New Delhi – One of the important developments during the tenure of present Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral R K Dhowan, has been the revision and replacement of the Navy’s official publication, “Freedom to Use the Seas: India’s Maritime Military Strategy” (2007) by “Ensuring Secure Seas: Indian Maritime Security Strategy” (2015). It was released by defence minister Manohar Parrikar at the Naval Commanders Conference on October 26, 2015. The latest publication, now in public domain, provides an insight into the rationale for strengthening India’s maritime security in the coming years.
It may be noted that the Navy had promulgated the “Indian maritime Doctrine” in 2004. It was revised in 2009. This, along with the 2007 publication (Maritime Military Strategy), had “articulated the Navy’s maritime strategic outlook, defined the parameters of its employment, provided overreaching guidance for its evolution as a combat force”. It had four principal features. First, major sea lanes of the world are crucially important for India, particularly those that ensure the free flow of oil and commerce from the Gulf of Aden to the Asia-Pacific (termed Indo-Pacific these days) region. Here, the security of the so-called choke points such as the Strait of Hormuz between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, Bab-el-Mandeb at the southern access to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, the Strait of Malacca between Sumatra and Malaysia, the Sunda Strait between the Indian Ocean and Borneo and the Lombok Strait between the Indian Ocean and the Sulawesi is highly relevant. All the more so as India’s global mercantile trade has grown phenomenally and now constitutes about 43% of its GDP. As much as 77% of India’s trade by value, and over 90% by volume is carried by sea.
Secondly, the maritime dimension is also vital for India’s energy security. Today India imports over 70% of its oil requirements and it is estimated that by 2050 India will be the largest importer of oil in the world. India’s economic growth would continue to be critically dependent on the unhindered flow of oil. India also imports coal from ten countries, (including Mozambique, South Africa, Indonesia and Australia), many of which are Indian Ocean littorals. This is also true of its LNG imports (from Qatar, Malaysia, Indonesia and South Africa). A new development of late has been India’s acquisition of oil and gas fields across the globe. Today Indian companies operate tank farms in Trincomalee (Sri Lanka) and oil and gas fields in the Sakhalin Islands(Russia), Vietnam, Myanmar, Egypt and Sudan.
Thirdly, India’s maritime interests also include the safety and wellbeing of more than five million Indians workers in the Gulf and West Asia; the significance of the remittances they send home cannot be underestimated. Besides, populations of Indian origin are scattered through the littoral states of the Indo-Pacific region. Fourthly, the Indian Ocean that presents the prospect of wealth and prosperity contains also the seeds of future conflict – undersea resources. India has a mineral rich EEZ (exclusive economic zone), currently extending over 2 (two) million sq km, and the successful exploitation of these could lift the country from economic backwardness. The country has exclusive control over the oil, gas and other living and non-living sources in this area. In fact, a substantial part of India’s economic and industrial activities is located in this area. The offshore oil and natural gas extraction activities are growing in India’s eastern as well as western coasts.
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