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India: International Fleet Review 2016

This article was originally published by the South Asia Analysis Group.  It is republished here with the author’s permission.  Read the article in its original form here.

By Commodore RS Vasan IN (Ret)

“An Opportunity for India to showcase the Capacity, Capability, and Intent of a strong, vibrant, emerging Maritime Nation in the 21st Century.”

The IFR 2016 will indeed be a grand spectacle as more than one hundred ships from the navies of over fifty countries will participate in this exercise that is carried out every five years. The event, which in the  initial years  was mostly limited to the participation of ships from the Indian Navy, Indian Coast Guard and the merchant navy, has transformed in to an international event with a major maritime event conducted in 2001 under the initiative of then Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Susheel Kumar. The marching of the naval officers and sailors from ships around the world along the marine drive in Mumbai and the presence of ships from around the world signaled a new era in maritime diplomacy. The intentions of a maritime India to occupy center stage in both regional and global missions by using the Indian Navy as an instrument of national policy were explicit.

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Indian Navy carrier. Indian Navy photo.

As the participants of the IFR witnessed scores of indigenous ships of the Indian Navy, it was evident that the Indian Navy was in the process of transforming from a buyer’s navy to a builder’s navy. The process was a prerequisite to assuming greater regional leadership role and responsibilities. This did not escape the attention of the participant nations and motivated them to engage with India at many levels.  It is not to be forgotten that this initiative was taken under the leadership of Admiral Susheel Kumar, who succeeded Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat. Admiral Bhagwat was relieved of his duties as CNS on 30 December 1998 by the NDA Government under certain debatable circumstances. The Navy’s morale, which was dented, had to be built up brick by brick and the IFR of 2001 from that point of view provided a launching pad for the force that was fast becoming a blue water Navy. The theme ‘Bridges of Friendship’ was very well received and created an environment that facilitated the process of integration of a regional navy in to a global matrix.

While both the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard have conducted the Fleet Reviews on the east coast (The very first Indian Coast Guard Fleet Review by the Raksha Mantri was conducted off the east coast when the author was the Regional Commander of the Indian Coast Guard, Region East), this is the first time that an international fleet review of this scale is being conducted in the Bay of Bengal. By design, this also complements the ‘Look East’ policy of the Government of India. It also adds value to other maritime initiatives, such as the biannual Milan (established as an initiative for meeting of the naval minds in Port Blair) and the Indian Ocean Symposium (IONS), now a well-established forum among Navies of not just the Indian Ocean but also the rest of the world.

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Indian Navy maritime patrol craft. Indian Navy photo.

By all expectations, China will be a first-time participant in the Indian Fleet Review. From the point of view of PLA-Navy, participation  signals its intention to be a part of global initiatives in the Indian Ocean. The anti-piracy patrols by PLAN units, which are still underway off the coast of Somalia, provided ample opportunity for the Chinese Navy to assert its intention to be part of the international mechanisms to combat piracy. Both the Indian Navy and the Chinese Navy worked shoulder to shoulder in warding off this threat, though India was concerned about the presence of another extra regional player in its traditional back yard. The visit of the Chinese submarines both conventional and nuclear last year again caused ripples in Delhi. There are no doubts that India and China will jostle for power and influence in the Indian Ocean Region. While India does have geography on its side, the  surplus funds that can be channeled for initiatives such as the Maritime Silk Road and the One Belt One Road will change the strategic landscape of Indian Ocean Region. The IFR also comes at a time when there are great initiatives being taken by China in Asia, Africa and Europe in terms of connectivity. The fact that the PRC plans to build a naval base in Djibouti  and has huge investments in the maritime sector in Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Bangladesh, and Pakistan are of concern to India, which appears to have conceded strategic space to China in its areas of influence. The presence of the INS Vikramaditya and India’s nuclear submarines  would send a message to observers about the might of the Indian Navy that can be brought to bear as and when required in areas of interest. The presence of a P-8i surveillance aircraft could also generate interest in the capability of this newly acquired platform, capable of locating and tracking submarines and  surface assets of extra-regional powers in the Indian Ocean. The message that the Indian Navy is net-centric warfare capable as a result of plenty of indigenous efforts would be very clear.

The Indian Navy has inherited many of the traditions and practices from the Royal Indian Navy while adding its own local flavor. The President of India, by virtue of being the Supreme Commander of the Armed forces, reviews the fleet invariably before he or she demits office during the tenure of five years as the President. It is a mega-event by any standards, and even the state Government has committed more than 83 crores in beautifying the city of Vizag, which houses the Eastern Naval Command and important maintenance facilities of the Navy. It is also the base for the nuclear submarines of the Indian Navy, including strategic assets. All the arrangements have been reviewed at the level of the Raksha Mantri and the Navy and nation are geared up for this event in the first week of February that will showcase the prowess of the Indian Navy. A successful conclusion of the IFR will reinforce the position of the Indian Navy as a professional arm that can be used as a powerful instrument of national policy both in war and peace.

Historically, the role of the Indian Navy after the spectacular missile attacks on ships and oil tank farms Karachi in 1971, with the then-only Asian carrier Vikrant enforcing a blockade off then East Pakistan indicates how it is important to possess and use a strong navy for furthering national objectives. The fact that the Indian Navy was not used at all during the war in 1965 therefore comes as a surprise. The role of the Indian Navy during the tsunami of 2004, its evacuation of Indian nationals from war torn areas, and its ability to relief and succor to the flood and cyclone affected victims on many occasions highlights strength of the Indian Navy that has proved its mettle.

The Mumbai terror attack in November 2008 changed the way maritime threats were perceived and brought about a paradigm shift in the maritime security architecture (MSA). The Indian Navy was placed at the apex of the MSA and made responsible for both coastal and oceanic security. Without going into the details, suffice it to say that the entire gamut of maritime threats and response mechanisms have undergone a sea change.

It is not out of place to recollect that it was the Indian Navy that first brought out a National Maritime Doctrine in 2004 revised it in 2007, 2009, and 2015. Even in terms of indigenization, the Indian Navy is way ahead of its sister services, having embarked on indigenization in the late 60s. The first indigenous frigate Nilgiri and its follow-ons have provided the nation with options for ship building in both PSUs and private yards. The fact that the Indian Navy was able to even design a carrier and orchestrate its construction in the Cochin Shipyard Limited is a tribute to the leadership, the naval designers, and in-house capability to produce warships of different size. The design of stealth ships such as the Shivalik, large destroyers such as the INS Kochi, construction of corvettes, and the completion of the naval off-shore vessels are all praiseworthy. The most notable feature of the Indian Navy’s indigenization process is the addition of INS Arihant which provides that strategic deterrence capability that eluded India for many decades. The construction of improved versions of Arihant and also the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) are logical

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Indian Navy photo.

conclusions to the aspirations of a blue water navy that has both regional and global roles. However, the dwindling strength of conventional submarines has been a source of great concern to the planners in Delhi. There are some recent efforts to ensure that this serious deficiency is overcome both by accelerating the Scorpene production and also embarking on the indigenous production of project 75A submarines for which more than 60,000 crores  has been earmarked.

The shape and size of the Indian Navy is formidable as India moves in to the next century. With geography and a growing economy on its side, India’s Navy will continue to complement the ambitions of a maritime India. A powerful Navy will promote maritime safety and security in the Indian Ocean. As a guarantor of net security at sea, safeguarding the global commons, maritime interests, and the sea lines of communications that represent the life lines and arteries of global trade and commerce will be a top priority for the Indian Navy.

India is conscious of the fact that there are rich dividends in forging strategic alliance with other like-minded nations on a case by case basis while retaining its strategic autonomy. The trilateral treaty with Sri Lanka and Maldives and Exercise Malabar or other such exercises are all measures to ensure that the maritime domain remains manageable and the Indian Navy is in a position to control the happenings in areas of interest. Maritime engagement with Mauritius, Seychelles, Mombasa, Oman, and other maritime nations are all significant in ensuring that there is seamless integration of the maritime domain, and that all the maritime nations in the region are under one umbrella and can work in unison to serve the interests of the century of the seas. The IFR will be a keenly watched event around the world and the navies who are part of this Indian initiative will carry back cherished memories from this mega-event. From the point of view of the Indian Navy, it will again provide an opportunity to take the initiative from “Building Bridges of Friendship” in 2001  to  an architecture that is “United  through Oceans” in 2016 and beyond.

Commodore RS Vasan is an alumnus of Defence Services Staff College, the Naval War College, and the International Visitor Leadership Prgramme. He is presently the Director of Chennai Centre for China Studies and also the Head of Strategy and Security Studies at Center for Asia Studies. Commodore Vasan has been associated with many think tanks since retirement after a distinguished service of 34 years that included a share of command, staff, and instructional tenures both in the Navy and the Coast Guard. He is regular speaker at many international events and writes extensively on maritime issues and International relations. He can be contacted at rsvasan2010@gmail.com

‘Net Security Provider’ Defined: An Analysis of India’s New Maritime Strategy-2015

This publication originally featured at the National Maritime Foundation, and was republished with permission. You may read it in its original form here

By Dr. Gurpreet S. Khurana

During the Naval Commanders Conference held in New Delhi on 26 October 2015, the Indian Defence Minister Shri Manohar Parrikar released India’s revised maritime-military strategy titled, ‘Ensuring Secure Seas: Indian Maritime Security Strategy’ (IMSS-2015). It supersedes the 2007 strategy document titled, ‘Freedom to Use the Seas: India’s Maritime-Military Strategy (IMMS-2007). This essay seeks to examine the salient features of the new strategy, including in comparison to IMMS-2007.

IMSS-2015 is the first strategy document released by the Indian Navy since the 26 November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai (26/11), when jihadi operatives well-versed in nautical skills used the sea route from Karachi to Mumbai, and carried out dastardly cold-blooded killings in India’s ‘financial capital.’ In wake of 26/11, the Indian government designated the Indian Navy as the nodal authority responsible for overall maritime security, including coastal and offshore security. The new strategy reflects the overwhelming imperative for the Navy to counter state-sponsored terrorism that may manifest in the maritime domain, and prevent a repeat of 26/11. It also addresses India’s response to other forms of non-traditional threats emanating ‘at’ and ‘from’ the sea that pose security challenges to ‘territorial’ India and its vital interests.

While 26/11 may have been among the major ‘triggers’ for India to review its maritime-military strategy, IMSS-2015 clearly indicates that proxy war through terrorism has not prevented India to adopt an outward-looking approach to maritime security. The new strategy dilates the geographical scope of India’s maritime focus. Ever since the Navy first doctrinal articulation in 2004—the Indian Maritime Doctrine, 2004, which was revised in 2009—India’s areas of maritime interest have been contained within the Indo-Pacific region, with the ‘primary area’ broadly encompassing the northern Indian Ocean Region (IOR). IMSS-2015 expands the areas of interest southwards and westwards by bringing in the South-West Indian Ocean and Red Sea within its ‘primary area;’ and the western Coast of Africa, the Mediterranean Sea and “other areas of national interest based on considerations of Indian diaspora, overseas investments and political reasons” within its ‘secondary area’ of interest.

IMSS-2015 is merely an expression of intent of the Indian Navy to engage with the countries and shape the maritime environment in these areas. Nonetheless, the Navy’s multi-vectored and expanding footprint in recent years through overseas deployments clearly indicates that the maritime force is developing the capabilities to implement the intent.

India has always maintained that the International Shipping Lanes (ISL) and the maritime choke-points of the IOR constitute the primary area of interest. However, the new strategy goes beyond IMMS-2007 to include two additional choke-points: the Mozambique Channel and Ombai-Wetar Straits, which are strategically located at the far end of the south-western and south-eastern Indian Ocean (respectively). Through a formal ‘recognition’ of these choke-points, IMSS-2015 not only reiterates the embayed nature of the Indian Ocean, but also highlights—albeit implicitly—the ocean’s geo-strategic ‘exclusivity’ for India.

IMSS-2015 also clarifies India’s intent to be a ‘net security provider’ in its areas of interest. The concept of ‘net security’ has hitherto been ambiguous and subject to varied interpretations. It is, therefore, refreshing to note that the document defines the concept, as “…the state of actual security available in an area, upon balancing prevailing threats, inherent risks and rising challenges in the maritime environment, against the ability to monitor, contain and counter all of these.” In the process, India’s role in this context also stands clarified. India seeks a role as a ‘net security provider’ in the region, rather than being a ‘net provider of security’ as a regional ‘policeman.’

IMSS-2015 expounds on India’s strategy for deterrence and response against conventional military threats and the attendant capability development, sufficiently enough for an unclassified document. In doing so, it may be inferred that the concept of ‘maritime security’—at least in the Indian context—operates across the entire spectrum of conflict. The new strategy attributes this to the “blurring of traditional and non-traditional threats…(in terms of their) sources, types and intensity…(necessitating) a seamless and holistic approach towards maritime security.” Notably, in contrast, for the established naval powers of the ‘western hemisphere,’ the usage of the concept of ‘maritime security’ is limited to ensuring security at sea against non-traditional threats, including those posed by non-State actors.

Although the epithet of India’s maritime-military strategy has changed from “Freedom to Use the Seas” (IMMS-2007) to “Ensuring Secure Seas” (IMSS-2015), ‘freedom of seas’ for national purposes remains inter alia a key objective of the current strategy, which is sought to be achieved through the attainment of a more ‘encompassing’ end-state of ‘secure seas.’

India’s role as a ‘net maritime security provider’ in the region is not only its normative responsibility as a regional power, but is closely interwoven with the nation’s own economic growth and prosperity. The ‘roadmap’ in IMSS-2015 provides a direction to the Navy to play this role as an effective instrument of the nation’s proactive foreign policy, in consonance with the ongoing endeavour of its apex political leadership, and echoes the enunciation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of “SAGAR” (Security and Growth for All in the Region). However, it remains to be seen how India’s navy would effectively balance the rather conflicting national security priorities of ensuring territorial defence across its oceanic frontiers versus providing ‘net maritime security’ in its regional neighbourhood.

Captain Gurpreet S Khurana, PhD is the 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 Indian Navy, the NMF or the Government of India. He can be reached at gurpreet.bulbul@gmail.com.

The Other Deep-Water Battleground

This article originally featured on Reuters and was republished with the author’s permission. Read it in its original form here

By Peter Marino 

A floating dock of the Indian navy is pictured at the naval base at Port Blair in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India, July 1, 2015. REUTERS/Sanjeev Miglani

The Indian Ocean may be the only ocean named for a country, but it’ s still heavily contested territory. Both China and India, who have major strategic interests there, are suspicious of each other. Their struggle for leadership in the “emerging world” will play out for decades and all around the globe, but today the Indian Ocean is Ground Zero.

The South China Sea is home to overlapping claims by China, the Philippines, and other countries in the region. And the Arctic Ocean, increasingly, has seen a build-up of U.S. and Russian troops, lured by the possibility of billions of barrels of untapped oil. The Indian Ocean is significant because of its strategically important sea lanes — particularly for India and China, two of the world’s largest importers.

China imports most of its oil by sea, and 80 percent of it crosses the Indian Ocean before it passes through the Straits of Malacca, on its way to the Chinese market. Beijing is very concerned about its dependency on a waterway it does not control, and is using diplomacy, both carrots and sticks, to ensure that it can continue to access the sea lanes. As part of this effort, Xi Jinping’s “maritime silk road” program will offer cheap Chinese financing to cash-strapped governments for trade and industrial infrastructure along such routes.

China is using hard power as well. Through China’s longstanding alliance with the Pakistani government, it has funded improvements at the deepwater port of Gwadar, Pakistan, where a state-owned Chinese company now has a 40-year management contract. That agreement allowed the port to host ships owned by the People’s Liberation Army Navy, giving the Chinese a permanent, or at least semi-permanent, presence in the region.

China’s participation, since 2012, in the international anti-piracy coalition that mans the Gulf of Aden has also allowed it to operate in the Western Indian Ocean, where it is reported to be conducting studies of the sea depth, presumably to aid future submarine patrol missions.

Delhi has been paying close attention, and is mobilizing its own diplomatic and hard-power tools to shore up its influence in its home region. Indian foreign aid, while not yet on the scale of Chinese state investment, is being spread liberally to countries near the Indian Ocean, especially to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. India’s proximity and cultural similarities give it some advantages over the Chinese efforts. Nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been notably active in this area, making the first trip by an Indian PM to Sri Lanka in 28 years as part of the push to improve bilateral relations.

Moreover, Delhi is aware of the gap between the strength of its own forces, and that of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, which has been modernizing for 20 years. India is opening up its checkbook for better equipment, including a multi-billion-euro deal for advanced Rafale fighter jets from France to replace its aging Russian Sukhois. And it is becoming less shy about the idea that it is countering China at sea. When U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter visited Delhi in June this year, he signed early paperwork establishing a collaboration to develop India’s next generation of aircraft carriers. Because China had recently launched its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, and was constructing two more, the motivation behind this proposed Indo-U.S. partnership was unmistakable.

Despite these conflicting interests, China and India could still have room to collaborate on several major global issues. As two of the world’s biggest importers of agricultural goods, minerals and energy, they share an interest in working with exporters to help smooth out price volatility in commodity cycles. And as countries that will be “great powers” while still relatively poor, they should work with each other to push through reforms at the United Nations, World Bank and other international groups that were set up by the rich world. Their shared interest in a peaceful and stable Southeast Asia should contribute to their joint participation in peaceful diplomacy there, too.

But for the moment, Delhi and Beijing are mostly in a mode of competition in the Indian Ocean, and the tendrils of their struggle extend even further, across the steppes of Central Asia, to the Western part of Africa, and into the Persian Gulf, as well. The Indian Ocean is the one major ocean not bounded by one of the existing great powers, which makes it the perfect locale in which the struggle for primacy in the “emerging world” can play out. What we are seeing now is only the beginning.

Peter Marino holds an MSc in Global Politics from The London School of Economics and is a graduate of Norwich University. He lived in Shanghai from 2003 to 2008 and served as head of China development for London-based Aurigon, Ltd. He founded and sold Quaternion, a political risk startup, and is currently establishing a new Think Tank for International Affairs aimed at promoting engagement with the “Millennial Generation.” He also produces Globalogues, a video blog with commentary on global politics and economics. The views expressed in this article are his own.

Sea Control 84 – Indian Ocean

seacontrol2Why does the Indian Ocean matter? In this week’s podcast, Natalie Sambhi (ASPI) interviews CIMSEC’s Scott Cheney-Peters (CIMSEC) and Nilanthi Samaranayake (CNA) for an American perspective on developments in Indian Ocean maritime security. They cover the US–India defence agreement signed in June, maritime challenges in the Indian Ocean region, India’s naval capabilities and its potential role in the South China Sea, and Indian Ocean regionalism.

To read more on these issues, AMTI features Scott on ‘India’s maritime acts in the East’ and Nilanthi’s ‘Views from India’s smaller maritime neighbours’.

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 84, Indian Ocean