The present state of affairs in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Chinas rapid economic growth along with military modernisation, certainly deserve a greater priority and attention than the somewhat ill informed debates on Sethu Samundaram Channel Project (SSCP), Indo-US Naval Exercises, etc.
The strategic scenario in South Asia changed after India and Pakistan carried out their nuclear tests in 1998. This combined with testing of various missile delivery systems by both the countries, and the subsequent unleashing of more intensive terrorist attacks on India from across the border created a new situation of “terrorism operating in a background of nuclear deterrence”, even before the world woke up to the dangers of global terrorism after 9/11. Press reports on 18 Nov 2007, (quoting data prepared recently for the US Congress, by the US Congressional Research Service), have confirmed that since the “war on terror” began in 2001, Pakistan, has received/will receive 20 percent more weapons from the USA, as compared to the total American arms received, in the last 50 years. These include three dozen F-16s, eight P3C Orions ,three Hawkeye AWACS, six C-130 transport aircraft,2000 TOW anti-tank missiles,100 Harpoon anti ship missiles and 115 self propelled 155 mm howitzers. Indeed, in 2006-07, the total arms imports/orders from USA was US $ 3.49 bn, as compared to US $ 3.63 bn between 1950 to 2001. In addition, press reports have practically confirmed the fact that successive US Governments had turned a blind eye to Pakistan‘s acquisition of nuclear weapons capability and the missiles to deliver them. The total American aid (including economic) to Pakistan since 9/11, exceeds US $ 10 bn as of end 2007.
The present state of affairs in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and China’s rapid economic growth along with military modernisation, certainly deserve a greater priority and attention than the somewhat ill informed debates on Sethu Samundaram Channel Project (SSCP), Indo-US Naval Exercises, etc. China, in keeping with its “string of pearls” policy to encircle India and secure its own oil supply by sealanes from the Middle East, has kept ensuring that Pakistan’s strategic-cum-conventional capability vis-a-vis India is maintained. It built its Gwadar deep sea port, and continues to provide military and economic assistance to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
More ominously for India,China’s almost frenzied allround military development was capped by some well reported events which have a direct strategic impact on India and can be ignored only at the risk of a more catastrophic repeat of the 1962 war. These strategic events are; the induction of two 30 knot SHANG class SSNs (total five to be inducted by 2012); testing of the 8000 km range, JL-2, SLBM from a submerged modified Golf class submarine on 12 June 2005; and unveiling of two 8000 ton JIN class SSBN (each capable of firing 12 nuclear tipped JL-2 missiles) which are expected to be operational between 2008-10 and would be followed by three more.
A reasonable number of sufficient “combat capable” force levels should ensure that the threat of conventional war and the threat of maritime terrorism continue to remain “unlikely”. Here too, the Navy requires urgent augmentation to its LRMP aircraft, conventional submarines and frigate strength. Since the numbers are large, some of these units could be partly acquired second hand.
While the Shang class could foray into the Indian Ocean and theoratically present a threat to our Carrier task force and seaborne commerce, the Jin class, could theoratically target the whole of India while lying submerged in the China Sea – a classic example of second strike assymetry between India and China. Ignoring this assymetry, should remind us of the disastrous consequences of turning a blind eye to the Chinese conventional activities, in Aksai Chin and our Northern borders for a decade, prior to the Indo–China war of 1962. Indeed, countering terrorism and strategic nuclear asymmetry should be on the front burner for India. In addition, by 2012, China is expected to operationalise the 70,000 ton ex-Russian aircraft carrier, “VARYAG”, which will have an airwing (including Chinese built jet fighters ) about 50 percent larger than the, much delayed, 46,000 ton INS Vikramadatiya (ex-Gorshkov).
The Chinese Navy is also paying attention to other conventional components like indigenous destroyers (DDG Type 051C), frigates (FFG Type 054A), replenishment ships, etc, which will deploy with their “VARYAG” in blue waters. Also, in addition to the dozen Kilo class submarines (Project 877/636) acquired from Russia, the Chinese have inducted a similar number of SONG Mk 1(Type 039), and are busy inducting SONG Mk2 along with the newer YUAN (Type 041) class. By 2015, they should have some 40 odd third generation diesel submarines, which would provide a strong sea denial capability within 1500 nm off the Chinese coast. If given refueling facilities in the “string of pearls”, these conventional units too could make deployments to the Indian Ocean, and further complicate the maritime threat assessment.
Countering The Maritime Terrorism Threat
Post 9/11, the world entered the twilight zone of “no war-no peace”. The emergence of “non-state actors” made many nations re-appreciate their security threat assessment and countermeasures. In the USA, the US Coast Guard (USCG), was made responsible for the maritime aspect of US Homeland Security. Realising that awareness of all “maritime domain” activities (real time data input, by intelligence and technological means) related to incoming and outgoing traffic from US ports was crucial to preventing terrorist attacks. The USCG introduced the concept of Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), to cover the American EEZ of 200 nautical miles (nm), with the aim of getting a complete picture of all surface activities in the maritime domain, which may impact on the nation’s safety, economy and the marine environment.
The US Navy (USN), which always had an MDA system, with respect to own, enemy, neutral seaborne military and civilian traffic (including ships, submarines and aircraft operating at sea), along with data on oil rigs, also quickly realised that post 9/11, the era of fighting known enemy countries was being replaced by a global war on stateless, fanatic terrorists. The USN, quickly introduced the concept of Global MDA, (also known as Global Maritime Situational Awareness), but soon realised that it did not have the assets for this gigantic task. In 2005, the USN, proposed the concept of a voluntary grouping of the world’s Navies and Coast Guards under a “1000 ship navy”, to jointly share information and fight the global war on maritime terrorism. Other governments, navies and coast guards too began to look closely at implementing their own form of MDA and other such proposals and existing systems.
Post 9/11, the Americans introduced the Container Security Initiative in June 2002 which aims at technological scanning and electronic tagging of US bound containers to prevent WMD reaching US ports in containers.
The Indian Navy, lost no time in quickly “refocussing” its MDA system and co-ordinating closely with the Indian Coast Guard (ICG). The ICG, on 01 Feb 2003, operationalised the voluntary INDSAR ship reporting system, wherein all merchant ships in the ISRR, report their position course and speed daily, so as to assist in Search and Rescue(SAR) if required. The INDSAR, is similar to other purely civilian and voluntary reporting systems viz AMVER (USA), JASREP(Japan), AUSREP(Australia). There is perhaps a need to link up all such global voluntary humanitarian systems on a seamless electronic plot, so that assistance to ships in distress (including piracy, terrorist attacks, SAR, etc) can be rendered quickly and effectively. A few noteworthy milestones are enumerated. Though global piracy has decreased, incidents of violent hijackings of ships have increased.