The task of defending India’s maritime borders falls on the Indian Navy. As Navy Day was celebrated, its Chief highlighted the challenges that the force faces in the Indian Ocean and spoke of the need for greater budget allocation. Increasing Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean, as well as aggressive Chinese attempts to find fresh-water ports in littoral states, have been a cause of concern. The ‘String of Pearls’ in the Indian Ocean region has long been a Chinese geopolitical strategic maxim. It has achieved a considerable measure of success in establishing facilities that serve its naval and commercial interests. Chinese presence in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, and its developing the Gwadar Port in Pakistan as a military base have rightly been causes of concern for Indian strategists.
The Navy, therefore, has a significant challenge. It needs more ships, and as its Chief has rightly suggested that even before that happens, upgrade of the existing vessels can go a long way. Admiral Karambir Singh’s practical approach would work admirably since electronic and other enhancements would be force multipliers even as new ships are planned and built. His plea for the restoration of the budget to what it was — 18 per cent of the total defence budget, rather than the present 14 per cent — is also prudent. He is certainly not asking for the moon.
The Navy’s role in defending the territorial waters of the country does not get the attention it deserves. It has played a significant role in wars, including the 1971 Indo-Pak conflict where it got a real chance to show its mettle by blockading Karachi on the one hand, and successfully blockading East Pakistan with the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant on the other. Subsequently, it has been integral to various military operations. It has also carried out humanitarian missions and anti-piracy patrols. The Navy has every reason to be proud of its service to the nation. The need for an adequate budget is a fundamental one and should be fulfilled without much delay.