Event ReportsPublished on Mar 05, 2019
Navy need to re-prioritise tasks and roles: Ex-Commander

“National Security encompasses far more than external threats and military solutions. Today we have learnt the hard way that the scope and scale of challenges to our security have increased considerably,” observed Commodore Amar Mahadevan (retd), former Naval Officer-in-Charge (NOIC), Tamil Nadu & Puducherry. National security goals include human security, environmental security and energy security to name just a few aspects in which the scope of security has expanded, he pointed out further.

Initiating a discussion on ‘Indian Navy and National Security’ at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai, on 16 February 2019, Cmdre Mahadevan said there were many aspects to consider when assessing the maritime components of security and the future preparedness of the Indian Navy to meet these challenges. According to him, in contemporary global politics, the threats to the Navy are myriad, ranging from conflicts of various intensity to terrorism, food insecurity and closed sea-lanes, among others.

India’s national security strategy is a combination of joint Army, Navy, Air and Maritime strategies. Maritime strategy is a key pillar of India’s national security policy as well as a key enabler in the implementation of its military strategy, noted Cmdre Mahadevan. The importance of Maritime Strategy also lies in the fact that 97 percent of the world’s trade (by volume) moves through sea. In addition to the security of trade routes, the importance of the seas is also enhanced by enormous amounts of oil and natural gas deposits.

Geo-strategic importance

The primary area of interest for the Indian Navy is the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), explained Cmdre Mahadevan. The IOR is of great geo-strategic importance, given that important shipping lanes crisscross its vast expanse, as well as the several chokepoints that link this region with other important seas. Access to IOR is through a few narrow gateways and chokepoints – the Malacca Strait and the Strait of Hormuz being the most important ones.

However, the Sunda Strait, the Lombok Strait, the Cape of Good Hope, the Suez Canal, Bab-el-Mandeb, Ombai and Wetar Straits, and Mozambique Channel were all equally critical choke points when it comes to international trade. It is the role of the Indian Navy to safeguard India’s mercantile, marine and maritime trade, said Cmdre Mahadevan.

Other major goals might be more military in nature such as deterrence against conflict and coercion, defence of India’s territorial integrity, defence of its citizens and off-shore assets from seaborne threats. The Indian Navy also undertakes diplomatic and constabulary roles in order to strengthen political relations and goodwill with friendly nations, as well as to maintaining good order at sea. These are carried out through overseas deployment, flag-showing, port visits, foreign training coordinated patrols and bilateral and multilateral exercises.

The constabulary tasks address the challenges posed by maritime crime and are often carried out in coordination with other maritime law enforcement and regulatory agencies, explained Cmdre Mahadevan. These operations are focused on counter-infiltration, anti-piracy, anti-poaching and anti-trafficking. In addition, the Navy provides humanitarian assistance such as provision of relief material, medical assistance diving and hydro-graphic assistance. They fall under the category of ‘benign role’of the Indian Navy.

Future preparedness

Assessing ‘future preparedness’, Cmdre Mahadevan said that the Indian Navy will have to re-prioritise its tasks and roles at the operational-level. Surveillance, intelligence and information sharing will remain crucial in ensuring Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), which involves “being cognisant of the position and intentions of all actors, whether own, hostile or neutral, in the constantly evolving maritime environment in the areas of interest”, he said.

According to him, a key element of MDA was Underwater Domain Awareness, which, while he admitted would be a costly endeavour, he insisted it was the need of the hour. “The Indian Navy ought to invest heavily in building underwater domain awareness” he said.

Cmdre Mahadevan also emphasised the importance of Cyber Warfare and Space Warfare which he believed would become a necessity in the future as India’s maritime environment was constantly evolving. The Indian Navy also needed to establish a greater network of places and bases in the IOR, and in this regard he believed Chabahar port was a step in the right direction. He felt the scholarly and intellectual world ought to progress in tandem with the Indian Navy, reflecting deeply onits emerging needs and objectives.

In conclusion, he said the Indian Navy will continue to play multiple roles and fulfil several objectives as its maritime environment is changing with the changes taking place in the global political and security environment. It will be required to shift between the four main roles of military, diplomatic, constabulary and benign.

(This report was prepared by Dr. Vinitha Revi, Research Associate, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai)

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.