, after sea trials snagged. India purchased the vessel from Russia in 2004 for $ 1.5 billion. The ship was originally built for the Soviet fleet as a flight deck cruiser. The retired aircraft cruiser has been converted into a modern aircraft carrier for the Indian navy able to operate the new – generation Mig-29 K fighters.
The Vikramaditya was to have been handed over to India in 2008, but the delivery was postponed due to technical problems. According to the latest information released by New Delhi, provided that, the propulsion problems arose during sea trials last November, are solved, the aircraft carrier will be operational only by December 2013. Vikramaditya’s 5 year delivery delay has forced India into keeping the 50 year old aircraft carrier INS Viraat in service. The old ship underwent a refit and maintenance work in order to get back on duty.
Even with the refit, Viraat is at the end of its mechanical life, and shortages of flyable Sea Harrier fighters are creating issues of their own.
The Indian navy’s 11 Sea Harriers – vertical or short takeoff and landing naval jet fighters –, are old aircrafts, which will need to be replaced soon. Besides, they are an insufficient number to cover a potential aircraft carrier gap.
In the meantime the first squadron of 16 new Mig-29 K fighters have been commissioned into the Indian Navy last May. The naval squadron, which has been nicknamed the Black Panthers, will have to wait the Vikramaditya aircraft carrier to arrive from Russia to start sea borne –operations., in the meantime, it will be operative within the area around the naval air station in Goa.
Meanwhile, the Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier, has had extensive sea trials. China has also successfully landed five J-15 fighters on its new vessel. Unlike the Indian Mig 29- K, built in Russia, Chinese-made fighter J-15 is an updated copy of Russia’s Sukhoi-Su 33.
But with regard to technology China’s J-15 fighters must have changed and used advanced technology increasing the power of engines.
The China’s combat jet might be underpowered ,which is a considerable problem when a plane needs to take off from short runways such as those of aircraft carriers. Furthermore, the Chinese navy has no operational experience with aircraft carriers.
As recently reported by the China Daily, the Liaoling will be fully operational only in 2016 or 2017, the necessary time for training personnel and for planning the best tactics of Chinese maritime strategy. Recently, a new 36,000-ton cruise ship modified for military purposes, the Bahai Sea Green Pearl, can carry more than 2,000 soldiers and 300 vehicles. With its new naval muscle, China has dispatched troops and police to U.N. peacekeeping operations in places as far-f1ung as Africa and Latin America. Indian and Chinese naval expansion prompted neighboring countries to increase military spending. Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines have shown serious interest in buying new generation electric-diesel submarines.
Hard-to-detect and quiet, these submarines are perfect for patrolling the disputed waters and silently approach to potential adversaries. They can be the optimal choice for those countries adjacent to the open ocean or peripheral seas such as the South China Sea.
Submarines are not expensive, while they are particularly suitable to operate in the approaches of straits and archipelagos, where the maneuverability of aircraft carriers may be hampered by geographical obstacles. (A.B.)