by Admiral Sunil Lanba, Former Chief of Naval Staff
In recent years, India’s diplomatic approach and engagement with the world has reflected confidence as a rising power capable of shaping the global discourse in the emerging multipolar world. The Indian Navy has worked closely with the MEA for initiatives that have progressed under the diplomatic role. There is an adage among sailors that, ‘while borders divide, the seas connect’.
Accordingly, Navies have always endeavoured to build partnerships, mutual trust and confidence, with friendly foreign countries, and the Indian Navy has a respected global standing in this regard. Moreover, in the contemporary geostrategic landscape, the Indian Navy’s cooperative initiatives provide important tools for India’s foreign policy.
The ongoing contest for influence in the region reflects how extra-regional countries, China, in particular, have used a combination of economic, diplomatic, cultural and military tools to gain an advantage. Growing regional military presence, coupled with overseas bases and dual-use maritime infrastructure, allows Beijing to influence the vital sea lanes of the IOR while giving them the ability to interfere with Indian interests.
Cognisant of these changing dynamics, the Indian Government has accorded a high priority to maritime security in bilateral relations and stepped up efforts to build more robust networks among IOR littoral states. In this context, the capabilities and partnerships that the Indian Navy has nurtured and developed over time are invaluable assets for the nation.
The foundation of the Navy’s collaborative and cooperative efforts is laid out in its strategy for shaping a favourable maritime environment, one of the critical pillars of the Indian Maritime Security Strategy 2015. This strategy guides the Indian Navy’s efforts as the ‘net maritime security provider’ for the Indian Ocean Region in sync with the national vision of SAGAR or Security and Growth for All in the Region.
Diplomatic efforts are broadly divided into four categories: Capacity Building, Capability Enhancement, Cooperative Engagement, and Collaborative Efforts. The Navy has constructively engaged the IOR littorals to build their capacities and enhance their capabilities so that the collective ability to deal with maritime security challenges effectively is strengthened. In these efforts, ‘Make in India’ has been promoted by facilitating buyer-builder interactions. India has supplied Dornier aircraft, constructed by M/s HAL, to Seychelles and equipment to Myanmar for their indigenous frigates programme. In addition, the Navy provides life-cycle support for Indian origin platforms of Mauritius, Maldives and Seychelles.
To enhance the capability to monitor maritime activity, the Navy has worked with partners to set up coastal surveillance chains in Seychelles, Mauritius, Maldives and Sri Lanka, whilst providing similar options to others, including Myanmar, Bangladesh, Mozambique and Tanzania. Taking this a step further, the Navy aims to improve regional maritime security through a comprehensive, shared Maritime Domain Awareness picture. Accordingly, Technical Agreements for sharing of ‘White Shipping Information’ with 20 countries and one multi-national maritime construct has been concluded.
In addition, the ‘Information Fusion Centre for Indian Ocean Region’ at Gururgram, has within a short period, established itself as a hub for MDA in the IOR by coordinating with countries and multi-national constructs. Furthermore, ‘International Liaison Officers’ have been positioned at IFC-IOR since 2019.
Exercises at sea are an important facet of naval cooperation, and the Indian Navy participates in over 20 bilateral and multilateral exercises each year. These exercises cover the entire canvas of maritime security operations based on the capabilities and requirements of partners. Exercises with major naval powers have expanded over the years and now involve complex multi-dimensional naval operations. These exercises attract significant global attention and are a potent tool for strategic communication for the nation.
The Navy carries out a coordinated patrol of the maritime borders with maritime neighbours, namely Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia and carries out surveillance of the EEZ of Maldives, Seychelles and Mauritius.
Training is another critical aspect of diplomatic efforts. Every year, the Navy provide structured training to over 900 foreign trainees. In addition, Mobile Training Teams are deputed abroad to provide specific training ‘tailored’ to the requirements of the recipient nations. Importantly, we have also offered niche training in the field of the submarine, aviation and asymmetric warfare to a number of nations. Institutionalised practical training for naval personnel, spanning basic sea training for officers on board Training Squadron, HADR training during ‘Joint Tri-Service HADR Exercises’ and exposure to blue water operations are also offered. Focus is also laid on Hydrographic cooperation for the Navy. Ships have conducted vital surveys for Myanmar, Mauritius and Sri Lanka. We have also signed MoUs on Hydrography with Mauritius, Seychelles, and Tanzania. We are now pursuing similar agreements with several other countries.
The Navy continues to support multilateral initiatives such as IONS to enhance regional maritime security. To demonstrate its commitment to the region, the Indian Navy conducted the IONS 10th Anniversary celebrations at Kochi in November 2018. India’s influence has traditionally been derived from historical and cultural ties and unwavering adherence to principles.
As the nation rises to the high table of global affairs, India will be called upon to shoulder greater responsibilities, and the Government has demonstrated its resolve to do so. The Indian Armed Forces will also have a significant role to ensure that the nation attains its rightful place in the world order through proactive, nuanced and positive defence diplomacy.
The Indian Navy has a clearly defined cooperation strategy, which seamlessly integrates the inherent capabilities of the naval forces with foreign and security policy objectives to create a stable, secure and peaceful maritime environment in areas of marine interest.