In August, the Indian Navy celebrated two major milestones. It launched the first indigenously-built carrier, the 37,500-ton Vikrant , and the reactor of its first native-built nuclear submarine, the Arihant , came online. Alongside these achievements is the Indian development of an array of ballistic missiles as well as prototypes of a wide variety of tactical missiles, including some anti-missile weapons. There are also new tactical aircraft and helicopters. The ambitious Indian defense research plan has sometimes failed to meet its goals, and its programs have often run very late, but the scope and the ambition are both noteworthy.
Like many navies, the Indian Navy finds itself the poor stepchild of a land-oriented defense establishment. The current prospective enemy is Pakistan; any war against Pakistan would be fought largely ashore. Many Indians assume that the future enemy is China, because it seems reasonable to assume that at some point the two Asian super-powers will collide. China is also Pakistan’s staunchest ally. Indian defense experts sometimes talk about their country’s “encirclement,” which means the connection between the two hostile nations. The border dispute with China in the north, which once led to a small war, has never been resolved, and from time to time the Indians complain that the Chinese are enhancing their position by building new roads in the area north of the border. That is nothing by comparison with the deep-seated dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir, a cancer planted when the two countries were created by the partition of British India in 1947.