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India’s Sea Power Status Going Into the Future An Appreciation by Cmde Ranjit Bhawnani Rai

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Author: Cmde Ranjit Bhawnani Rai (Retd)
Theodore Roosevelt said, “A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.’’ Serving in the nation’s navy also means serving the rise of India. An excellent appraisal of the growth of India’s Navy and the need to speed up our acquisitions, especially of the Submarine arm. With the rising challenge of a powerful PLAN we cannot afford to dither and delay our naval build-up.

India Sea Power

Sea power has become four dimensional and can assert political pressure when needed, like China’s moves in the South China Seas. United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) were enacted in 1982 and nations are employing the voids to further national interests. The seas will be critical repositories of resources with increasing wealth and populations especially in the East. French chief Admiral Bernard Rogel has termed this, ‘Maritimisation in the 21st century’

Preparations to become a ‘builder’s navy’ began in late 60s when Mazagon Dock Ltd (MDL) began licensed construction of Vickers Armstrong and Yarrow Leander frigates. The first Leander INS Nilgiri in 1972 was a dream ship with all systems including the Sea-Cat AA exceeding specifications and gave confidence to constructors

“The future of India lies at sea, but Indians’ mindset is steeped landwards. This presents Indian Leaders a Challenge of Choices and Allocations Going into The Future.”

The Greeks defined a “thalassocratic” state as a nation with maritime ambitions in the military and commercial spheres. Extending this, today ‘Sea Power’ encompasses the attributes of geography, population and a government mandated to maintain a strong navy, a sizeable commercial fleet and ports with hinterland connectivity. India with a large population is blessed with an advantageous maritime geography and juts into the strategic Indian Ocean like a springboard. In recent times the government has been supportive of India’s small professional navy with 53,000 officers and men and 128 ships and 150 aircraft which guards 7,300 km of coastline and 2.1 sq km of EEZ and many islands, but it has to grow. Indian Coast Guard has the responsibility to look after coastal security and 4.1 sq km of sea space as its Search and Rescue (SAR) area. Sea power supports the nation’s foreign and economic policy that enables ‘benign dominance of the region’ and ‘sea control’ in war, with assets to blockade and transport its army to distant shores, termed ‘amphibious capability’.

The rise of Spain through sea power in the 16th century under the Hapsburgs and Phillip II enabled Spain to colonise South America and the Philippines. From 1600 to 1750 the French colonised states and still possess riparian assets worldwide, including Reunion in the Indian Ocean. From 1812 the British spread their empire on which the sun never set and India was subjugated from the seas to become Britain’s ‘Jewel in the Crown’. In the last century America rose as a nuclear and economic super power, led by powerful aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines which enabled it by the late 1980s to humble Soviet sea power in the cold war. Today the facet of colonisation has got modified to carve spheres of influence and investment and sea power will count.

Strategist Mahan defined sea power as an extension of the foreign policy of a nation and the Naval War College (NWC) at Rhode Island is dedicated to Mahan’s teachings and strategy. Seven naval chiefs out of the last nine including present CNS Admiral D K Joshi are NWC graduates, who have contributed much to Indian Navy, its planning, its doctrines and its employment in war and peace. In the 1971 war the Indian Navy rose to the occasion after it was banned from taking part in the 1965 war by a Cabinet decision and in the Kargil half war the navy’s ‘sea manoeuvre’ to blockade Pakistan, helped end the incursion.

Sea power and India – post independence Pandit Nehru from the quarter deck of INS Delhi soon after independence prophetically mused, “We cannot afford to be weak at sea. History has shown that whoever controls the Indian Ocean has, in the first instance, India’s seaborne trade at her mercy and, in the second, India’s very independence itself.” But India’s Hindu rate of growth could not support a large navy and the Indian mindset looked northwards for security. The offensives by Pakistan forced India to spend on its land and air forces.

The roles of sea power, which includes war fighting, constabulary to police sea lines of communications (SLOCs) and piracy and assistance to civil demands, have not changed and air power and the underwater prowess of submarines have joined applications from space, as force multipliers and for deterrence in this nuclear age. Sea power has become four dimensional and can assert political pressure when needed, like China’s moves in the South China Seas.

United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) were enacted in 1982 and nations are employing the voids to further national interests. The seas will be critical repositories of resources with increasing wealth and populations especially in the East. French chief Admiral Bernard Rogel has termed this, ‘Maritimisation in the 21st century’.

Less appreciated is that India has employed its sea power successfully in peace. In Op Vijay to wrest Goa from the Portuguese in 1961, the navy captured Diu and Anjadip Island and forced the frigate Alfonso de Albuquerque to ground and surrender. In 1983 in Op Lal Dora, the mere threat of amphibious operation in Mauritius by Mrs Indira Gandhi ensured Anerood Jugnauth did not forfeit his premiership to Paul Beringer. In June 1987, the Indian Navy secretly intervened with the INS Vindhyagiri, in the Seychelles Port of Victoria to head off an attempted coup against President Rene by Defence Minister Berlois (Operation Flowers Are Blooming).

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