Indian Navy Special
Sea Power
The Indian Navy sails in blue waters
By Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab
The Indian Navy owes its present perspective, both for peacetime and war time, to at least five factors: India’s growing stature as a rising economic and information technology power; the United States that was the first major power to recognise the potential of the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) after the Cold War; the 1999 Kargil war called Operation Talwar by the navy; the 1998 nuclear tests; and the fact that a certain stalemate has set-in on India’s disputed land borders with neighbours Pakistan and China. All these factors require explaining.

First, with the opening of India’s economy in the Nineties, and with a growth rate of eight per cent that has been predicted to enter double figures in the near future, it is now universally acknowledged that India is a rising economic power. This is reinforced by the fact that India’s energy needs are growing exponentially and the country is investing in foreign oil and gas fields. As this trend will continue to grow there will be a greater need to protect these assets, as well as the enormous trade and commerce in the IOR. This is not all. The government has publicly mentioned terrorists’ threat from hundreds of uninhibited island territories in the IOR. Undoubtedly, the navy will be in the forefront protecting Indian assets aboard, and if needed evacuating Indian citizens from harm’s way in foreign lands. Second, the US understood the value of close ties with the Indian Navy that stands guard astride important commercial sea-lanes, the Andaman and Nicobar islands dominate the approaches to the Malacca Strait, the Lakshadweep Group lies cross the Nine Degree Channel and the Persian Gulf is just 600 miles from India’s shores. The Indian Navy is a professional, English speaking force with force levels structured around two- carrier groups since Independence. In the Eighties, India had leased the Soviet nuclear-powered submarine, Charlie-I. Both the aircraft carrier and nuclear- powered submarines are hallmarks of a navy that aspire blue water capabilities. Third, Operation Talwar (see account by the then naval chief) was a well- planned, definitive and an assertive manoeuvre by the navy to support the geographically limited land-air Kargil war. Even as the naval operation remained in the background, two things did not go unnoticed by discerning people; that Operation Talwar did put pressure on the Pakistan Army to not broaden the Kargil war, and unfortunately had it happened, there would have been a need for the navy to support the land battle in addition to its own sea battle. This was the beginning of the navy’s transformation of its war strategy: the naval war must support the land war. Fourth, as a consequence of the 1998 nuclear tests, India, with a declared second-strike nuclear capability, realised that the needed assured sea based nuclear deterrence had to be acquired fast. According to the ‘Indian Maritime Doctrine’ released in 2004: ‘There is a strong case for India to acquire a non-provocative, strategic capability and the most viable platform by all accounts is the submarine.’ And lastly, with a continuing stalemate and a certain operational fatigue on its northern land borders, the only option for a rising India to assert its strategic borders beyond its territorial limits in is the IOR. For these reasons, from a traditional threat-based thinking, the navy now unambiguously speaks about capability-based growth in tune with its new perspective, summed up in the phrase ‘Maritime Domain Awareness’ (MDA), coined by the Chief Of Naval Staff, Admiral Sureesh Mehta.
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