Cooperation between Washington and New Delhi reached new heights on July 19, when President Bush announced his intention to provide civilian nuclear technology the world’s most populous democracy. While the announcement came in for criticism by the arms control community and will necessitate a congressional ok, with, the White House was also quick to note that India’s civilian nuclear programs are already open to international inspection and the country has a spotless record on proliferation. It is understood that the deal will also help reduce India’s dependence on imported energy sources; one of the factors that drives its relationship with Iran.
The grand reception given Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in mid-July by the Bush Administration, including the first State Dinner since the President’s reelection last year and only his fifth since taking office, suggests that the White House wishes to secure a firm partnership with the dynamic country of more than one billion persons. India may also prove to be a strategic counterweight to China’s growing global might.
While the recent elevation of the U.S.-India relationship may be centered on India’s burgeoning energy needs and its concomitant dependence on imported energy sources, it was built upon the solid foundation of cooperative military ventures conducted since the Cold War’s demise opened the door for New Delhi to reassess its strategic position both regionally and globally. U.S.-India Military Cooperation
The United States and India have cooperated with one another in the military realm since the late 1980s. In recent years, maritime piracy and terrorism and its links to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, for example, have brought about unprecedented levels of international cooperation in order to police the world’s oceans. One driver for this cooperation has been the U.S.-devised and -led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a cooperative international program designed to prevent rogue states from receiving materials and equipment used to construct weapons of mass destruction. While India is not yet a PSI participant, Washington has been keen to get New Delhi to sign on. Indian participation is important as the Indian navy has the operational capability to make its presence felt in the most vulnerable regions such along the 500-mile long Straits of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia.
India and the United States have engaged in joint naval cooperation since the mid 1990s most recently completing the Malabar 04 joint exercises in October 2004. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was in India in early December 2004 discussing a range of issues with Prime Minister Singh and Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee. Rumsfeld told reporters, “The defense relationship is a strong one and something we intend to see is further knitted together as we go forward in the months and years ahead.” Blue Water Fleet and Shipbuilding Expansion
India’s relatively recent acquisitions and modernizations are indications of their commitment to a “blue water” navy. India has commissioned new frontline warships such as the INS Brahmaputra, a Delhi-class missile frigate with major high-technology components manufactured in India. In April 2000, the Indian Navy commissioned a 24,000 ton fleet replenishment tanker, the INS Aditya. This tanker, which can double as a command platform, is a necessary component for a naval force to operate for long periods of time on the open ocean.
The navy has also refitted and modernized the INS Viraat, previously India’s only aircraft carrier, with close-in weapon systems (CIWS) for defense against sea-skimming cruise missiles, improved radar and electronic-warfare equipment, and a new communications suite.
The navy also acquired the former Soviet aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov as well as two Russian Akula II fast attack nuclear submarines. The Gorshkov deal was finalized in 2004 after years of haggling. Reportedly, the ship will undergo an extensive refit costing some $800 million to include modifications to allow the operation of the Mig-29 Fulcrum’ naval fighter, 30 of which India will take delivery of as part of the carrier purchase. Also reportedly purchased were six Kamov-31 attack and reconnaissance anti-submarine helicopters, torpedo tubes, missile systems and gun units, costing an additional $700 million. It is estimated that the ship will enter service in 2008 as the INS Vikramaditya.
India also has vast plans for keeping its shipbuilding facilities up to date. Dedicating $110.6 million of the 2005 defense budget to this purpose, India’s domestic shipbuilding facilities will be much better equipped to deal with the 19 warship orders placed over the last two years. Despite this, the Indian navy will have a difficult time keeping an adequate number of ships in their fleet as the current shipbuilding rate is but two-and-a-half per year while the navy’s retirement rate is six per year. The newly allocated money will help equalize the countries shipbuilding capabilities with the navy’s demand for new warships. India’s Strategic Imperative
India seems to have several reasons for its naval expansion. In an interview with Bharat Rakshak (www.bharat-rashak.com), a consortium of Indian military web sites, former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Madhvendra Singh said, “Today, a navy is not just for safeguarding your borders. It is also an instrument of state policy. There are common concerns like terrorism, protection of sea lines of communication, piracy and transportation of weapons of mass destruction. With the growing concern about international terrorism, it is necessary that on account of its unique location, size and potential in the Indian Ocean, India plays a more meaningful role.”
India has long desired the capability to secure its exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 nautical miles from the coastline, as well as key trade routes around the Indian Ocean. The Indian economy is one of the largest in the world and is the second largest GDP among emerging countries based on purchasing power parity. India’s textile industry is the single highest foreign exchange earner and accounts for 20 percent of India’s industrial output and about 30 percent of India’s exports. The consequences of a disruption in maritime shipping could be devastating to this industry. India therefore will look to take responsibility for ensuring free passage of goods through the Indian Ocean.
The World Energy Outlook 2002 conducted by the International Energy Agency (IEA) concluded that by the year 2030, India would have a 94 percent oil import dependency. The IEA is an international energy policy advisor serving its 26 member countries, including the U.S. Due to its dependency on imported energy sources, India faces very real risks of having that supply disrupted. U.S. overtures to share non-military nuclear technology to boost electricity production in India can be understood in this light. U.S.-India Cooperative Naval Exercises
India has pursued a cooperative relationship with the United States Navy and has entertained invitations from regional states to patrol vulnerable shipping lanes in southeast Asia. In the modern age, the U.S. Navy has been the only substantial naval force in the Indian Ocean.
One of the most recent joint military exercises between the United States and India occurred in October 2004. These exercises, known as Malabar 04, involved close to 2,000 U.S. and Indian naval personnel and took place off the southwest coast of India.
Participating in the exercises from the U.S. Navy were the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Cowpens (CG 63), the Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigate USS Gary (FFG 51), the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Alexandria (SSN 757), and P-3C maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft. The Indian navy participated with the destroyer INS Mysore, the frigate INS Brahmaputra, the tanker INS Aditya and the Shishumar-class submarine the INS Shankul. The Shankul , a locally-constructed German Type 1500 submarine, is equipped with eight 21-inch torpedo tubes, anti-ship mines and has a crew of 40.
The 2004 exercises were the sixth of their kind between the Indian and United States navies. What began as simple communications checks and basic maneuvers quickly became full-scale “war-at-sea” exercises. Other exercises during Malabar 04 included small boat transfers, maneuvering as a group, nighttime underway replenishments, and visit, board, search and seizure drills. U.S. Navy public affairs noted that Malabar 04 was designed to “increase the interoperability between the two navies while enhancing the cooperative security relationship between India and the United States.”
After practicing boarding operations and search and seizure techniques learned from the U.S. Navy, the Indian navy have considerably improved its skills at fighting the growing scourge of maritime piracy and terrorism. India took a further step when it commenced joint exercises with the Japanese Coast Guard. Termed Sahyog Kaijan 2004, the exercises involved a mock hijacking of a merchant vessel. India and Japan share a common strategic ground with regard to their dependence on oil shipping routes in the Persian Gulf.