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Founding Editor's view on Naval Power in India today

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Once man mastered the oceans the dynamics of economic growth changed dramatically. Trade, which is the essential of economic growth, came out of its land based stranglehold and was transformed. Volumes increased greatly, as did the countries and distances covered. The monopoly of the 'Silk Route' was shattered by sailing dhows that crossed unimaginable expanses of oceans. Man globalised as rapidly as the sails that connected ports and people. But the trader and ship captain needed a surety to their security just as they needed it for their commodities and that is where sea power emerged. And it decided the fortunes of empires, just as it reworked the dynamics of power.

Any nation aspiring to greatness has had to fly its flag on vast armadas of combatant vessels. The Roman Empire was an exception, but for its duration as well as the peculiarity of its geography. Anything since then has had a navy to back its growth. That too a navy which packs a punch. Prior to the emergence of the United States Navy it was the Royal Navy that controlled the seas, so to say. And so the sun never set on the British Empire, as they once said. It isn't a question of options, but a necessity that dictates such decision-making in the field of defence planning. While each service has its role, assigned by terrain, the navy is an exception in that it does more than its role of safeguarding the seas.

Because of the peculiarities of Indian history and the even greater peculiarity of Indian historical learning, research and teaching, the focus of military planners has remained the national land boundaries. Events since 1947 have only served to deepen that focus. While not taking away anything from the threats of cross border infiltration from Pakistan, or the nascent Chinese military pressures, there is every reason to prepare in a holistic way. In this largely land focused approach the navy has repeatedly been short-changed. For an oceanic country the size of India, its budgeting and planning for naval development is a shame. When the issue gets highlighted, which is when it reaches crisis point, there is a sudden spurt of funding and commitment, only to be neglected to the back pages once the story is forgotten.

As India integrates with the world economy and the global security order, it has to bring something to the table to be taken seriously. And what the world wants it to deliver is an efficient navy. The makings of a world-class navy are there, but what is lacking is political consistency. Once that shortcoming is addressed there is nothing stopping the Indian Navy from becoming the power that it ought to be. It isn't simply to protect national commercial shipping, or global sea lanes of communications, but also to protect India. Even as a rapidly shrinking Royal Navy cuts its numbers there is one thing that is guaranteed budgetary allocations – the nuclear submarine programme. They know it is the most secure platform available to a country. India knows it too, but national planners continue to prioritise those that look good for a display on Republic Day parade.

Manvendra Singh


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