The Indian Navy Rising to New Challenges
Vol 10 Issue 5 Nov - Dec 2016
Future Challenges before the Navy and the way forward
Monday, December 5, 2016
The Challenge of ‘Balance’
Given the strong likelihood of India remaining outside any formal system of alliances, the Indian Navy cannot afford to ape any of the ‘niche-navies’ of the world (such as the British Royal Navy, or, for that matter, any of the navies of either NATO or the European Union.) It has no option but to develop holistically, rather than being able to ‘specialise’ in one or another strategic or operational facet while leaving other facets to be dealt-with by some other Navy.
Consequently, the Indian Navy must attain and retain at least three levels of balance: That between surface, sub-surface, aerospace and cyber capacities and capabilities; that between its ‘brown-water’ (near-shore) capacities and capabilities and its ‘blue-water’ (distant, deep-water) ones; and, that between its combat-capabilities at sea and its shore-support capabilities. This attainment and retention of balance is a central challenge because it is only through balanced development and deployment that the Navy can remain relevant and significant across the entire spectrum of conflict.
The Navy has been manfully rising to the challenge, as witness the following indicative surface and subsurface ‘Order of Battle’ (ORBAT):
• 02 x Aircraft Carriers (+3 under construction/planned-induction)
• 11 x Guided-missile Destroyers (+4 under construction/planned-induction)
• 16 x Guided-missile Frigates (+11 under construction/planned-induction)
• 08 x Guided-Missile Corvettes (+06 under construction/planned-induction)
• 12 x Guided-Missile ‘Light Corvettes’ (+8 under construction/induction)
• 01 x ASW Corvette (+3 under construction/induction)
• 03* x ASW ‘Light-Corvettes’ (+16 under construction/planned-induction)
• 10 x Offshore Patrols Vessels [OPVs] (+5 under construction/planned-induction)
• 01 x LPD (+4 x LPD under procurement/planned-induction)
• 03 x LST (L)
• 04 x LST (M)
• 08 x LCU Landing Craft [Utility]
• 18 x Fast Attack Craft (+2 under construction/planned-induction)
• 06 x MCMV (+12 under construction/planned-induction)
• 04 x Fleet Tankers (+ 05 under construction/procurement)
• 08 x Survey Ships
• 04 x Catamaran-Hull Survey Vessels
• 01 x Research Vessel (+1 under construction/planned-induction)
• 01 x Ocean-going Tug
• 01 x Diving-Support Vessel
• 01 x Torpedo-Recovery Vessel
• 01 X Training Ships (+3 under construction/planned-induction)
• 02 x Sail Training Ships
Total Ships: 126 (+83)
• 02 x Nuclear-powered submarines (+11 under construction/planned-induction)
• 13 x Conventionally-powered submarines (+12 under construction/planned-induction)
• 00 x Midget submarines (+2 under construction/planned-induction)
Total Submarines: 15 (+25 under construction/planned-induction)
Driving this naval growth are the six principal maritime interests of India, each of which flows-from and simultaneously feeds-into the country’s core national interest:
• Protection from sea-based threats to our territorial integrity.
• Ensuring Stability in our maritime neighbourhood.
• Gaining and retaining a regionally favourable geostrategic and geopolitical maritime-position.
• Provision of holistic maritime security (additionally incorporating ‘human’ security).
• Creation, development, and sustenance of a ‘Blue’ Ocean-Economy, incorporating:
♦ The preservation, pursuit, promotion, and protection of our offshore infrastructure and maritime resources within and beyond the Maritime Zones of India.
♦ The preservation, pursuit, promotion, and protection and safety of our overseas and coastal seaborne trade and our Sea Lines of Communication, including the ports that constitute the nodes of this trade.
♦ Support to Marine Scientific Research, including that in Antarctica and the Arctic.
• Provision of support - including succour and extrication-options - to our Diaspora.
The Challenge of Coastal Security
Coastal Security encompasses a variety of operational missions that lie within ‘brown’ or ‘green’ waters and also incorporates significant organisational and training activities that
are designed to provide or enhance requisite capability. Even in times of armed conflict, there are a host of missions that must, of operational-necessity, be executed within brown waters and, as such, a very large number of the Indian Navy’s brown-water forces have both substantial and substantive offensive and defensive firepower (along with associated surveillance-chains) in multiple dimensions.
India’s territorial integrity-which provides it with the cartographic characteristics that make it a physically and politically recognisable nation-state-is intimately tied to the concept of ‘borders’. India has a coastline of 7,516.6 km. Although this is only half the length of India’s land borders, and although the length of the coastline is not the same as the length of the country’s maritime border, this coastline faces quite as many security challenges-from malevolent ‘non-state’, as well as ‘state-sponsored’ elements - as do her land borders. The ominous rise of the malevolent ‘State-sponsored non-State actor’, typified by the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, between the 26th and the 29th of November 2008, provides chilling evidence of just how serious the challenges of ‘Coastal Security’ can be. The Indian Navy is, of course, the principal maritime manifestation of the sovereign power of the Republic of India and bears the overall responsibility for all forms of maritime security-including coastal security. However, India continues to struggle with the vexed question of large-scale deployments of the Indian Navy in coastal security to the detriment of its conflict-prevention and war-fighting missions.
India’s ‘Territorial Sea’ is an intrinsic part of the country’s territory. Here, the full majesty of Indian law applies (with the sole modifying factor being the ‘Right of Innocent Passage’). Since India is a democracy and not a military dictatorship, the police - and not the military - is the designated instrument of the State for the maintenance of internal law, order, and stability.
Thus, while the Indian Navy in and of itself has no locus standi to impose law and order within the territory of India, it is nevertheless obliged to provide such degree of ‘capability’ to the Coast Guard and the Police as will enable them to move from ‘failure’ to success. However, for the duration of time that it takes for the Police to be fully trained, the Navy has necessarily to fill the breach, but recognises that this is a stop-gap arrangement at best. This is a huge challenge. Outside the territorial limits, of course, the Indian Navy is certainly required to ensure the territorial integrity of India.
The Blue-Water Challenge
The Indian Navy’s ‘sea-control’ missions are largely predicated upon her acquisition of ‘blue-water’ capability. In conditions of peace and tension this involves: (1)dissuasion, (2) deterrence, (3) the shaping of the probable battle-space through ‘perception-management’ and ‘presence’ missions, (4) the maintenance of ‘Maritime Domain Awareness’ (MDA) through direct as well as cooperative surveillance, (5) the gathering and collation of intelligence on a regional basis, and, (6) the efficient discharge of the ‘diplomatic’, ‘constabulary’ and ‘benign’ roles of the Navy. In times of active State-on-State conflict, however, this implies the ability to routinely and efficiently mount and sustain naval operations-of-war at significant distances - of the order of several hundred nautical miles - from the Indian coast. Not only is air power - or, given the contemporary technological context, ‘aerospace power’ - critical to sustain both offensive and defensive operations at these distances, but this air-power must be available both ‘here’ and ‘now’. For the most part, air-to-air refuellers have overcome the ‘here’ component of this twin requirement for the sustenance of blue-water combat-operations. However, the ‘now’ component requires aerospace power that is an embedded or integral component of fleet-capabilities at sea. This is why integral air-power, as embodied by the synergistic combat-component known as a ‘Carrier Battle Group’ (CBG) has long been - and remains - a central operational concept of the Indian Navy .
The navy is feverishly working out sustainable responses to these and allied challenges, which must be comprehensively addressed as India moves towards the fielding of two CBGs.
With the increasing overlap of the deployment patterns of the Indian Navy, the US Navy, the JMSDF and the Chinese Navy, across the Indo-Pacific oceanic expanse, additional challenges of interoperability, as also the avoidance of inadvertent escalation, will demand well-practiced responses by increasingly dispersed naval formations. These include the formulation-of and adherence-to new multilateral Rules of Engagement and measures to prevent adversarial incidents at sea. As India seeks to preserve, promote, pursue and protect her own burgeoning maritime interests in waters east of the Strait of Malacca - especially her merchandise trade in the South China Sea - which is in excess of 190 Billion US$ - she will be inevitably drawn into maritime engagement of one or another kind(cooperative, competitive, adversarial, combative)not only with the USA and China, but with other regional and sub-regional maritime powers as well, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, South Korea, North Korea, Japan, New Zealand and Australia.
On our country’s western seaboard, too, challenges for the Indian Navy abound. The utter unaffordability of any closure of the Strait of Hormuz is not only a function of India’s massive imports of crude oil, but is additionally underscored by the fact that the UAE is India’s largest - and at worst, her second-largest - export partner worldwide. As such, Indian access to almost all container-ports in the UAE mandates unhindered passage through the Strait of Hormuz. Likewise is the case with the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb, through which 110 billion US$ worth of Indian merchandise trade passes each year. Indian Naval ‘presence’ missions are clearly necessary, but must necessarily mesh with those of other significant regional and extra-regional maritime powers, such as the USA, the UK, France, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The planning, maintenance and execution of such naval presence-cum-surveillance missions, and the concomitant demands they place upon naval interoperability are no mean challenge.
The challenge of external merchandise trade as a determinant of naval blue water operations should never be underestimated. Despite the ongoing global slowdown, India’s Trade-to-GDP Ratio (i.e., her ‘Openness Index’) has registered an average decadal value of as much as 40%.
India recognises that unlike in the days preceding the 1990 economic reforms, any geopolitical occurrence that adversely impacts India’s external merchandise-trade will now have an immediate and severe impact upon the country’s GDP. Of necessity, then, it is to its Navy that India must increasingly turn. Professor Lexiong Ni of China, writing on “Sea Power and China’s Development” in the 17 April 2005 edition of the “People’s Liberation Daily”, stated quite presciently:“When a nation embarks upon a process of shifting from an ‘inward-leaning economy’ to an ‘outward-leaning economy’, the arena of national security concerns begins to move to the oceans. This is a phenomenon in history that occurs so frequently that it has almost become a rule rather than an exception.”Indeed, India acknowledges that with her economy sustaining the highest rate of growth amongst the major economies of the world, and with her contemporary rise as a major geopolitical power, she must necessarily shoulder commensurate levels of international responsibility.
The mechanism that India has adopted to advance her maritime geopolitics within the Indo-Pacific is ‘Constructive Engagement’, guided by her ‘Look-East/Act-East’ and ‘Look West’ policies. For the Indian Navy, all this has several manifestations. These include, inter alia, the training of foreign military and civilian defence personnel, warship visits, and, ‘combined’ (as well as ‘combined-and-joint’) military exercises. However, even while India’s commitment to the provision of net security to the island States of the IOR is predicated more upon the leveraging of Indian ‘capability’(such as organisational assistance, a wide variety of naval training, hydrographic surveys, and, regional surface and airborne EEZ-surveillance) rather than ‘capacity’ (the provision of ships, aircraft, submarines, etc.), there is no gainsaying that some significant commitment of ‘capacity’ is inescapable. How this is to best be done is, once again, an ongoing challenge of significant proportions. Closely associated with these challenges is the challenge of revitalising and rejuvenating the IONS Construct so as to leverage its very substantial potential. It is most encouraging to see the current leadership buckling down to this critical requirement in all earnest.
Finally, there is the elephant in the room-the military challenge from an unrepentant and reckless Pakistan that is emboldened by collusive and collaborative support from China, but is, paradoxically, simultaneously less and less in control of its contribution to escalation-dynamics vis-à-vis India. This military challenge continues to bedevil all efforts at reasonableness. Consequently, India is forced to abide an oxymoronic state of violent-peace - but for how long?
All these inescapable demands produce what is known as ‘operational stretch’. This operational stretch, along with the attendant strains in terms of human and logistic (organisational and material) resources that, constitutes a whole slew of major and complex challenges to which the Indian Navy is manfully endeavouring to rise.
As always, at the sharp end of the Navy’s endeavours are its ships, aircraft, submarines, space and cyber assets, and, most of all, its human resources. The overall combat capabilities - comprising the various weapon-sensor suites, the software-intensive integration systems, the integral-air capacity, and, the propulsion and power-generation plants - of contemporary Indian DDGs and FFGs compare quite favourably with those of other major navies and in a combat encounter, the Indian Navy is very likely to acquit itself well. That said, the severe lack of airborne ASW assets that are integral to the Navy’s major warships (from destroyers to corvettes) is a challenge whose addressal needs a matching degree of urgency. ASW helicopters, equipped with variable-depth sonar with high-end processing capabilities, sonobuoys, and good EW suites, are the optimum platform for seaborne ASW and the Navy urgently requires these in adequate numbers so as to take advantage of the potential offered by its otherwise-excellent ship-design. For the present, the absence of multi-role helicopters has rendered this design-advantage null and void.
What the Indian Navy needs today, more than ever before, is unstinted support from the political and bureaucratic set-up, by way of a shared sense of ownership, involvement, empathy, understanding, and urgency.