India should view the deployment of Chinese ships in Somali waters, the frantic port-building and the cosseting of island nations such as Seychelles and Maldives as a sub-plot of the grand strategy. To operate ships far and wide, the long-distance logistics need to be in place. By the time the new carriers are baptised, the PLA would ensure that the mechanism is in ship-shape and its wheels are well oiled. In short, enlarging the Chinese footprint in the IOR is a reality India will have to contend with.
It is incumbent upon the PLA Navy to ensure security of trade through our southern blue waters However, the PLA Navy will shift focus to establish commanding presence in the Indian Ocean once it is done with the Pacific, East and South China Seas, its current priorities. How the People’s Republic is aiding Pakistan to run India aground, thus constraining the latter to dissipate its energies on its western neighbour is well-documented. India is within bowshot of Chinese and Pakistani missiles. The DF-21D is the Damoclean sword for the warships of the Indian Navy.
Elsewhere, by elevating South China Sea to another ‘core interest’, the PRC intends to dominate not just the hydrocarbon-rich waters of the South China Sea but also its shipping lanes. Aside from harming our interests (ONGC has stake in the Nam Con Son basin off Vietnam’s Southeast coast), aggressive posture of this kind is unwelcome as it will insidiously upset regional stability and security causing immeasurable damage to regional peace.
In spite of the widening power differential between the PRC and India, pre-eminence in the IOR is India’s to lose. India has to show some spine and stand up to China to protect her national interests. Despite the giant strides hitherto, PRC’s credible power projection capability in the Indian Ocean should take at least a decade-and-a-half to build. In other words, India has time to get her act together to raise her profile and weight in the IOR and the Indo-Pacific, if she is up to it.
In view of the above, does the Indian military have anything to learn from the ASB? Prima facie not much as the geo-political and geo-strategic milieu over the IOR is comparatively placid. Also, when compared with China and the US, the capability of network-centric operations is inchoate and therefore ‘blinding’ warfare sounds like science fiction. However, on second reading, the ASB has much to offer against both China and Pakistan.
ASB: China, Pakistan and India
It would be witless of India to match the PLA tank for tank, ship for ship and aircraft for aircraft. A sound strategy for India will be to build credible capabilities to deter the PLA. China’s “shashoujian” is an inspirational template for any inferior force to slash the asymmetric sway enjoyed by a superior adversary. Yes, India can take a leaf out of China’s own blueprint on how to keel a mighty armada but adapt it to suit her tactical environment. For India, the backdrop for ASB will be the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea and to a lesser extent, the Bay of Bengal.
India needs to take the following measures on a war footing in order to meet the challenges thrown up by her neighbour.
- Arm and equip the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force to effect sea denial. By 2025, the IN combat vessel strength must rise to 180-200 (including 40-50 submarines).
- The IAF has shortlisted the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Rafale for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender. With the Chinese naval and maritime assets in the IOR bound to proliferate, the IAF should keep in mind the capabilities of the finalists to strike these assets while selecting the MMRCA. Maritime interdictions can also be used as a counterpunch to China’s air campaign over the Himalayas in case of hostilities.
- Indian Navy’s aerial strike force will comprise MiG-29K and Tejas LCA. Unfortunately, both possess only moderate sweep apart from lacking stealthy airframes, that too in a lethal environment with ever-lengthening eyeshot of AEW&C crafts and ever-increasing reach of missiles. These frailties need to be addressed while inducting carrier-borne aerial platforms for India-built aircraft carriers. The US, faced with a similar handicap, is now developing long-range, stealth UAVs for carrier-borne strike and surveillance roles.
The warming up of Sino-Pak collaboration will have to be factored in by India while contemplating her war doctrine. In order to lord over the IOR, China aims to hopple the Indian Navy and leave it anchored in the Arabian Sea. To accomplish this, China will humour sponger Pakistan by providing satellites (For instance, the Chinese rocket launching the PAKSAT-1R communication satellite this August, anti-ship missiles, anti-submarine weapons, other hardware and technological assistance.
To indebted Pakistan, replicating China’s war manual is not just the done thing but also grand naval strategy. The Pakistan Navy (PN) relies on a two-pronged tact – elaborate coastal defence and sea denial upfront (emphasis on submarines and anti-ship missiles).
This can be summed up as a strategy of offensive sea denial. For confirmation, behold the PN’s acquisitions/ wishlist – P-3C Orion, Agosta 90B submarines, Harpoon/Exocet anti-ship missiles, Chinese Yingji-82 anti-ship missiles, Chinese Type 039 (Song class) submarines and German HDW Type 214 submarines.
Pakistani A2/AD strategy is as clear as daylight – to compel Indian war boats to hold beyond the range of their ASBMs and ASCMs, and thereby render them wasting assets.
Therefore, few ASB concepts can be borrowed to effect sea control.
- To counter Pakistan’s strategy of offensive sea denial, one cannot emphasise enough on the need for airpower management through consolidation of IAF and IN’s offensive and defensive arms. The IAF firepower can be called upon to sink Pakistan’s A2/AD arsenal, to ‘blind’ C2 & ISR systems and for counter-space. IAF AWACS can direct the IN’s fleet of MiG-29K and LCA Tejas as well as supply over-the-horizon targeting data. Similarly, if the DRDO succeeds in integrating the Aegis missiles into the Prithvi Air Defence Shield, the IN destroyers can defend IAF bases from enemy missiles.
ASB : Diplomatic & Military Agenda
- Raise an adequate military-industrial edifice to meet and serve the requirements of the armed forces. While beefing up military power, it is important to ramp up India’s power projection capabilities too.
- Enter into smart security partnerships not only with countries in the Indian Ocean Region but also with the littoral states to our East.
- Shed all diffidence in engaging with friendly powers, expand the scope of bilateral/multilateral exercises and increase the frequency of such mutually beneficial engagements.
- China will continue to pursue what it perceives as its national interests. While India must prepare for the worst, it is worth our while to prevent conflict or the situation collapsing into a state of cold war. Therefore, the necessity to engage the People’s Republic in a security dialogue cannot be overemphasised.
- Air and space dimensions are fast merging into one – aerospace. Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) and budgeting will ultimately meld the four dimensions – land, sea, aerospace and cyberspace – into a continuum and future battle space will coalesce into a single entity. Effective war-fighting in such an environment calls for jointness – the whole shooting match. ‘Jointness’ has become a must not just for cross-utilisation of assets but for cross-pollination of ideas as well. Yet we procrastinate to instate the Chief of Defence Staff – a reminder of the lament of Basil Liddell Hart that “the only thing harder than getting a new idea into the military mind is to get an old one out.”
- The DRDO needs to work on Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) using air-launched interceptor missiles which will qualitatively fortify our missile-defence shield. The Yanks call them Air-Launched Hit-to-Kill (ALHK BMD).
- Not to forget the next big thing – sea-skimming, stealth anti-ship cruise missiles.
- The enemy’s offensive sea denial also hinges on sub-surface vessels. So, strengthening ASW capabilities – vectored mines, UUVs and stealth submarines – is a no-brainer. ASB stresses on exploiting geography and hydrography to create anti-submarine barriers to ambush/circumscribe enemy vessels. There is also a pressing need for expeditious induction of more submarines as many such vessels are marked for superannuation. Procurement efforts to replace and replenish the inventory are tardy, to say the least.
- During the Cold War, the US had sunk an array of deep-water sensors or Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) to snoop on Soviet submarines, especially the ‘noisier’ nuclear fellows. ASB advocates availing of geography and geophysics to install such a system. Unlike the colder North Atlantic, the Indian Ocean is notorious for temperature and salinity variation, which plays tricks with sonar. Ideally, submarines have to be tracked from the starting-point. At present, the dunking sonars, air-dropped sonobuoys and ship-based tactical towed arrays are LOFAR systems serving the IN well. Although an integrated undersea surveillance system to detect and identify PLA Navy and PN underwater craft is desirable, nothing can substitute old-fashioned, painstaking noise ‘fingerprinting’ of enemy vessels during peacetime for identification in wartime.
- Network centricity has added an extra edge to the tools of war but it is double-edged, a mixed blessing; if ‘blinded’, it can bring even a mighty military behemoth to cease ticking. Advantage can turn into disadvantage in a blink. Need there be more emphasis on training of personnel to fight ‘blind’? Nothing hones your battle skills more than peacetime drills in ‘ISR darkness’.
- As we endeavour more and more to squeeze sensor-to-shooter time to make the shooting war more efficient and clinical, we will rely more and more on aerospace and cyber assets. While expanding our aerospace and cyber capabilities, we will have to imbibe the techniques to protect them as well. The creation of a tri-service Cyber Command & Control Authority to deal with all operational and administrative matters relating to military use of aerospace and cyberspace could be a clincher.
- We are not that far from becoming a space-faring nation. Everett Dolman said that, “control of earth space not only guarantees control of outer reaches of space but provides advantage on terrestrial battlefield.” It may be politically correct to decry it but weaponisation of space is a reality and we should not be weighed down by qualms. Astro-politics and astro-weapons go hand in hand.
- We need a constellation of satellites up in the heavens. The PRC has already demonstrated its capability to smash low-earth orbit satellites into smithereens. As numbers increase, so will the physical vulnerabilities. Hence the need for defensive measures against ASAT weapons. One way to minimise its impact is to miniaturise the satellites as nano and pico satellites. The ISRO has established a toehold in this arena by successfully having the PSLV post nano-satellites – Studsat, SRMSat and Jugnu in orbit. In short, the work of the big satellites will be taken over by a swarm of tiny satellites which will communicate with each other to function as one.
- For offensive operations, investment in research and production of ASAT arsenal including directed energy weapons is an urgent necessity.
- On the cyber front, Chinese hackers have broken in almost at will, thus exposing the chinks in our firewall. The proposed Cyber Command & Control Authority can raise a regiment of cyber-warriors to not only secure cyber assets but also to unleash pre-emptive/punitive cyber raids.
Strategic vision is not the strong suit of our safari and lounge-suited mandarins but will the threat of a rising China impel them to stay awake, dream up, and think anew of strategies to outwit the looming Dragon?
- CSBA Air Sea Battle by Jan Van Tol, Mark Gunzinger, Andrew Krepinevich and Jim Thomas.