India — Force Planning To Shape India’s Maritime Space: The Nuclear Dimension

What­ev­er force struc­tures are devel­oped should cater for the dom­i­nant three chal­lenges. In the broad­est of terms our vision would be ‘to cre­ate and deploy such forces which would estab­lish and con­tribute to sta­bil­i­ty with­in these waters and should the need arise to deter hos­tile action, deny access to waters and lit­torals of inter­est or estab­lish con­trol over select­ed sea spaces’. While our focus would be to con­cen­trate on mar­itime forces, it would also be nec­es­sary to recog­nise that the oth­er ele­ments of nation­al pow­er would be required to realise such a vision and con­tend with the shape that chal­lenges may take in the long term with­in these Oceans. When deal­ing with the prob­lem of means, a bal­ance is nec­es­sary between objec­tives that are iden­ti­fied with avail­able resources. Force plan­ning must be dri­ven by three over­ar­ch­ing con­sid­er­a­tions. In the first part clear under­stand­ing of what the artic­u­lat­ed nation­al pol­i­cy is with respect to the Look East pol­i­cy, the IAFS and the Antarc­tic Treaty; in the sec­ond part what chal­lenges may arise in the short and long term to this pol­i­cy and the nature of fric­tion which con­flict­ing inter­ests may degen­er­ate into. The last part must include an esti­mate of poten­tial loss / harm that may occur to our nation­al inter­ests if forces were not devel­oped to address the first two parts.

Infra­struc­ture and logis­tic plan­ning to deploy in the IOEO must fac­tor not just the expanse of this region but also the abil­i­ty to reach and sus­tain oper­a­tions between 3,000–4,000 nau­ti­cal miles from Indi­an ports / bases that may be pro­vid­ed by like-mind­ed lit­torals. Ide­al­ly the poten­tial for devel­op­ment of infra­struc­ture for such long range oper­a­tions towards the east lies in the Andaman and Nico­bar islands which offers the nec­es­sary spring­board into the East­ern Ocean and for the South Indi­an Ocean and for­ward oper­at­ing bases in like-mind­ed East African lit­torals cul­ti­vat­ed through the IAFS. Such focused devel­op­ment endows us with the Mahan­ian log­ic of being able to pro­vide the very uni­ty of objec­tives direct­ed upon the sea. A major infra­struc­tur­al cen­tre in the Andaman Sea must be accom­pa­nied by estab­lish­ing base sup­port facil­i­ty arrange­ments in Indone­sia, Viet­nam and Japan in the South­ern islands (Kyushu / Shikoku). To the west, the Indi­an Ocean lit­torals such as South Africa, Mala­gasy, Tan­za­nia, Mau­ri­tius and Sey­chelles will have to be cul­ti­vat­ed. Such infra­struc­tur­al back up would serve the Pol­i­cy admirably. It would also call for diplo­ma­cy of a nature that we have not thus far seen practiced.

The types of mil­i­tary mar­itime mis­sions that the Navy may be tasked with in the IOEO encom­pass the following: 

  • War fight­ing which includes Sea Con­trol, Access Denial oper­a­tions and lit­toral warfare.
  • Strate­gic deter­rence which would be a fea­ture that would be per­sis­tent and con­sis­tent with our nuclear doctrine.
  • Coer­cive mar­itime deploy­ments may include deploy­ments in Straits and along Sea Lines of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions (SLOCs).
  • Co-oper­a­tive mis­sions includ­ing inter­ven­tion, peace enforce­ment and peacekeeping.
  • Diplo­mat­ic mis­sions, polic­ing and benign role.

Forces that would be required at all times to ful­fill these mis­sions in area would com­prise of one car­ri­er group for con­trol tasks at all times with an amphibi­ous brigade group attached with suit­able fixed and air­borne ASW and seabed and air­borne sur­veil­lance assets. Units for mark­ing high val­ue oppo­si­tion forces would have to be des­ig­nat­ed and propo­si­tioned in prob­a­ble areas. SSNs, may be deployed for denial oper­a­tions in select areas while the SSBN nuclear deter­rent would be on patrol at all times. Shore based long range mar­itime strike air­craft with air to air refu­elling facil­i­ties at for­ward bases must be deployed. ASAT bat­ter­ies for dis­abling com­mand and con­trol net­works should be on alert as deemed nec­es­sary. Aux­il­iaries required to sus­tain forces would have to be attached or be tak­en up from trade

The nuclear pow­ered sub­ma­rine by virtue of its stealth, speed, long endurance and near invul­ner­a­bil­i­ty pro­vides the ulti­mate plat­form for strate­gic deter­rent mis­sions when armed with nuclear mis­siles (SSBN)

Nuclear forces

Giv­en the mis­sions that mar­itime forces may be tasked with; the vast and dense nature of the waters that com­prise the IOEO; the prob­a­bil­i­ty of fric­tion aris­ing as com­pe­ti­tion for cor­ner­ing scarce resources mounts; and the need to ensure that should a hot con­flict arise strate­gic nuclear deter­rence is not breached, the need to deploy and main­tain bal­anced mar­itime forces both con­ven­tion­al and strate­gic becomes vital. The nuclear pow­ered sub­ma­rine by virtue of its stealth, speed, long endurance and near invul­ner­a­bil­i­ty pro­vides the ulti­mate plat­form for strate­gic deter­rent mis­sions when armed with nuclear mis­siles (SSBN). With a con­ven­tion­al pay­load the nuclear sub­ma­rine (SSN) can very effec­tive­ly oper­ate in coop­er­a­tion with air and sur­face plat­forms in exe­cu­tion of the mis­sions iden­ti­fied ear­li­er. Salient char­ac­ter­is­tics of a nuclear sub­ma­rine are enu­mer­at­ed below along with an overview of the Indi­an programme:

  • The first nuclear-pow­ered sub­ma­rine, USS Nau­tilus, put to sea in 1955. This marked the tran­si­tion of sub­marines from slow under­wa­ter ves­sels to war­ships capa­ble of sus­tain­ing 20–25 knots.
  • Some 140 ships are pow­ered by more than 180 small nuclear reac­tors and more than 12,000 reac­tor years of marine oper­a­tion has been accumulated.
  • Most are sub­marines, but they range from ice­break­ers to air­craft carriers.
  • Nuclear sub­marines can tran­sit at speeds in excess of 25 knots and dive to depths beyond the crush­ing depth of most con­ven­tion­al torpedoes.
  • In trop­i­cal and deep waters the nuclear sub­ma­rine is prac­ti­cal­ly invis­i­ble to con­ven­tion­al sensors.
  • In future, con­straints on fos­sil fuel use in trans­port may bring marine nuclear propul­sion into more wide­spread use.

India launched her first nuclear sub­ma­rine in July 2009, the 6,000 dwt Ari­hant SSBN, with a sin­gle 85 MW PWR dri­ving a 70 MW steam tur­bine. It car­ries a suite of 12 SLBMs. It is report­ed to have cost US$ 2.9 bil­lion and the pro­duc­tion line for sev­er­al more Ari­hant class SSB­Ns has been enabled. The SSN con­struc­tion pro­gramme is also under­way. India is, in addi­tion, leas­ing a 7,900 dwt Russ­ian Aku­la-II class nuclear attack sub­ma­rine for ten years from 2010, at a cost of US$ 650 mil­lion. It has a sin­gle 190 MWt VM‑5/ OK-650 PWR dri­ving a 32 MW steam tur­bine and two 2 MWe tur­bo­gen­er­a­tors. While much of the pro­gramme remains under wraps the direc­tion in which force struc­tures are evolv­ing is clear — the third leg of the tri­ad of strate­gic nuclear forces is in the off­ing and a long over­due com­mit­ment to real­is­ing effec­tive denial forces is at hand.

In deal­ing with strate­gic nuclear forces the prin­ci­ples of con­trol, deploy­ment, tar­get­ing and weapon states are laid down in the doc­trine. Three issues are of sig­nif­i­cance, first­ly, is the avail­abil­i­ty of an SSBN on deter­rent patrol per­sis­tent­ly which would sug­gest a force lev­el of 4 SSB­Ns; sec­ond­ly, that strate­gic nuclear forces con­form to the doc­tri­nal prin­ci­ple of sep­a­rat­ing cus­to­di­an from con­trol there­by rul­ing out the option of ‘dual task­ing’ and last­ly con­trol, task­ing and tar­get­ing is Nuclear Com­mand Author­i­ty (NCA) func­tion. In our con­text the Ari­hant class of SSB­Ns with its suite of sub­ma­rine launched bal­lis­tic mis­siles will pri­mar­i­ly dis­charge this role. The option to rig oth­er plat­forms with nuclear weapons will be weighed against con­sid­er­a­tions of sur­viv­abil­i­ty, vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty and control.

The nuclear pow­ered attack sub­ma­rine (SSN) with its suite of con­ven­tion­al pay­load and stealth fea­tures requires spe­cial men­tion. Its incep­tion has reori­ent­ed and trans­formed the war at sea by its abil­i­ty not only to deliv­er long range pre­ci­sion strikes but also to exe­cute tasks over vast sea area with speed and utmost dis­cre­tion. Their util­i­ty in denial oper­a­tions, con­trol tasks and mark­ing of high val­ue units such as car­ri­er groups and SSB­Ns (all core mis­sions in the mar­itime domain) is unpar­al­leled. In Gorshkov’s words (on SSNs) “The plans, build­ing pro­grammes and prac­ti­cal mea­sures car­ried out by the mil­i­tary-polit­i­cal lead­er­ship … is intent on step­ping up the nuclear mis­sile poten­tial and strike pow­er of its naval forces, rais­ing the com­bat and mobil­i­sa­tion­al readi­ness of all branch­es of the Navy”.


The ulti­mate real­i­ty of the inter­na­tion­al sys­tem is the place that pow­er enjoys in the scheme of assur­ing sta­bil­i­ty in rela­tions between nations. The strat­e­gy to imple­ment mar­itime mis­sions iden­ti­fied ear­li­er are pow­er tools avail­able to a nation pro­vid­ed it nur­tures and devel­ops capa­bil­i­ties that serve to ‘con­test, con­trol and deny’. Chi­na takes the com­pre­hen­sive nation­al pow­er approach; where it sees the effect of an event on its own endow­ment and its abil­i­ty to con­trol the occa­sion and its out­come as a pri­ma­ry virtue. In artic­u­lat­ing its strate­gic objec­tives it has unam­bigu­ous­ly iden­ti­fied three canons the first of which is inter­nal and exter­nal sta­bil­i­ty; the sec­ond is to sus­tain the cur­rent lev­els of eco­nom­ic growth and last­ly to achieve region­al pre­em­i­nence. Gone is the ‘pow­er bash­ful­ness’ that marked the Deng era, in its place is a cock­i­ness that is dis­cernible. In the absence of a secu­ri­ty ori­ent­ed coop­er­a­tive impulse, the prob­lem with such sweep­ing strate­gies specif­i­cal­ly the com­ing ‘Third Island Chain’ super­im­posed on a long range pow­er pro­jec­tion and access denial strat­e­gy is its blind­ness to recog­nise that, we are in fact deal­ing with a sea space that is the busiest of all the “vast com­mons”. The reluc­tance for col­lab­o­ra­tion makes the poten­tial for fric­tion high.

The haz­ard of the oper­a­tional can­vas is that it is dri­ven by the imme­di­ate intim­i­da­tion which is the pre­tender that fills the strate­gic space rather than an endeav­our to shape the future.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, India’s armed forces have tra­di­tion­al­ly evolved with­in this par­a­digm, that is, to con­tend with oper­a­tional sce­nar­ios. The prob­lem is con­found­ed by the fact that each of the three armed forces, the Indi­an Army, the Indi­an Navy and the In a His­toric Func­tion on 9th Novem­ber 2011, the sec­ond reg­i­ment of Ground Sys­tems with Mobile Launch­ers, Com­mand Post, Replen­ish­ment Sys­tems, Fire Con­trol Sys­tems with sophis­ti­cat­ed elec­tron­ic hard­ware and soft­ware and with mul­ti­ple com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems was deliv­ered to the Indi­an Army. The sys­tems were hand­ed over by Shri M M Pal­lam Raju, Hon­ourable Rak­sha Rajya Mantri to Lt Gen­er­al Vin­od Naya­nar, Direc­tor Gen­er­al Artillery in the pres­ence of Dr A S Pil­lai CEO and MD, Brah­Mos Aero­space. Among the oth­er Dig­ni­taries present were Direc­tor DRDL Mr P Venu­gopalan, Brig Mehta, Deputy DG Mil­i­tary Oper­a­tions, oth­er senior offi­cers from the Armed Forces, Sci­en­tif­ic Com­mu­ni­ty and Chiefs of Indus­tries. Indi­an Air force have for­mu­lat­ed sep­a­rate declared strate­gies often in con­tra­dic­tion with each oth­er; they are sub­ject to Acts of Par­lia­ment that are dif­fer­ent in form and con­tent and have artic­u­lat­ed doc­trines for war fight­ing inde­pen­dent of each oth­er. It would, to an observ­er, almost appear as if the three are prepar­ing to fight three dif­fer­ent wars. This malaise remains so to this day. There is an urgent need to rem­e­dy this frag­ment­ed and often dys­func­tion­al scheme.

Con­tem­po­rary chal­lenges in these waters sug­gest the attain­ment of a strate­gic pos­ture cen­tered on a deployed force struc­ture of a car­ri­er group, nuclear attack sub­marines backed by a strate­gic deter­rent force, all of which serve to bal­ance out influ­ences that pro­voke ten­sion and effec­tive­ly fill the strate­gic space through the abil­i­ty ‘to con­tend, con­trol and deny’. India’s rela­tion­ship with the USA, the arti­cle has argued, should take the next step, which would log­i­cal­ly be to estab­lish an Indo-US strate­gic frame work in the mar­itime domain tak­ing on board like-mind­ed in region states, in order to con­tend with the chal­lenges that the IOEO presents.

The face of the 21st cen­tu­ry is that of an Assange while its voice ranges from a Gand­hi to an Osama; against this back­drop is a glob­al pow­er shift which has unchained strong and unre­lent­ing socio-politi­co-eco­nom­ic forces that have shak­en the sta­tus quo. Tech­nol­o­gy in its turn has stirred mat­ters to an extent when tra­di­tion­al par­a­digms of sov­er­eign­ty look a tri­fle moth eat­en. This milieu has opened up strate­gic oppor­tu­ni­ties to knowl­edge soci­eties, nations endowed with youth­ful demog­ra­phy and an advan­ta­geous geog­ra­phy. The mar­itime domain is cen­tral to these changes and pro­vides prospects of accel­er­at­ed growth; the ques­tion remains how best India can strate­gise, shape and fill the strate­gic mar­itime space and in doing so pro­pi­ti­ate Kronos. 

The surge of nation­al­ism that sweeps Chi­na has led it to for­mu­late an afford­able mil­i­tary strat­e­gy of asym­met­ric weapons (the ‘assassin’s mace’ is part of such a strat­e­gy) This unortho­dox strat­e­gy has set into motion three areas of rapid mod­erni­sa­tion in the mil­i­tary estab­lish­ment; first­ly the most active land based bal­lis­tic and cruise mis­sile pro­gramme in the world, sec­ond­ly an enlarged nuclear attack and nuclear bal­lis­tic mis­sile sub­ma­rine fleet and last­ly a con­cen­tra­tion on what Chi­na calls “infor­ma­ti­sa­tion” an active and pas­sive method of wag­ing infor­ma­tion warfare

About the Author
Vice Adm Vijay Shankar PVSM, AVSM (retd) — The writer holds an MSc in Defence Stud­ies and is a grad­u­ate of the Naval War Col­lege, New­port, Rhode Island, USA. He is the for­mer Com­man­der-in-Chief of the Andaman and Nico­bar Command,Commander-in-Chief of the Strate­gic Forces Com­mand and Flag Offi­cer Com­mand­ing West­ern Fleet. His Com­mand and oper­a­tional expe­ri­ence are com­pre­hen­sive and include Com­mand of INS Viraat the air­craft car­ri­er. He is a mem­ber of the adjunct fac­ul­ty of the Nation­al Insti­tute of Advanced Stud­ies and he cur­rent­ly ten­ants the Admi­ral Katari Chair of Excel­lence at the Unit­ed Ser­vices Institute. 

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