india's navy is the finest in the region, despite years of neglect by the usual anti-national suspects. and there 's nothing like a navy to project power long-range, even today.
Subject: Indian Navy: Synergising Diplomacy & Operations by Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Navy: Synergising Diplomacy And Operations
In a significant development, January 2006 witnessed two important events for the Indian Navy. At the operational level, the Indian Navy commissioned its UAV Squadron, Indian Naval Air Squadron (INAS) 342 comprising 12 Israeli-built Herons and Searcher Mark II, Headquarters, Southern Naval Command at Kochi. According to Admiral Arun Prakash, "After three years of intensive flying trials, we are now among the pioneers in the esoteric art of UAV operations at sea. INAS 342 is going to be an asset, which will enhance our maritime domain awareness manifold."
The UAVs were first inducted into the Indian Navy in early 2003 and formed part of the Intensive Flying and Trials Unit. The Indian Navy is one of the first to operate the UAVs out in the sea in a tropical environment. Israel is now operating UAVs for maritime patrol and the United States is also experimenting with these. Naval planners the world over are convinced that UAVs are ideal for this job. The UAVs can be operated from any shore location and can be controlled from specially equipped ships. They can carry out reconnaissance hundreds of miles out at sea.
On the diplomatic front, the Indian Navy conducted the MILAN 2006. Naval personnel from several South East Asian countries participated in the naval exercises organised at Port Blair, in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. India has been hosting these biennial meetings with participants from Bangladesh, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore and Sri Lanka to foster closer cooperation among navies of countries in the Indian Ocean region. Milan 2006 also witnessed Myanmar shed its 'self- imposed maritime isolation' and dispatch UMS Anawyahta to Port Blair to participate in the event.
In their presentations, the Indian Navy announced that it has the capacity and capability to provide maritime support to the Malacca Straits littorals in keeping the Straits free of piracy and terrorism. Indian Navy's 15 warships (eight landing crafts utility, four amphibious landing ships and three fast attack craft) permanently based at Port Blair can be mobilized to join the littorals. So far Indian Navy has had only bilateral cooperation and is now looking at multilateral cooperation for the safety and security of Malacca Straits.
Interestingly, the above events are closely related. In September 2005, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand launched the "Eye in the Sky" initiative and commenced coordinated air patrols over the Malacca Straits. Under the initiative, the Malacca Straits littorals make available two maritime aircraft each to patrol the Straits. The aircraft patrol the waterway and do not cross over to the airspace of the other participants.
In 2004, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore had launched coordinated sea patrols in the Malacca Straits. This was in response to the April 2004 US led Regional Maritime Security Initiative (RMSI) that envisaged deployment of Marines and Special Forces troops on high-speed boats in the Malacca Straits to combat terrorism, proliferation, piracy, gun running, narcotics smuggling and human trafficking in the area. Malaysia and Indonesia had reacted to RMSI and had noted that the US should get permission from regional countries for such an initiative as it impinged on their national sovereignty. However, Singapore, a close US ally, had favoured the initiative, which never fructified.
New Delhi has watched with great interest the maritime security developments in the Malacca Straits. It is conscious of the sensitivities of the regional countries that are apprehensive of extra regional navies and would do anything to stop them from staking a claim in regional security. The regional countries now acknowledge the lack of capacity and capability to maintain continuous air surveillance in the Malacca Straits. None of the littorals has a large fleet of maritime patrol aircraft to provide a 24 x 7 surveillance over the Straits. Also there are no UAVs in their inventory.
It is in this context that the newly commissioned INAS 342 fits the bill. For very long duration operations, there is a need to have an appropriate mix of both manned and unmanned maritime patrol platforms. These will have to be integrated into additional sensors on aerial early warning and signals intelligence aircraft. Besides, getting information from multiple sources is the trend, and Malacca Straits littorals should think of themselves as trendsetters in this field.
An increasing number of maritime agencies are using pilot-less surveillance aircraft to patrol territorial waters, offshore oil and gas platforms and pipelines and aid in other maritime security missions such as countering human trafficking, drug smuggling and illegal fishing. UAVs could be very valuable force multipliers to enhancing security in the Malacca Straits as these platforms can provide a real or near-real time tactical picture at sea and with some sensors they can detect irregular maritime activity.
It must be mentioned that the close proximity of Andaman and Nicobar islands to the Straits of Malacca, makes India part of the Malacca Straits Security System and a valid case for the patrolling of the Straits by the Indian Navy. Here is an opportunity for the Indian Navy to offer support to the Malacca Straits littorals by way of its UAVs. These platforms can be integrated to the regional maritime air patrol effort and provide a more useful and comprehensive common picture for Total Maritime Domain Awareness (TMDA). As regards challenges from technical and procedural interoperability and doctrinal and language diversities, the solution lies in joint exercises, training and enhanced navy-to-navy contacts. Clearly, the long-term trend is towards cooperative maritime security.
Vijay Sakhuja is Senior Fellow with ORF, New Delhi.