Maritime Rapid Reaction Force

Discussion in 'Defence & Strategic Issues' started by JBH22, Sep 8, 2010.

  1. JBH22

    JBH22 Senior Member Senior Member

    Jul 29, 2010
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    Addressing the combined conference of Indian Military Commanders on October 26, 1999 Former Defence Minister George Fernandes had noted that the Indian Armed Forces should set up a Rapid Reaction Force (RRF) that would be “able to reach any corner if a threat arises”. He qualified this need to add that such a force would have to be a “tri-service” one.

    KC Pant, Former Deputy Chairman, India’s Planning Commission, has also expressed similar views. He noted, “Over the years, the Indian Navy has developed into a multi-dimensional force with lethal weaponry and sensors, and enhanced reach…. Three elements appear to be at the core of the Indian Navy’s doctrine – the development of rapid reaction maneuverability, along with the concentration of firepower, and land-attack capability to influence the war on land.”

    Before engaging in the exercise of highlighting the need for a dedicated Maritime Rapid Reaction Force (MRRF) for the Indian Navy, it will be useful to examine the concept of a Rapid Reaction Force. It is generally acknowledged that states must build capabilities to respond quickly to international crises as also to contain conflicts to avoid the “spillover” effect and to prevent the escalation of human casualties.

    In the maritime domain, naval forces are required to respond to a wide spectrum of crisis ranging from classical naval operations in convention and nuclear environment to countering low-level threats from asymmetric actors such as terrorists and pirates and also respond to natural disasters like the recent Indian Ocean tsunami. The above spectrum of threats and responses demand judicious force mix and more importantly a capability of immediate reaction to deter/ counter the enemy or act in response to a natural emergency.

    Currently, MRRF capability is limited to the US and a few western navies like the French and the British. A majority of other navies acknowledge the fact that the existing force structure is unable to meet the demands of rapid reaction to threats/emergencies in distant waters.

    As far as the Indian Navy is concerned, it has a limited capability to respond to various maritime crises. In the past, Indian Navy has responded to several maritime crisis and emergencies and these merit discussion. In November 1988, two Colombo-based dissident businessmen from the Maldives, along with about 80 Tamil mercenaries belonging to the left-wing People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), attempted to overthrow the Gayoom regime. They quickly overpowered the Maldivian militia using rockets and machine guns and attacked the President’s residence. The President sought urgent assistance from New Delhi over the phone. The island was secured within 30 minutes after the arrival of forces. Fighter aircraft of the Indian Air Force were also deployed to the island in a show of force and helicopters landed commandos to the outlying island to search for any mercenaries. Shortly afterwards, a vessel was seen fleeing Male with mercenaries and hostages including Maldives Minister of Education. An Indian Navy maritime reconnaissance aircraft detected the ship and Indian Navy vessels later captured the ship.

    In another crisis, the Indian Navy participated in Operation Pawan in pursuance of a request made by the Sri Lankan government to counter the LTTE. The Indian Navy was required to undertake maritime operations in the waters around Sri Lanka and particularly Palk Bay, north of Sri Lanka. Palk Bay was frequently used by the LTTE for carrying out strikes against the Sri Lankan naval forces and to keep the arms supply lines open at sea.

    The capture of the hijacked MV Alondra Rainbow, a 7000-ton Panama registered vessel, by the Indian Navy in November 1999 is a classical case of Indian naval rapid response to keeping Indian Ocean sea-lanes safe. Following a worldwide alert by the Piracy Reporting Center, Kuala Lumpur and a prompt sighting report by MV Shuhadaa, a merchant ship operating in the area, the Indian coast guard moved into action. Interestingly, the pirates had renamed the Alondra Rainbow as Mega Rama. The pirates appeared to be a determined group and offered as much resistance as possible to prevent arrest. The pirated vessel was finally captured and the incident highlighted the importance of Special Forces to board vessels.

    The Indian Navy responded admirably to the December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami humanitarian assistance. It deployed 32 naval ships, seven aircraft and 20 helicopters in support of five rescue and relief missions as part of Operation Madad (Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu coast, India), Operation Sea Waves (Andaman & Nicobar Islands, India) Operation Castor (Maldives), Operation Rainbow (Sri Lanka) and Operation Gambhir (Indonesia). What is noteworthy is the fact that on the fateful December 26, the Indian Navy had deployed 19 ships, four aircraft, and 11 helicopters which rushed to Maldives, Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu and Andaman & Nicobar Islands. The Indian Navy also deployed its hydrographic survey teams and clearing crews to operationalise Sri Lankan ports and harbours that were hit by tsunami. The harbours in Galle, Trincomalee and Colombo were surveyed and the maps handed over to the Sri Lankan authorities.

    More recently, four Indian naval ships INS Mumbai, INS Betwa, INS Brahmaputra and oil tanker INS Shakti returning after an overseas deployment to eastern Mediterranean port engaged in ‘Operation Sukoon’, one of the largest ever-overseas civilian evacuation operations from Lebanon to Larnaca in Cyprus, from where they were flown home by Air India aircraft. In all, the ships transported about 2000 people to Larnaca in Cyprus, which included 57 Sri Lankans, 41 Nepalese, and five Lebanese. A large number of people from Sri Lanka and Nepal were stranded in Lebanon since their governments had no maritime capability to evacuate their nationals and had requested India for assistance. The above incidents/events clearly highlight the fact that the Indian Navy has capacity and capability, though limited, to rapidly respond to a wide array of crisis in its neighbourhood be it political, security or humanitarian.

    In the maritime domain, deployment of MRRF is subject to adequate air and sealift capabilities. Evidence suggests that the Indian Navy is upgrading its lift capabilities by acquiring large support ships. A high level Indian naval delegation had visited the US to inspect USS Trenton, an Austin-class amphibious transport dock ship and the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) has now cleared the biggest defence deal with the US. The vessel will cost around Rs 215 crore, which includes its refit, five-year spares supply and a training package. Navy is also close to finalising the contract for six SH-3 Sea King helicopters to operate from the 173-metre-long ship at an additional cost of Rs 300 crore. The ship is likely to be handed over to Indian crew sometime early next year. However, the Navy does not possess heavy lift transport aircraft such as the IL-76, which are in the inventory of the Indian Air Force. The acquisition of hydrofoils is another example of enhancing lift capability for rapid reaction operations.

    To ensure that the Indian Navy has what it takes to fight and win, it has to transform to become a 21st-century Navy of unprecedented capabilities: strategically and operationally agile, technologically and organisationally innovative, networked at every level, highly joint, and effectively integrated. It is well known that future naval forces will be better equipped to shape events and control crises – both attributes of increasing importance for a regional force.

    Platforms will remain crucial to responding to different crisis in the oceans. While the navy debates the doctrine of ‘reconnaissance and reach’ and build/acquire vessels to provide blue water capabilities, it must be able to conduct combat operations anytime, anywhere – with maximum effectiveness and minimum risk and with utmost rapidity. Proper alignment is critical to building a combat-capable fleet ready to sail in harm’s way. The Global War on terrorism has levied new demands on maritime forces emphasising the need for fleet to confidently meet the challenges of an uncertain world on short notice.

    Similarly, platforms will be critical for undertaking disaster/emergency support missions particularly for rendering medical aid. The latter merits particular attention keeping in mind that the Indian Navy medical teams have displayed their expertise during the Indian Ocean tsunami and medical assistance during the Gujarat earthquake. Recently, ten Indian Navy doctors, including a woman and paramedics, served for – over one hundred days on bopard the USS Mercy – a US Navy hospital ship . Doctors and medical staff from 18 other countries including Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines were also on board during the voyage. With this rich operational experience, it will be possible for Indian military medical teams to provide medical assistance on a large-scale on board a ship and large ships such as the USS Mercy fit the bill.

    It would be appropriate to point out that the evolving Indian Naval ORBAT and the missions and roles that the Indian Navy has at hand requires a synergistic approach of selective procurement, joint ventures in development that would have to be based on a robust technological industrial base within the country. The United States and Russia have inherent strengths in naval technology.

    Being a dominant power in South Asia, it is natural for India to consider the Indian Ocean as its own sphere of influence. In addition, New Delhi’s strategic geography now extends far into the Pacific Ocean in the east and to the Red Sea in the west. Securing control/influence over this area is one of India’s main strategic objectives. This strategic thinking is based on long-range naval operations and exercising influences around the strategic choke points of the Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca. Given these geo-strategic conditions, a maritime contingency in the sea space off the Horn of Africa, South Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean will be the responsibility of the Indian Navy.

    These maritime contingencies could arise from an attack on Indian interests by terror groups, sea piracy and providing assistance during a catastrophic disaster like the tsunami or for that matter attacks on Indian Diaspora. The issue of safety and well-being of nearly half a million ethnic Indians living in the Pacific Islands of Fiji, Mauritius in the Indian Ocean or Indian minority living in distant lands of Trinidad and Guyana in South America is of utmost importance. Unfortunately, the Indian Navy was not mobilised during the Fiji crisis. Reportedly, the Royal Navy arrived on the scene to save six hundred British citizens domiciled in those islands. It is in this context that India must build a credible rapid reaction force with a strong sealift capability to sustain distant operations. A terrorist attack or hijacking of an Indian flagged ship in South China Sea by the Philippines based Abu Sayaf group is another possible maritime crisis that the Indian Navy can be called to handle.

    Today, waters off Somalia have been declared dangerous on account of sea piracy. Since March 2005, reports of attacks by pirates and armed robbers, from boats operating off the Somali coast have been on a steady increase. This has prompted the German Navy to keep MS Deutschland, a cruise ship, under observation using ship and aircraft-borne radar and spy-satellites to protect the vessel and its crew. It also has a frigate on station near the Horn of Africa, with 220 German marines based in Djibouti as part of a NATO anti-terror mission. Similarly, the International Maritime Bureau has made a direct request to the Royal Navy to intervene in east African waters.

    Similarly, Britain dispatched a naval task force and 500 troops to Sierra Leone to help shore up the besieged United Nations Peacekeeping Mission which also comprised a 23-member Indian detachment. The taskforce comprising of the helicopter carrier HMS ocean accompanied by two other warships and support vessels as well as soldiers from 42 Royal Marine Commando were rushed. More recently, the ongoing fighting in the West Bank involving Israel, Lebanon and Hezbollah had prompted Britain to mobilise ships to evacuate British nationals in Lebanon. Two Royal Navy ships were programmed to be on standby for an emergency evacuation of British nationals from the Lebanon. HMS Bulwark with a contingent of 500 marines was mobilised for evacuation and HMS Illustrious with helicopters and fighter-bombers on board, was to aid evacuation.

    The primary attribute of the RRF should be its ability to react and move quickly to trouble spots either inside the country’s EEZ or outside in international waters. Although each crisis will demand a different force composition, it must be sea-based and not require other nation support for implementation. However, the force should be capable of operating with other partners or coalitions. The strength of the force must allow the flexibility to move the ships into a potential crisis area without moving additional personnel and escalating tensions.

    It should be remembered that it is not easy to charter vessels at short notice for any disaster or rescue operations because there is not enough spare capacity in the shipping world. Most of the times it’s very hard to ask a ship to enter into combat zones and port’s facilities have their limitations. This problem has been faced by Australia and its Foreign Minister Alexander Downer noted that the failure to get a chartered ship for evacuation of Australians from Lebanon shows just how hard it is.

    Among the several trends that appear to shape growth of India’s naval power, none is more demanding than the accrual of a dedicated MRRF flavoured with strategic sealift capability derived from the robust Indian technological strengths and the vision of its rising power in the Asia-Pacific region. The ongoing naval modernisation and build-up has several implications for its Naval ORBAT and its maritime doctrine that has envisioned a vision of maritime activism of varied roles of both combat and benign roles. These missions call for a spectrum of techno-maritime capabilities that in turn dictate the force architecture of the Indian Navy.

    Maritime Rapid Reaction Force | Indian Defence Review
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