span.p-content div[id^=div-gpt] { line-height: 0px; font-size: 0px;} It has been nearly four decades since, at the Naval War College in USA, I said to the primarily American military audience that the only thing that was Indian about the Indian was its name. This snide remark did get the expected laughs but, more seriously, reflects the very insignificant recognition that the seas around us played in our strategic thinking in those days.
Much earlier, did write a learned treatise on the significance of the Indian to our long-term interests, but not many of our leaders until 20 years ago thought the region critical to the country’s security concerns; many still do not. For this category of people, the land borders and their visible and invisible impact — whether on illegal immigration, or illicit trade or smuggling of drugs or terrorism — constitute the real threats to our sovereignty and integrity. This simplistic viewpoint needs to be challenged.
The fact that more than half of global commerce, in particular oil and gas, moves through the waters of the Indian Region (IOR) or that several of its narrower exits and entries have been subjected to piracy, most recently off Somalia, are issues of concern but do not, by themselves, determine our security concerns. It is true that in earlier years, as the European powers — principally Great Britain — sought to establish their own empires, control over the sea lanes of commerce played a very important part, but this had started dwindling in later years, as colonisation began to give way.
Britain soon lost greatness and ceded it to the United States, which took over its dominant roles in the IOR. For the last 50 years, it has been the only nation which can wield credible maritime power in the region. Both the British and now the Americans realised that for meaningful operations at sea, support stations were needed where forces could be positioned, replenished and deployed for reasonably long durations. However, such bases as the British created, stretching right across the IOR and beyond, are now long gone and US-held Diego Garcia remains the single major foreign base in the region. 
Until two decades ago, we were content to let the US act as the net security provider in the IOR, which means being able to provide help and assistance to littorals in times of need, occasionally show its presence in support of its policy objectives and, generally, act as the regional satrap at sea. Having become a major importer of energy from this region, is also now seeking an IOR presence. Towards this end, its ships and submarines have started visiting these waters frequently.
While facilities such as refuelling and the like are available at most ports, these cannot equal the support that a base should offer. So, is seeking to set up facilities at Gwadar in Pakistan and Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, which could, at some time, support 10,000 personnel each; some negotiations are on for facilities in Seychelles as well. While none of them can be said to be bases, they will give the IOR credibility that it could otherwise not have.
It is in this context that India must view its maritime interests. A hostile presence, say of the Chinese, can put our assets under great threat. Contrarily, we ourselves can interdict Chinese supply lines should that be needed, provided capability to do so exists — and it must be created. Even otherwise, as the major IOR littoral, India must be seen by others as an important provider of net security in the region. 
Looked at holistically, there are only two countries in addition to the US that can be said to have some IOR capabilities — and India. The former has a good number of seagoing platforms but, presently, not the bases to enable their sustained operations while India, with its regional presence, has the infrastructure but not the numbers. So, if we are to counter the Chinese in this region, strengthening our maritime prowess is essential.
Concurrently, our strategy must focus on mutually compatible engagement of the principal Indo-Pacific littorals. These include, apart from the US, Japan and Australia, South Africa and Mozambique which sit astride the southern routes, the island nations of Mauritius and Seychelles, which guard the approaches to the northern waters, countries of the Gulf region and immediate neighbours such as Sri Lanka and Maldives. While bases at these places might not be feasible, operating facilities which  enhance reach and endurance are needed if we are to become a credible IOR power. 
While state-sponsored terrorism on land and the occasional boundary disputes are not going to go away anytime soon, it is highly unlikely that these can or will lead to war. The challenges, much more nuanced, will come in the Indo-Pacific, where our access to the sea lanes and the ability to use them for our purposes, especially in the IOR part, will be tested.
Yet, it is at sea that our capabilities are comparable to those of our two likely adversaries and, in fact, superior. Our ability to inhibit its vessels from accessing vital energy resources in the IOR is well recognised in Beijing. The setting up of a third major naval base at Karwar, additional to the two at Mumbai and Visakhapatnam, is adding to our capabilities, which we must further augment by proactively upgrading facilities in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which can facilitate surveillance over the entire
We have slipped badly in sustaining — much less enhancing — our force levels, and must move more speedily to make up deficiencies, especially of submarines, whose numbers have fallen unacceptably; ships which can transport desired forces across the seas are also important. Unfortunately, our decision-making processes are pathetically slow, which has acted to the detriment of our maritime capabilities. All military platforms take time to build, ships much more than others. There is a clear need to weigh anchor and pick up steam. The writer is a former Commander-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command. He has also served as member of the Security Advisory Board

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