Options for India in Indian Ocean Region

CHAPTER
7

INDIAN
STRATEGY FOR BETTER CONTROL OF THE INDIAN OCEAN REGION

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 “History has taught India two bitter lessons:
firstly, that neglect ofmaritime power can culminate in a cession of
sovereignty, and secondly, that it

takes
decades to revert to being a considerable maritime power after a period of

neglect
and decline.”[1]

 

 

46.       Over the past few years, India has placed
itself on a path to achieve, potentially, the regional influence in the Indian
Ocean to which it has aspired. To this end, New Delhi has raised its profile
and strengthened its position in a variety of nations on the littoral,
especially Iran, Sri Lanka, Burma, Singapore, Thailand, and most of the ocean’s
small island nations. India also has become a more palpable presence in key
maritime zones, particularly the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. Of equal or
greater importance, India’s links with the most important external actors in
the Indian Ocean—the United States, Japan, Israel, and France also have been strengthened.
These are significant achievements, and they derive from India’s growing
economic clout and from a surer hand visible today in Indian diplomacy. 

 

47.       Gaps inevitably remain in India’s
strategic posture. New Delhi will need to strengthen further its hand in
coastal Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. More work also will be required to
upgrade still somewhat distant relationships with Australia and Indonesia. At
the same time, India will need to be more skillful than it has been in
cultivating better relations with, and an environment more attuned to Indian
interests in, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Further, much will depend on the
performance of the Indian economy and on India’s ability to avoid domestic
communal discord. Another variable will be the extent to which other
states—particularly China and the United States but also Pakistan and others in
southern Asia—are willing or able to offer serious resistance to India’s
ambitions. The future of political Islam is another wild card. However, barring
a halt to globalization—one of the megatrends of the contemporary world—the
rise of India in the IO is fairly certain.

 

 

 

 

India’s
Objectives in the Indian Ocean 

 

48         
To emerge as a dominant power  and to contain China’s designs in the Indian
Ocean, India has set the following Objectives for herself :-

 

(a)       Attempting
to spread its influence across the entire Indian Ocean Region, through trade
and investment, diplomacy and strategic partnerships.

(b)       Upgrading
relations with Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia; regions that hold
mineral deposits and energy reserves critical to India’s economic development
and great power aspirations.

(c)        Positioning itself to emerge as the dominant Indian Ocean
power in the decades ahead.

(d)       Ensuring that China does not gain a significant strategic
foothold in the region.

(e)       Strengthening influence and control over Indian Ocean choke
points through security relationships with key littoral states such as
Singapore, Mauritius and Oman.

 

IMPLICATIONS
FOR INDIAN SECURITY

 

 

32.       Sub Surface Threat.    Implications for India’s security have to
be examined in the context of the analysis above.  The most significant implication of the
growth of the Chinese Navy emerges from the threat of the Chinese submarine
force  (especially the SSN’s) to Indian
security interests.  With all the
limitations on routing, deployment and time on-station, the sub surface threat
is the most credible one, which needs to be addressed by the defence planners.  As the PLAN modernisation progresses in
future, this potential threat would increase in significance.

 

33.       Surface Threat.    The only scenario where the surface fleet
of the PLAN could create any credible threat to India’s security interest would
be in the shape of a threat to the Andaman and Car Nicobar group of
Islands.  During a period of Sino-Indian
tension  and crisis, especially along the
land border, it is conceivable that such an operation could be threatened to be
launched for political objectives, in other words, in the process of coercive
diplomacy.

 

34.       Strategic Threat.   A Chinese military presence in the Indian
Ocean will directly pose a threat to India. 
The threat will be both political and military if Pakistan and
Bangladesh agree to provide some port facilities to the Chinese Navy.  The political tilt of some of our
neighbouring countries towards Beijing under such a situation will grow and
become stronger along with the growth of the Chinese military
capabilities.  If an armed conflict
between India and Pakistan breaks out, the presence of the Chinese Navy in the
Indian Ocean will certainly work against the Indian interest; it would work as
a psychological pressure as well.

 

35.       Strategic/Diplomatic Encirclement. China has
established cordial political relations with many countries in the Indian Ocean
region especially Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan.   Thus apart from enhancing its economy
through better trade relations, China has also emerged as a prime supplier of
arms to the security forces of these countries. 
In the process it has acquired significant influence.  The spadework, which it has been doing for
some years now, is likely to pay dividends when China decides to make its naval
presence felt in the Indian Ocean region.

 

 

INDIAN
RESPONSE

 

 

Present Operational Response

 

36.       The PLAN, at present has
still not overcome its deficiency in blue water ships to constitute a credible
threat to India.  In a worst-case
scenario, therefore the Indian navy would need to deal with a few modern
guided-missile destroyers, as also two or three Han class nuclear-powered
submarines (all of which could be equipped with C-801 Eagle Strike anti-ship
missiles) in the Indian Ocean.  While
such a force could threaten the Andaman and Nicobar Islands for the purposes of
coercive diplomacy, it would be at a considerable disadvantages in view of the
Indian Navy’s range and extent of operations in the area, including missile
strikes from the air, co-ordinated ASW missions and overwhelming logistic
support.  It is also unlikely that the Indian
Navy would seek out the PLAN in the South China Sea rather than meet it at the
strategic waterway of the Straits of Malacca.

 

 

Future
Naval Doctrine to Include Threat From PLAN

  

 37.      In the near future, possibly as close as the turn of the
decade, the maritime dimensions of the Chinese military threat to India will
increase in intensity.  This would evolve
from a sense of rivalry between two powerful navies over their respective
spheres of influence in the Indian Ocean.

 

38.       India will have to
increase her naval assets and efforts to contain China’s maritime
modernisation.  India will have to
rethink its naval doctrines and operational capabilities.  The composition of the forces of Indian Navy
in the future should take into account the threat arising from Chinese interest
in the Indian Ocean.  Nuclear submarines
in the Indian inventory would always be the greatest deterrent to any Chinese
adventurism in the Indian Ocean.

 

39.       India should set up better
facilities for support and maintenance of Indian naval vessels at the
Andamans.  The naval base should be
enlarged to set up permanent base for a Far Eastern Fleet, which should of
course include submarines.  Creating
facilities for the operation of LRMP aircraft from Andamans could increase
Indian maritime surveillance over the Malacca Straits, South China Sea and the
approaches to the Indian Ocean from south of the Andamans.

 

40.       The facilities at Andamans
should also cater for effective close monitoring of activities of the Chinese
in Myanmar and Coco Islands to enable India to take effective counter measures
in order to forestall and contain any Chinese initiatives and extension of any
base facilities in the region.

 

 

Diplomatic
Initiatives 

 

41.       As China begins to look
for a role in the Indian Ocean region, New Delhi needs to consider seriously
the politico-security implications of such a development.  It is more so because India’s own modest
naval development programme has resulted in wide spread misconceptions and
misplaced apprehensions. .

 

42.       The nature and range of
PLAN missions would be determined to a great extent by its prevailing
relationship with New Delhi and the Indian Navy. An early indication of the
dilemmas involved in this regard were brought out by the policy of maritime
co-operation as a confidence building measures between states.  While the Indian navy carried out exercises
with warships of several countries, including those of extra regional powers,
it stopped short of similar interactions with the PLAN.  Although it realizes that this may be a good
way to moderate its influence in the area, and impose relations, it is not keen
to encourage a Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean through joint
exercises.  In view of this paradox, the
Indian Government has hesitated from suggesting anything beyond visits by
Indian and Chinese warships to each other’s ports.  It is imperative, therefore, that the Indian
Navy and government seriously begin to consider the manner in which they intend
to deal with the emerging blue water capacity of the PLAN in the Indian Ocean.[2]

 

43.       As regards Myanmar India
should not only seriously try at improving relations between the two countries
but also strongly object and bring to their notice the implications of their
granting of greater access to the Chinese. 

 

Indian
Strategy

 

“India’s growing
international stature gives it strategic relevance in the area ranging from the
Persian Gulf to the Straits of Malacca…India has exploited the fluidities of
the emerging world order to forge new links through a combination of diplomatic
repositioning, economic resurgence and military firmness”.

-Dr
Manmohan Singh

 

49.        
India, a Regional power in its own right, has
made attempts to secure what can be legitimately considered its back yard.
However, to achieve the objectives the Govt has to consider and execute all
forms of international diplomacy, ensuring capability building for its Armed
Forces, the Indian Navy in particular and form alliances with friendly littoral
states. Some of the important facets of Indian Strategy have been enunciated in
the succeeding paragraphs.

 

Cooperative Arrangements with Maritime Forces

 

50.       Reaching out to the maritime
neighbours of China by engaging the maritime forces of the countries are being
visited at regular intervals. Such visits have galvanized the regional
cooperative mechanisms particularly in the field of disaster relief and SAR. In
addition, such interactions enable the Navies in different parts of the world
to work out Standard Operating Procedures, work out inter operability issues
and keep templates ready for both war and peace. The Navies and the Coast
Guards of the region in the Asia Pacific do look at India and Japan as
balancing forces in the region to thwart any Chinese advances. India therefore
is required to engage Chinese neighbours with purpose and intent to OBORng out
the required balance.

 

 Indian
Initiatives in the Neighbourhood

 

51.        
 While
not exactly matching China event by event, India has also upped the ante in
terms of engaging its maritime neighbours. The maritime neighbours would be
quite happy with the sense of competition between the two Asian giants which
pays them rich dividends in terms of economic investments and development.
Therefore, one sees India also engaging in projects in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh,
Myanmar and Maldives. India has also nurtured excellent maritime relations with
Seychelles and Mauritius[3]. While India does lag
behind by over two decades in terms of its economic liberalization there are
strengths that have attracted many players who prefer India to China for some
interesting reasons.

 

 Security Pact with Littoral States 

 

52.       Keeping the aggressive designs of
China in perspective India needs to sign security agreements with small
neighbors in the Indian Ocean. The proximity of Maldives and the past
record of India rushing to its aid when threatened by mercenaries have helped
India to maintain cordial relations and engage its Arabian Sea neighbour both
economically and in strategic terms. The frequent exchanges and the training
being offered to the security forces have helped in cementing the relations.
However, the latest act of the Maldives Govt to suspend the agreement for construction
of Male Airport by the Indian company GMR seems to be on the behest of China.
This kind of hostile coercion of small littoral states by china may pick up in
near future. Hence, long term security arrangements must be made with these
countries to ensure effective domination of the region.

 

 Launch
of INS Arihant –ATV

 

53.        
 The
induction of the nuclear capable submarine Arihant would provide the much
needed second strike capability as part of the Triad. Though it would take some
time before this component of the Triad becomes fully operational it is clear
that India is charting the right course. India has a declared policy of ‘no
first use’ of nuclear weapons however it reserves the right of massive
retaliation[4].

 

 Modernisation
of India’s Maritime Assets

 

54.        
 While
the Indian Navy may be lagging behind in terms of sea based nuclear forces, in
terms of its modern naval platforms centered around a Carrier, the IN is a
reckonable force which has demonstrated its potential both during peace and
war. While it has resolved its differences on the cost of acquisition of the
Soviet era Carrier, Gorshkov.  it is
building its own carrier in Cochin Ship Yard to be named Vikrant. India is also
adding to its infrastructure potential in the maritime sector by creating new
ports and allowing private players to participate in building ships for the
Navy and the Coast Guard. The mix of both indigenous and imported modern ships
has given the Indian Navy a qualitative edge in the region. Indian Navy in
addition enjoys a geographic location advantage. It also has a strategic
maritime edge due to the location of its far flung Island territory both on
either flank in the Arabian Sea and in the Andaman Sea[5].

 

 Infrastructure
Improvements

 

55.       India has shed its past
inhibitions about augmenting its defence preparedness in strategic areas of
Arunachal Pradesh and has also been modernizing its Navy, Air Force and the
Army. India is preparing itself for a two-front war simultaneously with
Pakistan and China and accordingly the Govt has started giving due priority to
the infrastructure projects along the Northern borders. Though China is showing
concern on these issues but india is moving ahead to prepare its forces for any
future misadventure by its biggest rival in the North.

 

 Assertive India

 

56.        
With the increasing military
might, economic clout and also against the public perception that India is too
defensive, India in the recent past has displayed a degree of assertiveness
much to the consternation of China[6].
The notable incidents that OBORng out this aspect of new assertiveness is
related to the participation in the Noble Award ceremony for a Chinese Scholar,
holding firm ground on Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, Omission of the
references to one China, post the visit of the Chinese Premier in December
2010, and the firm handling of the stapled visas to Indian visitors from
disputed areas. India’s latest Quid pro quo action of printing its map with
Aksai chin and Arunachal as its integral part is a strond sign to the International
community and China in particular. With these strong assertions india is
safeguarding its national interests.

 

Role
of Navy in Kargil Conflict

 

57.       One
early sign of maritime renewal was the confrontation with Pakistan in 1999.
Land setbacks in Kargil were offset by successful naval deployments against
Karachi and the Pakistani coastline. The Indian Navy deployed frigates,
destroyers and submarines within striking range of Karachi harbour, through
which more than 90 percent of Pakistan’s trade, including oil supplies, were
being received. The Indian fleet’s manoeuvres in the Arabian Sea resulted in
Pakistan’s fleet being shackled to its immediate coastline. Pakistan considered
the Indian Navy about to enforce a quarantine or blockade of Karachi and
prevent the supply of oil from the Persian Gulf. Islamabad was not keen to open
another front for itself against the Indian military and so chose to withdraw
from Kargil. Indian naval projection had been tangible and successful. This
experience would clearly ensure the strategic role of Indian Navy in any future
conflict with China or Pakistan thus requiring speedy modernization and better
preparedness.

 

Indian
Presence in South China Sea

 

57.        
To counter China’s
influence in the IOR, India has started joint oil exploration with Vietnam and
trying to establish maritime relations with Philippines. Both these countries
are in conflict with China over the Islands in the South China Sea. India’s
latest maritime exercise with Japan Navy is also a step in the right direction.
As part of its future strategy India should form strong maritime ties with all
the unhappy neighbours of China. India’s greater presence in the South China
Sea will act as a deterrent for China in the IOR. 

 

Capability
Building for the Indian Armed Forces

 

58.      Supplementing its diplomatic and
political initiatives, India is shaping its growing

military capability. These
forces should be able, should the need arise, to: keep China’s navy out of the
Indian Ocean; enter the South China Sea and project military power directly
against the Chinese homeland; project military power elsewhere in the Indian
Ocean—at key choke points, on vital islands, around the littoral, and along key
sea routes; and—in a presumably altered strategic environment—pose an important
potential constraint on the ability of the U.S.Navy to operate in the IO. At
present, the overall thrust is to get weapons toproject power, especially
systems with greater lethality and reach.

 

59.     The Govt has taken major strategic decisions to ensure better
preparedness and coordination amongst its Armed Forces. The first relates to the process of jointness
within the armed forces by the creation of the Headquarters Intergrated  Defence Staff that has been effectively
implemented at various levels. It is to be hoped that the Government will
initiate early action for the appointment of a Chief of the Defence Staff.
Secondly, there is a concerted effort to focus on the long neglected maritime
dimension of our national security particularly in context of the security of
maritime traffic in the Indian Ocean. The establishment of a tri-service
regional headquarters in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is not only a step in
the jointness process but a major step forward in the enhancement of India’s
maritime capability[7].

 

60.       Thirdly,
the establishment of the Strategic Command is not only another move towards
greater jointness but also a recognition of the vital importance of the
effective management and control of our nuclear assets. Fourthly, among other
assets being acquired or improved upon, are airborne early warning and control
system that will enhance strategic surveillance and monitoring capability,
unarmed aerial vehicles, tactical and strategic missile and anti-missile
system, electronic warfare systems and so on. Fifthly the long overdue
requirement of strategic airlift capability a apparently being addressed
together with added acquisition and improvements for a credible strategic
projection of air power.

 

61.        
Lastly, there is greater focus on increasing
and improving the capability of Special Forces not only to provide a force
multiplier option in the conduct of conventional operations, but also to enable
effective action against terrorists[8]. Such forces would also
provide the ability to deploy rapid action forces at short notice in regional
conflict situations where our assistance is requested. All this capability
would, besides enhancing the military capability of the Indian Armed Forces to
deal with operational situations that may arise, also allow for more effective
and meaningful deployment for international peace operations when called upon
to do so.

 

62.        
India’s futuristic appreciation of the
strategic importance of the Indian Ocean in its rise as a regional power has
given new momentum to the diplomacy and capacity building of its Armed Forces.
Its strategy of dominating the Ocean and containing China’s influence in the
region are the positive signs of an emerging power. With the correct and timely
use of its massive soft power and efforts to build up the credible hard power
will ensure a favorable power projection over China in the region[9].  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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