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Defence Primer

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The Indian Navy and

The Indian Navy and Future Maritime Operations Abhijit Singh Abhijit Singh is a Senior Fellow at the ORF and heads the Maritime Security Initiative. A former naval officer, he is a keen commentator on maritime security affairs in the Indo-Pacific region. The rise of India as a premier maritime power in the Indian Ocean has been a defining development of the past decade. From ‘reluctant power-player’ to ‘credible security provider’, the transformation of the Indian navy’s (IN) strategic posture in the Indian Ocean Region has been notable. Since the late 1990s, when India first seriously began developing its combat muscle, the navy has invested considerable resource in acquiring top-line maritime assets and capabilities. As its capacity to project power and influence in the regional commons has grown, so has its regional involvement in maritime security – an enterprise that now consist of a wide-array of military, diplomatic, constabulary and benign missions. Consequently, its operational ambit has also widened from India’s near-seas to the distant Indian Ocean littorals. The surge in maritime capability has come at a time when the Asian commons have been witness to a veritable explosion of non-traditional threats and a growing demand for littoral security. As the most capable maritime agency in the region, the Indian navy has been a natural partner of choice. With a willingness to undertake tasks as diverse as sea-lanes security, fighting pirates, providing humanitarian assistance and even provisioning of essential supplies, the navy has played the role of an effective regional facilitator. Its contribution to local security capacity-building, maritime infrastructure creation and the enhancement of surveillance capability among smaller Indian Ocean states has even served to burnish India’s credentials as a responsible security actor and a force for regional good. Notwithstanding the IN’s substantive contributions, however, Asia’s maritime environment has continued to remain fickle. With threats constantly morphing to take on more complex forms, regional security efforts have not always produced desired results and collaboration has remained rudimentary. Despite the presence of a large set of irregular challenges and the imperative for regional forces to coordinate their individual efforts, only some states have volunteered forces for a sustained security effort. The problem is accentuated by worsening climate conditions over the Asian seas. Increasingly unpredictable weather patterns have increased the risk of severe climate events, raising fears of a humanitarian crisis. Not many security agencies have been willing to contribute. Meanwhile, traditional anxieties the region has been on the rise. A drastic increase in foreign warships visiting the Indian Ocean’s littorals has led to an operational overlap between regional and extra-regional navies. In particular, the growing presence of Western and PLA Navy deployments in the IOR, have led to fears of greater 44

The Indian Navy and Future Maritime Operations Over the past decade, the IOR has seen many Pacific navies getting involved in the anti-piracy effort off-Somalia. Their deployment of highend naval platforms has only served to engender regional mistrust, leading to a greater rivalry among indigenous and external maritime forces. competition for naval supremacy in the Indian Ocean. Over the past decade, the IOR has seen many Pacific navies getting involved in the anti-piracy effort off-Somalia. Their deployment of high-end naval platforms has only served to engender regional mistrust, leading to a greater rivalry among indigenous and external maritime forces. The rising complexity of challenges in the maritime domain has led many to speculate that India’s naval capabilities may be inadequate to deal with the emerging security dynamic. Notwithstanding its success at meeting many existing challenges, observers surmise, the navy may be unprepared to tackle long-term threats - many with serious implications for regional development. Its commendable achievements in tackling existing threats notwithstanding, there are questions about the changing nature of maritime challenges that the service may soon be forced to consider. Current trends suggest that maritime-Asia is set for a round of fresh volatility. Rising pressure across Indian Ocean states for new resource avenues and a growing dependence on the Indian Ocean sea-lanes for trade and energy transfer point to the possibility of a renewed strategic struggle. With many extra-regional powers keen to play an active role in securing the oceanic sealanes, the region seems set to witness a fresh round of naval posturing and strategic gamesmanship. Future Operations in the Indian Ocean Region With security conditions worsening, Indian analysts and security experts are faced with two inquiries concerning future operations: What are the prospective strategic scenarios that the Indian navy must prepare for? What strategic responses do the possible threats entail? The Indian navy has performed credibly in its near-seas operations so far, but maritime managers must now reshape the operations template by creating more space for new emerging technologies, strategic platforms and collaborative missions. Indeed, India’s maritime specialists are looking closely at five types of maritime undertakings that could represent the future of regional security operations: (a) Out-of-Area Contingencies / Humanitarian Operations – The record of recent contingencies in the Indian Ocean suggests that Humanitarian aid and disaster relief (HADR) will constitute that vast bulk of non-traditional missions in the future. Over the past few years, India has been active in providing humanitarian aid across a vast region, spanning the Indian Ocean Region and even parts of the Pacific. The timely aid provided by Indian naval ships during the Indian Ocean Tsunami (2001), Cyclone Nargis (2008), and more recently cyclone Hudhud (2014), has been widely commended and its efforts to evacuate civilians for troubled hot-spots, such as Libya (2011) and Yemen (2015) have been universally acknowledged. Yet, the scale on which future assistance will be required in the region might overwhelmnaval planners. During typhoon Haiyan and the Japanese tsunami the full force ofthe Philippines navy and Japanese navy was mobilised to provide humanitarian assistance. Even so, it was only after the US Navy pitched in assistance by 45

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