The Indian Ocean, the third largest Ocean in the world, is perhaps the most significant of all the Oceans, being the bridge between Asia, Africa and Europe as well as the economic life line of both developed and developing countries. But the threats to the security of the Indian Ocean have become manifold in the post-Cold War period. The traditional balance of power that existed during the Cold War, due to the naval presence of the Superpowers, exists no more, though the United States remains the pre-eminent naval power in the region, to provide no guarantee to the security of the littoral countries, while remaining focused on safeguarding its own strategic interests.
The military objectives of the US – in the Cold war years – were essentially to: (a) protect US economic interests in the Persian Gulf; (b) Employ or threaten force in support of US diplomatic objectives in the Middle East; (c) Secure the Indian Ocean air and sea routes against harassment and interdiction, (d) Intervene in support of others to keep its objective in the littoral states and related to all these, and (e) deploy strategic nuclear forces when necessary to project its power.
These have largely remained unchanged except that the Indian Ocean region is now confronted with countless threats emanating from non-military sources like drug-trafficking, proliferation of small arms, disequilibrium caused by demographic movements, mounting domestic violence entailing potential of cross-border spillover, trans-border terrorism, ethno-religious civil strife and other related factors. Their containment requires both greater economic interaction among the member countries of the region and cooperation amongst them on security-related issues, especially for the protection of the sea lanes of communication, for energy supplies.
In these circumstances induction of INS Vikramaditya – after nearly 13 years for its transformation from the Russian aviation cruiser Admiral FSS Gorshkov to its re-commissioning as an Indian aircraft carrier – will be a game changer. Its array of weapon systems on board, will include a fleet of MiG-29K fighter aircrafts, Kamov helicopters and missiles, through which INS Vikramaditya will exercise enormous sea control in 450 mile radius, packing a huge military punch, in war and in peace. In short, its a floating airfield that’s a major strategic asset and a force multiplier, as India’s two earlier aircraft carriers had shown, INS Vikrant (in the 1971 war) and INS Viraat (during the 2004 tsunami).
As India becomes more actively engaged in military diplomacy in Asia, its maritime role would only increase. Moreover, India’s position on the map allows it to provide security in a critical part of the global commons. In fact, it is with the potential roles of the Indian navy in mind, America’s National Intelligence Council has coined a new term, of a ‘Net Security Provider’. As the only Asian country to maintain an aircraft carrier group, the role of the Indian navy from the Middle East to the straits of Malacca cannot be underestimated. And an aircraft carrier- apart from nuclear weapon armed submarines -is formidable platform for such a purpose.
Vikramaditya’s induction will fulfill the Navy’s long standing goal of having an aircraft carrier group operational on either side of peninsular India, to project power across the Indian Ocean. Once fully operational, the Vikramaditya’s commencement of duties will roughly coincide with the Chinese carrier Liaoning, also a Soviet era ship, now repaired and upgraded. But while the Indian navy has decades of experience in operating aircraft carriers with a high degree of (NATO standard) professionalism, the Chinese are still to master this business, which they will, with ruthless efficiency. However, whether India would go along with the American effort to counter the growing might of the Chinese, specially in the Indo-Pacific Oceans, or restrict itself to the blue waters of the Indian Ocean with over 50 littoral states, will have to be seen.
To know more about Maroof Raza, visit: www.maroofraza.com