Force Magazine

No Place is Too Far

A strong navy is a prerequisite for a secure nation

Cmde Lalit Kapur

The night of 4-5 December 1971 found a strike group of the Indian Navy (IN) comprising the missile boats Nirghat, Nipat and Veer, accompanied by Petya class escorts Katchall and Kiltan, approaching Karachi. At about 2245h, Nirghat fired one P-15 (Styx) anti-ship missile, hitting PNS Khaibar and stopping her in the water.

Aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya
Aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya

A second missile hit three minutes later sank the ship. Nipat fired two missiles at about 2300h, one of which sank MV Venus Challenger and the second damaged PNS Shah Jahan beyond repair. Veer fired one SSM at PNS Muhafiz, causing the ship to virtually disintegrate in the water. The ships then fired missiles at the oil farm at Keamari, the first time in history that anti-ship missiles were used against land targets. They hit fuel storage tanks and set the harbour ablaze.

The IN had come of age, using innovation and professional skill to carve a name for itself in the history of sea warfare. To commemorate the event, the IN celebrates 4 December as Navy Day. Forty-four years from then, as Navy Day 2015 dawns, this article compares the navy of today with that of 1971, examining its ability to take war to enemy shores, looking into its role, platforms and equipment, manpower, support structures, budgetary support and external relationships.

Any examination must begin with the role the navy is expected to perform. The nation and its government have yet to spell this out, at least in the public domain. An indication can be found in India’s stated aspiration, as voiced by erstwhile Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2013, of being ‘a net provider of security in our immediate region and beyond’.

Based on this and other indicators from the political leadership, the IN has defined four roles for itself: the military, diplomatic, constabulary and benign. The first focuses on the threat or use of force at, or from, the sea, in offensive operations against enemy forces, territory and trade, as well as defensive operations to protect own forces, territory and trade. The objectives are to deter against war or intervention, win decisively in case of war, ensure security of India’s territory, citizens, shipping and offshore assets from enemy action, influence affairs on land and safeguard India’s national interests.

The diplomatic role is based on the freedom of the seas, which allows navies to range over most of the globe without infringing on anyone’s territorial sovereignty or requiring approval of a foreign government. The IN, thus, helps both in building bridges of friendship and strengthening international cooperation, as well as in signalling capability and intent to potential adversaries while pursuing national interests in the region.

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