Indian maritime challenges and its diplomatic dimensions

Scope of discussion

  • Maritime challenges & Our new Maritime Security Strategy
  • Geopolitical aspects of maritime challenges – Fodder for Mains & Essay
  • Indian maritime agencies – Fodder for Prelims
  • Diplomatic dimensions – Fodder for Prelims & Interview
  • Challenges ahead? Mains & Interview

Indian Maritime challenges

India’s maritime geographical position is both an advantage and a challenge. The close proximity of international shipping lanes to India’s coasts attracts other powerful countries too to try to dominate and, thus, create the potential situation of confrontation with India.

India’s own strategic interests made it pay attention to waters beyond its immediate proximity. Late 2015, we released our new edition of Maritime Security Strategy. Contrast the aggressiveness vis a vis the older strategy document released in 2007:

  • 2015 – Ensuring Secure Seas
  • 2007 – Freedom to Use the Seas

This is the third maritime guidance document since 1998 and the most comprehensive account of India’s nautical imperatives, challenges, strengths and opportunities. Here’s why we say so:

#1. India has accepted the concept of “Indo-Pacific” in India’s maritime security. This essentially brings the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific – theaters of geo-political competition  into one strategic arc and broadens our focus.

#2. The latest Maritime Security Strategy (2015) enhanced its definition of primary & secondary areas of maritime interest – 

  • Primary – Coastal areas, islands, EEZ, the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal, Andaman Sea, their littorals, Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, various choke points and their littorals, SLOCs and energy and resource interests

  • Secondary – Various seas outside the Indian Ocean Region

South-west Indian Ocean and the Red Sea were formally under the secondary area of interest. In defining the areas of interest, the navy’s intention is to outline the geographic extension of its strategic influence and give an indication of its involvement in those areas.

#3. Aim to become the “net security provider” to island states in the Indian Ocean. What does that mean?

As per the document, the term net security describes the state of actual security available in an area, upon balancing against the ability to monitor, contain, and counter all of these.

#4. The strategy emphasises the importance of maintaining freedom of navigation and strengthening the international legal regime at sea, particularly UNCLOS.

Geopolitical aspects of maritime challenges

  1. Indian strategists are, naturally, paying attention to developments practically in all waters due to the country’s growing international profile
  2. Their growing concern is regarding tensions rising in the East China Sea, the South China Sea and the Mediterranean
  3. The Indian Ocean remains largely peaceful but has an unstable littoral
  4. Pakistan has declared its intention to put its nuclear weapons at sea which raises the prospect of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of Jihadis
  5. We face a mix of the ‘traditional’ and ‘non-traditional’ challenges – IT, biotechnology, race for natural resources etc.

To read more on how India has evaluated its prospects in Indian ocean, read this article on Blue Economy


Indian maritime agencies

#1. Indian Navy – It aims to be the ‘net security provider’ in the maritime neighbourhood, including deployments for anti-piracy, maritime security, NEO (Non-combatant Evacuation Operations) and HADR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief) operations

#2. Coast Guard – The Coast Guard protects India’s EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) from criminals, pirates, smugglers, poachers, human-traffickers and foreign subversion.

#3. Coastal police – The role of the coastal police gained prominence following the Mumbai terror attacks of November, 2008. confines its activities to largely coastal waters up to 24 nautical miles.

#4. Ocean affairs – Ministry of Earth sciences (2006) is responsible for development of technology for exploitation and exploration of marine resources, weather services, climate change and geo-hazards

Diplomatic dimensions

  1. India has cooperated well in anti-piracy operations, played a key role in IORA (Indian Ocean Rim Association), launched IONS (Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, 2008) and shaped BIMSTEC and MGC (Click to read)
  2. Prime Minister’s articulation of India’s ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region’ (SAGAR), on 12 March, 2015, highlights both security framework for the Indian Ocean as well as regional integration with emphasis on Ocean Economy
  3. Japan’s inclusion into the MALABAR exercises
  4. Navy has also carried out Non-combatant Evacuation operations in Libya (2011), Kuwait (2014) and Yemen (2015)
  5. Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations such as cyclone relief (in 2007, 2008, 2013 and 2014)

Did you know: In August 2013, a dedicated communications satellite for the navy, GSAT-7, was launched for surveillance purposes

What are the challenges ahead?

  1. The navy’s fleet is ageing, with an estimated 60% of vessels reported to have reached various stages of obsolescence
  2. The Scorpene-class submarine is the first to be acquired in 16 years, in an attempt to stabilise the fleet’s fast-dwindling numbers
  3. The navy is 16% below strength in officer ranks and 11% below strength in non-commissioned ranks
  4. In August 2013, the navy suffered its worst peacetime accident when an ex-Russian Kilo-class conventional submarine sank in Mumbai’s naval dockyard, killing 18 personnel


Questions for you

  1. Since we are talking about maritime security, comment on the point of convergence and divergence of Project Mausam & Project Sagarmala
  2. “Net security provider” – This term would have crossed your reading sphere in our dealings with US (defence ties) as well. Is India showing promising signs in becoming one? What has been our progress on this front (land, air, sea)
  3. Since we revised our maritime document very recently and increased the ambit of Primary & Secondary areas of interest – find & locate them on the world map (for Prelims’ sake!)
Sources: Ref1 | Ref2 | Ref3
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