New Delhi: As global focus shifts to South Asia and the Indian Ocean region, US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta sought India's cooperation to jointly counter China. India declined saying it doesn't share the US perceptions on the Asia-Pacific region and yet Defence Minister AK Antony, obliquely referring to China and dispute around South-China Sea, said: "Large parts of the common seas cannot be declared exclusive to any one country or group."
So what is India's trump card in ensuring its control and dominance over the Indian Ocean and the Asia-Pacific region? The answer may well be INS Satpura.
The latest stealth warship in the Navy's stable, INS Satpura will put India in the league of six other countries which own such a ship. But how exactly will it help?
"It's all about who finds the enemy first. Stealth allows us to sneak closer to the enemy and not only that, it makes the job of enemy difficult when they come looking for you," said Lieutenant Commander Nitin Oberoi.
But this apart, the ship has several more features like never before. It has a heavy and medium gun to take on close targets, Shtil air defence system that can destroy anything within 30 km, Klub surface-to-surface-missiles to hit targets beyond the horizon and Barack surface-to-air missiles.
But stealth and increased fire power are not all. What adds to the Navy's capability is the speed at which this ship can operate.
Built by the state-owned Mazagon Dockyards Limited, INS Satpura is a 143-metre-long Shivalik-class warship with 6,200-tonne displacement, and the power it generates is about 600 SUVs pulling an object forward. It can reach upto a speed of 30 knots which is about 60 km per hour.
What it means is that the ship can sneak in, hit hard and run away fast. That's possible due to an array of censors that allow looking deep into enemy territory.
"I am completely networked. I can see where our assets are, look at the pictures on a real time basis, see what's happening around them and instantly decide what to do," said Captain Sharad Mohan.
This brings about a sea change in the way the Indian Navy functions. Everything from starting engines to closing doors can now be done at the click of button through computers, which means lesser manpower and better working conditions.
"In earlier ships, there were no air conditioners but this has a great AC. Water was problem in earlier ships, you couldn't take bath for days. Today, you have hot and cold water 24 hours. Earlier you believed in working, today we believe in working smart," said Sahu.
Over the next five years, the Indian Navy will add at least 46 ships to its fleet; it will also have two aircraft battlegroups by the year-end. India's second aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, will join the fleet this year along with three more stealth frigates. Besides INS Chakra - the nuclear powered submarine - that joined fleet this year, INS Arihant the nuclear powered submarine that will carry nuclear missiles being built in India will go through sea trials this year.
The Navy will also get Kolkata class stealth Destroyer next year.
There is a silent yet a definitive change that the Navy is going through and the INS Satpura embodies that change. It has sensors for air, surface and sub-surface surveillance, electronic support and counter equipment and decoys for soft kill measures.
One thing is clear: While India may not have joined the US bandwagon to counter China, it is developing its own muscle and sea legs so that it can effectively police the Indian Ocean region.