Co­op­er­a­tion In The In­dian Ocean Re­gion

RE-VIS­IT­ING NAVAL FORCE STRUC­TURES*

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - Aviation Defence & News -

In a re­lated ar­ti­cle, Ad­mi­ral Arun Prakash’s speech de­liv­ered at the Goa Mar­itime Con­clave at the Naval War Col­lege, is re­pro­duced for Vayu read­ers.

The coun­tries rep­re­sented at the Goa Mar­itime Con­clave range from city-states and is­land-na­tions to ar­chi­pel­a­gos and sub-con­ti­nents. We may fol­low di­verse meth­ods of gov­er­nance and even dif­fer in po­lit­i­cal be­liefs, but the wa­ters of the great ocean that wash our shores form a pow­er­ful glue that binds us to­gether. For cen­turies, the In­dian Ocean, called Bahr al Hind by the Arabs, has car­ried re­li­gions, cul­tures, lan­guages, tra­di­tions, and peo­ple, across thou­sands of miles; cre­at­ing re­la­tion­ships that tran­scend na­tion­al­ity.

His­tor­i­cally, In­dia, be­cause of its cen­tral ge­o­graphic lo­ca­tion, has been priv­i­leged to play a cat­alytic role in this process of syn­the­sis and churn­ing. Even as our na­tions pros­per on the ris­ing tide of eco­nom­ics, our des­tinies re­main in­ter-twined and it is im­por­tant for us to stay en­gaged on se­cu­rity is­sues of mu­tual in­ter­est. It is, there­fore, apt that the first Ses­sion of this Con­clave should fo­cus on ‘ naval force struc­tures’ in the con­text of an evolv­ing mar­itime sce­nario.

While ex­am­in­ing a navy’s force paradigm, one has to con­sider the strate­gic en­vi­ron­ment as well as na­tional in­ter­ests, and the strat­egy that has been crafted to safe­guard them. How­ever, be­fore em­bark­ing on a dis­cus­sion of these fac­tors, let me in­dulge in a brief his­tor­i­cal ‘flash­back.’

His­tor­i­cal Flash­back

The dis­cov­ery of sea routes across the In­dian Ocean in the late 15th cen­tury, by the Por­tuguese, made it, for the next five hun­dred years, vir­tu­ally a Euro­pean mo­nop­oly, where trad­ing na­tions, pay­ing scant heed to Asian civil­i­sa­tions, cul­tures and races, en­gaged in a re­lent­less quest for spice and specie.

As we look back, let us note that while colo­nial­ism may have be­come ex­tinct, re­alpoli­tik con­tin­ues to flour­ish, and there are hege­monic states, whose thirst for ter­ri­tory and re­sources as well as am­bi­tion for dom­i­nance can lead to in­tim­i­da­tion of smaller na­tions; from whom they seek def­er­ence. We be­came vic­tims of colo­nial­ism be­cause we lacked the vi­sion and will to unite against in­ter­lop­ers who came by sea. Na­tions of the In­dian Ocean Re­gion (IOR) need to make com­mon cause in the in­ter­ests of se­cu­rity and en­sure that we do not al­low neo-colo­nial­ism to re­peat his­tory.

An­other re­gret­table fall- out of our colo­nial past is relegation of the IOR to a strate­gic backwater. In the post-colo­nial era, blame for the IOR not ac­quir­ing its own iden­tity must be ac­cepted by all of us, who live on its shores. Not only has the level of in­tra-re­gional po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ac­tion and trade re­mained low, but we have in­vari­ably gone be­yond the IOR to seek part­ners.

Let us also note that the MEA has re­mained a pas­sive by­s­tander in the on­go­ing de­bate about the suit­abil­ity of terms like ‘Indo-Pa­cific’ and ‘Indo-Asia-Pa­cific’ to re­place ‘Asia-Pa­cific’. Since this dis­course is rooted in con­flict­ing ex­ter­nal geo-po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests, we need to tread with cau­tion and en­sure that the co­her­ence of the IOR is not im­pacted ad­versely.

Hav­ing taken note of the past; let me high­light some salient as­pects of our cur­rent geo-strate­gic en­vi­ron­ment.

The Geo-Strate­gic En­vi­ron­ment

The jux­ta­po­si­tion of three nu­clear-armed neigh­bours; i.e. In­dia, China and Pak­istan, has cre­ated some unique de­ter­rence-re­lated is­sues in the mar­itime do­main. At the strate­gic level, we must rec­on­cile our­selves to the pres­ence, in our wa­ters, of nu­cle­ar­pow­ered bal­lis­tic-mis­sile sub­marines which rep­re­sent the seaborne leg of re­spec­tive de­ter­rents. With the uni­lat­eral in­tro­duc­tion of tac­ti­cal nu­clear weapons, into the equa­tion, by Pak­istan, we may also have to coun­te­nance their ap­pear­ance at sea.

In the con­ven­tional do­main, too, there is in­sta­bil­ity in the IOR; due to his­tor­i­cal an­i­mosi­ties, ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes, or plain

mis­trust amongst neigh­bours. China, although not an In­dian Ocean na­tion, has to be ac­corded recog­ni­tion be­cause of its close al­liance with Pak­istan, as well as strate­gic as­pi­ra­tions, that have trans­lated into naval pres­ence and bases in this re­gion.

Faced with eco­nomic con­straints and de­vel­op­men­tal needs, many IOR na­tions also fear the prospect of po­lit­i­cal or mil­i­tary dom­i­na­tion. Some have, there­fore, re­sorted to, arms ac­qui­si­tion pro­grammes, in the hope that a mil­i­tary build-up might pro­vide in­surance against hege­mony. This has led to an un­stated naval arms race in the IOR, and we are go­ing to see more diesel-sub­marines, mis­sile-armed war­ships, fighters and pa­trol air­craft in our seas and skies; with the at­ten­dant risks of mu­tual in­ter­fer­ence.

Non-tra­di­tional Threats

These were ‘tra­di­tional se­cu­rity threats’, aris­ing from typ­i­cal is­sues of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions that are dealt with, by states or gov­ern­ments. At the level of navies, es­pe­cially in a re­gional gath­er­ing such as this, it would be more ap­pro­pri­ate to ad­dress, ‘non-tra­di­tional se­cu­rity threats’; de­scribed as, ‘chal­lenges to the se­cu­rity and well-be­ing of peo­ples and states, aris­ing, pri­mar­ily, from non-mil­i­tary sources’. Such sources may in­clude in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism, piracy, en­vi­ron­men­tal se­cu­rity, il­le­gal mi­gra­tion, health pan­demics, re­source shortages and cy­ber at­tacks.

Since the end of the Cold War and es­pe­cially since 9/11, con­cerns about non­tra­di­tional se­cu­rity threats have been grow­ing steadily, and they are, in fact, assuming as much sig­nif­i­cance, in the na­tional se­cu­rity cal­cu­lus, as war and armed con­flict.

At this point, let me draw at­ten­tion to re­cent our ex­pe­ri­ence in four ar­eas, from which we can draw les­sons re­gard­ing force struc­tures to meet NTS chal­lenges.

Safety of Ship­ping

Some 100,000 mer­chant­men tran­sit the In­dian Ocean, car­ry­ing cargo worth a few tril­lion dol­lars an­nu­ally. All ship­ping, es­pe­cially oil and gas-laden, as it passes through fo­cal ar­eas, is vul­ner­a­ble to in­ter­dic­tion or in­ter­fer­ence by non-state ac­tors. Safety of in­ter­na­tional ship­ping, in the IOR, has, there­fore, been one of the prime is­sues of com­mon con­cern, in the mar­itime do­main.

We saw piracy in the IOR start­ing with spo­radic in­ci­dents in 2004, and then rapidly spi­ralling to as­sume ma­jor di­men­sions; dis­rupt­ing in­ter­na­tional ship­ping traf­fic and send­ing in­surance rates zoom­ing. It took the mar­itime forces of two dozen in­di­vid­ual navies as well as coali­tions, a decade, to bring this me­nace un­der con­trol. Be­ing a cycli­cal phe­nom­e­non whose ebb and flow is de­pen­dent on a num­ber of com­plex fac­tors, it is not sur­pris­ing that piracy has re-ap­peared af­ter a three-year lull.

The sus­tained in­ter­na­tional anti-piracy re­sponse saw a rare show of unity amongst na­tions, but re­mained sub- op­ti­mally ef­fec­tive, for two rea­sons. Firstly, the ini­tia­tive, be­ing largely ex­tra-re­gional, had po­lit­i­cal, le­gal and tech­ni­cal con­straints; and se­condly, given the huge ocean ar­eas to be cov­ered, the ef­fort was de­fi­cient in plat­forms as well as co­or­di­na­tion.

Re­gional navies will need to work to­gether and play a more prom­i­nent role; choos­ing from a num­ber of eco­nomic, mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal op­tions to craft a broad-based strat­egy to pre-empt or pre­vent a resur­gence of large-scale piracy.

Hu­man­i­tar­ian As­sis­tance and Dis­as­ter Re­lief (HADR)

The De­cem­ber 2004 Great Asian tsunami saw the In­dian Navy de­ploy­ing 38 ships, 21 he­li­copters, 8 air­craft and about 6000 per­son­nel, within hours of re­ceiv­ing ap­peals for help from neigh­bour­ing coun­tries. While our sailors did their best, the ar­rival of the US Navy, one week later, with its mas­sive re­sources, clearly showed up our in­ad­e­qua­cies. Where we had sent de­stroy­ers and frigates with in­flat­able boats, they brought am­phibi­ous ships with land­ing craft and heavy-lift he­li­copters. The 2004 tsunami was to have one for­tu­nate out­come. Soon af­ter the event, NHQ took up, with MoD, the ac­qui­si­tion of a 35- year old land­ing plat­form dock (LPD) USS Tren­ton, of­fered to us at a very cheap price. The bu­reau­cracy, hav­ing – ex­pect­edly - thrown out the pro­posal, I took up the mat­ter with the, then RM, Pranab Mukher­jee. As soon as I men­tioned that the ship could carry 900 armed troops or 1500 refugees, the

Min­is­ter re­sponded, ‘Why one? Buy two of them.’ The 9000 ton Tren­ton ar­rived within months and re­mains in ser­vice as INS Jalashwa, where we had car­ried crates of bot­tled wa­ter, they landed RO plants; and where we had sent med­i­cal teams, they sent hos­pi­tal ships.

The tsunami killed over a quar­ter­mil­lion peo­ple and was a harsh re­minder that the In­dian Ocean is not merely a ge­o­graphic term but an eco- sys­tem con­nected by hu­mans as well as nat­u­ral forces. It also demon­strated the value of multi- na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tion in res­cue, re­lief and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of vic­tims. Cli­mate change, too, is loom­ing and has be­gun to af­fect is­lands and low-ly­ing na­tions. Ris­ing sea lev­els will lead to mass mi­gra­tion, so­cial up­heavals and re­gional crises. Un­der such cir­cum­stances, neigh­bours have a duty to ren­der as­sis­tance in ev­ery pos­si­ble way; and navies must lead.

The grow­ing im­por­tance of HADR chal­lenges re­quires that all re­gional navies, big or small, par­tic­i­pate in the com­mon en­deav­our to make the IOR as self-suf­fi­cient as pos­si­ble in re­spond­ing to these chal­lenges.

Avi­a­tion and Sub­ma­rine SAR

The dis­ap­pear­ance of Malaysian Air­lines flight MH-370 in March 2014, in un­cer­tain cir­cum­stances, brought fo­cus on a crit­i­cal area which de­mands mar­itime co­op­er­a­tion. The Search and Res­cue (SAR) op­er­a­tion mounted, over vast ocean ar­eas, was a task that Malaysia, by it­self, could never have coped with, but set­ting aside po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences, many na­tions came to­gether in this hu­man­i­tar­ian cause.

In a re­lated con­text, with a grow­ing num­ber of sub­ma­rine op­er­at­ing navies in the re­gion, the ready avail­abil­ity of a sub­ma­rine- res­cue fa­cil­ity has be­come im­per­a­tive. Cur­rently, only the Sin­ga­pore Navy op­er­ates a deep sub­mer­gence res­cue ves­sel (DSRV), in our re­gion. The IN has been lucky that it has man­aged to op­er­ate sub­marines, for nearly 50 years, with ad-hoc res­cue mea­sures. In­dia’s first two DSRVs are due to ar­rive by next year.

Clearly, in­creas­ing avi­a­tion ac­tiv­ity over the sea and sub­ma­rine op­er­a­tions un­der­wa­ter make a com­pelling case for re­gional navies to pool avi­a­tion SAR and sub­ma­rine-res­cue fa­cil­i­ties in a com­mon cause.

Mar­itime Do­main Aware­ness

For mar­itime co­op­er­a­tion, in any sphere, to be ef­fec­tive, it must be sup­ported by a sys­tem that will pro­vide mar­itime do­main aware­ness and the nec­es­sary in­for­ma­tion about the mar­itime traf­fic pic­ture. Since no sin­gle na­tion or agency has the abil­ity to ob­tain com­pre­hen­sive MDA on its own, this is an­other arena where IOR neigh­bours could pur­sue co­op­er­a­tion by cre­at­ing a frame­work for in­for­ma­tion shar­ing with each other.

Sin­ga­pore’s In­for­ma­tion Fu­sion Cen­tre as well as the 2013 tri­par­tite co­op­er­a­tive MDA agree­ment be­tween In­dia, Sri Lanka and the Mal­dives could form the tem­plate for other sim­i­lar ac­cords across IOR.

Against this back­drop of threats, chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties, let me turn to In­dia’s force plan­ning op­tions. As I had men­tioned ear­lier, the force-paradigm is rooted in mar­itime strat­egy and I will start by re­fer­ring to it.

In­dia’s Mar­itime Strat­egy

The In­dian Navy con­trib­utes to the na­tion’s de­ter­rence strat­egy in the con­ven­tional and nu­clear do­mains by of­fer­ing as­sured mar­itime ca­pa­bil­ity, com­bat-ready forces and sit­u­a­tional aware­ness; and by con­vey­ing clear sig­nals of in­tent through ‘pres­ence’ in ar­eas of in­ter­est. Hav­ing ad­dressed de­ter­rence, In­dia’s Mar­itime Strat­egy seeks to ac­tively reach out to IOR neigh­bour­hood for co­op­er­a­tive en­deav­ours. By en­sur­ing ‘good or­der at sea’ and re­duc­ing com­mon threats, In­dia hopes to also, don the man­tle of a provider of ‘net se­cu­rity’ for re­gional friends and neigh­bours.

In­dia’s Mar­itime Strat­egy de­scribes its over­ar­ch­ing ob­jec­tive as; ‘safe­guard­ing na­tional mar­itime in­ter­ests at all times’’. At the same time, it also seeks to pro­vide re­as­sur­ance to IOR neigh­bours by fo­cus­ing on: The safety and se­cu­rity of IOR trade and en­ergy routes. Main­tain­ing free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion and strength­en­ing UNCLOS for uni­ver­sal ben­e­fit. En­hanc­ing co­op­er­a­tion be­tween navies to counter com­mon threats at sea. The strat­egy spells out a num­ber of sub- strate­gies; each based on a dis­crete ‘mar­itime se­cu­rity ob­jec­tive’. Of these, two are of in­ter­est in the present con­text. The strat­egy for ‘ Shap­ing a Favourable Mar­itime En­vi­ron­ment’, en­vis­ages a set of ac­tions to pre­serve peace, pro­mote sta­bil­ity and main­tain se­cu­rity; thus con­tribut­ing sig­nif­i­cantly to pro­vi­sion of ‘net se­cu­rity’ in the IOR. It en­com­passes ac­tiv­i­ties like EEZ pa­trols, anti- piracy op­er­a­tions, HADR, non- com­bat­ant evac­u­a­tion op­er­a­tions, mar­itime in­ter­dic­tion op­er­a­tions, UN peace sup­port op­er­a­tions and search & res­cue mis­sions.

The strat­egy for ‘Force De­vel­op­ment’ looks at about a dozen thrust ar­eas and ca­pa­bil­i­ties re­quired to meet the navy’s fu­ture roles. It en­vis­ages a force-ar­chi­tec­ture for Power Pro­jec­tion and for ex­er­cis­ing Sea Con­trol, through a bal­anced sur­face and sub­ma­rine fleet, sup­ported by in­te­gral and shore based naval avi­a­tion.

Three air­craft- car­ri­ers are en­vis­aged as form­ing the core of bat­tle-groups, to be ac­com­pa­nied by req­ui­site num­ber of sur­face com­bat­ants and lo­gis­tic sup­port ships. The multi- mis­sion com­bat­ants will be ca­pa­ble of wag­ing anti-ship, anti-

sub­ma­rine and anti-air war­fare. They will be com­ple­mented by am­phibi­ous and mine counter-mea­sure forces. By end of the next decade, these ca­pa­bil­i­ties should trans­late into a size­able force of about 170 mod­ern ships, sub­marines and aux­il­iary ves­sels and about 400 air­craft, sup­ported by MDA and net­work-cen­tric war­fare ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Force Plan­ning Op­tions

In­dia’s force- plan­ners are com­pelled to tread a thin line; bal­anc­ing fu­ture threats with present ones; strate­gic de­ter­rence with con­ven­tional de­ter­rence; and ca­pa­bil­i­ties to counter tra­di­tional threats with those re­quired for non-tra­di­tional threats. Fis­cal con­straints im­posed by needs of na­tional de­vel­op­ment will sooner than later, force our plan­ners to make some hard choices.

Of these, the most crit­i­cal one re­lates, per­haps, to our air­craft- car­rier build­ing pro­gramme. The af­ford­abil­ity and con­tin­u­ing op­er­a­tional util­ity of air craft car­ri­ers is of­ten ques­tioned, es­pe­cially in light of China’s anti-car­rier strat­egy. At the same time, the PLA Navy’s own am­bi­tious car­rier build­ing pro­gramme poses a po­ten­tial chal­lenge. The co­nun­drum which we need to re­solve is this: can the com­mand­ing pres­ence, de­ter­rent po­ten­tial and con­cen­trated fire­power of an air­craft-car­rier be sub­sti­tuted by a paradigm of ‘ dis­trib­uted lethal­ity’, that is spread­ing fire­power amongst de­stroy­ers, frigates and at­tack-sub­marines?

Navies also need to di­ver­sify. While con­cen­trat­ing on their ‘Mil­i­tary’ role, they must in­clude, in their reper­toire, a range of ca­pa­bil­i­ties re­quired for the ‘Diplo­matic’, ‘Con­stab­u­lary’ and ‘Be­nign’ roles. Whereas air­craft- car­ri­ers, land­ing plat­forms and am­phibi­ous ships lend them­selves read­ily to multi-task­ing, other com­bat­ants may need mod­i­fi­ca­tions at the de­sign stage to en­able com­pat­i­bil­ity for non-mil­i­tary roles. Fund­ing a hos­pi­tal ship, by the IN, would be money well-spent in terms of its huge util­ity as well as good­will po­ten­tial.

An­other choice that navies will need to make is that be­tween in­de­pen­dent op­er­a­tions and in­ter- op­er­abil­ity and co­op­er­a­tion with other navies. Here, we may note that the broader com­pul­sions of glob­al­i­sa­tion and uni­ver­sal con­cern for se­cu­rity of the global com­mons are erod­ing the old con­cepts of naval dom­i­nance within the na­tion-state paradigm. We may need to re­view the rel­e­vance of Ad­mi­ral Ma­han’s teach­ings and per­haps, lean to­wards Julian Cor­bett’s more sub­tle ap­proach to seapower.

His­tor­i­cally, In­dian Ocean na­tions have faced threats from in­sur­gen­cies, mer­ce­nary in­va­sions, at­tempted coups as well as nat­u­ral calami­ties. Since many re­gional navies are. Now, grow­ing in strength and ca­pa­bil­i­ties, it is time for us to con­sider the cre­ation of an ‘In­dian Ocean Mar­itime Part­ner­ship’; per­haps un­der the aegis of IONS. Such a multi-na­tional part­ner­ship, first en­vis­aged by for­mer US Navy Chief Adm. Mullen, could be mo­bilised at short no­tice to spread the bur­den of meet­ing tasks re­lated to ‘good or­der at sea’ and ad­dress many other mar­itime ar­eas of com­mon con­cern.

As con­clu­sion, we can state that even as the dy­namic of grow­ing economies prom­ises a bright fu­ture for coun­tries of our re­gion, there are a host of tra­di­tional and non­tra­di­tional se­cu­rity threats at sea which could dis­rupt progress and in­flict hu­man suf­fer­ing as well as eco­nomic dam­age. It is our be­lief that mar­itime se­cu­rity can­not be seen as a ‘zero-sum game.’ As­sur­ance of se­cu­rity and pros­per­ity, only for some na­tions, would foster anx­i­ety amongst oth­ers, and lead to ten­sion and in­sta­bil­ity.

In­clu­siv­ity is vi­tal, and In­dia’s Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi en­cap­su­lated this thought when he an­nounced on a 2015 visit to Mau­ri­tius; “We seek a fu­ture for the In­dian Ocean that en­sures Se­cu­rity and Growth for All in the Re­gion.” These words have given birth to the acro­nym ‘SA­GAR’, which has be­come the leit­mo­tif for In­dia’s re­gional mar­itime di­plo­macy.

Bear­ing the PM’s mes­sage in mind, as well as an­other piece of old wis­dom which says; ‘No na­tion can do every­thing by it­self, but many na­tions can do much to­gether’, our force-plan­ners must build navies that are in­ter-op­er­a­ble and will com­ple­ment each other to en­able col­lec­tive re­sponses.

*Adapted from a speech de­liv­ered by the writer at the first Goa Mar­itime Con­clave on 31 Oc­to­ber-1 Novem­ber 2017 at the Naval War Col­lege, Goa.

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