DEFENCE NOTES

 

RE-THINKING
NAVAL STRATEGY

sehgal
Publisher and Managing Editor IKRAM SEHGAL strongly advocates that naval strategy be re-adjusted to the concept that main battle in the future will be air-land or land-air.
As opposed to the wars of 1965 and 1971, when there was a dire requirement for a blue-water navy, extending over the expanse of the Indian Ocean to cover the Indian Coast, the strategic aim of the Pakistan Navy now is to defend the maritime interests of Pakistan encompassing the Arabian Sea from the Rann of Kutch up to the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Our war experiences are imperfect examples because of the geo-political change since 1971 in territorial status. However some home-truths are still self-evident when we examine the naval posture, viz (1) the next war will primarily be a air-land battle and may well play a secondary role to the main war effort (2) the naval war objective effort will be served by protecting Pakistan’s Coast and keeping the sea lanes to the Gulf Ports open and (3) by interdicting Indian sea lanes to prevent free movement of both military and commercial vessels. It should be accepted that it will be almost impossible to keep all of Pakistan’s commercial sea lanes open, we have to rely on land routes traditionally and profitably used by smugglers.

Senior military hierarchy, whether they belong to the Army, Air-force or the Navy must think in terms of an all service war in terms of country strategy. Loyalty to one’s own service may be laudable , to insist on pure service considerations at the cost of the country is not only immature and selfish but for the nation this attitude can be dangerous. We have seen in the matters of submarines different motivations, by one Chief of Naval Staff serving sincerely his service effort and by his rather corrupt successor serving his own pockets. It will be in the country’s interest to get rid of such people, sooner rather than later. Since the Spanish Civil War in 1936, the Second World War, the Korean conflict, the six-day Arab-Israeli War in 1967 and very recently the Gulf War, air power has assumed dominant influence over the course of battle. This dominance must engage our military strategists in evolving a pragmatic war plan for the defence of Pakistan, involving all the three Services in objectives within their capacity as limited by the paucity of resources.

The best option would always be to have a blue water Navy that would not only protect Pakistan’s coast but also its sea-lanes so that trade and commerce would proceed unhindered. This would require a very strong Navy, a battle fleet capable of maneuvering deep into the Indian Ocean and threatening the entire Indian Coastline. Given the geographical considerations the air power for such a fleet would come from an aircraft carrier, which by itself would also require its own protection. Not only would the costs be astronomical but we will be relying on one throw of the dice, a submarine and/or a missile could always get through and blow the aircraft carrier out of the sea, our naval strategy would go down in one blow to rest on the bottom of the Indian Ocean, very much like Titanic hitting an iceberg which should not have been there. In fact, except for the US as a Superpower no other country can really afford battle fleets with aircraft carriers as the core, not even Russia as a former superpower or the British and the French, who do have them but are seriously engaged in a demobilization debate.

You need aircraft to keep enemy aircraft away and to make raids on enemy installations on (or under) the sea or on land. A battle fleet has a Catch-22 defence, the moment you take an aircraft carrier away from a battle fleet you take away the air cover that protects the surface vessels from being sitting ducks in the water, the bigger they are the better targets they will be.

As surface fleet must necessarily remain within the cover of land based aircraft, conversely the enemy has to keep its surface vessels out of the cover of our land-based aircraft. If the enemy has an aircraft carrier (or two) he has to then provide protection from our missile and missile torpedo boats as well as from under the water from our submarines and on the surface from fast missile and missile/torpedo boats, does it have such a foolproof method against these threats ?

Experience and pragmatism dictate that we must ensure that enemy naval operations do not come within an arc extending the 300-400 kms from the Pakistani Coastline from the Rann to the mouth of the Gulf. This would keep the enemy at a stand-off distance from our sea-lanes to the Gulf Ports. The naval equipment required to achieve this objective would be given cover by land-based aircraft and would consist of a combination of fast missile and missile torpedo boats, submarines, minelayers and half a dozen or so frigates ? We do not need more than a few submarines, certainly not the 3 Agosta class ones that we are acquiring from France for a cool US$ 1 billion plus. While certainly in a long drawn out war such submarines in some number would cause havoc among enemy commercial sea lanes and cause their battle fleet to take extraordinary precautions, their net nuisance value to immediate warfare is much less than that of modern fighter aircraft. In a cost to effectiveness ratio, it would be far better for PAF to have aircraft rather than the navy possess such submarines. One cannot discount the effectiveness of these submarines but these are required when our needs to influence a land-air battle are met. The French purchase is criminally unnecessary. Similarly we should not purchase any surface vessel larger than frigates the handful we have is good enough. We could spend the money far better for fast missile, missile/torpedo boats, etc and air-to-surface missiles of the Exocet/Harpoon type.

We cannot wait for years to purchase the fighter aircraft needed for PAF, it has to be purchased off the shelf immediately. To do that we should negotiate with the French to cancel the order for the remaining two submarines, purchasing missile and missile torpedo boats in lieu with a part of the money, using the maximum balance as a down payment for the French Mirage-2000. One believes that we can make a strong case to the French based on our critical needs. For Pakistan the induction of new fighter aircraft is a vital necessity that must be addressed. At the moment we are virtually denuded from the air, relying on a couple or so squadron of F-16s to take the brunt of the air battle on an adverse ratio of 7:1 or even more. Over the past three years the Indians have developed an air capability to bomb us back into the 15th century.

The first few days of modern warfare is critical because that is when air power fights for dominance, in the air and over the battlefield. Modern technology has virtually wiped out the professional superiority of our airmen. The induction of modern aircraft in the Indian Air Force has been a force-multiplier that has greatly disadvantaged the Pakistan Defence Forces. The entry of long range surface-to-air missiles has brought a new dimension into the defence analysis. As it is we will be fighting in disadvantage of numbers and will be hard put to win the battle for air superiority, the concurrent objective being to provide an air shield for our ground forces against enemy air sorties, especially against armour. By the time any of these submarines come into action the course of war may well be over and even if they do sink a few ships, so what, will it affect the course of the war to any great degree ? Weighed against advantages/disadvantages, the submarines become a Titanic luxury and if we don’t cancel the two remaining we may as well eat grass because that is what the Indian’s will make us do if we lose the battle for Pakistan. That is the message that the BJP has been giving loud and clear, now that they make the government, we will do well to heed the danger signs.

Previous PageBack Home