India’s Anti-Access Trump Card
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India’s Anti-Access Trump Card


One of the most frequently cited indicators of India’s status as a rising power is its growing emphasis on naval modernization. Historically a land power with a “continentalist” mindset, in recent years India has started to expand its strategic horizons and devote greater attention toward the maritime domain. Although the Indian Navy remains the country’s smallest military service in terms of both personnel and funding, its share of the national defense budget has progressively increased (albeit defense was cut across the board in the latest defense budget). These added resources have supported a number of high-profile acquisition programs, including aircraft carriers, destroyers, frigates, amphibious transport ships, submarines, and surveillance aircraft. In the words of India’s former Chief of the Naval Staff, this additional funding also reflects “an increasing realization that the destiny of our nation is entwined with our maritime destiny.”

While India’s goals are lofty, its aspirations are understandable. Rising powers often look to the sea for a host of reasons: to extend their defensive perimeters against potential competitors, to expand and protect their overseas commerce, to intervene abroad in response to emerging threats or humanitarian impulses, and to gain prestige. For its part, New Delhi has good reasons to travel down the path of its predecessors. Despite having little interest in maritime power-projection for most of its history, India’s economic growth now depends upon seaborne commerce, particularly imported crude oil from the Middle East and Africa, along with exports to various countries in East Asia. As a result, it has a natural stake in protecting the sea lines of communication (SLOCs) that stretch from the Arabian Sea to the Indonesian archipelago.

In addition, China’s growing interest in the Indian Ocean has provided India with an incentive to develop larger and more capable naval forces. Given its own dependence on commercial exports as well as imported natural resources and raw materials, Beijing has a strong interest in preventing any disruption to the SLOCs that connect it to the global economy. It is also skeptical that it can rely on other nations to protect its overseas trade. Today, China does not have the force structure or overseas basing infrastructure necessary to monitor and defend distant sea-lanes running through the Indian Ocean. Nevertheless, it is taking steps to mitigate its “Malacca dilemma,” from building up its surface naval forces and undersea fleet, to financing deep-water commercial ports in littoral and island nations, to making diplomatic inroads with key actors across the Indian Ocean basin. In the future, these efforts could give China the ability to sustain forward-deployed forces in greater numbers—and might upend the maritime military balance in the region.

Of course, similar interests could be an impetus for strategic collaboration between India and China. In this case, however, they are just as likely to spark a maritime security dilemma. Capabilities that will enable New Delhi to project power and protect SLOCs could also be used to threaten Beijing’s seaborne trade, leading China to further develop its so-called “string of pearls.” Likewise, China’s efforts to increase its military presence in the Indian Ocean region are already viewed as an early form of encirclement in India, prompting countermoves by New Delhi.

Despite these trends, efforts by India to establish itself as a naval power to be reckoned with—not just by weaker nations in its neighborhood but also by extra-regional powers such as China—will have to overcome a number of serious obstacles.

First, given the enormous costs and complexity of advanced naval platforms, any nation attempting to build a capable blue water fleet will confront a host of technical and financial challenges. As the renowned strategist Colin Gray explains, “The aircraft carrier, the nuclear submarine, and the antisubmarine warfare (ASW) and air defense cruiser are the largest, most complex, and inevitably most expensive, weapon systems produced by contemporary service-based economies.”

August 2, 2013 at 11:43

@ Aman

India leader foolishness was under estimating the will power of the Chinese to react to Nehru doctrine of deploying Indian  "Forward Post inside Chinese territory" I am old enough to  recall the entire episode of  the 1962 Sino Indian Border War. I am from S'pore, we read both the Western and Chinese media and I reckon we have a more balance view on this subject.

There are several articles written by Western historian on how Nehru had made the plunder of under estimating to Chinese to fight. 1962 was the worst year for China since the establishement of PRC.

She was still going thru famine and had to deploy most of her Army along the Eastern coastal region for fear of counter attack from the Nationalist Army across the Taiwan Strait. The last thing she wanted to do was to open another front to fight India.

China won because the Chinese troops were better trained and had vast experince fighting UN forces during the Korean War. She was also led by China most brilliant General. Field Marshal Lin Biao who was a master tatician and had never lost a major battle.



June 9, 2013 at 14:39

"India's military, for example, turned out a tank – the Arjun – that was underpowered, overweight, inaccurate, behind schedule, and over budget."

Its perhaps best to have ones capability be underestimted, but I cannot resist responding on the Arjun tank comment: two head on tests between the Arjun and the T-72 by the Indian Army have shown that it consistently out ran, and out gunned the T-72 and had much better ERA armour. Overweight?  At 62 tonnes  it is in the same weight range as the Abrams and the Merkeva. Sure the railways have had to design new carriers for it but that is the cost of having a world class tank.  It has already been inducted in the desert squadrons and tanks of this class are not going to fight in the mountains. But you can still choose to adopt the "what-me -worry" attitude. Lets hope the policy planners in China are no wiser!

June 7, 2013 at 21:58

@ F Betancor,

Your's is a fair assessment ……

Just a minor correction …… while India's relations with China has been an outright hostile one, India's relations with the US has been no good either, if you consider (1) over three decades of trade sanctions and nuclear aparthied against India. the NPT was an American move, specifically designed to isolate India after its first nuclear test. (2)  Amrican policies towards Pakistan directly threaten India's security, even today, which is deliberate and pre meditated, although the Americans never admit that. India has been a victim of Pakistan sponsored terrorism since 1989, which the British and the Americans chose to ignore until they had a taste of the same medicine.

From a neutral perspective, while China is a regional hegemon, the US is a global one …… and both threaten India's integrity and sovereignty.

wise counsel
June 7, 2013 at 20:10

To T Dog and his ilk,

As your name suggests, dont go over the top and become rabid.So what? We lost 1962 due to our folly which will not happen again.If China has come on the world stage, India was there for ages before you and continues to do so. You guys also got banged up literally in Nanking. Why this comparison with 1962 ? When you can challenge the Japanese after getting … you know what for your womenfolk in Nanking, why cant we challenge you?

All the China rising stuff is bogus meant for domestic internal consumption of Chinese only. Even the Chinese elite are migrating to other countries. If Communism was a darling, why migrate to the "decadent" West by China's own admission.

The string of pearls is useless. While you have outposts in Pakistan ( a country that is more a drain on China),Burma (now that is a question mark since Burma has come out of China's orbit), Srilanka(they are in no way to challenge India anyway), we have been making strong allies that you guys are scared of.

The Himalayan border is tranquil because we control the ocean and the resources that pass through them, make no mistakes and will continue to do so in future as well. That's why China wants to beef its presence in the Indian ocean region. However, this carries a quid pro quo kind of situation in the east and south china seas where our ships for the second year have travelled and sent a message to you guys.

Hope saner voices prevail and see that while China rises, India is in a stronger position due to our demographic advantage, intelligent race and strong alliances not to mention about a word that is anaethmia to you people.. "Democracy" !!

Fernando Betancor
June 7, 2013 at 17:21

Dear Admiral Cheng,

Your last sentence hardly sounds like an olive branch – unless by "olive branch" you mean tribute-paying subservience. I dare say Kaiser Wilhelm made similar declarations in 1913; he too underestimated the resilience and fortitude of democratic people. No one wishes to deny China's rightful "place in the Sun," but the increasing bellicosity only hardens attitudes towards your nation. It is to be hoped that Prime Minister Xi proves a more enlightened leader, capable of rising above such nationalist doggerel.

Fernando Betancor
June 7, 2013 at 17:13

Full disclaimer: I am an American.

My reading of Mr. Montgomery's article is that it is quite objective. He does not claim that a Sino-Indian conflict is inevitable or even likely, he merely states the fact that border tensions continue to exist along the two nations' land border. That is no more "pitting India against China" than saying that Indo-Pakistani tensions exist is a deliberate attempt to "pit India against Pakistan". These are facts, which will be exploited by all interested parties for their own purposes. Better to recognize them as such, so that leaders can make the appropriate strategic decisions. India may very well choose to align itself with Beijing: but the fact is that Beijing has no "allies" as such; it has client states (and here I challenge anyone to name a single strategic ally of China with a similar relationship to that which the US has with South Korea, Japan, the UK or other NATO nations).

Why should India look more towards the US than towards China? 1. Both the US and India are democracies, for better or worse; 2. The US has an open, friendly attitude towards India, a long history of good, or at least cordial relations, with India, and one of the largest Indian populations in the world; 3. The US and India have no strategic interests in conflict and many in common; 4. The US is a well-balanced economy, receptive to Indian exports and willing to invest in Indian firms, while China may be willing to invest in Indian firms, but its economy is wholly export-oriented and thus in closer competition with India. 5. The US Navy has the technology and the historical experience that India needs to develop its proficiency as a blue water navy and control the Indian Ocean, and furthermore, a strong Indian Navy is beneficial to the US, whilst China currently has neither the technology, experience or strategic interest in having a powerful Indian naval presence from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal – quite the opposite.

For all of those reasons, it is likely that India and the US can, should and will draw closer together. It is up to the leaders of India, the US and above all China whether to take this as a strategic threat or to welcome it as a sign of a closer, more integrated, more secure world. Indeed there is no reason why the US, China, India, Japan, Russia and Australia should not hold "6-Power Talks" to limit conventional and strategic armaments in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, as well as establishing a common framework for resolution of disputes. Only that way, by engagement and diplomacy, but also firmness against unilateralism, militarism and revanchism, can we hope to maintain a peaceful, equitable and open world.

Assuming all of our leaders share such a vision, which is far from clear.

S. Suchindranath Aiyer
June 7, 2013 at 16:09

India has the Air Craft Carrier INS Vikramaditya (alias The Admiral Gorshkov) that has been with Russia ever since India paid for it twenty years ago. India has the Air Craft Carrier INS Viraat (alias HMS Hermes) being refitted ever since it was rammed by a motor boat at Cochin in October-November of 2012. India's Naval Ship, that was supposed to collect Indian citizens released from Somali captivity by Pakistan, ran for life from a skittish Pakistan vessel lending credence to a dismissed Indian Navy Admiral's complaint that Indian ships do not have basic armour. And, we have the Light Combat Aircraft that has been in the making for more than three decades, and which may never be fit for operations, being fitted out for the INS Vikramaditya. We have India's tall claims of being a nuclear power with many nuclear war heads that neither Pakistan nor China take seriously. Both Kargil and Bombay were overt enough, yet India did nothing except "complain" to the "international community" as behoves its great power status and aspirations to strut about as a permanent member of the UN Security Council (which Jawaharlal Nehru declined in favour of China). The Depsang Valley, The Pangong Lake and Daulat Beg Oldie are only a slightly better known adventure in a series of Chinese incursions that makes light of India's "Great Power Status" and, definitively, re draw the lines of "Actual Control". Daulat Beg Oldie achieved some notoriety because the alarmed Indian Brass blew a covert whistle to the media. Probably because, with China's massive investments in border infrastructure, both road and rail, India's sole tactical foot hold, the only feasible air fields in the theater were falling, irretrievably, into Chinese hands without a shot fired. Given the notoriety of India's ruling classes, many might have wondered, as I did, whether China had paid money into the safe haven accounts of India's rulers for Daulat Beg Oldie. Rendered culturally iIncapable of technological advancement and quality production by a bureacracy and political system devised for other priorities, India remains stead fastly against any form of military alliance. Perhaps, this is ito retain the flexibility to sell Indian territory for personal pelf? Sixty five years of the Sociometirc Kleptocracy have returned India to the "defeatist" philosophy that Ashoka wrought for India two thousand years ago and Will Durant so accurately described. India's leadership culture is one of criminal bullying that crushes and extorts, with impunity, from its own helpless citizens while deferring to foreigners and foreign powers. In the ultimate analysis, India's naval build up may never be used in anger. Like INS Vikramaditya, the ships may have already served their purpose once money changed hands. The Navy may be exclusively for the quintennial "Fleet Review", just as the Army and the Air Force are intended for the annual Republic Day Parade. India's Armed Forces are probably intended for an "internal audience" of India's vast unwashed, starving, defecating-in-the-open, illiterate vote fodder, as a camouflage under which to attend to the more pressing engagement of amassing personal fortunes.

June 7, 2013 at 13:37

India lost 1962 war because of the foolishness of our leaders rather than chinese superiority. They just didn't prepare for war and were caught napping when chines attacked. They didn't even use IAF.

Admiral Cheng
June 7, 2013 at 00:39

TDog, We China want to offer the World Olive branch but the Imperialists and their lackeys like to return our good will with threat of War and violence. Please take note that China today is not the China of yesterday. China is a power to be reckon with and within the next decade will became the one and only hyperpower that the USA will have to bow.

June 6, 2013 at 21:06

…which could enable it to deploy considerable forces near contested areas in a relatively short period of time…

3 to 1, that's the ratio that neutral analysis calculated. PLA can surge 3 times more troops than India. Mountain warfare is not a cake walk, but with a 3:1 ratio no neutral is betting on India and if Pakistan join the PLA on an invasion of India, then India have zero hope on avoid humilliating conditions for end the war. Nedless to say the only thing that stop the CCP from unleash the PLA is India's nukes, but that may not last, becasue time seems to be on the side of the CCP.

If India don't want to yield to the CCP but also don't want an alliance with the US and/or Japan. Then the only way I see india securing their border is start secret negotiation with Pakistan in a neutral country for a long lasting peace. Remember Israel and Egipt? Well you know whath this involve, trade land for peace and desmilitarization of the mutual border. then India can redeploy the troops in the border with the PRC and keep developing their navy. Anwar Sadat won a nobel peace prize but he also was assesinated, so I doubt that the leadership of Pakistan a country filled with terrorists will be very inclined to try unless the offer sounds good enough for risk becoming targets of extremists. Well, if India really want to become an Asian power able to create a third option instead of following China or the US, then this is it, have the courage to be bold and reshape the world around you not with weapons but with diplomacy.

June 6, 2013 at 18:33

"Why are your articles  always try to pit the Indians the Chinese? Why not the Americans?" 

But which american would want to read such things as India fighting america? Only the chinese would want to read them. lol. For western audiences, it's better for India to fight China.

Trouble Stirring Diplomat
June 6, 2013 at 16:20

Why are your articles  always try to pit the Indians the Chinese? Why not the Americans? 

June 6, 2013 at 15:41


If India has more experience in mountain warfare, why did they lose so completely to China in 1962?  And commanding the heights makes a great deal of difference because if it didn't, India wouldn't be making such a big deal about it.

As for India's many accomplishments, they're limited in scope and have yet to be replicated on a large scale.  India's military, for example, turned out a tank – the Arjun – that was underpowered, overweight, inaccurate, behind schedule, and over budget.  It also turned out an AK-47 variant – the INSAS – that was so unreliable that it put paid to the theory that AK's are idiot proof.  In fact, most Indian procurement has been plagued by cost overruns and severely late deliveries. 

India's military man-for-man may be amongst the best in the world.  I do not doubt not do I cast aspersions upon the brave and selfless individuals who choose a military career in India.  But as one famous general noted to a defeated foe, and I'm paraphrasing here, the Indian military is an army of lions led by morons.  Their military procurement and their military and political leadership are severely lacking and when a nation is paralyzed from the neck up, there is only so much its military can do.

The Indian military is a second rate organization by dint of its third rate leadership. 

June 6, 2013 at 15:26

@Dewey Last.

As far as nukes are concerned, they are at their most effective when the other side does not possess them.  Having either China or India escalate any war between them into a nuclear one is a remote possibility at best.  Neither government is so divorced from reality as to believe a nuclear exchange between the two of them is either winnable or even desirable.

And while American and Indian interests are not mutally exclusive, the manner in which they are pursued are.  The United States seeks in its allies a degree of submissiveness that borders on indentured servitude.  It is quite telling that it makes headlines whenever Afghan or Iraqi units operate on their own and without American troops in charge – our allies meet most of the definition of hessians.

India, on the other hand, seems reluctant to surrender that much sovereignty to the US in the name of pursuing mutual interests.  A defense pact with Japan and the United States doesn't make much sense since Japan is pathologically pacificistic and the United States, as has been shown by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, tends to lose interest and go home when the going gets tough.

If India really wanted to protect its interests and promote its agenda in the region, I personally think Australia, Singapore, and Qatar make more sense than Japan and the United States.  Australia is a rational actor on the world stage, Singapore is pragmatic and strategically located, and Qatar is one of the more outward-looking Gulf states that can act as an impartial go-between for India and Pakistan.  Furthermore, such an alliance would be a partnership of equals.  If India were to join into a formal alliance with the United States and Japan, who would the junior partner be?  Would the US and Japan be willing to do for India what they so obviously expect India to do for them?  I doubt very seriously if either Japan or the United States would be willing to host the frontlines in a conflict with China.

By the way, I'm American.  I may come off as a bit of a Sinophile, but only because I believe current American foreign policy is needlessly fixated on Cold War aims and strategies. 

June 6, 2013 at 12:49

China has already developed land links including 3 railway links to Europe. China can do it because most of its neighbours on land are its friends. It is not the case with India! Any sea access denial by India will prompt China and Pakistan to do same and then all Indian imports and exports come to a standstill (except the service industry) but China can still operate in the Pacific, South China Sea, etc. by sea and host more options on land).

China has developed a port in southern Sri Lanka. At the moment Indian ships from its east coast to west coast must pass close to this port. That allows China monitor and, if necessary, interdict maritime traffic. India has responded by dredging a canal closer to its coastline (Sethusasumdram canal) which will enable ships a shorter route and without making the round trip. But the Sethusasumdram canal project has stalled due to cultural issues. The sooner India completes it the better.

Dewey Last [formerly But....]
June 6, 2013 at 12:27


There are some professions where one bad apple can make the whole pie go bad. Recently I make an appointment to see a young dentist in my home town who promises in his advertisement to have the best qualifications and equipment. His Stanford diploma is hanging in the reception room which is "oohed" by an elderly woman who reminds me of my grandmother. Later, after perusing my x-rays, the young dentist says he I have one cavity and need a deep cleaning. He quotes me US$3,200. I go to another dentist who cleans my teeth for US70 and tells me I didn't have a cavity. To make a long story short, I have come to the conclusion there are bloggers who fit in the first category and there are bloggers who are honest and fit in the second category, much like the dental profession

Getting back to the dental business, both of the dentists are qualified to practice, however one has an ulterior motive and the other one has an honest approach to his profession. As for you, TDog, I believe you are qualified to make a superb review. You easily have the best command of the English language for a Chinese poster, and you have knowledge of the subject matter.

Much as the 'unsinkable aircraft carrier" of Italy failed to deny access to the Mediterranean for British forces during World War II, so too would an Indian A2/AD strategy have limited impact upon China, especially since China commands the heights overlooking India.  This fact alone means any Indian naval endeavor could be outflanked on land by the Chinese.” I am loathe to agree with this shallow assessment. India is a nuclear state. Any military action will have nuclear warheads use by both sides. Also in a few sentences you have explained the whole war strategy of China with India. The world is such a simple place!

“Engaging in this sort of tit-for-tat access denial as a diversionary move for our benefit doesn't strike me as helping Indian interests or promoting anything other than American goals.” American and Indian interests are not mutually exclusive. When it comes to China, India is justifiably concerned with China’s advancing military. Coordinating with Japan and the United States in the strategic defense of the Indian Ocean is what India needs to protect its interests in the region. 


June 6, 2013 at 12:01

China "commanding" the heights is hardly an advantage in the Himalayas as the Indians know very well from their many wars in Kashmir and their decades of experience on the Saltoro ridge. India has more experience in mountain warfare when it comes down to it and its own "flatter terrain" allows it better logistical ability, more maneuver options and overall a greater advantage in repulsing any advance into Indian territory. High ground is only good as a "defensive" position – not as an offensive position into flatter terrain, especially when there are no more cavalry charges! A successful offensive attack requires the ability to move forces easily, resupply them at will and have flexibility – mountains offer none of those advantages. As the Americans leant in the mountains of Afghanistan – mountain warfare negates many of the advantages of the "network centric" warfare's bag of tricks and large force deployments and gives the initiative to small mobile forces that can exploit the terrain to their advantage with limited weaponry.

The Indian navy while being the smallest force in the Indian military receives better training, has better access to equipment and has more combat experience than the Chinese navy, whose only accomplishment till date since the formation of the PRC is skirmishes with Vietnamese patrol boats and threatening fishermen. To claim that the Indian navy lacks "training, experience or gear" is absurd given the fact that its experience comprises of nearly 5 decades of aircraft carrier operations, nearly 2 decades of nuclear submarine operations!

Italy was unable to defend the Mediterranean against the British for one simple reason – the Suez Canal! The Suez enabled the British to use their massive resources in Asia – particularly the Indian army's 2.5 million soldiers and the Indian Naval auxiliary’s ships to deploy enormous forces and resources against both Rommel in Africa and take the Fight to Italy. Indian soldiers were present while taking Monte Cassino as well as fighting off Rommel’s Afrika Corps across North Africa. China does not have the advantage of surrounding India from East and West as the British were able to against Italy or deploy the forces of its "allies" and colonies as the British were able to! And more importantly, unlike WW2 and Italy whose military was basically an extension of the Third Reich's own military forces, the Indian military has complete strategic autonomy to strike according to its interests and its own time and place of its choosing – not the interests of the USA or the Chinese.

One statement about India that has consistently been proven false is that India's ambitions outstrip its abilities. These same statements have been leveled against India since its conception in 1947. First, there was the question of if India would be able to feed itself given that it suffered chronic drought and famine under British rule. Second, they questioned India's ability to commit to democracy, which was again deemed as fanciful for a nation so poor and so young and diverse. Then, the idea that a nation so troubled with internal problems could even survive a decade was questioned. All these doubts have been laid to rest today. These same questions of India's ambitions again surfaced when India wanted to develop an indigenous nuclear program and a space program – today it has both. India is committed towards a blue water navy with a nuclear triad and aircraft carriers and the ability to conduct meaningful amphibious operations; these are the "near term" goals that have already been cleared by the political leadership. Indigenous shipbuilding is progressing incrementally towards total self reliance and the nuclear submarine prototype has already being built while a second vessel is also under construction. Cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, Autonomous underwater vehicles, sonar’s, ELF transmitters etc are all being built slowly and steadily towards achieving true blue-water naval capabilities. 

The fact that China provokes India and China makes more advances in securing "Lake Beijing" only provides further impetus to Indian lawmakers and the Indian public to bolster their own efforts. As is the axiom in geo-political affairs, rebalancing of power always takes place in one form or the other. The Chinese A2/AD capability is partly exaggerated and partly feasible due to its unique geography but that strategy also limits them like any siege strategy. Indian naval planners refuse to adopt a siege strategy despite Chinese attempts to seed themselves across the Indian Ocean region because such a strategy is ultimately self-defeating and instead seek to counter that strategy by creating enough capabilities to counter any Chinese thrusts into the Indian Ocean region with similar thrusts into the South China Sea.

June 6, 2013 at 08:18

An interesting proposal, but one that I don't see as having the same impact or effectiveness as China's strategy by dint of the fact that whereas China is looking to deny access to a relatively limited span of ocean, India would have to deny access to the whole of the Indian Ocean.  Location may be an advantage, but a lack of gear, training, and experience could very well limit even this modest ambition.  Much as the 'unsinkable aircraft carrier" of Italy failed to deny access to the Mediterranean for British forces during World War II, so too would an Indian A2/AD strategy have limited impact upon China, especially since China commands the heights overlooking India.  This fact alone means any Indian naval endeavor could be outflanked on land by the Chinese.  

India first and foremost needs to get its house in order.  Its aspirations and ambitions outstrip its abilities by many orders of magnitude and attempting to get India into this new Great Game/Cold War Redux is nothing short of wishful thinking.  People see India's location and population and so naturally have dreams of turning it into a vast reserve of market and manpower with which to counter China.  In the process, they ignore the multitude of crippling shortcomings plaguing India and the one overriding fact that trumps all others: India doesn't want to be a frontline soldier in someone else's war. 

The US's irrational need to have an opponent with which to butt heads has led to our current spat and tension with China.  India's concerns over China are much more practical and far less ideological.  As such, while India may not exactly be China's friend, they are certainly far from being our ally and are certainly not our pawn.

I suspect India will do what India wants in pursuit of Indian interests.  Engaging in this sort of tit-for-tat access denial as a diversionary move for our benefit doesn't strike me as helping Indian interests or promoting anything other than American goals.   

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