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Indian Maritime Strategy: Drivers and Imperatives

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  • May 16, 2014
    Fellows' Seminar

    Chair: R Adm (Retd) K Rajamenon
    External Discussants: R Adm SY Srikhande, Dr. Vijay Sakhuja and Cdr R Mishra
    Internal Discussants: Commodore Ajay Chhabra

    The author argues that as the world looks towards Indian Navy to deliver more it is time to take a stock of where India’s maritime strategy stands. The paper traces the evolution of India’s maritime strategy from the pre-natal days of independence and examines if the present day strategy has aided its quest to be seen as a responsible stable provider of security in the IOR and as a reliable partner in its other areas of interest. It also looks at imperatives that require re-examining. The paper also identifies imperatives that require to be included to enable a cogent maritime strategy and place India in its rightful place in the comity of nations as a responsible and stable actor.

    The paper tries to explain India’s maritime strategy in terms of drivers and imperatives of strategy. It defines driver as an aspect that has a long term effect; is the raison d’etre and has a direct bearing on the strategy. By imperative it means an aspect that could be temporary; impinge on the strategy and would require a solution so that the drivers are not affected. Therefore, the roles envisaged by the doctrines have been broadly acknowledged as the drivers since they have more or less remained permanent especially since 1998.

    The author concludes that Indian Maritime Strategy which has been based on a consistent thought process since independence could be viewed as a cognitive articulation of India’s maritime outlook limited by funding, lack of an enforceable higher directive and inherent internal dynamics of governance. The advantage bestowed by geography and the relative intra-regional balance of power equation that has weighed in India’s favour since 1947 could be lost due to the ingress of external powers like China and their ability to exert influence directly or indirectly both on land and sea. It could also be affected by reluctance of nations like the US in maintaining a safe and stable maritime environment. Either way, as India is looked upon by most of its neighbours and other IOR nations as a stability and balancing factor with reasonable capacity and capabilities there is a need to:

    • Bolster the maritime strategy with a modern balanced naval force with adequate numbers and a smoother flowing perspective plan that would meet the cardinal dates of upgradation and replacement. This would entail a relook at funding and more importantly timely approval of acquisition plans.
    • Connect the Indian Naval outlook with the central thought of the government. This would ensure a continued success of naval diplomacy in consonance with India’s foreign policy.
    • Ensure a common, and when required strong, stance on issues that are both inimical and beneficial to India’s interests. This would ensure the sanctity of not only the maritime strategy but also indicate stronger internal dynamics within the various elements of the government.

    Major Points of Discussion and Suggestions to the Author:

    • Strategy, drivers and imperatives was discussed at length. It was argued that strategy and doctrine are not the same. Strategy should be dynamic and flexible in order to absorb emerging challenges and developments. Securing peace is the ultimate aim of any military. But it must also keep itself ready for war as a last measure to secure peace. So any strategy must have these two pillars as its basis.
    • While benign role is an important aspect of multiple roles that the Indian navy is supposed to play; it must not lost sight of the fact that it is primarily a war fighting machine and hence must keep itself combat ready.
    • It was pointed out that Indian navy is a hybrid navy. Its software part is British whereas Russia is the major source of its hardware needs. This is both our strength and weakness. On one hand it shows our flexibility and ability to adapt, to the other makes it difficult for a hybrid navy to strategize.
    • Prime minister’s and Defence minister’s speeches, particularly at commanders’ conferences provide important inputs to the services and it is reflected in their preparation. Since, the source of inputs flows from the highest authority, it gives legitimacy to the forces’ actions. However, these speeches can at best be valuable in policy making; they can’t substitute strategy which is about ends, ways and means.
    • It was argued that navy can’t develop its strategy in isolation with other two services. Synergy among the services is a sine qua non for a robust and credible strategy.
    • It is a common refrain of other countries that Indian navy should be more responsible. But the question arises that responsible from whose perspective — inimical countries or allies from India’s own perspective. If later is the case then Indian navy has definitely displayed immense maturity and responsibility as is evident in its counter-piracy efforts.
    • It was pointed out that India must keep a tab on Chinese navy which is replicating US strategy of having a strong navy to become a world power. The recent focus of china on maritime security is quite evident.
    • India must strike a balance between threat and capability approach in strategy making. The capability approach is politically more correct since it refrains from talking about enemy. However, real threats can’t be ignored and in this regard India must take into account Chinese game plans.
    • The author was advised to elaborate the financial aspect of naval strategy. It needs to be explored that how budgetary side has facilitated or acted as a constraint on strategy.
    • The paper would enrich if it provides a theoretical framework for understanding strategy. Since, India’s conditions are unique, a strategy that suits India can be chalked out only if one has in mind the unique set of problems and opportunities India faces.
    • Since, the focus of the paper is on drivers and imperatives, the historical part of evolution of strategy should be condensed to allow more space to drivers and imperatives; the key part of research.
    • The author could also explore how delays in procurements affect Indian navy’s strategy. Since any strategy is for a particular time frame, it is worthwhile to see whether delays warrant revisit of strategy or not.

    Report prepared by Amit Kumar, Research Assistant, IDSA