The waters around the Indian Ocean are getting warmer, and it is not all about climate change. Last week, India commissioned its first domestically built aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant, a 45,000-tonne behemoth named after a similar vessel that helped it win the 1971 war with Pakistan, and which has since been mothballed. Added to the INS Vikramaditya - bought from Russia and commissioned in 2014 after an extensive refit - India now has two carriers, which means its eastern and western seaboards can be served by a carrier strike group. New Delhi is preparing for a second, larger home-built carrier to bolster its naval prowess and underline its deepening shipbuilding and engineering capacities. There is little doubt that China is a factor too.
In January, Beijing launched its third aircraft carrier, the first designed and built entirely in China. It is reportedly planning a six-carrier fleet. The seas around Asia, congested with merchant mariners, look set for a swift expansion of grey hulls. There already are an estimated 125 foreign naval vessels in the Indian Ocean region at any given time, according to some assessments. This is roughly three times the number deployed in the wake of the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when the United States invaded Afghanistan. The other bookend of the Indo-Pacific region is also swarming with naval activity as ships from the US, Australia and even Canada, fly their flags.