The naval strategy of the Western powers led by the USA during the Cold War was centred on the location and tracking of Soviet ballistic missile-firing nuclear submarines (SSBNs). When the Cold War ended and the USSR collapsed, this strategy underwent a major revision. As the two superpowers backed off militarily from each other, the new order gave room for the eruption of long pent-up hostility and resentment engendered by historical injustices of the post World War and Cold War era.
The lone superpower may have subdued its major rival, but it was soon kept busy fighting an unending succession of bush fires scattered around the globe. The era of mighty fleets ranging the ocean expanses in search of the enemy was over, and naval warfare seemed much more likely to focus on specific coastal regions. Technology enabled a degree of integration between sea, air and land forces to a degree never possible before, and it was inevitable that naval strategy would be closely integrated with the land battle.
When the Second World War ended and India became independent, we inherited a proportionate share of the combined military resources of British India, including naval resources that had been built up to serve the interests of the Empire. As far as India was concerned, the Navy inherited a collection of ships which lacked coherence as a fighting force, and in the prevailing situation its composition was not based on planned roles or strategic objectives. Further sale of ships and equipment, too, were predicated on the role envisaged for India by Britain. The major challenge before the naval leadership in the early years was therefore to visualize and create a force that would meet the strategic demands of the country in the next decades. This task was made complex by two factors.
“¦the threat is not from enemy warship formations, or what Gorshkov termed “Fleet on Fleet.” The threat emanates from the coastal area or transits through it, and the target, too, is situated in the coastal area. Thus the focus has shifted from the open ocean to the littoral.
Firstly, the military strategy of a country stems from its national security strategy, which is formulated based on its perceived vital interests. The identification of these vital interests enables the government to issue directives regarding national objectives in the fields of economic, foreign and military policy. Naval strategy as a part of military strategy flows as a logical outcome of this process of defining national objectives. While there is no formal document which contains national objectives in the areas mentioned above, the Indian armed forces have based their strategy on a set of axiomatic national interests. The Navy has the following principle roles in pursuance of its maritime strategy:
- Defence against threats or aggression against our territories and national maritime assets.
- To make the Navy an active instrument of diplomacy to further the foreign policy and economic objectives of the Government in our maritime areas of interest.
- Maintenance of maritime order and prevention of acts of piracy and terrorism in our maritime areas of interest.
- Humanitarian missions and disaster relief operations to protect and assist our countrymen and citizens of other countries as ordered by the Government.
- Provide a strategic deterrent.
Secondly, naval planning is made more complex because of three features unique to ships:
- The invariably long periods of debate and delay before the Government approves the building or acquisition of a warship.
- The long gestation period from the government’s approval to the design of a warship and then to its construction and induction as a battle-worthy fleet unit.
- And finally, all warships have a long life-span of at least twenty years.
These three factors imply that when the conceptual requirements of a warship are drawn up and projected by the naval staff, they must be able to assure the Government that the ship will still be relevant thirty years hence! This is a tall order indeed if one takes into account the rate of technological advancement and the volatility of international relations and the global economy.In the decades following independence, India has built a modern Navy capable of the spectrum of roles that it had derived for itself based on its strategic objectives. Along with its fleet of surface combatants it has developed both an aviation and a submarine arm, and is among a few countries in the world with this three-dimensional capability. But the planning, like that of the military of all countries, was naturally based on circumstances that were foreseen or foreseeable at the time of planning.