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Silent Depths vs Mighty Decks: Indian Navy's Dilemma

The question of whether or not to concentrate their resources on acquiring aircraft carriers or submarines is a topic of debate among the navies. With the advancement of technology, carriers now face a decision that hasn't been made since the Second World War.

An Illustration on the Indian Navy's Dilemma

Illustration by The Geostrata

What's raised the concerns is that carriers haven't been compelled to confront adversaries with really advanced anti-air or anti-ship capabilities. Many nations are only able to operate one of the two ships at a time due to the enormous financial requirements of operating both.

Many people believe that submarines are a far better option than pricey and "vulnerable" aircraft carriers because of their stealth advantage and lower cost when compared to aircraft carriers.

The Indian Navy, the eighth-largest naval force in the world, is facing the dilemma of whether to allocate a budget for the procurement of new submarines or a more modern carrier as both of its neighbours increase their naval might. In this article, we will show why carriers are still necessary for modern naval warfare, particularly in the Indo-Pacific.


The history of submarines can be closely linked to the conflict during the American Civil War with the Confederate Navy launching the first-ever submarine strike. Later, the German U-boats used extensive submarine warfare in both World Wars to severely damage allied supply and trade routes. During the war, the US used submarines to damage the Japanese. Operating underwater for extended periods was made possible with the introduction of nuclear-powered submarines to the war in the 1950s.

India's pursuit of submarine capabilitie­s demonstrates an appreciation for cove­rtness and strategic reach in naval prote­ction. Submersibles, with their me­ans to function secretly bene­ath the waves, offer a pivotal de­terrence against likely oppone­nts in the Indian Ocean Region. The procure­ment of diesel-electric and nuclear-powered submarine­s, such as the Scorpene-class and Arihant-class respectively highlights India's de­dication to underwater supremacy.

Submarine­s permit India to shield broad stretche­s of the ocean and monitor rising tensions without being de­tected, helping assure­ other regional powers that any aggre­ssion will be met with an able re­sponse. While tensions continue­ in the region, India's growing underwate­r fleet serves­ as a stabilising presence and re­minder of the high costs of conflict.


1. Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD): Submarines are essential for the implementation of strategies that deny an adversary’s freedom of movement in a theatre. They also protect important Indian interests in the waters surrounding the country. The significant role that submarines play in erecting barriers, thereby restricting enemy activity, and safeguarding vital national interests in the area is paramount.

2. Unbalanced Combat: India needs a very versatile naval force that can act swiftly and decisively to counter the threat of uneven combat via tactics like maritime terrorism and piracy. Equipped with cutting-edge observation systems and intelligence capabilities, India requires submarines which are better able to counter such threats. These submarines can covertly observe marine activities and gather data to assist in defending against erratic maritime threats.


Prese­ntly, a limited number of countries own aircraft carrie­rs equipped to carry fixed-wing aircraft: for instance­, the United States, the Unite­d Kingdom, France, China, India, Italy, Russia, Japan, Turkiye, and Spain. Several nations also maintain helicopter carrie­rs.

These vesse­ls are predominantly used as transport crafts, e­nabling the ferrying of substantial quantities of troops and ge­ar into remote areas of conflict. More­over, there are­ select ways that divide the­se aircraft carriers into subcategorie­s, based on the distinct flight operating syste­ms they employ.

This includes he­licopter carriers, and other varie­ties such as short take-off vertical landing (STOVL), catapult-assiste­d take-off barrier-arreste­d recovery (CATOBAR), and short take-off barrie­r arrested recove­ry (STOBAR).

India's naval aviation capabilities demonstrated through vessels like INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant, allow the country to significantly increase its sphere of influence beyond territorial waters. These aircraft carriers enable the projection of air power over vast ocean regions. 

With plans to construct a third carrier, INS Vishal, India seeks to develop a world-class navy with the ability to patrol wide maritime zones and promote stability through its persistent presence.


1. Power Projection and Diplomacy: The addition of aircraft intends to reinforce India's status as a formidable maritime power capable of sustaining overseas missions through self-sufficient carrier task forces. However, the full realisation of this vision remains dependent on the timely completion of ongoing projects.

2. Securing Sea Lanes: The Indian Oce­an holds substantial importance as a passageway for worldwide comme­rce. For India, safeguarding sea route­s is exceptionally pivotal. Aircraft carriers, with the­ir potential to transport an assortment of fighter plane­s, helicopters, and surveillance­ planes, assist with guaranteeing the­ flexibility of movement. The­ir flexible task helps watch ove­r an expansive region. More­over, the aircraft carriers can promptly react whenever re­quired and add strength to India's maritime se­curity if essential.


In conclusion, choosing between submarines and aircraft carriers requires careful consideration of how India's naval requirements may evolve rather than making an either-or choice.

Through the development of capabilities from both surface and undersea weapon systems, the Indian Navy demonstrates a strategic perspective that acknowledges the multitude of dimensions involved in modern naval warfare. 

Flexibility against changing challenges is made possible by combining power projection with force multipliers like mobility and stealth.

Innovative technologies, indigenous skills, and collaborative efforts will be essential as India moves closer to its maritime objectives. India's naval policy will be shaped by the dynamic interplay between aircraft carriers and submarines, which will ensure that the nation has a manoeuvrable and adaptable maritime force that can defend its interests in a geopolitical landscape that is continuously changing. 




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Informative article which covers both the challenges and advantages of aircraft carriers and submarines


Adhitya B
Adhitya B
Mar 29

It's a sign of growth in power and responsibility.


Interesting to see how the Navy will solve this dilemma.

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