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Navy ready to flex muscles in South China Sea
SUMAN SHARMA  New Delhi | 4th Dec 2011

ith an eye on the strategic South China Sea, the Indian Navy is preparing to base some of its important assets on the eastern seaboard at the Vishakhapatnam-based Eastern Naval Command. It has outlined massive expansion plans for the same.

After former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam officially endorsed India's Look East policy in 2006, the Navy, which is considered the strategic force among the three armed forces, has been building a strong base on the eastern front.

The Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Nirmal Verma, on the eve of Navy Day on 4 December, Sunday, outlined an ambitious expansion plan for the service, which is eyeing a greater role in the South China Sea. Militarily, India will have a greater footprint in the South China Sea. By 2027 the Indian Navy would have 500 aircraft, of all varieties, and 150 ships, in its inventory, with five ships every year being manufactured, after five years from now.

Inductions planned for 2012 are three survey vessels, one anti-submarine warfare corvette, one off-shore patrol vessel, 25 fast interceptor crafts, one aircraft carrier being refitted in Russia and two Talwar-class destroyers, again from Russia.

With Project Varsha underway, which is a special berthing base for India's indigenous SSBN INS Arihant class nuclear-powered submarines, the Naval Chief, Admiral Nirmal Verma told The Sunday Guardian that the first indigenous aircraft carrier too would be based in the Eastern Command. Right now the Eastern Naval Command has 45 ships and six submarines.

India's indigenous nuclear submarine, INS Arihant, will begin sea-trials in the first half of 2012. It is based in Vishakhapatnam.

Reiterating its Look East policy, the Indian Navy is preparing to evenly balance out its assets on both the western and eastern seaboards, with a significant shift towards the east, as a step towards its operational preparedness.

The new indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC) will be based at the Indian Navy's Vishakhapatnam-based Eastern Command. The IAC is expected to launch in early 2012. Right now, the 37,000-tonne ship is under construction at the Cochin shipyard. The Russian fighters MiG-29K would operate from the IAC. An additional contract for 29 of these fighters was signed recently.

Right now the command has the 25-year-plus-old R-class destroyers, but Admiral Verma said that the latest two in this class, had new and advanced capabilities, and were in the Eastern Command. The landing platform dock, INS Jalashwa too was part of the eastern fleet. The other R-class destroyers are undergoing a mid-life upgrade, after which they would emerge as potent 21st century combatants, said the chief.

The Andaman and Nicobar tri-services command has 13 ships based in Port Blair. The Andaman and Nicobar command provides logistic and administrative support to Indian ships going to sea towards the east. Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh is also gearing up to house the Indian Navy's amphibious training facility.

About increasing Chinese aggression in South China Sea and Beijing's recent snub to New Delhi for its oil exploration efforts in the region — and also when the amphibious vessel INS Airavat was stopped by the Chinese Navy from transiting from the sea — Admiral Verma made his views clear. He said that conflict would not help the cause, and matters should be resolved peacefully.

From basing some important assets on the eastern seaboard to setting up hotlines on both sides, the admiral talked about a collective approach in the region, much on the lines of the 1000-ship navy concept put forth by the United States. The 1000-ship navy concept is a naval and coastal asset partnership from friendly countries to operate around the world, which was mooted by the US, but was turned down by India. Admiral Verma said that Chinese aggression in the South China Sea would affect the trade of other countries as much as it would affect India, and a collective effort in the region would perhaps be a solution.

The Naval Chief said that perhaps India an China could have a hotline similar to what India and Pakistan has to resolve border conflict.

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