By Dr. Raja Muhammad Khan

Indian Maritime Doctrine was formally announced in April-2004. However, the year-2006 ‘Navy Day’ is considered to be as the day, once Indian Navy actually started, “transforming itself from a ‘brown water’ coastal defense force to a formidable ‘blue water’ fleet.” Blue water navy has indeed two connotations: the technical and the political. Technically, a naval force having the capability to operate 200 nautical miles (320 km) from its sea shore into the deep sea on the longer ranges can be graded as the blue water navy. However, politically, it is the long range extension of the state’s presence, as the former Indian Navy Chief of Staff, Admiral Jayant Nadkarni once said that,  “legitimate use…of a Blue Water navy is power projection which is necessary” for a “power like India.”

Indeed, India started expanding its naval fleet in early 1990s after conceiving the concept of blue water navy. Since 1998, India is regularly improving its naval doctrine. In 1998, Indian Navy issued; “The Maritime Dimension-A Naval Vision.” This document set the mission for Indian Navy as, a force capable to operate in the open seas. In April 2004, a formal Indian Maritime Doctrine of 148 pages was proclaimed. The doctrine clearly lay dawn the future strategic vision of the Indian Navy with the subtitle as; The Maritime Dimension-A Naval Vision. Through the Vision Statement, Indian Navy gave a Roadmap to Transformation in October 2006. In 2007, with the mission to ‘Freedom to Use the Seas’: India’s Maritime Military Strategy (IMMS) was issued. Since 1998, an Indian maritime vision has the dedicated support including the enhanced budget allocation from the successive governments; initially the NDA Government under BJP and later the Congress lead UPA Government.

Indeed, the Indian Maritime Doctrine-2004 has been formulated on the basis of strategic concept given by US Navy Admiral Mahan, to the United States President Roosevelt for the domination of oceans especially the Pacific Ocean to gain the status of a major power. Admiral Mahan had a vision that domination of Pacific would give US an edge over the other states geopolitically as well as geo-economically. According to Mahan, “the convergence there of so many ships…will constitute a centre of commerce, inter-oceanic encounters between states. It was one whose approaches will be watched jealously, and whose relations to the other centres of the Pacific by the (maritime) lines joining it to them must be examined carefully.”

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In the historical perspective, what Admiral Mahan had visualized for US Navy in the Pacific towards the end of 19th century, Indian Navy desires to achieve through the domination of Indian Ocean and surrounding waters by the end of first quarter of 21st century. India in fact desires the Indian Ocean to become ‘India Ocean’ and the way US entered the club of global powers in the beginning of the 20th century; India does the same in 21st century. Otherwise India considered the Indian Ocean as the part of its extended neighbourhood, where Indian Navy will safeguard its “diplomatic, security and economic interests”.

Salient features of the Indian Maritime Doctrine-2004 include, controlling the choke points, significant islands and trade routes in the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and in the Bay of Bengal.  The doctrine further lays down limits of the vision for the Indian Navy for the first quarter of 21st century as to; “look at the arc from the Persian Gulf to the Straits of Malacca as a legitimate area of interest.”  The doctrine also highlighted the Indian Navy as the “three-dimensional blue water force”, having the potential to undertake significant assignments and roles “on the surface, underwater, and in the air.” During the peace time, Indian navy will have to undertake the naval diplomatic assignments for the promotion of its cause. However, the proactive role of the Indian Navy would be the projection of its power beyond the limits of Indian shores. It has to counter the “distant emerging threats and protect extended ‘Sea Lines of Communication’ through and from the Indian Ocean.”

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In the regional perspective, as perceived Indian Navy 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 and Pakistan only. This strategic reach indeed call for procurement of more sophisticated diesel and nuclear capable submarines, establishing aircraft carrier and developing new cruise missiles. Indian Navy, currently operating in area of over 3.5 million square kilometres (extending from the Arabian Sea through Indian Ocean to the Bay of Bengal) is being modernized through the procurement of modern submarines, frigates and other naval vessels in collaboration with its Western allies, US, Israel and Russia.

With respect to the strategic designs of the Indian Navy, as ‘Oceanic Navy’, it has assumed for itself, “the primary responsibility lying on the Indian Navy to guard the steel ring created by Singapore, Ceylon, Mauritius and Socotra…the Indian Ocean must therefore remain truly Indian.” With this strategic thought, the Indian Navy Vision Statement (2006), clearly laid down the role for Indian Navy as, “of safeguarding our maritime interests on the high seas and projecting combat power across (and around) the (Indian Ocean) littoral.” Covering these wide ranging naval interests of India, Indian Premier Dr. Manmohan Singh said that, “our strategic footprint covers…to the far reaches of the Indian Ocean. Awareness of this reality should inform and animate our strategic thinking and defence planning.”

In order to meet its energy needs and for its burgeoning economic drive as a great power status, securing the extended sea lines of communication from the Gulf to Southeast Asia is essential for the Indian Navy. In the wording of former Indian Naval Chief, Admiral Sureesh Mehta; “we are not only looking at countering threats but to protect the country’s economic and energy interests. This task has extended our area of operations. This might necessitate our operating in distant waters. As the Indian economy grows, the country is making increasing investments in distant places to ensure the availability of energy flow to maintain this growth. This is gradually defining what may be called our secondary area of maritime interest.”

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Through yet another revised Maritime Doctrine of 2009, Indian Navy has made major changes in its 2004 doctrine. Indian Navy has revamped its existing policies to factor in maritime terrorism, piracy and coastal security as the matter of great strategic significance. The strategic designs of India as the blue water navy, capable to operate in the open seas, to pursue and safeguard Indian oceanic interests raise the question of “how far India has got the naval capability, the capacity, to match such strategic intentions”.

Dr Raja Muhammad Khan is Ph.D. in International Affairs from Karachi University. His focus is on South Asia, Central Asia and Mid East. Dr Khan is a regular contributor to Opinion Maker.