The launch of China's second aircraft carrier is an important and depressing moment for India. The Type 001A — likely to be named the Shandong — will give China an edge for the first time in the carrier race with its Asian rival, a literal 2-to-1 advantage. After decommissioning the INS Viraat earlier this year, the Indian Navy is down to a single carrier, the INS Vikramaditya. Worse, the Shandong has been built at China's own giant shipyard at Dalian; the Vikramaditya is merely a repurposed 1980s-era Russian carrier formerly known as the Admiral Gorshkov.

Even more telling than the raw numbers is what China's progress says about India's ability to provide security in its own backyard. Chinese naval strategists have open designs on the Indian Ocean. According to one, "China needs two carrier strike groups in the West Pacific Ocean and two in the Indian Ocean."

The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has talked a great deal about revitalizing the Indian military; it's opened the defense sector up to greater foreign investment and is building a much-closer relationship with the U.S. military, largely with China in mind. But spending has lagged. Worse, successive governments simply don't seem to have thought through where best to direct those scarce resources.