New Delhi: While India is unlikely to engage militarily in external flashpoints involving the US because of differing strategic priorities and threat perceptions, the Indian Navy could help American Navy focus on its core area, former navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh said.
In a rare article published by a former Navy chief in an international defence and strategic issue focussed magazine, Admiral Singh wrote in War On The Rocks that Indian Navy could, with sufficiently honed interchangeability, relieve the U.S. Navy of its maritime security responsibilities in the Persian Gulf and Horn of Africa, allowing U.S. forces to flow outward to respond to crises.
He noted that the relationship between the Indian Navy and the United States Navy is one of “considerable untapped potential” beyond public statements and coordination exercises such as the multinational maritime exercise Malabar in 2020 .
In the article, published on 12 January and co-authored with Blake Herzinger — non-resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute — Admiral Singh expressed support for the possibility of half of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue members expanding their relationship to send “a strong signal” throughout the Indo-Pacific region, and clarified that cooperative work like humanitarian aid, disaster relief and key naval operations need not only take place during wartime.
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad is a multilateral forum, including Australia, India, Japan and the United States.
“Critical skills like underway replenishment, maritime surveillance, and integrating aviation operations do not need a warfighting justification: They are capabilities worth having in peacetime. However, should a more serious contingency arise between either partner and China, having those shared capabilities and operational familiarity will be well worth the early investment,” Admiral Singh and Herzinger have written.
The significance of the piece lies in the fact that Admiral Singh’s tenure as Chief of Naval Staff lasted between 2019 — two years after the Quad was resurrected (created as an in-formal grouping soon after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Quad was formalised only in 2007, but soon fell passive, before being re-established), until late 2021. Moreover, during Admiral Singh’s tenure in March 2021, the Quad members had released a joint statement, in which the members reaffirmed “a shared vision for the free and open Indo-Pacific”, collaborating “to meet challenges to the rules-based maritime order in the East and South China Seas” and made a laundry list of commitments that the Quad would carry out to achieve their goals. Admiral Singh’s comments come from several years’ of experience at the helm of a fast growing Navy that has shaped the shift towards the Indo-Pacific
As such, Admiral Singh and Herzinger have focussed on the slow progress made in Indo-US naval relations despite positive trends in the larger Quad structure, increased engagement between the bureaucracies of the two countries, and a slow yet steady shift from a Soviet focus that India has long had, provided policy suggestions across five different avenues and predicted what the future holds for this relationship.
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Rethinking strategy, training tactics
On the issue of regional bilateral security assistance, the two have argued that the US and India should work towards being on the same page regarding capacity-building programmes, tracking in which regions their programmes may be “overlapping or divergent” —such as in Vietnam — and creating more efficient capacity building in the process.
Admiral Singh and Herzinger have further advocated better sharing of naval equipment resources like fuel. They argue that there have been missed opportunities for cooperation and collaboration – especially in mid-sea refuelling, something that the Indian navy has a steady hold on and the US Navy is seeing a growing need for.
The two authors have also called for an expansion of bilateral naval cooperation “beyond exercises and into the operational realm”, which would mean rethinking strategy and training tactics.
“While differing strategic priorities and threat perceptions make it unlikely that India would engage militarily in external flashpoints, the Indian Navy could, with sufficiently honed interchangeability, relieve the U.S. Navy of its maritime security responsibilities in the Persian Gulf and Horn of Africa, allowing U.S. forces to flow outward to respond to crises,” they have written.
Furthermore, Admiral Singh and Herzinger have supported “building stronger staff links” between the two nations’ fleets and increasing “maritime domain awareness and information-sharing”.
As for the way forward for the Indo-US Naval partnership, the two believe that the most salient sign of progression would be considering their policy suggestions for the next edition of the US-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue, while singling out India’s Eastern and Western Commands, the US Indo-Pacific Command, and the US Pacific Fleet as responsible for putting in the hard yards necessary to expand the naval relationship.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
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