Fighting the naval battle

Source: The post is based on an article “Fighting the naval battle” published in Business Standard on 2nd December 2022.

Syllabus: GS 3 – Security

Relevance: challenges associated with the Indian Navy

News: The Exercise Malabar was conducted recently by the navies of four quadrilateral countries — Australia, India, Japan and the United States of America.

What is the importance of Malabar exercise?

This year’s Malabar exercise was hosted by Japan with focus on countering China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to take over Taiwan or to enforce its claims over the South China Sea and East China Sea.

Malabar exercise creates “inter-operability” by making the four partner navies cooperate in fighting the opponent.

This exercise helps countries to show their capability in fighting one of the major threats, i.e., Chinese PLA Navy, or PLAN. It also helps India to show the capabilities of its Navy in detecting the submarine of the opponent among others.

This kind of simulated “locate-identify-destroy drills” is carried by QUAD Navies every year.

What does the law say regarding the war on the sea?

India signed and ratified the United Nations Commission on Laws of the Seas (UNCLOS) which lays down laws for the seas. UNCLOS contains the law of Mare Liberum (law of the Open Seas).

According to the law of Mare Liberum, seas are mankind’s common heritage and everyone enjoys freedom of action on the high seas.

Further the law says that if two nations declare war on each other, they can destroy or seize each other’s vessels anywhere in the world.

For example, if India and China were at war, Mare Liberum permits both to legally destroy each other’s shipping in the Atlantic or the Southern Ocean. Moreover, India currently faces threat from its neighbours’ Navy.

What threat does India face from the Navy of its neighbours?

India faces a threat currently from two neighbours – Chinese Navy and Pakistan’s Navy.

The Chinese Navy is certainly a major concern as it has been increasing its presence in the Indian Ocean and it is also the fastest growing navy of the world. However, there is a little threat from Pakistan’s Navy.

According to a report, if the Indian Navy brought all its power on the Pakistan Navy fleet, it would cease to exist within 24-48 hours. Therefore, Pakistan would never try to engage with India in the sea.

However, it would rely on its shore-based air force to fight which might be a concern for the Indian Navy.

Therefore, the introduction of enhanced long-range surface-to- air missiles (LR-SAM) serve the purpose. It provides air defence capability to the India Navy and it also allows the Indian Navy to approach the Pakistani coast with greater efforts.

Earlier there were threats from Pakistani long-range maritime patrol (LRMP) aircraft but India’s LR-SAM has more potential than LRMP as LR-SAM has 70-kilometre range compared to LRMP’s range of about 50 kilometres.

Furthermore, the LR-SAM system has been inducted in INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant with launching facilities for MiG-29K fighters from their decks. Therefore, this has decreased the threat arising out of Pakistan’s LRMP.

What is the way ahead?

Even though Pakistan’s Navy does not possess a concern but Chinese PLAN has been increasing its base in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and in the East African States.

Therefore, grouping such as QUAD and AUKUS needs to have proper strategies to counter China in the Indo-Pacific.

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