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'We have a long way to go'

February 23, 2005 13:47 IST
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The writing on the wall is clear for the armed forces to read: there is no future in importing weapon systems from abroad, believes Admiral Arun Prakash.

"It is a trap," he said, "which creates a vicious circle of dependence on unreliable foreign sources and spiralling prices."

In an exclusive interview, the Chief of the Naval Staff shares his perceptions about the Indian Navy with Bharat Verma, Editor, Indian Defence Review.

With the global security environment now focused onĀ Asia-Pacific, the Indian Ocean region has become critically important to many major powers. How does the Indian Navy see its role in safeguarding India's security interests from traditional as well as non-traditional threats?

Containing, as it does, island nations, island chains, archipelagos, peninsular countries, as well as those with long coastlines, the destiny of much of the Asia-Pacific region is inextricably linked with the oceans. Several of the world's busiest straits and passages, in this region, control shipping traffic and thus assume strategic and economic importance.

Coastal and offshore resources, as well as maritime trade are the principal contributors to the economies of most countries in the region. Moreover, for most countries, security threats can only come over the seas, and thus the littoral has assumed great significance.

First Look: Indian Navy's new ship

Today Asia-Pacific contains almost 4 billion of the world's over 6 billion people and accounts for 60% of the world's GDP. By 2020, seven of the ten largest economies in the world will be in this region, making the 21st century truly the Asia-Pacific Century. While the region holds great economic promise, it also contains the potential for conflict in several areas, and has lately become prey to the scourge of terrorism.

For India, the Asia-Pacific region holds immense promise for political, economic and military cooperation, and the key role that maritime forces can play, makes the Indian Navy a key component of any national strategy towards this region.

As far as the actual role of the Indian Navy in the region is concerned, we feel that it can be the catalyst for peace, harmony and tranquillity, in the Indian Ocean Region, across the spectrum of conflict. This can be achieved through the imaginative use of the Navy in three classical roles.

The first is maritime diplomacy by which we engage other maritime nations and extend our hand of friendship and cooperation.

The second pertains to our robust presence in the region, which should contribute to stability;

and the third is a strong deterrent posture with the ability to firstly, prevent conflict, and then respond, should it become necessary.

The new security environment calls for military engagement with regional and extra-regional countries and India has entered into defence cooperation agreements with many of them in the last decade. Since the Navy will have to play the lead role in such interfaces, how do you see them developing and what sort of capabilities are needed for this proactive peacetime activity?

India's growing international stature gives it strategic relevance in the area ranging from the Persian Gulf to the Strait of Malacca. The period after the end of the Cold War has seen a more coordinated use of the Indian Navy in conformity with some of our foreign policy objectives -- our evolving relationship with the US, France and the UK, as well as the 'Look East' policy are examples that spring to mind.

The initiation of bilateral and multilateral exercises, most notably the Malabar Exercises with the US Navy, the Varuna series with France, and the Milan gatherings in Port Blair were not merely military interactions but also contained a certain political message.

'Navy will be leaner force with more punch'

In the post 9/11 period, the stabilising role of the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean Region has been acknowledged and recognised by all major and minor navies in the region. As already stated, we have also recognised the value of cooperative security and have consequently held over 24 joint exercises with foreign navies in the past two years. Defence agreements or MoUs with several countries like Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam have also been concluded and some more are in the pipeline.

In my opinion, our Navy's international maritime cooperation initiatives should be tailored to the needs of the individual country and its strategic alignments, as also the capability of its navy.

Gorshkov to cost $1.68 billion

For example, a major navy like the US Navy may seek cooperation only in coalition or alliance building missions. Smaller navies, which constitute the bulk in Asia-Pacific, on the other hand, need assistance in a greater variety of missions, and they are actively seeking our cooperation in fields such as training, joint exercises, surveillance, etc. I see this as a tremendous growth area, which will need sustained efforts and a synergy between the MEA (ministry of external affairs)and MoD (defence ministry), in the coming years.

We have also been laggards in rendering material assistance, which is often sought by our maritime neighbours, and which has great potential for not only defence export promotion, but also for building strategic bonds.

The growing dimension of maritime interests in India's security concern requires credible sea power in the northern Indian Ocean at the very least and even beyond.

Courtesy: Indian Defence Review

Don't forget to catch the next part of Admiral Arun Prakash's interview!

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