The Indian Navy Has a Big Problem: The Subsurface Dilemma

Discussion in 'Indian Navy' started by AVERAGE INDIAN, Nov 4, 2014.

  1. AVERAGE INDIAN

    AVERAGE INDIAN EXORCIST Senior Member

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    The United States’ strategic reorientation towards the Indo-Pacific has been accompanied by a heightened interest in matters maritime. In contrast to the primary theaters of the Cold War, the region’s strategic and economic geography is strongly defined by its wide oceans, narrow choke points and contested waterways.

    The United States’ strategic reorientation towards the Indo-Pacific has been accompanied by a heightened interest in matters maritime. In contrast to the primary theaters of the Cold War, the region’s strategic and economic geography is strongly defined by its wide oceans, narrow choke points and contested waterways. As a result, the naval profiles of Asia’s two great rising powers, India and China, have attracted a hitherto unprecedented level of attention.

    Meanwhile, the very nature of maritime competition appears to be undergoing a radical transformation. The proliferation of precision-guided weaponry has resulted in the erection of increasingly formidable land-based reconnaissance-strike complexes, structured around dense constellations of anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) complexes. The growing ability of coastal states to both locate and prosecute mobile targets offshore has raised questions over the survivability of expensive, high-signature surface vessels, and maritime competition is increasingly being driven underwater. While much commentary has been made on the drivers and motivations behind China’s growing submarine fleet, the Indian Navy’s perception of the undersea domain has only infrequently been discussed. How do security managers in New Delhi view issues such as undersea warfare or the future of subsurface competition in the Indian Ocean? What are the Indian Navy’s priorities in terms of subsurface force structure and anti-submarine warfare (ASW)? How close is it to realizing its stated objectives? And what kind of acquisitions could best help the Indian Navy shield its fleet and maritime environs from unwelcome submarine activity?

    Since its inception, the Indian Navy has been a carrier-centric force with a service culture heavily geared toward blue-water operations, surface warfare and sea control. India’s 2009 Maritime Doctrine clearly reflects these organizational proclivities, stipulating that “ea control is the central concept around which the [Indian Navy] is structured, and aircraft carriers are decidedly the most substantial contributors to it.” With rare exceptions, Indian Navy chiefs have been surface warfare officers or naval aviators.

    Nevertheless, Indian naval planners have long had a strong appreciation of the risks posed by marauding enemy submarines and the advantages to be derived from using subsurface assets for forward-deployed sea denial and choke point–control. The sinking of an Indian frigate, the INS Khukri, by a Pakistani Daphne-class submarine in the war of 1971, features amongst the Indian Navy’s darkest hours, and security managers in Delhi have traditionally harbored a somewhat proprietorial attitude toward the Indian Ocean, fretting over underwater encroachments. Whereas during the Cold War, Indian strategists pointed to the mushrooming of U.S. submarine pens in Diego Garcia, nowadays concerns revolve more around China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean.

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  3. AVERAGE INDIAN

    AVERAGE INDIAN EXORCIST Senior Member

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    India’s Dwindling Conventional Submarine Force::

    Since 1999, the Indian Navy has repeatedly stated that it would require at least twenty-four conventional submarines in order to both prevail in a high-intensity conflict with Pakistan and deter extra-regional powers. This force structure has been sanctioned by India’s Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), and was reportedly reiterated in the most recent version of the Indian Navy’s classified Maritime Capability Perspective Plan.

    Unfortunately, after a series of accidents and cascading delays, the Indian Navy’s submarine flotilla has shrunk down to only eleven operational boats—seven Russian Kilo-class submarines and four German HDW submarines. No new diesel-electric submarine has been commissioned for the past fifteen years, and many of the existing boats are over a quarter-century old. In October 2005, the Indian Navy signed a landmark deal for six French Scorpene-class boats. All submarines were to be built in India, at Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL) in Mumbai, under a technology-transfer agreement. For a variety of reasons ranging from reported teething problems in the absorption of new technologies, to abstruse and never-ending pricing negotiations, the schedule for delivery has been repeatedly pushed back. Indeed, whereas the Scorpenes were initially projected to join the fleet between 2012 and 2017, it now only looks as though they will be battle-ready by 2022. Project 75I, a follow-on program for six next-generation SSKs equipped with air-independent propulsion (AIP) and land-attack capabilities, was only just cleared by India’s Defense Acquisition Council, after years of increasingly desperate appeals by India’s naval officers to fast-track the process. Initially, the plan was to import two boats once a foreign vendor had been selected, then license-build the remaining four, but it now looks as though the Indian Navy has opted to construct all six boats in India with foreign assistance. It will probably take a few years to select the vendor, then another eight to ten years to build the submarines in question, rendering the prospect of them joining the fleet before 2030 extremely unlikely.

    India’s Naval Nuclear Ambitions::

    In parallel to its conventional submarine fleet, India has been investing in nuclear-powered platforms. In 2012, the Indian Navy commissioned the INS Chakra, an Akula-class nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN), which it acquired from Russia on a ten-year lease. When it was commissioned, it was described as a potential force multiplier for India’s rapidly decaying submarine fleet, and as opening the door in the future for blue-water submarine operations. Whereas India’s diesel-electric submarine fleet is primarily located along its western coast, the INS Chakra has been stationed along its eastern seaboard—and is clearly positioned to address the Chinese threat. There have been persistent rumors of plans to lease a second Akula, although nothing has yet been officially confirmed.

    The most significant development with respect to India’s submarine force occurred in 2009, when India launched its first indigenously developed SSBN, the INS Arihant. The Arihant’s reactor went critical in August 2013, and it is expected to formally join the fleet some time in 2015. At present, it is slated to be fitted with up to twelve 750-km range Sagarika K-15 SLBMs, which is considered by many Indian commentators to be “grossly inadequate." Due to these range limitations and the short refueling cycle of the boat’s nuclear reactor, it is unlikely that the Arihant will deploy on deterrent patrols any time soon, and should thus be viewed—for the time being, at least—as something of a test platform and technology demonstrator, rather than as a viable, rugged component of India’s deterrence structure. This may change in the future, however, as India continues to develop longer-range SLBMs, such as the K-4, which has an advertised range of 3,500 km, or the K-5, which is still in the design phase and projected to have a range of 5,000 km.

    New Delhi is cognizant of the fact that in order to enjoy an effective sea-based deterrent, particularly vis-a-vis China, whose strategic centers are located along its eastern seaboard, it will need to develop larger SSBNs with greater missile-carriage capacity and more powerful reactors. The development of a sea-based deterrent constitutes a colossal new undertaking for the Indian Navy, whether in terms of technological development, supporting infrastructure or even in terms of nuclear doctrine and command and control arrangements. Under the aegis of Project Varsha, a large new SSBN base is being built in Rambilli, 50 km southwest of the eastern port of Visakhapatnam, and an Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) communications station was recently erected next to India’s Very Low Frequency (VLF) station in Tamil Nadu. India aims to eventually acquire a SSBN fleet of four to five indigenously produced vessels, all of which will most likely be based along its eastern seaboard. This is primarily due to the fact that the Bay of Bengal is deemed a great degree more suitable for nuclear submarine operations—and perhaps in the future for SSBN bastion development—than the shallow and congested waters of the Arabian Sea.

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  4. AVERAGE INDIAN

    AVERAGE INDIAN EXORCIST Senior Member

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    India’s Perception of the Undersea Domain::

    India’s concerns with regard to the undersea domain are twofold. The first, more immediate concern is Pakistan, which currently operates five SSKs, three Agosta-90B submarines and two more antiquated Agosta-70 boats, along with three Cosmos-class midget submarines. Unlike India’s conventional submarines, Pakistan’s Agosta-90Bs are equipped with AIP, and senior Pakistani defense officials have intimated that Islamabad could soon conclude a long-discussed deal to procure six additional SSKs from China. Pakistani naval planners have traditionally focused on offensive sea denial and coastal interdiction. Indeed, as one former Pakistani chief of naval staff noted, “Submarines have all along been [Pakistan’s] main strength and at the heart of our naval strategy of offensive sea denial.”

    For the Indian Navy, acquiring and preserving the ability to successfully establish localized sea control within cluttered and bathymetrically challenging waters is of critical importance. If India can no longer credibly threaten Pakistan’s sea lines of communication or operate within strike range of Pakistan’s major ports, it will lose its capacity to translate its naval superiority into effective coercive power. New Delhi would find itself deprived of one of its few viable options to impose costs on Pakistan, and India’s ability to dissuade Pakistani acts of subconventional provocation would find itself further reduced. An addition of another six submarines to Pakistan’s inventory could severely impede India’s ability to exert sea control along Pakistan’s Makran Coast. India’s surface fleet might experience difficulty in locating and prosecuting Pakistani diesel-electric and midget submarines, particularly if they chose to “bottom” and evade sonar detection by settling on a shallow seafloor, switching off their engines, and closing their seawater inlets. Even the hypothetical presence of such platforms deployed along Pakistan’s coastline could create a “subsurface threat-in-being” for the Indian Navy and discourage it from deploying some of its more valuable assets.

    In the future, the Indian Navy might consider developing a more distributed undersea battle network, composed of smart mines, midget submarines, sensors and UUVs (unmanned underwater vehicles), in addition to larger submarines, in order to help reconnoiter, and, if necessary, sanitize contested undersea environments. UUVs, in particular, are likely to fulfill an increasingly wide spectrum of tasks, ranging from mine warfare (MIW), to underwater intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance (ISR), and ASW. There have been reports that India intends to acquire up to six 150-ton midget submarines for its special ops MARCOS unit, as well as up to ten indigenously developed UUVs for littoral surveillance purposes. These are steps in the right direction.

    India’s more long-term concern is related to Chinese submarine deployments in the Indian Ocean. Since December 2008, China has regularly rotated naval task forces in the Indian Ocean, ostensibly for anti-piracy missions. Indian observers, however, have expressed concern over the second-order effects of such deployments, noting that they have allowed Chinese naval intelligence units to better survey the Indian Ocean’s underwater topography and record bathymetric conditions. Similarly, Beijing also signed a contract allowing it to explore polymetallic sulphide ore deposits over a 10,000 square-kilometer swath of the Southwest Indian Ocean’s seabed. This has been perceived by India’s Directorate of Naval Intelligence as an excuse for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to map the region’s notoriously challenging undersea terrain, with future submarine operations in mind. In 2013, the Indian press leaked the findings of a classified Indian Defense Ministry report, which allegedly reported that Chinese nuclear submarines were “making frequent forays into the Indian Ocean.” These assertions have been partially confirmed by Lt. General Michael Flynn, the Director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, who declared in February 2014 that China had “recently deployed for the first time a nuclear-powered attack submarine to the Indian Ocean.”

    More recently, a Song-class SSK berthed in the Sri Lankan port of Colombo before heading out for escort missions in the Gulf of Aden. In the past, Indian naval officers had repeatedly asserted that the forward deployment of Chinese submarines—and particularly of Chinese SSNs—in the Indian Ocean would be cause for grave concern. Now that Beijing’s subsurface penetration of the Indian Ocean has been confirmed, it will be interesting to see how the Indian Navy chooses to respond to what, no doubt, constitutes an unwelcome new strategic reality.


    The Importance of the P-8I::

    India’s acquisition of eight Boeing P-8I (Poseidon) Neptune Aircraft—with an option for four more—constitutes perhaps one of the most encouraging developments, as it will significantly enhance the Indian Navy’s ability to conduct long-range maritime reconnaissance and ASW. The Poseidon’s Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) will also allow the Indian Navy to more easily detect diesel-electric submarines’ periscopes—a critical factor when addressing the Pakistani submarine threat. Presently based at Rajali, in Tamil Nadu, India’s P-8Is will eventually be deployed to India’s Eastern Naval Command. With a mission radius of 600 nautical miles for six hours on station and up to 1,200 nautical miles for four hours on station, India’s P-8Is will allow the Indian Navy to greatly enhance its maritime and littoral surveillance capabilities over the Bay of Bengal, as well as its ability for maritime interdiction and ASW.

    There are concerns, however, over the security of the P-8I’s communications, as well as over its lack of electronic warfare self-protection abilities. Indeed, due to India’s continued refusal to sign the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation (BECA), the P-8I was delivered without secure and encrypted communications, and satellite navigational aids. As a result, India’s P-8Is are slated to be equipped with an indigenously developed communications system, the Data Link-II system, whose reliability and effectiveness have been openly questioned by some Indian naval officers.
     
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  5. AVERAGE INDIAN

    AVERAGE INDIAN EXORCIST Senior Member

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    The Damaging Effects of Bureaucratic Dysfunction::

    India’s growing challenges in the undersea domain are exacerbated by certain glaring capability gaps in its surface fleet’s ability to conduct deep-water ASW (anti-submarine warfare). As of now, India’s major surface combatants are only equipped with hull-mounted sonars. While observers have commented on the efficacy of these indigenously developed sonars in the higher thermoclines of the Indian Ocean, the Indian Navy urgently requires new types of sonar in order to effectively address the growing threat posed by both nuclear and diesel-electric submarines. Active variable depth sonars (VDS) will be required to better monitor the movements of quiet diesel-electric submarines, while passive towed arrays will be needed to effectively detect the noise emitted by nuclear power plant machinery. Going forward, the best approach for the Indian Navy might be to pursue a VDS so as to address the diesel threat, and a multifunction towed array in order to both listen for the returns from the active VDS, and the noise continuously radiated by lurking nuclear submarines. In short, acquiring a multifunction towed array would allow Indian surface ship commanders the operational flexibility to choose to remain silent and simply listen for the sounds of enemy submarines, or to “ping” active to bounce sound off the hulls of any subsurface intruders.

    These hardware deficiencies can be attributed, as often in India, to the dysfunctional state of the nation’s higher defense management. Even though the Indian Navy has been trying to import advanced towed arrays for its ships since the 1990s, the Indian Ministry of Defense has, until recently, repeatedly blocked these attempts in favor of mostly fruitless indigenous efforts, such as the Nagan. There are indications that this bureaucratic obstructionism may soon dissipate, but it will take some time before India’s frigates and destroyers are equipped with more advanced sonar systems. Concerns over the vulnerability of India’s surface ships to subsurface attack have been compounded by the fact that the Indian Navy now suffers from an acute shortage in ASW helicopters. Indeed, it currently has only eleven aging Kamov-28 and seventeen Sea King helicopters to help screen a fleet of over 130 boats. Once again, the Indian Navy’s requests to move ahead with a contract for longer-range, and better equipped, helicopters have been met with an unsavory mixture of bureaucratic incompetence and political diffidence.

    Earlier this year, India’s naval chief, Admiral DK Joshi, resigned after a series of dramatic accidents, two of which took place aboard SSKs and—in both cases—led to a tragic loss of life. In the course of a recent and much discussed interview, the embittered admiral deplored the difficulties he had experienced in obtaining timely repairs and refits of his vessels and drew attention to what he perceived as forming the true cause of India’s continued military dysfunction:

    “The root cause is this dysfunctional and inefficient business model that we have (…) While professional competence, accountability and responsibility is with the service, this is not the case with authority. (…) For example, when it comes to changing submarine batteries, which are available indigenously, or commencing refits and repairs of ships, aircraft, submarines in Indian yards, the service (navy) does not have that empowerment. (….) Where there is authority, there is no accountability. And where there is responsibility, there is no authority.”

    Until these larger structural and institutional issues are addressed, it would appear that—notwithstanding India’s beleaguered naval officers’ best efforts—the nation’s subsurface challenges are likely to grow, rather than diminish.

    The Indian Navy Has a Big Problem: The Subsurface Dilemma | The National Interest
     
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  6. sgarg

    sgarg Senior Member Senior Member

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    India is too far behind China at this point in time. Although we can give self-serving arguments to make ourselves happy, it will not change the situation.

    We should get used to living in the shadow of China's growing might. It is better to adjust our ego to the reality.

    The only option is to fix what is broken. Complete submarine projects by providing focus and money. India can at least ensure its energy imports from Gulf and trade with Indian ocean partners so as to survive adverse conditions if they appear.
     
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  7. Android

    Android Regular Member

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    Indeed,i dont see any comparision between India & China's submarine fleet,we are short on having enough subs to petrol our martime border it isb't the case of china.
    Poltical mess has let IN in a dilema and wort of it is that 1st scorpene subs would arrive only 4-5 yrs from now.
    *Though Arihant is a positive and with two other subs U/C ,it atleast makes us feel a little better.
     
  8. Zebra

    Zebra Senior Member Senior Member

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    Sir, sorry but you are talking like a 'frog in a well'.

    Options are there. Definitely, they are there.

    But problem is we don't want to look at those options.
     
  9. sgarg

    sgarg Senior Member Senior Member

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    @Casper: If US subs can patrol Indian ocean, Chinese subs can too. We should not suspect each and every Chinese activity as directed at India.

    This is a complex world. We need to see things as they are.

    Maybe you can suggest the options as you see.
     
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  10. Zebra

    Zebra Senior Member Senior Member

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    ^^
    I said it earlier, one small and two big boats.

    If budget is the problem, then make it like two small and one big boat.

    The company may ask for Sun or even Moon, but if GoI play properly, then this is the cheapest option....(wait, let me dig out that blog post again)

    http://defenceforumindia.com/forum/naval-warfare/8696-submarine-type-a26-2.html

    post #20
     
  11. Bheeshma

    Bheeshma Regular Member

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    Stupid statement. Of course they can. But IN should be able to track and monitor all the subs in IOR region. China is scared of IN more than any other Indian armed force. IN needs to beef up ASW and long range (SCS) patrols to keep them in check. Vietnam, Singapore are IN's regular stops in the SCS along with Indonesia. China doesn't have the balls to stop us there and we cannot wily nily ask them to not come into Indian ocean.
     
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  12. Bheeshma

    Bheeshma Regular Member

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    China needs to learn to live with Indian SSBN's in IOR and IN in SCS and pacific. The number of IN deployments there will only increase. Its inevitable and chinese will also try to become a blue water navy by increasing patrols in IOR but as long as IN can monitor these activities there should be no complaints.
     
  13. sgarg

    sgarg Senior Member Senior Member

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    @Bheeshma, India need not be in a blind military race with China. There is no need.

    The first and foremost objective of Indian Navy is to safeguard Indian energy supplies. The second objective is to ensure Indian trade and influence in IOR.

    India cannot project power in South China sea at this time or even in next 10 years. Availability of an SSBN alone does not make it possible.

    The Indian ocean has many contenders, not only China. The primary power remains USA/NATO. If China wants to increase its influence in IOR, it will challenge USA/NATO before India.
     
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  14. sgarg

    sgarg Senior Member Senior Member

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    We need to see what China does rather rather than what China says. It is clear that rise of India's military power is causing discomfort in China. However this situation has to be managed with understanding.

    Each and every situation does not warrant a military response. All must understand that.

    India does not have any plans of attacking China. China knows that. So India is not a threat to China. The development of Indian territory and development of Indian military are internal issues of India. China may make a noise about some issues but better to ignore and focus on what is important.

    We must react (and forcefully) if the situation on the border takes a violent turn of events which shows fairly aggressive intentions. This has not occurred so far.
     
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  15. Bheeshma

    Bheeshma Regular Member

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    China cannot project anything into IOR. IN will wipe them out. But that doesn't mean they don't have the right to operate in IOR. Same way IN is deployed in SCS but not 24X7 . India will depend on allies like Vietnam, Japan etc for that. I don't agree with waiting to see what china does. IN will operate in SCS as and when required and they have to be pro-active about it. Vietnam is an ally and in future so will Japan.
     
  16. sgarg

    sgarg Senior Member Senior Member

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    @Bheeshma, Your statements do not reflect the reality.

    Please read this "Under the prediction of this article, some Chinese people forecast 18 possible overseas bases of PLA Navy, including Chongjin Port (North Korea), Moresby Port (Papua New Guinea),Sihanoukville Port (Cambodia), Koh Lanta Port (Thailand) Sittwe Port (Myanmar), DHAKA Port (Bangladesh), Gwadar Port (Pakistan), Hambantota Port (Sri Lanka), Maldives, Seychelles, Djibouti Port (Djibouti), Lagos Port (Nigeria), Mombasa Port (Kenya), Dar es Salaam Port (Tanzania), Luanda Port (Angola) and Walvis Bay Port(Namibia)."

    Chinese paper advises PLA Navy to build overseas military bases | China Defense Mashup

    The only overseas port available to Indian Navy is Port Louis, Mauritius.
     
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  17. sgarg

    sgarg Senior Member Senior Member

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    Japan is an ally of USA. Japan does have a growing economic relationship with India but this has not translated much to defence field.

    Vietnam is more likely to cooperate with India, but the question remains - how much?
     
  18. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    It is not a matter of the size of a Navy.

    So long as the chokepoint or ingress route is effectively denied, hostile activities can be taken care of.
     
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  19. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    China’s Naval Expansion in the Indian Ocean and India-China Rivalry

    Harsh V. Pant

    After dramatically increasing its military expenditure over the last several years, in 2010 China has raised it by only 7.5 percent, marking the first time in nearly 21 years that the rate of increase has fallen below double digits.1 While there are a number of factors behind this, the Chinese government has used this to announce its pacific intent, underlining that it has always tried to limit military spending and set defence spending at a reasonable level. China’s foreign policy thinkers and political establishment have long sought to convince the world that Beijing’s rise is meant to be a peaceful one, that China has no expansionist intentions, that it will be a different kind of great power.

    Of course, the very nature of power makes this largely a charade, but more surprising is that western liberals have tended to take these assertions at face value. There is an entire industry in the West that would have us believe that China is actually a different kind of a great power and that if the west could simply give China a stake in the established order, Beijing’s rise would not create any complications.

    Now, one of China’s most prominent policy intellectuals is advocating for the creation of overseas bases. Shen Dingli, a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, asserts that “it is wrong for us [China] to believe that we have no right to set up bases abroad.” He argues that it is not terrorism or piracy that’s the real threat to China. It’s the ability of other states to block China’s trade routes that poses the greatest threat. To prevent this from happening, China, Shen asserts, needs not only a blue-water navy but also “overseas military bases to cut the supply costs.”2
    Of course, Shen also wraps this up in the widely accepted world peace diplomacy, asserting that the establishment of such military bases overseas would promote regional and global stability. It is a familiar diplomatic wrapping that other superpowers should easily recognize.

    As China emerges as a major global power, it will expand its military footprint across the globe, much like that other great power, the US, whose bases surround China. The rapid expansion of China’s naval capabilities and broader military profile is a classic manifestation of its great power status. China’s new naval strategy of “far sea defense” is aimed at giving Beijing the ability to project its power in key oceanic areas, including and most significantly the Indian Ocean.3

    China’s expansionist behaviour has, in fact, long been evident. China has been acquiring naval facilities along the crucial choke-points in the Indian Ocean not only to serve its economic interests but also to enhance its strategic presence in the region. China realizes that its maritime strength will give it the strategic leverage it needs to emerge as the regional hegemon and a potential superpower. China’s growing dependence on maritime space and resources is reflected in the Chinese aspiration to expand its influence and to ultimately dominate the strategic environment of the Indian Ocean region. China’s growing reliance on bases across the Indian Ocean region is a response to its perceived vulnerability, given the logistical constraints that it faces due to the distance of the Indian Ocean waters from its own territory. Yet, China is consolidating power over the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean with an eye on India, something that emerges clearly in a secret memorandum issued fifteen years ago by the Director of the General Logistic Department of the PLA: “We can no longer accept the Indian Ocean as only an ocean of the Indians…We are taking armed conflicts in the region into account.”4

    China’s growing naval presence in and around the Indian Ocean region, beginning in areas such as China’s Hainan Island in the South China Sea, is troubling for India. China deployed its Jin class submarines in 2008 at a submarine base near Sanya in the southern tip of Hainan, raising alarm in India as the base is merely 1200 nautical miles from the Malacca Strait and is its closest access point to the Indian Ocean. The base also has an underground facility that can hide the movement of submarines, making them difficult to detect.5 The concentration of strategic naval forces at Sanya could propel China towards a consolidation of its control over the surrounding Indian Ocean region. The presence of access tunnels on the mouth of the deep water base is particularly troubling for India as it will have strategic implications in the Indian Ocean region, allowing China to interdict shipping at the three crucial chokepoints in the Indian Ocean – Bab el Mandeb, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Strait of Malacca. Of particular note is what has been termed China’s “string of pearls” strategy that has significantly expanded China’s strategic depth in India’s backyard.6

    This “string of pearls” strategy of bases and diplomatic ties includes the Gwadar port in Pakistan, naval bases in Burma, electronic intelligence gathering facilities on islands in the Bay of Bengal, funding construction of a canal across the Kra Isthmus in Thailand, a military agreement with Cambodia and building up of forces in the South China Sea.7 These “pearls” are to help build strategic ties with several countries along the sea lanes from the Middle East to the South China Sea in order to protect China’s energy interests and security objectives. Some of the claims are exaggerated, as has been the case with the purported Chinese naval presence in Burma. The Indian government, for example, had to concede in 2005 that reports of China turning the Coco Islands in Burma into a naval base were incorrect and that there were indeed no naval bases in Burma.

    Still, the Chinese thrust into the Indian Ocean is gradually becoming more pronounced. The Chinese may not have a naval base in Burma but they are involved in upgrading of infrastructure in the Coco Islands and may be providing some limited technical assistance to Burma.

    With almost 80 percent of China’s oil passing through the Strait of Malacca, given its reluctance to rely on US naval power for unhindered access to energy, it has moved to build up its naval power at choke points along the sea routes from the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea.

    China is courting other states in South Asia by building container ports in Bangladesh at Chittagong and in Sri Lanka at Hambantota. Consolidating its access to the Indian Ocean, China has signed an agreement with Sri Lanka to finance the development of the Hambantota Development Zone at the southern tip of Sri Lanka, which includes a container port, a bunker system and an oil refinery. China’s activities at Marao in the Maldives have also generated apprehension in New Delhi.

    China’s involvement in the construction of the deep-sea port of Gwadar on the Southwest coast of Pakistan has attracted a lot of attention due to its strategic location, about 70 kilometres from the Iranian border and 400 kilometers east of the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil supply route. It has been suggested that it will provide China with a “listening post” from where it can “monitor US naval activity in the Persian Gulf, Indian activity in the Arabian Sea, and future US-Indian maritime cooperation in the Indian Ocean.”8 Though Pakistan’s naval capabilities alone pose no challenge to India, the combinations of Chinese and Pakistani naval forces can indeed be formidable for India to counter.

    Recent suggestions emanating from Beijing that China is contemplating setting up military bases overseas to counter American influence and exert pressure on India have been interpreted in certain sections in New Delhi as a veiled reference to China’s interest in securing a permanent military presence in Pakistan. Although it might not be politically feasible for the Pakistani government to openly allow China to set up a military base, New Delhi fears that Islamabad might allow Beijing use of its military facilities without any public announcement.9
    It is possible to explain the construction of these ports and facilities by China on purely economic and commercial grounds, but regional and global powers like the US, Japan and India inevitably view the sum total of China’s diplomatic and military efforts in the Indian Ocean as projecting power vis-à-vis competing rivals. Moreover, most of Chinese naval facilities in the Indian Ocean are dual use in nature and no serious strategy can discount their future military use.

    Whatever China’s vision, together with its expansive military budget and accelerated global search for energy and other natural resources, it has built up all aspects of its maritime economy and created one of the world’s largest merchant fleets with a port, transport, and ship-building infrastructure to match.10 Certainly, the Indian Ocean could play an important role in Chinese efforts to establish a position as a leading maritime power in the region. And this is resulting in Sino-Indian competition for influence in the Indian Ocean and beyond. Despite significant improvement in Sino-Indian ties since the late 1990s, the relationship remains competitive and China has succeeded in containing India within the confines of South Asia by building close ties with India’s key neighbours, in particular with Pakistan.11
    The notion that China aspires to naval domination of the Indian Ocean remains a bit far-fetched. However, China certainly wishes to play a greater role in the region, to protect and advance its interests, especially Chinese commercial interests, as well as to counter India. But given the immense geographical advantages that Indian enjoys in the Indian Ocean, China will have great difficulty in rivalling India in the Indian Ocean. Even the task of sea lines of communication (SLOC) protection remains challenging for the PLA Navy as of now. Still, the steps that China is taking to protect and enhance its interests in the Indian Ocean region are generating apprehensions in Indian strategic circles, thereby engendering a classic security dilemma between the two Asian giants. And it is India’s fears and perceptions of China’s growing naval prowess in the Indian Ocean that is driving Indian naval posture. Tensions are inherent in such an evolving strategic relationship as was underlined in an incident in January 2009 when an Indian Kilo class submarine and Chinese warships, on their way to the Gulf of Aden to patrol the pirate-infested waters, reportedly engaged in rounds of manoeuvring as eacg tried to test for weaknesses in the others’ sonar system. The Chinese media reported that its warships forced the Indian submarine to the surface, which was strongly denied by the Indian Navy.12 Unless managed carefully, the potential for such incidents turning serious in the future remains high, especially as Sino-Indian naval competition is likely to intensify with the Indian and Chinese navies operating far from their shores.

    For its part, China is merely following in the footsteps of other major global powers, which have established military bases abroad to secure their interests. There is only one kind of great power, and one kind of great power tradition. China will not be any different; power is necessarily expansionist.

    The sooner the world acknowledges this, the better it will be for global stability.

    Harsh V. Pant teaches in the Department of Defence Studies at King's College London. He holds a doctorate degree from the University of Notre Dame. His research interests include nuclear proliferation, and Asia-Pacific security issues. He wrote this article for The Asia-Pacific Journal.
    Recommended citation: Harsh V. Pant, "China’s Naval Expansion in the Indian Ocean and India-China Rivalry," The Asia-Pacific Journal, 18-4-10, May 3, 2010.
    Notes
    1 “China plans to slow expansion of defense spending in 2010,” Washington Post, March 5, 2010.
    2 Shen Dingli, “Don’t shun the idea of setting up military bases overseas,” January 28, 2010, available here.
    3 Edward Wong, “Chinese Military Seeks to Extend Its Naval Power,” New York Times, April 23, 2010.
    4 Youssef Bodansky, “The PRC Surge for the Strait of Malacca and Spratly Confronts India and the US,” Defense and Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, Washington, DC, September 30, 1995, pp. 6-13.
    5 Manu Pubby, “China’s new n-submarine base sets off alarm bells,” Indian Express, May 3, 2008.
    6 The term “string of pearls” was first used in a report titled “Energy Futures in Asia” that was commissioned by the US Department of Defense’s Office of net Assessment from defense contractor, Booz-Allen-Hamilton. For details, see David Walgreen, “China in the Indian Ocean Region: Lessons in PRC Grand Strategy,” Comparative Strategy, Vol. 25, No. 2 (January 2006). Also, see Jae-Hyung Lee, “China’s Expanding Maritime Ambitions in the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean,” Contemporary Southeast Asia, Vol. 24, No. 3 (June 2007), pp. 553-4.
    7 For a detailed explication of the security ramifications of the Chinese “string of pearls” strategy, see Gurpreet Khurana, “China’s ‘String of Pearls’ in the Indian Ocean and Its Security Implications,” Strategic Analysis, Vol. 32, No. 1 (January 2008), pp. 1-22.
    8 Ziad Haider, “Oil Fuels Beijing’s new Power Game,” Yale Global Online, March 11, 2005, available here.
    9 Saibal Dasgupta, “China mulls setting up military base in Pakistan,” Times of India, January 28, 2010.
    10 Geoffrey Till, Seapower: A Guide for the Twenty-First Century (London: Frank Cass, 2004), p. 102, concludes from this that the Chinese government appears “to have a very clear vision of the future importance of the sea and a sense of the strategic leadership needed to develop maritime interest.”
    11 Harsh V. Pant, “India in the Asia-Pacific: Rising Ambitions with an Eye on China,” Asia-Pacific Review, Vol. 14 (1), May 2007, pp. 54-71.
    12 Manu Pubby, “Indian submarine, Chinese warship test each other in pirate waters,” Indian Express, February 5, 2009.
    http://www.japanfocus.org/-Harsh_V_-Pant/3353
     
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    An Indian Sphere of Influence in the Indian Ocean?
    David Brewster

    India has an expansive maritime strategy. Driven by great power aspirations and by strategic rivalry with China, India is expanding its naval capabilities and security relationships throughout the Indian Ocean region. India has paid significant attention to developing relationships at the key points of entry into the Indian Ocean—the Malacca Strait, the Persian Gulf and southern Africa. The purpose of this article is to examine India’s maritime ambitions and relationships in the Indian Ocean and ask whether this may presage an extended Indian sphere of influence in the region.

    This article will consider India’s strategic ambitions in the Indian Ocean. It will commence with an overview of the growth of maritime perspectives in Indian strategic thinking and the expansion of India’s naval capabilities against a backdrop of Sino-Indian strategic rivalry. It will review some of India’s key security relationships in the Indian Ocean and then consider the potential for the development of an Indian sphere of interest across the Indian Ocean region. What might this mean for littoral and other states as India emerges as a major regional power?

    The Maritime Dimension in Indian Strategic Thinking
    Among the changes in Indian strategic thinking in recent years has been a partial reorientation in India’s strategic outlook towards the maritime dimension. Indian strategic thinking has traditionally had a continental outlook. For thousands of years military threats to India have been perceived as coming primarily from India’s north-west. This was reinforced by India’s experience in the twentieth century, when any direct military threats to India—from Japan, Pakistan and China—were land-based. The continuing threats on India’s western and northern borders and from domestic insurgencies has led to the Indian Army holding an indisputedly dominant position within the Indian military establishment. However, there is a developing view among some Indian strategists of India as a maritime power—that India’s peninsular character and geographic position gives the Indian Ocean a preponderant influence over India’s destiny. Some Indian leaders have drawn a close connection between India’s maritime ambitions and its destiny as a great power. As former Indian Foreign Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, commented,
    One could also argue that any significant geographic expansion of Indian influence can only take place in the maritime domain. As Rajiv Sikri, a former Secretary in the India’s Foreign Ministry, commented: “If India aspires to be a great power, then the only direction in which India’s strategic influence can spread is across the seas. In every other direction there are formidable constraints.”
    2
    India’s standing as the most populous state in the Indian Ocean region and its central position in the northern Indian Ocean have long contributed to beliefs about India’s destiny to control its eponymous ocean. According to some there is now a well established tradition among the Indian strategic community that the Indian Ocean is, or should be, “India’s Ocean”. Many in the Indian Navy see it as destined to become the predominant maritime security provider in a region stretching from the Red Sea to Singapore and having a significant security role in areas beyond.
    3
    According to one observer
    Many Indian maritime strategists see predominance in the Indian Ocean as potentially also delivering significant influence in East Asia. Alfred Thayer Mahan, the nineteenth century American naval strategist, is frequently cited by Indian strategic thinkers, including a statement (incorrectly) attributed to Mahan that: “Whoever controls the Indian Ocean dominates Asia. In the 21st century, the destiny of the world will be decided on its waters.” Increased enthusiasm for maritime power has been accompanied by an expansion in India’s naval capabilities. During the Cold War, India’s ability to pursue its maritime ambitions was severely constrained and for decades following independence the Indian Navy was known as the “Cinderella” of the Indian armed forces. However, since the mid-1990s, India has embarked on a major program to develop a “Blue Water” navy involving significant increases in naval expenditure. India’s armed forces budget grew at an annual rate of 5% from 2001 to 2005 and at around 10% from 2005 to 2008. As the same time, the navy’s share of the increasing defence budget has risen from 11% in 1992/93 to 18% in 2008/09. Increased capital expenditure has encouraged plans for significant changes in the Indian Navy’s force structure, with an emphasis on sea control capabilities. Plans announced in 2008 call for a fleet of over 160 ships by 2022, including three aircraft carriers and 60 major combatant ships, as well as almost 400 naval aircraft. According to Admiral Arun Prakash, the former Indian Chief of Naval Staff, India aims to exercise selective sea control of the Indian Ocean through task forces built around three aircraft carriers that will form the core of separate fleets in the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea.5

    The rapidly expanding Indian Coast Guard may also play an important complementary role to the Indian Navy, particularly in circumstances where there are reasons to emphasise policing functions over the military dimension.

    In conjunction with an expansion in naval capabilities, over the last decade or so India has been quietly expanding its influence throughout the Indian Ocean. The Indian Navy has been active in developing security relationships that are intended to enhance India’s ability to project power and restrict China’s ability to develop security relationships in the region. Given that the Indian Ocean is in many ways an enclosed sea, the Indian Navy has given particular focus to the “choke points” at entrances to the ocean around southern Africa (including the Mozambique Channel), the Arabian peninsula (including the Strait of Hormuz and Bab-el-Mandeb) and the straits connecting the Indian and Pacific Oceans through the Indonesian archipelago (the Malacca, Sunda and Lombok straits). According to the Indian Navy’s 2004 Maritime Doctrine, “Control of the choke points could be useful as a bargaining chip in the international power game, where the currency of military power remains a stark reality.”6

    The Indian Navy has also sought to institutionalise itself as the leading Indian Ocean power through such initiatives as sponsoring the multilateral Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, to which the navies of all Indian Ocean littoral states have been invited by India.7

    India’s naval ambitions have not been without critics. Given the long-standing lack of co-ordination in strategic planning in New Delhi, the Indian Navy’s activist role in the Indian Ocean has often been ahead of the views within the other armed services and the government. There is long running tension between the Indian Navy and Foreign Ministry over the navy’s assertive regional policy, including over the 2008 decision to participate in anti-piracy operations off Somalia.
    8
    According to some, the Foreign Ministry repeatedly turned down requests from the Indian Navy to conduct naval interceptions. It is not clear to what extent these tensions merely reflect bureaucratic caution or a more fundamental disagreement over the Indian Navy’s regional strategy. Others are sceptical about the ability of India to transform itself from a continental to a maritime power. Sahni, for example, warns that the Soviet Union’s failed attempts to become a naval power in the 1970s and 1980s should act as “a cautionary tale for India’s Mahanian navalists … [and] a grim warning of what happens to a continental state that harbours overly grandiose maritime ambitions”.9

    Over the last decade or more the United States has actively encouraged India’s strategic ambitions in the region. In March 2005, the Bush administration announced that it would “help India become a major world power in the 21st century”, adding that “We understand fully the implications, including the military implications, of that statement.”10

    The United States has focused on assisting in the expansion of India’s power projection capabilities and its role as a security provider in the Indian Ocean. As US Secretary of the Navy, Donald Winter commented in 2008, the United States welcomed India “taking up the responsibility to ensure security in this part of the world”.11

    The United States has given particular encouragement to India’s naval presence in the northeast Indian Ocean, including in the development of facilities at India’s Andaman Island naval base at the western end of the Malacca Strait. Much of this reflects a desire by the United States to see India grow as a regional balancing factor against China.12

    The role of the United States in encouraging the development of India as a regional naval power in the Indian Ocean has been compared with Britain’s strategy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when it found itself challenged by the growth of German naval power. Britain then forged partnerships with emerging naval powers, the United States in the western hemisphere and Japan in the Pacific, allowing them a measure of regional hegemony, while Britain concentrated its resources in the North Atlantic against Germany.13

    This analogy, while far from perfect, does capture some of the factors present in US thinking, particularly its perceptions of the growing maritime threat presented by China.

    An Indian sphere of influence in the Indian Ocean? | David Brewster - Academia.edu
     
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    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    contd

    China’s “String of Pearls” in the Indian Ocean

    Naval competition with China has been an important factor in driving India’s strategic ambitions in the Indian Ocean. While the Indian Navy’s immediate objectives involve countering Pakistan and enforcing control over India’s exclusive economic zone, the potential for China to project naval power into the Indian Ocean has arguably become its principal long term source of concern. In the mid-1980s, China began implementing plans to build a blue-water navy. Although focused on protecting China’s interests in the western Pacific Ocean, in particular the Taiwan Strait, this development also has long term implications for India. China’s naval capabilities now exceed India’s by a considerable margin in both quantitative and qualitative terms. However, its ability to project power into the Indian Ocean is severely limited by the distance from ports in southern China and its lack of logistical support in the Indian Ocean, as well as China’s need to deploy to the Indian Ocean through choke points, principally the Strait of Malacca. China’s perceived attempts to overcome these strategic limitations in the Indian Ocean region have been called its “String of Pearls” strategy.14

    China has been developing political relationships and commercial interests in the Indian Ocean region for some years, including its
    de facto alliance with Pakistan and good political and economic relations with Burma, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. According to Indian reports, China has been involved in the development of military-related facilities in the region, including the Chinese constructed port at Gwadar in Pakistan and communications facilities in Burma’s Coco islands in the Andaman Sea (both of which, it has been claimed, include Chinese signals intelligence facilities).15

    Chinese interests have also been involved in the development of several commercial port facilities, including in Burma, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and there are oft repeated claims that China might have secured naval access rights as part of these developments.16

    Indian analysts are also concerned about China’s naval contribution to anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden and recent suggestions by a senior Chinese naval official for the establishment of a permanent base in area to support Chinese ships.

    Some analysts are sceptical of Indian claims about China’s intentions in the northern Indian Ocean, particularly assertions of a Chinese naval presence in Burma and the Andaman Sea.18

    Many claims about Chinese “ports” or “bases” appear to be exaggerated or groundless. China has been involved in the construction of the Pakistani commercial and naval port of Gwadar and in the upgrading of Burmese naval facilities. However, other allegations about “Chinese bases” appear to be merely based on Chinese involvement in the development of commercial port infrastructure. In addition, China has taken few steps in acquiring a military power projection capacity that could reach into the Indian Ocean region. The Chinese navy has no historical traditions of projecting power beyond coastal waters. It has built no aircraft carriers and has no intercontinental bombers. It has only a very small fleet of in-flight refuelling and airborne command and control aircraft and has only a relatively small number of blue water naval combatant vessels.19

    While China may well desire to have the capability to project military power into the Indian Ocean region, it would seem that it will be a long while before such any capabilities come to fruition.20

    Despite these questions about China’s intentions and capabilities, the String of Pearls theory is widely followed in New Delhi, in some quarters almost to the point of obsession. China’s relationships in the Indian Ocean region are often not perceived in the Indian security community as being a legitimate reflection of Chinese commercial interests in the region or its strategic interests in protecting its Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) across the Indian Ocean. Instead, many perceive China’s regional relationships as being directed against India—either as a plan of maritime “encirclement” of India or otherwise intended to keep India strategically preoccupied in South Asia. Others who acknowledge China’s interests in SLOC security argue that China is “overstepping” the mark in developing influence in the Indian Ocean region, creating a security dilemma for India
    .
    Although few suggest that any Chinese threat to India is likely to be primarily seaborne, many in New Delhi see at least a significant risk that India and China will, as the former Indian Chief of Naval Staff called it, “compete and even clash in the same strategic space”.21

    A recent suggestion by the junior Defence Minister, Pallam Raju, that India might “assist” China in providing maritime security to Chinese ships in the Indian Ocean22 involves an important acknowledgement that China has legitimate security concerns in the Indian Ocean. The recently appointed Indian National Security Advisor, Shiv Shankar Menon, has also proposed a cooperative security arrangement among major Asian powers (including the United States), encompassing the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific.23

    Given the broader context of Sino-Indian strategic rivalry it seems unlikely that China would be prepared to rely on India for its maritime security needs in the Indian Ocean region, certainly outside of a multilateral arrangement.

    India has responded to China’s perceived Indian Ocean strategy in several ways. First, as noted above, it is expanding its own power projection capabilities. Second, it has sought to pre-empt the development by China of security relationships in the Indian Ocean through the development of India’s own relationships in the region. Third, India is seeking to develop a security presence in and around the Malacca Strait as part of a wider emphasis on maritime choke points.
     
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