The Fi­nal Reck­on­ing ?

On Navy Day 2017, Ad­mi­ral Arun Prakash writes on In­dia’s Resur­gent Mar­itime Power

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Ad­mi­ral Arun Prakash writes on In­dia’s Resur­gent Mar­itime Power, re­call­ing mar­itime tra­di­tions, re­cent Naval de­vel­op­ments but also flag­ging some la­cu­nae, es­sen­tially the Navy’s ma­te­rial short­com­ings, aris­ing from acute im­port de­pen­dence.

As the na­tion con­tem­plated the long drawn out Sino- In­dian con­fronta­tion at Dok­lam, in neigh­bour­ing Bhutan, and China’s strate­gic moves in the In­dian Ocean re­gion (IOR), a new con­sen­sus ap­peared to be emerg­ing amongst an­a­lysts. Most seemed to be of the view that while the In­dian army and IAF may be able to hold out against a PLA land-of­fen­sive, and even give the ag­gres­sor an oc­ca­sional ‘bloody nose’ (so ar­dently sought by TV an­chors), the fi­nal reck­on­ing with China would be in the In­dian Ocean.

Why on Navy Day?

There is a gen­eral as­sump­tion that In­dia pos­sesses ad­e­quate ‘mar­itime power’ to deal with the PLA-Navy in home wa­ters and opin­ion favours the open­ing of a ‘ mar­itime front’ to cap­i­talise on this pu­ta­tive ad­van­tage. One is not aware if this dis­course is based on em­pir­i­cal data, war-gam­ing or mere spec­u­la­tion, but Navy Day 2017 seems to be a good junc­ture to take stock of In­dia’s ‘mar­itime power’, and ap­ply our minds to fu­ture chal­lenges.

Tra­di­tion­ally, Navy Day is cel­e­brated an­nu­ally, on 4 De­cem­ber, to mark free In­dia’s first naval vic­tory in the 1971 War, and to re­mind our fel­low-cit­i­zens of their for­got­ten mar­itime her­itage. The Bangladesh War marked an im­por­tant mile­stone in the navy’s post-in­de­pen­dence his­tory. Still smart­ing from the ig­nominy of in­ac­tion in 1965, the navy’s lead­er­ship en­sured that it had an im­por­tant role to play in the com­ing con­flict. The Ser­vice was truly blooded as it saw the bold em­ploy­ment of the full range of mar­itime

ca­pa­bil­i­ties; in­clud­ing mis­sile- war­fare, car­rier op­er­a­tions, sub­ma­rine and an­ti­sub­ma­rine war­fare, am­phibi­ous op­er­a­tions, shore-bom­bard­ment, spe­cial op­er­a­tions, and mine counter-mea­sures.

On 4 De­cem­ber 1971 dar­ing raids by mis­sile-boats on Karachi har­bour sank Pak­istani war­ships, set ablaze fuel tanks, bot­tled up the en­emy fleet and vir­tu­ally shut down the port. This was a role that Soviet tac­ti­cians had never en­vis­aged for these small 400-ton craft. In east­ern wa­ters, as we gath­ered wreck­age of the ill-fated Pak sub­ma­rine Ghazi, the air­craft car­rier Vikrant and her es­corts, block­aded East Pak­istani ports, at­tacked air­fields and in­ter­dicted ship­ping, thus tight­en­ing the noose around Gen­eral Ni­azi and his mur­der­ous hordes, who even­tu­ally sur­ren­dered on 16 De­cem­ber 1971.

In­dia’s Mar­itime Tra­di­tion

While cel­e­brat­ing the suc­cess­ful storm­ing of the Pak­istani naval bas­tion, Navy Day is also an oc­ca­sion, for the na­tion, to re­mind its cit­i­zens – es­pe­cially the youth – of our glo­ri­ous mar­itime her­itage and of the for­got­ten seago­ing ex­ploits of an­cient In­dian mariners. Sar­dar KM Panikkar, In­dian diplo­mat and his­to­rian de­bunks many Western myths in his 1945 mono­graph, when he pro­claims, “Mil­le­ni­ums be­fore Colum­bus sailed the At­lantic and Mag­el­lan crossed the Pa­cific, the In­dian Ocean had be­come an ac­tive thor­ough­fare of com­mer­cial and cul­tural traf­fic.”

Panikkar refers to the pow­er­ful navies main­tained by the Andhra, Pallava, Pandya and Chola dy­nas­ties in our East­ern wa­ters to of­fer con­vinc­ing ev­i­dence that in­trepid In­dian sea­far­ers sus­tained mar­itime trade and cul­tural links with SE Asia for cen­turies. How­ever, mar­itime in­ter­course was not con­fined only to our east­ern wa­ters, and ex­ten­sive trad­ing and cul­tural links ex­isted with Africa and the Mid­dle East, whose signs are still in ev­i­dence.

In the 11th cen­tury AD, a hun­dred-year mar­itime con­flict be­tween the Su­ma­tra-based Sri Vi­jaya and South In­dian Chola dy­nas­ties weak­ened both Em­pires and her­alded the end of Hindu sea power. So, when Vasco da Gama ar­rived off Cali­cut in 1498, there was no In­dian ruler who could muster a naval force to op­pose their small, armed car­avels. A few decades later, the Bri­tish East In­dia Com­pany made its ap­pear­ance on In­dian shores to be fol­lowed by the Dutch, Por­tuguese and French. Thus, In­di­ans, de­spite be­ing heirs to an an­cient mar­itime tra­di­tion, were colonised, en­slaved and ex­ploited by for­eign mar­itime pow­ers, be­cause of their ‘sea blind­ness’.

In this dis­mal his­tor­i­cal se­quence, we must cher­ish the mem­ory of a few naval he­roes, who left a mark on the coun­try’s mar­itime stage. Amongst these are the res­o­lute and vi­sion­ary Sa­muthari Ra­jas (or Zamor­ins) of Cali­cut, who waged a 90-year long naval cam­paign against the Por­tuguese, led by Cap­tains of the Kun­jali Marakkar clan. A cen­tury later, the Maratha ad­mi­ral, Kan­hoji An­gre’s fleet of ghurabs and gal­li­bats cease­lessly har­ried Bri­tish, Dutch and Por­tuguese ship­ping, scor­ing many vic­to­ries against their in­di­vid­ual and col­lec­tive forces.

While In­dia’s Mughal rulers were bereft of any mar­itime aware­ness, the Bri­tish who suc­ceeded them, de­lib­er­ately kept their In­dian sub­jects away from the sea, fo­cus­ing in­stead of a large army to keep or­der at home, and in over­seas pos­ses­sions.

A Par­tial Mar­itime Awak­en­ing ?

Therein lay the roots of In­dia’s malaise of ‘sea blind­ness’ and the post-in­de­pen­dence con­vic­tion that In­dia was, in­her­ently, a ‘ con­ti­nen­tal power’. As a con­se­quence we find, well af­ter in­de­pen­dence, that the ‘ mar­itime sec­tor’ has suf­fered sus­tained ne­glect. Here, it is im­por­tant for In­dia’s plan­ners and de­ci­sion-mak­ers to com­pre­hend that na­tional ‘mar­itime power’ em­braces a huge spec­trum of the na­tion’s tech­no­log­i­cal, in­dus­trial, eco­nomic and mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and that a clear dis­tinc­tion must be drawn be­tween ‘mar­itime power’ and ‘naval power’.

The ma­jor com­po­nents of mar­itime power in­clude world- class ports and har­bours, a mod­ern ship­build­ing in­dus­try, a sub­stan­tive mer­chant ma­rine, an ef­fec­tive coast guard, an ocean-go­ing fish­ing fleet and the abil­ity to har­vest or ex­tract eco­nom­i­cally im­por­tant seabed re­sources. The last, but most im­por­tant com­po­nent of a na­tion’s mar­itime power is a ca­pa­ble ‘fight­ing navy’, which un­der­writes the safety and se­cu­rity of all its mar­itime in­ter­ests.

The past two decades have, for­tu­nately, wit­nessed a ‘mar­itime awak­en­ing’ amongst In­dia’s land- ori­ented de­ci­sion- mak­ers. A se­ries of de­vel­op­ments, in­clud­ing the phe­nom­e­non of glob­al­i­sa­tion, the drama of ram­pant piracy, the trau­matic 26/11 Mum­bai ter­ror at­tack, and the spec­tre of a grow­ing Chi­nese Navy have all served to bring be­lated fo­cus on the In­dian Navy’s role in mar­itime se­cu­rity. A brief look at China is war­ranted at this junc­ture.

China’s ‘Mar­itime Power’

China’s pur­suit of mar­itime power has been un­der-girded by the sub­stan­tive growth of its seaborne-trade and en­ergy sup­plies as well as over­seas eco­nomic and se­cu­rity in­ter­ests. In the se­cu­rity-re­lated con­text, its long-stand­ing claim on Tai­wan and new­found ter­ri­to­rial am­bi­tions in the East and South China Seas have lent fur­ther im­pe­tus.

Ever since Xi Jin­ping des­ig­nated the ‘mar­itime do­main’ as an essen­tial build­ing block of his ‘China Dream’, the Com­mu­nist Party has brought sharp fo­cus on it, and over­seen the sys­tem­atic build-up of each el­e­ment of ‘na­tional mar­itime power’. The fol­low­ing in­for­ma­tion is rel­e­vant and il­lu­mi­nat­ing: China is the world leader in ship­build­ing to­day. Its 5000-ship strong mer­chant ma­rine ranks No.1 in the world. China owns the largest num­ber of coast guard ves­sels in the world. China’s ocean-go­ing fish­ing fleet is the largest in the world. Chi­nese ship­yards are rapidly adding to its fleet of mod­ern de­stroy­ers, frigates, diesel sub­marines and lo­gis­tic sup­port ves­sels. Its force of home- built nu­clear sub­marines has been op­er­a­tionally de­ployed. PLA Navy’s first air­craft car­rier is at sea, with more on the way. In a few years the PLA Navy (PLAN) will be sec­ond only to the US Navy in ca­pa­bil­ity. It is also note­wor­thy that China, for all its mar­itime prow­ess, has re­frained from declar­ing it­self a ‘ mar­itime power’ yet, be­cause of cer­tain per­ceived de­fi­cien­cies. It there­fore be­hooves In­dia, which has al­ready donned the man­tle of ‘ net se­cu­rity provider’ in the In­dian Ocean, to ur­gently con­ceive a na­tional level strat­egy whose im­ple­men­ta­tion will fill long- stand­ing voids and cre­ate badly needed ca­pac­i­ties in the mar­itime sec­tor that will ben­e­fit our econ­omy and re­in­force mar­itime se­cu­rity.

Re­cent Naval De­vel­op­ments

The bright spot on In­dia’s mar­itime hori­zon is the at­tain­ment of a de­gree of self- reliance in war­ship build­ing. The seeds of self- reliance were planted by a vi­sion­ary naval lead­er­ship in the 1960s, by per­suad­ing the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship that the na­tion must em­bark on in­dige­nous war­ship pro­duc­tion. In the face of great skep­ti­cism, both at home and abroad, Mazagon Docks de­liv­ered the first Le­an­der class frigate, INS Nil­giri, in 1972. In the half cen­tury

since, In­dian ship­yards have launched over a hun­dred war­ships; rang­ing from pa­trol boats to frigates and de­stroy­ers and from hy­dro­graphic ves­sels to nu­clear sub­marines.

The pin­na­cle of this ad­mirable en­deav­our was achieved in 2013, when Cochin Ship­yard launched In­dia’s largest in­dige­nously de­signed and built war­ship – an air­craft car­rier – to be named INS Vikrant, in 2013. Build­ing an air­craft car­rier is, how­ever, com­plex busi­ness and it could take any­thing up to 6-7 years be­fore the ship goes to sea. In the mean­while, plans for a sec­ond, big­ger, car­rier are on the de­sign­boards in New Delhi.

The past few years have seen the IN re­al­is­ing many long-cher­ished ob­jec­tives, in all three di­men­sions of mar­itime ca­pa­bil­ity. The nu­clear- pow­ered bal­lis­tic mis­sile sub­ma­rine (SSBN) INS Ari­hant, a prod­uct of In­dia’s Ad­vanced Tech­nol­ogy Ves­sel (ATV) project, has be­come the ‘third leg’ of In­dia’s nu­clear de­ter­rent force, im­mensely re­in­forc­ing its cred­i­bil­ity. The, 44,500 ton, for­mer Soviet air­craft-car­rier, re-named INS Vikra­ma­ditya, has been as­sim­i­lated into IN fleet op­er­a­tions and par­tic­i­pated in the tri­na­tional ex­er­cise Mal­abar- 2017, de­ploy­ing its 4th gen­er­a­tion MiG- 29K fighters and Kamov-28 and Kamov-31 he­li­copters against US and Ja­panese naval units.

An­other mile­stone was crossed in 2014 when the first of a se­ries of stealth de­stroy­ers, INS Kolkata was com­mis­sioned in Mum­bai; to be fol­lowed by sis­ters, Kochi and Chen­nai. What places this class of 7,500 ton war­ships on par with con­tem­po­rary war­ships, world­wide, is the ad­vanced mul­ti­func­tion radar, and a long-range sur­faceto-air mis­sile; both be­ing the fruits of a joint Indo-Is­raeli ven­ture. The for­mi­da­ble, Indo-Rus­sian, BrahMos su­per­sonic sur­face-sur­face mis­sile, that equips these ships, has no counter-mea­sure, so far.

The Jan­uary 2017 launch of the sec­ond of six Scor­pene class sub­marines be­ing built un­der li­cence, by Mazagon Docks saw a crit­i­cal lacuna in our navy’s ca­pa­bil­ity well on the way to re­dres­sal. A fur­ther four boats of the same de­sign are to fol­low; by which time it is hoped that a sec­ond line of sub­marines (equipped with ‘air-in­de­pen­dent propul­sion’), des­ig­nated ‘Project 75-I’ will be ready to go into pro­duc­tion.

With PLA Navy sub­marines, - both diesel and nu­clear – now un­der­tak­ing pa­trols in the In­dian Ocean, the IN was in ur­gent need of up­grad­ing its anti-sub­ma­rine war­fare (ASW) ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The in­duc­tion of the Boe­ing P-8I mar­itime-pa­trol and ASW (MR-ASW) air­craft will pro­vide a ma­jor boost in this area.

Amongst its var­ied peace­time roles, the IN ac­cords pri­macy to mar­itime di­plo­macy, ex­er­cised through its ‘For­eign Co­op­er­a­tion’ pro­gramme. By un­der­tak­ing bi­lat­eral ex­er­cises with the world’s ma­jor navies, and by ex­tend­ing a hand of friend­ship to In­dian Ocean neigh­bours through se­cu­rity, ma­te­rial, train­ing and hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance, it has not only es­tab­lished its own cred­i­bil­ity, but also re­in­forced our diplo­matic out­reach.

In the above con­text, the 2016 In­ter­na­tional Fleet Re­view which saw the par­tic­i­pa­tion of 60 navies, was a ma­jor land­mark for In­dia’s mar­itime di­plo­macy and helped pro­mote mu­tual friend­ship and un­der­stand­ing be­tween the par­tic­i­pat­ing navies. An­other no­table and more re­cent ini­tia­tive was the first bi­en­nial Goa Mar­itime Con­clave, held in Novem­ber 2017, in which Chiefs of ten IOR navies par­tic­i­pated.

But, some La­cu­nae

Hav­ing re­called our mar­itime past and un­der­taken a sur­vey of the present, it is nec­es­sary to take note of three ma­jor la­cu­nae that may pose hin­drances to In­dia’s fu­ture growth as a mar­itime power; es­pe­cially, in the face of China’s res­o­lute ad­vance in this field.

The cur­rent ab­sence of an in­tel­lec­tual un­der­pin­ning to In­dia’s mar­itime power con­sti­tutes a wor­ri­some void. The po­lit­i­cal estab­lish­ment has, so far, nei­ther spelt out ‘na­tional aims and ob­jec­tives’, nor fo­cused on ‘na­tional mar­itime in­ter­ests’. The IN has bridged this gap by evolv­ing a Mar­itime Doc­trine and Strat­egy as well as a for­ce­plan­ning doc­u­ment. Even as In­dia cre­ates a world-class ‘fight­ing’ navy, we lack most of

the other con­stituents (pointed out ear­lier) of ‘na­tional mar­itime power’. It is, there­fore, essen­tial that In­dia, like other mar­itime na­tions, draws up a na­tional level ‘Strat­egy for Mar­itime Se­cu­rity’, which will bring fo­cus on the miss­ing in­gre­di­ents. With­out them, In­dia can­not as­pire to be­come a mar­itime na­tion; much less catch up with China.

The sec­ond area of con­cern, and one that af­fects com­bat-ef­fec­tive­ness, re­lates to the navy’s ma­te­rial short­com­ings, aris­ing from acute im­port- de­pen­dence. In­dia’s vast in­dige­nous de­fence-tech­no­log­i­cal and in­dus­trial base has, so far, failed to make the navy self-suf­fi­cient in terms of guns, mis­siles, elec­tron­ics, propul­sion ma­chin­ery and many other vi­tal sys­tems that go into war­ships and air­craft. While the na­tion ea­gerly awaits im­ple­men­ta­tion of the ‘Make in In­dia’ project, our reliance on im­ported hard­ware con­sti­tutes a se­ri­ous vul­ner­a­bil­ity.

The last and most crit­i­cal short­com­ing in our na­tional se­cu­rity ma­trix is the dys­func­tional process of im­port­ing ord­nance and hard­ware. The com­plex and slug­gish bu­reau­cratic pro­cesses within the MoD, can take any­thing from 5-10 years to in­duct a crit­i­cally needed weapon- sys­tem. A grave man­i­fes­ta­tion of this lacuna is the fact that, to­day, ev­ery ma­jor IN war­ship, is hand­i­capped (and vul­ner­a­ble) as far as anti-sub­ma­rine and anti-ship ca­pa­bil­ity is con­cerned, be­cause it lacks an in­te­gral he­li­copter. Ob­so­lete ship­borne naval he­li­copters have been await­ing re­place­ment for over a decade. Ur­gent re­for­ma­tion of the ac­qui­si­tion and pro­cure­ment pro­cesses will im­mea­sur­ably boost our navy’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

So, as far back as 1945, Sar­dar KM Panikkar had spelt out a vi­sion of In­dia’s naval power re-claim­ing the In­dian Ocean as its area of in­flu­ence. To­day, Panikkar would have been pleased to see that his dream has been sub­stan­tially re­alised by the stead­fast en­deav­ours of a naval lead­er­ship, in­spired by his prophetic writ­ings. Given the trans-na­tional reach and ver­sa­til­ity of mar­itime power, not only is the IN go­ing to find greater salience in In­dia’s na­tional se­cu­rity ma­trix, but will also play a vi­tal role in sus­tain­ing In­dia’s eco­nomic pros­per­ity.

All eyes seem to be on the In­dian Navy – a mod­ern and ca­pa­ble three­d­i­men­sional force – rated by other navies as pro­fes­sion­ally up to NATO stan­dards and ea­gerly sought by them as a part­ner for main­tain­ing ‘good or­der at sea’ in the IOR. In­dia’s ‘mar­itime awak­en­ing’ and the level of mar­itime con­scious­ness amongst In­dia’s politico-bu­reau­cratic elite, how­ever, re­mains in­choate. If the IN is, in­deed go­ing to play the role of a ‘game changer’ in the na­tional se­cu­rity ma­trix, Navy Day 2017 should be an oc­ca­sion for in­tro­spec­tion.

As an im­por­tant post­script, men­tion needs to be made of six young In­dia women – all naval of­fi­cers – who are al­most half-way through their voy­age of cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of the globe in a small sail­ing boat the Tarini. Skip­pered by Lt Cdr Var­tika Joshi, Tarini fol­lows in the wake of Mhadei which car­ried Cap­tain Dilip Donde and Cdr Ab­hi­lash Tomy on their solo voy­ages around the world in 2010 and 2013 re­spec­tively.

The In­dian Navy is do­ing its best to re­vive In­dia’s hoary mar­itime tra­di­tion. The na­tion needs to fol­low.

Con­struc­tion of IAC-1 (to be named ‘Vikrant’ in ser­vice) is pro­ceed­ing apace at Cochin Ship­yard, with the ves­sel planned to be ready by the end of this decade

The MiG-29K has trans­formed car­rier avi­a­tion in In­dia, but the IN al­ready ap­pears to be look­ing be­yond the type for its third car­rier, the un­der-de­vel­op­ment IAC-2 (photo: An­gad Singh)

An all-women crew is cur­rently at­tempt­ing to cir­cum­nav­i­gate the globe on the sail­boat INSV Tarini (photo: In­dian Navy)

The IN’s an­ti­quated he­li­copter force is be­com­ing a ma­jor con­cern (photo: An­gad Singh)

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