Indian Navy: A Formidable Blue Water Force in the Making

India needs a modern Navy to protect its maritime interests and shoulder additional responsibilities, particularly in the current geo-political and security situation that prevails in the Indian Ocean region

Issue: 1 / 2020 By Saloni SalilPhoto(s): By Indian Navy, Graphic: SP’s Design
INS Vikramaditya, flagship of the Indian Navy

The Indian Navy, which is the principle manifestation of India’s maritime power, aims to govern two oceans, the Indian Ocean as well the Pacific. It has been making untiring efforts to augment its naval prowess. However, its efforts have been hinged by various impediments such as budgetary constraints, Indian military industry facing several structural dysfunctionalities, thereby, retarding the Indian Navy modernisation ambitions. Given the geopolitical nuances in the Indian Ocean, the Indian Navy needs to transform itself into a builder’s navy and achieve nation building through shipbuilding. What is left to be witnessed is, will the Indian Navy become a formidable blue water force to reckon with in the future.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi while addressing the nation on Navy Day 2019, rightly took us back to the history of the Chola Kingdom. The Chola Navy was considered one of the strongest navy of its time and one of the major reasons behind the Chola’s economic supremacy. This stands true even in the 21st century. The Indian Navy, a partner in progress, has been shouldering the aspirations of a New India, a young nation, on the move transforming itself into a modern nation. The commanding heights that the Indian Ocean enjoys is well known — Admiral Alfred T. Mahan highlighted strategic importance of the Indian Ocean in these words, whoever attains maritime supremacy in the Indian Ocean would be a prominent player on the international scene.

Just like the seas, geopolitical environment has constant change in its nature and the Indian Ocean region stands at the center of it. From the Malacca Straits dilemma in the east to penetrating terrorism and the brewing middle east crisis between the United States and Iran in the west; furthermore, rapid militarisation and nuclearisation of the region. These issues are further compounded by weak capacity (political, economic and military) amongst the littorals to manage their affairs, current situation between in India and Pakistan is a boiling pot; and the most pressing issue of all, is the sense of a rising tide of Chinese influence that, it feels, now extends all the way into India’s backyard and beyond its extended neighbourhood, especially making inroads into vulnerable nations through its economic heft and land grab strategies. The increasing presence of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in and around Indian ocean, coupled with the rise of the home-grown Indian Navy and the US naval dominance over the global commons, has brought about a ‘strategic maritime triangle’ in the Indian Ocean.

As Hew Strachan says “Geography shapes Strategy and strategy is the choices that one makes in the face of constraint”, the current milieu in the IOR is a multi-faceted interaction of numerous factors and India, by virtue of its centrality and strategic vantage point at the heart of the Indian Ocean Region, though has great leverage, is at the locus of many of the world’s most pressing geopolitical developments.

Thus, the Indian Navy, which is the principle manifestation of India’s Maritime power stands as a strong pillar in guarding our national interest at home and abroad. Therefore, it’s time that the sea power of India be augmented and thus, makes a strong case for the timely expansion of Indian Navy.

Indian Navy’s Outreach and Modernisation Plans: What Have We Achieved So Far –

The Indian Government and the Navy have made untiring efforts to amplify the naval prowess in the past decade. India needs a modern Navy to protect its maritime interests and shoulder additional responsibilities, particularly in the current geo-political and security situation that prevails in the Indian Ocean region.

The aim of the expansion plan of Indian Navy is to govern two oceans, The Indian Ocean as well as the Pacific (Indo-Pacific construct) and thus, India has enhanced its eastward advancement strategy. The Indian Naval forces are playing a more pro-active role in the Indian Ocean now and has been expanding the scope of its engagement in the Indian Ocean.

Indian Navy’s role is not limited to securing our coastline, maritime terrorism, piracy, human and contraband trafficking, illegal and unregulated fishing, arms running and poaching pose myriad challenges to maritime safety and security in the region. Response to these challenges requires enhanced situational awareness of the maritime activities in the region so as to enable security agencies function effectively. The Indian Navy has been proactive in Human Assistance and Disaster Risk Management by deploying its ships for evacuation of Indian Diaspora and also assistance during natural disasters. The number of Port calls, visits and participation in Maritime Exercises with International partners has also increased tremendously. The Indian Navy has also approved mission based deployment whereby mission ready ships and aircrafts will be deployed year-round along critical Sea Lanes of Communication and Choke Points in the Indian Ocean to maintain vigil.

The Navy is striving to address the capability voids in areas such as aircraft carriers, tankers, landing platform docks, mine countermeasures vessels, submarines and integral helicopters. We are also enhancing our surveillance capabilities through induction of long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft, integral helicopters and high-altitude long-endurance aircraft or remotely piloted aircraft. The focus has been to augment capability through induction of modern platforms, weapons and sensors.

Apart from setting up a Tri-service command in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, there is a proposal to roll out a 10 year plan to create facilities for additional troops, warships, aircraft and drones on the islands, strengthening the existing military facilities. Andaman and Nicobar is not only important from strategic point of view but has also become a staging post for India’s HADR efforts. INS Kohassa has been commissioned in Northern Andaman as Navy’s third aviation centre. The Indian government has setup listening posts and established Naval surveillance facilities in Madagascar and Mauritius.

For domain awareness, the establishment of Information Fusion Centre (IFC) based at Indian Navy’s Information Management and Analysis Centre at Gurgaon. The IFC is to enhance maritime security and will share real-time vessel information of interest with friendly nations on white-shipping.

The Indian Navy has been making strides in the formation of combat capabilities and construction of weapons and equipment in recent years. As per Maritime Capability Perspective Plan, the Indian Navy aims to have 200 ships, 500 aircraft and 24 attack submarines, they said. At present, the Navy has around 132 ships, 220 aircraft and 15 submarines. Currently, the Indian Navy has only one aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, we require atleast three aircraft carriers. The Navy has requested for additional funds since there is a requirement of 65,000 tonnes Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) carrier with electric propulsion. The trials of Naval Light Combat Aircraft have begun meant to operate from INS Vikramaditya ranking India the sixth in the world after Russia, US, France, UK and China to have mastered the art of an arrested landing and ski-jump takeoff on the deck of a carrier. However, there are pertinent issues before the Indian Navy that remain to be addressed.

Is The Indian Navy Future Ready?

India’s role in the region is globally recognised and is seen as a protector of the regional order particularly as it pertains to maintaining open sea lanes and the freedom of navigation and picking up the baton of becoming a ‘Net Security Provider’.

India entered the 21st century with a small but formidable regional naval posture. Long considered a “blue water” navy, the Indian Navy faces major challenges.

One of the major challenges for Indian forces is the budgetary support. The Indian government also admitted that India’s military spending has not seen any significant increase for the past five years. Although deemed to be the 7th most powerful navy in the world, we have one of the lowest fiscal spending on military. Figures from FY2017-2018 indicate that India spends only 15 per cent of its total military expenditure on its navy, far lower than its peers in the Quad. The United States leads the pack, spending nearly 30 per cent of its military expenditure on its navy, while Australia and Japan spend nearly 25 per cent and 23 per cent, respectively. Official numbers from China are hard to obtain, but reports indicate that China spends nearly three times as much as India on its military overall. Though predominantly a Maritime Nation, amongst the three forces, the Indian Navy gets the lowest share of the pie. In 2019-2020 Government allocated 23,156 crore, landing a big blow to its ambitious plan to be amongst the best in the world. Thus, budgetary constraints stand in the way of the dream, to transform Indian Navy into a “World Class Navy”.

India’s military industry suffers from challenges that constrain the development of the Indian Navy. At present, India has five major shipbuilding factories, however, these large-scale shipbuilding industries have developed chronic problems of low production and poor organisation and management due to the serious bureaucratic structure, resulting in the much longer construction cycle of the main naval ships for the Indian Navy than the world average.

Ironically, The Indian Navy amongst the three forces has used the social media platform the most, however, the recent arrests of seven navy personnel alleged of leaking of sensitive information, the Indian Navy banned the use of social media and smartphones on bases. This nevertheless showcases the vulnerability of forces and thus functional reorganisation of Indian Navy towards improving cyber security and surveillance. Also operational efficiency and optimal manning is the need of the hour.

Another problem worth noting is that some of the ships in the lineup under construction are going to replace those being phased out, thus, if on an average every 2-3 ships inducted, one retires from the existing strength. There are also delays due to defects, such as the induction of Second Kalvari Class attack submarine was delayed due to 36 defects. The Indian Navy also needs to come out with concrete plans to adopt new age technology such as big data analytics and artificial intelligence for solutions. Also the Indian Navy has also so far focused more on increasing its fleet of submarines rather than improving their efficiency. Nevertheless, India still retains a powerful desire to build up a naval force capable of fulfilling its strategic goal of emerging as a major global player.

The Road Ahead

The Indian Navy is not on the list of top five naval powers of the world, while US is leading and China follows right behind. Navies are not built in a day, they require consistent efforts and thus, the Indian Navy now needs to transform from a ‘Buyer’s navy into a Builders Navy’.

Times have changed so has the attitude. The Indian Navy needs to adapt and augment its maritime preparedness to be reckoned as formidable blue water force. The focus should be rapid capability expansion that is anchored in indigenous construction, self-reliance, public and private sector participation, and it’s called ‘nation building through shipbuilding’. However, apart from counting numbers, focus should be on capability enhancement.

According to a statement published by the US Foreign Policy website, India is preparing to play a more active role as a “maritime security provider” in the eastern Indian Ocean. If India wants to become a regional naval power, it will need to continue to invest in the technology, manpower and force-readiness capabilities.

Despite the daunting challenges as noted above, in the past decade, the Indian Navy has shown an exceedingly high operational tempo and emerged as a multi-dimensional networked force, that is combat ready to take on any challenge in the maritime domain in the 21st century. The Indian Navy remains a credible, organised and combat worthy force. The Indian Navy performs four types of roles—military, diplomatic, constabulary and benign to protect the maritime interests of the nation. However, As India’s selfdescribed quest to become a leading power continues, will it also eventually become a force to reckon with in the seas?

Saloni Salil, is an independent Geopolitics and Security analyst. She has held honorary positions in various organisations and has a number of published works among her credentials. She has also been associated with Future Directions International, as a Visiting Fellow in the Indo Pacific Research Programme since 2012. Saloni Salil contributes to the growing discourse on the concept of the Indo-Pacific and major power intentions in that region.