US Navy’s Indian Ocean Folly?
Image Credit: US Navy

US Navy’s Indian Ocean Folly?


Generally speaking, elected leaders and their advisers craft policy goals and, in conjunction with senior military leaders, provide strategic direction for the armed forces. As military theorist Carl von Clausewitz put it, policy shouldn’t be a ‘tyrant,’ but it still ‘permeates’ all but the more routine administrative elements of military affairs.

But what happens if political leaders fail to assert control of strategy?

Over the past decade, successive US presidential administrations have focused their energies on matters other than maritime strategy, something that often appeared remote from more immediate concerns like counterterrorism and conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Enjoying the strategic holiday that began when the Soviet Navy vacated the seas leaving the US Navy unchallenged in the world’s oceans and seas, it seemed that US forces just didn’t need to fight anymore for command of important waters.

As a result, strategic nautical documents are typically couched in generalities and platitudes. On the Indian Ocean, for example, the 2008 National Defense Strategy, a Bush-era treatise, said: ‘We look to India to assume greater responsibility as a stakeholder in the international system, commensurate with its growing economic, military, and soft power.’ Yet concrete details of what this actually entails are scant. The 2010 National Security Strategy is equally vague.

Documents like these instead portray abstractions like ‘proliferation,’ ‘piracy,’ and ‘anti-access’—not living, breathing antagonists with their own capabilities, resolve, and capacity to innovate—as the principal challenges.

The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, for example, prophesises that the US military will be ‘increasingly challenged in securing and maintaining access to the global commons and must also be prepared for operations in unfamiliar conditions and environments.’ It also promises to furnish ‘solid direction on developing capabilities that counter the proliferation of anti-access and area-denial threats, which present an increased challenge to our maritime, air, space, and cyber forces.’ Yet by refusing to name prospective adversaries or speculate about how such adversaries might attempt to counteract US strategy, Washington has effectively withheld actionable strategic guidance from the armed forces.

In the resulting policy vacuum, those responsible for executing national policy—the US Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard—have taken to devising strategy largely free of close supervision from their political overseers. This effectively inverts the Clausewitzian principle of policy and strategy. In the triservice 2007 US Maritime Strategy A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, the uniformed service chiefs announce that the sea services will shift their centre of gravity from the Atlantic and Pacific—the theatres where World War II and the Cold War unfolded—to the Pacific and Indian oceans.

The Maritime Strategy reaffirms that the US Navy will remain the two-ocean navy it has been since Congress approved the Two-Ocean Navy Act in 1940, in anticipation of a two-front war against Germany and Japan. But the second ocean is no longer the Atlantic—it’s the Indian Ocean and the adjacent Persian Gulf.

dream on
March 12, 2013 at 07:34

Vietnam will be lucky if China doesn't have it for lunch, especially it's navy.  As for bringing in China, which part of the article didn't you read?  Chinese ballistic missiles, he didn't say Indian, it was Chinese.  At least give the Chinese some credit that those missiles are simply made to be offensive and hit Korean, japanese and US warships.

August 26, 2012 at 22:10

With "wisdom" like this is it any wonder Iran has been effectively isolated and castrated ?

May 11, 2012 at 07:05

Keep on dreaming, til they break out form illegal occupation of “MOTHER CHINA” and stolen technology.

December 19, 2011 at 16:28

What has China got to do with what you are talking about? Why the need to throw in some nasty statements regarding China at the end of your Americaphilic “America is great, God bless America” braggadacios?

America killed millions of Vietnamese they derogatively call gooks. I hope American warships encounter a nice big accident. God willing, the world will applaud at news of America’s warships sinking to the bottom of the oceans , Indian, Pacific or otherwise!

December 19, 2011 at 16:20

Yeah, American and European commercial shippers too. So much for the vaunted American navy! What an ars*hole. Using half-facts to slander other countries. Washington’s hate machine continues. Like Al Qaeda’s terrorist propaganda!

Fu Man-chu
December 19, 2011 at 16:09

Even before Australia can become a “colony”, it will become a colony of the U.S. before any Australian realises it!

The U.S.’s navy should go home. Iran will be dominant power in the Middle East (including India). It’s navy will rule the Indian Ocean. India will unlikely become a superpower. Even now as I write, it is parasiting upon itself and eating its own tail! Teheran will ensure the Indian Ocean is safe for commercial shipping of its oil and other goods. The U.S.’s navy is not required.

September 20, 2011 at 14:27

After a practice run to liberate Taiwan from hostile foreign elements, China can easily rerun that episode to take the island of Australia — same population size and rightfully Asian’s.

Outer Mongolia reannexation can take its time, only 2 million people. A referandum to return to mother China will easily pave the way for the PLA entry via the world’s longest and fastest network of 500 km/hr trains.

June 1, 2011 at 14:15

@Frank…I want to tell you one thing here “Indians are not Chinese”…they have to feed their billion people.Indian’s don’t want war with any Nation but are forced to do, China snubbed India in 1962 because they supported Tibet and don’t talk about Pakistan. In Pakistan, the history book of 8th class tells them that Pakistan was established in the 9th century and they were divided into two part and India got its name in 1947…(these the facts told by Salim Ahmed on Geo news)…
Today also India don’t want war with neither Pak nor China but Paki militia forces are forcing India to engage while China is building its Navy bases in Gadawer Port(west),Sri Lanka(south) and Roco Island(east).
So thats why India is spending so much on its military.

January 17, 2011 at 11:22

Mr Frank,you could perhaps find it interesting that India has been operating an Aircraft carrier since the late 1960s.It still operates one – INS Viraat.And on what basis do you make the statement that Indian Navy is incompetent?Indian policy makers have tradionally been averse to ‘bang-bang’ employment of military power.Why should Indian Navy go after pirates all around the countryside and certainly beyond two or three times outside the Exclusive Economic Zone of India? Unless there are good reasons concerning its own security,the Indian government will never authorize military action in international waters – has it taken up the moral responsibility of fighting pirates all over the region?As of now,there are UNSC resolutions authorising actions off the coast of Somalia and thats why Indian Navy is there.Morever,untill there is a spurt in hijacks concerning ships proceeding to India,there will be no motivation to increase the commitment.Moreover,India sees through the piracy game which has more to do with power projection than genuine concerns against piracy.Remember India is trying to sell itself as a future candidate for the UNSC expansion and it would not do anything that will make itself appear trigger happy or reckless.India had long championed the Non Aligned Movement of developing nations and it still enjoys support from many of these old friends.By gulping the US or NATO bait on piracy hook line and sinker,India will not risk her bets.India likes to play ball like test cricket and not like American rugby or baseball.Baseball gives immense and immediate gratification but ends fast.Test cricket goes on for days,may end in a draw or a win or a loss but when you play it,you are playing a first class game!

January 10, 2011 at 02:35

so the highly “competent” Chinese boats were only able to free china ships after paying a huge ransom to somali pirates, not just once but for several times.

January 10, 2011 at 02:31

Indians have been using carrier for more than 15 years since UK sold them. They will now have the Russian carrier in few years plus their own indigenous one.
China’s half made Varyag (bought from Ukraine 10 years ago) is still not operational and according to Russians it will take PLAN another decade before it comes on the high seas.
what we see here here is the incapability of chinese to produce indigenously.

January 8, 2011 at 07:41

“The Indians have been told not to compete with the PLAN in relation to carrier procurement.”

Should Indians be told what to do? Cannot Indians think themselves?

January 7, 2011 at 03:21

on the contrary Indian Navy has done a remarkable job in dealing with piracy both in the straits of Mallacca as well as of the Somali coast. It has been at the forefront of the counter piracy operations in the Indian ocean and this fact has been well acknowledged by the US itself. Even countries like Malayasia and Indonesia trust India more than the US in countering piracy in the region. As far as Gwadar port is concerned the Chinese have already beaten the US there.They have built a swanky port in Gwadar and can use it for strategic purposes detrimental to the US.The US has no choice but to court India if it wants to have a suitable Indian Ocean Strategy

January 6, 2011 at 14:56

The Indians have been told not to compete with the PLAN in relation to carrier procurement. The PLAN are building a blue water navy around carriers yet to built from a defensive and offensive nature that would mean around 6 carriers for the PLAN. India will be build around three. The Australian Defense White paper is mainly for carrier protection. That is what the future frigates, AWD and next generation submarines are for. The India Navy battle groups will fit in with the US and the Australians. We will have the size of the whole PLAN carrier battle groups sitting in the Indian Ocean. While still protecting the Pacific and strategic triangle of Guam Hawaii and Fiji. That blocks access to the Coral Sea. The Japanese and ROK alliance yet to be signed, will add protection to the carrier groups in the Pacific and secure the strategic triangle. The Japanese PM statement on military engagement in a Korean conflict is cover for the pacifist constitution, in case the DPRK does not directly strike Japan.

Stefan Stackhouse
January 6, 2011 at 03:11

It is the height of folly to assume a long-term US presence, let alone dominance, in an Indian Ocean that is halfway around the world. The US is a North American nation, and is therefore an Atlantic and Pacific power. Those two oceans are our approaches, and thus provide the strategic depth which must be held and guarded. All else is pales in importance (and is a “secondary theatre” in Clauswitz’s terms).

The only sane and affordable long-term strategy that the US can hope to actually sustain is to disengage from the Eurasian mainland in a responsible but expedited manner, turn the security of the Indian Ocean over to an Indian/Australian alliance, and redeploy behind a more compact maritime defense perimeter in the Atlantic and Pacific. Growing Chinese power and capabilities will soon make Guam the farthest forward deployment that we can hope to defend and hold, and even there I would not suggest concentrating very many forces. Australia is indeed worth retaining as an ally, and it does make sense to base some naval forces there. However, that is still a long way from the northern/western Pacific, which is where our focus must increasingly be.

I wouldn’t ignore the Atlantic, either. Mahan might be right about not dividing attack fleets, but when it comes to maintaining a forward defensive shield, we will still need a robust fleet – especially of attack subs – that can stand offshore in the mid-Atlantic. Russia is not the existential threat that the USSR was, but they still have capabilities and could still turn hostile.

January 6, 2011 at 01:21

Gwadar port would be a best location for Navy base.

1) Closer to oil;
2) Can be supplied by rail;
3) Closer to targets;
4) Can be defended;

Indian Navy is incompetent. Indians cannot deal with a few Somali pirates a thousand miles away. Not to mention a large vast ocean that carries its name.

January 5, 2011 at 22:46

Hmmmm, the writers seem to have left out the U.S 3rd Fleet consisting of:

1. CVN-76 USS Ronald Reagan – North Island San Diego, California. 3rd Fleet
2. CVN-74 USS John C Stennis – Kitsap, Washington. 3rd Fleet
3. CVN-72 USS Abraham Lincoln – Everett, Washington. 3rd Fleet
4. CVN-70 USS Carl Vinson – North Island San Diego, California. 3rd Fleet
5. CVN-68 USS Nimitz – North Island, San Diego, California. 3rd Fleet
6. CV-63 USS Kitty Hawk – Bremerton, Washington – In RESERVE

1. LHA-5 USS-Peleliu – Naval Base San Diego As of 25th Nov in Subic (Tarawa)
2. LHD-4 USS Boxer – Naval Base San Diego
3. LHD-6 USS Bonhomme Richard – Naval Base San Diego
4. LHD-8 USS Makin Island – Naval Base San Diego

The 3rd Fleet is the backbone of the 7th and supports the 5th. With the 5th being able to be supported by both the 6th or the entire Atlantic Fleet in a cataclysmic war time situation in Asia

It’s also interesting how it’s the current trend to nonchalantly throw around that “China” can hit all kinds of places, or things, with Ballistic Missiles these days, without addressing what the consequences would be if they ACTUALLY did… i.e a preemptive strike on a U.S Carrier in say, Singapore or Japan ports.

In WWII after Pearl Harbour the U.S went all out for ‘unconditional surrender’ of Japan, Likewise if China’s mystery Carrier Killer Missile could actually sink a carrier, the CCP would be foolish if they thought the U.S would be interested in anything but total regime change, just like the Japanese misjudged the U.S in the 40s

January 5, 2011 at 05:40

If US wants to have increased presense in the Indian ocean it needs to court the navy of the country whose name has been affilated to the ocean ie.India.India has always seen the Indian ocean as its strategic backyard but never had the navla might to turn it into one of its lakes.But today the Indian Navy is growing from strength to strength. This is evident from its success in counter piracy operations both in straits of Malacca as well as near the coast of Somalia. India’s disater relief operations in the wake of tsunami were also noteworthy.In the next 10 years India is likely to have its own Carrier group with a capacity to double it in the next two decades.India also has a central location in the Indian ocean as it forms a strategic bridge betwenn the East and West Asia.This makes India an indispensable player in any US strategy in the Indian Ocean Region. India too, is concerned about the growing Chinese presense in the Indian ocean.It is also strengthening its Andaman and Nicobar command.Therefore it can be a willing partner to the American policy in the region. US should try to use Australia as its naval base while working alongside India and other regional navies, if possible, to maintain peace and stability in the Indian ocean.US can also look to strengthen its naval presence in Diego Garcia although this might not go down well with the Indians who have always been sceptical about the US presence in Diego Garcia.Thus the need to engage India for its Indian ocean policy is imperative for the US. Any attempt at unilateral approach in the Indian Ocean without taking the Indians on board is likely to be futile.

Gary Jakacky
January 5, 2011 at 03:10

Outstanding analysis. Given the extent to which India dominates its Ocean, a major priority in coming decades is to tie that subcontinent firmly into the western mold of free trade, free markets and of course as an ally to the US/Great Britain, the latter having tremendous influence in this theater.

The article forgets that the Island chain from the Kuriles to the Phillipines acts, as General MacArthur noted during the Korean War, as an ‘unsinkable aircraft carrier,’ which completes the isolation of China (Russia to the north, Himalayas and Indo-China to the south) weather that petulant Kleptoocracy likes it or not.

January 4, 2011 at 16:45

Sorry Mr Toshi Yoshihara but we’re broke right now!

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