Force Magazine

Future Looms

How equipped is the Indian Navy to secure the country’s coastline

Cmde Lalit Kapur (retd) Cmde Lalit Kapur (retd)

Navy Day, celebrated on December 4 each year, commemorates the daring attack by Indian Navy (IN) missile boats Nirghat, Nipat and Veer on Karachi in 1971. The December 2015 issue of this magazine carried an article by this author comparing the navy of the present with that of the past, examining its ability to take war to enemy shores, looking into its roles, platforms and equipment, manpower, support structures, budgetary support and external relationships. The article this year seeks to look into maritime challenges of the future, circa 2030. It aims to identify the challenges the navy will have to deal with and the adequacy of the projected future force structure (examined in the August issue of this magazine) to ensure India’s maritime security.

Continentally, India is an outlier, cut off from Eurasia by the Himalayas and Hindukush ranges, backed by adversarial neighbours to the North and West. The only land connect it has is through Myanmar and South-East Asia, where a booming China is a formidable competitor. From an oceanic perspective, however, India is central to the Indian Ocean. This centrality is geography’s gift, one that continentally fixated India struggles to comprehend. Centrality has historically enabled India to link the East, comprising Asia’s Pacific Coast, with the West, i.e. Europe. The seas are far more crucial in today’s globalised era where, notwithstanding Halford Mackinder’s ‘Heartland Theory’, maritime power reigns supreme and will continue to do so: unlike continental power, maritime power doesn’t have fault-lines that can be exploited. Even China has implicitly acknowledged this in its 2015 Military Strategy White Paper by added focus on the maritime domain. The Indian Ocean is an indispensable global connector for trade, both to provide raw materials including energy for industrial economies as well as to carry their exports. Centrality enables India to be a security provider, facilitator, spectator or obstruction, depending on the vision of its leaders.

The security of globalisation and its pre-requisite, maritime connectivity, are presently underwritten by the US. Though China is perceived as an emerging challenge, the present America dominated global maritime security paradigm will continue for the next 20 years at least, if not longer. In this paradigm, all nations are classified as security threats, security consumers or security providers. A ‘net security provider’ is essentially one who provides more security (to the current paradigm) than it consumes. The US currently views the Indo-Pacific as comprising five distinct sub-regions: the Persian Gulf and Red Sea; the Northern Indian Ocean; the Southern Indian Ocean; South-East Asia and finally, the Asia Pacific, centred on the South and East China seas; and disposes its might to deal with threats in each sub-region. India and the IN may choose to view its footprint as encompassing the entire Indo-Pacific, but in the final analysis, India will either have to accept and work within the American paradigm or oppose it. The words of erstwhile PM Manmohan Singh, who said, ‘We are well positioned, therefore, to become a net provider of security in our immediate neighbourhood and beyond’, would indicate that India has accepted.

What then, are current and future challenges to national and global maritime security? They can broadly be divided into two: the traditional military challenges from inimical nations who are considered security threats, and governance challenges, not only for the increased areas under national jurisdiction after UNCLOS 1982, but also related to the high seas. Governance, in simple terms, is a creation of mechanisms and organisations for the management and protection of national life and property under peacetime conditions, otherwise described as constabulary functions. Constabulary functions in today’s terrorism afflicted environment attract publicity. Since budget shares in India are determined by ad hocism and perceptions of ill-advised political leaders instead of a coherent long-term strategy, the IN is forced to compete with the Coast Guard (CG) and acquire and man policing assets such as offshore patrol vessels (OPVs Sukanya and Saryu class), patrol vessels (Car Nicobar and Bangaram class) and boats (Super Dvora, Solas Marine FICs and ISVs). Instead of finding ways to synergise the IN and CG, government of India (GOI) policy seems to be focused on forcing them to compete, detracting from the capability of both.

Fast Attack Craft Tihayu
Fast Attack Craft Tihayu

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