Indian Navy : Shaping India’s Land Wars
The diversity in physical and political geographies of India’s immediate neighborhood springs a unique threat matrix. Including India’s military history into this context informs us that only seamlessly integrated armed forces could effectively deter and defeat these threats. Joint planning and execution of military objectives in support of desired political end state is apparent. It requires the military to synergize the traditional and emerging warfighting domains for optimum utilization of military resources.
Post-independence, major threats to India’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and, economic and social development emanated from the immediate neighborhood across the land. The 1948 and 1962 wars with Pakistan and China revealed major drawbacks in India’s military preparedness, jointness and political guidance. The impact of lack or use of Indian Air Force against China in the 1962 war is a key example.
The 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War is unique in this context given India’s decision to utilize its naval resources to influence a predominantly land war. The daring missile attacks on Karachi harbor and the naval air operations over Cox Bazar portray the significance of sea to land attacks in shaping wars on the land. INS Vikrant displayed the unique characteristic inherent for an aircraft carrier – the ability to project air power over the maritime domain. This is fundamentally a cross-domain power projection and warfighting capability.
The Indian Navy also played critical roles during Operation Cactus (Maldives), Operation Pawan (Sri Lanka) etc. that demonstrate the significance of naval assets in projecting political resolve in support of national interests.
India’s current strategic context is dominated by China’s designs to expand its political influence and military presence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean using its economic clout. Its insensitiveness towards India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is leading to buildup of tensions along the Line of Control and the Line of Actual Control. In addition, Pakistan also
supports terrorism as an asymmetric means of war against India under the threat of escalation to a nuclear war.
Even as India emphasizes diplomacy and ‘talks between concerned parties’ rather than use or threats of use of force as the means to resolve conflicts, the Indian armed forces must be kept prepared for deterring adversaries from seeking conflict and defeating them in a war when deterrence fails. In the emerging military security situation, India’s principle military adversaries could even form a joint front during war.
Advances in communications, information technology, precision guided munitions, automation etc. characterize these wars that are increasingly tending to be short, swift and fought in non-linear fashion. In addition, the emergence of space and cyber as the new domains of warfare complicates traditional thinking on combat. Instead of relying on outdated service-on-service model of combat, the 21st century wars require application of firepower (kinetic or non-kinetic) in cross-domain fashion.
The Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces released recently draws its information and inspiration from these situations and military thinking. It mentions military as a component of comprehensive national power and lists national military objectives in support of securing national interests and core values such as sovereignty and territorial integrity. Taking cues from the 1971 war, the doctrine asserts ‘jointness’ as the basic guiding principle for understanding and approaching future wars.
In consonance with the naval operations undertaken during the 1971 war, the Joint Doctrine assigns the Indian Navy to fulfill certain basic mission sets. The Indian Navy shall utilize its maritime reconnaissance aircraft and other naval sensors to identify targets at sea or ashore including surface combatants, harbors, oil terminals etc. The naval air arm could then disable or neutralize these targets with support from friendly surface combatants and in collaboration with the Indian Air Force.
Another major operational requirement involving the Indian Navy is amphibious operations. These operations are characterized by naval platforms deploying land based assets to establish beachheads for follow-on operations further in land or take/retake critical shore facilities. The presence of critical infrastructure facilities along India’s coastline and the geostrategic relevance of Andaman and Nicobar Islands make these operations imperative.
Even as the sailors acquire better clarity on the overarching strategic situation and attendant military objectives, whether the existing inventory of platforms, sensors and weapons systems boost the war waging potential of the service needs to be assessed. The naval air arm is known to have deficiencies hindering sea control, sea to land attacks and shaping amphibious operations.
The Joint Doctrine sensing the opportunities and threats from the emerging strategic context has assigned specific roles to the Indian armed forces. Even as India’s military adversaries demonstrate advanced military platforms, they cannot equal the strategic advantages offered by the geography of the Indian sub-continent. It therefore depends on the range, precision and stopping power of the Indian Navy to add an extra dimension of firepower to predominantly land threats on India’s borders.