Naval Technology compares Indian Navy with the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy), amid ongoing tensions between the two powers.

Personnel: PLAN outnumbers the Indian Navy

Indian Navy vs Chinese Navy
The Indian Navy’s Eastern Fleet during an operational deployment to South China and North West Pacific. Image courtesy of Indian Navy.

India has more than 67,000 active personnel in the navy, including approximately 10,000 officers and 57,240 sailors, as of June 2019.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy has more than 235,000 personnel in active service, including up to 20,000 marines.

Submarines: PLA Navy fleet bigger and more advanced

China’s submarine fleet consists of more than 70 submarines, including seven nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), 12 nuclear attack submarines (SSN), and more than 50 diesel attack submarines.

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The fleet size is more than three times the size of the Indian Navy which operates less than 20 submarines.

SSBNs will give PLA Navy the edge

India vs China
China’s Jin-class nuclear-powered submarines can fire JL-2 SLBMs that can hit targets 7,200km away.

Although both India and China observe ‘no first-use’ nuclear policy, larger fleet size will give China an advantage in sea-based nuclear domain.

The majority (six) of the SSBNs in active service with the Chinese Navy are Jin-class (Type 094/094A) second-generation nuclear-powered submarines, which are designed to carry up to 12 JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

The Indian Navy, on the other hand, has just one nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, INS Arihant, in active service.

China’s JL-2 missile has a longer range compared to India’s K-15 missile giving the former an advantage. Targeting INS Arihant accurately will be difficult given the invulnerability of sea-based nuclear deterrent capability, though.

China has the Type 91 Han-class and the Type 093 Shang-class SSNs in active service, whereas India has just one SSN, INS Chakra (S71) – an 8,140t Akula-class submarine that can accommodate up to 12 Granit submarine-launched cruise missiles.

Conventional submarines: India needs to deploy advanced technologies

India will have to reckon with the PLAN’s conventional submarines including Ming diesel attack submarines, as well as Kilo and Song submarine classes.

Yuan, the PLA Navy’s most modern conventional submarine, is equipped with air-independent propulsion (AIP) system and quieting technology. The AIP system provides increased underwater endurance, range, and stealth capabilities to Yuan.

Further, the fuel cell technology used in the Yuan submarine reduces noise levels due to fewer moving mechanical components, allowing China to position the submarines within torpedo firing range with minimum risk of being detected.

The Indian Navy operates conventional submarines including two advanced INS Kalvari-class boats, based on the French Scorpène design. Although the INS Kalvari-class provides long range and low acoustic, electromagnetic and infrared (IR) signatures, the absence of AIP system could prove to be a major disadvantage.

Aircraft carriers: PLAN can deploy more sea-based aircraft

India vs China
INS Vikramaditya uses STOBAR system to launch and recover aircraft. Image courtesy of Indian Navy.

China has two aircraft carriers, CNS Liaoning and CNS Shandong, as opposed to India’s only aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya.

Inducted into the People’s Liberation Army Navy in 2012, Liaoning has a range of 7,130km, operates at a speed of 53.7kmph, and can carry up to 24 J-15 fighter aircraft, six Z-8 helicopters, and four Kamov Ka-31 helicopters. CNS Shandong can operate at least 36 J-15s. Both the aircraft carriers have a displacement of 50,000t.

Commissioned in 2013, INS Vikramaditya is a modified Kiev-class aircraft carrier with a range exceeding 7,000nm. The 44,500t short take-off, but assisted recovery (STOBAR) aircraft carrier can carry more than 30 aircraft, including MiG 29K / Sea Harrier, Sea King, Kamov 31, and Kamov 28 helicopters, as well as HAL-built Chetak helicopters.

Liaoning has a longer deck than INS Vikramaditya and weighs up to 17,000t more. Greater deck size means the Chinese aircraft carrier can carry more munitions. More aircraft carriers mean China will be able to more rapidly deploy aircraft in areas without airbases.

Both the navies do not possess catapult launch capabilities and rely on STOBAR technology.

Destroyers, frigates and corvettes: PLAN has the larger fleet

India vs China- Indian Navy vs PLA Navy
The Chinese navy’s Luyang III class destroyers are armed with the YJ-18 supersonic ASCM. Image: courtesy of BAIDU.COM.

China has a significantly larger fleet of destroyers compared to India.

China’s Renhai-class advanced guided-missile destroyer has a range of 5,000nm and can escort carrier strike groups in blue water operations. It is armed with YJ-18A anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), Yu-8 anti-submarine rockets, and YJ-100 long-range ASCMs, in addition to HQ-10 and HHQ-9B surface-to-air-missiles.

The Renhai’s 128 vertical launch system (VLS) silos are a significant improvement over the Luyang III class’ (Type 052D) 64 vertical launch cells.

In comparison, the Indian Navy’s INS Kolkata-class of destroyers can carry fewer missiles (32 Barak-8 missiles in vertical launch cells and 16 BrahMos anti-ship missiles).

The INS Kolkata-class can fire all the 16 BrahMos missiles simultaneously. BrahMos, the world’s fastest supersonic cruise missile, however, has a shorter range of 290km compared to the 537km range of the YJ-18 supersonic ASCM used by the Chinese Navy’s Luyang III-class (Type 052D) destroyers.

The Indian Navy is set to strengthen its INS Delhi, INS Kolkata, and Rajput-class guided-missile destroyers with the future Visakhapatnam-class (Project 15B) destroyers that are expected to enter service starting 2021.

Frigates and Corvettes

The Chinese Navy operates a range of frigates including Jiangkai-II class (Type 054A), Jiangkai I-class, Jianghu-class, and Jiangwei II-class.

The Jiangkai-II class (Type 054A) can support anti-air, anti-surface, and anti-submarine warfare operations. They can launch the HQ-16 medium-range SAMs up to a range of 50km and the YJ-83 (C-803) sea-skimming anti-ship missile that can hit targets 250km away.

The Indian Navy also has a strong fleet of frigates. Considered the first stealth warships built domestically, the INS Shivalik-class frigates have several radars that perform functions such as air search, weapon control, and fire control. The frigates have structural, thermal, and acoustic stealth features, which reduce the vulnerability of detection and maintain low noise levels.

The land-attacking capability of the INS Shivalik-class is primarily due to its ability to launch BrahMos supersonic and Klub anti-ship cruise missiles.

Other frigate classes of the Indian Navy are Talwar, Brahmaputra, and Godavari, while advanced Talwar-class frigates are being imported from Russia under Project 11356 in order to significantly upgrade operational capabilities against air targets, surface ships, and submarines.

The Talwar-class frigate’s single-arm launcher can launch just one missile at a time, whereas the PLA Navy’s Type-054A frigate is equipped with a vertical launch system (VLS) that allows for firing multiple missiles simultaneously.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy has more corvettes than the Indian Navy and the pace of procurement of the Type 056 ships demonstrates China’s intent to further enhance its coastal protection capabilities.

The Chinese military is procuring and commissioning several corvettes of the Jiangdao-class (Type 056A), more than 50 of which have been planned to be inducted since 2013. The Type 056 corvettes are intended to protect China’s interests in South China and East China Seas.

Corvettes in the Indian Navy’s fleet include Kamorta-class (anti-submarine warfare), Abhay-class, Veer-class, and Kora-class.

India received its fourth Kamorta-class corvette in February 2020 to counter the threat of enemy submarines with torpedoes and rocket launchers.

Naval aviation: India lacks enough fighter aircraft

The aviation branch of the Chinese Navy operates the J-10A Vigorous Dragon and J-11B Flanker fighter aircraft, both of which are armed with PL-8 and PL-12 air-to-air missiles and can perform extended fighter patrols.

Major aircraft and helicopters of the Indian Navy are Dornier 228, Hawk MK 132, Boeing P-8I multi-mission maritime patrol aircraft, Kamov-28, Kamov-31, Sea King 42 (B/C), UH 3H, MiG 29-K fighter jet, UAV Heron, and UAV Searcher.

The PLA Navy’s H-6 Badger bomber, known for its maritime strike capabilities, is a long-range strike aircraft that can carry four ASCMs.

The JH-7 Flounder tandem-seat fighter-bomber, with improvements to radar and weapons-carrying capacity, offers increased potency in maritime strike missions. It can carry up to four ASCMs and two PL-5 or PL-8 short-range air-to-air missiles.

Whereas, India’s carrier-based fighter MiG-29K is facing maintenance issues and operational deficiencies. Indian Navy plans to acquire 57 more fighters to strengthen its fleet.

Maritime patrol platforms

India vs China-Indian Navy vs PLAN
A Boeing P-8I maritime patrol aircraft of the Indian Navy. Image courtesy of Indian Navy.

The Boeing P-8I aircraft, which is one of the most advanced maritime patrol aircraft in the world, allows the Indian navy to track China’s movements in the Indian Ocean, while also supporting anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface warfare missions.

China uses Y-8 and Y-9 maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft equipped with airborne early warning and electronic warfare mission capabilities.

India lacks enough naval multi-role helicopters and signed a deal to purchase 24 MH-60 Romeo helicopters from Lockheed Martin in February 2020 to replace the ageing Sea Kings. To be equipped with multi-mode radar, precision-kill rockets, and Hellfire missiles, the Romeo helicopters will play a key role in surveillance missions.

China has gained a head start in this capability by completing the demo flight of a newly developed Z-20 helicopter, which is comparable with Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk, in 2019.

Indian Ocean: China building bases to counter India

India is expected to leverage its dominant position in the Indian Ocean to counter the threat of aggressive manoeuvres from China.

The Andaman and Nicobar Command, a tri-service command of the Indian Armed Forces, mans a strategically important zone. Indian Navy’s strong presence in the Andaman Sea makes China vulnerable in the region since the majority of Chinese imports have to pass through the Malacca Strait, a narrow passage between Malaysia and Indonesia.

China has been embracing multiple strategies including building bases in Djibouti and ports in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar in order to counter India’s strength in the Indian Ocean.