India yesterday unveiled its first home-built, anti-submarine warship in a move to deter China from conducting underwater patrols near its shores.
Defence Minister Arun Jaitley commissioned the 3,300-tonne INS Kamorta at the southeastern port of Vishakapatnam.
"I am sure INS Kamorta will serve this country effectively for a very long time," Jaitley said. "Our effective preparedness is always the best guarantee for peace in this region."
The move came a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced the largest locally built guided-missile destroyer and vowed to bolster the country's defences so "no one dares to cast an evil glance at India".
India is playing catch-up to China, which built 20 such warships in the past two years and sent a nuclear submarine to the Indian Ocean in December for a two-month anti-piracy patrol. The waters are home to shipping lanes carrying about 80 per cent of the world's seaborne oil, mostly headed to China and Japan.
"As China grows into a naval, maritime power, it will be more and more active in the Indian Ocean," said Taylor Fravel, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies China's ties with its neighbours. "Of course, it will not be due to some hostility or targeted at India, but because of its economic interests in the Indian Ocean, as a lot of trade passes through. Such a presence will certainly raise questions in India, but it need not necessarily be a cause of major conflict."
India has lacked anti-submarine corvettes in its 135-strong naval fleet for more than a decade now, with the decommissioning of the last of the 10-ship Petya class of 1960s-era Soviet corvettes in December 2003. It plans to build 42 more warships, including three more anti-submarine corvettes, over the next decade, according to Rear Admiral A.B. Singh, an Indian navy official.
About 90 per cent of Kamorta's components are local, with the hull developed by the Steel Authority of India, medium-range guns by Bharat Heavy Electricals and torpedo launchers by Larsen & Toubro, India's largest engineering company. The ship is two years behind schedule, according to Commodore B.B. Nagpal, the navy's principal director for naval design.
"It's a beef-up of the Indian Navy's anti-submarine warfare capabilities against Chinese submarines," Rear Admiral Raja Menon, a retired Indian official, said of the Kamorta, which is named after an Indian island that was a convict settlement in the 1800s.
Even so, he said, "Indian warship building is not comparable to an aggressively modernising Chinese navy. There is no way we can match China's efforts."
China has built 20 Jiangdao-class anti-submarine corvettes since February 2013, when it unveiled its first. At least 10 more will join the Chinese naval service in the coming months, according to data from IHS Jane's.
China's Jiangdao-class anti-submarine ships are about half the size of the Kamorta and designed to operate in shallow water, said Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, a retired Indian navy officer. The Indian ship can carry helicopters on board and possesses surface warfare and air defence capabilities, he said.
Jaitley, who's also India's finance minister, eased rules for foreign investment in the nation's defence sector and raised military spending 12 per cent in the current fiscal year. China spent US$188 billion on defence in 2013, about four times more than India, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.