As one of the important arms of Indian Armed Forces, the Indian Navy, in the Liberation War, made plans to apply its power in all three dimensions ie Surface, Sub Surface and Air to achieve the national objective and in the process establish the efficacy of its long-standing doctrine. While many day to day accounts of the war have appeared in the press, it is necessary to glean over the principles of maritime warfare which the Navy successfully employed and validated.
First important principle was to maintain confidentiality of its plan. While Surface to Surface Missile attack on Karachi harbour by OSA missile boats in conjunction with IAF Bomber/Fighter attacks over land targets was a fine example of joint war fighting, it also validated this important principle of war. This attack also provided the Army somewhat confident entry in West Pakistan by breaching their defences. Navy destroyed and crippled number of Pak Navy ships and merchant vessels and virtually blockaded Karachi harbour and denied passage of oil tankers to East Pakistan which impacted on their ability to sustain their war effort.
Second important principle of Maritime warfare of using multiple platforms on widely dispersed targets was validated on the eastern seaboard. Very small patrol boats, armed and manned by special forces hugged the coast of East Pakistan and destroy ships close to Chittagong, Khulna and Chalna harbours using covert & overt means. This blockaded these harbours in quick time.
An offensive was also launched by the Aircraft Carrier Vikrant on the eastern seaboard. Her Sea hawk fighters and Alize Anti Submarine aircraft repeatedly bombed all harbours of East Pakistan. This action lasting over a week, blocked exit of ships from East Pakistan and left no option for either logistics support or fleeing of Pakistani troops out of East. During this time, the Indian Army was making rapid advance towards Dhaka under complete air superiority achieved by innovative bombing of targets in East Pakistan by Indian Air Force.
Deployment of Maritime Air Power therefore, in one theatre of war, and deployment of surface and sub surface power in the other, succeeds. It reinforced Navy’s long held believe in tactical maritime air power, particularly when adversarial objectives are geographically displaced over vast distances.
Presence of USS Enterprise in the Bay of Bengal demonstrated that super powers can use military power to support allies even if they were involved in committing mass human rights violations. It also exposed friends & foes. A lesson for statecraft.
Another dimension of warfare ie Anti Submarine warfare too was put in action. Loss of INS Khukri, an anti submarine frigate, taught the Navy the necessity of modernisation of ASW platforms, sensors and weapons. ASW has remained, to date, a priority area of Navy’s war preparedness. Conversely, Pakistani submarine Ghazi having traversed from Arabian Sea to Bay of Bengal undetected exposed Navy’s underbelly then. Ever since, Navy’s focus on ASW has been on high priority.
While no two wars will be identical, the Navy tasted blood for the first time and used firepower in all three dimension that Navies operate in, surface, sub surface and air. New areas of warfare have emerged since, cyber, information, space, nuclear and artificial intelligence. Therefore, newer assets will have to be inducted and so will be new methods of their application.
It is necessary now to focus more on maritime security. This is now being done by the present government of Prime Minister Modi. Maritime security finds leading space in all bilateral agreements with many countries, more so post emergence of Indo Pacific challenges. However, the budgetary allocations to the Navy need enhancement.
Vital role of maritime power in any future contestation in the world is indisputable. The prosperity of a country is dependent on the seas, and hence its judicious exploitation and security. The sea lanes of communication need to be kept open for trade and commerce by the global commons. And that is possible by strictly following UNCLOS and rule based order. Navy’s role in ensuring compliance of UNCLOS by all seafarers is unquestionable. Our Navy too needs to be suitably equipped and manned for such enforcements.
In the recent past there have been cases of complete rejection of judgments given by Permanent Court of Arbitration of the International Court of Justice. There have been cases of complete disregard to ocean ecology. The important choke points of Indian Ocean is being militarised giving rise to suspicions intents of countries. Indian Navy will be called upon to prevent/deter maritime conflicts in the Indo-Pacifc. While a full fledged conflict would be harmful to every country, contestation for resources and geopolitical superiority cannot be ruled out. To deter a full blown conflict, strong and capable Navy is mandatory. The weaknesses which were observed during the L Liberation War, must always be kept in the forefront by planners.
While two and half front war over land borders has become new reality for India and the Armed Forces are gearing up, the Navy always had two fronts in the form of Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. Force structures exist to tackle those realities. The capacities would have to be gradually scaled up to incorporate new domains. Artificial intelligence, Cyber, Space, Information and hypersonic are new vistas of warfare calling for changes in the manner that we will fight future wars. The joint command structure is one such change which is in the pipeline. This would have to be supplemented by budgeting for equipping and developing joint war fighting doctrines. It must accommodate all the principles of warfare which itself is in the process of rapid transformation.