Author – NinjaMonkey ( You can follow him on twitter for more geo-political analysis)
In 2005 the US firm Booze Allen Hamilton came up with the “string of pearls” hypothesis, which postulated that China will try to expand its naval presence by building civilian maritime infrastructure along the Indian Ocean periphery.
The raison d’être for this “String” is China’s utter dependence on Mideast oil, all of which must be shipped to China via the IOR .This Oil must pass through the major Chokepoints of the Strait of Mandeb, the Strait of Malacca, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Lombok Strait any of which can be clocked by a potential adversary in order to starve the Chinese Economy and Military of Fuel required to operate.
It is to counter this major Handicap that China Started building the “string” which loosely put is a set of 8 bases/ports in the Indian Ocean region where forward based Chinese forces will be able to respond swiftly to ensure no such blockade can be imposed. The key bases in the Vicinity of India with an explicit military purpose are
1) Gwadar, Pakistan occupied Baluchistan
2) Multiple airstrips in the Maldives
3) Djibouti, Africa
4) Coco Islands, Myanmar
Apart from these there are ports being built by the Chinese in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Tanzania which may or may not be used for military purposes depending on the Host government’s insistence.
India for its part needs to counter this strategy by building a credible A2/AD capability to ensure the Chinese Bases are easily neutralized and the primacy of the Indian Navy remains unchallenged in the IOR. In order to do this we must learn from the Chinese in how they on their end successfully implemented an A2/AD strategy Vis a Vis the USN. While this stratagem was primarily designed by the PLAN to deter a conventional American CBG/Task force from supporting Taiwanese/ South East Asian militaries in the case of a conflict over Taiwan/ South China Sea. It is imperative that we learn from it and adapt it to create a counter A2/AD strategy designed to deter a PLAN task force from entering the IOR (in the case of hostilities). This stratagem can also be adapted to render all surface assets of the PN Obsolete.
“The success of any major operation or campaign depends on the free movement
of one’s forces in the theater. Without the ability to conduct large-scale movements
on land, at sea, and in the air, operational warfare is essentially an empty concept.”
-Dr. Milan Vego
For long warfare has been about two basic types of strategy
1) Total domination/ Sea Control/ Air space supremacy.
2) Guerilla warfare/ Sea Denial/ Air space denial.
The People’s Republic of China has added a new fact in the form of their A2/AD stratagem. It basically means that while the Chinese military recognizes its deficiencies and acknowledges the very real threat Chinese forces face from American carrier based and land based airpower nevertheless the Chinese shall deny the Americans the freedom to utilize their carriers in any future conflict.
Any A2/AD capability can be divided into two broad categories of assets
a) Diplomatic assets friendly bases/ allies/shared Intel
b) Military assets these can further be subdivided into
1) Detection-Sensors/radars/Intel assets
2) Interdiction-Missiles/ships/submarines/aircraft i.e. operational military assets
Diplomatic Assets- The Indian Ocean Region is Ringed by nations that have had a deep civilizational connect with India , However Cultural and civilizational connect does not add up to leverage unless we are willing to loosen purse strings to buy influence and access into the region. India slept on this critical requirement for the last three decades (the last time we saw India exercise her muscles in the IOR was during the Rajiv Era Operation Cactus). In recent Years However we have seen India lease two Islands from Mauritius and Seychelles to develop our own set of South Indian Ocean Bases.The Work on these bases “Agalega” & “Assumption” is in progress and in a few years we shall also have a fully functional Airbase on Assumption Island in the Seychelles. India Also maintains a listening post in Madagascar and has extensive defense cooperation and Berthing rights for Naval Vessels in Oman & the UAE. India is also working towards development of Trincomalee Harbour in Sri Lanka and Chahbahar in Iran as Naval Bases to Help Control and monitor the Flow of shipping in the IOR. India has also just started to nurture a Security relationship with Kenya, Tanzania and Indonesia. India also has the option of asking for limited logistical access to US bases in the region most notable being the secretive Base at Diego Garcia.
That said as said earlier we will need to buy influence and support these nations in their developmental tasks in order to retain and grow these relationships into the future. China is slowly pulling Tanzania and Djibouti into Debt traps with 10$Bn AND 14$bn of investment just as it has put the Sri Lankans in a spot with Hambantota. India needs to help her allies out of such debt traps by ensuring cheap credit which will help them pay off such crippling loans.
Military Assets-The First thing to be looked at and strengthened is obviously assets that shall let us detect OPFOR fleet movements in the IOR. Space based assets are an important part of any modern ELINT network and in the last few decades the Chinese have set up an impressive array of assets designed to detect Fleet movements from space. This is primarily based on three complementing sets of “Yaogan “Satellites 36 of which have been launched. These satellites are basically of three types SAR satellites, Optical imagery remote sensing satellites and Ocean reconnaissance satellites. Recently the Chinese have also launched three large area ocean electronic surveillance satellites. While we too have a rudimentary capability already deployed in the shape of the CARTOSAT series and the RISAT series, we however need to build & launch many more similar satellites and put in place a complete Orbiting ELINT system comprehensively covering the Indian Ocean before we can develop a detection capability rivaling the Chinese net over the South China Sea. We have however developed one of the most modern & robust airborne surveillance fleets with the P8I, Do-228 & IL-38SD aircraft looking out for threats over our seas. That said with only 12 P8I on the cards we need to acquire at least 12 more to ensure constant surveillance of our maritime borders.
The second key aspect of a proper detection system is RADAR coverage the Chinese have deployed a number of large OTH B and OTH SW(Surface wave)radars to cover the South & East China Sea and we can expect to see OTH radars deployed in Tibet to give the Chinese a bird’s eye view of Aviation in India soon enough. We need to develop or acquire OTH radars and deploy them along our coastline and in “Fortress Andaman” if we are ever to detect incursions into the IOR region in real time. The power of such Radar can be gauged from the fact that the Russian “Container” system if deployed at Chandigarh would be able to detect Aircraft landing and taking off at Tehran Airport, the whole of Pakistani airspace would be under constant surveillance rendering the idea of surprise assaults like carried out by the PAF in 65 Obsolete. We need to build such a system in collaboration with Russia or even the Iranians who are already well into deploying such an OTH radar called Sepehr.
The Third and Final key to building a complete detection capability is by sensing underwater craft. The Chinese have already completed in Lingshui, Hainan Province the detection and analysis centre for a large fixed undersea network of Hydrophones that shall let them listen in on American and other Submarines operating in the South and East China Seas, the Chinese have also followed this up with the building and deployment of a large number of aerial and surface based Submarine detection and hunting assets. The primary role of the PLAN SSK fleet is to act as final detection asset and the spear protecting this shield as well. The SSN and SSBN fleets are however designed to operate far from home. There is no current danger here unlike in the case of OTH Radars that the Chinese shall deploy such an Array in the IOR as well .We however need to build up a similar Array in the IOR to detect submarine threats operating on both our western and eastern seaboard, we shall also need to deploy a deep sea array around the Malacca’s to ensure that PLAN submarines cannot operate in the IOR with impunity. In April 2016 Reports started emerging indicating that India was in an advanced stage of discussions regarding installation of an extension of the US ”Fish Hook” Submarine detection array into the Indian Ocean. Japan had reportedly agreed to fund much of the Hydrophone array stretching from Chennai to Port Blair, exact status on this secretive project remains unclear though.
Mere detection is only part of the Puzzle and we also need to augment our forces to be able to tackle the superior numbers of vessels the PLAN can unleash in the case of any conflict. Once again we must learn from our adversaries on how they tackled the threat of a technologically and numerically advanced USN using Island bases, Land based Anti-shipping missiles & a large number of comparatively cheaper and easier to build SSK’s and Missile boats.
India needs to start work on turning the Andaman islands into an unsinkable carrier and a fortress that will impede any PLAN force from entering into the IOR as I had written on DFI earlier we need to take lessons from Taiwan on making the islands impregnable using a network of underground island airbases equipped with SU-30 & LCA, interlinked Radars and long range Anti-ship missile batteries (Brahmos (450km& 800km versions).
The Indian Navy has planned for a 200 ship navy by 2027, The PLAN operates some 14 nuclear Submarines &57 SSK’s today this number will only increase as the years go by. Apart from these The PLAN operates some 496 Combat vessels and 232 auxiliaries as on date. The Indian Navy has planned to deploy a 6SSBN+6SSN+20 SSK fleet by 2030 to counter the subsurface threat posed by the PLAN. However much of this fleet will be formed by 8 ageing kilo class boats well past their prime, we should extend the Scorpene line to 10 boats while simultaneously starting work to ensure the P75I can be completed on time. That said I stand by my earlier assessment that the IN would do well to buy 10 Improved KILO boats off the shelf while pursuing development of an indigenous SSK capability.
We cannot match the PLAN fleet if we keep concentrating on major vessels alone as these will take time to build. I believe the Indian Navy needs to start work on a cheap capable oceangoing corvette class that can be inducted in large numbers. I personally believe we will need at least 60 corvettes divided into six flotillas of ten each. So as to form a numerically large skirmisher force to harass or deter OPFOR operations in the IOR. Israel has just started construction of the SA’AR 6 class corvettes at a cost of only 120$Mn each. These vessels will be armed with 32 BARAK-8 SAMs and 16 Ashms each & shall have a MF-STAR radar as well. Essentially making them pocket Kolkata class destroyers at only 1/5th the cost of a full scale destroyer. We should concentrate on building such vessels to offset the numerical advantage the PLAN has in terms of destroyers etc.
Breaking the Stranglehold of Military bases, indebted states and military assets that the Chinese have started building around us will not be easy. The present Indian Government has begun to put some of the pieces required to break the string into place, India will need to use all her assets from cultural ties to financial support and military prowess to ensure the string is broken and stays broken . Reclaiming our Ocean from Interlopers needs to be turned into a goal
Pic Credits to owners