CHINA’s aggressive posturing along the Line of Actual Control and its growing footprint in the Indian Ocean region have prompted India’s armed forces to considerably raise their level of preparedness on land, sea and in the air. Last month, the navies of the four Quad nations — the US, India, Japan and Australia — jointly conducted the Malabar military exercise in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. The multilateral show of strength was intended to unnerve China, whose submarine fleet is three times bigger than that of India, and it did somewhat achieve its aim. Now, India is on course to set up an integrated maritime command that will have warships, fighter jets, helicopters, submarines, aircraft carriers and special amphibious brigades of the Army. The maritime theatre commander will be tasked with securing the sea lanes along the 7,500-km coastline.
The long-awaited move comes 19 years after India established its first unified command — the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC). Over the years, the ANC has been plagued by inadequate development of infrastructure, with a slew of environmental and coastal regulatory clearances being a major challenge. The unsavoury tug of war between the services is another stumbling block. The prolonged standoff in Ladakh apparently made the defence top brass look for ways to fast-track plans to strengthen the ANC. These projects should be executed without delay, even as the focus would eventually shift to the proposed maritime command, which is likely to be based in Karnataka. In view of the Andaman & Nicobar experience, infrastructural issues and mandatory clearances should be dealt with on priority so that the command becomes operational in a year or so, as envisaged.
The Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Bipin Rawat, has big plans to integrate the Army, Navy and Air Force while ‘retaining the niche capabilities of each service’. Considering the current geostrategic scenario, it’s clear that no single service can handle a conflict situation on its own. The key is to make the integration seamless so as to multiply the country’s combat potential. The maritime command will serve its purpose only if various forces work as a cohesive unit.