By Milind Kulshreshtha
India has a long coastline of 7,516 Kms which includes about 1,100 offshore islands and a large Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 2.01 million sq km. India’s maritime role has gained higher importance in the current geopolitical and security situation prevailing in the Indo-Pacific and IOR regions. Indian Navy has accordingly developed the capability to achieve superiority in a limited Regional conflict and as a decisive forward-deployed naval power. It has been also designated as the sole authority responsible for the overall maritime security of India, which includes coastal security and offshore units.
To achieve its National objective, the Indian Navy has undertaken many long term initiatives like Shipbuilding programme being one of the primary efforts. The indigenous warships construction has come a long way since its launch in the early 1970s. Today India is one of the few nations which are building their own Aircraft carriers and submarines. The indigenous warship construction has also spurred the local industry. The need to integrate Russian or Western weapon systems with indigenous systems led to ingenious digital technology growth and todayNaval establishments are developing niche solutions like Software Defined Radios (SDRs), Combat Management systems, Tactical Data link, Cybersecurity and Space ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) systems with support from Defence PSUs and private industry.
Joint Naval Operations
With the emerging Chinese security threat to India’s sovereignty, the land border tensions are likely to be extended to the high seas. China’s single focussed agenda to increase its influence in the Indo-Pacific and IOR so as to ensure preserving unhindered crucial ‘silk’ sea lane traffic at all times, especially during the hostilities. China’s confrontationist approach in the South China Sea in the international waters has also made the World concerned.
Indian Navy is actively involved in the joint Naval exercises with multinational Naval tasks forces like MALABAR, SITMEX, SIMBEX, etc. The primary objective here is to gain operational and doctrinal expertise, learn the ‘best practices’ and enhanced inter-operability for improved Maritime Domain Awareness. India has also constituted SAGAR (Security And Growth for All in the Region) to ensure free, and a cooperative and collaborative rules-based order for all in at the international waters. Similarly, MILAN initiative since 1995 is a multinational Naval interaction held biennially at Port Blair to discuss issues related to maritime security, humanitarian assistance, etc.
Maritime Theatre Command (MTC)
With the constitution of DMA (Department of Military Affairs) and appointment of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS)to head it, in 2020 the Indian Armed Forces commenced the process of creating Theatre Commands to achieve higher battle readiness and response proficiency. CDS as permanent Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee, which includes the three Chiefs as members now have the tri-services mantle. Indian Armed Forces presently comprise of seven Commands each for Army and the Air Force and, further, three Commands for Navy. As part of the reforms, these single-service commands are to be re-organised into only five Joint Theatre Commands for tactical advantages. The Theatre Level Commands are expected to also address the issue regarding India’s preparedness for a two-theatre war w.r.t. the size and composition of the Indian forces necessary for optimal military readiness at any given time to tackle two major regional contingency.
The plans to launch Maritime Theatre Command as first of the five Theatre level commands is scheduled for formation in 2021. The others planned are one Air Defence Theatre Command and other three commands for land forces. Multiple inter-services Commands and Institutions such as the Strategic Forces Command, Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) and the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) are already functioning.
As per the geography of the Indian peninsula and the threat scenario, the Indian Navy has three commands with Western and Eastern Naval commands as the Operational Commands and the Southern command mainly focused as the Training command. The implementation of MTC shall see the formation of one Maritime Theatre Command headed by a Vice Admiral as the Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C). Under the MTC, the maritime units of the IAF and the Army along with the Indian Coast Guard shall be operationally conjoined with the Indian Navy and no additional resources are being budgeted by MoD here. IAF’s maritime assets are the Jaguars fighter jets based at Jamnagar and Su-30MKIs/Tejas at Thanjavur and Army’s amphibious brigades are located at Port Blair and Thiruvananthapuram. Under the C-in-C, two verticals for IAF and Army shall be formed and each of the verticals shall be headed by two-star IAF and Army officer. Through the Chiefs of Staff Committee, the C-in-C shall be responsible to the CDS. The Chief of Naval Staff shall be part of Chiefs of Staff Committee headed by CDS and shall hold a crucial administrative role for resource planning and training for the Indian Navy. The functional details of the MTC shall be guided by the Indian Armed Forces Joint Doctrine document of 2017.
INS Kadamba at Karwar shall house the C-in-C headquarter for MTC. INS Kadamba was commissioned in 2005 as the Base Depot Ship at Naval Base, Karwar as part of the Phase which was codenamed Project Seabird with the main aim of decongesting Mumbai naval base. The conclusion of Phase II of the project shall establish larger infrastructure like additional jetties, specialized submarine pens and Naval airfield. Now with MTC Headquarter and Staff planned to be positioned at Karwar, an impetus to work progress shall be expected to base a large Western Naval fleet.
Technology Focus for MTC
The Indian Armed Forces Joint Doctrine of 2017provides the stipulations for the MTC Role and Area of Responsibility. However, for a true Theatre level Netcentric Warfare paradigm, various technological gaps amongst the tri-services require to be centrally addressed. The inter-services Interoperability and Inter-changeability are likely to be the primary enablers here. The COMCASA and BECA Indo-US Agreements are now mandated for the multinational joint operations and these factors have to be centrally built for all the five Theatre Level Commands, starting with MTC. The Space and Cyberwarfare technologies shall play an important role in the Theatre Level operations. This is well emphasized in the Joint Doctrines document which states that Information Warfare along with Cyberspace, Space and special operations requires an integrated structure at strategic, operational and tactical levels to achieve a calibrated and coordinated operations in all the three battlespace dimensions.
The implementation of these concepts at the technological level shall be challenging even when all the other administrative aspect falls in place. Here, the private industry with their digital solutioning experience can play an important role. For the resources of the Theatre Command, maintenance support too can see the participation of private Industry (like private shipyards etc.) for long-term sustainability. To achieve the Theatre level operational parameters, still more work is required so as to evolve the underlying joint cooperation technologies and synergizing the three services. With the growing Chinese aggressiveness, definitely, the time is limited but MTC needs a careful implementation to accrue its real Tactical benefits.
(The author is C4I expert. Views are personal)