Interview with Chief of the Naval Staff
“The Indian Navy, as the prime manifestation of the nation’s maritime power, offers a versatile instrument in progressing the vision of SAGAR and the Act East Policy for enhancing security and economic cooperation with friendly countries” - Admiral R K Dhowan, PVSM, AVSM, YSM, ADC
Defstrat: With the new government in place last year, India’s foreign policy changed from ‘Look East’ to ‘Act East’. The Indian Navy has a big stake in supporting that policy. Is the Navy ready to discharge that responsibility?
CNS: The Indian Navy has been at the forefront of national efforts to strengthen relations, enhance cooperation and promote maritime security in our areas of interest. You would be aware that the Indian Navy made substantial contributions towards the ‘Look East Policy’, in reaching out to build bridges of friendship across the seas to our East. In similar manner, the Indian Navy would be integral to national efforts under the Government’s ‘Act East Policy’ and the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s vision of SAGAR – namely, Security and Growth for All in the Region. The Indian Navy, as the prime manifestation of the nation’s maritime power, offers a versatile instrument in progressing the vision of SAGAR and the Act East Policy for enhancing security and economic cooperation with friendly countries.
In this regard, dedicated focus has been accorded to ‘shaping a favourable and positive maritime environment’ in the revised strategy document of the Navy, which was released by the Hon’ble Raksha Mantri during the Naval Commanders Conference on 26 October 2015. This outlines the approach and range of measures for engaging maritime forces from friendly countries, so as to enhance cooperation and also develop interoperability. These include exercises, training and technical cooperation, developing of shared Maritime Domain Awareness, sharing of white shipping information, capacity building and capability enhancement measures, and various cooperative maritime security operations, with sustained interactions at field, operational and maritime strategic levels.
You would be aware of the many initiatives taken in this regard over recent years, which will be sustained and taken further forward. Over the last one year, we have seen these activities being maintained, with expansion of the Indian Navy’s operational footprint across the IOR and adjacent seas to the East. We have also seen the addition of institutionalised exercises with Australia and Indonesia, and the inclusion of Japan in Exercise Malabar 2015. We are also hosting an International Fleet Review at Visakhapatnam in February 2016, which aims to bring together nearly 50 navies with the underline theme, “United through Oceans”.
Defstrat: Recently Japan has announced abandoning its Pacifist policy. China has been more assertive and aggressive in her maritime disputes in the South and East China Seas. Littoral nations in the region are perturbed over Chinese actions and intentions and are looking towards India to balance a rising China. What role do you envisage for the Indian Navy in this emerging scenario?
CNS: You would appreciate that each country progresses its defence policy according to its own threat perceptions and strategic vision. India has supported adherence to accepted principles of international law, which includes the freedom of navigation in international waters as provided in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The seas and oceans are critical enablers for prosperity, and these require all round observance of international law and norms, for progressing legitimate uses of the seas for both individual and cooperative development. The situation in SCS, with competing claims and concerns regarding their conformity to international law, concerns both regional states and states with maritime interests in the region. All points of dispute in SCS need to be resolved in a peaceful manner, in accordance with international law. This is a time tested and proven approach, especially in the maritime arena. Such positive and constructive measures, with mutual respect for international norms, interaction and dialogue amongst the parties concerned would no doubt assist in promoting an all-round beneficial solution.
Defstrat: How do you evaluate the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) from the standpoint of threats and challenges to global commons? How is it any different from operating in say the South China Sea or the South Pacific?
CNS: The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) has been a vortex of intense maritime activity and is of tremendous strategic significance. It is home to a significant portion of the world’s population and resources. It accounts for the transportation of the highest tonnage of goods in the world, and is thus termed the ‘global economic highway’ with almost 120,000 ships transiting its expanse every year. These ships constitute 66% of world’s traded oil, 50% container traffic, and 30% cargo traffic of the world. Significantly, nearly 80% of shipping in the IOR carries goods for countries outside this region. Thus, any disruption of seaborne trade in the IOR can have severe impact on the global economy. The region also has significant security challenges such as maritime piracy, maritime terrorism, drugs and human trafficking, gun running, vulnerability to natural disasters, and potential for spill-over of regional instabilities into the maritime domain. In the IOR, this full range of non-traditional security challenges co-exist with other traditional inter-state rivalries, thus presenting a complex and dynamic scenario. However, substantial progress has been made in the IOR towards developing suitable regional maritime security mechanisms in an open, inclusive, and cooperative manner. As a result, there have been cooperative solutions and initiatives towards addressing common maritime security challenges.
The Indian Navy has played a substantive, pioneer role in the Indian Ocean by bringing regional navies together. The operational interaction named MILAN was commenced in 1995, as a biennial event hosted by the Indian Navy at Port Blair. This has been successful in fostering mutual understanding and regional cooperation. It facilitates formal and informal dialogue, and cooperative maritime engagement amongst the navies from India’s extended neighbourhood. In 2008, the Indian Navy undertook another major initiative in conceptualising and activating the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS). This is a consultative regional forum for enhancing maritime security cooperation. This is open, inclusive and looks towards cooperative engagement. It has attained critical momentum since its inception, and has also been endorsed by the Indian Ocean Regional Association (IORA), which is an inter-governmental initiative, and complements individual and collaborative efforts at enhancing maritime security understanding and cooperation.
The cooperative approach in the IOR has also been seen in the combined and coordinated responses to various challenges and contingencies by the maritime forces in the region. This includes facing the threat of piracy off the Horn of Africa, which was met by a strong cooperative response by both regional and extra-regional navies, leading to reduction of piracy threat and recent revision of the piracy High Risk Area (HRA). This has also been seen in the response to Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) requirements, such as the Indian Navy and Air Force providing urgent potable water to the Maldives in OP NEER, and Non-combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO) such as OP RAHAT where the Indian Navy and Air Force undertook evacuation of nationals from 35 countries from strife-torn Yemen.
The Indian Navy has also closely engaged with regional navies, in an equal, cooperative and mutually beneficial manner, so as to assist each other and enhance maritime security in the maritime region. This is done through a range of activities, including coordinated patrols, EEZ surveillance and patrols, developing regional maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), and a number of measures for capacity building and capability enhancement, including cooperation in maritime training, technology and hydrography.
The core factor that distinguishes the IOR and India’s maritime neighbourhood from some other regions is in the prominence of respect for international law, and central belief in cooperative and collaborative principles. It is illustrative that India has successfully settled its maritime boundaries with six of seven immediate neighbours, through adherence and respect for international law. As a result, India enjoys cooperative and mutually beneficial relations with its extended maritime neighbours, wherein the Indian Navy has been at the forefront of national efforts towards building bridges of friendship across the seas. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, in the recently revised Indian maritime security strategy, there is a new, dedicated strategy that is aimed at shaping a favourable and positive maritime environment in the region.
Defstrat: Given the growing focus on Indian Ocean maritime security, is it likely that the Indian Navy may seek to launch a regular multilateral naval exercise to further engender naval cooperation with Indian Ocean littoral states? Are there other plans to expand cooperation amongst regional navies?
CNS: As I just mentioned, in order to provide greater focus and thrust to our regional maritime cooperation activities, we have formulated a dedicated strategy that is aimed at shaping a favourable and positive maritime environment in the region. This is part of our overall maritime security strategy, which was comprehensively revised and has been recently released by the Hon’ble Raksha Mantri.
Shaping a broader maritime environment to counter the flow of threats and challenges from one area to another requires inclusive and cooperative efforts between the nations concerned and their maritime forces. In order to shape such cooperative responses, it is essential that maritime forces interact frequently to develop interoperability as well as a common perspective of the security challenges and responses. These are being pursued by the Indian Navy through maritime engagements in multiple ways that include port visits, personnel exchanges, staff talks and interactions, exercises with foreign navies, maritime assistance, operational interactions and high-level maritime strategic interactions.
To engender naval cooperation and enhance interoperability with other maritime forces, the Indian Navy regularly exercises at bilateral and multilateral levels with various foreign navies in three participative formats – passage, occasional and institutionalised. The main thrust of exercises with the foreign navies is on institutionalised exercises, both bilateral and multilateral. Our operational interactions with friendly maritime forces seek to enhance mutual understanding, operational coordination and maritime security cooperation. These include MILAN, International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) Meetings, and Anti-Piracy cooperative mechanisms. At the maritime-strategic level, also, we have promoted and supported various mechanisms, including IONS, maritime security cooperation under IORA, and the presently trilateral maritime cooperation construct with friendly nations. With maritime security in the Indian Ocean region gaining greater prominence, countries are now more forthcoming to join these various mechanisms and interactions. At this stage, we are seeking to consolidate the various maritime security architectures and interactions through greater participation and forward momentum.
Defstrat: As part of a well-conceived and well nurtured strategy, the Indian Navy has been the most successful service in terms of indigenisation. Despite best efforts, however, there are slippages in shipbuilding programmes. How does the Navy plan to accelerate the ship induction process?
CNS: As you have correctly noted, the Indian Navy has been at the forefront of indigenisation efforts. The development of our indigenous naval shipbuilding sector is a tribute to the many decades of hard work and high skill-levels and expertise that has been developed in both, our naval design capability and the public sector shipyards. Today, we can take pride in the fact that we have constructed over 120 warships in India, ranging from small seaward defence boats to large, advanced Destroyers and submarines, and are currently constructing a 40,000 tons displacement aircraft carrier. Very few countries in the world have been able to build up such a range of expertise. Our faith in Indian shipbuilding stands out from the fact that all 47 ships and submarines on order are being built at Indian shipyards, both public and private.
In order to expand the shipbuilding capacity, the Indian Navy has been fully supportive of the modernisation of our shipyards and expansion of the shipbuilding base into the private sector. These represent the way forward for both, building our national self-reliance base and for speeding up the shipbuilding programmes. Engagement of private shipyards for construction of vessels for the Indian Navy has been part of our indigenisation drive and holds multiple benefits. These include higher national warship building capacity, which would also provide greater assurance of meeting naval modernisation in the required time frames, with increased focus on weapon intensive platforms by the DPSUs, and with scope for improving costs through a competitive bidding process. All this will enable greater all-round development of the national warship building capability.
Defstrat: The Aircraft Carrier Battle Group is a prime instrument for power projection. Similarly a potent submarine fleet offers strategic advantages and is the third dimension in delivering long range lethal strike capability. Where does the Indian Navy stand in terms of capabilities and what are the plans for future?
CNS: The modernisation of the Indian Navy in the near to long term is being pursued in accordance with the Maritime Capability Perspective Plan (MCPP) 2012-2027, which is subsumed in the Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP). The plan is based on our national interests and objectives, and also accounts for the changing nature of warfare, evolving threats in our areas of interest and changes in our geo-strategic and security environment, including likely future scenarios. The Navy’s focus has been to evolve a force structure commensurate with the geo-political and economic aspirations of the nation, within the scope of available funding and indigenous ship building capacity. Threats, mission and capability have, therefore, remained dominant factors in our force structure planning.
The modernisation and enhancement of the Navy’s capabilities is an ongoing process. This includes induction of aircraft carriers, stealth frigates, destroyers, corvettes, amphibious platforms and submarines. The Indian Navy would also be inducting state-of-the-art aircraft and helicopters to augment our surveillance and integral aviation capabilities. The Indian Navy’s current perspective force level planning is driven by a conceptual shift from ‘numbers’ of platforms, i.e, from the old ‘bean-counting’ philosophy, to one that concentrates upon ‘capabilities’, and is mission dominated.
Our preferred choice of inducting ships and submarines has been through the indigenous route, as I mentioned, and all 47 ships and submarines presently on order by the Indian Navy are being constructed in Indian shipyards. The expansion plan in future includes induction of submarines and revitalisation of the aviation assets, and induction of state-of-the-art weapons and sensors for IN platforms. Concurrently, significant attention is also being paid to augment and build technical and other support infrastructure. In the coming decade, the Indian Navy will continue to evolve as multi-mission capable and fully networked force.
Defstrat: Modern day maritime forces are technology-intensive due to technological advances and multi-faceted challenges and roles. How does the Indian Navy plan to create and sustain a three-dimensional networked force to deal with the evolving challenges?
CNS: The core approach towards this is through sustained focus on indigenisation and innovation, and by investing in higher technology-capable manpower. Both factors have been incorporated into our updated and revised strategy and plans. The Indian Navy has fully embraced the concept of Net Centricity to conduct maritime operations and is accordingly poised to qualitatively enhance this capability as a force multiplier. All our ships, submarines and aircraft share a common picture with the shore based Maritime Operations Centres, enabling them to function in unison. Adoption of modern technologies such as software defined radios, high speed data links, high grade encryption system, decision support software and space based applications, will further enhance the awareness and potency of naval forces operating at sea. The induction of these technologies, along with many more on the anvil, will make the IN well placed as a networked force, integrating sensors and shooters, to deliver combat power across all dimensions.
Defstrat: What are the HR management issues that concern the Indian Navy? What measures have you adopted to nurture a happy, content and motivated cadre?
CNS: Just as for any fighting force, the strength of our Navy lies in well trained and motivated men and women. Our people are our greatest asset and their morale, well-being and professional skill-development remains our primary concern. So, Human Resource aspects play a critical role in making the Navy a potent force. In order to develop a happy, contented, motivated and professionally capable cadre, the Navy formulated its Human Capital Strategy in 2013. A range of measures are being progressed and pursued under this strategy.
As you would appreciate, in today’s interconnected and globalised world, HR management policies have a direct bearing on the motivation level and commitment of personnel. This is particularly so for a small but growing force like the Navy. We are, therefore, fully focused on meeting the professional and personal growth and aspirations of our personnel, and the welfare of their families. We are giving strong thrust to improving the quality of life of our personnel and their families.
A major initiative, in this regard, has been in designating 2015 as the ‘Year of the Sailor (YOTS)’. Measures under the YOTS include construction of accommodation to meet the growing demand, improved medical care facilities, and better rations and clothing. We have also designated the academic year 2015-16 as the ‘Year of Naval Schools (YONS)’. Under YONS, six new Naval Children Schools and six Kendriya Vidyalayas are being established at select naval stations. We will continue to accord primacy to all aspects of HR and ensuring that the naval community remains happy, contented and professionally capable.