The Indian Navy underlined its growing prowess at the International Fleet Review (IFR) 2016. Though it was largely a ceremonial inspection of naval warships by the President, it provided an opportunity to the Indian Navy to showcase its might and rapidly expanding capabilities. It was in 2001 that an event of such a scale was last held in India and since then the Indian Navy’s participating contingent has only grown bigger, with 75 frontline ships and submarines in attendance, in addition to 24 ships and delegations from over 50 nations including Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, France, Indonesia, Iran, Maldives, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Flagging the threat of sea-borne terror and piracy as two key challenges to maritime security and underlining the need to respect freedom of navigation against the backdrop of South China Sea dispute, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared during the IFR made it clear that the Indian Ocean region remains his government’s priority given India’s 1,200 island territories, and its huge exclusive economic zone of 2.4 million sq. km. He further underlined the Indian Ocean region’s role “as a strategic bridge with the nations in our immediate and extended maritime neighborhood.”
Threat Perception in the Seas
Pakistan aside, Indian strategists are today aware of China’s increasing activity in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). China’s development of a blue-water navy has caused a great deal of concern in New Delhi. Margolis observed,in coming decades, geopolitical tensions between the two uneasy neighbours and rivals easily could intensify as they vie for hegemony over South and Central Asia, Indonesia and even the South China Sea, political influence, oil, resources and markets.These concerns have been compounded over the last twenty years with five categories of Chinese activity in the IOR:-
- Covert and overt assistance to Pakistan’s nuclear and missile development, assistance to its military development and enhancement of its military-industrial capability.
- Initiation of defence relations and intelligence sharing with Nepal.
- Military and deep economic co-operation with Myanmar including development of its transport and maritime infrastructure.
- Growing People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) activity in the IOR including ship visits and the creation of electronic monitoring facilities.
- The cultivation of ties with Bangladesh and the normalisation of ties with Bhutan.
“Pakistan could not fight for longer than a week in the face of an Indian naval blockade – unless the U.S. Navy challenged it.”
The Indian Navy is primarily focussed on a possible confrontation with Pakistan. This was made evident during the Kargil Crisis in 1999 when it was used to blockade the Pakistani Navy, preventing vital supplies from reaching Karachi. Margolis believes it could be used in any future confrontation to overwhelm Pakistan’s aging navy. He further notes, “Pakistan could not fight for longer than a week in the face of an Indian naval blockade – unless the U.S. Navy challenged it.”
Modernisation of Indian Navy
Between 1980 and 2009, however, the Indian Navy progressed from being a “brown-water” to almost a “blue-water” force; i.e. from one relatively bound to a land base to one almost capable of projecting power at considerable distances from its bases. In 1980 the Indian Navy’s core comprised of ten Soviet-origin Petya-class frigates, two Whitby-class frigates, five Leander-class frigates, and three Nanuchka-class corvettes. In total, there were twenty-three major warships, including one aging aircraft carrier.
By 2010, however, these older ships had been decommissioned. In their place are one more modern aircraft carrier, fourteen operational submarines and 34 major war ships. There are also eight world-class hydrography vessels, which have completed several major oceanographic surveys in the Indian and Western Pacific Oceans for the Indian Navy. However, the planned 140-ship navy is still a far way off, since various Indian governments have allocated more of the defence budget to the air force and army.
By 2013, ninety five per cent of India’s foreign trade by volume and seventy five per cent by value were conducted by sea; also, more than seventy per cent of its oil was imported by sea. With India’s economic growth, its navy has grown in importance.
Missiles first made their appearance in the Indian Navy in 1971 during the Indo-Pak War, when they were used in Operations Trident and Python to effectively neutralise the Pakistani Navy in Karachi for the term of the war. This success led the Indian Navy to convert the main armament of their ships to missiles. More recently, the Shivalik and Talwar-class ships have been fitted with modern Klub (Russian Novator KH-54 TE) active radar-homing missiles as well as the Russo-Indian supersonic Brahmos missiles.
Building an aircraft carrier is one of the biggest and most complex tasks of any navy. India planned to build a twenty thousand ton carrier, but its tonnage was soon expanded to forty thousand. Additionally, the Indian Navy has purchased the refitted Russian aircraft carrier, the Admiral Gorshkov, as its second carrier. A third carrier, designed to accommodate thirty fighter aircraft, is being built at the Kochi Shipyard in Kerala.The Indian Navy plans to operate three carriers by the end of 2018. This demonstrates India’s desire to be acknowledged as a maritime power and, more broadly, a rising world power.
The Indian Navy’s Changing Force Posture
India has fought four wars since independence in 1947 and as its economic and political power grew, its military situated these experiences into its doctrine. For instance, in 2004 the Indian Army began to roll out its “Cold Start” doctrine. This grew from political and military frustration with India’s inability to deter or respond to incursions such as those, which led to the 1999 Kargil incident and terror attacks like that which occurred in December 2001 on the Indian Parliament. Indian leaders wanted the military to rapidly mass its troops on the Pakistani border, threatening overwhelming conventional attack on that country if it did not cease its support for attacks on India by groups based there resulting in Cold Start doctrine.
INS Chakra, India’s sole nuclear-powered attack submarine plays a major role in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).The Maritime Doctrine 2004 is designed to maintain Indian autonomy and security against any regional threat. China is defined as a competitor, but the Navy is required to “provide maritime security in all directions.However the Indian Navy does not see itself as primarily a defensive force. Specific undertakings of the Indian Navy include exercising sea control in designated areas of the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal and at the entry/exit points of the IOR; in case of war to carry the conflict to the enemy’s territory, to strangulate his trade/oil arteries, to destroy his war waging potential and naval assets and to ensure a decisive victory; to provide power projection force; and to work in conjunction with the two other services to preserve, protect and promote India’s national interests.
The Maritime Doctrine notes China’s naval-building and pays close attention to its submarine acquisition. It also considers the PLANs power projection abilities using aircraft carriers. The 2007 Maritime Military Strategy emphasises three new issues: power projection including the development of expeditionary forces, securing Indian interests in a wide arc including the Indian Ocean, the Middle East / Persian Gulf and East Asia, and strike capabilities in littoral warfare to support land forces in war.
India Navy vs. Chinese Navy
Both these navies have their own strong sides. Both these naval forces have however never engaged in a sea battle. Like the PLAN (the Chinese navy) has a very huge submarine force with about 69 submarines (50 diesel electric and the rest nuclear submarines) where as the Indian Navy has 15 submarines (13 diesel electric & 2 nuclear submarines). The Indian submarine force even though low in number is however considered more sophisticated and less noisy than the PLAN ones. This is because of the regular injections of western technology, which is not available to the Chinese because of the sanctions imposed after the 1989 Tianmen massacre. The Chinese submarines have also been known to regularly enter the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal & Arabian Sea and follow the Indian ships and submarines around to obtain sonar signatures of these vessels.
Recently a Chinese vessel completed its first sortie from Harbin Base to Pakistan. The movement of this vessel was tracked by the Indians and made headlines in India.The PLAN has currently a single aircraft carrier in operation versus the IN, which has two in operation plus one in construction. ThePLAN is also very new to carrier management & operations whereas the Indian side has been operating carrier and managing carrier groups for more than 50 plus years now. Also the IN operates aircrafts like the Russian MIG 29 and the British Sea Harrier’s on its vessels. PLAN operates the Shenyang J 15 (a copy of the Soviet Su 33) on its aircraft carrier the Liaoning that is not yet ready to perform carrier operations as engine issues seriously trouble its aircrafts.
Loss of this station if taken out by the IN during the early stages of a conflict would mean the Chinese are at a big disadvantage. However the entry of a third party like Pakistan might make things difficult for the IN but the Pakistani challenge may however not be a game changer here. The real game changer in this equation would be the US Navy which is the real master of all the world seas because they operate the most efficient vessels especially submarines and it is an open secret that the US posses the sonar signatures of all Chinese submarines and surface vessels which they could transfer to India.
Possible ways in which the Chinese would try to overcome the Indian challenge would be by establishing naval bases in South Asia like the Gwadar port (in Pakistan) and by leasing bases in the Maldives & Sri Lanka.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has commissioned India’s first indigenous Scorpene-class submarine, Kalvari, into the Indian Navy. Dubbed as India’s deadliest submarine, the INS Kalvari was indigenously built at Mazagon Dock Limited in Mumbai in September this year. The 1,565-tonne submarine derives its name from the dreaded tiger shark, a deadly deep-sea predator of the Indian Ocean. Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauded it as the best example of the “Make in India” initiative.
The state-of-art features of the Scorpene class include superior strength and ability to launch a crippling attack on the enemy using precision guided weapons. Kalvari’s attack can be launched with torpedoes, the self propelled weapons with an explosive warhead, as well as with anti-ship missiles, underwater or above the surface.The Kalvari is stealthier than nuclear subs as it can work without needing to surface or send up a snorkel for oxygen thanks to the use of Air-independent propulsion system found on the Scorpene subs that can help it stay underwater for up to 21 days at a stretch.
The second submarine in the series, INS Khanderi is would be commissioned by mid-2018, with the third INS Karanj following by early-2019. All the six are to be inducted by 2020-2021 at a total project cost of Rs 23,652 crore.