INDIAN OCEAN REGION
“A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace” —Theodore Roosevelt
Any country’s naval strength can be assessed by the assets it holds, both offensive and defensive—the aircraft carriers and ballistic missiles, helicopter carriers, corvettes, frigates, amphibious, active personnel and the allocated budget are the variables that decide the position of a nation, not just the total number of ships in the fleet.
On the basis of the above, the India Navy is considered among top 10 in the world by way of its strength and power. In terms of Military spending, as per SIPRI Yearbook 2021, India’s total military spending stood at $72.9 billion in the year 2020, an increase of 2.1 per cent from previous estimates, making it the third highest spender in the world.
The Indian Navy has been steadily making progress and emerging as a formidable Naval force in the high-seas. The Indian Navy boasts of a total strength of approx 285 naval assets. “The Indian fleet has aircraft carriers, INS Vikramaditya and the extremely sophisticated, indigenously manufactured INS Vikrant. It also operates the world’s most capable destroyers; the 20 corvettes protect the coaster area. India is among the only five other countries that have the technical know- know and builds nuclear powered submarines. It is also among the few countries that operate one in service, nuclear powered submarine.
The latest commissioning of INS Vishakapatnam (the first under Project 15B), INS Vela, fourth in Kalvari-class submarine, under Project-75, with as many as 39 naval ships and submarines currently being constructed in various Indian shipyards that reaffirm India’s presence amongst an elite group of nations with the capability to design and build advanced warships. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi handed over indigenously developed, an advanced electronic warfare system ‘Shakti’ to the Indian Navy. Shakti is meant for interception, detection, classification, identification and jamming of conventional and modern radars. Shakti will augment navy’s electronic intelligence capability for early warning, ships’ defence against missile attack, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for maritime domain awareness and ensure electronic dominance in the maritime battlefield.”
As the primary manifestation of India’s maritime power Indian Navy stands steadfast to fulfil its mandate to protect our national interest in the maritime domain
As Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral R. Hari Kumar, while addressing the media on Navy Day 2021 Press Conference has rightly said - The Indian Navy is a three dimensional network forward deployed, combat ready, credible and a cohesive force. As the rimary manifestation of India’s maritime power Indian Navy stands steadfast to fulfil its mandate to protect our national interest in the maritime domain.
Indian Navy is increasingly modernising, adding more teeth to its maritime prowess by achieving Atmanirbharta, that will further strengthen our security apparatus and the country’s influence as a maritime power. Speaking at the ceremony where the Navy’s 22nd Missile Vessel Squadron was presented the President’s Standard honour for its service, President Kovind said - The Indian Navy is looked upon as a preferred security partner by the country’s maritime neighbours and it has a huge role to play in furthering India’s foreign policy in protecting the national interests. The Indian Navy is not only securing the country’s maritime borders through mission-based deployments but also undertake diplomatic missions in the Gulf of Oman and Persian Gulf and anti-piracy operations.
“The Indian Navy has earned herself a name as the First Responder, whether it be a crisis situation following the Cyclone IDAI hitting Mozambique or swinging into action to provide succour and relief to the affected populace in HADR situations closer to home (to the littorals). It has been very effective in deploying her assets over the last two years in mission-ready mode also called as the Mission-Based Deployments (MBD).”
However, despite the progress and maritime consciousness, it faces many systemic challenges that need to be timely addressed given our growing maritime threat perceptions in the ever more capricious geopolitical environment. The shift in the global balance of power to the east and where the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) stands at the centre of this shift, the Indian Navy has a significant role to play in the Indo-Pacific.
Indian Naval force, a stellar power, is getting ready to rule the waves and face any eventualities
In comparison to its aggressive neighbour, China, India needs super over-hauling of its current capacity -the People Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) outnumbers India in the number of serving personnel, its Submarine fleet is three times that of India. While the PLAN has six active second generation nuclear powered submarines, India only has one that is INS Arihant. In the case of conventional submarines, China has been using Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP) system that provides increased underwater endurance, range, and stealth capabilities to Beijing and the absence of it in Indian Naval Submarines could prove to be a major disadvantage. Also, the PLAN has more corvettes than the Indian Navy and the pace of procurement of the Type 056 ships demonstrates China’s intent to further enhance its coastal protection capabilities. India lacks enough naval multi-role helicopters and signed a deal to purchase 24 MH-60 Romeo helicopters from Lockheed Martin in February 2020 to replace the ageing Sea Kings. Even in Naval Aviation, India is facing maintenance issues and operational deficiencies. Furthermore, China has been embracing multiple strategies including building bases in Djibouti and ports in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar in order to counter India’s strength in the Indian Ocean.
Apart from the above, the cost and time overruns like for instance, INS Vikramaditya was inducted into Navy after a gap of more than 10 years after the purchase contract was signed. So, for the purchase of INS Vikramaditya, India was made to renegotiate and sign the contract to a higher $2.3 billion. Due to the unexpected delay, the 45 MiG-29K fighters purchased for the aircraft carrier at a cost of another $2 billion had started to depreciate before they could be operationalised. A majority of Naval fleet ships, submarines and aircraft are ageing and timely replacements are a necessity to maintain the minimum force levels. For instance, the six mine sweepers which are over 25 years old has resulted in many accidents and 59 deaths between June 2007 and November 2014.
All the above problems are certainly not comforting for a 21st- century Navy with big aspirations and on its way to become truly a blue water force.
It is beyond doubt, the Indian Naval force, a stellar power, is getting ready to rule the waves and face any eventualities and India has been blessed with a favourable maritime geography and has all the attributes of a maritime power. “As the preeminent naval power in this region, it is in the unique position of leveraging this advantage to shape the future geopolitical outcomes which will be drawn up in this region.” However, the challenge to India’s regional maritime pre-eminence is in the here and now and there cannot be any complacency towards achieving that goal.
Saloni Salil is an Independent Geopolitics and Security Analyst and a Max Certified Intelligence Analyst (ASIS Recognised). She has received a Letter of Appreciation from the Indian Chief of Naval Staff for her contribution towards Naval Affairs and Maritime Security through her articles. She is also a Panelist on Prime time debates in one of leading news channels in India (Both English and Hindi)