Emerging Technologies in Contemporary Ocean Warfare
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Issue Vol. 34.3 Jul-Sep 2019 | Date : 18 Jan , 2020

It is being widely debated that the revolution in science and technology and its role in military strategy would prove to be game changers in international politics and in the dynamics of international affairs. The impact of science and technology is such that they have provided enough scope for increasing military deterrence and its ever-increasing role in the security calculus of a nation is being widely recognised. Newly emerging defence technologies have been instrumental in changing the modes of warfare and it is believed that technological sophistication shall help states to achieve superiority for defence and security and for power positioning in international affairs. New enabling technologies such as information technology, robotics, artificial intelligence, advances in sensors, precision guidance and satellite systems are believed to be offering a range of new capabilities for offence and defence and therefore, an analytical study on the role of technology in a country’s strategic defence and security doctrines, while especially considering Indian national priorities, would become essential.

Role of Technology in Indian Defence

It is widely believed that for a progressive country like India with a very hostile neighbourhood and facing a complex security environment, conventional military capabilities equipped with the latest defence technology will continue to remain a crucial factor in the foreseeable future. To cope with the wide array of challenges that Indian defence faces today, it would become imperative for India to focus on emerging technologies so as to develop a sophisticated intelligence surveillance apparatus and secure communications infrastructure and effective use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) would be critical for detection of threats and for timely response to counter these. For enhanced situational awareness and cutting-edge readiness, it is believed that a comprehensive study on the need for inducting emerging technologies in the Indian defence technology architecture would become crucial and the role of technology in addressing external threats and international security concerns has to be understood which would not only be critical to India’s long-term national security, but also for India to emerge as a major world power in the future.

Considering the unique set of threats that India faces both traditional and non-traditional security concerns, India has the unenviable task of acquiring the latest defence and security technology capabilities so as to ensure military superiority in qualitative and quantitative terms and there is a need to take into account the defence developments in the new age of fierce techno-economic competition. There is wide consensus among the members of the academic, political and strategic community, that there is a need to focus on induction of modern war-fighting equipment and futuristic technologies in the Indian defence along with network-centric capabilities, so that war-winning strategies for preventive and operational actions can be articulated in an efficient manner. It is also believed that foreign dependence on critical technologies should be minimised and concerted efforts should be made for indigenisation of modern technological capabilities, so that versatile defence technologies can be developed in the country, which would enhance India’s techno-military profile and thus, would make India a world class power in the future. This study shall however, focus on the growing relevance of technology in naval and ocean warfare for the Indian Navy and will attempt to understand its role in the defence and security of India.

Likely Strategy and Force Requirements for the Indian Navy

As India is likely to face an unpredictable security environment in the Indian Ocean Region/Indo-Pacific in the next 15 years, the Indian Navy has to grapple with the complex problems by developing capabilities to achieve its national security objectives and should also ensure operational capabilities as well. The most fundamental capability that the Indian Navy has to develop in the future would be to ensure sea control in the Indian Ocean Region. An effective sea control would mean denying adversaries from using the sea at particular times and places and also ensuring the naval forces are able to perform the most basic functions such as protection of Sea Lines Of Communication (SLOCs), facilitating commerce and ensuring security. While considering the naval developments of China and Pakistan as they are likely to pose immense challenges to Indian security, the Indian Navy has to ensure enhanced Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), improved Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), better electronic warfare capabilities and should look forward to developing mobile and resilient forces to mitigate air and missile threats as well.

The traditional approach to MDA should expand to multi-domain awareness that includes the surface, sub-surface, air and cyber realms, as operations across all such domains are highly probable in the near future. An effective MDA would depend on mobile and fixed sensors that are able to provide surveillance to areas of interest, and can help in articulating operational information. For this, application of information technology and data analytics shall become inevitable, which is currently an ongoing area of innovation.1

ASW will be a particular area of importance as the Indian Navy is likely to face challenges posed by both Chinese and Pakistani submarines. The traditional threat that SLOCs may get disrupted by submarine forces is evident, and it is coupled with the threat of submarine-launched cruise missile attack against land, air and maritime targets. Some of the areas that need major focus are improving submarine detection generally done by air surveillance such as by P-8 maritime patrol aircraft, employing sensors such as electronic intelligence and communications intelligence sensors at critical points for initial detections, improving and quieting of the Indian submarines for stealth purpose, increasing range and endurance of Indian submarines and careful articulation of requirements to determine the appropriate mix of air, surface and submarine ASW capabilities for enhanced operations and engagements. Also, to counter Chinese submarines that are missile-equipped, the Indian Navy has to invest in air and missile defence capabilities should field missiles such as Brahmos, a short-range cruise missile into its submarines for developing an offensive force and should start ballistic missile programme to develop anti-ship missile capability.2

There are certain other areas where the Indian Navy has to pay particular attention to attain its security objectives. This could involve employment of force options such as cruise missiles, Special Operations forces and air assets and other useful options for responding to varying nature of threats such as having effective Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability, improved targeting capability and efficient Command and Control architecture to facilitate decision making and battle management. Other capabilities where the Indian Navy has to focus are on acquiring Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) such as MQ-1 Predator, amphibious ships for developing amphibious task force with dedicated amphibious warfare doctrines, a response to Chinese Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) strategy, new submarine forces (India currently has 15 submarines) and a global Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) capability which shall ensure effective maritime strike operations.3

Future Technologies for the Indian Navy

Analysts have been arguing that while considering the future security environment that may arise in the Indian Ocean Region, it would become imperative for the Indian Navy to employ modern weaponry and advanced defence platforms for effective posturing and deterrence. The Indian establishment has also been keen on ensuring that latest technology and cutting-edge weapons system are developed for the Indian Navy so that it is able to secure its national objectives in the region and also for power projection in the region and elsewhere. Some of the important guideline documents such as the one announced by the Navy i.e. Indian Naval Indigenisation Plan (INIP) 2015-2030 and the one announced by the Ministry of Defence, which is Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap (TPCR-2013 and 2018), have further enunciated the need for developing advanced and modern defence systems for the Indian Navy in the future.4 A wish list was also announced by the Indian Navy in 2016, where 100 new technologies were mentioned that were to be acquired by the Indian Navy by 2031.5 Such developments show the growing understanding in the Indian security establishment on the need for acquiring latest technologies for the Indian defence and technology’s ever-increasing influential role in military affairs.

The various categories of weapons and sensors that are to be employed in the Indian Navy can be broadly classified into seven major types, the first of which is Precision Guided Missiles (PGM). It is a keenly sought after technology, which particularly includes drone-launched guided and loitering missiles. Precision munitions are considered to be versatile and flexible, have longer range and are able to limit collateral damage and therefore, becomes a superior choice. These munitions can be employed onboard Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and can be used for littoral operations. India’s precision ammunition manufacturing technology, however, remains underdeveloped and efforts for starting joint ventures for precision guided munitions have not found much success. Indigenous manufacturing of smart munitions have not expanded while considering their usage in naval and air weapons system. Indian armed forces use Laser-Guided Bomb (LGB) and India remains a net importer of such munitions. PGMs are considered to be an attractive option today and considerable efforts will be needed on the part of the government to achieve self-reliance in developing such munitions.6

PGMs also include loitering missiles, which are generally subsonic missiles that have the ability to fly undetected to target areas with higher accuracy and are considered indispensable to modern maritime forces. Nirbhay, a subsonic cruise missile developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), has however, seen little success and test results have been fairly limited after a series of trials that were conducted. The last test in early 2018 was seen as a success7. DRDO is also negotiating with foreign companies such as Sagem of France, for development of advanced guided munitions, which if successfully miniaturised with aircraft operations, can be helpful for development of missiles for naval drones in the future.8

The second major requirement for the Indian Navy would be to have the capability for network centric operations. India has been able to successfully launch its first dedicated military satellite for the Indian Navy, which is GSAT-7 or ‘Rukmini’ launched for the first time in 2013, which enables real-time networking of warships, submarines and aircraft and land systems.9 This would provide the Indian Navy a large footprint over the critical Indian Ocean Region and ‘over-the-sea’ usage of ‘Rukmini’ would help in surveillance, navigation and for communication purposes. The Navy has also been successful in placing navigation satellites – seven in number in Geostationary and Geosynchronous orbits such as Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System/IRNSS developed by ISRO, also known as NavIC. These would be used to provide real-time positioning and timing services over India and the region.10 However, the navigation satellites are not equipped with cameras and sensors and, therefore, they are to be equipped with systems for high-quality photographic intelligence in real-time and an attempt has to be made to bring IRNSS satellites to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) so that better intelligence about enemy forces and assets in dynamic war situations can be obtained.11

The third area of focus should be to acquire Anti-Satellite (ASAT) Weapons. The TPCR released by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) in 2013 has dwelt on the need to develop ASAT weapons “for electronic or physical destruction of satellites in both LEO and Geosynchronous orbits” and thus, it can be said that the need to exploit space for military purposes has been clearly established.12 The DRDO has earlier contended that it has the ability to develop ASAT capability if required and reports suggest that India may use “kill vehicle” of its Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) system to develop such capability (India successfully conducted ASAT test in March 2019).13,14 Analysts, however, have argued that ASAT capabilities require technologies such as modern space-based sensors, synthetic aperture radars, electronics, sound navigation system, guidance and control and global positioning systems, which India currently does not possess, and it would require technological superiority to produce such advanced systems and technologies. The Indian government should also focus on acquiring infrared sensors, optical devices, electronic-optical sensors and magnetic sensors, which would be vital for detecting and monitoring events in space, providing India an upper hand in space, which can be extremely useful in influencing outcomes of conflict situations in the future.15

The fourth major area to focus would be to acquire know-how on Artificial Intelligence (AI). It is widely believed that AI will become an indispensable component of new-age naval weapons like hypersonic missiles. AI is the ability for combat platforms to self-control, self-regulate and self-actuate, using inherent computing and decision-making capabilities.16 Such advanced technologies can enable independent and autonomous systems to identify and strike various targets and there is a growing interest in “intelligent” naval combat systems. AI, when combined with analytics and cloud computing, can help in data-driven decision-making in naval systems and can assist maritime forces in various combat situations. There have been, however, debate on ethics of AI and the reliability of it considering there would be no authorisation from human source. As an example, if drones are equipped with AI, so it is not necessary that collateral damage will be reduced. Yet, there is little denying that modern-day operators rely and are assisted by sensors and systems and AI could, therefore, provide technology to augment human-analysis and decision-making in critical situations in the foreseeable future.17

The fifth critical area to give a push for would be to acquire Directed Energy Weapons (DEW). These weapons can be an alternative to traditional gunpowder used in ships and there has been a growing interest in high-energy laser and microwave technologies to be used in Indian naval systems. The DRDO has shown interest in developing DEW in TPCR earlier and the agency has also claimed that it has built a number of small DEW systems and devices for use in various combat situations.18 It is believed that producing DEW is a challenging proposition as there could be certain constraints in its development, but it has a lot of advantages like cost-effectiveness, speed and uninterrupted ammunition supply (i.e. of energy beams). Therefore, difficulties for development of such systems could be well worth the pay-off and investments in energy weapons can be a worthwhile venture for the DRDO.19

The sixth category of weapons to be developed for the Indian Navy would be Unmanned Aerial Systems and ‘smart’ missiles. It is believed that Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) could be the most obvious choice in future warfare, as they have the ability to remain on station for extended periods and can provide data in real time. The Indian Navy today operates Heron (armed and unarmed) and Searcher MK II UAVs for intelligence gathering and coastal surveillance. There have been plans to induct several more squadrons of UAVs in naval ships for increasing the range of surveillance and will be specifically employed for reconnaissance, surveillance and intelligence gathering missions in far littorals. India has been inducting maritime aircraft such as P-8 I and has been seeking ‘Predator’ platforms from the US. India also operates a fleet of armed Harpy drones, which is a self-destructive UAV, acquired from Israel. Considering the wide ranging interests of the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean Region, the government has been taking decisions to improve India’s surveillance and attack capabilities in the maritime realm, in an effort to keep up with the current trends in warfare technology.

The seventh category of weapons to be considered as an essential requirement for the Indian Navy would be unmanned underwater vehicles. The DRDO has been focusing on designing and developing Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) to meet with operational requirements for futuristic scenarios. A feasibility study has shown that the Indian R&D is capable of developing various types of AUV platforms to assist in maritime security. The DRDO has also developed a prototype which is equipped with advanced technologies and sensors, for multiple maritime missions in India’s waters. Certain programmes on underwater drones and for deep-sea exploration are also underway, which would help in path detection, obstacle avoidance and for identification of targets under sea. It is believed that Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (U/AUV) can immensely boost India’s conventional submarine capability and can offer advantages such as stealth i.e. in terms of detection and can greatly help in shifting strategies from defensive to offensive operations.20 It is believed that U/AUVs are likely to offset modern submarines in terms of endurance and can help the Indian Navy in several ways so that it is able to protect its specific assets in critical littoral spaces in its areas of interest in the Indian Ocean Region and elsewhere.

Inducting Technologies and the Way Ahead

It is widely believed that emerging technologies and their induction into the Indian Navy shall play an influential role for India so that it is able to safeguard its national security interests in the Indian Ocean Region and elsewhere. Also, the growing relevance of technology in military affairs especially in the maritime domain would become more visible. The main challenge here would be to understand the need for achieving self-reliance in capacity-building as a strategic necessity and accordingly articulate plans and strategies for achieving national objectives by keeping Indian national priorities and goals at the forefront. For building futuristic technologies of warfare, it would become imperative for the Indian Navy to acquire modern and disruptive technologies. There is a critical task in the hands of the Indian government to focus on R&D, so that modern weapons and defence systems can be developed and Indian maritime technological initiatives become self-sustaining in the long run. It is understood from the discussions above that technological revolution in naval affairs shall become one of the major centres of attention for the Indian establishment and necessary steps should be taken so that India achieves technological self-sufficiency and superiority in future and it is able to acquire necessary capabilities so that it can protect its wide-ranging security interests in the dynamic maritime security environment that it faces today.

In conclusion, the article here first identifies the role of technology in Indian defence as a whole and then attempts to understand the key technological developments in naval affairs and articulates necessary force requirements and naval technologies for the Indian Navy so as to boost its strength and for augmenting its ability to defend its maritime security interests in the Indian Ocean Region. The chapter here has made an attempt to understand the role of technology and various aspects of emerging technological revolution in naval affairs and attempts to find out its growing relevance in the Indian Navy’s strategic defence and security doctrines for the attainment of India’s prime national goals and objectives in the maritime realm.


  1. S. Kaul Kapur and William C. Mcquilkin, “Preparing for the Future Indian Ocean Security Environment”, Observers Research Foundation (New Delhi), 23 February 2017, see, accessed on 18April 2018.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. “Indian Naval Indigenisation Plan (INIP) 2015-2030”, Indian Navy website, see;, accessed on 20April 2018; “Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap”, Ministry of Defence website, see, accessed on 12 March 2018. The TPCR calls for “the acquisition of modern subsonic, supersonic and ballistic missiles, equipment and sensors, propulsion and power generation, and surveillance and detection systems.” The MOD released an updated TPCR in 2018, which primarily deals with the quantitative requirements of defence systems for various wings of the Indian armed forces.
  5. Rajat Pandit, “Navy for ‘made in India’ tech, gives DRDO list of 100 wishes”, Times of India (Mumbai), 6 May 2015, see, accessed on 20 April 2018.
  6. Abhijit Singh, “Future Technologies for the Indian Navy”, Observers Research Foundation (New Delhi), 23 February 2017, see, accessed on 21 April 2018.
  7. “India test fires subsonic cruise missile ‘Nirbhay’”, Economic Times (Mumbai), 27 January 2018, see, accessed on 21 April 2018.
  8. n. 6.
  9. Surendra Singh, “Military using 13 satellites to keep eye on foes”, Times of India (Mumbai), 26 June 2017, see, accessed on 21 April 2018.
  10. Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System, ISRO website, see, accessed on 21 April 2018.
  11. n. 6.
  12. See “Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap”, Ministry of Defence website, available at, accessed on 23 April 2018.
  13. Harsh Vasani, “India’s Anti-Satellite Weapons”, The Diplomat (Tokyo), 14 June 2016, see, accessed on 23 April 2018.
  14. Shaan Shaikh, “India Conducts Successful ASAT Test”, Missile Threat (US), see, accessed on 30 May 2019.
  15. Ibid.      
  16. Abhijit Singh, “Naval missile systems and the limits of artificial intelligence”, Observers Research Foundation (New Delhi), 17 September 2016, see, accessed on 23 April 2018.
  17. Ibid.
  18. “Indian Navy eyes Directed Energy Weapons”, Indian Defence Research Wing, IDRW News, 23 May 2016, see, accessed on 24 April 2018.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Abhijit Singh, “Unmanned and Autonomous Vehicles and Future Maritime Operations in Littoral Asia”, Observers Research Foundation (New Delhi), 28 July 2016, see, accessed on 24 April 2018.
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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Abhinav Dutta

Post Graduate Research Scholar, MA Geopolitics and IR, Manipal University.

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