Indo-Pacific naval strategy

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Source– The post is based on the article “Indo-Pacific naval strategy” published in the “Business Standard” on 5th May 2023.

Syllabus: GS2- International relations

Relevance– Issues related to Indian maritime strategy

News– The article explains the reason for neglect of maritime diplomacy. It explains the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Indian maritime strategy.

What are the aims of New Delhi’s Indo-Pacific policy?

India is safeguarding the world’s sea lines of communications. India is seen in the role of “net security provider”. There is fighting piracy threats, sea-based terrorism, smuggling, and fishing. It is providing humanitarian aid, disaster relief and search and rescue.

India also has a huge diaspora working and remitting money from the Gulf. In case of emergency, India has evacuated its citizens. India supports its overseas citizens on its own dollar.

India foots its own bill for overseeing the Indian Ocean. In addition, New Delhi currently provides $18 billion dollars in lines of credit for development projects in littoral states.

Why was there a delay in developing India’s maritime diplomacy and Indo-Pacific policy?

New Delhi was preoccupied northwards. New Delhi’s strategic attention remained on China and Pakistan. The four wars fought against these two adversaries reinforced its “continental mindset”.

It was shaped by the historical experience of centuries of invasions from Central Asia. In the 19th century, there was the Great Game. Britain and Russia competed for influence in Central Asia, Asia Minor and to the borders of British India.

This “continental outlook” is deeply entrenched in New Delhi. This is despite the fact that most Central Asian invaders were assimilated into India.

However, sea-borne colonial powers repatriated Indian wealth to Europe, and completely destroyed the small-scale Indian economy. It taught India a valuable lesson about the criticality of maritime power.

Britishers believed that the Indian Navy should limit itself to the defence of the British Commonwealth. This view prevailed because New Delhi’s precarious finances made it dependent upon Britain for warships.

The decision to buy a Royal Navy light aircraft carrier, HMS Hercules Shaped India’s Navy decision making. The INS Vikrant was commissioned in 1961.

In 1962, the year after INS Vikrant was commissioned, China defeated India heavily. That reinforced India’s continental mindset. It led to army and air force modernisation and marginalised the navy.

Its share of the defence budget, which had tripled from 4% in 1950-51, to 12%in 1959-60 was back to 4% after the war.

What is the current outlook of the Indian navy?

During the 1960s and 1970s, New Delhi realized that an economically declining Britain was an inadequate partner. The Soviet Union supplanted the UK as its principal supplier of warships, technology, and design expertise.

American design influence will begin shaping the Indian Navy’s aircraft carriers. The first of the two indigenous carriers, INS Vikrant, are based on Russian design. But a second indigenous carrier, INS Vishal, will draw heavily on the US carrier philosophy.

So, the Indian Navy’s Sea control strategy is likely to be based on three aircraft carriers, with two of them operational at any given time.

Each will be at the centre of a carrier battle group drawn from a total fleet of about 175 ships, including about 50 capital warships and about 600 naval aircraft, with about 100 of them based at sea.

Today, the navy has achieved significant headway in heavy engineering skills. The navy learnt the art of integrating diverse weapon systems, onto multi-role warships.

For example, in the Shivalik-class frigates, which began entering service in 2009, the navy integrated Russian Shtil anti-air missiles, Russian Klub anti-ship cruise missiles, the Israeli Barak-1 missile defence system, and the Italian Oto Melara 76-millimetre super rapid gun mount.

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