‘Assessing the Naval Dimension of the Turn to Asia’


Commodore R. Seshadri Vasan, Indian Navy (Retd)

Head of Strategy and Security Studies at the Centre for Asia Studies

Director of the Asian Secretariat of the World Borderpol

1 – 2pm, Wednesday 24th October 2012

Committee Room 16, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA

To attend please RSVP to: jamila.mammadova@henryjacksonsociety.org

There are few maritime regions in the world that are currently seeing as much contestation as the Indian Ocean. The balance of power is changing – the US is concentrating its attentions to the Pacific, whilst the Indian Navy is in the middle of its most ambitious expansion plan in the past thirty years. The latter is largely a response to China also making its presence in the Indian Ocean known.

The Indian Navy has adopted a strategy of simultaneous acquisition and modernisation, for which naval defence spending has been increased by about 75 per cent in the current year only. In addition to the 50 or so ships on order for the Indian Navy at various domestic shipyards, the Navy will also acquire six new-generation stealth submarines, several stealth frigates, a Russian Aircraft Carrier Admiral Gorshkov that will be renamed INS Vikramaditya and is rumoured to carry the world’s fastest Cruise missile, and an indigenous aircraft carrier that will be inducted by 2015.

The US sees the expansion of India’s naval capabilities in the region as a welcome process, and has explicitly endorsed its acquiring the role of net provider of security in the Indian Ocean. Will this approach however prove sustainable in the future? Should the shift of responsibility from the US to India be celebrated or deplored? What are the next big challenges in the Indian Ocean region, and should we be worried about China’s conspicuous flexing of muscles?

By kind invitation of Alison Seabeck MP, The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Transatlantic & International Security is pleased to host a meeting with Commodore R. Seshadri Vasan, Head of Strategy and Security Studies at the Centre for Asia Studies, and Director of the Asian Secretariat of the World Borderpol. Commodore Vasan will discuss the latest developments in the Indian Ocean, with a particular emphasis on India’s growing naval capabilities, China’s maritime ambitions and the US footprint in the region.

TIME: 1 – 2pm

DATE: Wednesday 24th October 2012

VENUE: Committee Room 16, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA

To attend please RSVP to: jamila.mammadova@henryjacksonsociety.org  


Commodore R. Seshadri Vasan, Indian Navy (Retd) is the Head of Strategy and Security Studies at the Centre for Asia Studies, and Director of the Asian Secretariat of the World Borderpol. An alumnus of the Defence Services Staff College and the College of Naval Warfare, India, Commodore Vasan has a distinguished career spanning over 34 years. His wide ranging appointments both at sea and ashore include command of warships, serving in the carrier borne wing of INS Vikrant, command of long range Maritime Reconnaissance/ASW squadron, serving as a member examiner of the Aircrew Categorisation and Standardisation Board (AIRCATS), as the Chief Staff Officer (Operations) at Southern Naval Command and as a Director at the Naval Aviation Staff at NHQ, in charge of Air Ops and Training. He commissioned a major naval air station close to the East coast of India and commanded another air station on the West coast. For over two years he was on the faculty at the prestigious College of Naval Warfare that trains senior level officers from all three services.

He was on deputation to the Indian Coast Guard from 2000 to 2003 as the Eastern Regional Commander with maritime jurisdiction in the Bay of Bengal, including the Indo Bangladesh maritime border and the Indo Sri Lanka maritime boundary. He was charged with the task of I4SR, EEZ surveillance, anti-piracy, search and rescue, anti-poaching and marine pollution prevention.

Since his retirement he has been writing regularly for various magazines, newspapers and websites. He has been conducting workshops and delivering talks for international delegates in many parts of the world on maritime, strategy, security and aviation issues. He was selected for the International Visitor Leadership Programme on ‘National Security and Media’ in US for three weeks in August – September 2009.

In addition to being the Additional Director on Projects and Development, he steered the Maritime Security Programme at the Observer Research Foundation, a major think tank in India. After three successful years at ORF, he joined the Center for Asia Studies as Head of Strategy and Security Studies in October 2008. Besides being the Director of the Asian Secretariat of the World Borderpol (WBO) and member of the Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP), he has been the President of Navy Foundation Chennai chapter since May 2010. He is also on the Board of the Advisory Group at the Madras University and Stella Maris College and a visiting faculty member at the Indian Maritime University, AMET  -the first private maritime university in India -, and the Great Lakes Institute of Management. He is also an executive member of the Chennai Center for China Studies, a think tank that specialises in Chinese affairs.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Transatlantic & International Security aims to research and create awareness about global security issues in order to contribute to an informed and effective British foreign policy, aimed at utilizing and strengthening the Transatlantic Alliance between Europe and the USA.

APPG Officers


Mrs Gisela Stuart MP

Vice Chairs

Mr Henry Smith MP
Mr Derek Twigg MP

Mr David Ruffley MP

Mr Damian Collins MP



Alison Seabeck MP

Can I call the meeting to order? My name is Alison Seabeck, I’m the Shadow Defence Minister and I’m delighted to be here. Thank you very much, and via the Henry Jackson Society, I’d like to introduce and welcome to you all Commodore Vasan. He has had a really distinguished career in the Indian Navy for more than thirty years, including command of warships, teaching the next generation of leaders in the Indian Navy and at the College of Maritime Warfare.  Between 2000 and 2003 he held the responsibility for maritime security in the Bay of Bengal, including at the Indo-Bangladesh and the Indo-Sri Lankan borders. And since his retirement – I think retirement is probably not the right word [laughs] – he seems to be busier. He has lent his expertise and experience to a great many forums and he’s currently Head of Strategy and Security Studies at the Center for Asia Studies.

At a time when global pressures have the potential, either through climate change, pressures on scarce resources, piracy, rise of insurgent groups with the potential to spill over onto state-on-state dispute, I think his knowledge of the region is particularly valued and valuable. I think all of which make him perfectly qualified to speak to us today in answer to the question of whether we have an Asian century, and assessing the naval dimension of the turn to Asia.

Commodore Vasan

Thank you very much, madam. And if you permit me, I’ll go directly to the computer as there is no remote.

Thank you ladies and gentlemen, for inviting me over here. It’s a wonderful opportunity for me and I know most of you are very well informed of the specifics. I keep making these trips to London and it is always a pleasure to be back here. Just three days ago I was at Chatham House, we were looking at similar issues, examining naval options and what kind of roles nations play using their military leverage. So I will, for twenty-five minutes or so, give you an overview. Feel free to stop me, grill me.

This is what I’m planning to do today, it’s to look at the role naval and maritime nations play in the security challenges facing the international community. This is the scope that I’ve chosen for myself. We see: development of naval efforts for regional stability, providing options for the governments, the rise of China. You know, every other day we keep discussing China. What are the options for us to engage China? Not confrontation with China, but how we can engage China so we can work together in the maritime domain.

Then I’m going to look at, obviously, the imperative issue which we are talking about – the way that America seems to have to strike its own balance in Asia-Pacific. It is increasingly being referred to as Indo-Pacific, and you see there is a shift of the global strategies for responding to situations that are happening in the Asia Pacific.

Well this is just to tell you nothing changes over here [gesturing to map] – you can’t change geography nor can you change the requirement of energy products to flow from one side [of the world] to the other. India is right in the centre, but there are all these players out there – Pakistan and other neighbours, the Gulf countries, and the Arab Spring, we find that a lot more is happening out there. Southeast Asian countries including Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines and others have a major stake in ensuring that the Malacca Straits are protected, of which I’ll talk about more a little later.

Other characteristics are the ‘arteries of the world’- the Strait of Hormuz on our left, and the Malacca Straits on our right. And it’s been indicated that something like fourty percent of the global trade will pass through Malacca Strait in the foreseeable future, and that will tell you what kind of responsibilities India can be entrusted with.

So, what can a navy do in providing nations the options for exercising those security regimes? This all started in 1971, with interventions in Bangladesh and Pakistan due to the security regimes in place, now quite some time ago. We are making headway in our efforts, and we want to make sure that the industrialisation is integrated into the bigger scheme of things.

Transfer of shore-based aviation, from the air force, came to us in 1977 [inaudible]. Creation of Coast Guard – this happened in 1976, and in the early 80s there was much modernisation, industrialisation and imports to augment the naval efforts. We had assistance coming from Germany at that time, we had the Kilo class from Russia, we built our own ships at that time. And the intervention in Maldives, which showed that the Indian Navy, in the region and Indian Ocean region, can take on the role of regional player and a leader.

IPKO [International Peace Keeping Operations] – there has been success [inaudible]. We had been supporting them and providing support.

Nuclear Submarine operations – we rented Chakra from Russia to get our hands on the nuclear prior concept. Our strategy: deterrence. Remember, we have said we will not be the first to use the nuclear weapon. However, if somebody uses it against us we will obviously retaliate [inaudible], we will require the sea-based deterrence.

Post-tsunami intervention in our neighbourhood. This happened in 2004 and I’ll talk about this a little more because it told us what the Indian Navy can do in terms of providing support, assistance, and disaster relief. And with that, the face of our amphibious forces, the face of some of the bigger vessels which we need for evacuating people, that has changed.

Sea-based deterrence, to complete the track, aircraft carrier [inaudible] we are going to call it INS Vikrant and all of you would be happy to know that was the name of our first aircraft carrier, which we acquired from UK, and even the second one which we got finished in 50 years, which is still floating and hanging in the sea hangars. It is a different matter that sea hangars will also be phased out and we are looking at the Vikramaditya which will be with us next year. We will be operating a mix of the MiG-29s and the naval LC.

Bilateral and multilateral arrangements – there have been plenty of these after the tsunami and various other issues. And MILAN, MILAN is an activity that happens every two years between all the navies for brainstorming, it provides exchange and a professional forum. And that’s something, again, which has allowed us to engage with various people who have common interest in the Indo-Pacific region.

Anti-piracy missions off Somalia – in 2008, we went there and we’ve maintained a continuous presence of two ships, round the clock, 365 days, out there since 2008 and we’ve been successful in escorting more than 2,400 vessels. And so I think that proof of effectiveness is displayed as the piracy attacks have gone down and in the last nine months, there have been only 23 attacks – attempted piracy attacks.

And then of course the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, which we took the winning and in a big way [inaudible] this kind of interaction.

Well [pointing at screen], this is what drives the future of navies, strategies, it’s the kind of change there is in the oil transport patterns by 2030. 2030 is the defence scenario, and you can see the rising skyscrapers there [metaphor to the graph]. And you can see those blue lines there, which are the ceilings of consumption for energy products. Assets, supply routes, people – that’s what’s required to be protected.

Well, these are the shipping routes of the world, and we are increasingly concerned about their safety and security. And also the kind of impact that they will have on ecology and the environment, because they are running diesel, they are polluting the marine environment and we need to be conscious of that hazard.

So what about the constraints? 70,000 ships thru-transit the straits, 40 percent of this global trade passes through the South China Sea. 43 percent of piracy attacks reported in Malacca Straits were reported in the last decade. It’s come down since then, but again it is showing some kind of resurgence.

Somalia has overtaken Malacca Straits as far as piracy and attacks are concerned. The number of dead or missing crew has increased three-fold [inaudible]. And the costs from piracy attacks are estimated at 7-11 billion US dollars. But it is the money that drives – that’s invested that drives – this problem, not just taken to the people who operate these attacks, but also those who operate piracy as business.

These are the points that stress the maritime structure in our context: increased free-flow of energy/oil transit routes, and ability for nations to protect the free-flow of trade, the concept which we call mare liberum, the freedom of the seas; regional imperatives, so if oil and gas reposition themselves, what can other nations do? How can they contribute to keep their access to global commons intact? What are the established spheres of influence and power centres?

So this, I think, sums up the entire square that you see up there. Regional imbalances need to be kept in mind, asymmetric threats, post-9/11 and the Mumbai terror attacks – as you are aware in the Mumbai attacks we lost 166 people through a seaborne attack; and threats of terrorism and piracy.

Out-of-area operations, which have become more common in our context, to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, as well as other out-of-area operations such as anti-piracy operations.

Issues of [inaudible] more than just border lines. We have serious issues with our neighbours, just as they have serious issues with us, especially on fishing stocks, and therefore we have constant issues with Sri Lanka. And fishermen from India cross into Pakistan, Pakistani fishermen cross into our waters and there is an issue which has not been resolved properly.

What are the areas of common interest in the Indo-Pacific?

What you see in the yellow colour up there, that’s the new Indo-Pacific. What do we have? This is what we have: export-import trade which uses these seas extensively.

Piracy, Somalia, hotspots elsewhere in South East Asia and the South China Sea, in the Straits of Hormuz, and which Iran is threatening constantly to shut down.

[Gesturing to the screen] This is the China-India power play that you see, and the initiatives that China has taken to secure its maritime interests in the Indian Ocean region. This it has chosen to do by building ports in Goa, Bangladesh, Myanmar. It’s not that they are building ports today, but that they are sending so much money there that the nations who have these [inaudible] and investments are not going to say no. This is so they can re-deploy their assets in a time of crisis. This is how they want to protect the Indian Ocean region. And there, you see it there [pointing at screen], the sea lines of communication (SLOC) which are threatened [inaudible] the Cook Islands, Chinese border section there, and the land pipelines.

So all of these are, remember, remember that I discussed the energy criticality, it’s all related to how you are going to protect yourself from energy issues.

These are the SLOCs, and this is what you see going into the Malacca Straits, and beyond in the South China Sea; and these are the critical arteries of the world we need to protect. These are the Chinese routes in the Indian Ocean, this is the most direct way, and you can see the ports that are going to be used by the Chinese Navy. It’s constrained by geography. The stress I’d like to make here is that once it comes in to the Indian Ocean with its entire fleet, it has to pass through the Malacca Straits, under the watchful eye of our own maritime joint services command, which is located out there.

But there are issues which can be managed from the Indian point of view. This is what’s happening in South Asia, South China Sea today, like the depiction of, you know just last week, we had the American carrier battle group, the George Washington in the centre, there are going to be some issues out there.

And contesting claims, by the neighbours – ‘it’s all about energy’. It’s not that those rocks are important, but the expectation of 3 billion, 3 trillion cubic meters of gas and oil, and everyone wants to say, ‘this is a strong claim and it belongs to me’. This is where we have a serious issue today. So we can see again a reverse snapshot here, what it is to our East that China has located. India has adopted a policy in 1991 for economic engagement, but we also have these other issues to sort out. These are hazard spots and hotspots.

Most of the traffic that goes into India goes around Sri Lanka, even the ones that are headed East pass through these areas. This is the general line of flow of traffic which needs to be protected. The hotspots have been indicated here: The Malacca Straits, the Eastern South China Sea, and of course Sri Lanka, [inaudible] because of the fishing issue that we have with our neighbour.

[Referring to image on screen] And this has been commissioned, as you are aware, as a whole [inaudible] that has been rebuilt by the Chinese. On the 25th September they commissioned it, so it shows that they retained a force centred around a carrier battle group.

Well, this is what has happened, all of you know, this is how it looks today. After the commissioning of the [inaudible] this has been disputed. So they are not wasting any time in preventing claims, even building facilities there, saying that ‘this area belongs to me and you can’t challenge me’. And this is dangerous. And they are [pointing at screen] – the two lines that you see are the first and second lines of defence for China, they are breaking out of the shackles. How? By a carrier, by technology – the carrier that you see. And by technology, we mean ASBM – credited with the capability to hit a carrier at thousands of kilometres. Stealth aircraft, which is put on public display when the Americans were visiting. Deep-diving capability, the deep-diving shows their ability to carry out deep mineral resources [inaudible].

ASAT – Anti-satellite capability. Demonstrated in 2007. They were able to shoot down their own satellite, so they’re going to shoot your ones down.

Cyber. Every other day you see that cyber attacks have been taking place. And they say, the source is China. So there is a danger out there. And of course the carrier.

So what are the operations mounted by us? I didn’t make reference to what the Indian Navy did after the tsunami. It’s not that our coast was not affected; we were seriously hit, we lost many lives, yet the Indian Navy has been able to [inaudible]. These are some codenames, they are not important, we went to Indonesia, we went to Sri Lanka, we went to the Maldives, and we were able to provide them help and support in times of need. But we also realised our own limitations, of not being able to lift large numbers of people. Which is why we rented the USS Trenton which we have renamed as Jalashwa. And we are now – based on experience which we did not have during the tsunami – we have now invested in our own vessels which will be built for the future.

What is our concept of maritime operations as we are trying to contribute to the national security effort? This is how you do it – for a long time you had carriers so our forces continuously centred around the carrier battle group. [Inaudible] options with forces that we have. LND – local naval defence – amphibious forces, for the 200 islands we have, and we need to protect them. MD [maritime domain] architecture, increasing the satellites, network-centred cooperation, and network-centred warfare capability, this is going to be integrated based on satellites and communication systems.

Maritime defence using marine policing and coast guarding and for acute analysis after attack, but precautions have been taken to ensure that the Indian Navy is at the apex and they are the ones who are controlling the area of operations at sea.

And integrated coastal defence work, exclusively the Coast Guard. And remember the continental shelf of India has 4 million square kilometres, which is twice the area of our exclusive economic zone, which is 2 million square kilometres – and that is a phenomenal amount of responsibility, in terms of what we can provide to the international community for maritime security efforts.

And marine pollution – again, the Coast Guard is completely responsible, we recently acquired two pollution control vessels dedicated to this task. One on the East and one on the West, and we want to have a third vessel, which will be built indigenously.

What is the Indian Navy’s prospective plan? I am sure you are all interested in what the Indian Navy wants to do. Development of a plan for balanced growth in shipbuilding, submarine construction, and aviation elements. 20 percent of defence budget is luckily for the Navy, that 60/40 I’ve shown [on the screen] is for the capital and earning budgets. Six submarines, now around Malaysia, but they are going to be with us. More plans include induction of surface naval competence, service platforms, laser beam platforms, and we’ve already launched our own satellites, there are two satellites which have been launched after the Mumbai terror attack. [Inaudible]

Indian aircraft carrier- call it what you want to, but the name will be INS Vikrant, to be commissioned by 2017.

German submarines – six will be coming in like this.

Total 49 missiles under construction.

Building of ships from non-PSUs – we always look at the public sector units, but recently we have been looking at where the public-private-partnership is coming up. There is a lot of money in the private sector, and all the audit books of the public sector units are full. We have no choice but to tell the private sector as to what we want built and tell them how to build it, and they will build it for you.

15 year industrialisation plan – and some of you will be monitoring the defence acquisition plans, but know that we have introduced what is called a defence offset policy. So that’s coming to say that if there is a major acquisition, something like 13 percent of this beyond 300 gross will need to be invested in sectors that have been identified as ones that will help you in building up your own technology.

Vikrant is the name of the carrier that will be coming to us. It is the design of a Russian carrier. There were certain delays, but the aircraft is already almost with us. We will develop the aircraft that will be flying from there, and more will come depending on our own experience with these aircrafts.

Well, this is the shape of the new aircraft carrier that is going to be built in Cochin. Just to give you some other statistics, it will give you a 260-metre length, and a 60-metre beam, with a draft of 8.4, displacement of 38,000 tonnes, 28 knots with a range of 7500 nautical miles, 1400 crew members.

Mix – this is the name of the Naval LC that we are going to build that launch helicopters.

STOBAR – STOBAR is basically ‘short take off, but arrested recovery’, whereas the Harriers, that we bought from you, had the short take-off and vertical landing capability. It had the ability to land on the carrier, just that its performance was diluted due to the fact that it had to land at the end of its flight in a vertical manner.

We are building some sensors that are similar to Kolkata, but I will not go into details due to time constraints.

What else is coming? I am sure you will recognize what is on the board – that’s our Arihant, our own nuclear submarine.

The aircraft carrier program, and other surface vessels, including stealth, LPD,  submarine boats, [inaudible] vessels, and LDN amphibians, OPVs, pollution control vessels, and other patrol boats for the Coast Guard, NC/NCWO option which is being increasingly followed, and Boeing aircraft we are getting from the US to replace our aged T142 aircraft, and UAVs. We have been operating UAVs for a long time now and there is a great degree of professionalism in handling them, so we’re trying to decide how the UAVs are going to fit into the entire naval aviation system. And space initiatives with our OceanSat.

[Gesturing at screen] There are some pictures here, and don’t need an explanation as such. . . This is a Kilo class submarine that we have. Air cushion missiles that are operated by the Indian Coast Guard and some orders have been placed in UK for the replacements. This is our stealth aircraft. This is a landing craft.  And so then, having looked at some of these platforms, let’s see what other considerations that we have: maritime asymmetric threats, particularly after the Mumbai terror attacks; traditional threats, from our neighbours as well as asymmetric threats caused by violent non-state actors; piracy from Africa and South-East Asia; natural disasters; marine pollution; environmental security; South China Sea – all the neighbours are unhappy with what is happening out there; regional stability security architectures ,which we need to work out; and the nuclear neighbourhood.

We have an unstable neighbourhood in Pakistan, and everyone knows that it’s a hub of terror. People go over there, get indoctrinated, and I don’t know what all happens there, and when they come back they’re different people. Including people who have been trained in the West, who have grown up over here, for some strange reason they go there and come back and they get totally indoctrinated. So we have this difficult situation across the border, as terrorism has been a state sponsored policy against India and that’s something we need to contend with. So there is a public posturing, but privately we know that ISI and the military have an agenda of their own that’s making difficulty and causing problems for us.

What are the regional cooperating mechanisms that we can work on?

Navies and Coast Guards around the world are instruments of national will to power-projection, presence, and defence of war. Increasingly so, it’s also during peacetime now. Air to sea power is integrated with all services, so we need to have options to see that our roads are discharged.

With increasing traffic and maritime challenges, maritime forces have a larger role and are to develop mechanisms for interoperability. We can’t do it alone – simple. Indian Navy can’t say, ‘I’ll do all these tasks myself’. So therefore we need to have collaborative arrangements, cooperation, we need to be talking to our neighbours, and we need to be talking to China. We need to be talking to Pakistan as well. Indian Navy to Coast Guard interaction to promote interoperability.

What is the conclusion?

Maritime security forces will continue to provide multiple options, able to promote national interest and act as enablers and conducive environment creators. Changes in the regional seas will bring about a paradigm shift in the regional security architectures. This already happened, in the [inaudible] which you have seen. Technology will continue to dominate the maritime sphere, with increased space application, network centric cooperation, and information offered. The fourth dimension is the cyber dimension [inaudible].

Both India and China will have key roles in promoting maritime stability on a regional basis as well as in the Indian Ocean region. That’s going to be very important for the stability of the entire Indian Ocean region. The policies will bring about both challenges and opportunities in the Indo-Pacific. The challenges are in terms of how we want to contain the Chinese objectives. And what kind of opportunities are there for the smaller navies to have more confidence to say that somebody else is looking out for their interests. They need others to protect them and hold their hands, particularly the Navies of Philippines, Brunei, and others. Definitely look at what the US can do to support them in restoring their own claims vis-a-vis with China.

And we also need a greater institutional arrangement for maritime forces to pursue common interests in the global commons. Increasingly arrangements are talking about the global commons, access to global commons. Will the freedom of the sea be protected? The concept of mare liberum which was proposed in the 16th century by a jurist – are we going to uphold this concept of allowing access?

Now, there are already attempts to say that we need to deal with the exclusive economic zones and continental shelf, that people need to explore the deeper oceans. This explains why China has already invested in deep sea technology. But when you have so many players out there, looking for large assets from the ocean, there will be some type of conflict. So are we going to be in a position to manage that conflict? That is going to be the challenge and that is the Indian Navy’s opportunity. Thank you very much.

Alison Seabeck MP

Thank you very much indeed for that extremely thorough and very interesting presentation, highlighting a long list of concerns in the region, the balance of power shift as China reinforces its maritime interests and ability to project power from a maritime environment. India clearly sits firmly at the heart of this, and its importance in the whole geopolitical issues is absolutely essential if we’re going to keep the balance of power in some sort of equilibrium in the region. And of course the relationships with the US as they’re moving their power-base of interests away from the Atlantic towards the Pacific and into the Asia-Pacific area. I’m sure there are questions out here, you are very happy to answer questions, aren’t you? Can people put their hands up to say who they are if they’re interested in contributing?

Question 1

[Inaudible] regarding the golden triangle (India, Gulf, and East Africa) and if the Commonwealth countries can play a more cohesive role in the future, how does India relate to Africa, and how maritime piracy requires governments to react and maybe interact with private sector.

Commodore Vasan

The future, in terms of energy security and issues of piracy, issues of what can be done by Commonwealth nations in the area. We need to just look at what is happening today.  As far as piracy is concerned – well I’ll sort of be answering it all in one, there is a sort of overlap in the way I answer your questions. When you look at the anti-piracy measures today, who are the people doing it? We have the NATO forces, the European Union naval forces and we also have the CMF, the Combined Maritime Forces, which is led by the US force.

There are seventeen other navies who are out there: the Japanese, the South Koreans, the Indians, the Chinese, the Malaysians, the British, and a whole lot of others. Not necessarily there is any type of common flag, but their activities are coordinated. We are coordinating our duties, at least in the IRTC, the Internationally Recognized Transit Corridor, you know, which has been established to ensure that the vessels are escorted. Then there are a lot more proposals in intent to ensure that they are not harmed. And that’s working. And even though there is a sentiment of disjointed effort, off the 2,300 km of Somalian coast, you find that there are results today in terms of the dip in the number of piracy incidents.  ISCOM, which is manned by the UK Maritime Trade Organisation, which has got its headquarters in Dubai. And they are in a position to receive these reports, alarms from the international community.

Now, coming back to the issue of Kenya, and these other states out there – Kenya today is the worst affected, because of the refugees from Somalia. There is something like 4 million already in Kenya, and Kenya was ultimately forced to go after Al-Shabaab, and there have been successes out there. But will they manage four million refugees who are already in Kenya? And as far as Somalia is concerned, especially with regards to piracy, everyone just tells you piracy is just a symptom at sea, the route causes are ashore, and we have not resolved the route causes. The route causes are lawlessness, about not having a government out there. The kind of money that is involved in the business of piracy – we deal with the figure of 7 to 11 billion dollars. And they tell you that it’s not just the pirates who are involved, the pirates are wage earners, by the way, they’re just the paid people, the youth from the hinterland, who will run to the coast, thinking that there are lots of opportunities for them to take over ships, but when they come they find out they are employees, and they get maybe whatever number of dollars for each successful attack. The rest of the money is handled by the mafias.

So the way to handle piracy, all of us agree, is to ensure that Somalia is sorted out. Also there are issues of indiscriminate dumping of toxic waste off Somalia. It’s because there is no Coast Guard, there is no Navy, you can go there and dump toxic waste. And this toxic waste has unfortunately polluted the fishing areas there. And there has been illegal poaching in the Somalian waters about 3,300 kilometres. With these two combinations we find that their own fishermen are unable to fish in their own waters. They started challenging the poachers, and they started using arms to keep the poachers from coming inside. And they say this is when piracy started. Whether it is true or not, the point is that there are conditions in Somalia which are not conducive for ensuring that the unemployed youth, the hungry youth, do not resort to acts of piracy. So we have a situation out there, in terms of piracy, and when you are looking at this triangle, and we are looking at the energy flow from the West to the East, and I gave that slide which told you about the future of 2030, where there is phenomenal increase in the import of energy products from West to East.

And through all this, China has been very, very active in claiming various energy sources in Africa. They’ve gone into oil fields, they’ve gone into gas fields, they’ve gone into coal mines, they’ve gone in and secured their energy security. Something like 80% is the import of energy goods into China. The figure is not very different for India. These are the two growing economies, obviously we cannot sustain the GDP growth of +5-8. It will take a phenomenal effort to ensure that the energy security is not compromised. This is where we find the challenge, and this is where we find that there is perhaps a greater role for naval forces of the world to come together in some kind of cooperative, collaborative arrangement. And those arrangements must be institutionalised. Not like the ones we have with anti-piracy measures, when people are spread all over. They are trying to talk to each other, but they have no institutionalised mechanism of talking to each other and for combined command and control. So in my opinion, we require institutional mechanisms.

Alison Seabeck MP

Can I just very quickly reinforce what the Commodore said about maritime piracy issues in Somalia and your concerns about the private sector. I attended a meeting last night with the All-Party Maritime Group, some of you were there, the Foreign Office was there and there has been significant progress made through the use of convoys, through the use of the secure zone, through putting on private security people. The number of ships hijacked now has gone right down. Also patrolling and stopping them getting out to sea at all is working. But the Commodore is absolutely right, the target now is to get to the twenty or so ‘Mr Bigs’ who are using piracy to finance either terrorism or other criminal activities. So it’s a move from the sea, if you like, to the battle on the land.  And getting to those people through banks and various other mechanisms.

Comment from Member of Audience:

The only reason there’s been a decline in piracy since March this year is because we had a particularly long monsoon. You’ll find that it will start again in about three weeks’ time.

Alison Seabeck MP

It’s also appearing on the West African coast, separately, but it has diminished significantly from where it was and the private vessels are getting better at protecting themselves. Anyway –

Question 2

Regarding strategic plan, whether you have done a timeline to 2020, and predict whether your projected change in course, in your Navy, will have any impact at all on the force that is being projected by China. Particularly because China is so energised by its need for energy for its internal stability. Additionally, have you done a projection of what the energy implication are for India and what will be the effects on you, if there is not only a closure of Straits of Hormuz, but potentially conventional or nuclear weapons use in Iran and/or the region that may close down the Straits for quite a period?

Commodore Vasan

Thank you for your question. As far as your first question is concerned, it’s like this: in our own analysis, we find that geographically, we enjoy a great geographic advantage. And China is too embroiled with its neighbours, going after all its claims – there is a big debate out there. I don’t think they’re in a position to bring out any of their naval forces, except for anti-piracy missions in the Indian Ocean region. They’re going to be tied down for as long as there are contests, claims, and counterclaims in that region. We say that China has three navies, or three fleets, even if one of the fleets decides to come here, what is the interest here. They have no interests in the Indian Ocean at the moment. Their interests in the Indian Ocean region will come if India starts challenging their ships that are carrying energy products.

We are not challenging them at this moment. We have no reason to challenge the flow, the freeflow of traffic from West to East to China through the Malacca Straits at this time. If it happens, we will see. So the force that we have, in the 11th to 13th year plans which I said, up to 2020, the figure that you quoted, we are more than happy with the progress of the build up of naval forces, both strategic and tactical. And I am quite convinced that we have no reasons to be worried about the Chinese sort of intruding into the Indian Ocean region. Like I said, the only reason they are building those ports, are for protecting their future interests. Fifteen years, twenty years from now, if they do want to challenge India on its own turf, they have. Without those ports they will not be able to support their operations. Even for their anti-piracy operations, they are maintaining two ships out there, off Somalia, they turned down the offer to come to Cochin and exercise with us. So, you know, there is openness in what we are doing as far as communication is concerned, and also our efforts to keep the global commons open. But in the next twelve months, we should not be as concerned with issues that surround us, but issues with the Strait of Hormuz are a matter of concern to us. It is a matter of concern for all of us, not only me, but to all the people who are using the Straits of Hormuz today for carrying energy products. I think two weeks ago, I think that [inaudible] was here. He was just here at Chatham House giving a speech on counter-mine measures carried out in the Straits of Hormuz, something like 63 [inaudible] were involved.

So obviously, the international community does not want a closure of the Strait of Hormuz, but to ensure they will have contingency plans. And these contingency plans, we hope, will work. It’s not that Iran is so powerful. You know, they are loud, with a lot of noise, but whether they are in a position to translate this into action in the Strait of Hormuz, there are many question marks there. Particularly the international opinion, the kind of people who are working there, the success that we are having, and the kind of options which perhaps were not discussed in the past, but that remain and are relevant. So for the next twelve months we are keeping our fingers crossed, but we need to prepare for this type of contingency to ensure that our energy security will not be affected. And we need to look at alternate routes, alternate sources of energy, so that’s what we will do.

Question 3

[Inaudible] regarding Chinese carrier, carrier operations, and carrier experiences, as well as similarities of the Indian indigenous sub to its Russian predecessor as it looks quite similar.

Commodore Vasan

There is a lot of secrecy surrounding the LTD, but a lot of this is out in the public domain, and its phenomenal, the amount of indigenous effort that has gone into this from the industry, how they were able to go in and design the nuclear reactor. And some of the missiles that were to be fired, are to be fired from platforms which are submerged, so there is a phenomenal amount of indigenous effort that’s gone to getting this platform forward, because after having said that we are not going to be the first one to strike, we can definitely have something there which can respond to this sort of a first strike by an adversary. The friendly Russians have helped, I don’t want to say that there was no help at all, after all they were the ones who gave us the Kilo class submarine initially. That allowed us to understand the challenges that are faced in maintenance of a nuclear submarine, the way it is operated. And it did not have a missile, the whole thing was nuclear powered, but without a nuclear missile, it had another missile. But the point is that there is a phenomenal amount of help that has come in terms of initial designing, but after the break-up of the Soviet Union, there’s a lot that the indigenous content has augmented.

On the Chinese carrier program, it’s not that you build a carrier and are ready to go with the carrier battle group the next day. It’s not going to happen that way. We operated a carrier for the last 50 years, and we got all the techniques from you. So we are aware of the complex intricacies that are involved in operating the carrier. But you build the ships only and you’re ready? No, you’re not ready. Likewise with the stealth bomber, that doesn’t mean it’s flying and delivering weapons tomorrow unseen, because there are technologies which have been borrowed from the West. Let’s face it, it’s not everyone on their own. It’s not just copying, but improving on the copied designs.

So there is an issue there about the kind of technological content that has gone into the platforms, what they can do in terms of delivery options and in terms of integration into the architecture. It is something that will take, like you said, maybe a decade, plus.

Question 4

Thank you very much for giving a concise and informative presentation, and I now know a lot more than I did previously. So I’ll ask very quickly, I’m sure we are under time constraint. You were very frank, and what we saw once again was a picture of impeccable strategic execution with the Chinese when we look at the dots that were marked on the map. However, some people are very concerned about China – and I’m not one of those – but some people make the argument that the Chinese are really building this navy not to menace us or to assert themselves, but because they understand that missing link that you explained, which is, they have to get the energy to their country, and the Americans are actually providing the security on most of the sea to do so. And they don’t like that and they would be able to provide their own security. So my question is this: one, is that the case or are you more worried some about a more nefarious strategic aim? And two, you mentioned building links – what’s the relationship like?

Commodore Vasan

I think that is an interesting question. We need to understand why China is doing what it’s doing. You are very right because unlike many other nations, Chinese carry many goods under their own boats, with their own flagged vessels the ones which are carrying their goods. This is a degree of vulnerability, carrying the goods in your own vessels somebody can target them, and therefore they need to protect it. Like you correctly said, the international environment today, much of this protection is coming from players other than Chinese. The Chinese are not only involved in anti-piracy operations, but when it comes to protection of the seas and sea lines of communication, it’s part of the larger mechanisms that are like lifesaving and security code, including the cooperative mechanisms that exist amongst navies.

So all this is providing the kind of security in the world today for Chinese vessels as well, because it is under the charter if IMO, International Maritime Organization, which wants to provide that kind of safety to vessels which are transiting from place A to place B. The bottom line being safe, expeditious traffic movement. So yes, the Chinese therefore would like to ensure that they are not dependent on others – or let’s say tomorrow American activities decided to support Taiwan in a cross strait scenario, or South Korea. In that case, they need to have some type of long-term strategy, whereas the interim strategy is also to build a navy because they had ignored the navy. They’ve ignored their own navy for a long time. They do have a nuclear capability, they have a nuclear submarine, the carrier will join. A lot of their new frigates and destroyers look very good and amazing, but the point is, all this while, the Chinese Navy did not really have a very predictable naval protection. They’re trying to work on that. They have a lot of money. They have the political leadership which is supporting this. They have the aspirations of the people, which is supporting this kind of a build-up because it raises national sentiments. When Japan nationalised those islands, you found a kind of resentment. People took the boats and they wanted to go there, so there is a lot of Chinese resentment in what is happening to them, because they are perhaps suffering from what I like to call the ‘persecution complex.’  They’re thinking everyone is against them, but for some legitimate reasons perhaps.

So, they are working on two tracks, to answer your question specifically, they are looking at the near-term and the long-term. So the near-term is to see that they are secure in these areas and that they are assertive, so that nobody else can come and displace them. Years from now, as energy products are moving, and if somebody decides to challenge them in the Indian Ocean, they should have the ability to protect.


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