Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, with a huge majority in the general election of 2014, based on the agenda of development and equality. The above statement by him in March 2015, does indicate the priority of his government and also a recognition of the changing geopolitics in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The shifting global focus towards the IOR in the 21st century does have multiple strategic imperatives. The first and foremost is the energy security for the growing economies and the major shipping traffic passing through the region that drives the economic growth globally. The political instability and also the growing international terrorism being perceived to have its origin in the region do complicate matters. The geopolitics in the region is highly fragmented and nations are engaged in internal disputes and also present itself as key venue for international piracy. Some recent studies do indicate that the IOR is the locus of some 70 per cent of the world’s natural disasters. These factors together are making the IOR a deeply contested region and also encouraging extra-regional powers to use nations within, as proxies that is further destabilizing the region.
The Chinese announcement to raise their marine corps from 20,000 to one lakh as part of their plans to deploy them abroad, including in Gwadar and also setting up of military logistics base at Djibouti needs to be read in the strategic context. The Chinese growth as a superpower in the making and their attitudinal shift to challenge the American dominance in the IOR does needs to be recognized. The American “Indo-Pacific” strategic concept needs to be understood in its origin and intent. The Japan, Australia and India alliance as part of the Indo-Pacific push in the absence of China makes it a front to counter the growing Chinese threat to the American interests globally. India has to use these alliances to build its real capabilities rather than being a facilitator for these powers. India must take the lead in the IOR and be recognized by the regional states economically, politically, technologically, culturally, diplomatically and in many fronts.
Transparency is always the hallmark of effective governance. The Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) does provide a structured framework to monitor all the developments in the vast undersea domain in the IOR. Such a framework can address the concerns of all the four stakeholders (security, blue economy, environment and disaster management and science and technology) in a comprehensive manner that will allow pooling of resources and optimum deployment of efforts and infrastructure. The complex medium fluctuations due to the tropical littoral waters in the IOR, does not make it easy to import underwater technology developed during the Cold War period by the superpowers to be deployed here. Sub-optimal performance of the sonars in region means excessive resource deployment to cover the region. When we talk about UDA, the core capability is the acoustic sensing and analysis and that requires to be recognised as a national priority. The significant investments by navies in the IOR, on military hardware (submarines and more), must be complemented with soft capabilities of enhanced acoustic processing including oceanographic studies and ambient noise mapping.
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