Quad’s IPMDA a proof of our commitment to a free, open, inclusive Indo-Pacific: Navy Chief

Building networks and partnerships would be instrumental in ensuring the security and stability of the Indian Ocean Region, says Admiral Hari Kumar

November 06, 2023 08:43 pm | Updated November 07, 2023 11:21 am IST - PANAJI

Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral R Hari Kumar addresses the fourth edition of the Goa Maritime Conclave.

Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral R Hari Kumar addresses the fourth edition of the Goa Maritime Conclave. | Photo Credit: ANI

The Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) initiative, announced by the Quad grouping, is a testament to our commitment to a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific, Navy Chief Admiral R. Hari Kumar said, stressing that building networks and partnerships would be instrumental in ensuring the security and stability of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). On force modernisation, he said they were on track to be a 170 to 180 ships and submarines Navy by 2028.

“This initiative [IPMDA] seeks to establish a comprehensive system for monitoring and securing maritime activities in the Indo-Pacific, ensuring the safety of critical sea lines of communication, and promoting cooperation among like-minded nations in the region,” Admiral Hari Kumar said in a conversation with The Hindu on the sidelines of the 4th Goa Maritime Conclave (GMC) held from October 29 to 31 in Panaji. “We understand the significance of this region for global peace and prosperity, and we are dedicated to working with our Quad partners and other regional nations to make the Indo-Pacific a safer and more stable place for all.”

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He termed the initiative a significant endeavour aimed at enhancing the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific region, which holds a central place in global geopolitics. The IPMDA was announced by the Quad grouping, comprising India, Australia, Japan and U.S., at the Tokyo summit in early 2022 to track “dark shipping” and build a “faster, wider, and more accurate maritime picture of near-real-time activities in partners’ waters”, integrating three critical regions in the Indo-Pacific — the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia, and the IOR.

The Navy currently has over 140 ships and submarines and is targeting a 170 to 180 Navy by 2028. “Sixty-six out of 68 ships under construction are being built at Indian shipyards. Further, 24 ships under contract conclusion will similarly be indigenous — our aim is for the Navy to be fully Aatmanirbhar by 2047,” Admiral Kumar said.

Need for readiness

To a question on lessons from recent events from the stand-off with China in eastern Ladakh, the conflicts in Ukraine and now in West Asia, Admiral Kumar said these events serve as a stark reminder of the need for resilience and readiness. “One more important lesson that we have learnt is the importance of integrated joint operations and a holistic approach to national defence, underlining the need for a well-coordinated defence strategy that encompasses all the three Services,” he said.

These crises have also highlighted the importance of maintaining a credible and versatile naval force that can secure our maritime interests, including energy and trade routes, as well as supply chain vulnerabilities, he stated.

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On the biennial GMC which saw participation of 12 countries in the region, Admiral Kumar said it had emerged as a critical platform for fostering cooperation and addressing maritime security challenges in the IOR. He said the collaborative effort led to coordinated efforts among the Navies in the region in responding to natural disasters, conducting joint exercises, and sharing critical maritime information.

Establishment of robust mechanisms for information sharing, such as through the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre for Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) located at Gurugram, had greatly improved the situational awareness in the region. The IFC would play a pivotal role in the IPMDA.

Intelligence sharing

Navies had been able to respond more effectively to maritime threats, piracy, and other security concerns, he stated. “Sharing of intelligence and information also contributed to enhanced Maritime Domain Awareness [MDA]. This has not only improved maritime security but also allowed for better management of marine resources and environmental protection.”

The GMC would continue to be a cornerstone in maintaining regional stability by promoting cooperation and adherence to international norms, Admiral Kumar said. “We can anticipate an increased focus on capacity building and technology transfer to ensure all nations have the means to safeguard their maritime interests.”

On the outlook for IFC-IOR, Admiral Kumar said the centre would continue to strengthen its efforts in enhancing MDA which involved the collection, fusion, and dissemination of information critical to the safety and security of the IOR. “The centre will work to further develop its capabilities to provide a comprehensive and real-time maritime situational picture.”

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Further, he said the centre would actively seek to establish and strengthen collaborative partnerships with like-minded nations and organisations. “These partnerships will involve sharing best practices, conducting joint exercises, and fostering a sense of collective responsibility,” the Navy Chief added.

India has, in recent years, significantly expanded its bilateral and multilateral engagements in the region, especially with the Quad countries.

Read the full interview here:

This is the fourth edition of Goa Maritime Conclave. What has been the progress and actionable outcomes/ achievements of this forum in six years? 

The Goa Maritime Conclave has indeed evolved significantly since its inception six years ago. It has emerged as a critical platform for fostering cooperation and addressing maritime security challenges in the Indian Ocean Region. Over the past six years, the Conclave has achieved several notable milestones. I will highlight a few of them.

First, the Conclave has successfully brought together navies from the Indian Ocean region to collaborate on addressing common maritime challenges. This cooperation has led to coordinated efforts in responding to natural disasters, conducting joint exercises, and sharing critical maritime information.

Second, establishment of robust mechanisms for information sharing, such as through Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre at Gurugram, has greatly improved the situational awareness in the region. Navies have been able to respond more effectively to maritime threats, piracy, and other security concerns.

Third, sharing of intelligence and information has also contributed to enhanced Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA). This has not only improved maritime security but also allowed for better management of marine resources and environmental protection.

These achievements are not just confined to one edition but have been cumulative over the past six years, building trust and shared responsibility among maritime nations in the Indian Ocean.

The last edition of GMC saw all Members unanimously adopt the ‘Common Maritime Priorities (CMPs)’, which signalled the common approach of all Members to find regional solutions to regional problems. The current edition hopes to develop these CMPs into Collaborative Mitigating Frameworks.

Given the current geopolitical churn, what is the collective outlook for this dialogue going forward?

The geopolitical dynamics in the Indian Ocean region are evolving rapidly. To address these challenges, the Goa Maritime Conclave remains as relevant as ever. Looking forward, the collective outlook for this dialogue is optimistic. The Conclave will continue to be a cornerstone in maintaining regional stability by promoting cooperation and adherence to international norms. It will also serve as a platform to navigate the complex geopolitical landscape, providing a space for dialogue and cooperation among maritime nations. We can anticipate an increased focus on capacity building and technology transfer to ensure all nations have the means to safeguard their maritime interests. Further, as far as economic prosperity in the region is concerned, the Conclave will promote Blue Economy, supporting the sustainable development goals of participating nations.

In summary, the Goa Maritime Conclave will remain a beacon of hope and collaboration, enabling nations to collectively address evolving challenges, seize new opportunities, and ensure the Indian Ocean remains a zone of peace, security, and prosperity.

The Quad has announced the ambitious IP-MDA. What is the status and what are the contours of this envisaged cooperation? Given that it has been offered to entire Indo-Pacific, how will the littoral states be brought onboard?

The Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness (IP-MDA) initiative is indeed a significant endeavour aimed at enhancing the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific region, which holds a central place in global geopolitics. This initiative seeks to establish a comprehensive system for monitoring and securing maritime activities in the Indo-Pacific, ensuring the safety of critical sea lines of communication, and promoting cooperation among like-minded nations in the region.

The complex nature of the initiative involves coordination with multiple countries, each with its own interests and priorities, thus making this endeavour a time consuming one. However, I want to emphasise that this initiative is of paramount importance, and we are committed to its successful realisation.

The initiative is a testament of our commitment to a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific. We understand the significance of this region for global peace and prosperity, and we are dedicated to working with our Quad partners and other regional nations to make the Indo-Pacific a safer and more stable place for all.

While progress may be incremental, rest assured that we are resolutely moving forward with the IP-MDA initiative and will continue to engage with all stakeholders to ensure its success.

How are events in Ukraine and now the Israel conflict as well our own lessons from the standoff ongoing with China since 2020 in Eastern Ladakh, going to reshape the Naval force planning, restructuring and modernisation?

The dynamic nature of global events significantly influences our strategic thinking and defence posture. As stewards of India’s maritime security, we are closely monitoring these developments to ensure that the Indian Navy remains prepared and capable of safeguarding our national interests in a rapidly changing world.

Recent global events serve as a stark reminder of the need for resilience and readiness. These crises have also highlighted the importance of maintaining a credible and versatile naval force that can secure our maritime interests, including energy and trade routes, as well as supply chain vulnerabilities. It underscores the significance of strong naval capabilities to protect our economic lifelines and respond to unforeseen contingencies.

One more important lesson that we have learnt is the importance of integrated joint operations and a holistic approach to national defence, underlining the need for a well-coordinated defence strategy that encompasses all the three Services. The Indian Navy’s role in supporting the nation’s security extends beyond the seas, and our forces are ready to collaborate effectively with our sister services to address threats and challenges on multiple fronts.

The Indian Navy is committed to a comprehensive approach to planning, restructuring, and modernisation. Our efforts are guided by the key principles of strategic agility, technological advancements, interoperability and most importantly, Aatmanirbharta. We cannot afford to be dependent on others for our own security needs.

The Indian Navy remains dedicated to safeguarding our maritime interests and contributing to national security. We are continually assessing and adapting to the evolving geopolitical environment, and our efforts in planning, restructuring, and modernization are aligned with the changing strategic landscape.

We are on track to be a 170 -180 Navy by 2028. 66 out of 68 ships presently under construction are also being built at Indian Shipyards. Further, 24 ships under contract conclusion, will similarly be indigenous – our aim is for the Navy to be fully Aatmanirbhar by 2047.

Follow up to that, on October 19, US Navy destroyer USS Carney shot down three missiles and 19 UAVs that were launched from Yemen towards Israel. It holds serious lessons for India. What is the naval assessment of this?

Our preliminary assessment based on media inputs, has demonstrated the remarkable capabilities of major naval platforms, while also shedding light on the evolving nature of threats in the maritime domain.

The reported successful interception of multiple missiles and UAVs by the USS Carney showcases the importance of advanced technology and integrated air defence systems aboard naval vessels. It highlights the need for constant innovation and adaptation to address emerging threats in today’s complex security environment.

On the other hand, the changing nature of threats at sea, including the proliferation of unmanned systems, requires us to continually assess and enhance our naval capabilities. To this end, the Indian Navy is committed to modernising its fleet, investing in cutting-edge technologies, and strengthening our defence and deterrence mechanisms.

Our forces are vigilant and prepared to protect India’s maritime interests in the face of evolving challenges. We also place great importance on international cooperation and information sharing to collectively address these challenges.

IFC-IOR since its inception has grown in its scope and its interactions/ linkages and has established itself as a major centre in the Region. What is the next steps for the Centre in the near future?

In its journey since inception, the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre for the Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) has significantly expanded its scope and developed valuable interactions and linkages within the region. The IFC-IOR has proven to be a major hub for enhancing maritime security and cooperation. Looking ahead, I would like to outline four key steps for the IFC in the near future.

First, the IFC will continue to strengthen its efforts in enhancing maritime domain awareness. This involves the collection, fusion, and dissemination of information critical to the safety and security of the Indian Ocean Region. The Centre will work to further develop its capabilities to provide a comprehensive and real-time maritime situational picture.

Second, IFC-IOR will actively seek to establish and strengthen collaborative partnerships with like-minded nations and organisations. Building networks and alliances will be instrumental in ensuring the security and stability of the Indian Ocean Region. These partnerships will involve sharing best practices, conducting joint exercises, and fostering a sense of collective responsibility.

Third, IFC-IOR will continue to promote a culture of information sharing and transparency. Timely sharing of relevant data and intelligence is crucial in addressing threats such as piracy, illegal fishing, and other maritime security concerns. The Centre will work on further enhancing its information-sharing mechanisms.

Lastly, the IFC will strive to be an integral part of regional security architecture. It will actively contribute to initiatives aimed at promoting stability and cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region. This includes participation in regional forums and dialogues that seek to address common challenges.

Indian Navy is committed to ensuring the safety, security, and prosperity of the Indian Ocean Region. The IFC-IOR will continue to evolve and adapt to meet the ever-changing dynamics of the maritime domain. We recognise the importance of working collaboratively with our regional partners and the international community to secure the future of this vital region. IFC-IOR is poised to play a pivotal role in these efforts in the near future and beyond.

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