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)
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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