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The Indian Navy’s Master Defense Plan 

By Periklis Stampoulis


The South Asian region is dominated by India. Along with Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, it forms a self-contained geographic region called the Indian subcontinent. Geopolitical imperatives for India’s security and independence are the control, or at least influence, of the sub-continent and maritime expansion through the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).1

The Strategic Environment and Maritime Requirements

By fulfilling its “destiny,” India bumps into Chinese regional interests. Attempting to expand its own interests, commercial activities, and energy goods imports, China has launched the “String of Pearls” project, namely the construction of a web of naval infrastructure (ports and bases) throughout the IOR. These activities, along with the arms sales to IOR states, cause fears of Chinese encirclement and thus fuel a long simmering rivalry between India and China.2

China has already built and operates a military base in Djibouti, while Chinese-financed ports in the IOR such as Gwadar in Pakistan, Hambantota in Sri Lanka, along with Chittagong and Sonadia in Bangladesh, provide amenities in Chinese Navy (PLAN) ships.

In order to address these upcoming issues in its “natural” maritime environment, Indian political leaders realized that a strong and formidable Indian Navy (IN) is the answer to increasing maritime competition in the IOR. Therefore, a Maritime Security Strategy was promulgated, where it is stated that the primary interest in the region is the IOR.3

The implementation of this strategy is primarily centered on the Indian Navy. Critical missions and tasks are outlined in 2015 Indian Maritime Doctrine. There are four types of operations in which the Indian Navy (IN) is (and will be) involved: a) military, b) diplomatic, c) constabulary and d) benign.4

The military role is a navy’s essence. The most important military missions derived from the IN’s objectives adhere to Corbettian theory (Sea Control, Sea Denial, and SLOC protection),5 while tasking entails the whole spectrum of modern naval warfare such as Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW), Anti-submarine Warfare (ASW), Anti-Air Warfare (AAW), and Electronic Warfare (EW).6

Diplomatic and constabulary roles cover a range of activities from participation in Peace Support Operations to anti-piracy and anti-terrorist operations.7 The benign role of the IN is comprised of Humanitarian Assistance, Disaster Relief, and Search and Rescue (SAR).8

The Indian Navy’s Current and Future Situation

However ambitious the IN’s official documents are, they are limited by the IN’s real capabilities. A quick analysis reveals the numbers are not yet there. The IN currently operates:9

  • 1 Aircraft Carrier (INS Vikramaditya), capable of carrying 26 MiG-29 fighters and 10 Ka-31 helicopters – a second, the INS Viraat, is slated for decommissioning this year
  • 11 Destroyers
  • 14 Frigates
  • 23 Corvettes
  • 1 nuclear-powered submarine
  • 13 conventionally-powered submarines
  • 4 Mine countermeasures vessels
  • 1 Landing Platform Deck (LPD)
  • 8 Landing Ships (LST)
  • 4 Fleet Tankers (AORs)
  • 10 large Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs)

Taking a closer look at India’s primary area of interest, the IOR, it is appararent that it can be divided into smaller areas. Two of the areas are especially critical for Indian maritime policy: the Arab Sea and the Gulf of Bengal. The IN has only one aircraft carrier, thus one fully operational Task Force (TF). This means that only one of the two vital areas can be adequately covered at any given time in the event of armed conflict. This TF’s missions could vary from sea control of the assigned area to escorting the LPD and LST-comprised Amphibious Task Force (ATF).Therefore, the Indian Naval High Command must prioritize which of these areas is more critical and assign the carrier group within. Remaining units will deploy in the “secondary” area, maintaining a more defensive posture and with the aid of shore-based aircraft.

Submarines could monitor critical chokepoints such as the Hormuz Strait, Bab el Mandeb, and Andaman and Nicobar islands. Additionally, the IN would mostly likely establish patrols along critical Sea Lines of Communications (SLOCs). Strategic missiles submarines would deploy in the open sea, ready to launch their payload if ordered.

Tensions with neighboring states and China’s ascent have forced India to re-evaluate its naval strategy and strengthen its navy. The IN has launched an ambitious 200-ship-navy initiative utilizing Indian shipbuilding industry and indigenous research and development programs (R&D), along with foreign defense firms (e.g. Rafael).10 Between 2025 and 2030, the projected IN will consist of the following units:

  • 3 Aircraft Carriers (AC), one of them nuclear-powered, capable of carrying 26, 30, and 45 fixed-wing aircraft respectively.
  • 12 Destroyers
  • 20 Frigates
  • 12 ASW, 16 Shallow Water ASW, and 6 ASuW Corvettes.
  • 12 Minesweepers
  • 18 Attack Submarines (SSNs)
  • 4-7 nuclear Ballistic Missile Submarines (SSBNs)
  • 4-5 LPDs
  • Various offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) capable of carrying SR SAMs (e.g IGLA SA-18)
  • Various multi-role helicopters and UAVs
  • 5 AORs and 4 Multi-Utility Vessels

Zone Defense

With a fleet of this size, the IN is significantly more capable of addressing regional military tensions  with another major power such as China, along with its regional allies (mainly Pakistan), or provide support to a friendly country attacked by an adversary – e.g. Myanmar attacked by China.

As part of the ongoing sea trials, the first indigenously built, Scorpene class submarine Kalvari undertook it’s first torpedo firing on 26 May 2017. The submarine is being built by the Mazagaon Docks Limited (MDL) at Mumbai. As part of the project, MDL will build a total of six submarines. (Wikimedia Commons)

India can currently exert influence over a large portion of the IOR and has no desire to expand its territory in the littorals. Therefore, it can be classified as a status quo power. Its main objective is to defend its dominant position, relative to the rest of the sub-continent, against any outsider’s attack. But how is this defense best accomplished?

The most suitable strategy would be zone defense. The overall area to be defended by the IN can be divided into two distinct sub-areas, where the first contains the Indian littoral. Therefore, small surface combatants, attack submarines, land-based aircraft, and shore installations are most useful here.11

The second sub-area covers the vast oceanic region starting from the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and covering the rest of the IOR, namely of the Arab Sea, the Gulf of Bengal, and the region south of Sri Lanka. It is a vast sea mass without any sign of land, except for minor islets in the southern part (e.g. Ascension Island, Diego Garcia). Consequently, the most appropriate form of naval warfare involves carrier-based task forces with ships and aircraft equipped with long-range sensors and weapons for the purpose of exercising sea control.

There is also another key geographic feature: the Andaman-Nicobar island complex, which is a perfect setting for Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) operations due to its infinite bays. These can provide safe havens for small craft or submarines, air defense installations, and anti-ship missile batteries. The significance of the Andaman-Nicobar A2/AD “bubble” has already been acknowledged by the Chinese.12

The Andaman & Nicobar islands. (Himfact via Youtube)

In this plan, India would deploy a basketball-style two-zone defense (inner-outer, each one favoring different types of naval operations) and an A2/AD “bubble” in the vicinity of the Andaman-Nicobar island complex to act as a bulkwark against Chinese intrusions from the east.

The Scope of Potential Operations

The IN’s master naval war plan is probably based on the establishment of Sea Control of the IOR obtained by the three CBGs. Depending on the prioritization of threats, two CBGs could unite and form a Carrier Task Force (CATF), with significant firepower capable of bringing a decisive outcome. By obtaining Sea Control of the Arab Sea, the Gulf of Bengal and the region south of Sri Lanka, CBGs/CATF, could provide long-range protection to an Amphibious Task Force in order to occupy an enemy naval base or to reoccupy a previously lost national territory.

A CBG’s probable composition could consist of 3-4 Destroyers, 5-6 Frigates, 4 ASW Corvettes, and probably one submarine. Every CBG possesses enhanced ASuW capabilities because of BrahMos anti-ship missiles (240nm range), and organic air assets (fighter/-helicopters),  defense-in-depth against air threats (fighters, Barak-8 MR SAM, Barak-1 SR SAM, SA-16 SR SAM and AK-630 CIWS), ASW capabilities (e.g. towed sonar arrays), EW capabilities, and a submarine capable of executing multiple tasks (ASuW, SSK, patrolling, intelligence gathering, etc.)

There are some remaining units not joining a CBG: 2-3 Destroyers, 2-5 Frigates, and probably a number of ASuW Corvettes. This task group could be assigned various additional tasks from the close escort of the ATF(s), to the harassment and outflanking of an enemy naval force.

Amphibious operation capabilities are upgraded with the presence of 5 LPDs which can form one or two ATFs occupying a hostile naval base (e.g. a Pakistani or another “String of Pearls” base) or re-capturing national territory. Minesweepers can be utilized for “paving” the way for the ATF to come or clear national territory from enemy mines.

Indian maritime security strategy acknowledges 10 chokepoints in the entire IOR as of critical importance.13 Monitoring them is an appropriate task for attack submarines. Apart from 3 submarines for CBG support (1 per CBG), remaining units could be utilized as their substitutes or establish patrols in assigned sectors covering the IOR SLOCs. SSBNs are expected to deploy in certain areas in order to strike enemy strategic infrastructure. A certain number of them could be expected to deploy in the South China Sea.

Other small units such as patrol vessels could be a threat in the littorals, harassing the advancing enemy force in coordination with shore batteries. Patrol vessels could be an asset in an Andaman and Nicobar A2/AD outpost. Unconventional swarm attacks by fast patrol boats, missile “traps” by armored OPVs or UAVs, minefields, and other types of operations against westbound “incomers” could severely impede their passage and cause significant losses.

The same concept of operations applies in the “inner” zone of the Indian littoral. OPVs, land-based aircraft and UAVs, and shore installations will operate against “incomers.” There is however a vital difference: unlike the other areas of operations, this inner zone constitutes the final line of defense in case of other areas’ breach.


There is an escalating tension in the IOR between two regional powers: India and China. The latter hopes to extend its influence by controlling IOR SLOCS (among other things), which deprive India of its natural maritime environment. India is trying to create a formidable navy, capable of addressing ever-growing Chinese ambitions and supporting its regional rivals in the Indian sub-continent (e.g. Pakistan). Judging by the IN’s future composition, a basketball-style two-zone defense, along with an A2/AD outpost in the Andaman/Nicobar islands, is the most probable way of the IN defending the country’s vital areas.

Periklis Stampoulis is a Hellenic Navy Officer. He holds a Master of Arts (MA) in International Relations and Strategic Studies from Panteion University, Greece.

Views expressed in this article are the author’s personal opinion and do not necessarily coincide with the official view of the Hellenic Navy.


[1] Stratfor, 2012, ‘The Geopolitics of India: A Shifting, Self-Contained World’, 01/04/12, [online], available in < https://www.stratfor.com/analysis/geopolitics-india-shifting-self-contained-world>, access 14/06/17

[2] Kaplan R.D., 2009, ‘Center Stage for the 21st Century: Power Plays in the Indian Ocean’, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2009, [online], available in < https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/east-asia/2009-03-01/center-stage-21st-century>, access 15/06/17

[3] Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defence (Navy) 2015, Ensuring Secure Seas: Indian Maritime Security Strategy (Naval Strategic Publication (NSP) 1.2), October 2015, p.32, [online], available in < https://www.indiannavy.nic.in/sites/default/files/Indian_Maritime_Security_Strategy_Document_25Jan16.pdf>, access 16/06/17

[4] Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defence (Navy) 2015, Indian Maritime Doctrine (Naval Strategic Publication 1.1), first print August 2009, p.91, [online], available in https://www.indiannavy.nic.in/sites/default/files/Indian-Maritime-Doctrine-2009-Updated-12Feb16.pdf, access 17/06/17

[5] Ibid, p.92-97

[6] Ibid, p.97-105

[7] Ibid, p. 116-119

[8] Ibid, p.120-122

[9] International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2016, ‘The Military Balance 2016’, Routledge, London- New York, p.252

[10] Further information at www.janes.com

[11] Vego M., 2005, Naval Strategy and Operations in Narrow Waters, second revised and expanded edition, Frank Cass, London-Portland OR, p.134

[12] Kaplan R.D., ‘Center Stage for the 21st Century: Power Plays in the Indian Ocean’, ibid

[13] Ensuring Secure Seas: Indian Maritime Security Strategy, ibid, p.18-21

Featured Image: INS Rajput firing a BrahMos missile (Wikimedia Commons)

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)

The US-India Logistics Agreement and its Implications for Asia’s Strategic Balance

The following article was originally featured by the Pacific Forum-CSIS’s PacNet series and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.           

By Abhijit Singh 

Recently, editorial columns in Indian newspapers have become a battleground for strategic commentators to debate the merits of India’s defense logistics pact with the United States. Despite a public declaration by the Indian government regarding the “non-military” nature of the Logistics Exchange Memoranda of Agreement (LEMOA), the pact hasn’t resonated favorably with a section of India’s strategic elite, who reject the idea of providing the US military with operational access to Indian facilities. New Delhi might have much to gain from the LEMOA, which could be critical in establishing a favorable balance of power in Asia.

The critics argue that the arrangement does not benefit India in the same way that it advantages the US military. As a leading Indian defense analyst put it, “the government seems to have been guided more by the fear of being accused of succumbing to pressure from Washington and less by an evaluation of whether this might benefit India’s military.” As a result, Indian defense ministry officials find themselves under pressure to explain why they believe an agreement with the US on military logistics is in India’s best interests.

New Delhi’s stock response has been that the pact is strictly “conditional,” and allows access to supplies and services to the military forces of both countries only when engaged in a specific set of predetermined activities. At a press conference in Washington after the signing of the agreement, Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar was at pains to explain that the agreement has nothing to do with the setting up of a military base. “It’s only about logistics support to each other’s fleet” he averred, “like supply of fuel, supply of many other things which are required for joint operations, humanitarian assistance and many other relief operations.”

And yet there is little denying that in today’s maritime environment, every ‘place’ that provides logistics support essentially performs the role of a peacetime military base, albeit in limited ways. This is because operational logistics is the life-blood of contemporary maritime missions. Any ocean-going navy that can secure logistical pit-stops can guarantee itself a wider operational footprint in distant littorals. In fact, leading maritime powers, including the United States, Russia and China, are reluctant to set up permanent bases in distant lands because what they aim to achieve in terms of strategic presence is made possible through low-level repair and replenishment ‘places.’  To be sure, with over 800 foreign military installations, the US still has a globe-girdling presence, but few of its existing overseas facilities are permanent military bases.

To better appreciate why foreign military bases do not enjoy the same appeal as in earlier times, one must study the history of their evolution. The permanent naval base was a product of 19th-century politics when Britain, the leading maritime power, set up a network of military bases around the world to sustain its global supremacy. In the latter half of the 20th century, Britain was replaced by the United States, which soon came to dominate the world’s economic and strategic landscape. The US system of military bases consisted of several thousand installations at hundreds of basing sites in over 100 countries. The logic of the military basing system was intimately related to the dynamics of conflict. A military base was seen as a forward deployment position to enforce a denial regime on the enemy. It was a useful way of keeping the pressure on adversaries, and it allowed the US military to dominate the international system and prevent the rise of another hegemon.

But the logic of overseas bases has eroded. The absence of a real war in the intervening years has seen the law of diminishing returns kick in vis-à-vis foreign military bases, and an attenuation of their animating rationale. After struggling with rising domestic opposition to its military presence in Asia, the United States has been looking for more pragmatic options.

Since prolonged military presence on a foreign land isn’t a practical solution to any of its strategic problems, the US has been prioritizing logistics pacts that involve continuing support of rotational troops but no permanent deployments. These are variants of the “Acquisition and Cross-Service Agreements” (ACSAs) – or logistical arrangements for military support, supplies, and services (food, fuel, transportation, ammunition, and equipment) – that the United States shares with many of its NATO partners. And yet, despite being avowedly in support of peacetime operations and regional humanitarian contingencies, these pacts have not changed the public perception that US military presence overseas advance America’s imperialist ambitions.

A case in point is the recent Extended Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with Manila, which provides the US military access to five military bases in Philippines. Even though the agreement was signed in 2014, strong domestic opposition within Philippines from civil rights groups resulted in a legal stalemate at the country’s Supreme Court. In January this year, when the court finally ruled in the pact’s favor, its decision seemed motivated mainly by the China-factor – the increased threat posed by China in the Philippines’ near-seas.

While the defense pact has a limited objective – enabling US troops to rotate through the Philippines, ensuring a persistent but intermittent presence – the new military facilities in Philippines aren’t expected to be any less potent than the United States’ erstwhile permanent bases in the country. The infrastructure will facilitate a spectrum of peacetime missions in the South China Sea, including training and capacity building, area patrols, aerial surveys, and fleet exercises. It will also enable the Philippines to call upon the US for critical military assistance in the event of a crisis.

The United States isn’t the only country to depend on military logistics pacts to achieve broader strategic objectives. Increasingly, China is resorting to the same means. The PLA’s logistical base at Djibouti doesn’t just provide support for China’s anti-piracy missions, but also enables a round-the-year naval presence in the Indian Ocean. What is more, China’s recent commercial facilities in the Indian Ocean Region seem more in the nature of dual-use bases, which can quickly be upgraded to medium-grade military facilities in a crisis.

New Delhi must come to terms with the fact that LEMOA’s utility lies in facilitating greater US-India operational coordination in Asia. Notwithstanding Parrikar’s assurances to the contrary, closer maritime interaction between India and the US will increasingly involve operational access to each other’s bases for strategic purposes. Even if the necessary cooperation is cleared on a case-by-case basis and driven mainly by regional capacity building and HADR needs, the Indian Navy and the US Navy might find themselves acting increasingly in concert to achieve common strategic objectives in the regional commons.

This does not mean LEMOA promotes US geopolitical interests at India’s expense. If anything, the pact empowers the Indian Navy to expand its own operations in the Indo-Pacific region. It is an aspiration that the Navy professed to recently when it released a map for public viewing that showed Indian naval deployments over the past 12 months, spread across the Indian Ocean and the Pacific region.

Given the fraught nature of security in the Asian commons, India has been looking for ways to emphasize a rules-based order in the region. To consolidate its status as a crucial security provider, the Indian Navy will need to act in close coordination with the US Navy, the leading maritime power in Indo-Pacific, to ensure a fair, open, and balanced regional security architecture.

Abhijit Singh (abhijit.singh27@gmail.com), a former Indian naval officer, is Senior Fellow and Head, Maritime Policy Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) in New Delhi. You can follow him on Twitter at @abhijit227.

Featured Image: Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks with Indian Naval Officers as he tours Indian Naval Station Karwar as part of a visit to the Indian aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, April 11, 2016. Carter is visiting India to solidify the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region.(Photo by Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz)(Released)

America’s Expectation versus India’s Expediency: India as a Regional Net Security Provider

This article was originally posted at India’s National Maritime Foundation. It is republished on CIMSEC with the author’s permission. Read the piece in its original form here.

By Gurpreet S. Khurana

During the ‘Raisina Dialogue’ held in March 2016 at New Delhi, Admiral Harry Harris, the Commander of United States (US) Pacific Command (USPACOM) referred to the first ever tri-lateral (Australia, Japan and India) [i] ministerial discussions held in September 2015. ADM Harris’ comments addressed “maritime security – including freedom of navigation patrols,” and proposed “expanding this tri-lateral to a quadrilateral venue” by involving the US.[ii] Later, while addressing questions, the crux of his message was that the high level of ‘inter-operability’ achieved during complex India-US Malabar exercises should not be an end into itself, but translated into “coordinated operations.”[iii] Admiral Harris’ answers suggested– albeit implicitly –that India undertake ‘coordinated freedom of navigation patrols’ in the South China Sea (SCS). Evidently, such patrols could be used to restrain China’s growing military assertiveness in the SCS, and its process of legal “norm-building” in the maritime-territorial disputes with the other littoral countries of the SCS.

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PACOM Chief ADM. Harry Harris gives a speech at the Raisina Dialogue on March 2, 2016, in New Delhi, India. Read the Admiral’s speech here.

India has consistently upheld the US position in terms of being a non-party to the SCS disputes by supporting dispute-resolution through well-established norms of international law and freedom of navigation in international waters, including the SCS. Nonetheless, Indian Defence Minister Mr. Manohar Parrikar lost little time in clarifying India’s position, saying that “As of now, India has never taken part in any joint patrol; we only do joint exercises. The question of joint patrol does not arise.”[iv]

The case indicates an ‘apparent’ mismatch between US expectations for India, and what New Delhi is willing to deliver to its ‘strategic partner.’ This can be contextualized and explained through analytical insight into the salient policy pronouncements from either side. The most instructive among these are those articulating India’s role as a ‘net security provider’ in Asia. This essay aims to analyse such a role to understand the ‘aberration’ in the otherwise healthy trajectory of India and the United State’s contemporary strategic relationship and in doing so, enable a better comprehension of the India’s perspective on its compelling strategic and foreign policy considerations.

America’s Articulation

The ‘net security provider’ concept emerged during the 2009 ‘Shangri La Dialogue.’ when then-US Secretary of Defence Mr. Robert Gates stated,

When it comes to India, we have seen a watershed in our relations – cooperation that would have been unthinkable in the recent past… In coming years, we look to India to be a partner and net provider of security in the Indian Ocean and beyond.”[v]

This sentiment of the USA was thereafter reiterated on various occasions – both formally and otherwise – including in the 2010 US ‘Quadrennial Defense Review’ (QDR). The statement in QDR-10 predicted,

India’s military capabilities are rapidly improving through increased defense acquisitions, and they now include long-range maritime surveillance, maritime interdiction and patrolling, air interdiction, and strategic airlift. India has already established its worldwide military influence through counterpiracy, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief efforts. As its military capabilities grow, India will contribute to Asia as a net provider of security in the Indian Ocean and beyond.[vi]

India’s Articulation

India’s political leadership and policymakers clearly supported the proposed role for India in principle. Addressing the top brass of the Indian Navy and Defence Ministry in 2011, then-Indian Defence Minster Mr. AK Antony emphatically assured India’s maritime neighbours of “unstinted support for their security and economic prosperity.” He continued to say that the Indian Navy has been:

mandated to be a net security provider to island nations in the Indian Ocean Region… most of the major international shipping lanes are located along our island territories. This bestows on us the ability to be a potent and stabilising force in the region.”[vii]

More recently, in 2013, the then-Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh said,

We have…sought to assume our responsibility for stability in the Indian Ocean Region. We are well positioned… to become a net provider of security in our immediate region and beyond.”[viii]

These seminal articulations represent a valuable starting point in analyzing India’s projected role as a ‘Net Security Provider.’ This is divided into three parts for the sake of objectivity, with each one analyzing a specific facet of India’s broader national-strategic imperative to fulfill such a role. These aspects are Geographical Area, Capacity and Capability, and Cultural Ethos.

Geographical Area

Primary Area of Interest

By virtue of its geographic location and peninsular disposition, India’s most critical national interests are closely connected with events in the Indian Ocean. This is broadly so for the northern Indian Ocean, and more specifically for regions categorized as ‘primary areas of maritime interest’ in the Indian Maritime-Security Strategy, 2015 (IMSS-15). [ix]

In nearly all articulations of India’s role as a ‘net security provider’ – both Indian and American – the ‘Indian Ocean” is a ‘common thread’ while the phrase “…and beyond” has never been specifically defined. Arguably, the latter phrase would refer more accurately to the Persian Gulf or Red Sea as India’s ‘primary areas of maritime interest,’ rather than the SCS that – notwithstanding India’s increasing economic and strategic stakes there – is a ‘secondary area of maritime interest.’ (Such classification does not, however, undermine the criticality of the SCS to India’s vital interests). In this context, India’s Professor Mahapatra aptly inquires:

If India and the U.S. have not contemplated similar kinds of patrol in Indian Ocean, what could justify India and U.S. patrolling waters of South China Sea?[x]

Geo-Strategic Frontiers

A related, though distinct, definition of ‘Geo-Strategic Frontiers’ is also relevant here. As part of a country’s military-strategic calculus, this phrase refers to geographical boundaries necessary for that country to achieve ‘strategic depth’ against a potential State adversary. Recent American analyses, such as the one by Professor James Holmes on ‘Get Ready, India: China’s Navy is Pushing West[xi] (towards the Indian Ocean), are indeed instructive for India, and add to trends that were noted in India nearly a decade ago.[xii] However, it is unlikely that India would need to extend its strategic depth vis-à-vis China eastwards beyond the Southeast Asian straits. Notably, these maritime choke-points constitute a major strategic challenge for the PLA Navy itself.

The ‘Geo-Strategic Frontiers’ of a country are also contingent upon the ‘capacity’ and ‘capability’ of its own and friendly military forces to influence events in the area within the said frontiers. This aspect is addressed below.

Capacity and Capability[xiii]

In 2012, the IDSA undertook a study on Out of Area Contingency (OOAC) missions by Indian armed forces. The study deduced that:

the reach of current air and sealift capabilities means that, realistically speaking, India can conduct OOAC operations only within the Indian Ocean region (IOR).”[xiv]

Even while India’s strategic sealift and airlift capacities are being augmented, the finding of the aforesaid study is likely to remain valid for the foreseeable future. The same is true for India’s capability in other forms of maritime power projection.

The new Indian Maritime Security Strategy (IMSS-15) aptly emphasizes the term ‘net security’, rather than ‘net provider [of security].’ Further, it pegs India’s role as a ‘net security’ provider to the question of ‘capability.’ Accordingly, it defines the term ‘net security’ as:

a state of actual security available in an area, upon balancing prevailing threats, inherent risks and rising challenges in a maritime environment, against the ability to monitor, contain and counter all of these.”[xv]

The analysis of IMMS-15 clearly indicates that the Indian Navy seeks to contribute to maritime security and stability in its primary and secondary areas of interest, broadly constituting the entire swath of the Indo-Pacific region. To do so, India is not only developing its own capabilities for distant operations, but also providing ‘capacity building’ and ‘capability enhancement’ assistance to friendly countries in the region. However, since the November 2008 seaborne terrorist attacks against Mumbai, the sub-conventional threats to India’s coastal and offshore security will continue to pose major challenges for the Navy. These challenges will require it to deftly balance its force expansion and modernization between the two competing imperatives of ‘blue water’ and ‘brown water’ operations.[xvi] 

Cultural Ethos

As stated above, IMSS-15 dwells upon India’s regional role as a “provider of net security” rather than a ‘net provider of security.’ Ostensibly, an additional aim is to dispel any notion that India seeks to act as a hegemonic power or a ‘policeman’ in the region. Such intent flows from India’s cultural ethos and is closely linked to its evolution as a modern nation-state.

IMSS-15. Click to read. 

Another facet of cultural ethos is the pride with which Indians identify themselves based on their civilizational genesis, something more profound and deep-seated than the concept of ‘nationalism’. Together with the aforementioned non-hegemonic stance, this facet manifests in India’s long-standing policy of not involving itself in coalition military operations, except those mandated by the United Nations. This policy also manifests in the operational domain. Unless operating under the UN flag, Indian military forces are averse to undertaking ‘joint’ (or “combined”) operations, like joint patrols, since such operations would involve placing Indian forces under foreign Command and Control (C2). The Indian Defence Minister’s negation of the possibility of ‘joint (naval) patrols’ may be seen in this context.

Other conditions notwithstanding, the statement by ADM Harris at the Raisina Dialogue deserves more attention than it has received. He proposed turning India-US “joint (naval) exercises” into “coordinated (naval) operations.” His preference for the term ‘coordinated’ rather than ‘joint’ is noteworthy. While in common English parlance, the two terms may be considered synonymous, the difference is significant in ‘operational’ terms. Whereas a ‘joint’ operation involves a unified C2 of military forces, a ‘coordinated’ operation permits the forces to maintain their respective national C2 structures. In the past, the Indian Navy has indeed undertaken ‘coordinated’ operations with the US Navy on various occasions. The examples include the 2002 escort missions for US high-value ships in the Malacca Straits and the 2004-05 Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) mission in the aftermath the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Even during more recent anti-piracy missions to escort merchant vessels in the Gulf of Aden, the Indian Navy coordinated its operations with the US-led coalition naval forces, as well as other navies deployed for the same mission. The notable commonality among these operations, however, was that these were all conducted in the Indian Ocean or its contiguous straits.

Concluding Remarks

The subtext of the US-India Joint Statement of January 2015 on “our diversified bilateral strategic partnership”[xvii] clearly indicates our broader strategic convergence, and the fact that India needs the strategic partnership of America as much as the other way around. However, occasional dissonance in the bilateral relationship cannot be ignored. Notwithstanding the diplomatic ‘refrain’ as a natural occurrence between two major democracies, the dissonance cannot be slighted, particularly in the light of the emerging regional security environment. Also, the discord may not lie in Indian’s longstanding foreign policy tenet of ‘Strategic Autonomy’ (or ‘Non-Alignment 2.0’), as is usually touted. As with other facets of the bilateral relationship, the occasional discord mostly manifests at the functional level. In context of India-US military strategic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, the aberrations at this level could be addressed by bridging national policymaking with strategy formulation of the military forces.

Given America’s ‘overstretched’ maritime-military resources and its increasing contribution to capability and capacity in the Indian Navy over the years, a US expectation for India to provide for regional security and stability in the maritime-centric Indo-Pacific region is not misplaced. At the operational level too, the US expectation for India to convert ‘joint’ naval exercises into ‘coordinated’ operations may be justifiable. However, it seems that India’s broader strategic imperatives in terms of the three key facets of Geographical Area, Capacity and Capability, and Cultural Ethos are not in consonance with such expectations, at least not yet.

Captain (IN) Gurpreet S Khurana, PhD is Executive Director, 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.

[i] ‘US, India, Japan Hold First Trilateral Ministerial Dialogue, Call for Freedom of Navigation’, NDTV, 30 September 2015, at

[ii] “Let’s Be Ambitious Together”, Remarks by Admiral Harry B. Harris, Jr., Commander, U.S. Pacific Command, The Raisina Dialogue, New Delhi, India, 2 March 2016, at

[iii] Dinkar Pheri, ‘U.S. push for joint patrols in Indo-Pacific region’, The Hindu, 3 March 2016, at

[iv] Sushant Singh and Pranav Kulkarni, ‘Question of joint patrolling with the US does not arise: Parrikar’, The Indian Express, 5 March 2016, at

[v] ‘America’s security role in the Asia-Pacific’, Address by Dr Robert Gates, US Secretary of Defence, Shangri-La Dialogue, 30 May 2009, at

[vi] Quadrennial Defence Review (QDR) Report, US Department of Defense, February 2010, p. 60 at

[vii] ‘Indian Navy-Net Security Provider to Island Nations in IOR: Antony’, Press Information Bureau, Government of India (Ministry of Defence), 12 October 2011, at

[viii] PM’s speech at the Foundation Stone Laying Ceremony for the Indian National Defence University at Gurgaon, Press Information Bureau, Government of India (Prime Minister’s Office), 23 May 2013, at

[ix] ‘Ensuring Secure Seas: Indian Maritime Security Strategy’, Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defence (Navy), 2015, p.31-32, at http://indiannavy.nic.in/sites/default/files/Indian_Maritime_Security_Strategy_Document_25Jan16.pdf

[x] Professor Chintamani Mahapatra, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, cited in Anjana Pasricha, ‘India Rejects Joint Naval Patrols with US in South China Sea’, Voice of America (VOA), 11 March 2016, at http://www.voanews.com/content/india-rejects-joint-naval-patrols-with-us-in-south-china-sea/3231567.html

[xi] James Holmes, ‘Get Ready, India: China’s Navy is Pushing West’, The National Interest, 8 March 2016, at http://www.nationalinterest.org/feature/look-out-india-chinas-navy-pushing-west-15426

[xii] See for instance, Gurpreet S Khurana, ‘China’s ‘String of Pearls’ in the Indian Ocean and Its Security Implications’, Strategic Analysis (IDSA), 32:1, p.1-39, at https://www.academia.edu/7727023/Chinas_String_of_Pearls_in_the_Indian_Ocean_and_Its_Security_Implications

[xiii] The ‘capacity’ of a military force refers to its wherewithal in the limited context of its hardware. ‘Capability’ refers to the ability of the force in a more comprehensive sense encompassing not only its physical capacity, but also the conceptual and human components. For details, see Gurpreet S Khurana. Porthole: Geopolitical, Strategic and Maritime Terms and Concepts (Pentagon, New Delhi: 2016), pp.30-31

[xiv] Net Security Provider: India’s Out-of-Area Contingency Operations (IDSA/ Magnum Books, October 2012), p.53

[xv] ‘Ensuring Secure Seas: Indian Maritime Security Strategy’, Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defence (Navy), 2015, p.80, at

[xvi] Gurpreet S Khurana, ‘‘Net Security Provider’ Defined: An Analysis of India’s New Maritime Strategy-2015’, National Maritime Foundation (NMF) View Point, 23 November 2015, at

[xvii] ‘U.S.-India Joint Statement’, Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, 25 January 2015, at

Featured Image: ADM. Harris speaking at the Raisina Dialogue in March, 2016.  Photo courtesy of Embassy of the United States of America-New Delhi/Released.