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Opinion

A Blue Water Indian Navy

Navies are sometimes referred to as either Blue-water or Brown-water, depending on their capability to operate and fight either in open seas (Blue water) or in coastal zones (Brown water). For the Indian Navy of the early sixties, when our ships were limited in numbers and not all had the endurance to remain at sea for long durations, the above choices were often debated! Since then, our mettle was proved in the ’71 War and more so, with the phenomenal increase in our capability to build ships indigenously, we are now recognised and respected for the strengths of any Blue Water Navy.

One needs to critically look at the roles and influence that any Navy is able to exert, not only on her neighbours but also globally. By the laws that currently govern the oceans, two are of vital importance for us to be able to exercise any Sea Control. The first relates to the accepted concept of territorial waters. Even though many countries have declared these to extend up to 12 Nautical Miles from their coastline, it allows Indian warships to very occasionally close foreign coastlines to these limits and exert some pressure on the adversary, even before hostilities actually break out and yet remain within the purview of international law. This was our Navy’s trump card, exercised successfully during the Kargil Conflict. The second aspect relates to the right of innocent passage through restricted waters. The advantages of this for the Indian Navy are indeed manifold, as this permits us to maintain our presence at all Choke Points. Fortunately for us, these are the maximum in the Indian Ocean as compared with any other ocean.

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Another important component of India’s foreign policy is that we would never be the aggressor, but would primarily use our defence forces to defend our territorial integrity and sovereignty. Though initially, some foreigners mistook this as a sign of our weakness, but over the last two decades, India has been able to display our Navy’s capabilities. Despite this, India still has a requirement to grow further, so that our very long coastline, Island territories, EEZ, oil platforms and Sea Lanes of Communications (SLOCS) are kept safe. Thus, a look at our capabilities is opportune!

In the build-up of any Navy, one factor that assumes great significance is the ability to meet the many challenges that one faces at sea. It takes upto eight to ten years for any new ship to become operational. This is a long time in politics, because it merely takes one incident that could result in conflict. With such conditions, it would be naïve to mould our Navy based only on our capability to counter existing threats. Instead, India must build on her capability to handle all the roles that a Navy can be called upon to perform at short notice, both during war, as well as in peacetime / Search and Rescue missions.

It is entirely to the credit of our post-independence naval pioneers who, with their foresight and vision, specifically chose to make us into a ‘Builders Navy’ and not a Buyers’ one. By enhancing our ship-building capacity, we are today producing ships that match the best in the world! Even whilst purchasing ships from abroad, we have a large amount of equipment and sensors that are manufactured in India and then sent abroad to be fitted on these ships being built for us. Also, we have made a determined and conscious effort to ensure that our Navy is multifaceted, to cope with all possible requirements. We, therefore, are amongst only a handful of countries, that operate diverse platforms on the surface of the ocean, underwater and in the air, having built a multitude of indigenous ships, submarines and a few aircraft.

To ensure a balanced navy, a judicious mix of such platforms assumes great significance. It is with this thought that we had acquired two aircraft carriers and are now building India’s first indigenous Air Defence Ship, which is indeed an important achievement! With a mobility of over 500 nautical miles each day, a carrier is an ideal platform to project Sea-power. With her integral aircraft, as well as our helicopters of the ships accompanying this Task Force, our fleet is able to maintain very good vigil. Shore-based Long-Range Maritime Patrol and Anti-submarine aircraft augment this surveillance capability, with the MiG 29-Ks onboard INS Vikramaditya providing air defence and attack capabilities. Flying from a carrier, particularly on a pitch-dark night when the sea and the horizon merge into one, requires great professional skill. In addition, having adequate air-stations, from where our Maritime aircraft can cover the entire Indian Ocean Region become equally important for all our tasks at sea. Thus, our aircrew spends many hours specifically training for all these tasks.

Naval Airstations and Enclaves

Indian Navy Airstations and Enclaves (in red)

Then, the Submarine Arm of our Navy only started in the mid-sixties and today has matured into an extremely professional force. With India embarking on a 30-year plan to build submarines indigenously (including nuclear), one of our strengths remains the ability to conjoin the technological variations that exist in our acquisitions from Western countries, the erstwhile Soviet Union and our indigenously produced platforms, that have a totally Indigenous character. This too is an achievement of which the Indian Navy is extremely proud, as it is only India that has successfully managed to combine the technologies of the West, the erstwhile Eastern block and our own Indigenous systems. This is particularly so in the software-sphere, where our deep understanding of the different protocols has ensured excellent mergers. It has also enabled us to strengthen our requirements for Command, Control, Communication Channels and Data Links, which now have a totally indigenous configuration.

Naval Roles

Amphibious operation is another area where the Indian Navy has taken tremendous strides. Our indigenous ships and the earlier acquisition of INS Jalaswa, with her large helicopter deck have given us tremendous capability, which we would be able to exercise to great advantage! Regular interaction and training with the Indian Army and the Air Force has added tremendously to our jointman-ship in international waters, as well as the ability to defend our Island territories. Then, a Navy that cannot conduct Special Commando Operations whenever the need arises, would never be able to exert regional / global influence. In keeping with this role assigned, we have now worked up and trained the Marine Commandos (MARCOS), with building up their professional acumen being one thrust area. This elite force, which demands a tremendous amount from each individual, continues to be a front-runner, both in peace-time and in special war conditions.

Whilst the Indian Navy has finally emerged, there are two thrust areas where India needs to develop much more! These are specifically in improving our weapon manufacturing capabilities, as also the ability to make quick decisions so that India can build ships at a much faster pace. Both these require a totally co-ordinated approach between the Government, the Navy, our R&D and the ship-building organisations so that we can improve our decision-making capacity. Till we become capable to react to the changing situations, that happen whilst we are still building the ship, we cannot consider ourselves world-class!

Finally, the Indian Navy has matured and grown in stature to levels, where today we are definitely amongst the top, capable of taking on any task assigned by the Government/UN, including in the international environment. Further, our role of building bridges with our neighbours in the Indian Ocean, as well as with the major Navies of the world has brought about many changes in our thought-processes, as well as highlighted our strengths and capabilities to these countries.

Our main dimension remains ships, with many capable of carrying a variety of missiles, be they the surface-to-surface variety (SSMs) or the surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), that take on low flying enemy aircraft. Torpedoes and anti-submarine rockets are the ammunition against submarines. However, because of the science/physics of hydrology, a submarine is able to exploit the variation in water temperatures as they go deeper, giving them an inherent advantage in this medium. This is particularly so in tropical waters, where because the sea surface is so much warmer, this temperature differential is substantial, making the problem really acute in our waters. For this, a variety of airborne sensors are necessary to detect and thereafter attack submarines. Passive towed array systems (PTAS) on our ships are becoming our main-stay and also permit the employment of gambit tactics, which are difficult for a submarine to counter.

An important feature of any Blue Water Navy is ‘Staying Power’ and the capacity to operate in very rough seas. Here again, the Indian Navy has progressed tremendously and our new construction ships are being specifically designed for these. We have also built our own fleet tanker, which is capable of fuelling all our ships at sea, so that there is no requirement for fleet units to frequently return to harbour for replenishment. Other design features gaining ascendancy is our ability to ensure that all new ships have low self-noise levels, radar signatures and also infra-red emissions. Stealth and the ability to avoid detection are essential requirements for any modern Navy to be able to successfully wage the battle at sea.

Written By

Vice Admiral Vinod Pasricha (Retd.)

After his Commission in the Navy in 1963, he went for training with the IAF and soon started Seahawks flying from the carrier. He then did an operational tenure with the Airforce, flying Mystères and later went to do a Photo Reconnaissance Course, on the RN Hunter Aircraft at Lossiemouth. During the 1971 war, he flew from Vikrant off Bangladesh. In 1986, he went to the UK to commission INS Viraat. After ACNS (Air) at NHQ, FONA at Goa and FOMA, he spent two years as Commandant NDC Delhi. In his last five years, he was C-in-C ENC and then C-in-C WNC, before retiring in Dec 2002. Having set up four Naval Museums before his retirement, he remains involved in preserving Naval Heritage. His current interests include squash and gliding, which he regularly does in Pune. He has authored 'Downwind Four Green,' a book with comprehensive information on Seahawks in Indian Navy service. *views are Personal.

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