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The Changing Maritime Security Dynamics of the Asia Pacific: Its Implications on India's Naval Sector


The current security scenario of the Asia Pacific region is undergoing unprecedented shifts. Such a changing security environment will definitely have impact on the security perceptions of India. China is rising economically and is strengthening its military power too. It is trying to be quite assertive in the maritime domain while demanding a huge percent of the South China Sea which has caused a serious concern to the entire region. The nations of the region are trying to modernize their military power against an expansionist China. It has been  observed that China has come up with initiatives like the 'One Belt, One Road' (OBOR) which is an enormous investment modeled on the ancient 'Silk Road Economic Bel' connecting China with Central Asia, Eastern and Western Europe via land and a maritime corridor connecting  China to South-East Asia, Africa and Central Asia. China's string of pearl's strategy which is a maritime encirclement of India is a matter of concern for India's defence sector. Regional powers like Japan is bringing changes in its security policies against a changing security environment. It is establishing strategic relationship with ASEAN nations to deal with China's expansionist behavior in the maritime domain. Japan is expanding the role of its Self Defense Forces under its new security legislation. On the other hand, US. as an external power realizes the significance of the SLOCs and the strategic significance of the region. U.S. has started to regain strategic interest in the region and has been initiating Freedom of Navigation Operations, strategic aids and agreements with the countries of the region.  

This article explores the various security implications India is having in the naval sector and the initiatives India is taking to deal with the changing maritime security scenario.             

China as a factor:  

China as a nation today is considered as one of the largest economies of the world and also one of the largest export nations. The maritime routes specially the Sea Lanes of Communications  (SLOCs) are of utmost significance for China. (Upadhyaya: 2017). Energy resources are important for a booming economy like China and therefore wants to have access to the overseas energy. Oil from East Africa and Persian Gulf comes to China which has to cross the Indian Ocean which encourages China to ensure safety and security of the SLOCs. China has initiated various networks with the littoral states and helped establishing ports in Gwadar (Pakistan), at Kyaukpyu and Hainggyi Island to construct naval facilities in the Bay of Bengal by assisting Myanmar, making agreements with Sri Lanka to develop ports at Hambantota. Such initiatives are a matter of concern for India. India sees it as a maritime encirclement which is known as the "String of Pearls" strategy which can eventually restrict India's influence in the region. India's Foreign Minister described this expansionist behavior of China as the foremost security challenge for India. ( Ladwig: 2009)  

China in the South China Sea and its naval modernization:  

The 2017 Defense White Paper of China deals with Chinese military power and emphasizes on China'a maritime domain identified as "a critical security domain," and its protection by "the preparation for military struggle" including the South China Sea dispute (Upadhyaya: 2017). China has been quite assertive in the South China Sea and making claims on the basis of the 9-dashed line. It is initiating reclamation and dredging activities while trying to create artificial islands. The South China Sea is of both geo-economic and geo-strategic significance as it has the most significant SLOCs and is rich in hydrocarbons and fisheries. China makes its claims mostly on the Spratly and the Paracel islands . They are converting the submerged and the semi-submerged rocks into artificial islands which poses the most serious challenge to the region. Though China has been assuring that such developments have no security perspective behind but the entire region is very apprehensive about China and believes that such developments could have serious security implications in the future (Castro, 2015). China is enhancing its naval capabilities at the same time. It is establishing advanced radar and electronic equipments while enhancing its intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) and maritime domain awareness capabilities. Its military developments include the creation of airstrips on the Fiery Cross Reef along with its airborne warning and control system (AWACS). Anti-Access/Area Denial and power projection capabilities are increased by China in the region with an intention to keep the U.S. activities like Freedom of Navigation Operations in check (Glaser 2015: 36). The Chinese advanced weapon programs also include anti-ship ballistic missiles(ASBMs), anti-ship cruise missiles(ASCMs), aircraft, submarines and supporting C4ISR(command and control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) systems. China's military expenditure has increased to a significant aspect. There has been a growth of 135 percent between the years 2006-2015. To put them in figures, in 2006 it was $92652 million while in 2016 it had increased to $225713 million. At the same time the other nations of the region have also undergone military modernization which increased their defense expenditure too including Indonesia ($3043-7783million), Vietnam ($2135-5005 million) and Philippines ($2565- 3990 million) within the same period of time (SIPRI: 2017).  

China's One Belt One Road Initiative:  

OBOR has been China's one of the most aspiring and purposeful projects to flourish its economic and foreign policies. It's an initiative to connect China with its distant neighbourhood through an enormous infrastructure project. India didn't send a single official to the OBOR summit held last year. India has been quite fidgety about this project mainly for two reasons: first, the OBOR initiative has breached the territorial integrity of India because the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) falls in Pakistan-Administered Kashmir which falls in the Indian territory. Second, the project commences with loans which could adversely effect the economy of the smaller nations. This can eventually lead to a deteriorating state for both ecology and environment while distorting the local communities (Pandya: 2017).  

As has been mentioned earlier about the 'String of Pearls' strategy which India feared and considered as a maritime encirclement of India, the strategic analysts today see the OBOR project as an encirclement of India in the maritime domain. The strategic community believes that this Chinese initiative has  a number of ambiguous motives behind both at an economic and strategic level. The former Indian Foreign Minister Shyam Saran has already mentioned that OBOR will definitely have both political and security implications inspite of it being an economic initiative (ibid).

Japan as a regional power:

Japan is the only country in the Asia Pacific which is undergoing unparalleled changes in its security policies within the last decade. Japan tries to make some extensive changes in its security policies with a motive to play a bigger security role in the region. Japan has been following an American written Pacifist constitution since the end of the  Second World War. The Article 9 of the constitution renounces war under which Japan could never maintain land, sea or air forces (Library of Congress: 2015). However, Japan today under the changing security scenario is reinterpreting the Article 9 which would allow Japan to use force to defend another country under armed attack even if Japan is not directly attacked. Japan enacted its new security legislation in September 2015 which faced a lot of opposition in the Diet. The new security legislation is expected to expand the role of the Japanese Self Defense Forces and the right to collective self defense (Fatton: 2016).  

Until recently Japan has been playing a significant economic role in the region acting as the number one Official Development Assistance (ODA) donor to the region. It has been marked that around 35% of the Japanese global ODA was provided to the ASEAN countries from 1960 to 2011 which included Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia (Drifte, 2016: 13). But an assertive China and its expansionist initiatives in the South China Sea encouraged Japan to play a bigger security role in the region. Japan has both geo-strategic and geo-economic interests in the South China Sea. The SLOCs are of great significance for Japan as a huge percent of its trade with Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe pass through these SLOCs. Therefore, any crisis situation in the South China Sea will have adverse effects on the Japanese trade.

Japan has established its Acquisition Technology and Logistics Agency (ATLA) which has enhanced defense procurement and relaxed its arms exports (Pryor: 2015).  Japan is also trying to acquire offensive capability in particular in its naval power by acquiring helicopter carriers, aegis destroyers (considered the most advanced in the world) and advanced submarines. Izumo is a helicopter carrier which Japan commissioned three years ago which was dispatched on a tour in the South China Sea. Japan has actually developed naval capabilities which could be compared to its Second World War era. Izumo is one such example which can accommodate up to nine attack helicopters and is as large as World War 2-era carriers (Kubo, Kelly: 2017).  

On the other hand, Japan is also trying to enhance the defense capacities of the other claimants of the South China Sea. It is supplying military equipments to Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. Japan has been providing second hand patrol boats to Vietnam and Philippines too. It has been initiating strategic partnership, trainings and joint naval exercises with these nations.  

U.S. as an external power:  

An unimpeded access to the waters of the Indo-Pacific is of utmost significance to the U.S. interest. The SLOCs of the region has economic dynamism because trillion dollars worth trade traverses through this region. But with a growing assertive China and its expansionist policies in the South China Sea worries U.S. that if China had been successful in establishing its sovereignty in the water body on the basis of the 9-dashed line then the U.S. economy will have adverse effects because it may stop the U.S. vessels from traversing freely through the waters of the region. (Favel: 2012).

The former US Secretary of the State Hillary Clinton made a significant mention about the American interests in the South China Sea during the regional security conference at the ASEAN Regional Forum. She said:  

"The United States supports a collaborative diplomatic process by all claimants for resolving the various territorial disputes without coercion. We oppose the use or threat of force by any claimant." (England: 2010). She also said:  

"The United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia's maritime commons and respect for international law in the South China Sea." (Landler: 2010)  

U.S. has been undergoing a number of 'Freedom of Navigation Operations', in the South China Sea since 2015 when the U.S. guided missile destroyer 'USS Lassen' was sent as a part of the operation to the waters within 12 nautical miles of the Subi Reef among the Spratly islands (Bo: 2016). Later, U.S. conducted several other FONOPs in the years 2016 and 2017 including the ones in the Triton islands of the Paracels. According to U.S. it was mainly focused to maintain the right of innocent passage through the water body under the international law (Tiezzi, 2016).  However, such a U.S. initiative has been observed by the strategic community and the analysts as an American strategy to make an influence in the region which it is losing against a militarily powerful China.  

Like Japan , U.S. is establishing ties with the ASEAN nations strategically . U.S. is providing financial aid to the nations to enhance their naval capabilities. For example: the U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter pledged $18 million to Vietnam so that the latter could help itself to purchase  the U.S. made Metal Shark patrol boats. U.S. has also come up with 'Vision Statements" which would deal with more military aid to these nations (Alexander , 2015). The U.S.-Philippines Strategic Initiative (USPSI) came into being in May 2015. The main emphasis of this three year project is to encourage high level policy dialogue in the context of the U.S. rebalance to Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific region. (CSIS). Both U.S. and Philippines also have signed 'Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement", which would lift the ban imposed by the Philippine constitution on the foreign military bases and troops and permit the U.S. troops to be present and build military bases (Sison: 2014).  

The Trump administration released its National Security Strategy (NSS) on December 2017 and its National Defense Strategy (NDS) on January 2018, where the documents made frequent mention of the 'Indo-Pacific' specially emphasizing on the maritime domain. The NDS stressed on Chinese belligerent attitude in the region. It has commenced means to deal with China specially in the South China  Sea and the East China Sea. Countering China is actually one of the most distinguished themes of NDS (Karlin: 2018). On the other hand, NSS looked towards India as a leading military power with whom US would aspire to establish stronger strategic and defense ties (Bhatt: 2018).    

Implications on India's Naval Sector:  

India's growing naval initiatives:  

In the above backdrop, it is of utmost significance for India to modernize and grow its naval sector. Until the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war, the Indian Navy was considered as a 'Cindrela Service'. However, in 1971 the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the  Naval Chief Admiral SM Nanda had made the Indian Navy play a major role in bombing Karachi Harbour. Since then Indian Navy has been considered as one of the most special services of the country (Bhat: 2015).

Today Indian Navy is on the threshold of transformation. In the year 2000, the then Defense Minister George Fernandes said:  

"With high stakes in the uninterrupted flow of commercial shipping, the Indian Navy has an interest in the ocean space extending from the North of the Arabian Sea to the South China Sea" (Aneja: 2014).  

Today Indian Navy is one of the top most navies of the world. It has its fleet tactical submarines, conventionally powered submarines, nuclear-powered submarines, destroyers, frigates, corvettes, amphibious warfare ships, aircraft carrier etc. In 2008, the then Chief of Indian Navy pointed that by 2020 India would acquire 160 ships, which included three aircraft carriers, 60 combatants that includes submarines and approximately 400 aircraft of different types. Such a modernization would not only focus on quantity but also quality. India's INS (Indian Nuclear Submarine) which is the most important modern vessel has been acquired from Russia and has been commissioned in 2014 (Maqsood: 2017). India is quite focused on producing its naval equipments indigenously. Manufacturing equipments within India which are technologically advanced has been a part of the Indian Government's "Make in India" initiative. Indian Navy came up with a guideline document, the "Indian Naval Indigenisation Plan (INIP) 2015-2030", to enunciate the need for developing various advanced systems for its platforms. The document focuses developing indigenous equipments over the next 15 years. This document will help Indian Navy to coincide and collaborate with industries to develop weapons, sensors and other high end equipments making India self-reliant in the domain of defense technology. Industrial houses like Tatas, Mahindras, Reliance, Kirloskar, L&T, Godrej etc. are quite enthusiastic in initiating defense related businesses. Some of them are interested in making collaborative agreements with foreign vendors to produce defense products in the country (Indian Navy: 2015).  

India has six stealth frigates which it already acquired from Russia but it plans to develop indigenously three more frigates. India has nuclear- powered  ballistic missile submarine with INS Arihant being the first one.  On December 2017, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi commissioned the INS Kalvari which is the first of the six planned Scorpene-class (Kalvari-class) diesel-electric attack submarine (SSK) in the Mumbai naval dockyard. INS Kalvari is the most advanced SSK ever commissioned and one of the supreme examples of Modi's “Make in India” initiative and the growing strategic convergence between India and France. A $4.16 billion worth contract had been offered by the Modi government to the French shipbuilder Naval Group for the construction of six diesel-electric attack submarines in partnership with Mumbai-based Mazagon Dock Limited under the so-called Project-75 acquisition program for the Indian Navy (Gady: 2017).    

India has six improved Project 17A frigates and a nuclear capable missile submarine including Russian MIG-29K jet fighter for its aircraft fleet. India also worked on the Advanced Technology Vessel Program in the last three decades (Maqsood: 2017). At present Indian Navy has 2 Aircraft carriers, 2 Nuclear Submarines, 14 conventional diesel-electric submarines, 10 destroyer ships, 14 frigates, 1 amphibious transport dock, 9 Landing ships, 26 Corvettes, 6 Mine warfare ships and a number of Patrol vessels and boats. The aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya is currently active in service and INS Virat which is undergoing sea trials is expected to join the Indian Navy by this year. INS Vishaal is on a planning stage which is a nuclear powered super carrier warship. (QuickGS: 2017).  

Prior to this, under the changing strategic environment Indian Navy came up with its first edition of Maritime Doctrine in 2004 which is a comprehensive guide dealing with its fundamental concepts and applications. The 2009 edition of India's Maritime Doctrine concerns with the principles, practices and procedures that govern the development and employment of the  maritime military power. It helps in delivering an understanding of the maritime concepts which also includes Navy's operating, planning, organisational and training philosophies. (Indian Navy, 2009: 6).

The total defense allocation for the financial year 2017-2018 was Rs 2,74,114 crore (about $42.17 billion) which was 6.2 percent higher than the previous year's Rs 2,58,000 crore allocation. A total of Rs 18,493.82 crore was allocated for the Navy's revenue budget  including its revenue expenditure which is up from the revised estimates of 17,813.99 crore of the previous year. The allocation for the capital budget within the same period for Navy was 19,348.16 crore which was relatively lower than the previous year's revised estimates of 19,596.28 crore (Chand: 2017). The Budget Estimates for 2016-17 was Rs 21323 crores and the Revised Estimates were Rs 18993 crores while the Budget Estimates decreased for 2017-18 coming down to Rs 18749. The decline in this modernization budget has however been of great concern ( Behera: 2017).  

However, if we look at the Defence Budget for 2018-2019, Rs 2,96,511.41 cr (1.58 per cent of GDP) has been allocated for defense. The percent of increase has been 5.91 percent which is a negative growth while the financial year 2017-18 had a 6 percent increase over the previous year. (Katoch: 2018). The budget estimates for Navy for the financial year 2018-19 is Rs 19927 crores while it was Rs 18749 crores which is an increase by 6.3 percent. (Laxman Behera 2018-19). However, from the above figures it can be analysed that with this minimal change in the defense budget not much changes can be bought to the naval modernisation of the country. It will be difficult to meet with a force level of 198 warships from the current fleet of 137 by 2027 with this budget (Chand: 2017).

Look East to Act East Policy:  

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi aspired to give a new name to "Look East Policy" and rechristened it as the "Act East Policy". The "Act East Policy" now not only emphasises on building closer connections with the ASEAN nations but also with the wider Asia-Pacific region specially in the strategic domain which included Japan, Australia and South Korea. India believes that playing a greater security role in stabilizing the regional security architecture is of utmost significance (Mishra: 2014). On November 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Australia when both the countries signed the landmark "Framework for Security Cooperation between India and Australia". They emphasised on promoting strategic partnership including maritime security and hold regular maritime exercises.(FirstPost: 2014). On April 2017, Australia and India signed a joint statement when the Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull visited India. Once again they committed to deepen their strategic relation and focused on initiating bilateral maritime exercise (AUSINDEX) on the Bay of Bengal which they have already held once in 2015 and planned to hold another by 2018(First Post: 2017).  

Prime Minister Modi's visit to Japan on November 2016 which is also the second visit of Modi to Japan, could be considered a next level to initiate India's "Act East Policy" and enhance its partnership with another regional power like Japan. Both the leaders in their meeting emphasised on expanding their influence in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. They wish to work in collaboration in the Indo-Pacific region so that they could maintain peace and stability in the region based on the rule of law. With Japan becoming more flexible on arms export, India aspires to procure arms from Japan. However, during the visit the deal for the ShinMaywa class amphibious aircraft US-2i could not be finalised due to pricing, lack of firm commitment on the numbers required and other issues ( Verma:2016). India also engaged itself in establishing relations with ASEAN nations as a part of its "ct East Policy". The Indian Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj visited Vietnam in 2014 where she emphasised on the significance of the ASEAN nations as a part of its"Act East Policy" and  encourage greater land, sea and air links between India and the Southeast Asia. India is also keen on supplying Brahmos misslile to Vietnam along with a 100 million dollar line of credit which is a stepping stone for both the nations to strengthen their strategic ties and make India a potential security provider (Mishra: 2014). Along with Vietnam, India also has strategic connections with Singapore, Indonesia and Philippines. With Singapore, India holds joint naval exercises which is also known as SIMBEX. Since 1995, India has also been conducting bilateral "Search and Rescue Operation" with Indonesia  named after Indopura SAREX which had been later  converted to a multilateral maritime operation comprising of Malaysia and Singapore also.  

Currently Indian Navy has been dispatching its ships on tours to the waters of the Indo-Pacific as a part of its "Act East Policy". In 2017, Indian Naval ships Satpura and Kadmatt which are indigenously built warships reached Japan's Sasebo. This initiative is a part of the Indian government's effort to strengthen its relationship with Japan. INS Satpura and Kadmatt were engaged with the Japan Maritime Self Defense forces in formal calls. Since 2008, India and Japan have initiated their 'Navy to Navy Staff Talks' and now this bilateral initiative has reached to new heights. The former Japan-India Maritime Exercise which is known as JIMEX encouraged Japan to be a permanent member to the Malabar exercises in 2014 initiated by the Indian Navy of which U.S. is already a member (Hindustan Times: 2017).  

India and the South China Sea:  

The South China Sea having both geo-economic and geo-strategic significance, India shows interest in the water body inspite of it being a non-claimant to the dispute. Around 55 percent of India's trade in the Asia Pacific traverses through the SLOCs of the South China Sea. Infact India has become more expressive in supporting the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and encourages the peaceful resolution of the dispute (Chaturvedi: 2014)  

Addressing the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) on August 2013, the then India's Minister of State for Defence Jitendra Singh said:

"The safety and security of the sea lanes of communication is of paramount importance…there is need to reaffirm the importance of unimpeded right of passage and other maritime rights in accordance with the accepted principles of international law...maintenance of peace and security in the region is of vital interest and sovereignty issues must be resolved peacefully by all countries concerned, in accordance with international law. We oppose the use or the threat of use of force. We hope that all parties to disputes in the South China Sea region will abide by the 2002 Declaration on Conduct in the South China Sea and work together to ensure peaceful resolution of disputes, in accordance with international law, including the UNCLOS. We urge all parties concerned to take forward these discussions towards adoption of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea on the basis of consensus" (Ministry of Defense, Government Of India, 2013).    

Though India has undergone regular maritime exercises with US, Japan, France, Russia and Australia  but Singapore has been one of India's closest maritime partner for many decades and both the navies have undergone joint exercises in the South China Sea. Hence, Indian naval presence has almost become a regular feature in the South China Sea. India has also established strategic partnership with claimant countries like Vietnam which includes signing of protocols, defense cooperation agreements, joint naval exercises etc.(Bangara:2017) .  

C. Rajamohan in his book "Samudra Manthan"' has emphasised on the significance of building a modern powerful navy. He quoted the words of the  great Indian navalist K.M.Panikkar  who wrote in the middle of the twentieth century for a stronger  maritime orientation for India. Panikkar asserted that India had a powerful naval tradition and had a control over the sea and the neglect of the sea power was the root cause of India's lose of independence. C.Rajamohan in his book mentions about the significance of the SLOCs to India and how it could have adverse effects on the Indian trade if the South China Sea turns out to be a "Chinese Lake". Hence, he encourages the forward deployment of Indian Navy in the water body to deal with the upcoming security challenges (Raja Mohan: 2012).  


Thus it can be observed that the changing maritime security dynamics have several implications on India's naval sector. Indian Navy has undergone naval modernization and is trying to develop indigenous warships and cruisers under the "Make in India" initiative. Though there has been a meagre increase in the naval budget but that is insufficient to reach the goals of the Indian Navy to modernize its capabilities. There are problems with the current working system which is slow, clumsy and expensive. The generalists should be replaced with the specialists to meet the planned goals.  Mostly, it has been seen that the ship building time overruns which eventually increases the cost of the ship. If this time could be reduced then the cost could be minimised.  

On the other hand, China's OBOR one of the biggest international economic project which shouldn't be completely overlooked by India and keep the doors open for future. India cannot afford to aloof itself from such a huge economic project because doing so may bring adverse economic effects to India in the mere future. India should try to enmesh China and undergo constructive engagement with the giant. Trying to deal with the issues in the region militarily will not be the solution to resolve them. Economic and diplomatic aspects should also be looked upon to further deal with the upcoming changes in the region.


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