The Indian Navy is playing an important role in the Indo-Pacific region “for a free, open and rules- based Pacific region” through constant presence, responses to situations and cooperation with friendly countries, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral R Hari Kumar said in a talk on the “Indo-Pacific challenges and way ahead”.
“Through sustained presence, credible response as well as cooperation with friends we add value to the Indo-Pacific,” the Navy chief said at a conclave held by the Synergia Foundation, a think tank, and the National Security Advisory Board in Bengaluru on the weekend.
Admiral Hari Kumar highlighted the importance of maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region for the economic prosperity of countries in the region including India while also pointing out the challenges of maintaining a rules-based environment.
“If the Bharatiya Nausena has to secure the country’s interests in the Indo-Pacific, safe and secure seas become an imperative. Given the expanse of the Indian Ocean, which is 20 times the land mass of Bharat, we recognise that no one can do it alone in the Indo-Pacific,” the chief of naval staff said. “There is a need to cooperate with like-minded partners.”
“We recognise that each Navy in the Indo-Pacific region brings unique capabilities to the table. Expertise, area knowledge, area understanding, nuances, intelligence, information, technology, geographical locations and so on. We harness this to tackle common challenges together creating a participative, inclusive ecosystem rather than an elitist one,” he said.
In the Indo-Pacific region, where India is allied with developed nations like the US to protect economic interests, the tensions are high on several fronts, the Navy chief said.
“China, for instance, is pushing the envelope with unilateral actions, encroachments in the South China Sea or with alter or expansionist designs in the Indian Ocean with the acquisition of ports and bases,” Admiral Hari Kumar indicated.
“In what many see as a response—the AUKUS deal (a trilateral security partnership for the Indo-Pacific between the US, UK and Australia inked in 2021) has added to the mix of an already nuclearised region as almost all nuclear weapon states are either located in the Indo-Pacific or have a military presence,” he said.
The Indo-Pacific is home to nine of the 10 largest standing armies, seven of the 10 highest defence spenders, and with 105 active conflicts—it accounts for the highest number of conflicts globally, the Navy chief said. “We are already witnessing the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict spinning out into the Red Sea and thereby into the Indo-Pacific,” he said.
“We have units deployed in the Gulf of Oman and in the Gulf of Aden also in the Red Sea for any assistance that is needed. The country is already providing humanitarian assistance to Gaza in terms of relief material. The Navy is on standby for evacuation of any nationals. We have some units deployed in the Red Sea as well,” he added.
The Indo-Pacific security ambit is as wide as its expanse and the security of the region is crucial for global trade and prosperity, he said.
“Nearly 62 per cent of the global GDP is in the region with the USA, China, Japan and Bharat—four of the top five economies are resident here. Seven of the top 10 export destinations are in the region. About half of the global trade transits through the maritime routes in the region. Nine of the 10 busiest ports in the world are in the Indo-Pacific,” he said.
“For Bharat as well, about 90 per cent of trade by volume, more than 70 per cent by value and nearly 90 percent of our oil imports are transported by the sea. As much as four fifths of Bharat’s oil, half of the natural gas and half of LPG is imported from the Indo-Pacific nations,” he said.
“Seas are the lifeline of global trade and prosperity. Most nations within the Indo-Pacific and beyond have a core interest in keeping the region free from problems. Given the random orientation of the Indo-Pacific, navies will therefore play an important role as maritime security agencies in providing a security envelope,” he said.
“Holistic maritime security cannot be achieved by the Bharatiya Nausena alone, the overarching outlook is to find regional solutions to regional problems,” he said. “In the Indo-Pacific all the stakeholders must watch with both eyes, all ears and cooperate and collaborate.”
The Indian Navy is currently a 130-ship navy with about 220 aircraft and about 67 ships and submarines of all sizes are under construction while 47 more ships and submarines have been approved, the Navy chief said.
“We have a force development programme in progress and we anticipate that by about 2035 we should be a 165- to 175-ship Navy with increased aircraft as well,” he said.