Goa Maritime Conclave and India’s Maritime Policy

Indian Navy

By Sri Krishna

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New Delhi. With a coastline of about 7,516 kms and sharing coastal boundaries with seven nations, India’s  maritime cooperation policy in Indian Ocean, SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) focuses on strengthening relations with countries in the region to counter China’s “String of Pearls.”

As Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Karambir Singh said the Navy was monitoring the Chinese naval and maritime assets deployed in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) for any activities “inimical to our interests”. The Indian Navy has been closely monitoring the activities of the PLA Navy specially in the wake of the ongoing tension along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on the Sino-Indian border. What assumes importance is the Chinese naval base in Djibouti and the supply of armaments to Pakistan including a submarine recently.

The holding of the Goa Maritime Conclave (GMC) was to carry forward SAGAR and through which India hopes to enhance engagement with its maritime neighbours to build their maritime security capacities. This would be accomplished through cooperation, which would include information exchanges, coastal surveillance, infrastructure construction and capability enhancement.

The GMC which was  attended by Navy Chiefs and heads of Maritime forces from 12 countries  was followed up by the Goa Maritime Symposium (GMS) which chalked out an Action Plan for the nations of the region.

The theme for this year’s GMC  was “Maritime Security and Emerging Non-Traditional Threats: The case for Proactive Role for Indian Ocean Region Navies.” The aim of the conclave was to bring together a smaller group of navies in the immediate neighbourhood, look at the common challenges faced by them and forge tangible solutions to key issues.

It brought together practitioners and scholars to discuss these challenges followed by  an exclusive session where the naval heads discussed one-on-one the way forward to these challenges.

The Goa Conclave is also significant in that it gave an opportunity to discuss a wide range of issues such as  information sharing, hydrographic cooperation, maritime law enforcement, training, opportunities in disaster response, crisis management. In keeping with the practice, each  GMC is followed by a Goa Maritime Symposium (GMS) to follow up discussions and work to bring them to fruition through an action plan that will be presented back again to the heads of navies.

Some of the outcomes feed into certain other constructs such as the Colombo Security Conclave. It also gave  greater visibility on some issues like Information Fusion Centre for Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR). These interactions enabled the participating countries to learn the best practices followed in these nations.

There is an imperative need to keep seas open and this has been one of the issues on the forefront in the South China Sea where China is seeking to dominate. The need to keep seas open is imperative for as the Indian Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh said 99% of  communications are running through undersea cables, and commerce, because 90% of our trade is through the seas, is 70% by value and 90% by volume.

Another area of focus for the Navies in the wake of the developments in Afghanistan where Taliban has come to power and organizations like ISIS are active, is narco-terrorism and there is a connection between drug trafficking and arms trafficking. Organisations like ISIS Khorasan depend a fair amount on the money that they make out of drugs.

“We have intelligence that indicates that there is a flow of drugs from the Makran coast, down to the East coast of Africa from where it moves to the island nations, which are tourism dependent economies, and then to Sri Lanka and India and also across the world,” the Navy Chief commented.

The Mission Based Deployments (MBDs) which was started in 2017 have been of immense value to the Indian Navy for as the Navy chief said “when ships are on regular deployment in key areas in the IOR, they increase their familiarity with the area of operation. We are also available for response in any situation.”

The MBD has actually transformed the Navy from a deployment-ready Navy to a deployed Navy and there is a need  to continue with this particular method of deployment. The MBDs are regularly analysed in detail specially  the gains made and the challenges faced. MBDs are not static in one place, they are constantly analysed and reviewed.

India inking agreements like LEMOA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement) with USA and logistics agreements with Australia and Japan are indeed significant since Indian Navy  ships are  able to take fuel from their tankers.

The main thing that navies require is ‘Reach and Sustenance’. These are two very important principles on which any Navy operates. The agreements including foundational agreements, have helped the Indian Navy in being able to achieve this ‘Reach and Sustenance’, which is very important for us, the Navy Chief said.

The Navy’s Maritime Capability Perspective Plan (MCPP) focusing on acquisition of capability to protect  national interests in the maritime domain is expected to undergo some changes   with the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) coming in, who are looking into the joint aspects. There is now the Integrated Capability Development Plan (ICDP).

In keeping with Navy’s  30-year submarine programme, the Project-75 is now moving on track. The submarine arm of the Indian Navy got a boost as it will be commissioning the fourth Scorpene submarine Vela by month-end. And thereafter, in short succession, the fifth and sixth Scorpenes will join. They bring with them quite a good capability, a modern submarine with good armament. Meanwhile, the SSKs – 209s (German HDWs) and EKMs (Russian Kilo) are being put through the Medium Refit Life Certification (MRLC) process which will give them an additional life of 10 to 15 years.

This becomes imperative considering the speed with which PLA Navy is building its submarine fleet which according to available information stands at 66 and China has three fleets of submarine – North Sea Fleet, East Sea Fleet and South Sea Fleet.

Another area of focus of the Indian Navy is the unmanned area for which a road map was unveiled recently. In keeping with this plan, there will be a transition phase where it will first shift from manned to optimally manned, then a manned-unmanned hybrid kind of concept and then in certain disciplines, will move to fully unmanned.

The Navy Chief said, “This unmanned is very intimately wedded to the Indian Navy’s concept of operations and most importantly, we have looked at how we balance this fleet of manned and unmanned, including manned unmanned teaming. Thereafter, we also looked at what are the Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) because it’s not just the platform, but unmanned systems will have to be part of the entire philosophy of operations.”