Indian Navy

Aircraft Carrier Vs Submarine – Which Is More Important?

Time and again Indian Navy has laid stress over the necessity of the third aircraft carrier, i.e. IAC 2, or commonly referred to as INS Vishal. Once again Indian Navy Chief Admiral Karam Veer Singh stated that the third aircraft carrier is a necessity. Whereas according to CDS General Bipin Rawat, Submarines are way more important. So in this article, we are going to discuss which option is better and feasible.

[Note: The opinion expressed in this article are my own views and one might not agree with these views. The comment section is open for you to express your opinion. A healthy debate will be appreciated.]

Why The Third Aircraft Carrier Is Required?

Aircraft Carriers are symbols of power and dominance. Aircraft carriers are instrumental in taking the fight to the enemy’s homeland. The massive invasion of the gulf by the American forces was made possible by Aircraft carriers and other naval assets. To become a blue water navy, India needs aircraft carriers.

Right now Indian Navy operates only one aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya. Another one INS Vikrant is under sea trials and is expected to enter service by 2022. But both of these aircraft carriers are STOBAR aircraft carriers, which have serious limitations. The Navy is planning for a third aircraft carrier which would be CATOBAR carrier which will operate heavier aircraft. Three aircraft carriers will ensure that at least two of them are always ready for operational deployment.

How Much The 3rd Aircraft Carrier Will It Cost?

If we start designing the third carrier now, it will take at least 15 years to completely operationalize them. Moreover, it will cost around $10 billion, without taking inflation into account.

The design is also a factor. For a country like India, which follows a defensive naval doctrine, large supercarriers are not required. Even an aircraft carrier of displacement 65,000 tons is large for the Indian Navy. Indian Navy should explore options like the French CATOBAR Aircraft Carrier Charles de Gaule, which roughly displaces 40,000 tons and carriers 30 Rafale fighters.

In a situation where the Indian Army and Airforce are struggling to maintain their current and much-required strength, the government cannot invest 10 billion dollars in a symbol of naval power, a symbol that might never saw combat. Navy as of now has enough strength in terms of aircraft carriers.

Moreover only constructing the third aircraft carrier is not the problem. Aircraft carriers operate in carrier battle groups which consists of multiple destroyers, antisubmarine frigates, and attack submarines. Currently, the Indian Navy does not possess sufficient assets to form three carrier battle groups.

Countering Adversaries

The major threat to India is China and Pakistan. Thanks to India’s foreign policies, we have more friends than foes. India does not have any sea dispute with any nation. If the Indian Navy starts comparing its strength with the Chinese Navy, which has disputes with its every neighbor, then it’s not relevant.

For countering China, INS Baaz, the naval air station at Andaman and Nicobar islands just serves as a third carrier. A squadron of Su 30 MKI with Brahmos would be enough to complement other naval assets which would choke the Chinese Navy at Strait of Malacca, in case of any conflict.

And talking about Pakistan, there are doubts that whether it would be able to handle the destroyers of the Indian Navy equipped with Brahmos, the aircraft carriers remain out of the question. The two carriers are just too much for Pakistan.

Nuclear Submarines- A Necessity

Nuclear attack submarines are much more effective in the modern world. These can perform stealthy lone wolf attacks. For boosting offensive capabilities submarines are better options. As Aircraft carriers act as a visible deterrent, submarines on the other hand pose serious threats to enemy assets without even being noticed. Indian navy severely lacks in terms of a nuclear attack submarine.

Aircraft carriers were very effective in the 1940s where there were no anti-ship missiles, land-attack cruise missiles, and surveillance satellites. carrier-based aircraft used to play all these roles. Nowadays submarines are not limited to firing just torpedoes but can fire cruise missiles to nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.


In my opinion, the third aircraft carrier should be explored as a replacement of INS Vikramaditya, not as an addition to present strength. Rather increasing the strength of the submarine fleet and putting more capable fighters on existing carriers is more important.

However Navy and CDS knows better what is required as what is not and will make the best decision.

Again this is my opinion, and one might not agree with this. The comments section is open for you



Sheershoo Deb

I am a defense aspirant preparing to be an officer in the prestigious Indian armed forces. Earning the prestigious blue uniform is my dream.


  1. Battle of Midway taught us that Aircraft Carrier cannot be replaced by Submarines. Making Submarines in large quantities is good but we should not ignore the importance of Aircraft carrier. And also Indian Navy is a powerful and blue water Navy. The aircraft carrier is a very essential Warship for any powerful Navy. Thus Indian Navy is indeed in need of a heavy weight aircraft carrier.

    1. Hello Shouvik, I agree with your point that aircraft carriers are important for blue water navies. But if you talk about the battle of midway, both japs and Americans had their carrier strike groups. Neither of them enjoyed any advantage of aircraft carrier over the other. The Americans won because of loopholes in Yamamoto’s plan and better strategies. And this is irrelevant in a modern context where we have supersonic cruise missile onboard destroyers and frigates. 70 years back the fighters used to be the primary weapons, which is not the case in modern naval warfare. Indian Navy already operates 2 aircraft carriers, which is enough for the current situation. If you compare Indian Navy with Chinese Navy, we just don’t have enough resources to compete with them.

    2. Hello Shouvik,
      Your point is valid but if we compare the both era the scenario get changed.Today, due to advancement in the missile technology and radar system…steath technology has become very important to develop the invisible & impact ful power and that can be fulfilled by NUCLEAR SUBMARINES…it doesn’t mean that Indian navy doesn’t need Aircraft carrier,they need it but keeping budget crisis in mind first we should go for the deployment of atleast one NUCLEAR SUBMARINE.

  2. Drones & Unmanned ship would be a better option as shown in recent conflicts. Cheaper to build & maintain . Large aircraft carrier & surface ship are too easy to target & sink , given the lethal missiles with their long range and are cheap to produce . The tactics of the 20th century no longer work , large concentrations of military asset in one small area are vulnerable to long range missile

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