Friday, 7 September 2012

India and Blue-water Navy aspirations

The term blue-water navy is a colloquialism used to describe a maritime force capable of operating across the deep waters of open oceans. A blue-water navy allows a country to project power far from the home country and usually includes one or more aircraft carriers. Smaller blue-water navies are able to dispatch fewer vessels abroad for shorter periods of time. Feats such as the circumnavigation of the world are traditional indicators of blue water development as well as aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships being visible tokens of initial blue water capability.

The USA, UK and France are presently believed to have blue-water navies. China, India and more recently Iran have expressed desire and are working towards building a blue-water navy. 1

India and Bluewater Navy aspirantions In the Indian context a truly blue-water Navy would need to have:
  • strategic reach to operate from Africa's eastern coast right up to Malacca Straits. 
  • A satellite networked-force with maritime surveillance capabilities to keep tabs on the entire Indian Ocean Region (IOR).2

A bluewater navy will serve India well because:
  • With India's rapid growth, the Navy has a much bigger role to play now, much more to contribute to the nation's strength. It's certainly required with maritime security now becoming inextricably entwined with overall strategic policy, with the fact that both China and Pakistan are taking rapid strides towards boosting their naval capabilities.
  • The Navy also seeks to act as a stabilising force in IOR, seeing itself as a diplomatic instrument to further India's geostrategic objectives. 
  • India is heavily dependent on sea-borne trade, with 90% of its total trade by volume being transported through waterways. It also has to keep track of its vast Economic Exclusive Zone, slated to go up to 2.54 million sq km from the present two million sq km, apart from off-shore oil and gas assets.2
  • As Chinese anti-piracy maritime contingents deployed off Somalia grow in size, there is concern in India that China may soon establish itself as an Indian Ocean power. India's fear of being surrounded by China in its own backyard is compounded by the assertive stance adopted by China's vocal and outspoken strategic community. 
  • India is being supported by its Western counterparts (in particular its closest exercise partner, the US Navy). The Indian Navy is increasingly undertaking communal security tasks and long-term maritime missions. It is also emphasizing on local capacity building. 

By all accounts, the trajectory of the Indian Navy's development has been sharp. After acquiring top-of-the-line ships and submarines in recent years - including its latest aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, the Indian Navy is set to spend 3,00,000 crores (over US$60 billion) in further augmenting its capabilities over the next two decades. These include airborne maritime surveillance assets, shore-based and carrier-based aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles. 3

Not wanting to be confined to its near regions, the Indian Navy now recognizes the need to project power. It has armed the INS Chakra (an Akula class submarine from Russia) and Arihant, the indigenously produced nuclear powered submarine, with ballistic missiles. Recent developments suggest that the Indian Navy, which is constructing seven indigenous frigates at Mumbai and Kolkata, will also undertake the development of expeditionary warfare assets. 

The first of these will be three indigenously manufactured landing platform docks. Plans have also been drawn up for the acquisition of six new conventional submarines with air independent propulsion and cruise missile capability. Two fleet tankers have been acquired from Italy to give the Indian Navy the "long legs" that are critical for long-range operational deployments. Meanwhile, the Indian Navy's quest to emerge as a global and regional sea power will receive a major boost with New Delhi and Moscow in negotiations for the purchase of three additional frigates, reportedly of the superlative Krivak IV class. The new inductions are not just for "tactical war-fighting", but also enable "strategic posturing" and long-term maritime missions. 3

Significantly, the Indian Navy, in 2011, candidly acknowledged that it was in the process of setting up operational turnaround and forward operating bases along the Indian coast with a view to enhancing surveillance efforts in the region. The new "strategic outposts" will enable, not just better operational vigilance, but also greater maritime reach and presence.
  • INS Dweeprakshak: a strategic base in the Lakshadweep islands on its Western Seaboard. While it has primarily been established for combating piracy, its use will probably extend to long-term strategic maritime activity. 
  • Naval Air Station Baaz: Naval Air Station at Campbell Bay - a small outpost on the southern-most tip of the Andaman Nicobar Islands. Campbell Bay overlooks the Six Degree Channel, a vital shipping lane for global traffic, and is crucial in observing the Malacca Strait and the Bay of Bengal.
The Indian Navy's future efforts, the official document states, is aimed at "tackling the emerging threats in the Indian Ocean Region". While some believe China is the exogenous catalyst driving the Indian Navy's growth, others premise the naval build-up on the need to beef up all-round naval defenses - a natural ambition for any nation with expanding economic interests. 3

The most noteworthy shift, however, seems to have come about in India's diplomatic and maritime posture that is increasingly acquiring a strategic "heft". In recent days, New Delhi has displayed a greater willingness to send its naval ships into the waters of the Western Pacific and engage with navies of Southeast Asian countries. In June, the Indian Navy dispatched a contingent of four warships to East Asia. To ensure the exercises did not provoke Chinese suspicions, the ships also made a stop-over at Shanghai.The bonhomie on display served to highlight the aspect of India's maritime outreach: a form of inclusive partnership that does not enhance engagement with some partners to the exclusion of others. And yet, India is keen to send the message home that it has strategic interests in the Western Pacific and is willing to do all that it takes to secure assets and safeguard access into the region. 3

Its indigenous production programs suffer from practical impediments. India's naval planners are aware that, ultimately, acquiring dominant maritime power status entails technological self-sufficiency and a readiness to accept a leadership role in providing the public good of maritime security. This would only be possible if the Indian Navy works proactively with like-minded partners to establish a new peace-keeping architecture in the Indo-Pacific - one that is fair, open, inclusive and sustainable. 3


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