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Indian Lake – A Broken Dream

Muhammad Azam Khan,
‘India has long dreamed to be the dominant power in the Indian Ocean’. It envisions of turning the Indian Ocean into an enormous ‘Indian lake’. Not strange therefore, many in Indian strategic community increasingly believe that the Indian Ocean must be, and must be seen to be, India’s ocean’, says David Scott, a former professor at Brunel University, London.
It was perhaps this belief that prompted first, the Indian political leadership and later Indian Navy (IN) to assign itself the title of a ‘net security provider’ in the region and beyond. The expression appears in IN’s 2015 released document, ‘Indian Maritime Security Strategy’ (IMSS). But since publication, IMSS has been widely criticized. It is said that present day IN does not measure up to the objectives and goals stated therein. This, it is alleged, is neither validated in the demonstrated professional competence nor when measured against combat preparedness of IN. Strong reasons are cited for the mismatch.
Consider this: in the last six years alone more than 25 Indian naval personnel have been killed in various mishaps involving variety of platforms. The highest number of casualties in a single accident occurred in August 2013. Eighteen sailors died following an explosion in the torpedo compartment of Sindhurakshak, a Russian Kilo class diesel-electric submarine. The submarine had 16 warheads onboard; a combination of torpedoes and Klub land attack missiles. Fortunately, only two of the warheads exploded, the rest disintegrated. Yet so powerful was the blast that it led to the sinking of the submarine while berthed at Mumbai harbour. The submarine had just completed mid-life upgrade at a cost of $80 million. A subsequent inquiry revealed violation of critical Standard Operating Procedures. In June 2016, a toxic gas leak on board Vikramaditya, the Indian aircraft carrier, killed two persons. Then in January last year, India’s prestigious daily, ‘The Hindu’, reported, that IN’s first locally constructed nuclear submarine INS Arihant has suffered major damage due to ”human error” and did not sail for more than 10 months. Arihant’s propulsion compartment, the report said, was damaged after water entered inside as a hatch on the rear side was left open by mistake while it was at harbour.
The above should hardly be inspiring for a navy dreaming to become a regional policeman.It assumes significance from another perspective. Over the past two decades or more, IN has received phenomenal strategic backing and patronage from the U.S. This has taken several forms. Joint naval manoeuvres involving carriers, nuclear submarines and other platforms; sale and provision of P8Is, the cutting edge maritime surveillance and submarine hunter aircraft, technical and operational training support for crew of Indian carriers, bilateral logistics agreement, LEMOA, renaming of US Pacific fleet as INDOPACOM etc. are to name just a few.Some of these are, of course mutually serving benefits.
Yetif there were any doubts on the vast chasm that existed between publicized objectives and combat potential of IN, the Pulwama attack on 14 February and stand-off that followed should put these to rest.In a joint press briefing by the Indian military on 28 February, the Indian Navy (IN) spokesperson had this to say, “the IN is deployed in a high state of readiness and remain poised in all three dimensions, on surface, undersea, and in air to deter, prevent and defeat any misadventure by Pakistan in the maritime domain”. He went on to add, “I can assure you of a resolute, swift and strong response by the Navy when needed”.
On 17 March, reports citing in  stated that India sent nuclear submarines, an aircraft carrier battle group and dozens of other navy ships to the North Arabian Sea (NAS) following suicide bombing in disputed Kashmir on 14th February. The veracity of the news aside, what prompted IN to issue a belated reclamation flattens common sense. Itsignals a clear incertitude, if not afterthoughts. What purpose could it serve, one may ask?
Was that meant to redeem itself? On March 4, INS Kalvari, thenewest submarine of IN,was localized by Pakistan navy (PN) yet left without being prosecuted. A few depth charges dropped or a torpedo from above by P3C Orion of PN would have made short work of Kalvari. The submarine was fortunate not to have been consigned to the bottom of the NAS under the country’s policy of“restraint”. Pakistan Navy showed restraint for overall peace in the region by not attacking the detected submarine in PN AOR. As if this was not enough of slighting for IN, earlier, INS Parable, a Veer class missile corvette on a scheduled visit to Muscat on 23 February. While at this port the incident at Pulwama took place. It’s indeed amusing that the corvette thereafter remained holed up for seven long days in the said port. Subsequently, during dark hours the ship transited to Salalah port while hugging the coast. An un-proportionate Indian Naval force comprising CVBG has to move close for safely escorting INS PARABLE from Salalah port to home waters. Pakistan Navy continuously monitored movement of the ship and entire fleet throughout in the southern IOR. This single incident reflects fear of Pakistan Navy in the minds of Indian Navy that shuttered myth of their conventional superiority too.
Regardless,the behind time statement by IN could also denote replayof an old and by now quite worn out script- to cheerlessly show its relevance to the nation using media as a propaganda tool. The overpowering value of media to shape and inflame minds and to raise false flags,at times even inane is something world witnessed 24/7 on Indian national news networks in the days following Pulwama attack.

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