International Fleet Review, once considered to be a legacy of colonial rule, has now been converted into a national pride. Rightly and appropriately, while addressing the valedictory function of International Fleet Review 2016 held at Visakhapatnam recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted the need for a heightened vigilance against the threat of sea borne terrorism and piracy which in recent years have emerged as the two key challenges to maritime security. He was quick to point out that the threat of sea-borne terror, of which Bharat has been a victim, continues to be a serious threat to regional stability and global peace. “Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is one of my foremost policy priorities. Our approach is evident in our vision of Sagar which means ocean and stands for security and growth for all in the region. We would continue to pursue and promote our geo political strategies and economic interests in the seas, especially the Indian Ocean,” observed Modi. Making a veiled reference to the Chinese quest for monopolising the resources of the disputed South China Sea, Modi stressed the point that countries must “respect and ensure freedom of navigation”. Going further, Modi noted “to build on the gains from the international fleet review, Bharat would host the first ever Global Maritime Summit in April, 2016, with a thrust on scaling up and strengthening the sinews of trade, investment, technology and commercial linkages between Bharat and other maritime nations. “An essential part of this pursuit is the development of Bharat’s coastal and island territories, but not just for tourism. We want to build the pillars of economic activity in the coastal areas and in linked hinterlands through sustained tapping of oceanic resources, ” he said. In this context, there is plan to promote ship building industries along Bharat’s coastal stretch which would be geared to exploit the potentials of Make in Bharat initiative.
Indeed for Bharat the message from the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack is that the country would need to ensure the security of its 7,500-km long coastline and island communities in much the same way as land frontiers are secured. On another front, Bharat would need to encounter growing and fast expanding Chinese presence in IOR. Moreover, with China giving quickening impetus to the proposed maritime silk route with a view to improve connectivity, trade and geo strategic influence, Bharat would need to devise an efficacious strategy to expand its influence and power projection in the oceanic stretches across the world. Bharateeya Navy has already initiated a multi pronged strategy to augment its power projection, surveillance and combat capabilities in the IOR and beyond.
Against this backdrop, Bharateeya Navy and Costal Guard are busy beefing up security apparatus of the island communities including Lakshad-weep and Minicoy in Arabian Sea and Andaman and Nicobar in the Bay of Bengal. By all means, Bharat has vital stakes in the IOR with the global geo-strategic focus shifting to the region through which a bulk of world’s ship trade passes.
The changing geo political stakes in the IOR in the last decade have acted as a spur for the littoral nations to look seawards and this presents Bharat with a challenging opportunity to expand its influence and soft power over the countries of IOR. As part of its power projection, the Bharateeya Navy has developed its military capabilities in the strategically located Strait of Malacca. The greatest advantage for Bharat in the IOR is its short lines of communications to its own bases and easy access to its resources. Bharat should exploit these natural advantages to emerge as a force to reckon in IOR.
On this background, the International Fleet Review provided with a grand occasion when every operational ship is spruced up, proudly displaying its crest and its company in a spirit of loyalty and allegiance to its sovereign and the state. The idea of a Review during the British period was conceived as a show of naval might or an inspection of readiness for battle at sea which was later reduced to the ceremonial significance.
The 2016 fleet review, held in the Bay of Bengal, off the coastal city of Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, saw more than 100 naval vessels from the Bharateeya, US, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Australian, and South Korean navies, among others, participated. Presence of the US Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser, the USS Antietam, and an Arleigh-Burke-class guided missile destroyer, the USS McCampbell, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s two Type 054A Jiangkai-II-class frigates, the PLAN Liuzhou and PLAN Sanya and the Royal Australian Navy’s an Adelaide-class guided-missile frigate, the HMAS Darwin were some of the highlights of the review.
Bharateeya PM Narendra Modi, President Pranab Mukherjee, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and Chief of Naval Staff RK Dhowan were in attendance. Bharat last hosted an International Fleet Review in 2001 off the coast of Mumbai, with the participation of 29 countries. Bharat’s naval fleet review occurs once during the tenure of each president. Overall, this was the 11th Fleet Review.
(The writer is a freelance who writers on Science, Tech &
Defence related issues)