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The Indian Navy’s Growing Maritime Reach: An Unfinished Agenda

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  • July 04, 2014
    Fellows' Seminar

    Chair: Vice Admiral (Retd) Anup Singh
    External Discussant: Cmde (Retd) Rajeev Sawhney and Cdr Gurpreet Khurana
    Internal Discussant: Cmde Ajay Chhabra

    The paper argues that as the pre-eminent maritime force in the Indian Ocean Region, the Indian Navy has, in recent years, witnessed a sharp rise in its contribution to regional maritime security efforts. But beyond the enlargement of its traditional security role, the navy is also experiencing a relative expansion in its benign and diplomatic functions, wherein it is the favoured instrument of policy in exerting influence in India’s maritime neighbourhood and facilitating humanitarian and disaster relief operations. Acutely aware of the need to contend with dynamics beyond coastal and near-regional defence, the Indian Navy has been upgrading its force structure and operations philosophy. The paper seeks to answer the question - in its quest to shape its maritime periphery does the Indian navy need to do more to project power and influence far beyond India’s shores?

    The paper concludes by saying that the Indian Navy’s maritime reach and operations mind-set has evolved considerably over the past two decades. However, while its security role in its near regions has grown substantially, its power-projection capability still remains underdeveloped. The author further argues that the Indian Navy must play a leading role in forging a new maritime order where it is a consequential force for regional stability and public good. There is a need for the Indian Navy to reappraise its forward-operations strategy to include elements of hard-power projection. For this, it must bring significant improvements in its logistics capabilities, C4ISR, air-defence and land-attack (precision strike) functions. Substantive capacity must be complemented by operational ingenuity and doctrinal innovative to create a sustainable distance-operations capability. A key task will be to improve interoperability with other maritime forces, effective communications and a model of coordinated forward-operations. Moreover, in expanding its strategic footprint, logistics supply arrangements and repair and resupply facilities would be of critical importance.

    Major Points of Discussion and Suggestions to the Author:

    • 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. Moreover, since benign missions have become cover up for acquiring offensive weapons and platforms, India should also keep a tab on such developments.
    • India’s reluctance to be seen as an expeditionary power is reflected in its effort to couch offshore operations in terms such as OOAC, HADR, etc.
    • India’s expeditionary moves have emanated mostly from Navy, though the standing committee on defence also recommends and support it.
    • It was opined by many that there is huge pressure on the Indian navy to increase its outreach. However, the Navy must strike a balance between the growing aspirations and demand on it and the resources it has on disposal. Admittedly, we have interests elsewhere also in the sea apart from the Indian Ocean, viz in the South China Sea; but the moot point is that can we afford to support our operations and sustain it with the limited resources we have. It was argued that when we talk about expanding reach, the sustainability factor must not be lost sight of.
    • It was brought out that special operations could be important component of our power projection strategy.
    • It was highlighted that Indian Navy’s primary role is the support of foreign policy objectives. Naval plans and strategies must adhere to these objectives. It should be in sync with India’s economic diplomacy.
    • It was argued that our forward-operations strategy will get a boost by signing more LSAs. LSA has commercial component and it helps the host nation’s economy. Therefore, compared to FOBs, LSAs are more feasible and desirable.
    • 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.
    • To aspire for great power status without developing matching capabilities to fulfil the obligations that come along this status would fail us. India’ reluctance to engage in expeditionary activities or in security architectures can be partly explained thus.
    • It was argued that currently the priority of foreign policy of India is to maximise economic gains to internally stabilise and power-projection therefore, has been put on the backburner.
    • One reason for India’s reluctance to look beyond its borders is its troubled neighbourhood. Leadership role has to begin with neighbours and it was pointed out by discussants that India’s neighbours are not conducive to India playing an important role at the regional and global level. India is accused of nursing big brotherly attitude towards its neighbours. The China factor is also very important in India’s foreign policy and its quest for leadership role. China is both a determinant and constraint on India’s foreign policy.
    • It was brought up during the discussion that India has to play an important role in the IOR as abdicating its responsibility will allow China to take control of the situation to the detriment of India.
    • The author was advised to analyse some of the overseas deployments of Indian Navy and asses the efficacy of those. Have they demonstrated reach per se of the Indian navy?
    • The paper should also analyse the US sea base model and then explain why it is neither feasible nor desirable in Indian case.
    • The paper would enrich if it also includes the Coast Guard in the scope of the study. Coast Guard can be tasked to specific jobs both in peacetime and during the wartime.
    • Arctic is importantly becoming a zone of importance and the Indian Navy must explore its options there.