Already busy with coastal security, anti-piracy and blue-water operations, now terrorism worries navy
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 4th Dec 14
The navy faces the spectre of terrorism after Al Qaeda operatives tried to take control of a Pakistani warship in the Karachi harbour on September 6th, reportedly to attack US or Indian warships. Traditionally the navy has remained insulated from terrorism originating from Pakistan.
Navy chief, Admiral Robin K Dhowan, said on Wednesday that “maritime terrorism” bothered him. While army and air force units are clear about territorial jurisdictions, naval warships operate in international waters where any ship can approach another.
He said: “When the officer-of-the-watch reports to the captain, ‘We have a warship from another navy on our starboard bow’, the captain would tell the officer, ‘Wish him Good Morning’, as he is in international waters and so are you. But in this changed environment we may not wish him Good Morning any longer. Instead we might have to find out exactly who he is.”
Describing the additional responsibilities of coastal security, Dhowan said: “We have 250,000 fishing boats in the country. Any one of them could take on a couple of tonnes of explosives. We have 1,197 islands, 7615 kilometres of coastline. It is so easy for the other side and so difficult for us to guard. So it is a huge problem; any one of these vessels can be operated by these terrorist organisations.”
Addressing a press conference in New Delhi on the eve of Navy Day, which falls on December 4, Dhowan significantly shifted gears on the navy’s role. This comes after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Barack Obama cited India’s “Act East” policy in Washington in September, and agreed on “the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea.”
For years, successive navy chiefs have said India’s maritime interests in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) do not clash with China’s in the Western Pacific.
Dhowan stated, “While you could define our primary area of interest (as the Indian Ocean), the flexibility and manoeuvrability of naval forces that do not tether them to a particular distance. Wherever the maritime interests of India are there, the Indian Navy will be there to protect them.”
He emphasised the benign nature of India’s naval power, describing India’s role as “cooperative engagement” with the IOR’s 35 navies, including China’s.
Talking of the Indian Ocean, he said “66 per cent of the world’s oil, 50 per cent of the world’s container traffic, and 33 per cent of the world’s cargo traffic transit through these waters.”
For that reason, said Dhowan, “A large number of navies --- 125 ships from about 20 countries --- are always present in the Indian Ocean to safeguard their maritime interests.”
“The role that the Indian Navy has envisaged for itself is in enhancing the cooperation amongst the littoral countries of the region,” said Dhowan.
In so doing, the navy was operating at its highest-ever tempo, said the chief. He described the navy’s “operational footprint” this year as extending “from Vladivostok in the east to Australia down under; to Hawaii further east, the Persian Gulf and the east coast of Africa.” Naval warships visited these places this year.
Dhowan also cited the expanded format of the navy’s annual training exercise, called Tropex. Instead of a “two-seas” exercise in the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea, Tropex this year was a “blue water” exercise, run far into the Indian Ocean.
“We used a large number of aircraft, including the (newly acquired Boeing multi-mission surveillance aircraft) P8I, and a nuclear submarine, all linked through the navy’s Rukmini satellite. This was unprecedented”, said Dhowan.