US Naval Policy in the Indian Ocean

Rahul Roy-Chaudhury,Research Fellow,IDSA


The recent American missile strikes against targets in Afghanistan and Sudan (August 1998) were carried out by warships of the US Fifth Fleet operating in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. Early in the morning of August 20, 1998, four surface warships and a submarine in the Arabian Sea launched 60 "Tomahawk" Sea Launched Cruise Missiles (SLCMs) against the Zahawar killi-El-Badr terrorist camp in Afghanistan, 160 km south-west of Kabul. At the same time, two warships in the Red Sea launched 20 "Tomahawk" SLCMs at the Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, suspected to be engaged in the manufacture of a nerve agent.1 These missile attacks were in response to the bombings of the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania earlier in the month (August 7).

The seven American warships believed to have carried out the missile attacks--USS Cowpens, USS Shiloh (cruisers), USS Briscoe, USS Elliot, USS Hayler, USS Milius (destroyers), and USS Columbia (a nuclear-powered submarine)--were operating as part of the Fifth Fleet, which was recommissioned in July 1995 specifically for operations of this nature.2 The "Tomahawk" SLCMs are ideal weapons for such a mission, in terms of their range (1,150-1,700 km); accuracy (a Circular Error of Probability (CEP) as low as 10 metres, due to Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite navigation capabilities); and the avoidance of detection by radar (being low-flying). Each missile costs approximately US$1 million.3

These missile attacks clearly demonstrate the ability of the US Navy (USN) to exercise military power against littoral states deep inland from the sea, as well as its capability in successfully maintaining the forward deployment of its forces far from their home bases in the US. These factors clearly constitute the critical trends in US naval policy in the Indian Ocean in the future.

Changing USN Doctrine

Since the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the erstwhile Soviet Union, American naval doctrine has undergone a dramatic transformation. The focus on a global threat during the Cold War years has shifted to one of regional challenges and opportunities. Consequently, the doctrine of open-ocean war-fighting at sea, against erstwhile Soviet naval and nuclear forces, is increasingly changing to one of power projection and the employment of naval forces from the sea, in order to influence events in the littoral regions of the world. Moreover, the "littoral" continues to be defined vaguely as "areas adjacent to the oceans and seas within direct control of, and vulnerable to, the striking power of sea-based forces," although it is understood to extend to more than a thousand miles inland.4 This strategic concept has been further expanded to encompass the employment of naval expeditionary forces and joint operation missions.

In September 1992, the USN and the Marine Corps jointly brought out a White Paper, "...From the Sea," which defined a combined vision for the services in the 21st century. Stressing the increased importance of naval forces in American forward presence requirements, in view of the withdrawal from overseas bases, it emphasised the conduct of joint military operations. Naval forces were essentially to concentrate on littoral warfare and manoeuvre from the sea. In this respect, the ability to generate high intensity power projection from the decks of aircraft carriers and expeditionary airfields was perceived as critical.5

In order to codify naval warfare "...From the Sea," and ensure that its practices were consistent with the joint mandate of the other services, the Department of Navy established the Naval Doctrine Command (NDC) in March 1993 at Norfolk, Virginia, USA.6 Its primary missions are to develop naval concepts and integrated naval doctrine; provide a coordinated Navy-Marine Corps voice in joint and multinational doctrine development; and address naval and joint doctrines with respect to training, education, operations, exercises, simulations, and war games.

A year-and-a half later, in September 1994, the Navy brought out another White Paper, "Forward...From the Sea," updating and expanding the strategic concepts articulated in the earlier White Paper. Whereas the purpose of US naval forces remained the projection of power and influence across the seas to foreign waters and shores in both peace and war, the unique contributions of naval expeditionary forces in peace-time operations, in responding to crises, and in regional conflicts, were specifically addressed. Such fleet operational forces and a forward-deployed Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) were to be tasked with a wide range of missions, including long-range strike operations and early forcible entry to enable the arrival of follow-on forces. The keys to such an enabling mission were to be domination and exploitation of the littoral battle space during the earliest phases of hostilities.7

These White Papers were followed by the "Navy Operational Concept" in March 1997, which set the direction for future operational primacy--the ability to carry out swiftly and effectively any naval, joint, or coalition mission, and to prevail decisively over any opposing force. It essentially stressed the manner in which to operate "Forward...From the Sea," across the three components of the National Military Strategy: peace-time engagement, deterrence and conflict prevention, and the ability to fight and win wars.8

Tactically, the distance reached inland from the sea was to depend on terrain and weather, the contribution of joint and coalition forces, the potential adversary's capabilities, and the nature of the mission. It was stated that the mission may even require naval forces to exercise considerable reach and operate far inland. In this respect, "Joint Vision 2010" of the armed services provided the template for joint combat operations in the 21st century, and envisioned future joint combat operations.

The "Navy Operational Concept" elaborates further:

"We will deploy carrier battle groups and amphibious ready groups with embarked Marines to provide naval expeditionary forces for the Combatant Commanders...We train carrier battle groups and amphibious ready groups together to ensure immediate readiness for a wide range of contingencies. Once overseas, we disperse the force and maintain a dynamic presence posture...We rapidly converge from our forward deployment hubs to the scene of a potential conflict to deter aggression or to project power should deterrence fail. We take advantage of the reach of our sensors and weapons to project power over vast areas from a dispersed, networked force--concentrating combat power rather than our platforms and delivering firepower far inland when required by the mission."9

Naval forces were also to be a full partner in developing new amphibious warfare concepts and capabilities for implementing the Marine Corps concept "Operational Manoeuvre From The Sea (OMFTS)." OMFTS emphasises using the sea as a secure area from which to conduct ship-to-objective movement. The Navy was to have a vital role in OMFTS-style operations in providing enhanced naval fire, force protection, command and control, surveillance and reconnaissance, and logistics support for Marines ashore.10

In this endeavour, Admiral Jay Johnson, the USN Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) envisages, "...a hard-hitting future naval campaign that combines highly mobile Marine operations deep into the littoral with responsive close air and fire support and long-range precision strikes--all mounted and sustained entirely from the sea."11 In effect the aim of the US Navy is to influence, directly and decisively, events ashore from the sea--anytime, anywhere.

In May 1997, the Quadrennial Defence Review (QDR), a comprehensive assessment of American defence requirements based on perceived threats, risks and opportunities for US national security over the next 25 years, was formally brought out. A collaborative effort involving the Office of the Secretary of Defence, the Joint Staff, the military services, and the unified commands, the QDR reviewed all aspects of American defence strategy, including force structure, infrastructure, readiness, intelligence, and modernisation. It essentially stressed the need to respond quickly to a full spectrum of crises, ranging from the conduct of concurrent smaller-scale contingency operations to fighting and winning two major theatre wars.

Replacing the 1993 Bottom-Up-Review, the QDR essentially recommended modest cuts in personnel strength and weapons programmes. Whereas the Navy retained its 12 Carrier Battle Groups (CVBGs) and 12 Amphibious Ready Groups (ARGs), it is to reduce its surface combatants from 128 to 116 warships, attack submarines from 73 to 50, and the planned F/A-18E/F combat aircraft acquisition from 1,000 to between 548 and 785. Active duty personnel are also to be reduced by 18,000, and the reserve component by 4,100 personnel. Only the planned Joint Strike Fighter acquisition has been increased to 480 aircraft. Although the Marine Corps maintained its three Marine Expeditionary Forces (MEFs), its MV-22 procurement has been reduced to 360 aircraft, and its support responsibilities restructured.12

As of September 18, 1998, the USN comprised 338 warships and 4,666 aircraft. Total active duty personnel comprised 380,260 men and women (54,681 officers, 321,579 enlisted, and 4,000 midshipmen), 208,185 ready reserves, and 202,057 civilians.13 Even with USN policy limiting ships and crews to deployments of six months duration, it can sustain approximately 45 per cent of the fleet under way or deployed at any time. Surge beyond that level is possible only for short periods, with additional flexibility in fleet operations when deployment rates are below 45 per cent of the fleet.14

USN Forward Presence

The March 1997 "Navy Operational Concept" of the USN clearly emphasised the importance and necessity of forward presence. It emphatically stated that the primary purpose of forward-deployed naval forces was to project American power from the sea and influence events ashore in the littoral regions of the world, across the operational spectrum of peace, crisis and war. This can effectively be seen from the establishment and operation of an independent fleet (the Fifth Fleet) for the Indian Ocean, as well as the location of naval and military assets in the western Indian Ocean, Diego Garcia in the central Indian Ocean, and in the eastern Indian Ocean.

Fifth Fleet

Although the USN does not have a separate Fleet Command for the Indian Ocean--as opposed to the two Fleet Commands for the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans--warships of the Pacific Fleet Command (the Seventh Fleet) and US Naval Forces, Europe (the Sixth Fleet) operate in the area. However, when deploying in the Indian Ocean, these warships come under the jurisdiction and command of an independent fleet, the Fifth Fleet.

The Fifth Fleet, recommissioned on July 1, 1995, is the first American Fleet to be constituted in 50 years (a fleet of the same name had operated in the Pacific Ocean during World War II, but was disbanded soon after the end of hostilities). This was also the first time that the US especially created a permanently deployed fleet for any part of the Indian Ocean. The Fifth Fleet essentially augments the US Middle East Force (MEF), continuously based in the Persian Gulf since 1949, and normally comprising a few surface combatants and a flagship. Since the 1980s, an American CVBG was also invariably deployed in the northern Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. Along with the deployment of additional warships, associated infrastructure and logistical support facilities, the Fifth Fleet clearly serves to formally increase the US naval and military presence in the area.

Tasked with operations in the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea, and the western Indian Ocean, the Fifth Fleet organisationally a component of the US Central Command, with Headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, USA Central Command and had been formally set up in January 1983, with the Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) (established in December 1979) constituting its military arm. Although Central Command did not have an independent fleet under its command till the recommissioning of the Fifth Fleet, its Commander, Naval Forces, Central Command, exercised control over all naval operations throughout the Area of Responsibility (AOR). At the present time, the Commander, US Naval Forces, Central Command concurrently serves as Commander, Fifth Fleet. With Headquarters at the Administrative Support Unit South-West Asia (ASU SWA) located at Mina Al-Sulman, Manama, Bahrain, the Fifth Fleet is the only component command of Central Command to be forward-deployed in its AOR (the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Special Operations components of Central Command are all Headquartered in the USA). In effect, naval forces constitute over 70 per cent of all American military forces in the theatre of operation.

The Fifth Fleet is the full equivalent of the Sixth and Seventh Fleets. It typically comprises a CVBG (comprising an aircraft carrier and four principal surface combatants, two nuclear-powered submarines, and a support ship), an ARG and the MEF (comprising the surface ships of Destroyer Squadron 50 of the Pacific Fleet).15 In addition, submarines, maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft, support ships, and afloat prepositioning ships also operate routinely in the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. On average, the Commander, Fifth Fleet, has some 15-35 major warships under his operational command at any given time.16

The naval expeditionary task force for the Fifth Fleet (in the absence of a deployed CVBG or ARG) is known as Task Force 50 (TF-50). In normal circumstances, all combatants in the Arabian Sea form part of TF-50, under the command of the Admiral commanding the carrier battle group. In the event that a war-like situation emanates, the Fifth Fleet would transition to traditional task organisations, including standard doctrinal commander amphibious task force/commander landing force, as well as provisions for multiple carrier battle groups in several locations.

Meanwhile, increased tension in the area invariably results in enhanced multinational naval and military force levels. In January 1998, for example, American and British naval and military forces in the Persian Gulf region reached a level not seen since the 1991 Gulf War. By January 30, 1998, 19 combat warships (including three American and two British aircraft carriers), 300 aircraft, and more than 24,000 troops were deployed in the area. In addition, there were 21,700 American and British naval and Marine personnel, and nearly 8,000 American and British airmen.17

Since August 1990, the USN, in association with naval forces of 14 other countries, has been conducting interception operations in the Persian Gulf, in order to enforce United Nations maritime sanctions against Iraq. Till March 1997, warships of the Multinational Interception Force (MIF) boarded over 10,000 vessels, resulting in 119 of them being diverted for violation of the sanctions. These diversions were cumulatively worth US$24.3 million.18

Western Indian Ocean

The US maintains considerable military and naval assets in a number of key and strategically located states of the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea, especially the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)--Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This is due primarily to its dependence on the region for hydrocarbon resources (crude oil and natural gas), trade and security linkages.

Bahrain. Bahrain has served as the de facto home port for the Commander, MEF, since 1949, and presently hosts the US Fifth Fleet. In February 1998, its air bases also hosted 30 American F-15s, 18 F-16s, 2 B-1 bombers, and 4 KC-135 tankers.19 A Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) was signed in 1991, and meetings of the Military Consultative Committee (MCC) regularly take place. The US-Bahrain bilateral military exercise programme has also recently been expanded to include trilateral exercises as well.

Kuwait: Kuwait participates fully in joint and combined military exercises with US military forces, and has also hosted a number of them on its territory. In February 1998, its Ahmed Al-Jaber air base hosted 6 American F-117 stealth fighters, 18 A-10 attack aircraft, and 6 F-16s.20 In addition, equipment for one armoured brigade is prepositioned on the ground in the country.

Oman: Oman was the first Persian Gulf state to allow formal prepositioning of US military supplies and equipment on its territory, as well as sign an access agreement with the US, in 1980. At present, American military aircraft have access to three Omani airfields, which are also used as prepositioning sites for air and ground support equipment. The largest military logistical prepositioning site is located at Thumrait in the south of the country. Although the successive ten-year (2000-2010) access agreement may be less extensive than the first two, by ending American activities at the international airport at Muscat and an airfield on the island of Masirah, it is not expected to bring about the departure of the US prepositioning site at Thumrait.21

Qatar: In 1991, a US Military Liaison Office was formally opened in Doha, and in June 1992, a Defence Cooperation Agreement was signed between the two countries. Qatar allows the ground prepositioning of US military equipment for one armoured brigade.

Saudi Arabia: The US-Saudi Arabian bilateral military relationship includes the largest Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme by the US. In February 1998, the Prince Sultan air base hosted 30 American F-15s, 30 F-16s, 3 E-3 Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) aircraft, 4 EF-111 aircraft, 2 RC-135 planes, 2 U-2 spy planes, and 6 C-130 transport aircraft.22 Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia remains reluctant to allow American air strikes against Iraq from its territory in the future.

UAE: A Defence Cooperation Agreement was signed between the US and the UAE in July 1994. The UAE continues to host an extensive port visit programme for USN ships at Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Jebel Ali; the latter also hosts a small amount of prepositioned USN equipment. In addition, Fujeira hosts a small USN support facility.

Egypt: The US-Egyptian bilateral exercise programme is possibly the largest in the region, spanning the spectrum from large-scale manoeuvres to Special Operations Forces (SOF) operations. Egyptian air bases also support humanitarian relief operations and numerous exercises throughout the western Indian Ocean.

Kenya: Kenya provides considerable access to American military and naval forces. The US extensively used Kenyan facilities at Mombasa and Nairobi to support US and United Nations operations in Somalia and Rwanda in the early 1990s.

Pakistan: In view of the US Pressler Amendment (October 1990), the military relationship between the US and Pakistan was, for several years, limited to low-key exercises, senior officer visits, and combined peace-keeping and humanitarian missions under the aegis of the United Nations. The Hank Brown Amendment (November 1995), however, provided a one-time supply of arms to Pakistan, largely comprising naval arms, including three P-3C Orion Maritime Reconnaissance/Strike (MR/S) aircraft.23 American sanctions imposed on Pakistan after its nuclear weapons tests of May 1998 have halted all further US military and naval arms transfers and cooperation with Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is becoming increasingly interested in the concept of Mobile Offshore Bases (MOBs) for deployment in the Persian Gulf, to ensure US military access to critical regions in the future. Derived from offshore oil-drilling platforms, an MOB is a floating structure that could be used to house combat troops and support personnel, store equipment, and serve as a repair or a forward-based logistics base. Several linked MOBs may even be able to support aircraft operations. However, MOBs, are still very much in the concept stage alone.24

Central Indian Ocean-Diego Garcia

Diego Garcia, one of 52 islands in the Chagos Archipelago, is strategically located in the central Indian Ocean. It stretches 37 miles from tip to tip, with an opening to the north-north-west. Three small islands dot the mouth of the lagoon, which is approximately 13 miles long and up to 6 miles wide. The lagoon is from sixty to one hundred feet deep, with numerous coral heads in most areas. The island's mean height above sea level is 4 feet.25

Although historically and legally belonging to Mauritius, it was formally constituted as part of the newly-created British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) in 1965, and came under the administrative control of the British government of the Seychelles. With the independence of Seychelles in 1976, the BIOT became a self-administering territory under the East African Desk of the British Foreign Office. In December 1966, Britain signed a bilateral agreement with the US making the islands of the BIOT available for defence purposes to both governments for a period of 50 years, till the year 2017. Although both British and American flags fly over the island, British military presence is limited to a detachment of Marines for security purposes alone. However, law and order on the island is the responsibility of the British representative, invariably a Commander of the Royal Navy. Meanwhile, approximately 900 American naval personnel are present on the island.

In March 1971, the construction of an American Naval Communications Facility began, which was commissioned two years later in March 1973. The Communications Facility initially consisted of an austere communication station and the necessary supporting facilities, including an airstrip. In 1986, with the completion of a US$500 million construction programme, Diego Garcia became fully operational. This programme included the completion of a 12,000-foot airstrip, long enough for B-52 bombers, MR/S and AWACS aircraft to use. The harbour was also dredged sufficiently to accommodate major warships, including submarines.

The long-range nuclear weapon-capable and missile-armed B-52 bombers operating from Diego Garcia are formally part of the US Air Combat Command's 96th Bomber Squadron, based at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, USA. They are capable of flying at high subsonic speeds at altitudes up to 50,000 feet, and can carry nuclear or conventional ordnance with worldwide precision navigation capability. The B-52s from Diego Garcia were most recently used in a conventional role in September 1996, during Operation "Southern Watch" against Iraq. In February 1998, 8 American B-52 bombers and 7 KC-10 tankers were deployed on Diego Garcia. An additional 6 B-52s were on their way to Diego Garcia, in view of the periodic rotation of forces.26

In addition, nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered attack submarines are capable of berthing at Diego Garcia. These warships remain the most potent in terms of nuclear-weapons capability. Since 1991, the USN has withdrawn and stored ashore all its sea-based tactical nuclear weapons; these do not, however, include the nuclear-armed "Tomahawk" land attack missiles deployed aboard submarines or surface ships. In addition, with the planned reductions in US-Russian strategic nuclear weapons, the major proportion of such weapons in the future is expected to be deployed at sea, aboard ballistic missile submarines, or Submersible Ship Ballistic Nuclear (SSBNs).

At present, a wide and extensive array of American naval, military, and communications installations and facilities are located on Diego Garcia. The major ones are:

Navy Support Facility (NSF): The NSF, established in October 1977, is the host command on the island, and plays a vital role in support of fleet units operating in the Indian Ocean. The Commanding Officer, NSF, assumed all the duties and responsibilities previously assigned to the Island Commander.

Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station (NCTS): The NCTS, the first facility to be set up on the island, provides cryptologic, information warfare, telecommunications, telephone and computer services to the Fleet, Allied forces in the Indian Ocean theatre, and all commands and activities on Diego Garcia. It comprises the Transmitter Site (T-Site), providing high frequency ship/shore/air communications support; the Naval Security Group Department (C-site); and the Receiver Site (R-Site). The R-site encompasses the Technical Control Facility, the Message Centre, and the Satellite Communications Terminal (SATCOM), the latter primarily providing off-island communications with Fort Buckner, Okinawa, Japan, via the Defence Satellite Communications System (DSCS) Indian Ocean satellite.27

Navy Maritime Prepositioning Ships, Squadron Two: The Diego Garcia-based Squadron Two of Maritime Prepositioning Ships consists of 19 ships, with enough supplies and equipment aboard to support 16,500 troops for 30 days. These ships are not only capable of transporting diverse cargoes, such as fuel, ammunition, and vehicles in combination and in large quantities, they are also capable of offloading their cargoes swiftly and safely from offshore stations, even under poor sea and weather conditions. During Exercise "Native Fury '98" in Kuwait in May 1998, for example, the Diego Garcia-based Vehicle Cargo Ship, Corporal Louis J. Hauge, successfully transferred amphibious assault vehicles, 155mm. howitzers, and M-1 battle tanks, among other items, to the shore. This represented the first large-scale landing of major items of equipment undertaken since the 1990-91 Gulf War.28 In organisational terms, this squadron of ships at Diego Garcia forms a part of US Central Command.

Military Sealift Command Unit: The Military Sealift Command Unit is tasked with supporting the 19 ships of Squadron Two on forward deployment to the island.

Patrol Squadron: Deploying for six-month periods, the Patrol Squadron's Diego Garcia-based P-3 Orion MR/S aircraft provide Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) and surveillance support to forward deployed battle groups in the Indian Ocean.

Patrol Wing One Detachment: Patrol Wing One Detachment, Diego Garcia, provides operational support to the deployed P-3 Orion aircraft flying ASW and reconnaissance missions over the Indian Ocean.

Detachment 4, 18th Space Surveillance Command: This Air Force Space Command unit is dedicated to deep surveillance, using the Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep-Space Surveillance System (GEODSS).

Detachment 8,750 Space Group: One of nine remote tracking stations comprising the Air Force Satellite Control Network (AFSCN), it provides the telemetry, tracking and command of Department of Defence (DOD) satellites.

Defence Mapping Agency: This unit of the Defence Mapping Agency maintains a small tracking station on the island to track navigational satellites for geodetic survey purposes.29

The geo-strategic location of Diego Garcia, and its full range of naval, military, and communications facilities, provide it a critical role in support of the USN's forward presence in the north Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. Its importance to American defence policy began with the Yemen crisis of 1979, and increased with the Iranian crisis of 1979-81, and Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990-91.

Eastern Indian Ocean

Among the littoral states of the eastern Indian Ocean, the major allies of the US are Singapore, Thailand and Australia.

Singapore: In accordance with the 1990 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the US (updated in 1992, in view of the relocation of former USN facilities at Subic Bay in the Philippines), Singapore continues to allow the basing of the USN's Logistics Group Western Pacific, the US Air Force's 497th Combat Training Squadron, and elements of the US Military Sealift Command, Coast Guard and Defence Logistics Agency, in its territory. The USN Logistics Group provides logistics and maintenance support to warships of the Seventh Fleet in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. This includes the administrative control and oversight of logistics ships assigned to the Seventh Fleet.

Singapore also recently offered to provide services to American aircraft carriers, submarines, and an expanded number of warships. In January 1998, the Government of Singapore announced that it would make its new naval base at Changi available to a larger number of USN ships, once it becomes operational in the year 2000. A new pier will also be built for the exclusive use of USN ships, including aircraft carriers and nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed submarines.30 The formal provisions for these facilities are to be covered in another addendum to the 1990 US-Singaporean MOU. The Changi naval base is being built on reclaimed land on the eastern seaboard of the island state.

Thailand: Thailand remains a key defence ally of the US, although it recently declined a proposal to preposition ships with logistical supplies in its territorial waters. Both countries are among the signatories of the 1954 Manila Pact of the former South-East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO), which provides that, in the event of an armed attack in the treaty area, each member would "act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes."31 Despite the dissolution of SEATO in 1977, the Manila Pact remains in force, and, together with the Thanat-Rusk communique of 1962, constitutes the basis of the American security commitment to Thailand.

Australia: The Australia-New Zealand-US (ANZUS) security treaty of 1951 bound the signatories to recognise that an armed attack against any of them would endanger the peace and safety of the others. In 1985, New Zealand's refusal to grant access to its ports by nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered warships of the USN led to its suspension from the treaty. Nonetheless, the US-Australian alliance under the ANZUS Treaty remains in full force. Australia also hosts a number of communication facilities of the US.

In addition, USN forces exercise regularly with warships of the Malaysian, Singaporean, Thai, and Australian Navies. These include the "Cobra Gold" and "Sea Eagle" naval exercises with the Thai Navy. Meanwhile, the annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) naval and amphibious exercises are conducted bilaterally between the United States and Malaysia/Singapore/Thailand for a six-week period.32

Trends in the Future

Evolving US naval doctrine is increasingly expected to stress power projection and influence vis-a-vis littoral states, with new weapon systems designed and developed for such missions. In this respect, the New Submersible Ship Nuclear (NSSN) (nuclear submarine) (at a cost price of US$2 billion each) and the new DD-21 Land Attack destroyer (at a cost price of US$750 million each) currently undergoing development in the US, are the first of a series of new warships to be specifically designed for littoral operations. Such warships are expected to considerably enhance American firepower even deeper into littoral areas.

Meanwhile, the US naval presence in the Indian Ocean is not expected to remain static in the near future. There are expected to be shifts in the nature and extent of US naval and military forces in the western, central, and eastern Indian Ocean. Although the US is keen to maintain the level of its forces in the western Indian Ocean, some of the GCC states currently hosting American forces are expected to become increasingly wary of their military presence. The scourge of Islamic fundamentalism, as shown in attacks against American military and diplomatic assets in Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Tanzania and Pakistan is expected to grow in the future, thereby putting added pressure on these countries.

In view of the pressure to constrain American military activity in the states of the western Indian Ocean, the US military and naval presence in Diego Garcia is expected to increase in the near future. Not only is there an absence of any local opposition to the US (the indigenous inhabitants having been forcibly relocated to Mauritius as early as the mid-1960s), but even Mauritius diplomatic and political efforts to acquire Diego Garcia prior to the termination of the lease in 2017 are not expected to be successful. In effect, therefore, Diego Garcia's proximity to the hydrocarbon-rich states of the western Indian Ocean and its status as a major American military base, is expected to result in the deployment of additional military and naval forces. The development of MOBs could be seen as an important measure to ensure sufficient American access to West Asia in the medium-term.

In marked contrast, perceptions of a gradual American withdrawal of naval and military forces from the eastern Indian Ocean (indicating decreased American commitment to regional security) is of considerable concern to the states of the region, who fear the consequent ascendancy of Chinese, Japanese, and possibly even Indian, naval and military power. This has partly resulted in greater defence spending and the modernisation of armed forces in the region in the past few years, although this has suffered a major setback recently due to the economic crisis in East Asia. However, it does not appear likely that any potential decrease in US military forces in the region will reach a level whereby America's security commitment to the region would be seriously eroded.

Implications for the Indian Navy

Clearly, the two major trends in US naval policy in the Indian Ocean--the ability to exercise military power against littoral states deep inland from the sea, as well as the capability to successfully maintain forward deployed forces--have major implications for the Indian Navy. Not only could increased and enhanced American firepower from the sea be employed against Indian targets deep inland, but the overall level of American naval and military forces in the Indian Ocean is not expected to change substantially. Moreover, the perceived shifts or reductions in US force levels in the area would be more than compensated by the growing technological gap vis-a-vis the Indian Navy.

India's policy towards US naval forces in the Indian Ocean, meanwhile, remains exceedingly complex. On the one hand, its military dominance in the area is not perceived as a welcome assurance of a sustained political and military commitment to the security of the region (as envisaged by some states of the western and eastern littoral of the Indian Ocean), but as a major source of concern, both politically and militarily. This is due primarily to the uneasiness in dealing with a powerful state whose policies and actions in the past have invariably assisted, and contributed to, the intransigence of India's hostile neighbour, Pakistan, as well as the intrusion of the USN in the Bay of Bengal during the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War.

In terms of the latter, a carrier task force of the Seventh Fleet (then deployed off South Vietnam) set off for the Bay of Bengal at the height of the Indo-Pakistani War on December 10, 1971. Task Force 74 comprised the nuclear-armed carrier USS Enterprise, the amphibious assault carrier USS Tripoli, four destroyers, three guided-missile escorts, and a nuclear-powered attack submarine. On December 15, a day before the surrender of East Pakistan, the task force entered the Bay of Bengal, at a distance of some 1,760 km from Dhaka. Although the objective of this naval deployment appeared to be an attempt to assist Pakistan, the nature and extent of this assistance remained unclear. Not only did the Task Force arrive in the Indian Ocean virtually at the conclusion of the war, but it did not appear to threaten Indian security. In this sense, it represented an "expression" form of gunboat diplomacy. The Indian Navy, however, decided determinedly to ignore the American naval intrusion in the Bay of Bengal, and instead concentrate on its missions against Pakistan. The deployment of the American Task Force, therefore, did not have any effect on the outcome of the war.33

On the other hand, in recognition of the ground realities of the post-Cold War world, in which the erstwhile Soviet Union had disintegrated leaving the US as the sole superpower (albeit in a global system evolving from bipolarity to multipolarity, via the present state of unipolar dominance), India attempted to improve defence relations with the US. In addition, there was a tacit acceptance of the fact that the defence of the Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) by the US Navy in the Persian Gulf also enabled the flow of oil supplies to India through the Straits of Hormuz, especially at a time when the country is increasingly becoming dependent on energy supplies from West Asia for its own security.34

Although the then Commander-in-Chief of the US Pacific Command, Admiral David Jeremiah, proposed the conduct of joint exercises between the two Navies as early as September 1989, it was only in the aftermath of the US Kickleighter proposals of 1991 that the formation of an Indo-US naval steering committee took place, with its first meeting held in New Delhi in March 1992. Since then, the Indian Navy has carried out four joint bilateral naval exercises with the US Navy, in 1992, 1995, 1996, and 1997 ("Malabar I-IV"). These bilateral exercises have been the largest conducted by the Indian Navy, involving the participation of, at times, four surface warships, submarines, and MR/S aircraft on both sides for a period of four days. Moreover, in a mature trade-off, Malabar II in 1995, for instance, included the participation of P-3C MR/S aircraft on the American side (similar to those destined for the Pakistan Navy), and Kilo-class conventional submarines on the Indian side (similar to those deployed with the Iranian Navy).35 In addition, joint bilateral naval/marine Special Forces exercises have taken place twice between the two countries, in September 1994 and October 1996. In the wake of India's nuclear tests of May 1998, all defence and naval cooperation with the US has been halted, at least for the time being.

In operational terms, the Indian Navy is clearly not expected to initiate warfare against American military and naval forces in the Indian Ocean, for prudent political and military reasons. Consequently, it is also not expected to challenge its dominance in the area, nor provoke it into military action. At the same time, however, the Indian Navy would need to possess the ability to raise the costs of American military and naval intervention against India, especially in terms of its "counter proliferation" strategy, which includes the possibility of launching military strikes against India in order to deny its nuclear capacity--weapons, delivery systems, and assorted infrastructure. Therefore, the development of even limited "sea denial" capabilities against US military forces at sea could assist an attempt to deter an attack of this nature in the first place.

It is not surprising, therefore, that a recent (May 20, 1998) internal Indian Navy study, "Strategic Defence Review: The Maritime Dimension--A Naval Vision" states, "The Indian Navy must have sufficient maritime power not only to be able to defend and further India's maritime interests, but also to deter a military maritime challenge posed by any littoral nation, or combination of littoral nations of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), and also to be able to significantly raise the threshold of intervention or coercion by extra-regional powers."36

It states further,

" military intervention by stronger powers is only undertaken if the military potential of the targeted nation is totally asymmetric. Should it be possible for the target nation to be able to retaliate to cause significant losses, casualties or embarrassment, the strategy of intervention is not normally resorted to."37


It is quite clear that US naval doctrine in the near future will increasingly stress power projection and influence vis-a-vis littoral states, with the development and deployment of weapon systems designed especially for such purposes. Moreover, the overall level of American naval and military forces in the Indian Ocean is not expected to change substantially. A reduction in force levels in the western and eastern Indian Ocean could be compensated somewhat by the expansion of military and naval forces on Diego Garcia and the other islands of the Chagos Archipelago.

Therefore, in the event that Indian nuclear weapons are deployed, and international arms control agreements such as the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) not signed (by India), it is imperative that an adequate Indian naval "sea denial" capability be developed against USN forces (to attempt to deter US "counter-proliferation" strategy from the sea). This could take the form of nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed submarines. In this endeavour, the speeding up of, and the provision of additional funding to, the Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) project (being jointly carried out by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Indian Navy), as well as the acquisition of a submarine-launched anti-ship missile, assume considerable importance.


1. Russel Watson and John Barry, "Our Target was Terror," Newsweek, August 31, 1998, p. 22.

2. Bryan Bender, "US Double Strike: A New Ball Game," Jane's Defence Weekly, August 26, 1998, p. 3.

3. n. 1, p. 24.

4. "...From the Sea," at (website of the US Navy).

5. Ibid.

6. See Commander J.S. Dewar, "Multinational Maritime Doctrine," unpublished paper presented at the Halifax Maritime Symposium: Multinational Naval Cooperation and Foreign Policy into the 21st Century, Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada), May 21-23, 1996, p. 2.

7. "Forward...From the Sea," at

8. "Navy Operational Concept," at http//

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Admiral Jay Johnson, "Anytime Anywhere: A Navy for the 21st Century," US Naval Institute Proceedings, November 1997, p. 50.

12. "Secretary of Defence Issues Quadrennial Defence Review," at

13. Ibid.

14. John F. Sigler, "The US Pacific Fleet into the Twenty-First Century: Challenges and Opportunities," in Jack McCaffrie and Alan Hinge eds., Sea Power in the New Century: Maritime Operations in Asia-Pacific (January 1998), p. 48.

15. "USCENTCOM Component Commands," at

16. Vice Admiral John Scott Redd, "Fifth Fleet, Arriving," US Naval Institute Proceedings, July 1997, p. 48.

17. Defense News, February 2-8, 1998, pp. 3 and 20.

18. Office of Naval Intelligence (US Navy), Worldwide Maritime Challenges 1997 (March 1997), p. 19.

19. Defense News, February 16-22, 1998, p. 3.

20. Ibid.

21. Defense News, December 1-7, 1997, pp. 1 and 34.

22. n. 19.

23. See Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, "The Brown Amendment: Implications for the Indian Navy," Strategic Analysis, February 1996, pp. 1453-64.

24. Defense News, February 9-15, 1998, p. 4.

25. "Diego Garcia," at

26. n. 19.

27. "Diego Garcia," at

28. Jane's Defence Weekly, June 3, 1998, p. 3.

29. "Diego Garcia," at

30. "Command Logistics Group, Western Pacific, Singapore," at

31. "US-Thailand Alliance," at

32. Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, "Maritime and Naval Cooperation in the Indian Ocean," Asian Strategic Review 1997-98 (forthcoming, 1998).

33. Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, Sea Power and Indian Security (1995), pp. 74-77.

34. See Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, "An Energy Security Policy for India: The Case of Oil and Natural Gas," Strategic Analysis, February 1998, p. 1671-84.

35. Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, "Indo-US Joint Naval Exercises: The Growing Cooperation," The Pioneer, June 19, 1995.

36. Indian Navy, Strategic Defence Review: The Maritime Dimension-A Naval View (May 20, 1998), p. 34.

37. Ibid., p. 33.