In present day strategic environment, it is the economy which is the centre of gravity of political buoyancy impacting on the way nations manage their fiscal policy. It is indeed the core virtue of the geo politics and concomitant grand games being played out for economic dominance by the global as well as regional powers.
The raison d’etre of Chinese politico-military encirclement of India and regular inimical visits to LAC is part of this mind set.
The gloves are off in case of both US and China who seem to have initiated a new cold war which is bound to engulf the rest of the world directly, or indirectly. Russia as the erstwhile super power is still in the process of resurgence and continues to be relevant in the global political arena. Their political foot prints are on increase in different part of the world, hence cannot be wished away.
With US intensions to pull out of the West Asian landscape, there is going to be a strategic space which seems to be the focus of China as well as Russia with support of coterie of their friendly nations. Whereas, the US seem to be shifting their focus on Indo- Pacific to contain China and her politico-economic rise.
As a result, the region on the cusp of two Oceans is becoming the centre of gravity for the extra regional forces and a pivot for future military actions. Surely, it is a matter of immense concern for India as the enemy is already at the gate.
China leads the way with her aspirations of donning the crown of global leadership in the earliest possible time with probable target of 75 years of PRC, four years from now. China is obviously desperate and pushing its agenda with all the conceivable ways which have fair share of unethical and coercive content to execute its expansionist designs.
In that, it has initiated multipronged politico-economic opportunist narratives with coercive military strains mischievously timed during pandemic, a well orchestrated designer episode of their making ostentatiously for their dubious political purposes.
China has even shown defiance to directives of the International Court with judicial prudence in matters of laws of seas.
China has compulsion of transiting through East and South China seas and the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) for their trade and energy supplies. They get overtly rattled due to apprehensions of disruptions of these sea lanes of her economic expansion. This Chinese insecurity and self serving attitude, has vitiated the environment by exerting its claims on number of islands and reefs in these waters based on unsubstantiated historical precedence.
China has even shown defiance to directives of the International Court with judicial prudence in matters of laws of seas. It is impacting on free flow of trade traffic in the international waters as mandated by the Laws of Seas to which China is one of the signatories.
As a result, the military ante is on the increase by the day as reflective in the current standoff between US and China in the South China Sea as of now. Japan, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia are also up in the arms due to recent Chinese coercive military exertion.
Thus China, in order to circumvent these insecure sea routes, launched the infamous China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) scheme which is strategically one of the most important Chinese road and rail networks. It provides them shorter and direct overland access to the Arabian sea and further on to their markets and energy sources in Middle East , Africa and Europe. China has also been befriending littoral countries astride her sea trade routes in the IOR by establishing bases for their maritime interests which they call ‘strings of pearls in the ocean’.
China, obviously, is extra sensitive towards possible disruptions of these sea and land trade routes by the inimical forces. India happens to be one of them in Chinese perceptions.
India has objected to the CPEC alignment which blatantly trespasses the Indian territories of Gilgit-Baltistan of Ladakh UT presently occupied by Pakistan. Moreover, India due to her predominance and substantial military footprints in the IOR, is considered as an impediment to Chinese geo political ambitions. Apropos, China has chosen to use military coercion in an attempt to push India into their political subservience.
… navy has deterrence of immense punitive value which transends into nuclear as well as conventional domain.
The raison d’etre of Chinese politico-military encirclement of India and regular inimical visits to Line of Actual Control (LAC) is part of this mind set. They seem to have come to Ladakh this time with an eye to ensure security of CPEC looking at the emerging threat due to Indian infrastructural accretions linking DBO with the hinterland. Their apprehensions may also stem from the declared Indian political intent to re- integrate Gilgit-Baltistan and POK which is a direct threat to the CPEC. The standoff continues, albeit with setback to their plans due to unexpected and aggressive Indian response on night 15/16 June in Galwan sector.
The ever changing alignment of the LAC and persistent Chinese show of intransigence towards Indian efforts to resolve the issues has prompted India to look at other options which were avoided all this time for varied political and pragmatic reasons. Use of naval power is one such viable option as it can effectively interfere in Chinese energy and trade supply chain, the edifice of their high economic buoyancy and concomitant political hubris.
China is most vulnerable in IOR and it would hurt the Chinese interests the most. The role of Indian maritime structures in creating a strategic hydraulics facilitating countervailing effect on Chinese land intrusions is the subject of this analysis.
The Navy has capabilities to operate in all the four dimensions to include sub surface, surface, air and space with requisite integral air and army components. The navy is also part of nuclear triad alongside other strategic weapons of intercontinental reach. Thus, navy has deterrence of immense punitive value which transends into nuclear as well as conventional domain.
Navy when employed in concert with the army, air and strategic forces has capability to dislocate the enemy, a strategic potential not fully exploited as yet. It is time that Indian Navy is hyphenated with the ongoing standoff on land borders and employed aggressively beyond the confines of its defensive role.
It is time that Indian Navy is hyphenated with the ongoing standoff on land borders and employed aggressively beyond the confines of its defensive role.
The Indian Navy in its structural concept is meant to out maneuver the opponent on high seas to protect the national maritime interests. It essentially is a defensive doctrine with scope of protecting the EEZ through sea denial and limited sea control capabilities on high seas adjoining our peninsular periphery. The power projection component is restricted to tactical level forces with limited reach and that too not fully integrated as of now.
It is at best an interim answer for security of Indian island territories and assistance to friendly countries in times of crisis, hence its defensive orientation. Overall, Indian Navy does not have the expeditionary offensive content of variety and scale which is capable of decisively countering large extra regional navies within and beyond the IOR.
The deteriorating security environment due to hegemonic tendencies of extra regional powers milling around in the Indo-Pacific is a reality which India cannot ignore any more. The US has entered the region in a big way in response to increasing Chinese military foot prints. As a result, the extra regional forces are uncomfortably close to our maritime boundaries encroaching upon our dominance of the IOR.
As a principle India needs to regain her hold over her area of influence to deter the outside forces to flex their muscles with impunity. Accordingly, there is a need of acquiring naval capabilities beyond defensive mandate, a compulsive political prudence which needs to be built up in national interest.
China in particular needs to be taken seriously as it has succeeded in politico-military encirclement of India to a fair extent. Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Pakistan and Somalia are part of Chinese consortium to accord security to facilitate their economic expansion. Even Iran seems to be getting into Chinese folds which would pave way to Chinese access directly into the Persian Gulf waters. This obviously has increased the scope and scale of naval power commitments due to multiplicity of friction areas on our periphery. The naval force accretions need to take all these emerging issues impacting our security matrix.
While threat in the maritime domain may emerge by any of the aggrieved stake holders on varied issues, it is China and Pakistan that are a matter of serious concern for India. A collusive threat over land as well as sea cannot be ruled out looking at the commonality of their strategic interests. In that, joint operations by China and Pakistan in Arabian Sea have high possibility due to Chinese sensitivity towards the Gwadar port and Pakistani maritime assets.
Indian Navy does not have the expeditionary offensive content of variety and scale which is capable of decisively countering large extra regional navies within and beyond the IOR.
Indian Navy has been mobilizing part of Eastern fleet also to deal with Pakistan all this time, being a single enemy and single sea space to deal with. Whereas, it would not be possible now as Eastern sea board would also be fully activated against China and that too with much larger opposition.
‘Malacca dilemma’ is the most sensitive and serious issue for Chinese economic interests, hence it would react with substantial naval power at her disposal. The sea space near Andaman and Nicobar islands being closer to Strait of Malacca is likely to see a major confrontation of naval forces. It prompts force accretions to the naval component available on the Eastern sea board, besides augmenting tri-service force on the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Moreover, a confrontation with China may also envisages clashes opposite Sunda, Lombok and Makassar straits which provide alternate sea routes to China to carry out their economic activities and shipment of energy resources.
The Southern span of Indian Ocean astride Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles and Madagascar dominate the sea lanes coming from the Southern Africa. Whereas, the central sector lies on the trade routes emanating from African main land and energy routes from the West Asia. In an eventuality of confrontation, this geographical space would be the most impacted. Domination of this space is mandatory for regaining the strategic influence which India seems to have lost with entry of US and China in a big way in the region.
The capability enhancement of the Indian Navy would entail appropriate force levels to control the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and high seas of Indian Ocean as three theatres of interest for national security in all its manifestations. It essentially boils down to sea denial and sea control capabilities in Arabian Sea as well as Bay of Bengal alongside an expeditionary capability to cover rest of the Indian Ocean.
The IOR being our primary concern major part of these forces are likely to get fixed leaving little scope of operating beyond Indian periphery in the times of war. In the eventuality of operations in the South China Sea, or elsewhere simultaneously, it may warrant additional naval forces or we may have to make compromises.
Therefore, the task statement for Navy is to sanitize and secure maritime boundaries alongside expeditionary capability to project national power and deter inimical forces so as to ensure unhindered conduct of maritime activities in the,IOR, Indo-Pacific and elsewhere. It entails not only longer reach and offensive content but also quantum of forces in sufficient numbers to carry out such a mandate on multiple fronts. It calls for upgrading the naval structures to make it a blue water navy as the future threats lie in distant waters with collusive possibilities and hybrid orientation.
There is a need of acquiring naval capabilities beyond defensive mandate, a compulsive political prudence which needs to be built up in national interest.
It essentially points towards minimum three grouping of self contained naval task forces capable of operating in all four dimensions and execute maneuver to establish effective sea control over strategic distances. Ideally, additional forces would be required for operations beyond the IOR, however, it can be managed for the time being.
The strategic interests of China in the South and East China Seas are likely to keep this region volitile and unlikely to see stability in the near future. While it is impacting the western nations more than India, we need to take care of our national interests. Any formal military alliance with the extra regional forces has a flip side as it is going to be a subservient equation in such an arrangement. Though, participation in the QUAD seems to be a necessity in the present circumstances to deal with emerging security challenges.
There are reports of developing a potential QUAD naval facility at the A &N Islands due to its location synergies. How judicious it would be to accept such a proposal in which part of Indian territory is used for collaborative effort to contain China needs in depth analysis. Under no circumstances, India should accept any proposal which gives way to political intrusion, however insignificant, innocuous and beneficiary it may look.
We need to take a long term view on such issues as once precedence is set it cannot be undone. Any such arrangement, if permitted, has to be a temporary and conditional based on situational prudence with no dilution of full Indian sovereign authority. Accordingly, India needs to be politically correct and balance out the military relationship appropriately with extra regional friendly forces.
It is a universal truth that everyone respects the strength as enshrined in an old Indian Mantra of “Veer Bhogya Vasundhra”. We need to have punitive gross military deterrence so as to make our enemies think twice before tinkering with our national self respect, which they have been doing it with impunity all this time.
The Indian strategic patience seems to be taken as weakness by the China which probably has lead them to believe that India is a soft state and can be pushed around. It is time that such a perception is changed and that too through Indian military strength.
India has to call Chinese bluff sooner or later, and that too on our own strengths.
India has strategic leverages against China in Indian Ocean which needs to be hyphenated with land operations in our military matrix. To do that, there is a need to evolve a theatre force doctrine to synergise execution of joint operations of the armed forces over land, air, sea and space. It would facilitate creating a strategic hydraulics to force the enemy to refrain from mischievous military adventures. The message should be clear that ‘ If you meddle with us on land borders, we will strangulate your economic life line on the high seas’.
India has to call Chinese bluff sooner or later, and that too on our own strengths. Gloves are already off, and if China is found to be unreasonable despite ongoing reconciliatory talks, the naval options must be taken beyond the military diplomacy to strike the Chinese maritime interests. We also need to make our Navy future ready to face the exponentially larger maritime military challenges in times to come.
Therefore, naval component being the game changer and a catalyst of security mechanism, we need to upgrade its potency to next level. Given the emerging security environment, it is a compulsion and not an option any more. So, earlier we transform Indian Navy into a blue water navy, better it would be in the national interests.