Tag Archives: India

The ‘Indo-Pacific’ Concept: Retrospect and Prospect

The following article originally featured at the National Maritime Foundation and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.                

By Gurpreet S. Khurana

Since 2010, the concept of ‘Indo-Pacific’ has gained increasing prevalence in the geopolitical and strategic discourse, and is now being used increasingly by policy-makers, analysts and academics in Asia and beyond.1 It is now precisely a decade since the concept was proposed by the author in 2007. Although the Australians have been using the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ earlier, it was the first time, at least in recent decades, that the concept was formally introduced and explained in an academic paper. The said paper titled ‘Security of Sea Lines: Prospects for India-Japan Cooperation’ was published in the January 2007 edition of Strategic Analyses journal of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi.2

The term ‘Indo-Pacific’ combines the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and the Western Pacific Region (WP) – inclusive of the contiguous seas off East Asia and Southeast Asia – into a singular regional construct. There are some variations based on specific preferences of countries. For instance, the United States (U.S.) prefers to use the term ‘Indo-Asia-Pacific’, to encompass the entire swath of Indian and Pacific oceans, thereby enabling the U.S. inclusiveness for it to maintain its relevance as a resident power in this important region. Nonetheless, the fundamental ‘idea’ of ‘Indo-Pacific’ is accepted nearly universally. It has been argued that the concept of the Indo-Pacific may lead to a change in popular “mental maps” of how the world is understood in strategic terms.3

It may be conceded that there are some fundamental and distinct differences between the IOR and the WP in terms of geopolitics – including the geo-economics that shape geopolitics – and even the security environment. If so, how did the concept of ‘Indo-Pacific take root? It is a conceptual ‘aberration’? What was the underlying rationale behind the use of the term? This essay seeks to examine these pertinent issues. Furthermore, based on current trends, the analysis presents a prognosis on the future relevance of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept.

Indian Ocean-Western Pacific Divergences

Undeniably, the IOR and the WP differ substantially in nearly all aspects, ranging from the levels of economic development of countries and their social parameters, to the security environment. Unlike the IOR, the WP has been beset by major traditional (military) threats. Such insecurity is based on historical factors, mainly flowing from the adverse actions of dominant military powers, particularly since the advent of the 20th century – for instance, Japan; and now increasingly, China – resulting in heightened nationalism and an attempt to redraw sovereign boundaries, including ‘territorialization’ of the seas. The military dominance of these powers was a consequence of their economic progress, beginning with Japan, which later helped the other East Asian economies to grow through outsourcing of lower-end manufacturing industries – the so-called ‘Flying Geese Paradigm.’4

In contrast, the recent history of the IOR is not chequered by onslaught of any dominant and assertive local power. Why so? Despite being rich in natural resources – particularly hydrocarbons – the IOR countries were severely constrained to develop their economies. Not only did the colonial rule of western powers last longer in the IOR, but also these countries were too diverse in all aspects, and were never self-compelled to integrate themselves economically; and therefore, lagged behind East Asia substantially in terms of economic progress. As a result, many of these countries could not even acquire adequate capacity to govern and regulate human activity in their sovereign territories/maritime zones, let alone developing capabilities for military assertion against their neighbors. Therefore, the numerous maritime disputes in the IOR remain dormant, and have not yet translated into military insecurities. (The India-Pakistan contestation is among the rare exceptions, and is based on a very different causative factor.) The IOR is plagued more by non-traditional security issues, such as piracy, organized crime involving drugs and small-arms, illegal fishing, irregular migration, and human smuggling.

The Rationale

The broader rationale behind the prevalence of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept is the increasing developments in the area spanning the entire ‘maritime underbelly’ of Asia, ranging from the East African littoral to Northeast Asia. This is best exemplified by the launch of the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) in 2004 to counter the sea-borne proliferation of WMDs and their delivery systems. The PSI focused on the maritime swath stretching from Iran and Syria to North Korea.5 These developments led strategic analysts to search for a suitable common regional nomenclature to be able to communicate more effectively. The term ‘Asia’ was too broad and heterogeneous; and ‘continental’ rather than ‘maritime.’ The term ‘Asia-Pacific’ – which traditionally stood for ‘the Asian littoral of the Pacific Ocean’ – was inadequate.6 The ‘Indo-Pacific’ – shortened from ‘Indian Ocean–Pacific Ocean combine’ – seemed more appropriate.

The coinage of ‘Indo-Pacific’ has much to do with the increased eminence of India with the turn of the 21st century. It began in the 1990s with India’s impressive economic growth, and later, its nuclear weaponization. In 2006, Donald Berlin wrote that the ‘rise of India’ is itself a key factor in the increasing significance of the Indian Ocean.7 Also, India could no longer be excluded from any overarching reckoning in the Asia-Pacific; be it economic or security related. For example, India was an obvious choice for inclusion in the ASEAN Regional Forum (in 1996) and the East Asia Summit (in 2005). Even for the PSI (2004), President Bush sought to enroll India as a key participant through PACOM. However, even while India is located in PACOM’s area of responsibility, ‘technically’, it does not belong to the Asia-Pacific. During the Shangri, La Dialogue 2009, India’s former naval chief Admiral Arun Prakash highlighted this contradiction, saying,

I am not quite sure about the origin of the term Asia-Pacific, but I presume it was coined to include America in this part of the world, which is perfectly all right. As an Indian, every time I hear the term Asia-Pacific I feel a sense of exclusion, because it seems to include north east Asia, south east Asia and the Pacific islands, and it terminates at the Malacca Straits, but there is a whole world west of the Malacca Straits…so my question to the distinguished panel is…do you see a contradiction between the terms Asia-Pacific, Asia, and the Indian Ocean region?” 

The ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept helped to overcome this dilemma by incorporating ‘India’ in the affairs of ‘maritime-Asia,’ even though the ‘Indo-’ in the compound word ‘Indo-Pacific’ stands for the ‘Indian Ocean’, and not ‘India.’

Since long, the IOR had been a maritime-conduit of hydrocarbons to fuel the economic prosperity of the WP littoral countries, which was another significant linkage between the IOR and the WP, and provided much ballast to the rationale of ‘Indo-Pacific.’ In context of China’s economic ‘rise’ leading to its enhanced military power and assertiveness, this linkage represented Beijing’s strategic vulnerability, and thereby an opportunity for deterring Chinese aggressiveness. Ironically, China’s strategic vulnerability was expressed by the Chinese President Hu Jintao himself in November 2003 through his coinage of the “Malacca Dilemma,” wherein “certain major powers” were bent on controlling the strait.8 The reference to India was implicit, yet undeniable. In his book ‘Samudramanthan’ (2012), Raja Mohan says, “India-China maritime rivalry finds its sharpest expression in the Bay of Bengal, the South China Sea and the Malacca Strait…” which demonstrates the interconnectedness of “the two different realms (of) Pacific and Indian Ocean(s).”9

The Genesis

Against the backdrop of strengthening India-Japan political ties following the 2006 reciprocal visits of the two countries’ apex leaders, Indian and Japanese think tanks had intensified their discussions on strategic and maritime cooperation. At one of the brainstorming sessions held at the IDSA in October 2006, the participants took note of China’s strategic vulnerability in terms of its ‘Malacca Dilemma,’ and sought to stretch its sense of insecurity eastwards to the IOR with the objective of restraining China’s politico-military assertiveness against its Asian neighbors.

Besides, Japan itself was vulnerable due to its rather heavy dependence on seaborne energy and food imports across the IOR, and thus sought an enhanced maritime security role in the area in cooperation with India. During the discussions at IDSA, a clear concord was reached that the IOR and the WP cannot possibly be treated separately, either for maritime security, or even in geopolitical terms. It was during that event that the ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept was casually discussed, which led to the publication of the January 2007 paper in Strategic Analyses (as mentioned above). Interestingly, a few months later in August 2007, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed the Indian Parliament, speaking of the “Confluence of the Indian and Pacific Oceans” as “the dynamic coupling as seas of freedom and of prosperity” in the “broader Asia.”10

In 2010, the U.S. officially recognized ‘Indo-Pacific’ for the first time. Speaking at Honolulu, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke about “expanding our work with the Indian Navy in the Pacific, because we understand how important the Indo-Pacific basin is to global trade and commerce.”11

In 2012, the Australian analyst Rory Medcalf wrote that he was convinced that the “Indo-Pacific (is) a term whose time has come.” A year later in 2013, Australia released its Defence White Paper, which carried the first government articulation of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept.12 Soon thereafter, Rory Medcalf endorsed India’s centrality in the Indo-Pacific construct stating that “Australia’s new defense policy recognizes India’s eastward orientation.”13

China was initially circumspect of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ coinage. As the Australian writers Nick Bisley and Andrew Phillips wrote in 2012,

…Viewed from Beijing, the idea of the Indo-Pacific…appears to be to keep the U.S. in, lift India up, and keep China out of the Indian Ocean… (which is why), the Indo-Pacific concept has…received a frosty reception in China…14

In July 2013, Chinese scholar Zhao Qinghai trashed the ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept on the basis of his interpretation of it being an “India too” geopolitical construct.15 Notwithstanding, not all Chinese scholars have been dismissive of the concept. In June 2013, Minghao Zhao wrote,

“…And it is true that a power game of great significance has unfolded in Indo-Pacific Asia. The U.S., India, Japan, and other players are seeking to collaborate to build an “Indo-Pacific order” that is congenial to their long-term interests. China is not necessarily excluded from this project, and it should seek a seat at the table and help recast the strategic objectives and interaction norms (in China’s favor).”16

Interestingly, in November 2014 the Global Times, an official Chinese English-language daily, carried a commentary cautioning India on the ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept. It said that the Indo-Pacific concept has not been endorsed by the “Indian government and scholars,” but scripted by the United States and its allies “to balance and even contain China’s increasing influence in the Asia-Pacific region and the Indian Ocean,” and who have made India a “linchpin” in the geo-strategic system. Paradoxically, however, the commentary was titled “New Delhi-Beijing Cooperation Key to Building an Indo-Pacific Era.”17

Prognosis

It emerges from the foregoing that the current prevalence of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept is premised upon – and necessitated by – the growing inter-connectedness between the IOR and WP, rather than any similarities in their characteristics. This leads to another pertinent question: What would be the relevance of the concept in the coming years?

According to preliminary indicators, the relevance of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept may be enhanced in the future due to the strengthening linkages between the IOR and the WP. Events and developments in one part of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ are likely to increasingly affect countries located in the other part. Furthermore, over the decades, the growing trade and people-to-people connectivity between the IOR and WP countries may benefit the IOR, and slowly iron out the dissimilarities in terms of economic and human development indices.

China’s ‘Maritime Silk Road’ (MSR) and India’s outreach to its extended eastern neighborhood through its ‘Act East’ policy could contribute substantially toward the economic integration of the IOR and the WP. Indonesia’s putative role is also noteworthy. It is an archipelagic country that straddles the ‘Indo Pacific’ with sea coasts facing both the IOR and the WP. Possessing substantial potential to become a major maritime power, Indonesia is likely to be a key player in the process of melting the IOR-WP divide, and thereby reinforcing the ‘Indo-Pacific’ construct.

Over the decades, the current dissimilarities between the IOR and the WP in terms of the security environment may also diminish, if not vanish altogether. Greater economic prosperity in the IOR is likely to be followed by increasing stakes in the maritime domain, besides the ability to develop naval capabilities. The hitherto ‘dormant’ maritime disputes in IOR could become ‘active.’ Furthermore, the MSR could be accompanied by China’s invigorated efforts toward naval development to fructify its ‘Two-Ocean Strategy.’18 China’s intensified naval presence in the IOR could lead to increased likelihood of acrimony due to its politico-military involvement in regional instabilities and maritime disputes. It may also cause the PLA Navy to increase its activities in the maritime zones of IOR countries, and have unintended encounters at sea with the naval forces of other established powers, leading to enhanced maritime-military insecurities. In such a scenario, the ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept would be essential to manage the regional developments and integrate China into the established norms of conduct in the IOR.

In the broader sense, as India’s leading strategist Uday Bhaskar avers, “In the global context, the Pacific and the Indian oceans are poised to acquire greater strategic salience for the major powers of the 21st century, three among whom – the China, India and the U.S. – are located in Asia.”19 Indeed, a holistic treatment of the Indian-Pacific Ocean continuum would be required to assess the evolving balance of power in Asia, and to address the fault-lines therein, with the overarching aim of preserving regional and global stability.

Captain Gurpreet S. Khurana, PhD, is Executive Director at the National Maritime Foundation (NMF), New Delhi. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the NMF, the Indian Navy, or the Government of India. He can be reached at gurpreet.bulbul@gmail.com.

Notes and References

[1] ‘Indo-Pacific: Strategic/ Geopolitical Context’, Wikipedia, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indo-Pacific

[2] Gurpreet S Khurana, ‘Security of Sea Lines: Prospects for India-Japan Cooperation’, Strategic Analysis (IDSA/ Routledge), Vol. 31 (1), January 2007, p.139 – 153

[3] David Brewster, ‘Dividing Lines: Evolving Mental Maps of the Bay of Bengal’, Asian Security, Vol. 10(2), 24 Jun 14, p.151-167, at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14799855.2014.914499

[4] Shigehisa Kasahara, ‘The Asian Developmental State and the Flying Geese Paradigm’, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Discussion Paper No. 213, Nov 2013, at http://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/osgdp20133_en.pdf

[5] ‘Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI)’, Arms Control Association, 2 Jun 2007, at https://www.armscontrol.org/taxonomy/term/21

[6] Japan and Australia promoted the term ‘Asia Pacific’ in the 1970s and 1980s to draw them closer to the United States and the economically burgeoning East Asia. India was far, geographically, from the region, and politically, economically and strategically remained uninvolved for inherent reasons. See D. Gnanagurunathan, ‘India and the Idea of the ‘Indo-Pacific’’, East Asia Forum, 20 Oct 12, at http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2012/10/20/india-and-the-idea-of-the-indo-pacific/

[7] Donald L Berlin, ‘India in the Indian Ocean’, Naval War College Review, Vol.59(2), Spring 2006

[8] Ian Storey, ‘China’s Malacca Dilemma’, China Brief (The Jamestown Foundation), Vol. 6(8), 12 Apr 2006, at https://jamestown.org/program/chinas-malacca-dilemma/

[9] C Raja Mohan. Samudramanthan: Sino-Indian Rivalry in the Indo-Pacific (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: October 2012)

[10] Confluence of the Two Seas”, Speech by H.E. Mr. Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan at the Parliament of the Republic of India, August 22, 2007, Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) website, at http://www.mofa.go.jp/region/asia-paci/pmv0708/speech-2.html

[11] Remarks by Hillary Rodham Clinton, US Secretary of State, ‘America’s Engagement in the Asia-Pacific’, US Department of State, 28 Oct 10, at http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2010/10/150141.htm

 [12] ‘Defending Australia and its National Interests’, Defence White Paper 2013, Department of Defence, Australian Government, May 13, at http://www.defence.gov.au/whitepaper/2013/docs/wp_2013_web.pdf

[13] Rory Medcalf, ‘The Indo-Pacific Pivot’, 10 May 13, at http://www.indianexpress.com/news/the-indopacific-pivot/1113736/

[14] Nick Bisley (La Trobe University, Australia) and Andrew Phillips (University of Queensland, Australia), ‘The Indo-Pacific: what does it actually mean?’, East Asia Forum, 06 Oct 12, at http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2012/10/06/the-indo-pacific-what-does-it-actually-mean/

 [15] Zhao Qinghai, ‘The Concept of “India too”(“Yin Tai”) and its implications for China’(translated from Mandarin “印太”概念及其对中国的含义), Contemporary International Relations (现代国际关), No. 7, 2013, 31 July 2013,at http://www.ciis.org.cn/chinese/2013-07/31/content_6170351.htm

 [16] Minghao Zhao, ‘The Emerging Strategic Triangle in Indo-Pacific Asia’, 4 Jun 13, at http://thediplomat.com/china-power/the-emerging-strategic-triangle-in-indo-pacific-asia/

[17] Liu Zongyi, ‘New Delhi-Beijing Key to Building an <Indo-Pacific Era>’, Global Times, 30 November 2014, at http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/894334.shtml

[18] Robert D. Kaplan, ‘China’s Two Ocean Strategy’ in Abraham Denmark and Nirav Patel (eds.) China’s Arrival: A Strategic Relationship for a Global Relationship (Centre for New American Strategy: Sep 2009), p.43-58, at https://lbj.utexas.edu/sites/default/files/file/news/CNAS%20China’s%20Arrival_Final%20Report-3.pdf

[19] C Uday Bhaskar. ‘Pacific and Indian Oceans: Relevance for the evolving power structures in Asia’, Queries, Magazine by the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS), No. 3(6), Nov 11, p.123-128

Featured Image: Composite rendering of the Eastern Hemisphere of Earth, based on data from Terra MODIS, Aqua MODIS, the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, Space Shuttle Endeavour, and the Radarsat Antarctic Mapping Project, combined by scientists and artists. (NASA/ Wikimedia Commons)

India and Japan — A Yen for a Closer Maritime Engagement

The following article originally appeared in South Asia Defence and Strategic Review and is republished with permission.

By Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan, AVSM & Bar, VSM, IN (Retd)

Japan is very much the flavor of the current Indian season. Especially when juxtaposed against China, Japan is acknowledged by New Delhi as being one of the most significant maritime players in the Indo-Pacific. Indeed, Japan’s steadily deteriorating and increasingly fractious relationship with China is a prominent marker of the general fragility of the geopolitical situation prevailing almost throughout the Indo-Pacific. Within this fragile environment, New Delhi is seeking to maintain its own geopolitical pre-eminence in the IOR and relevance in the Indo-Pacific as a whole by adroitly managing China’s growing assertiveness. In this process, Japan and the USA (along with Australia, Vietnam, South Korea, and Indonesia) collectively offer India a viable alternative to Sino-centric hegemony within the region. However, before it places too many of its security eggs in a Japanese basket, it is important for India to examine at least the more prominent historical and contemporary contours of the Sino-Japanese relationship. As India expands her footprint across the Indo-Pacific and examines the overtures of Japan and the USA to seek closer geopolitical coordination with both, it is vital to ensure that our country and our navy are not dragged by ignorance, misinformation or disinformation, into the law of unintended consequences.

Map of Sea of Japan.

The influence of China, with its ancient and extraordinarily well-developed civilization, upon the much younger civilization of Japan1 has been enormous. Even the sobriquet for Japan — the Land of the Rising Sun — is derived from a Chinese perspective, since when the Chinese looked east to Japan they looked in the direction of the dawn. As Japan began to consolidate itself as a nation, between the 1st and the 6th Century CE, it increasingly copied the Chinese model of national development, administration, societal structure and culture. And yet, for all that, there is also a history of deep animosity between the two countries, which manifested itself across of whole range of actions and reactions. At one end was China’s disapproval of Japan attempting to equate itself with the Middle Kingdom (as when Japan Prince Shotoku, in 607 CE, sent a letter to the Sui emperor, Yangdi, “from the Son of Heaven in the land where the sun rises to the Son of Heaven in the land where the sun sets.”) At the other, lay armed conflict. Over the course of the past two millennia, Japan and China have gone to war five times. The common thread in each has been a power struggle on the Korean Peninsula. Even their more contemporary animosity dates back to at least 1894 — during the Meiji Restoration in Japan. It is true that, much like India and Pakistan, relations between China and Japan have witnessed periods of great optimism. For instance, Sino–Japanese relations in the 1970s and early 1980s were undeniably positive and ‘historical animosity’ was not a factor strong enough to foster tensions between the two nations at the time. However, it is also true, once again like India and Pakistan, that these periods of hope have been punctuated by a mutuality of visceral hatred. In the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, China, which was mired in political conflict and civil war, suffered eight months of comprehensive defeats leading, amongst other indignities, to the occupation of Taiwan by Japan. The historical echoes of this horrific conflict and its humiliating aftermath for China resonate to this day.

The most prominent Sino-Japanese contributor to contemporary geopolitical fragility is the Senkaku/ Diaoyu Islands dispute. This is an extremely high-risk dispute that could very easily lead to armed conflict, especially in the wake of Japan’s nationalization of three of the islands in September 2013. Reacting strongly to this unilateral action by Japan, China established an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on 23 November, 2013, encompassing (inter alia) these very islands. This, in turn, was immediately challenged by the USA, Japan, and South Korea. Within days of the Chinese declaration, military aircraft from all three countries flew through China’s ADIZ without complying with the promulgated ADIZ regulations.  Perhaps because of the robustness of this response, China has not been enforcing this ADIZ with any great vigour, but has not withdrawn it either. It is appreciated that this is a long-term play, because China would acquire strategic advantage by asserting a maximalist position, then seeming to back down, while preserving some incremental gain — akin to a ‘ratchet’ effect.  This is an example of ‘salami slicing’ — of which much has been made in a variety of Indian and Western media.

China’s increased military activities in this maritime area have certainly caused a fivefold rise in the frequency with which Japanese fighter jets have been forced to scramble in preparedness against Chinese aircraft intrusions into Japanese airspace over the East China Sea (ECS). Japanese aircraft have moved up from 150 scrambles in 2011 to a staggering 1,168 scrambles in FY 2016-17. (The Japanese FY, like that of India, runs from 01 April to 31 March.)  Given that fighter pilots are young, aggressive, and trained to use lethal force almost intuitively, this dramatic increase in frequency of scrambles causes a corresponding increase in the chance of a miscalculation on the part of one or both parties that could result in a sudden escalation into active hostilities.  

Even more worrying is the prospect that once China completes her building of airfields on a sufficient number of reefs in the Spratly Island Group, she would promulgate an ADIZ in the South China Sea. Should she do so, the inevitable challenges to such an ADIZ would probably bring inter-state geopolitical tensions to breaking point.

All in all, the increased militarization and current involvement of the armed forces of both countries in the Senkaku/ Diaoyu islands have grave implications for geopolitical stability. To cite a well-used colloquialism, “once you open a can of worms, the only way you can put them back is to use a bigger can.” In the case of the Senkaku/ Diaoyu Islands, both Japan and the PRC have certainly opened ‘a can of worms’ and now both are looking for a bigger can. Thus, both countries are jockeying for geopolitical options with both the USA as well as with other geopolitical powers that can be brought around to roughly align with their respective point of view. Japan’s alliance with the USA and its active wooing of India and Australia with constructs such as Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond is one such ‘larger can.’   

Yet, Japan’s geopolitical insecurities in its segment of the Indo-Pacific are not solely about the Senkaku/ Diaoyu islands. Japan’s apprehension in 2004-05 that China’s exploitation of the Chunxiao gas field (located almost on the EEZ boundary line — as Japan perceives it) was pulling natural gas away from the subterranean extension of the field into the Japanese side of the EEZ boundary brought the two countries to the brink of a military clash. While the situation has been contained for the time being, it remains a potential flashpoint. Across the Sea of Japan /East Sea lie other historical and contemporary challenges in the form of the two Koreas, a Russia that appears to be in a protracted state of geopolitical flux, and of course, the omnipresent elephant in the room, namely, the People’s Republic of China.

Closer home, Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) is present and surprisingly active in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) as well. Its interest in maintaining freedom of navigation within the International Shipping Lanes to and from West Asia in general, and the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Aden in particular, are well known features of Tokyo’s ‘energy security’ and ‘security-of-energy’ policies. Off the Horn of Africa at the southern tip of the Gulf of Aden, the ‘war-lord-ism’ that substitutes for governance in Somalia is a source of strategic concern at a number of levels. Although rampant piracy and armed-robbery have been checked for the time being, only the most naive optimism can indicate anything but continued strategic instability in and off Somalia — at least for the foreseeable future. The JMSDF’s deployments on anti-piracy missions, involving two destroyers and two long-range maritime-patrol (LRMP) aircraft, have been ongoing since 2009 and will continue through 2017. However, such deployments are at the cost of the JMSDF ORBAT (Order of Battle) within the ECS and the Sea of Japan — areas where, as has already been described, Japan faces far more serious and immediate threats than in West Asia. If India was to explicitly offer the protection of its Navy specifically to Japanese merchantmen in and around the Gulf of Aden, this might free the JMSDF warships and LRMP aircraft from this maritime space and permit them to be redeployed in the ECS to contain and counter China’s naval as well as ‘grey zone’ operations (the latter involving predominantly paramilitary maritime forces). Of course, within the north Arabian Sea, the JMSDF has commitments to the USA-led Coalition Task Force (CTF) 150 (in and off the Persian Gulf) as also to CTF 151 (in and off the Gulf of Aden), which would also have to be factored. These notwithstanding, a specific Indian commitment of Indian naval anti-piracy protection to Japanese trade is likely to go down very well with both Tokyo and Washington, and is something that the Indian Navy with its present warship resources could certainly manage.

As is the case with India, Japan, too, is engaged in a series of ongoing efforts to reduce its energy-vulnerabilities. For both India and Japan, this has brought centrality to the environs of the Mozambique Channel, a sadly neglected chokepoint of the IOR, but one that now offers a great deal in terms of strategic collaboration and coordination between Tokyo and New Delhi. To the northwest of this sea passage, Tanzania is engaged in an intense rivalry with Mozambique over newly discovered offshore gas fields in both countries. Tanzanian offshore discoveries off its southern coast, between 2012 and 2015, have raised the official figure of exploitable reserves to as much as 55 trillion cubic feet (tcf). As a comparator, India’s recoverable reserves are 52.6 tcf. The story in Mozambique is even more promising. Since 2010, Anadarko Petroleum of the US, and Italy’s Eni, have made gas discoveries in the Rovuma Basin in the Indian Ocean that are estimated by the IMF collectively to approximate 180 tcf, equivalent to the entire gas reserves of Nigeria. When developed, these gas reserves have the potential to transform Tanzania and Mozambique into key global suppliers of liquefied natural gas. Indeed, once gas production hits its peak, Mozambique (in particular) could well become the world’s third-biggest liquefied natural gas exporter after Qatar and Australia. Obviously, India and Japan, not to mention China, are deeply interested in this LNG as it will allow each country to ‘wake up’ — at least partially — from their common ‘Hormuz Nightmare’ vis-à-vis the sourcing of LNG from Qatar. Where India is concerned, LNG from Rovumo will additionally negate any Chinese-Pakistani interdiction-possibilities ex-Gwadar. In fact, just as the Gulf of Guinea on the western coast of Africa is a vastly preferred source of petroleum-based energy for Europe and the USA precisely because there are no chokepoints along the route from source-to-destination, a somewhat-similar situation would prevail for India, Japan, and China were they to source their energy from East Africa and the Mozambique Channel.

It is therefore  encouraging to note that by April 2015, an Indian consortium comprising the ONGC, IOL, and BPC had purchased a combined 30 percent stake in Anadarko’s ‘Rovuma’ fields at a cost of US $6.5 billion to be amortised over a four year period. Japan and South Korea, too, — both growing partners of India — have invested with both Anadarko and Eni: the Japanese energy company Mitsui now holds a 25 percent stake in Anadarko’s concession and Korean Gas Corp (Kogas) holds a 10 percent stake in Eni’s concession. Unsurprisingly, China, too, is a major player and the ‘China National Petroleum Company’ (CNPC) has bought into the Italian firm ‘Eni’ to the tune of US $ 4.2 Billion, for a 28 percent stake. Once this LNG begins to be shipped eastwards, the Indian Navy could once again be the guarantor of Japanese Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) at least from Mozambique to the SCS, if not all the way to Japan.

Another important driver for Japanese strategic maritime interest in the IOR is food security. Often given insufficient attention by Indian analysts, this is, nevertheless a significant factor in Japan’s geopolitics. Even though Japan is amongst the world’s richest countries, her food self-sufficiency ratio is remarkably low compared to other industrialized nations. In particular, Japan’s high cereal import dependency rate and low food self-sufficiency rate make her particularly vulnerable. As of 2015, Japan was producing only about 39 percent of the food it consumed reflecting a major decrease from the 79 percent in 1960, and the lowest food self-sufficiency ratio among all major developed countries. Moreover, Japan depends on a very small number of countries for the majority of its food imports — 25 percent come from the USA alone, while China, ASEAN and the EU account for another 39 percent  — and all of it travels by sea. In order to reduce her consequent geopolitical vulnerability and diversify her SLOCs, Japan has invested in agricultural projects (the purchase, from relatively poor nations abroad, of enormous tracts of farmland upon which food is grown and shipped back to Japan). This activity, which has serious ethical issues associated with it, is considered by ethical activists to be ‘land grabbing’, especially as it takes callous advantage of the need for cash-strapped African nations for money, leading the governments of these countries to deny their own (often impoverished) people the agricultural produce of their own land. Nevertheless, ‘farming abroad’ has emerged as a new food supply strategy by several import-dependent governments, including Japan. Where Japan is concerned, several of its large-scale investments are concentrated in Mozambique, causing Japan to concern herself with the geopolitical stability of this portion of the Indian Ocean and the International Sea Lanes (ISLs)/SLOCs leading to Japan. This drives the noticeable fluctuation between Japan’s commitments to contribute to international development policies and the more narrow-minded pursuit of its national interests and intensified efforts to strengthen its position in international politics in relation to China. For New Delhi, however, this represents yet another opportunity to leverage Indian naval capability to commit itself to keeping Japanese ‘Food SLOCs’ open and safe.  

Zooming in to India’s immediate maritime neighbourhood, Japan’s willingness to partner with vulnerable countries in planning activities, and also provide for and engage in preventive and curative measures with regard to Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR), holds great promise for an active India-Japan partnership under a joint IONS-WPNS rubric. The benefits that would accrue from such an initiative have very substantial and substantive strategic implications.

With Pakistan remaining a constant spoiler and a global sponsor of terrorism, India’s hugely improved relations with Bangladesh offer additional opportunities for New Delhi to coordinate its own maritime strategic gameplay with that of Japan. Japan, for instance, is poised to provide a viable alternative to the now abandoned Chinese-sponsored Sonadia Port project in Bangladesh, by way of the development of a coal-based 1,200 MW power plant as well as a new deep-water port at Matarbari in Cox’s Bazaar, just 25 km away from Sonadia.

India’s own maritime engagement with Japan is being driven along at a brisk pace by a strong mutuality of interests, and a number of institutional mechanisms at both Track-1 and Track-2 levels are now functional. At the Track-1 level, maritime engagement per se is provided focus through the ‘India-Japan Maritime Affairs Dialogue,’ which was established in January 2013. Spearheaded by India’s MEA (Disarmament and International Security Affairs [DISA] Division) and Japan’s Foreign Policy Bureau, the dialogue covers a wide ambit, including, inter alia, maritime security including non-traditional threats, cooperation in shipping, marine sciences and technology, and marine biodiversity and cooperation. However, the bilateral maritime-security engagement is probably the most relevant to the Indian maritime interest under discussion, namely, the obtaining and sustaining of a favourable geopolitical position. It is vital to bear in mind that, contrary to many Indian pundits who examine geoeconomics in isolation, geoeconomics is a subset of geopolitics, as is geostrategy. To reduce it a simple equation, Geopolitics = Geoeconomics + Geostrategies to attain geoeconomic goals + Geostrategies to attain non-economic goals + Interpersonal Relations between the leaders of the countries involved.

Within the Indian EEZ, India-Japan-USA maritime-scientific cooperation is already in evidence in one of the most exciting and promising areas of energy, namely, gas hydrates. Gas hydrates, popularly called ‘fire-ice,’ are a mixture of natural gas (usually methane) and water, which have been frozen into solid chunks. In 1997, in recognition of the tremendous energy-potential in gas hydrates, New Delhi formulated a ‘National Gas Hydrate Programme’ (NGHP) for the exploration and exploitation of the gas-hydrate resources of the country, which are currently estimated at over 67,000 tcf (1,894 trillion cubic meters [tcm]). Once again, as a comparator, India’s exploitable reserve of conventional LNG is a mere 52.6 tcf. The two exploratory expeditions (NGHP-01 and NGHP-02) that have thus far been mounted have been in conjunction with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (J AMSTEC). They have yielded extremely encouraging results that border on the spectacular, confirming the presence of large, highly saturated, accumulations of gas hydrates in the Krishna-Godavari (KG) and Mahanadi Basins that are amongst the richest in the world. Production of even 10 percent from this natural reserve would be sufficient to meet the country’s vast energy requirement for a century or more — a cause of considerable optimism for energy-starved India and Japan. The 2015 edition of the ‘India-Japan Science Summit’, too, has reiterated the intent of both countries to continue joint surveys for gas-hydrates within India’s EEZ, using the Japanese drilling ship, the Chikyu.    

Military interaction with Japan is progressing at the policy level through the Japan-India Defense Policy Dialogue, while operational-level engagement proceeds under the aegis of the Comprehensive Security Dialogue (CSD) and Military-to-Military Talks (initiated in 2001). Naval cooperation is by far the most dynamic and is steered through the mechanism of annual Navy-to-Navy Staff Talks.

Tokyo and New Delhi are also actively expanding their defense trade and the acquisition by India of Japanese ShinMaywa US-2i amphibious aircraft remains very likely. Japan is also looking to undertake the construction of maritime infrastructure in the Andaman and Nicobar (A & N) Islands. An eventual aim could well be to integrate a new network of Indian Navy sensors into the existing Japan-U.S. “Fish Hook” Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) network to monitor the movement of Chinese nuclear-powered submarines.

As Satoru Nagao of the Tokyo Foundation, writing in the ORF’s publication  Line in the Waters succinctly puts it, “Tokyo and New Delhi have an important role to play to advance peace and stability and help safeguard vital sea lanes in the wider Indo-Pacific region. Since Asia’s economies are bound by sea, maritime democracies like Japan and India must work together to help build a stable, liberal, rules-based order in Asia.” 

Clearly, there is a mutual yen for a closer maritime engagement.

Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan retired as Commandant of the Indian Naval Academy at Ezhimala. He is an alumnus of the prestigious National Defence College.

[1] Chinese civilizational framework prevailed throughout the East Asian region, but the Japanese version of it was distinctive enough to be regarded as a civilization sui generis.

Featured Image: Group photograph on board INS Shivalik with Japanese Naval Seadership at Port Sasbo, Japan on 24 Jul 14 (Indian Navy)

The Quest for India’s Supercarrier

This article originally featured on CSIS cogitAsia and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.

By Tuneer Mukherjee

The recent decommissioning of the aircraft carrier INS Viraat leaves an enormous gap in the Indian Navy’s power projection capabilities. India’s sole remaining aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya will now serve at the vanguard, as evidenced this year by the ongoing Exercise Malabar and the earlier held TROPEX (Theater Readiness Operational Exercise). TROPEX reflected a shift in the mindset of Indian strategists from focusing exclusively on maneuvers for protection of the immediate littoral to combat concepts fixated around a larger maritime theater. It was a departure from considering Pakistan its main adversary and suggested an increasingly significant emphasis on China as the primary strategic threat. The Indian Navy’s plans to establish two carrier task forces affords it a limited window to finalize the design for its second indigenous aircraft carrier given the protracted schedule required to construct and operationalize a carrier battle group.

In the past decade, there has been a general change in strategic thinking in both Beijing and New Delhi. Policymakers have realized the importance of having dynamic maritime capabilities. This reflects a major doctrinal shift in the grand strategy of the two nations, which have usually revolved around developing traditional continental forces aimed at countering threats along their land borders.

In this regard, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA-N) has increased investment in naval forces and has established dominance over its regional waters. The PLA-N is asserting its naval power in the South China Sea and is simultaneously holding live-fire exercises in the open seas from the southeast Indian Ocean to the eastern Pacific. These actions threaten the overarching security situation in the wider maritime theater, and countries in the region are growing progressively uncertain about China’s intentions. The capabilities of most navies in the wider maritime theater are paltry in comparison to the PLA-N — and China plans to continue its naval build up. Given this escalating security dilemma, the Indian Navy is the only resident power in South Asia that has the resources and capabilities to counter the emerging strategic imbalance in the maritime theater. The Indian Navy had previously taken a defensive approach and concentrated resources on developing credible anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities, as the immediate concern for the strategists in New Delhi was Chinese submarines roaming in their backyard.

Despite a change in thinking, the commitment of the Indian Navy to see its new maritime doctrine through from defense white papers to the open waters hangs in doubt, given the history of bureaucratic delays, inefficient procurement, and ineffectual financing. The delay in its indigenous aircraft carrier program is a prime example. China is clearly moving ahead of India, with plans to induct its second indigenously produced aircraft-carrier into service before 2020. Meanwhile, India has struggled to meet deadlines for the INS Vikrant, its first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-1).

In this race of aircraft carriers, India’s only saving grace could be the follow-on project, INS Vishal (IAC-2). This single supercarrier may push India to a dominant position in the long-term fight for naval superiority with China over the maritime commons of the Indo-Asia-Pacific. Vishal could possibly be the first nuclear powered supercarrier built in Asia. The discussion around the Indian Navy’s maritime strategy is centered around the IAC-2 to such an extent that it has decided to shelve plans to develop an indigenously produced aircraft in favor of procuring a better multi-role fighter aircraft that would suit the capabilities of the Vishal. The Vishal’s main selling point is its proposed nuclear propulsion engine. Russia, India’s long-trusted defense and arms supplier, jumped on board to deliver the aircraft carrier, and the Indian establishment has also sent letters of request to multiple European nations. There is also the possibility that India may shun foreign reactors altogether and built its own indigenous reactor for marine propulsion.

The United States, however, is poised to be the preferred partner in this initiative as it holds the most advanced technology for nuclear propulsion in aircraft carriers, and India has progressively increased its defense cooperation with the United States. Toward this end, India and the United States signed an agreement to share research and technology for an aircraft carrier that fits these requirements. The other area of cooperation in this partnership would be fitting the Vishal with the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (assuming nuclear propulsion), which would allow it to launch heavier aircraft like larger fighters, airborne early-warning aircraft, and refueling tankers.

Ultimately, in the long-term, the future of the Indian Navy will be built around the INS Vishal, and it is imperative that the strategists of New Delhi realize that this single venture will decide the fate of the navy’s ambitious modernization plans. The planning and design for Vishal is still in its initial stages, and this has led to delays in procurement of support vessels that will make up the carrier strike group. The success of this program depends on the Indian establishment shedding its previous inhibitions and adopting a more steadfast attitude to the rise of Chinese naval power in the Indian Ocean. It requires the government of the day to engage the United States in transferring technology never made available before, even to close allies.

Most importantly, if India is to deploy carrier strike groups to both of its maritime frontiers — the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal — it must develop better manufacturing facilities and realize the costs underlying its most ambitious project yet. The cost of building and maintaining a nuclear carrier strike group will run into the billions and would require a significantly larger allocation of the defense budget to the navy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has given priority to India’s maritime interests in the entire Indo-Asia-Pacific, and the comments of an Indian minister supporting freedom of navigation and overflight in the disputed waters of the South China Sea supplement this view. India Naval Chief Sunil Lanba has touted India as a “net security provider in the Indian Ocean.” A 65,000-ton supercarrier would give India the ability to achieve it all but, for this to become a reality, New Delhi must shed its traditional lethargy and shake things up.

Aircraft Carrier Capabilities (Present & Planned) – India, China & United States

Name Class Type Displacement(tonnage) Status^ Operator
Vikramaditya Kiev Conventional 45,000 Operational India*
Vikrant (IAC-1) Vikrant Conventional 40,000 Est. 2023 India
Vishal (IAC-2) Vikrant TBD 65,000 Est. 2030 India
Liaoning Kuzentsov Conventional 60,000 Operational China*
Shandong Kuzentsov Conventional 70,000 Est. 2020 China
Type 002 Type 002 Conventional 85,000 Est. 2023 China
CVN (68,69,70)Nimitz

sub-class;
CVN (71,72,73,74,75)
Theodore Roosevelt
sub-class;
CVN (76, 77)
Ronald Reagan
sub-class

Nimitz Nuclear Average- 100,000 Operational United States
CVN 78 Gerald R. Ford Nuclear 100,000 Operational United States
CVN 79 Gerald R. Ford Nuclear 100,000 Est. 2020 United States
CVN 80 Gerald R. Ford Nuclear 100,000 Est. 2025 United States
 *The Russian Federation/USSR was the original manufacturer/operator of the carriers.
^The estimated times are for the year when the carrier is scheduled to be commissioned.

Mr. Tuneer Mukherjee is a former intern at the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at CSIS and holds a master’s from the American University School of International Service. Follow him on twitter @MTuneer

Featured Image: Indian Navy carrier INS Vikramaditya (Indian Navy photo)

Indian Maritime Airpower Pt. 1

This article originally featured on South Asia Defence and Strategic Review and is republished with permission.

By Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan, AVSM & Bar, VSM, IN (Retd) 

The once fierce IN-IAF debate about the relative efficacy of carrier-borne airpower versus shore-based airpower supported by airborne replenishment tankers has largely been muted by the availability of budgetary support for both. In fact, serious practitioners of India’s military airpower now include all three Indian Armed Forces. In terms of their holdings, operational reach, and logistical complexity, they rank in the following order: the Indian Air Force, the Indian Navy, and the Indian Army. However, the country’s paramilitary forces, too, — most especially the Indian Coast Guard and, to a lesser extent, the Air Wing of the Border Security Force (BSF) — have a significant role in the deployment of military airpower within the country and its maritime zones.  Driving this more ‘egalitarian’ approach is the growing realization that India’s rise demands an urgent and substantive investment in all dimensions of national security. These include internal (societal) as well as external dimensions. They also include intangible facets (building trust-capital, education and human resource skilling, sustainable resource-management, etc.,) as well as tangible ones (infrastructure, technology, manpower, equipment, etc.) Importantly, the investment of large sums of money is common to all of these. 

Narrowing our focus to the tangible facets of our external security, and further, to an examination of available options for the application of air power for maritime security, we find India once again in a rather unenviable position for a self-avowed major maritime power. In the coming month or two, the Indian Navy will (very unwisely and very prematurely, in the opinion of this writer) decommission the Viraat — mainly for lack of her integral Sea Harrier aircraft, which have already been phased out. This decision is typically that of a new toy relegating an older one to the basement and is probably due to the ‘Air Force-conditioning’ of the Navy’s senior naval aviators who were at the apex levels of the Navy when this decision was made. The fact that a duly constituted Board of Officers (BoO) took this decision is merely a fig leaf of a cover, for the BoO’s decision would have been governed and bound by Terms of Reference given to it. The Viraat, in her earlier avatar as the Hermes, has served admirably as a commando carrier and is internally equipped to embark and sustain 900 fully armed troops. Thus, even as the induction of four new Landing Platforms Dock (LPD) remains mired in the Kafkaesque labyrinth of the South and North Blocks where the Ministries of Defence and Finance play their own version of the Pentagon Wars, the Navy has squandered the opportunity of sustaining the Viraat as an immediately available ‘Landing Platform: Helicopter’ (LPH). The ship ought to have been delinked from frontline Fleet operations, made to embark 16 ALH (the time-intensiveness of their blade-folding would not be an issue as they would be required solely for deliberate deployment and not for reactionary ones), and been used to gain invaluable procedural and operational-logistical experience for amphibious operations. But that, as the aphorism goes, is another story that will be dilated upon elsewhere. 

Where frontline Fleet operations are concerned, the new Vikrant is still a couple of years away from induction, and in the interim, the Vikramaditya and her integral air group (comprising MiG-29K variants and a woefully inadequate number of rotary-wing aircraft such as the Kamov-31, and the venerable Sea King Mk 42B and Chetak) will be all that can be fielded for the critical here-and-now element of naval airpower.On the other hand, we have the media-driven hype and hoopla over the several aerospace exhibitions and related mega-events that are being organized with increasing frequency under the ‘Make-in-India’ banner — and often by one or another ‘chamber of commerce.’ These certainly cause adrenaline rushes and surges of nationalistic fervor, but good advertising cannot for long compensate for the lack of a good product. On perhaps a more useful level, however, all this serves to generate a renewed examination of the available options in respect of this desired air power. As a consequence, debates are reignited on the ‘desirability’ versus ‘affordability,’ and the ‘desirability’ versus the ‘survivability’ of aircraft carriers versus land-based air power, contextualized not only to the prevailing security environment, but also to that expected to prevail in the immediately foreseeable future. Thus, while the criticality of the maritime domain — and that of the military maritime domain — is beyond any reasonable doubt, the question is whether aircraft carriers do, indeed, provide the biggest ‘bang’ for our collective ‘buck.’ 

As mentioned above, there are two fundamental threads along which this debate tends to proceed. The first argues for and against the ‘cost’ — or, more appropriately (even if less frequently), the ‘cost-effectiveness’ — of aircraft carriers, both within the paradigm of conflict as well as outside of it. The second examines the survivability (defensibility) of aircraft carriers in the contemporary and foreseeable battle milieu.  

Since the option of not having any airborne surveillance or combat capability at all is one that all schools of thought reject, it is relevant to compare the ‘costs’ involved and the ‘cost-effectiveness’ accruing from sea-based (integral) airpower versus land-based airpower. Inevitably, the steep cost of an aircraft carrier makes it the subject of intense scrutiny by experts and the lay public alike. And indeed, an informed debate is entirely right and proper for it is public taxes that allow one or the other option to be exercised.  Of course, the operative word there is ‘informed.’ 

Cost Comparison between Airbases at Sea and on Land 

It is true that a modern aircraft carrier costs an enormous amount of money to procure, even more to construct indigenously, and even more for it to be operated and periodically maintained (refitted), along with its complement of aircraft, over the several decades of its operational life. Available open-source inputs indicate that the final cost of the Vikramaditya has been of the order of ₹ 12,500 Crore (USD ~$1.8 billion), while the ongoing construction of the 40,000-tonne indigenous aircraft carrier (the Vikrant) will reportedly cost the exchequer some ₹ 24,000 Crore (USD ~$3.6 billion) although this latter figure also includes the cost of infrastructure enhancement of the Cochin Shipyard, where the Vikrant is being built. These are very considerable sums of money. What about the costs of the shore-based air-power option? There are equally forbidding costs to be airborne here as well — in the construction and periodic maintenance of ‘coastal’, ‘inland’ and ‘forward’ IAF airbases. For instance, just the replacement cost of a single runway on an existing air force base can easily cross ₹ 600 Crore.  In the case of a ‘virgin’ airbase, the construction cost would have to include land-leveling and associated land-development costs as well. At the USA’s Atlanta airport, for example, the cost of adding a fifth runway capable of routinely handling wide-bodied jet aircraft was $1.24 billion which is about ₹ 7,500 Crore. Add to this the cost of the parallel taxi track, the sheltered, bombproof hangars, the ATC, the various radars, navigational and communication equipment, and the self-defense wherewithal—and one ends up with a cost far in excess of the overall cost of construction of an indigenous aircraft carrier.

The largest and the first indigenously-built, 40,000 tonne aircraft carrier (IAC) named INS Vikrant was undocked on 10 Jun 2015 at a simple ceremony held at the Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL). (Indian Navy photo)  

Some analysts, in attempting to counter the inclusion of all this airbase infrastructure have tried to inflate the cost of the aircraft carrier by adding the life-cycle cost of the escort forces which, together with the carrier itself, make up a Carrier Battle Group. However, the difference is that even without the aircraft carrier each of these warships that comprise the CBG are potent and eminently deployable platforms, while without the aircraft that it supports, shore-based infrastructure is meaningless. However, the lack of mobility of an airbase ashore is where the aircraft carrier really scores over the former. Each aircraft carrier provides for an extensively mobile’airbase, thereby virtualizing a number of static ones. Once the emotive content is removed from the comparative equation, the aircraft carrier, with its operational life of some 45-50 years, is readily seen to offer the most cost-effective option for dealing with mobile maritime threats. That said, it is equally obvious that shore-based threats that emanate deep inland (and which must be countered there) cannot be met by carrier-borne airpower.  There is, thus, little option but to simultaneously incur the expenditure required to build up the nation’s shore-based airpower, most especially that of the Indian Air Force.  

Carrier Survivability 

This brings us to the question of the survivability (defensibility) of the aircraft carrier in the contemporary and foreseeable battle milieu.           

Several Indian analysts worriedly point to the acquisition by potential adversaries of reconnaissance satellites, anti-ship ballistic missiles, supersonic (and now ‘hypersonic’) long-range cruise missiles, nuclear-propelled attack submarines (SSNs), very quiet diesel-electric submarines, and so on. These are serious apprehensions and neither can nor should evoke glib responses that are driven by empty bravado. There are real lives involved and that too, in large numbers. A modern aircraft carrier is run by a highly trained crew of well over 1,500 men. This roughly corresponds to one-and-a-half Infantry Battalions of the Indian Army! Other than in a nuclear war, it is impossible for the Indian Army to lose one-and-a-half battalions to enemy combat-power in just a few minutes. However, the fact this magnitude of human loss may occur in so compressed a timeframe is exactly what could happen were one of the Indian Navy’s contemporary aircraft carriers to be sunk as a result of enemy action. The effect upon residual fighting capability, as also upon resultant morale at the Naval, Armed Forces, and national levels would be no less catastrophic. Hence issues involving a careful vulnerability-assessment and equally careful vulnerability-mitigation are serious matters that merit serious and informed discussion and debate. 

Operational Employment 

As mentioned in the cover story of the Nov-Dec 2016 edition of this magazine (See “The Indian Navy, Rising to New Challenges”, pp. 19-23), in order to maximize her options for strategic or operational maneuver (at the regional-theater level) in responding to military aggression by potentially adversarial nation-states such as China and Pakistan, India is inevitably driven to acquire, possess and master ‘blue water’ naval capability. This capability is centered upon the Carrier Battle Group (CBG), which is a synergistic and mutually-supporting conglomerate of warships centered upon an aircraft carrier, such that the combat-capability of the group as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is very important to bear in mind that it is the group and not the aircraft carrier alone that must remain the central point of reference and it is a basic analytical error to try and fractionalize the CBG. Of course, not all analysts are able to resist the temptation of analyzing the aircraft carrier as a standalone ship (largely because a carrier is so hugely symbolic and tends to attract so much attention). The net result is the development of a set of apparently sophisticated but nevertheless fallacious arguments relating to the real and perceived vulnerabilities of this single platform alone. 

A typical combat-engagement cycle involves sequential Surveillance, Detection, Classification, Identification, Localization, Tracking, Attack-Criteria (i.e. Evasion / Engagement), and Damage Assessment. It is against this cycle that the vulnerability of an Indian CBG in times of conflict needs to be assessed. The first problem for an enemy that seeks the destruction of an aircraft carrier of the size and type under discussion is one of combat surveillance and resultant detection.  

CBGs routinely put to sea well before any crisis deteriorates into conflict and would invariably have been judiciously positioned firmly within ‘blue-waters.’ The fact that all carrier-operating navies realize the folly of keeping aircraft carriers in harbor and put them out to sea well in time is borne out by history. In the six years of the Second World War, only one aircraft carrier (the Imperial Japanese Ship Amagi) was ever sunk while in port. Thus, as Dr. Loren Thompson of the USA’s Lexington Institute reminds us, “…the most basic protection the carrier has against being detected… is distance. The areas in which carriers typically operate are so vast that adversaries would be hard-pressed to find them even in the absence of active countermeasures by the battle group.” 

The magnitude of this problem needs to be appreciated. The Indian Ocean has an area of some 73.6 million square kilometers. Even if one were to consider just the 3.86 million square kilometers of the Arabian Sea alone, it would be obvious that continuous surveillance of such a large water body is well outside current capabilities of any form of shore-based radar, including the much touted Over-the-Horizon ones. Persistent surveillance by sea-based radars (aboard ships and submarines) is a complex affair. The average range of detection by a shipborne radar of a large surface ship is only about 30 nm (56 km), thereby yielding detection within an area (πr2) of 9852 km², which is just 0.2 percent of the Arabian Sea! For the entire Arabian Sea to be kept under surveillance against a CBG, one would need some 471 ships, each with continuously-operating surface-detection radar, manned on a ‘24 x 7’ basis by a set of highly trained and constantly awake and alert radar operators. Persistent surveillance by submarines is a non-starter as detection-ranges are significantly lower due to the low height of the radar antenna — apart from not being an operationally viable option.

Consequently, the options of choice are satellite-based oceanic surveillance and oceanic surveillance by airborne radars. However, since any contemporary Indian CBG would be quite comfortably able to cover a distance of some 900-1,000 km in a 24-hour period, real-time detection is needed. Insofar as satellite-based detection is concerned, this calls for ground stations whose footprint would enable real time downloads of imagery (electro-optical, radar, infrared, or whatever) of medium/large objects detected at sea. An adversary seeking to make the Indian Ocean transparent must therefore possess an adequate number of adequately located ground stations. As the name implies, ground stations require ground. Such an adversary must, therefore, possess adequate territory upon which ground stations can be positioned — even if such ground stations are contemporary, small, and/or portable ones, such as the U.S./NATO ‘RAPIDS’ (Resource and Program Information Development System). All this is well beyond the current or near-term capabilities of either of India’s likely adversaries.

Turning finally to airborne detection, this is typically achieved through shore-based Long Range Maritime Patrol’ (LRMP) aircraft such as the P3C Orion, the Boeing P8I, etc. Pakistan has some capability within the Arabian Sea and China has some marginal capability at the eastern fringes of the Bay of Bengal. These capabilities are further degraded by the Indian Navy’s deployment pattern in respect of the CBG. In accordance of the principles of maneuver warfare (as opposed to those of attrition warfare), the CBG would not normally be deployed where the enemy’s tri-service strength is the greatest — in this case, within the unrefuelled combat radius of an intact enemy’s shore-based Fighter Ground Attack (FGA) aircraft. Indeed, the deployment pattern of the CBG is an overarching factor that is germane right across the combat-engagement cycle under consideration.  

But what if detection is, indeed, achieved? How survivable is the aircraft carrier thereafter? This is what the second part of this article will explore…stay tuned. 

Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan retired as Commandant of the Indian Naval Academy at Ezhimala. He is an alumnus of the prestigious National Defence College.

Featured image: Admiral Gorshkov under refit to become INS Vikramaditya. Note ski deck. (Photo via Defense.pk)