Guardian of the seas: Indian Navy

While the Indian Navy has successfully guarded the 7500 km long coastline, it lacks resources and technology to face the upcoming adversities especially when China is making newer inroads in the Indian Ocean.

By Kislay Ranjan, Senior Manager – Strategic & Foreign Relations Practice

“To be secure at land, we must be supreme at sea” – this quote by Shri Jawaharlal Nehru underlines the role of Indian Navy in our strategic framework. With its motto of शं नो वरुणः  ( May Varun- the lord of water be auspicious unto us), the Indian navy clearly underlines its duty to protect our 7500 km long coastlines and safeguard the trading and other commercial activities. Thus ensuring the security and wellbeing leading to auspiciousness for Indians. 

Bond with the Sea and new challenges 

Seas have been an integral part of Indian life for ages. There has been a tidal dockyard found in Lothal from 2300 BC. Chanakya, in Arthashastra, has mentioned the duties of Chief Controller of Shipping and Ports. Cholas, on the other hand, use their naval prowess in expanding their empire to modern-day Thailand and Cambodia. These examples show India has used seas long both for warfare and commercial purposes. 

Post-independence, the Indian Navy has protected India’s use of seas. A glimpse of its prowess can be gauged from its role in the 1961 liberation of Goa and the Naval Blockade of Karachi which resulted in the defeat of Pakistan. Similarly, its anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden ensures that our maritime trade interests are protected. The latter role becomes more critical as it conducts regular anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Eden to ensure safe passage for shipments carrying oil and other precious items. 

However, with time, the Indian Navy has to be prepared for new challenges. China is making newer inroads in the Indian Ocean. The strengthening of its base in Djibouti Naval base in East Africa to holding Naval exercises with countries like Russia and Pakistan shows that China is trying to strengthen its position in the region. Its debt traps in the Maldives and Sri Lanka and the encroachment on Philippines maritime boundaries show that it is continuously searching for newer territories, newer ports to position itself strategically.

Apart from working on all these steps, China is also working on its fundamentals. As compared to India, it has considerably strengthened its naval strength in all aspects. China has 70 Submarines as compared to 15 from India. The Chinese have 7 nuclear-powered submarines with long-range ballistic missile capabilities. On the other hand, India has only one submarine-Arihant in this range. China also leads India in terms of aircraft carriers, destroyers, and naval personnel. 

It’s not that the Navy is not aware of this disparity. It’s been trying to enhance its defense capabilities but is facing a resource crunch. The Navy’s share in the defense budget has fallen from 18% in 2012-1 to 13% in 2019-20. Even in that budget, nearly 30% is allocated to the salary and pension of the personnel. That leaves less room for necessary acquisition and R&D activities. 

Strategy for the future 

With considerable challenges ahead, the government needs a multifold strategy to strengthen the Indian Navy. It can opt for more sea control- controlling an area of the sea for a particular time or sea denial- denying an enemy the use of territory for a particular time. The former process requires lots of resources to be devoted to manning and controlling the sea. Sea denial, on the other hand, is repelling the enemy and does not have the element of control. Hence, the resource allocation is a lot less. 

India needs to think hard about the strategy it wants to pursue and where it wants to deploy it. Maritime borders, coupled with ISAs, may merit more elements of Sea control than Sea denial. And critical choke points should have room for sea denial. However, such decisions need to be taken by experts considering the resources available and challenges. Also, they must anticipate the retaliation from the enemy and prepare accordingly. 

Then based upon the strategy, the authorities must critically analyze the naval arsenal and ways of strengthening it. Due to the critical components and subsystem being of imported origin, the Indian Navy lacks the enhancement in its underwater sensors and weapons and multi-functional radars. Hence, it’s high time that these components are sourced from the country. However, that should not affect the strategy to address the near term and contingent situations. 

A Maritime Theatre Command is also proposed to be implemented in 2022. This MTC will integrate the other two services – the Army’s amphibious brigade and Air force. The Coast Guard will also play a part in it. Initiatives like this show that the defense establishment is thinking about the newer way of using the Navy efficiently in defense operations. 

Ways forward 

The defense manufacturing in India is hugely capital intensive and dominated by DPSUs(Defence Public Service Unit). All three sectors of shipbuilding- float, move, and fight are dominated by BEL, HAL, and ECIL (all PSUs). 

To encourage the private sector’s participation, the government announced an embargo on the import of 101 defense items. There is an estimation that this move shall create a demand for INR 400,000 for defense equipment by armed forces. In this demand, the Indian Navy is expected to be INR 1,40,000. However, capital is a big issue in meeting this demand, especially in today’s economic climate. The R&D, manufacturing, and testing take time and require considerable allocation of resources. 

The government will have to facilitate direct and indirect capital assistance to the companies. New innovative ways need to be explored like- tax breaks and removing the earnest money clause. FDI needs to be further relaxed from the 49% limit to allow more investment in the sector. Incentives should be provided to the suppliers to use indigenous components without compromising on the overall quality of the outcome expected. 

We also need to develop strategy and specially defence strategy to be a research domain in India. The churning of great minds shall result in papers and journals which will aid the formulation of a robust strategy for a new age.