By 2027, the Indian Navy hopes to boast 200 ships with an emphasis on modernization and domestic production, according to one top Indian naval official. While some might scoff at those numbers, given America’s goal of 355 naval ships and China’s 700 ship navy, further analysis reveals why China has taken notice and America is applauding the expansion. Despite a larger number of ships, the Chinese Navy has an overwhelming majority of smaller coastal patrol boats. In reality, they currently possess approximately 220 combat ships with the stated intent of hosting a fleet of 350 combat ships by 2020.
The marked increase in the Chinese Navy’s combat capability would seem to rival that of the United States. The US Congress recently passed legislation calling for a Naval expansion to 355 combat ships “as soon as practical.” This is why the US is applauding the Indian Navy’s expansion, as it serves a vital role in the Indo-Pacific encirclement of the growing threat from the Chinese Navy. India has recently signed an agreement with Indonesia to build a naval base on either side of the Malacca Strait through which up to 80 percent of Chinese imported oil flows.
As Beijing continues to militarize the South China Sea, it warned that any militarization could threaten an arms race in the Indian Ocean. With a 200-plus combat ship navy to the west, Australia to the south, and the might of the US Navy with its 11 combat aircraft carriers to the east, China has good reason to take notice. Further emphasizing the need for India’s cooperation, Secretary of Defense James Mattis recently announced the change of the historic US Pacific Command to the Indo-Pacific Command.
The United States has emphasized that it is in the region to stay, with Mattis stressing further that the Indo-Pacific theater is the priority region for the United States. The United States continues to exercise freedom of navigation operations despite China’s objection. If the United States is to continue to challenge China’s emergence as a naval power, it will require allies like India to expand and modernize their capabilities. With a population of more than 1 billion and a growing economy, India serves as a regional counter-balance to Chinese influence and, in the future, looks to expand that influence to the Indian Ocean and beyond.