Mahan’s interpretation of seven ocean theatres including the great Indian Ocean never gets erroneous, even in the 21st century. As Mahan apprehended decorously the Indian Ocean region has curved an active hot zone of the current waves of power rivalry among great powers including arch competitors of the Asian region: India and China. With the immense vicissitudes in the world economy, global trade, the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is classified as an important energy and trade channel to connect Asia with the West and Europe. The IOR vigorously upgrades its strategic tenets in terms of maritime connectivity route while moving towards the pivot to the world trade system by connecting the Gulf and African regions and other territorial power nuclei in the world. Petroleum and the sea lines of communications in IOR are considered as a strategic lifeline for many countries, exclusively to India and China to secure the competing national interests, national security and the international connectivity with the rest.
China and its BRI intensified the geostrategic competition between India and China; BRI conveys a strong threshold to alter the importance of the Indian Ocean region while restructuring the characters of the old silk routes to acknowledge Chinese national interests in the 21st century. As both countries; India and China engage in a growing competition, China has directed to secure access to strategic ports (eg: Hambantota, Gwadar) to increase an economic and strategic advance, India character in the region is increasingly comprehended as a protector of the international order established up by the United States, particularly as it pertains to maintaining open sea lanes and the freedom of navigation.
Yet, followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s SAGAR speech, India looks to deter mounting Chinese influence, by upgrading the naval supremacy in the IOR while out-posting Indian military bases in foreign territories. However, in addition to Indian cooperation with democratic allies and brotherhood in the region, India should increase capital on its navy, in particular, completing construction of new aircraft carriers and attack submarines, modernizing India’s naval assets to counter the world largest military power in the world. India’s improvements on maritime domain awareness capabilities will ensure that India has a modern navy that can counter rising Chinese influence in Indian Ocean region while maintaining the democratic regional order set up by the USA and western world.
Yet, the absurdity of Indian dream of upgrading IOR into Indian dominance order sparked by the Indian military budget on its navy; continuation of diminutive capital allocation on Indian Navy compared to its peers indicate that India expends only 15 percent of its total military expenditure on its navy, far lower than its competitors; the US leads the pack spending nearly 30 percent of its military expenditure on its navy, followed by Australia and Japan. Not astonishingly, reports indicate that China spends nearly three times as much as India on the PLAN.
The SAGAR speech stressed the necessity of advancement of Indian Navy to counter the threats plant in IOR, though no claims made on rising naval supremacy in the Indian Ocean region, however, combine naval exercises among India, USA, Australia and Japan visualized Indian dream of naval supremacy, which not sufficiently followed by physical development of its Navy. The lack of military budgeting over Indian Navy emanates at the time when India has documented the necessity of increasing its naval capabilities. Cited by the CSIS India’s Vice Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral P Murugesan, has outlined that India aims to become a 200-ship navy by 2027, noting that the current force stands at 137 ships. While India already has one commissioned carrier, the INS Vikramaditya and plans to commission a second, the INS Vikrant it has outlined an ambitious plan to develop a class of aircraft carriers to follow the Vikrant, which has already confronted delays and cost overruns.
Although India has commissioned a tri-service theatre command on the island of Andaman and Nicobar is the only tri-service theatre common of the Indian armed forces, based at Port Blair to aimed at protecting strategic interests of India in the Malacca, and to close observation of Chinese activities in the Malacca Strait, the limited financial allocations over the island deter the strategic utility of the command. The command was forced to act as a logistical facility for supporting the planning and coordination of Indian naval activities in the Indian Ocean region and the pacific corridor rather than a joint military command that fulfilled the Indian dream of naval supremacy in Indian Ocean region and counter-balancing rising China.
The Indo-Pacific is increasingly flattering a pivot for a mounting geopolitical contest, with China hitherto constructing several moves from strategic military bases to predatory economics to magnify its interests in the region through various initiatives including BRI. India has commenced stepping up and efficaciously engaging countries in the region to a degree of realization. However, without the obligatory investments in its hard-power capabilities, and predominantly without necessary steps to increase capital allocation on Indian Navy, India’s vision of an “Indo centric Indo- pacific order” will remain unfulfilled.
Author: Harsha Senanayake
The Author is a researcher at Social Scientists’ Association- Sri Lanka and a visiting lecturer at the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Harsha serves as an AIPE fellow- TFAS USA. He has authored a few books including The Changing Patterns of USA- Japan Security Relations:Case Study of Okinawa and The Human Security Discourse and Seeking Peace: Field Work Analysis Based on the Sri Lankan Civil War.