Homeland Security

Need for an Indian Marine Force
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Issue Vol. 30.4 Oct-Dec 2015 | Date : 21 Feb , 2016

Our continued neglect of the maritime frontier and the opportunities that it provides reflects the thinking of a ‘landlocked’ power. If we create a master plan to devote one per cent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) towards building up our maritime potential over the next 15 years, we can become a manufacturing and trading power bigger than any European country. Our country is blessed with warm seas and good navigability for vessel of any size all the year round. Yet it is a challenge to investigate and determine which of these factors are holding up our maritime growth – is it inertia or lack of practical thinking; discouragement of ‘spurred’ economic activities along our seaboard or not granting ‘special’ economic development powers to our island territories; is it just lack of a ‘risk taking’ mentality or is it due to the absence of a ‘will of steel’ to become a great nation?

“When the chips are down, call in the Marines”, goes the popular motto of the American Marines. India, which claims to be an ancient maritime nation and has a long coastline of nearly 4,500 kilometres and outlying island territories to defend, does not have a Marine Force! It makes one wonder as to why we have never achieved the status of a great maritime nation despite transcending the main world trade routes. Maybe even strong past Indian rulers never grasped the strategic need to have strong trade relations with other countries and civilisations, using indigenous maritime fleets to increase national prosperity, and gain from the free flow of new ideas from across the globe.

Our continued neglect of the maritime frontier and the opportunities that it provides reflects the thinking of a ‘landlocked’ power. If we create a master plan to devote one per cent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) towards building up our maritime potential over the next 15 years, we can become a manufacturing and trading power bigger than any European country. Our country is blessed with warm seas and good navigability for vessel of any size all the year round. Yet it is a challenge to investigate and determine which of these factors are holding up our maritime growth – is it inertia or lack of practical thinking; discouragement of ‘spurred’ economic activities along our seaboard or not granting ‘special’ economic development powers to our island territories; is it just lack of a ‘risk taking’ mentality or is it due to the absence of a ‘will of steel’ to become a great nation?

India’s naval power had remained neglected after independence as our political leaders envisioned threat only from across our Western land border…

At the end of WW II, Russia successfully ensured that it never again shares a border with a country that has the potential of invading it in future. US policymakers, as early as the 1823, formulated the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ which consciously discouraged and ensured that no other military power succeeds in establishing a foothold on the American landmass and that the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans always act as gigantic barriers to safeguard its population even from an aerial attack.

Recently, China has also woken up to its long forgotten maritime traditions and is furiously building up its naval power, trade and influence over the maritime nations of Asia and Africa. It is constrained because the US has converted Taiwan to act as its ‘Gibraltar’, in order to curb Chinese ambitions. Presently, China has kept four well trained Mechanised Amphibious Divisions ready to achieve its main aim of seizing Taiwan by force should the opportunity arise.

Both the UK and France also have adequate groupings of Marines and support nuclear carrier-based Task Forces for overseas intervention. They have also practiced interoperability and functioning under a joint command. Only a Marine Force has the capability for ensuring a quick and effective response to situations arising across the sea or to initiate the process of recapturing of island territories. When national prestige is at stake, this is a small price to pay for the upkeep of such a strategic capability. Marine Forces are also dual use groupings both across water and on land, as history has proved. Marine Forces also should not be confused with Naval Commandos who have an entirely different function.

The Importance of the Maritime Seaboard

The kind of prosperity which China has been able to create in a mere 35 years on its Eastern Seaboard stretching up to 200 kilometres inland is comparable to the rise of Japan during the period of the Meiji Restoration. China’s Eastern seaboard today is comparable to the Atlantic seaboards of Europe and North America in terms of prosperity and industrial development. If we look back in history, the great scare that was created by the appearance of a single German battleship ‘Emden’ off the coast of Madras and its shelling at the start of WWI, or the brief appearance of two Japanese carrier Task Forces in the Bay of Bengal in early 1942 after the capture of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and their carrying out the bombing of Calcutta, or the decisive influence played by the arrival of the US carrier Group led by ‘Enterprise’ in mid-December 1971 South of the Indian peninsula to dissuade India from switching over its forces to the Western Front and attempting a permanent solution against Pakistani military adventurism – all these episodes point out how vulnerable we as a nation are from a threat from the maritime dimension, and how amenable we are to pressure applied on the maritime front.

Availability of a battle-ready Marine Force grouping at short notice is essential for our national security…

In contrast, China today faces no such threats, and its current strategy has been to force US carrier Groups to operate at least 2,000 kilometres off the Chinese mainland in the event of a confrontation. It has been able to project this threat by strengthening its submarine arm; by creating strong coastal flotillas armed with long range Ship to Ship missiles; by strengthening the reach, sophistication and numbers of its coastal bomber command incorporating large, land-based AWACs and by strengthening and expanding its Marine Force which is the second largest in the world today.

We must, therefore, seriously endeavour to turn the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea into Indian dominated lakes using unrivalled naval assets and air power. We should also have the wherewithal to have considerable influence over the Northern Indian Ocean Region especially the busy sea lanes from West Asia to the Malacca Straits. The ‘Look East’ Policy which the Government of India has enunciated also needs backing up with military strength for it to succeed, and generate a good level of cooperation and economic activities. Weakness will always attract ‘interference’, bullying and countering efforts by nations who do not wish to see India succeed. What a fall India has experienced from the ancient days of Emperor Ashoka and Rajaraja Chola when we had a strong navy. Indian culture and religion had spread throughout South East Asia and was voluntarily accepted and appreciated by the people there.

One good step always leads to the next. Scientific progress and innovative thinking should always be encouraged, so that advancements made by other nations should get immediately noticed and replicated. This requires good managerial talent especially at the government level, developing a strong engineering skills base, gearing up the technological support backup and research institutions which have to quickly deliver results, and above all sustained leadership and coordination strengths. India must not allow itself to become a ‘pushover’ in the maritime arena and we need to catch up fast to stay in the race. All we need to do is emulate Israel and China and surpass them as opportunities arise.

Factors Warranting the Raising of ‘Indian Marine Force’

India’s naval power had remained neglected after independence as our political leaders envisioned threat only from across our Western land border. It was only during the late 1980s that India started to pay attention to building up naval assets in order to become a regional power. Due to lack of political will and national vision, this effort had been put on the backburner for the last 15 years with disastrous results, as indigenous ship building programmes have remained stunted in high technology areas and for capital ships. It will take at least another ten years to correct the slippages and become buoyant again.

Japan and Australia are also in the process of raising full-fledged operational Marine Brigades by 2020…

India has missed the opportunity to get ship building technology cheap, when other naval powers were in economic recession and were desperately on the lookout for collaboration orders to escape laying off their skilled workforce and closing down their production lines. Glaring examples are – not completing the HDW submarines construction deal which would have enabled us to master the skills of manufacturing advanced conventional submarines indigenously; not joining the consortium of France and the UK for constructing the new generation of 60,000-tonne class nuclear carriers; and not collaborating with Navantia of Spain to build advanced Landing Platform Docks (LPDs) after having gained experience in operating the ‘Trenton’ class Jalashwa LPD.

In India, the need for a professional Marine Force had been felt since the time of the disastrous Ramree Island capture operation launched on the Arakan coast in early 1943. Subsequently, the 3 British Marine Brigade was brought into the ORBAT of South East Asia Forces Command and 33 Corps was raised as a purely amphibious force during WWII. In 1971, ‘OPERATION BEAVER’, a botched amphibious operation was launched at Reju Creek South of Cox’s Bazar using an infantry battalion (1/3 GR), to block the escape of Pakistani troops. This became a haunting comedy of errors and led to several unwanted drowning deaths.

The fundamental defect that exists is that we come out with typical short fix solutions in operational planning. An infantry formation can be trained to take part in a ‘set piece demonstration’ of amphibious warfare, but the lingering knowledge and efficiency does not last beyond three months as this is an altogether different ball game like airborne operations. To become professionals in this field, a tradition has to be created and Units and formation HQ have to learn from past mistakes. A vast array of equipment modifications has to be tried out and perfected by doing constant R&D, and by frequently interacting with foreign marine forces.

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3 thoughts on “Need for an Indian Marine Force

  1. Part Two:

    Here is something that I wrote about the Indian Navy’s “Strategy and Structure” a long time ago”:

    “This is all old time “Show the flag”, “Fleet review”, and “Capital ship” assessments of naval profiling. How does showing the flag here and there strengthen a navy? For example, by concentrating its Naval forces around Karwar, The Indian Navy has effectively unlearned the lesson of Vizag and PNS Ghazi. Not to mention Pearl Harbour, the Battle of Trafalgar and the sinking of the Bismark! Now the enemy knows exactly where to take out the Western Fleet, all that remains is the “how” and the “When”, I have always maintained that India needs to have a large number of tiny bases and tiny but sharp toothed ships, subs, missiles and aircaft that can be moved around between bases to cluster or swarm as necessary. Not just along the coast but along India’s extensive archipelagos of the Nicobar, Lakshadweep, Minicoy and Andamans. The Indian Navy is locked into a pre Second World War parading of Dread Noughts and Fortresses more redolent of medieval Rajasthan. If at all it is possible to create a Maginot line in the oceans, The Indian Navy will succeed in doing so! This reminds me of very junior chess players painstakingly building a bulwark of pawns against a superior and dynamic player who delivers a check mate with a few deft moves and a sacrifice or two. The Indian Navy, like its Neta-Babu Over Lords seems to be attending to its personal comfort, security and the familiar environs of a clonie (colony) rather than attending to National Security. Quite expected. But, look at Russia. In deploying small ships with extraordinary fire power in Syria, they have demonstrated what I have been trying, in vain, to tell India for decades. My lack of success is primarily due to India trying to become a “me too” “toys for the boys” Navy like the US without any regard to India’s strategic or tactical needs, affordability or lie of the land.”

  2. A good perspective. The Indian Navy, like the US Navy is bringing up dreadnoughts and capital ships like the Knights of medieval Europe while Russia is moving into smaller, faster, ships with greater stamina, flexibility and higher fire power like Genghis Khan’s Mongols. (Remember the Battle of Trafalgar?) India is endowed with a natural if static Eastern and Western fleets of aircraft carriers, missile cruisers, submarine bases and so on that India has ignored because of its land-locked perspective to expend enormous and unnecessary sums on “Navy Build Up” in imitation of obsolete Navies and Naval Forces that rest on an economic base and a global agenda that it will take India a century to even aspire to AFTER it puts an end to bad laws, perverted constitution and the reservations-extortion raj this has fostered. the United States.

    Continued….

  3. The Indian forces are not filling their role as they should do they still think the old ways , a tank battle they will send 100 tanks to face a 100 tanks what about your air power. A blockade a port, a few thousand trained Marines hold a port until help arrives. Indian political leaders envisioned threat only sees a treat from across our Western land borders because they are stupid to understand things like that “what about Bombay Or Mumbai “ they were totally unaware to face a situation like that ? The Indian forces they have to try and make those stupid politicians understand a situation like this can happen.

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