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Home > Tamil Eelam Struggle for Freedom > International Frame of the Tamil Struggle > The Indian Ocean Region - A Story Told with Pictures > Shaping India's Maritime Strategy - Opportunities & Challenges > International Relations in the Age of Empire
The Indian Ocean Region
Sureesh Mehta, Chief of Naval Staff, India
Commandant, Members of the Directing Staff, Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. It is a great pleasure to be in the National Defence College this morning to speak to speak to the 45th Course, and the faculty of the NDC. Although I myself am not an alumnus of this highly regarded institution, I am familiar with its worthy endeavours, as well as many of its distinguished products. While this College is, indeed, a revered establishment in the Indian Armed Forces, one cannot help detecting a note of pride and affection when talking even to civil servants or foreign officers who have passed through its portals. And of course, the NDC Old Boys network has been known to achieve miracles when invoked!
2. Today I intend to speak to you, for about the next three quarters of an hour on the subject of “Shaping India’s Maritime Strategy – Opportunities and Challenges”. It is an issue of relevance for the Indian Navy; for while nations in general have practised maritime strategy for centuries, the literature on theoretical analysis of this subject is only just over a century old. In fact, during the great naval wars in the age of sail, few people looked at any kind of strategy as a separate concept. The publication of the Indian Maritime Doctrine in April last year, was therefore, a significant milestone in India’s maritime history. This was also the first step towards crafting a Maritime Strategy for the Indian Navy, which is now underway.
3. Before we go any further, let me draw a distinction between doctrine and strategy, because this is often an area of confusion.
4. Doctrine in simple terms is a collection of “fundamental principles by which military forces guide their actions in support of objectives.” It is also defined as “a framework of principles, practices and procedures relating to deployment of forces, the understanding of which provides a basis for action”. Doctrine leads through training, to a general understanding (or even anticipation) of the commander’s intent, consistent behaviour, mutual confidence and properly orchestrated collective action.
5. The principal sources of Doctrine are history and experience, and the repeated success or failure of actions over time tends to be generalised into beliefs that become relevant to the present and the future. Those lessons from the past that seemed to have proved themselves over an extended period of time have been elevated to a higher level and are termed the “Principles of War”. Of course, Doctrine cannot just be the result of experience. As Fredrick the Great once pointed out, if experience were all-important, he had several mules in his army, who had enough experience to be field marshals!
6. On the other hand, for a Strategy (or a strategic plan), the start point has to be a threat. Without a specific threat, whether real or perceived, there is no need for a Strategy. And as the threat alters, so must the strategy keep evolving or changing. In the national security arena, we are concerned with threats to our national interests, which should cause the national security decision-making machinery to go into action. Ideally speaking, the political leadership of a country, in conformity with national policies and objectives, should evolve a Grand Strategy, which is a plan of action for attainment of these objectives.
7. What the Armed Forces can contribute to the accomplishment of these objectives is determined by the capability of the military leadership of a country. The military leadership, in turn, is driven by the structure, strength and effectiveness of the forces available. And this brings us neatly to the start of this discussion and establishes a linkage between Doctrine and Strategy.
8. Thus, Strategy is an overall plan to get from the present situation to some desired goal in a threat or conflict scenario, and its most critical attribute is, that it is set in the context of a given politico-military situation and within the ambit of an overall set of national aims. Doctrine on the other hand is a body of thought and a knowledge base, which underpins the development of Strategy. Without Doctrine, strategists would have to make decisions without points of reference or guidance. In a nutshell:
9. A study of the US is illustrative in this regard. For 45 years since the end of the Second World War, the US consistently maintained a policy of “containment” of the threat from USSR in its Cold War confrontation. The strategy to implement this went through several iterations over these decades, but the overarching philosophy remained constant, because the enemy: Communism and the Soviet Union also remained constant. The end of the Cold War changed the complete threat scenario. The flux in international affairs resulting from the fall of the Berlin wall, and now the Global War on Terror has caused the US Department of Defence and the US Navy to continuously evolve new strategies and bring out vision documents, at the rate of one almost every 4-6 years.
10. The Indian Navy is yet to enunciate a formal Maritime Strategy document. However, after the publication of the Indian Maritime Doctrine, using the Navy’s stated roles as the start point, we have identified the capabilities we should be able to deliver. This exercise then gave us the strategic basis for formulating our force level plans. These have also been outlined, and I will mention the gist of our conclusions later on in my talk. A formal Maritime Strategy document is being worked upon. Once formulated, it will highlight areas of warfare on which we must focus sharply and help us prioritise our equipment acquisition and technology development.
11. Before I go further, let me just place maritime strategy in the overall context of National Security, so that we see it in the right perspective.
Maritime Dimension in the Context of National Security
12. One of the principal functions of a nation state is to protect its people, territory and institutions from external threats as well as internal dangers. This function is termed as national security and encompasses both national defence and foreign relations.
13. The entire process of formulating a National Security Strategy can be understood from the simplified diagram shown on the screen. Our National Interests flow from a set of National Values and the National Purpose. Identification of National Interests should lead to the promulgation of a National Security Policy, from which emerge the National Security Strategy, which has three components – Economic, Diplomatic and Military. The Maritime Strategy is one of the sub-sets of the overall Military Strategy.
14. While these objectives have not been stated by the government in any formal document, a few things are clear to us :-
Broad Outline of Our Maritime Strategy
15. It is therefore clear that we must have “the freedom to use the seas for our national purposes and the wherewithal to safeguard our maritime interests under all circumstances”.
16. Like many other such documents, the Indian Maritime Doctrine envisages four broad roles for the Indian Navy – Military, Diplomatic, Constabulary and Benign. Flowing out of this, a broad vision of our maritime strategy could be stated in these words:
17. Each of these tasks requires a detailed strategy for its correct and coherent implementation. For example, let us see [Point (c)], which is; “Ensure good order and stability in our maritime zone of responsibility”. For doing this, we need to decide issues such as: the specific areas of responsibility between the Indian Navy and Coast Guard; the types and numbers of ships and shore infrastructure that will be required; the impact of international maritime law, etc.
18. Several questions also arise from the broad maritime strategy vision statement, which I have outlined, which could include at the very least:-
19. I intend to address these issues one at a time, during the course of my talk. So let me turn to the first of the questions that I had raised, and define our maritime area of interest. But in order to do this, I need to delve a few centuries into our history.
India’s Maritime Area of Interest
20. Not many people, even in India, are aware that the seas around us were dominated by Indian mariners right up to the 13th century. While activity on the west coast was confined mainly to commerce with Red Sea and Mediterranean ports, our eastern shores witnessed the launch of a massive colonisation of SE Asia. This impact of this invasion was mainly cultural and religious, and its effects have persisted for almost a millennium till today. From 4th century BC onwards, the Maurya, Andhra, Pallava, Sri Vijay and Chola dynasties maintained powerful navies and prevailed in this region.
21. It was the decline of India’s prowess at sea by the 14th Century which was to a large extent responsible for the success of the European adventurers who began to arrive on our shores in the next century. The Portuguese came first, followed by the Dutch, British and the French. They came in search of spices, but stayed on to rule this land.
22. When the province of Bengal fell to the British after Robert Clive’s victory at the Battle of Plassey, in June 1757, the thin end of the wedge was in position, and this event is commonly accepted as the beginning of Britain’s 190-year rule of India. Commenting upon this historic event, Admiral Mahan, in his seminal work, “Influence of Sea Power on History” remarks,
23. In the latter years of the empire, Great Britain was to realize that its authority in India hung on the thin thread of safe naval communications and their ability to reinforce their forces by sea. In fact Lord Curzon, almost a century ago, informed the Foreign Office that control of the key choke points extending from the Horn of Africa to the Cape of Good Hope and the Malacca Strait was essential to prevent an inimical power from making an entry into the Indian Ocean.
24. While the heyday of “gunboat diplomacy” and colonial “spheres of influence” are over, we do believe that whatever happens in the Indian Ocean Region can impact crucially on our security and should be of interest to our maritime forces.
25. Since any strategy is set in the context of a given politico-military situation and within the ambit of an overall set of national aims, let us next look at the strategic scenario around us to identify specific threats and opportunities, as they exist today and extrapolate them for the foreseeable future.
26. There is no doubt that today we live in uncertain times in a difficult neighbourhood. A scan of the Indian Ocean littoral shows, that with the exception of a few countries, all the others are afflicted with one or more of the ailments of poverty, backwardness, fundamentalism, terrorism or internal insurgency. Many countries are also either ruled by military dictatorships or by authoritarian regimes. A number of territorial and maritime disputes linger on – almost all of them being the legacy of colonial rule.
27. Let us then have a look at the two major powers that we will have to interact with in the coming years – the US and China.
28. First, the sole superpower, the United States. For the foreseeable future, the US will remain actively engaged in the IOR and the wider Asia-Pacific region. The US desire to contain China vis-à-vis Taiwan, the ongoing operations in Iraq, the requirement to keep the terrorism hubs in Pakistan and Afghanistan under direct surveillance, and its active interest in restraining the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran, all point towards this. The US core interest, however, lies in tapping the hydrocarbon resources of the Middle East and Central Asia. Growing economic interaction with booming economies in the region like China, Taiwan, India, Japan and Southeast Asia is another imperative.
29. It is interesting to see how the US has steadily altered her security policies to suit her national interests, and with the changing global scenario, transitioned from her Cold War posture to her present stance. The US maritime strategy of the 1980s was designed to meet the Soviet challenge through global naval conflict on a Mahanian scale, but since the end of the Cold War, the US Navy/Marine Corps combination is now trained, equipped and deployed for what is called “Expeditionary Warfare, which essentially means support of operations ashore in Third World countries.
31. Let me come next to that fast emerging power on the global scene; China. One can discern a number of reasons which motivate her determined drive to build a powerful blue water maritime force. Amongst the more important ones are; the need to protect her seaborne nuclear deterrent force, the requirement to safeguard her vital energy lifelines from the Persian Gulf, and of course the fulfilment of her desire to reunite Taiwan with mainland China.
32. In her determined bid for regional preponderance, and ultimately, for superpower status, China has created many defence partnerships in the IOR. Apart from Pakistan, she is a major arms supplier arms to many of our neighbours. China has also undertaken major arms transfers to a number of countries around the Persian Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia and Iran. It now remains to be seen whether such a relationship will transform into military cooperation.
33. In this context, we must note that China has provided massive assistance for construction of the Gwadar deep-sea port on Pakistan’s Makaran coast. One can only wonder if there will be a quid pro quo for this support.
34. The PLA Navy is currently embarked on an ambitious build up which encompasses ships, submarines and strike aircraft acquired from Russia, as well as ships and submarines constructed in Chinese yards. Of their 90 odd submarines, six are nuclear powered and China has carried out successful tests of the 8,000 km DF-31 ballistic missile and its maritime derivative, the 8,000 km JL-2 SLBM.
35. It is imperative for India, therefore, to retain a strong maritime capability in order to maintain a balance of maritime power in the Indian Ocean, as well as the larger Asia-Pacific region.
36. Next, a brief look at Pakistan. Driven by a deep-seated and historic animus towards India, Pakistan will continue to be one of the factors in our security calculus in the foreseeable future. It is certainly in our interest that Pakistan should remain a stable and integral nation state, and outgrow the sense of insecurity that has haunted her since independence. Allowing bi-lateral trade and commerce to grow, and enhancing people-to-people interaction will certainly help in the normalization of relations.
However the Pakistan’s leadership, such as it is, has to come to terms with a few facts of life. Firstly, as a secular Republic with impeccable democratic credentials, India is not going to allow anyone to dictate terms, especially through the instrument of terrorism. We can withstand a “thousand cuts” and march on the road to economic, industrial and scientific progress with resolve. Secondly, as the Pakistanis themselves are discovering in the 21st century, governments need to concentrate funds and energies on providing a better quality of life to their citizens. And this is better done through social change and economic development rather than by breeding fundamentalism in madrassas.
37. Finally, looking east, one sees that the economies of SE Asia, having weathered the crisis of the late 90s, are now upbeat once again. One of the consequences of their resurgence has been the start of a maritime arms race in this region. The provocation for this has been provided on one hand by the fear of a resurgent Chinese Navy and on the other hand by the heady combination of national pride and availability of funds. This development offers us several opportunities to build partnerships by offering assistance in areas where we have expertise and cooperate in areas of commonality.
38. Coming to the hydra-headed monster of terrorism, it is a harsh fact that the epicentre of not just world terrorism, but also missile and nuclear proliferation lies in our immediate neighbourhood. Apart from the requirement to check terrorist activities at sea, proliferation of WMD is another phenomenon of serious maritime concern. Three multinational initiatives – the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code), the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) and the Container Security Initiative (CSI) are in various stages of implementation. India is already a participant in the ISPS code and the CSI. We have not yet agreed to participate in the PSI, as the Government of India has certain reservations. However, the issue is under discussion, and I am sure that we will soon arrive at a mutually acceptable solution.
39. Having examined the strategic context in which we have to operate, what is our broad strategy to deter or counter the possible threats that we face? While I cannot go into specifics, I can say that our maritime military strategy would be predicated in preparing for a possible conflict against one major adversary while deterring a simultaneous attack by another, as the worst case scenario. Within this broad frame of reference, we need to have a blue water maritime force that is capable of not only defeating our opponents in a shooting war, but is also capable of deterring stronger adversaries in a hostile situation. Strategic deterrence is a part of this spectrum.
40. This brings me on to the next question – what are our maritime interests?
India’s Maritime Interests
41. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had famously stated: “…We cannot afford to be weak at sea. History has shown that whatever power controls the Indian Ocean, has in the first instance, India’s seaborne trade at her mercy, and in the second, India’s very independence itself” In this context, national security encompasses certain economic factors, which bear mention here.
42. India’s fortunate geographic location, astride the major sea-lanes of the world, point to the crucial relevance of its role in ensuring the free flow of oil and commerce from the Gulf to the Asia-Pacific region.
43. India is currently at a very energy-intensive stage of its development. Between 1990 and 2003, oil consumption in India (and China) grew at an average rate of 7%, against just 0.8% for the rest of the world. Today India imports over 70% of its oil requirements and it is estimated that by 2050 India will be the largest importer of oil in the world. Imagine then, the effect of higher oil prices combined with a possible threat to their security. A quick calculation of loss to the national GDP in such a circumstance is in itself justification enough for investment in a strong navy.
44. A new development is our acquisition of oil and gas fields across the globe. Today Indian companies operate tank farms in Trincomalee and oil and gas fields in the Sakhalin Islands, Egypt, Sudan and Myanmar. While the Indian Navy is at this moment, not mandated to provide security for these assets, the billions of dollars of investment does warrant some thought about its protection and security. A strong maritime force with adequate reach and endurance is a logical choice.
45. A quick look at our Overseas Trade. India is now projected to become the fourth largest economy in the world by 2020, after China, Japan and the US. India’s exports for 2004-05 were over US$ 75 billion. This figure is almost double our exports just five years ago, and it is estimated that it would double again in the next five years. The tremendous scope for further growth can be imagined when we consider that our present share of the world trade is only 0.7%.
46. Another facet of the ocean, which presents the prospect of wealth and prosperity, and yet contains the seeds of future conflict, is undersea resources. India has a mineral rich EEZ currently extending over 2 million sq km, and the successful exploitation of these could lift us from economic backwardness.
47. Lastly, India’s merchant navy, though small for our needs and size, remains a major factor in our maritime security planning. Relatively speaking, it constitutes a little over one percent of the world shipping tonnage, and our ships are able to carry only about a third of our own foreign trade. In absolute terms however, India’s growing fleet of over 600 ships is quite large, and operates out of 12 major and 184 minor ports. The security of these ports, our merchant ships and the sea-lanes that they ply on represent vital maritime interests for us.
48. Having seen our maritime interests, I now come to the political, economic and security objectives that we seek to achieve through the exercise of a maritime strategy.
Political, Economic and Security Objectives of Maritime Power
49. Sir Julian Corbett, the British maritime strategist who enunciated a diplomatic role for the navy wrote: -
50. There aren’t going to be any “big battles” any more, but as I had mentioned earlier, maritime strategy has a direct relationship, not just with the overall military strategy, but also with a nation’s economic and diplomatic initiatives. So, let me come first to the security objectives of our maritime strategy.
51. During the long years of peace, we need to project power and show presence; catalyse partnerships through our maritime capability; build trust and create interoperability through joint operations and international maritime assistance. Occasions may arise when a state is required to use coercion to achieve national aims, and maritime power is best suited for a graduated escalation.
52. Coming next to the political (or diplomatic) objectives of our maritime strategy. Our first priority is to build strong relations with our immediate neighbours and countries of strategic interest in the Indian Ocean Region. We have set up a new organisation at NHQ under a Rear Admiral, to give concrete shape to such initiatives in close coordination with the diplomatic establishment.
53. An example of this in the post Cold War years is the Indian Navy’s role in improving our relations with the US through the Malabar Exercises with the US Navy and with ASEAN through the biennial gatherings named “MILAN” with Bay of Bengal rim navies in Port Blair.
54. Apart from this navies are ideally suited for “winning friends and influencing people”. Last year’s tsunami provided a classic demonstration of the positive role that navies can play. Witnesses to this are thousands of people whose lives were touched by the assistance provided by individual sailors. From medical assistance, to cleaning of wells, to restoration of infrastructure and supply of food and water, they did it all. Ever since, the navy has been receiving accolades for the fine job done by our men, not only in India but also in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Maldives.
55. Consequently, an integral part of our maritime strategy will be the capability to provide humanitarian assistance, particularly in our island territories, and if required, to our friends abroad.
56. Coming finally to the economic objectives of our maritime strategy. I have already outlined in great detail our maritime interests, including the needs of energy security, and trade.
57. Catering for our needs alone is, however, not enough. Smaller nations in our neighbourhood as well as nations that depend on the waters of the Indian Ocean for their trade and energy supplies expect that the Indian Navy will ensure a measure of stability and tranquillity in these waters. Hence, our strategy also needs to ensure that we cater for adequate capability, in concert with our Coast Guard, to the constabulary role.
58. Apart from combating piracy and terrorism at sea, this also includes responsibilities of surveying the waters around us, providing SAR facilities to those in distress, coordinating navigational warnings over a vast oceanic area and a myriad of minor, but vital tasks that keeps the global maritime industry, and economy ticking.
59. With this let me come to the last part of my talk. What should be the composition of our maritime force?
Composition of our Maritime Force
60. It is an accepted tenet that in international relations, there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests. The order of battle of the IN is not configured on the basis of perceived threats to our security, but on the basis of our long term interests, the capabilities existing in our neighbourhood and the likelihood of emergent challenges. This holds good, not just for adversaries, but for all countries whose actions may impact on us. The underlying premise is that if a capability is available or being developed by a country with which we share boundaries or interests, it could have a bearing on our security, should circumstances or intentions change over time.
61. As I brought out at the beginning of my talk, a force planning exercise has recently been completed. To cater for all the contingencies outlined above, the IN needs to field a three-dimensional blue water force with the capability to operate across the entire spectrum of conflict. The capabilities required to meet the challenges will include:-
62. This would require us to have a battle group on each sea-board, formed around the core of an aircraft carrier equipped with modern multi-role combat aircraft and early-warning helicopters. In terms of other platforms, such a force would translate into:-
63. As our economy shook off its legacy of the traditional “Hindu growth rate”, the navy’s share of the defence budget also crept up steadily from 12% to reach an all time high of 17% last year. We would be content to see it settle down at around 20%.
64. To meet the requirements of the force levels (including two carrier groups) which we hope to field by 2015, there are currently on order, 21 ships and 6 submarines. We already have approvals for another 15-20 ships, but a lot depends on the production rate of our shipyards, and how much our private industry can contribute.
65. The former Russian 44,000 ton VTOL carrier Admiral Gorshkov was acquired in 2003 and is currently undergoing modernization and conversion to a new configuration in the northern Russian port of Severdovinsk. This configuration involves installation of a ski-jump forward and a set of arrester wires aft, and is known as STOBAR for “short take off but arrested landing”.
66. The keel for a second such ship, the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) was laid in Kochi in April this year, with a completion date of 2012. For obvious reasons, this ship will have the same STOBAR configuration and operate the MiG-29K too. At 37,500 tons the IAC is smaller than the Gorshkov, but as the biggest warship ever built in India, will certainly pose a challenge to our ship designers and builders. In a parallel technology initiative, our aircraft industry has embarked on a project to design a STOBAR version of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft designated LCA (Navy) which we plan to induct on both our carriers by 2015.
67. I have also set out some priority areas for the Indian Navy for the immediate future. Foremost among them is the ability to operate in a secure, networked environment. Today the IN has weapons of formidable range and our naval forces are deployed across vast distances from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal and the farthest reaches of the Indian Ocean. Our desire is to network all our forces, in all three dimensions, with our command centres, so that whatever data is available to one unit is available to the entire fleet. Networking will help us extend our vision beyond a single unit’s capability and in synergizing the strengths of our naval assets.
68. Aerial surveillance of our area of maritime interest is another priority area. We must have sufficient knowledge at all times, of what is happening in the maritime domain of our interest. Currently there are some voids in our maritime surveillance capability, but this is being addressed on priority.
69. Finally, let me touch upon the navy’s vision of self reliance and indigenisation; two areas on which we have retained sharp focus.
70. We are fortunate that a far sighted naval leadership launched the navy on the path of self-reliance nearly 40 years ago. Our shipyards have delivered to us till today, over 80 warships, of which the latest warship has an indigenous content of 85%. As I mentioned earlier, our shipyards have reached a level of competence where the IN has today on order with them, 21 vessels which cover the full spectrum of warship building: from patrol boats, landing ships and corvettes, to frigates, destroyers and an aircraft carrier; and of course, submarines in a few years time.
71. We have also aggressively sought out centres of excellence, whether in the public or private sectors, and Indian industry now supports our warship building endeavours by producing ship-building steel, propulsion systems (steam and diesel), gear boxes, gun mounts, torpedo tubes, power generation, air conditioning, hydraulic, pneumatic and hundreds of other ship-board systems. Having said that, I must also admit that total self-reliance is a goal that is still very distant: that is if want to aim for it at all. We have, and we will continue to have platforms, weapons, sensors and systems of foreign origin in our inventory for a long time to come.
72. After the break up of the USSR we learnt many bitter lessons about the pitfalls of dependence on foreign sources: uncertain availability, arbitrary pricing, and doubtful quality. With all this at the back of our mind, we have embarked on a deliberate programme of indigenisation and NHQ has recently put in place a dedicated Directorate of Indigenisation to synergise our endeavours in this direction.
73. The Government having permitted private participation in defence production, we need to work out methods of creating public-private synergy in the form of partnerships, joint ventures or in any other form. This will provide impetus to innovation and bring economy and efficiency in defence production.
74. Gentlemen, all recent studies indicate, and you are as well aware as I am, that in the coming decades, India will be among the foremost centres of power – economic, technological and cultural. This needs to be matched by a concomitant accretion of military power, of which the maritime power will be a critical dimension.
75. As I have attempted to explain, the Indian Navy can be the catalyst for peace, tranquillity and stability in the Indian Ocean Region, across a wide range of conditions and circumstances that one can envisage in peacetime. It can be used to engage other maritime nations and extend a hand of friendship and co-operation. Its robust presence in a particular area or region could contribute to stability and ensure peace. Lastly, it can act as a strong deterrent with the ability to prevent conflict, or to respond, should it become necessary.
76. I am confident that the Maritime Strategy that we will craft will be equal to the challenges of our times.
Thank you. I am now open to any questions or clarifications.