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Strong Navy is required for a Strong Economy

Since the time of the British domination of the world when they colonized half the planet, the role of the navy has been paramount. The most powerful navy in the world has been the superpower. Before World War II it was Britain and after it is the United States.

When one says superpower, its not just the military power but economic power. Britain used its navy to dominate the seas, colonize and ensured trade was secure. It found sources of raw material for its factories and shipped to to Britain and then shipped around finished goods all without any hindrance because of its powerful navy.

Post World War II, the world order changed. Colonies got freedom and the US primarily began to dominate the seas with the primary objective of keeping the sea lanes open so that trade can take place without any hurdles. Energy security was of prime importance with oil tankers from the Middle East fueling the US and European economies.

India has maintained a respectable navy since independence. It had the foresight to operate carrier battle group when it purchased a carrier from Britain and commissioned it as INS Vikrant. Later added another INS Virat again a second hand carrier from Britain. India was for most part of the last century a brown water navy but kept building capacity towards a blue water navy.

India sits on a strategic part of the world. On its west is the Arabian Sea and the choke point of Hormuz through which large volume of Gulf Oil moves around the world and also to India. On its east is the Bay of Bengal and the choke point of Malaccas through which large volume of oil and container shipment takes place. Indian Navy has increasingly taken the role of a net guarantor of security in the region to keep the sea lanes of communication open. It continuously deploys assets for anti piracy operations.

As India looks forward to the next few decades of high growth that will power it to be the second largest economy in the world behind China or if we grow at the rate of knots even overtake China at some point, the role of Indian Navy to help sustain the high growth rate cannot but be emphasized. India will need even more amount of energy, more raw materials to run its factories, more markets to sell its products and with a large population that lives and works in other countries who remit large sums back home. To protect these will be the role of Indian Navy.

Given India's demographics of large working age population,it will be inevitable that they will migrate to countries where opportunities are available due to the dwindling working age population of the host countries or in countries that are rich in resources like countries of the African continent. To protect and secure its citizens in such countries during any conflict will be the responsibility of the Indian Navy

India will be a $5 trillion economy at least (at current dollar) by 2025 and at a growth rate of 8% average be a $30 trillion economy by 2050. If we grow at 10% average we will be a $55 trillion economy by 2050 (at current dollar). China will be a 70 trillion economy and US a 30 trillion economy going by various projections. Together these three countries will dominate the world economy.

But to power the economies to those level and sustain it, there will be a battle to control resources, and dwindling resources I may add at the current known reserve levels particularly hydrocarbons that powers their economies. India will have to compete with the already established players and look for newer sources of resources and in an increasingly conflict prone planet and protect its sources. From Africa to Central Asia to Latin America to East Asia. From the Atlantic to the Pacific to even the Arctic may be will be legitimate areas of interests for India and it will be the Indian Navy that will be responsible for its protection.

The primary rival for India will be China with whom it shares a troubled history after the 1962 border conflict. While India and China share a very fast growing trade relations, its rivalry will continue on the grounds of unresolved border, domination of the region and more importantly securing resources.

Chinese navy at the moment is way ahead of India's in terms of assets available. It has over 70 submarines with indigenously made SSKs, SSNs and SSBNs. It has number of other surface combatants and recently commissioned its first aircraft carrier and building more as well.

The current state of the Indian Navy with its recent history is a cause of worry. Loss of submarine, lack of future acquistion, delays in other surface combatants plague the navy today. India's submarine force consists of 9 Kilo class boats, 4 HDWs and the recently leased Akula SSN from Russia. India will commission its first SSBN INS Arihant some time next year with five more follow ons being planned.

India has a host of other surface combatants planned. Kolkata class destroyers and its follow ons, Shivalik Class frigates and its follow ons, the Kamorta Class corvettes and its follow ons.

India is also making its own aircraft carriers. At least three are being planned. We already have got the refit Russian Admiral Gorshkov commissioned as INS Vikramaditya. India will operate at least 3 in the near future and 4-5 carrier groups in the medium term.

Its the submarine force which is of concern as to operate the carrier groups which are huge capital ships with a lot of investment, very secure seas are required. Enemy submarines on the look out for our carriers have to be found and kept away. Its the aircraft carriers which are the ultimate symbol of power projection like the US has proved. Today India's coastline is vulnerable to enemy submarines. The operational level of its submarine is low. Half its total boats go on patrol at any time. It has to cover areas from the Hormuz to the Malaccas to the larger Indian Ocean. Lack of submarines also threatens the security of SSBNs that will carry the most important arm of India's nuclear deterrent.

India will have to make divide its naval acquisition for a 2025-30 time frame and also plan out till 2050 based on the growth of economy, planned forays for energy exploration and recovery, other mines etc and their protection which will range from Atlantic to Pacific. India will have to work arrangements for logistics and basing rights in various countries. India will have to have expeditionary capabilities across the globe. It will require to build on other capabilities like LPDs, tankers etc.

India has to get its act together and bolster its navy as also the other branches of its armed forces if it has to sustain a fast growing economy.

By Yusuf
Follow on twitter @YusufDFI.

About Yusuf Unjhawala

Editor, India Defence Analysis. Admin,

1 comment

  1. George Chakko 29 March, 2014 at 20:31

    Reply to Yusuf on Indian Navy
    Your article is timely and actual. Welcome.
    Let me start with a personal historical note. During my high school in Chennai in the early 60’s we had the voluntary option to join either the NCC (National Cadet Corps) Naval Wing or Air Wing. My father encouraged me to join the Naval wing. On 2 occasions of our Annual School Day when a colourful, official junior parade was held at the start, and the salutes were taken by no less distinguished personalities, as General Thimmaya (Army Chief then) and Vice-Admiral R.D. Katari (Navy Chief at that time) as chief guests. I had the honour to shake hands with both while receiving annual merit certificate for studies. During those 3 high-school yrs. our junior naval platoons were taken to visit once INS Delhi, a cruiser and India’s No. 1 flagship then (no aircraft carrier at that time) and one destroyer or frigate (name forgotten INS Godavari or Caveri I don’t know) when they docked at Madras harbour. The visits as such were fascinating for us kids; retrospectively least decades later, because it betrayed India’s miserable naval strength at that time (early 60’s).
    The point is that Jawaharlalji, our revered first PM and ardent pacifist, presumably also India’s military command then, totally neglected the Indian Navy, in spite of India’s long coast-line and the Goa problem simmering then. We are paying heavily for that neglect even today. We woke up late; only during 1971 Bangla war after confronting the U.S. nuke carrier ‘Enterprise’. Today, in purely defensive terms, neglecting or not guarding even a tiny strip of your coastline can be suicidal, as you allow your enemy through the backdoor, as we saw in Mumbai attacks by Pak terrorists.
    The Indian navy has both defensive and offensive roles in the 21st cent. India’s geo-oceanic position makes any long-term defence planning a tough calling; leave alone the technology infrastructure part of self-reliance. To take care of 2 seas for purely defensive purposes, one in the West and East, and one Big Ocean to the South and beyond for offensive patrolling, is too Herculean an onus. The logistic support structure presupposed is huge, esp. for long distance patrolling and monitoring. Additionally, ocean military sci-tech is a very tough area for strategic product development. Security protection for ocean bed drilling for energy and other raw materials search is another new focus. China had already tested deep sea submerge vessels (6-7000 metres deep). China reportedly has a substantial programme for developing underwater offensive systems.
    On the financial part an unaffordable 3-digit billion dollar investment for the navy hangs on our neck as a poor country. Requirements are not modest. We would need 10 ultra-modern aircraft carriers (not redundant imitations) with additional few in reserve, several hundreds of Brahmos missiles carrying rapid gunships, even light-metal attack vessels of fast hovercraft type, underwater stealth missile carrying stealth attack vessels and submarines, and many more, to function as a credibly deterrent naval force. New oil and gas lines and transport would require additional protection. Our ports and Space Centres on the Coast need heavy protection against any terror or military onslaught. Today the Naval and the Aerial surveillance sectors for simultaneous deployment are fused and drone development is a priority apart from high flyers with laser beams; for future naval wars, virtual science-fiction type scenarios will fill the drawing board. Naval avionics is a key and unless India develops it with Israeli, Japanese or South Korean cooperation, there will not be a “fast-forward”, reliable, quality output in shorter time.
    Commitments to protect our small neighbouring countries and executing anti-pirates programmes for and with them will cost us heftily. Arab neighbours needing India’s service need to invest along. Innovation technologies are the only way out to cut costs down. An aggressive development plan will provide enough jobs for our young scientists. One novel idea would be to form an Indian Ocean-Pacific Commercial Security Force, not an overtly military one, to protect the commercial maritime goods traffic between Middle-East and Pacific States on maritime offensive deployment with India playing a major active role.
    George Chakko , Vienna, March 29, 2014

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