The Indian Ocean is the third largest body of water in the world. It is also has some of the most important shipping routes of the world, being surrounded by some of the largest oil producing nations like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, etc. Ruled by the monsoon and other related climate/wind patterns, it has long been traversed by sea farers in the hopes of finding great fame and fortune in the form of finding new lands, people or treasures. Due to the trade activities along the coastal regions around this ocean, history has been made in these waters.
Now, it seems, history is again afoot. Over the past few years, there has been gaining interest in the Indian Ocean Region, thanks to the antics of North Korea in their quest for ever deadlier weapons and their hate for USA. With the recent verdict in the international arbitration with regards to the South China Sea, China too has made its stand clear – stay out of our way while we go out into the seas. The United States has been quick to respond, deciding to post up to 60% of their fleet in this region in hopes of countering the Chinese navy (which has in recent times started to change from a brown water navy to a blue water navy in the hopes of securing the South China Sea) and showing a determined face to North Korea. India, amidst all this turmoil, is still trying to better man its defence installations in its own territories.
In hopes of advancing their interests in Africa and solidifying their position as a blue water force, China has already taken a lease for a naval base in Djibouti. Also, in 2014, it was reported that two Chinese Naval submarine, a Song class conventional and a Ming class diesel-electric nuclear submarine docked in at Colombo in Sri Lanka. However, what was not as widely covered was that the submarine docked at Colombo’s South Container Terminal that is built, run, and controlled by China Merchants Holdings instead of Sri Lanka Port Authority.
This trend of commercial sea faring companies being closely linked to the Chinese military has been reported time and again, such as in Karachi where the port’s operational control was handed to China Overseas port Holdings.
The United States of America has also come to take note of these moves, and also the much muscle flexing done by the North Korean military while they try to impress the world with their missiles going into the water. The new addition of USS Gerarld R. Ford super carrier includes Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch Systems which would allow it to launch a whole new array of fighters and (as a first) drones into its sphere of influence. Given the effective range of predator drones to be about 300 miles, when added with the moving capability of an aircraft carrier, it allows for greater force projection than seen ever before.
At the same time, the US is also deploying their new weapons system named XN-1 LaWS. A directed energy weapon (laser weapon for want of a better word), in its full power is expected to shoot down incoming drones and missiles. If included in the arsenal of the new carrier, it would be powered by the 2 nuclear reactors the Ford boasts of, allowing greater range, power and nearly unlimited shots, being limited by the efficiency of the weapon.
Given these factors, India has also started considering new additions for its first indigenous super carrier, expected to join the fleet by 2025. INS Vishal, which would be the 4th aircraft carrier to be operated by India, is expected to boost naval capabilities and allow India to better control its territorial waters and also allow force projection at scales never seen before.
While all this is expected to happen in the next 5 – 10 years, in the meanwhile the Indian defence establishment has a long road ahead. Between closing all the loops in their coastal security (especially to the terrorism threats from Pakistan through the sea route – eg – 26/11) and increasing their presence in all the commands along the coast and the islands of Andaman and Nicobar as well as the Lakshwadeep; there is much to be done before our Navy can proudly uphold the title of a blue water force.
Given the commercial and military importance, the Indian Ocean is slowly getting the attention of the world. What remains to be seen is how this attention will play out- as a series of confrontations leading up to a showdown between two or more nations or as a peaceful maritime commercial interest bringing together most of the countries surrounding this Mahasagar.
Ranveer Raj Bhatnagar