By Dr. Raja Muhammad Khan
The roots of modern Indian Navy can be traced from the ‘Battle of Swally’, fought between the British East India Company and Portuguese near Surat, Indian Gujarat in 1612. This small navel encounter sufficiently reduced the Portuguese’s hold over the trade and business in India and enabled the British East India Company to enhance its influence. With the arrival of the first fighting ship at this port on September 5, 1612, this navel setup was named as the “The Honourable East India Company’s Marine.” Later this marine force mapped the coastlines of India, Persia, and even Arabia. After passing through various phases and different nomenclatures, in 1934, the Indian Marines became “the Royal Indian Navy” (RIN). After the independence and partition of India, the navel setup was split between India and Pakistan, with the later getting only a negligible portion while bulk taken over by the former. India renamed its navel force as the Indian Navy, and its vessels got re-designation as Indian Naval Ships (INS) in 1950.
The current Indian Naval Headquarters is located at New Delhi having three naval commands; Eastern at Vishakhapatnam, Western at Mumbai and Southern at Kochi (Cochin). It has a joint command (Andaman and Nicobar). By 2012, India is planning to establish a new naval command with the name of, “The Far Eastern Naval command.” With the concept of creating the “blue water navy,” this command would secure the Indian strategic interests in the Southeast Asian region. Indeed, the decision to establish this command was taken in 1995, in a covert meeting between the defence officials of India and United States, who had the nodes of respective heads of the states. Considering China a joint threat, United States has persuaded India to patrol the Malacca Strait under Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). Upon its completion, the command will have “a chain of small anchor stations and three main bases.” Since the US would be a major direct and indirect beneficiary of this new naval command, therefore, it has sufficiently funded the India for its development. Apart from the US, Russia is also assisting India in the establishment of the new naval command.
The active strength of the Indian Navy is 58,350 persons. Besides, it has 55,000 reservists. The naval vessels include;
sixteen SSK series submarines, eight DDG Destroyers. Indian Navy has twelve Frigates which mainly includes eleven FFG and one FF1- Krishna (UK Leander), used as the training frigate. Besides, Indian Navy has twenty-four Corvettes; twenty-eight Patrol and Coastal Combatants’. It has forty-seven vessels to provide logistic support. Indian Navy has ten Mine countermeasures (MSO 10 Pondicherry-(FSU Natya) and seventeen amphibious flotillas. With over 7,000 Naval Aviation personnel, it has adequate combat naval aviation power to support its marine operations. The Russian origin ten Kilo-class Type 877EM or the Sindhugosh-class- units are the backbone of the Indian naval fleet. In order to enhance its capability, Klub/3M-54E Alfa Cruise Missile system is being retrofitted in this system. Besides, Indian Navy also operates with six Shishumar-class Type 209/1500 vessels, which were designed by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW) in Germany. HDW Germany built two of these, whereas other two were assembled in Mumbai at the Mazagon Dock. After their trial, these are forming part of the 10th Submarine Squadron, based at Mumbai. Two Foxtrot-class boats, currently being used for the training are also part of this fleet. Besides, the 16 active submarines, Indian Navy is in the process of building six Scorpene-class boats at the indigenous level at Mazagon Dock in Mumbai, under the supervision of French technicians.
The first indigenously built nuclear submarine “Advanced Technology Vessel” (ATV) named as Indian Naval Ship (INS) Arihant was put under sea trial in July 2009. Arihant (means “destroyer of enemies,”) is 367 feet long. The Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), private contractor Larsen and Toubro, and the Indian Navy at Visakhapatnam are jointly undertaking the construction project. India is planning to add 5-6 nuclear capable ATV submarines in its naval fleet for undertaking strategic nuclear role. These vessels would be equipped with 12 Sagarika Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM) with a range of around 700 km. After conceiving the grand designs for the naval development, on the doctrine of US Naval Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, India has started thinking on the strategic level. Its Defense Ministry has “took over the Hindustan Shipyard Limited in the port city of Vishakhapatnam to augment its submarine production program.” The traditional Indian partner of the cold war Russian Federation has whole-heartedly helped Indian in the enlargement of its naval armada, with a global vision. More recently, during his visit to New Delhi in March 2010, the Russian Premier Vladimir Putin has concluded a number of agreement including defence ties. He also gave India a political guidance to be felt at the global level. The visit further boosted the Indo-Russian cooperation in the nuclear field. Russian Federation is deeply keen to boost this relationship for an indefinite period.
The Indian Navy operates on a wide area extending from the Arabian Sea through Indian Ocean to the Bay of Bengal. A number of Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) and strategically significant chokepoints like the Strait of Hormuz, Bab El Mandeb, and the Malacca Straits are located in these waters. The importance of the these waters can be imagined from the fact that over 90 percent foreign Indian trade and over 60 percent global seaborne trade takes place through them. There are even more chances that the global energy trade would increase in the coming years through these trade routes, thus further enhancing the significance of the Indian Navy. As per the ambitious Indian Maritime Doctrine, its navy has the primary task of controlling and protecting these SLOCs. Moreover, operationally it has to operate against the navies of Pakistan and China. The doctrine however, “calls for a stronger deterrent capability against foreign intervention by non-littoral navies, not limited to China only. This strategic reach indeed call for procurement of more sophisticated diesel and nuclear capable submarines, establishing aircraft carrier and developing new cruise missiles. Currently, Indian Navy is operating in area of over 3.5 million square kilometers.
In the field of naval development, Indian ambitions are indeed global. It intends operating at the international waters
like the navies of United States, Russia, and United Kingdom. In order to have a strategic impact, it would operate on the principle of submarine-based minimum nuclear deterrent (MND). The Indian ATV programme, leasing of nuclear submarines, and acquisition of air-independent propulsion (AIP) submarines are part of this strategic naval development. India has the experience of leasing the Soviet Submarine Project 670 Skat (NATO name Charlie-I) from 1988 to 1991. Since the previous leasing experience has been a success, therefore India has decided to lease another Russian nuclear-submarine, the Project 971 Schuka-B (NATO name AKula-II). Approximately 300 Indian marines have undergone training of the submarine at a special facility in Sosnovy Bor, near St. Petersburg, Russia. These submarines can launch both anti-submarine and anti-surface torpedoes. Akula submarine can dive up to a depth of 600 meters. It can carry the supplies for itself as well as the people on board that can sustain them for over 100 days. Its operational crews comprises of seventy three members.”
Technically, the Akula-II submarine has a double hull system “composed of an inner pressure hull and an outer light hull. This allows more freedom in the design of the exterior hull shape, resulting in a very hydrodynamic submarine compared to western counterparts at the time. The submarine has the equivalence of the same class of American AN/BQQ-5/6. It is worth mentioning that the K-157 Vepr has attained the status of the first Soviet submarine that was quieter than the latest US attack submarines of that time, which was the Improved Los Angeles class (SSN 751 and later). Indeed, the advancements made by Soviet for quieting the sound of submarines to a considerable level have caused uneasiness in NATO and US. Apart from the centralized weapon system, this version of the submarine has better command and control with high degree of automation, which reduce the strength of the crews. This class is equipped with 28 nuclear capable cruise missiles, which can engage target up to 3000 km. Apart from using this submarine as the training platform for India’s indigenous nuclear submarine fleet; it would help in the refinement of the nuclear operational concepts. “Akula-II nuclear attack submarine is recognized as a state-of-the-art and top of the line weapon system amongst contemporary submarines. Its induction into the Indian Navy will significantly enhance India’s reach and offensive capability and may be used as the platform for the second strike in the event of a nuclear attack. Besides its own indigenously built nuclear submarines, induction of this Russian version Akula-II submarine would significantly tilt the regional balance of military power in India’s favour.
Besides Indian submarines can fire the ‘Shaurya’ missile indigenously developed by India and has the capability to carry the nuclear warhead. Primarily, it is a canister-launched, solid-fuelled hypersonic surface-to-surface tactical weapon. Its range is 700 to 1900 km and can be pre-programmed to make it difficult for the anti-missile system to intercept it. “Using conventional fuel-air explosive warheads, the missile can cause devastation similar to that of a mini-nuke.” It has been optimized for the INS Arishant submarine. Besides, Indian Navy is reinforcing its air power through the induction of MiG-29K (also called Black Panther) maritime fighter planes. These twin-engine aircraft are capable of covering, “a tactical radius of around 2,000 km and fitted with beyond-visual-range missiles, will provide potent air cover to the naval fleet in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. The aircraft is also capable of air-to-air refuelling, which enhances the time on task.” India has significantly improved its maritime strike capabilities, all over the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal, and the Indian Ocean, through a combination of modern naval vessels and air power achieved through; MiG-29Ks and Sea Harriers, and the Jaguars and Sukhoi SU-30MKI fighters of the Indian Air Force. Besides, the India manages the existing maritime surveillance through aircrafts like; types IL-38, TU-142, and the maritime Dornier-228. Indian is also launching a naval satellite, which will further improve its existing surveillance and net-centric communications in the Indian Ocean region between the navy’s ships, submarines, and aircraft.
Indeed, the Indian naval inventory is a mix of the foreign and the domestic weapons system. The cruise missile systems like; the Klub (SS-N-27) is part of the foreign weapons system. Besides, it has indigenous cruise missile systems like; Sagarika, Lakshya and Lakshya PTA. Development of the Sagarika (Oceanic) started in 1994, as the submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM). Its range is from 300-1000 km. Yakhont Anti Ship Missile system (BrahMos) is yet another system being completed by NPO and DRDO. “The BrahMos has been tailored to Indian needs and uses a large proportion of Indian designed components and technology, for its fire control systems, Transporter erector launches, to its onboard naval attack system.”
The ongoing Indian naval developments have altogether changed the military balance in the region. Except 1962, Indian military power has always been used against Pakistan. Currently no naval fleets of the neighbouring countries match even the traditional Indian Naval power. Pakistan Navy however has the potential to act as deterrent factor to the traditional Indian Naval capabilities. Nevertheless, with the inductions of nuclear capable submarines like Akula-II and indigenously built INS Arihant, and other modernization, Indian Naval power would be matchless.
It is worth mentioning that India has no direct coast line with China and it has no enmity with other regional countries of the South Asia. Therefore, analysts rightly assume that apart from its global ambitions, this Indian naval power would be used against none other than the Pakistan. The rapidly growing Indian naval power is compelling Pakistan to likewise its naval fleet. In a way, region is getting into the race for the procurement of sophisticated naval equipments. In this regard international community has to play a very important role in making the India to understand that in the long run, this race would have disparaging effects on South Asia as well as for India itself. Let us hope that wisdom prevails and India abandons its hegemonic designs. It needs to feed its poor people, 70 percent of whom are spending their living on less than 1 US dollar a day.
Dr Raja Muhammad Khan is Ph.D. in International Relations from Karachi University. Presently he is Associate Professor with National Defence University, Islamabad. He has research on South Asia, ECO and the Middle East. He contributes regularly to Opinion Maker.