The Indian Ocean, with an area of 68.56 million sq km, is the third largest body of water in the world and covers about 20% of the earth’s surface. The Indian Ocean accounts for the transportation of the highest tonnage of goods in the world, with almost 100,000 ships transiting its expanse annually. On its waters are carried two-thirds of the world’s oil shipments, one-third of bulk cargo traffic and half the world’s container shipments.
The importance of the seas and dynamics of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) maritime environment point to the need for maintaining stability, security and safety at sea, particularly in the IOR. This would enable use of the seas to progress economic development, and provide the appropriate maritime environment for unfettered pursuit of national interests.
The absence of requisite level of safety and security adversely affects the maritime environment and all activities therein, including maritime trade, shipping, fishing, natural and energy resource extraction, security of our seaborne, off-shore and coastal assets, etc. Also, India remains a predominantly maritime trading nation even today. India’s economy is critically dependent on the seas for conduct of trade. More than 90% of our trade by volume and 77% by value is transported over the seas. For a growing economy seeking new markets worldwide, these trade figures will only spiral upwards in the years to come.
The International Sea Lanes and the Sea Lines of Communication form an integral part of the worldwide shipping lanes and commerce. Every nation, strives to protect these so as to maintain her national integrity and ensure uninterrupted flow of trade to its shores. This is all the more critical during hostile operations. The choking of the Sea Lanes of Communications can lead to non availability of fuel and military supplies for the enemy, thus ensuring an early and favourable end to a conflict. Securing own lanes of communications also ensures that own flow of fuel and military stores remains uninterrupted.
The Pakistan Army’s misadventure in the Kargil and Drass Sector in 1999 led to one of the fiercely fought land wars by the Indian Army. The Indian Navy’s reaction to the land war was swift. Named Operation Talwar, the aggressive manoeuvring and posturing of the Western Fleet in the North Arabian Sea kept the Sword Arm ready to strike both the Pakistani naval ships and their ports.The forward posturing by the Indian Navy resulted in Pakistani naval units being bottled close to home ports evading action and resulting in the conflict coming to an early end. The large presence of Indian warships in what was termed by defence analyst as the ‘soft underbelly ‘of Pakistan – the Gulf Sea Lines which supply eighty percent of Pakistan’s requirements of oil and petroleum products – had the required effect of forcing Pakistan to climb down from the heights of Kargil, Drass and Batalik. In operational terms, this forward deployment of the IN achieved a triad of objectives: protection of own offshore assets, prevention of any misadventure by the Pakistan Navy close to the Indian coast, and the exercise of maritime superiority. If the land war escalated, the Navy had the option to open another front, the aim being to neutralise the enemy’s Navy and choke her oil supplies that flowed along the sea lines of communication from the Persian Gulf.
The IN was again mobilised after the attack on the Indian Parliament in Dec 2002 in an operation codenamed Operation Parakram. This complete mobilisation of the armed forces for a defined period was a posture which had not been ordered even at the height of the Kargil crisis. The ships sustained themselves for over seven months at sea carrying out various exercises and operational manoeuvres including sustained flying operations from the aircraft carrier INS Viraat.