South China Sea: China’s Double Speak and Verdict at The Hague


Vice Admiral (retd) Vijay Shankar

When Premier Xi rubbished the 12 July 2016 verdict of the International Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague on China’s claims over most of the South China Sea, what exactly was meant? For no international justice system had thus far ever called China to order for its expansionist strategy.

What the Hague had in fact done was not only to uphold the case filed by the Philippines in 2013, after China seized a reef in the Scarborough Shoal; but also condemned China’s conduct in the South China Sea over construction of artificial islands and setting up military infrastructure. In an unequivocal rebuke, it found China’s expansive claim to sovereignty over the waters had no legal basis, historical or otherwise. The verdict gives motivation to the governments of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan to pursue their maritime disputes with Beijing in the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). Small wonder then is Premier Xi’s fulmination.

The central issue before the PCA was the legality of China’s claim to waters within a, so called, “nine-dash line” that appears on official Chinese charts. It encircles 90 per cent of the South China Sea, an area of 1.9 million square kilometres approximately equal to the combined areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Myanmar put together. Philippines contention was that China’s claims were in violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which both China and the Philippines have ratified. In its decision, the tribunal said any historic rights to the sea that China claimed “were extinguished” by the treaty. And its failure to be a party to the deliberations in no way bars the proceedings. The UNCLOS lays out rules for drawing zones of control over the world’s oceans and seas based on coastal orientation. While the concept of Historic Waters means waters which are treated as internal waters where there is no right of innocent passage.

As far as the “nine-dash line” (originally eleven-dash) is concerned; following the surrender of Japan in 1945, China produced a proprietorship chart titled “Position of the South China Sea Islands” that showed an eleven-dash line around the islands. This map was published by the Republic of China government in February 1948. It did not hold onto this position after it fled to Taiwan. The Chinese Communist Party, however persisted with this cartographic notion, modifying the 11 to 9 dashes when in 1957, China ceded Bailongwei Island in the Gulf of Tonkin to North Vietnam.

Map: The Nine-Dash Line  Slide1

Source: BBC.CO.UK

The PCA concluded that China had never exercised exclusive authority over the waters and that several disputed rocks and reefs in the South China Sea were too small for China to claim control of economic activities in the waters around them. As a result, it found, China outside the law in as much as activities in Philippine waters are concerned. The tribunal cited China’s construction of artificial islands on the Mischief Reef and the Spratly archipelago as illegal in addition to the military facilities thereon which were all in Philippine waters.

The episode has besmirched the image of Xi Jinping, his politburo and indeed the credibility of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Tolose their legal case for sovereignty over waters that they have heavily invested in must come as a rude shock to their global aspirations. A complaisant response may set into motion the unravelling of the CPC’s internal hold on the state as defence of maritime claims is central to the Communist Party’s narrative. Any challenge to this account is seen in Beijing as a challenge to the Party’s rule. But the die has been cast; it remains to be seen how more regions and neighbours respond to China’s unlawful claims wherever it is perceived to exist. An indication of the regional response was Vietnam’s immediate endorsement of the tribunal’s decision.

Thus far China has responded sardonically with a typical Cold War propagandist style avowal “We do not claim an inch of land that does not belong to us, but we won’t give up any patch that is ours. The activities of the Chinese people in the South China Sea date back to over 2,000 years ago.” said the front-page in The People’s Daily, which ridiculed the tribunal as a “lackey of some outside forces” that would be remembered as a “laughingstock in human history.” Such dippy doublespeak has no place in contemporary geopolitics. For China to do nothing about the matter will be difficult in the extreme. It does not take a political pundit to note that some form of immediate coercive military manoeuvre in the South China Sea is in the offing. Also, it would hardly be realistic to expect China to scurry away to dismantle the military infrastructure it has so far set up; more likely it is their revisionist policies that would be reviewed.

Towards the end of the Cultural Revolution, in 1976, China brought out a movie titled “Great Wall in the South China Sea,” it was not about the inward looking narrative of Chinese civilization but of “expansive conquests that would knit together all of South East Asia.” The Hague’s verdict has grievously injured the latter strategy. And if the free world is to rein in China’s bid to rewrite the rule books including the right to unimpeded passage in the South China Sea then, it would do well to convince her of the illegitimacy of her position. In the meantime Indian diplomacy should promote the littorals of the South China Sea to seek arbitration for their maritime disputes with China at The Hague.

Barak for the Navy

By Vice Admiral (retd.) Vijay Shankar

This article was first published in Geopolitics Magazine, August 2015


The rectangular conference hall was dominated by a heavy polished teak table that could easily seat twenty on its straight backed maroon leather chairs. The teak panelled walls were bare except for an imposing fire place topped by two photo portraits, one of President KR Narayanan and the other of Prime Minister Inder Gujral. The mantelpiece was flanked by two 5 BD national flags draped on ornate staffs. The mid-morning light lumbered in through two colonial windows. High on the ceiling, two baroque hooks looked desolate having long lost the punkah and it’s pulling cords. It was Tuesday the 12th of August 1997.

At the northern end of the table sat five figures seemingly in a huddle. At the head sat the Raksha Mantri (RM), to his right was the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), while to his left was the bird-like Scientific Advisor (SA) to the RM. To the CNS’ right was the Director of Staff Requirements (DSR). Further to the SA’s left was the Project Director Trishul. The Project Director (PD) began proceedings by tracing the history of the Trishul, a short range surface-to-air missile (SAM) system under development as a part of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme conceived in 1983. Designed to be used against sea skimming targets at short range, the system was to provide the sorely needed rapid reaction missile defence for ships. Control was achieved by three different radar beams, with guidance of the SAM handed over progressively from surveillance to gathering and onto the line of sight. The range of the missile was 14 km, its warhead weighed 15 kg and its total weight was 130 kg. It was based on an airframe wholly “engineered” by the DRDO. He rounded off by stating that eight flight trials of the missile had thus far been conducted and each had met its mission objectives. The missile system was expected to be handed over to the Navy by August 1997, for user trials.

An observer would have noted that the DSR winced with each of the PD’s statements. His disquiet was put to rest when he was invited to make his presentation. He began with a question: Would the naval Trishul be operationalized to meet shipbuilder’s programme and fulfil its primary role for the anti-aircraft and anti missile defence? As for the DRDO engineered air frame, it was well known that they had attempted to reverse engineer the 1972 vintage 9M 33 OSA M missile (in service with the Indian Navy since 1976) without too much success. He then placed certain irrefutable facts before the group, linked to the progress of project. Between July 1994 and August 1997, eight dates had been committed for integrated user trials at four monthly intervals, none of these trials passed preliminary muster.

Fatal Flaws

Fatally, the missile could neither be gathered early (within 4 seconds of launch) nor could timely steering onto line of sight be achieved, leaving the narrow beam locked on to the incoming target without a missile to ride on it! The missile in all flight tests thus far, had not attained its designed velocity of 1020 metres/second nor had it exhibited the stability required for the 14 second controlled flight.

Empirical data about SAM development worldwide underscored two facts: firstly, from conception to commencement of user operational trials the gestation period was between 6 to 8 years; while from user trials to operationalising took as much as 7 to 8 years. This logic suggested Trishul would not be available for combat usage till 2004. Against this was the shipbuilding programme. The first ship of Project 16A, Brahmaputra, was expected to commission in 1998 while the remaining two of the series were expected to follow at 2 year intervals. Large spaces had been left vacant onboard to accommodate Trishul. An audit of volume and weight had made the system untenable in its current configuration. The DSR concluded his presentation by offering two options: accept delays, performance uncertainties, structural nonconformity and endure the absence of primary combat system onboard ships of Project 16A or, search for an existing SAM system that would fill the breach till the Trishul proved itself. Naval Headquarters urged the latter option. Also, since the Barak1 system had been evaluated and approved for retro fitment on INS Viraat by the Cabinet Committee on Security ( CCS) in February 1997 (the case was originally for 7 systems to fit ships of Project 16A and retrofit on Project 16 also), it was rational that this be the preferred choice. The SA to RM accepted NHQ’s point of view that 6 systems be ordered with two peculiar proviso that “approval” was subject to the Navy ensuring performance of the system and secondly the Navy place immediate orders for the Trishul which would be “operationalized” by 2002. The Navy gave no undertaking on that day nor did it accept any pre-condition since performance was patently the supplier’s liability and as far as the Trishul was concerned, the system did not operationally exist. In the event, the CCS approved, in October1997, procurement of 6 additional systems.

Induction and Evaluation of Barak1

One of the fallouts of the Kargil operations of 1999 was the RM’s push to actualize and expedite procurement of systems critically required by the defence forces. The seven Barak1 systems squarely fell into this category. However, despite past showing and infirmities of the Trishul, DRDO in cavalier fashion, once again declared that “there was no reason to believe that the Trishul could be got ready before Barak1 could be inducted.” On this occasion not only did the RM overrule the DRDO assertion but also suggested that as and when the Trishul system proved itself it could be accommodated in the ship build programme without having to link a specific warship to the system. Notwithstanding DRDO’s delaying antics, in October 1999, the procurement process began in earnest.

The first ship to be fitted out with the Barak1 system was INS Ganga. Installation began in the last quarter of 2002, harbour and sea trials of the system was completed by end March. What remained was engagement of an incoming cruise missile. Between NHQ and the Western Fleet a trials directive was put together to test the Barak1 in the extreme. Part I was straight forward enough, it was to engage a deactivated P 20 sea-skimming missile at minimum altitude of 30 feet travelling at a velocity of Mach 0.9 (306 metres/sec) set to crossing parameter of 1 km. Launch was at a range of 90kms in order to ensure that the missile was left with minimal fuel.

Part II of the evaluation was of particular significance since it involved a battle scenario never attempted before, and as the author understands it, nor after. Two P20s were to be launched displaced in azimuth by 90 degrees and in time of 15 seconds. All other launch parameters remained unchanged. This meant very little margin for error either by the target launch ships (1km at 90kms is 2/3 of a degree) or the Barak firing ship. A partial destruction or a near burst of the target could well veer over 2 tons of debris on to the Barak platform. So destruction of the incoming missile had to be complete.

Many professional careers rode the event. Now it may be told, that there were also others, Cassandras that saw success in failure. On 11 April 2003 INS Ganga brought down all three missiles with direct hits in what analysis revealed as near perfect engagements. While system technical performance is a material function, much credit must go to INS Ganga, and it’s Commanding Officer, Captain AV Shigaon VSM, for his resolute leadership and professional competence in seeing through a daunting task. The Barak had sealed its place in the inventory of the Indian Navy as its preferred point defence missile system. Not that there were no teething problems with later installations (INS Delhi, for instance) but these are common to retrofits and were efficiently overcome. As for the Trishul, it remained a “no show”.

The Long Range SAM

In the meantime a lively debate had erupted within the Navy over the requirement for a long range SAM system to arm combat ships that were coming off the drawing board. The deliberations culminated in the Indian Naval Tactical Committee’s (IN TACOM) meeting of January 2004. The Naval Staff and operational commanders had brought the arguments to a head over two issues: firstly, was there a consensus on what constituted “long range”? Secondly, was the issue of economics, how much of the ship’s payload in terms of cost could be dedicated to what was essentially a defensive capability? A general thumb rule for percentage cost of a warship would serve to elaborate:

  • Pay load including weapons, sensors and command and control 40%
  • Propulsion package                                                                      20%
  • Hotel services                                                                               15%
  • Material and Cabling                                                                     15%
  • Labour and other services                                                             10%

A destroyer of the Kolkata class costs about $ 1 billion, of which about $400 million would be appropriated towards the payload which includes all offensive and defensive armament, sensors for surveillance in all three dimensions, active and passive electronic warfare equipment and command and control facilities. The pressures on the purse to maximise offensive punch without compromising ability to operate in “harms way” remains the key. To give some idea as to what a long range SAM system costs, America’s RIM 161 Standard missile system or Russia’s S 400 system are billed at approximately $150 million which does not include the cost of the missile (about $15 million a piece). With such budgetary estimates one cannot fail to note the stresses that it imposes on planning payload.

If we are now to consider the first issue as to what constituted long range, clearly the matter is subjective, operational commanders were in unanimity when they suggested that range had to be greater than the distance at which an approaching threat could launch its sea-skimming missile. And if that was not so then the purpose of the SAM became the destruction of the incoming missile. At which time economics clutched in, posing the question would a short or a medium range SAM not suffice? It was this logic that in 2006 led to the decision to acquire medium range SAM systems for the Navy.

It was an awkward irony that DRDO proposed now to co-develop the Barak 2 MR SAM. Accordingly an agreement was endorsed with Israel Aircraft Industries for joint production of the system. The missile represents capability enhancement of the Barak1. It has a range of 70 kms and incorporates advanced technologies. Trials ashore have been completed in 2014. Sea trials onboard INS Kolkata is expected to be completed by December 2015. When proven the Barak 2 MR SAM will be the standard fit onboard all major Indian Naval warships for the next two decades.


The induction of any combat system on board a warship is a union based on optimum compromise between need, operational effectiveness, technology and cost. The introduction of the Barak 2 MR SAM is one such rational up gradation of the existing air defence capabilities of the Fleet. Its successful commissioning has the potential to change the manner in which maritime military capability of the nation is viewed by both friends and adversaries alike.


Unmanned Naval Warfare: Developing a Mechanism for the Future of Unmanned Systems


Vice Admiral (retd.) Vijay Shankar

(This article was first published in Geopolitics Magazine, May 2015.)

The year is 2020. A strategic entente has long been reached between the USA, India, Australia, Japan and the ASEAN to provide cooperative security in the waters of the Indian Ocean and the West Pacific. Japan has since 2018 been unleashed from military strictures imposed after the World War II by the San Francisco treaty of 1951, the Potsdam Declaration of 1945 and the Cairo Declaration of 1943. In the meantime the situation in the South China Sea has reached a flashpoint. China has unilaterally declared the South China Sea as defined by the 9-dash line as a territorial sea while enabling the third island chain strategy to provide security to their energy and trade routes. The third island chain runs an arc from the north of Japan, east of the Mariana Trench passing through the Makkasar and the Lombok Straits extending to the Chagos archipelago. The US installation of ABM batteries in the littorals, series of hot incidents in China’s East China Sea air defense identification zone and the escalating clashes between maritime security forces in the South China Sea has provoked an aggressive reaction from China. In a rapid joint amphibious assault PLA forces have occupied the disputed islands of Quemoy and Matsu in the Taiwan Strait.

In the Indian Ocean, China as a part of their Africa strategy has laid stifling embargos on use by the entente of all “Maritime Silk Road” gateways and infrastructures that they helped finance particularly the TanZam rail corridor and ports of Mombasa and Lamu in Kenya, ports of Dar es Salaam and Bagamoyo in Tanzania and the port of Djibouti. They have similarly denied access to the ports on the west coast of Africa particularly Kirbi in Cameroon. The PLAN have deployed the Liaoning carrier group along with supporting nuclear attack submarines and surveillance elements for SLOC control and security in the North Indian Ocean.

The Indian CCS have accepted the need for joint Entente operations to enhance surveillance and mark PLAN forces. Accordingly the Vikramaditya carrier group has been deployed in standoff mode while several US long endurance surveillance and strike UAVs have been tasked for surveillance of Chinese forces.US unmanned denial forces have been assigned distant ‘marking’ tasks. The composite Entente task force is designated TF 911; it is supported by precision and persistent satellite surveillance, ABM batteries and nuclear attack submarines.

 After a series of fruitless diplomatic exchanges and strident demarches, Chinese high command establishes a 200 nautical mile moving Exclusion Zone around the Liaoning Group. Task Force Commander (TFC) 911 is ordered to challenge this zone. Accordingly he prepares to tighten the surveillance perimeter and bring in his long range strike and surveillance UAVs to maintain shadowing distance of 190 nautical miles by reprogramming their surveillance sectors while deploying his unmanned denial forces to marking range of 100 nautical miles. As the new deployment pattern is executed TFC 911 receives an alarm report that the satellite surveillance picture is snowed out while both UAVs and unmanned denial forces were not under command and had reverted to their default “come home” mode which would navigate them away from the scene of operations to a distant stand by way point.

Cyber attacks unleashed by the PLAN had breached and spoofed the satellite surveillance networks; while the command and control links of the unmanned vehicles had been penetrated, their command computers disabled and control codes hacked into; effectively both UAVs and unmanned denial forces had turned rogue! CTF 911 is faced with a serious operational quandary, should he risk man with material to go in harms way? Would the introduction of manned units comprise an escalation of the situation? Will an engagement involving casualties spin out of control? At a more profound level was a doubt; could the unmanned replace the manned combatant?

To be sure this is a gaming scenario, but the fear of loss of control of remote forces is a reality that no Commander at sea can wish away particularly when cyber security is an inverse function of use, while use is central to efficiency. Also, the gap in singularity between man and remote weapon will always exists as an exploitable vulnerability. The CTFs’ operational dilemma is an existential predicament when the option to use unmanned vehicles is available. His more profound doubt captured the essence of the unmanned combatant; to integrate and enhance rather than replace.

The Battle of Lake Poyang [i]

In 1363 CE a curious battle was fought between the ruling Han fleet of Chen Youliang and the warring founder of the Ming Dynasty Zhu Yuanzhang, the outcome of the battle would decide control of China. Chen had amassed a large Han armada comprising big deep draught heavy artillery tower ships for the investment of the riverine city of Nanchang along the south west bank of the Poyang lake, the largest inland fresh water body in China. The aim was to gain a strategic foothold in Ming territory. Drought conditions and nature of the waters made pilotage difficult due shallows and strong shore setting currents created by the river Ga Jiang that drained into the lake. The Han armada was restricted in manoeuvre to a disproportionately small deep water pool. The Ming fleet however saw tactical advantage in speed, mobility and manoeuvre. Accordingly their fleet depended on agility, shallow draught and lightly cannoned hulls. The engagement between the two was pitched, asymmetric and prolonged without reaching a decision till the Ming Navy introduced small unmanned fire ships into the fray. The crafts were loaded with straw and tinder, dummies were erected to simulate a watch on deck and they were towed stealthily to their release points upstream and upwind of the Han armada. The straw was set afire just as the tow was slipped. With their helms seized the fire-ships drifted rapidly on to the bunched Han armada, ramming and setting ablaze the lumbering tower ships. Nanchang was relieved and the Han never recovered from this defeat.

The Battle of Poyang is important to our study for two reasons: firstly, the use of unmanned war ships is not a new phenomenon in maritime conflicts as the 14th century Zhu Yuanzhang will testify; secondly, planning, coordination and direction is a command function that cannot be left to the ‘intelligence of a drifting fire ship; thirdly, as the Commander of Task Force 911 realized in our creative scenario of 2020, the future of unmanned systems at sea and across the entire spectrum of maritime operations must remain focused on integrating with the manned platform.

Case for Unmanned Combat Platforms

Convergence of three critical factors will impact the development and constituents of tomorrows’ Fleet, and indeed, will form the driving force for the adoption of unmanned combat platforms. Firstly, a convincing argument may be made of how unmanned platforms will improve combat capabilities without the risks involved in committing humans for high hazard operations such as minesweeping, surveillance, low intensity operations and marking of high value potentially hostile units. Secondly, a cost benefit analysis will readily reveal the obvious that payload to platform dimensions is adversely affected by the need to provide safety and hotel services for manned platforms, as a thumb rule this may be taken between 20% to 25% by volume and an equal amount by cost. Lastly, the economics of matching tight budgets with increasing demands on the operational tempo of the Navy will call for cutting back on manpower through increased automation, technology substitutes and incorporating artificial intelligence; this in turn will have a positive effect on reducing bulk, increasing platform lethality and enhancing mobility.

Technology Trends and the Planner’s Vision        

The spectrum of applications where unmanned systems may find use, range from automated systems that ease operator load and in turn reduce complement of crew to completely autonomous platforms that makes decisions based on artificial intelligence and may be programmed for a variety of missions from start to termination without human intervention. However our 2020 scenario will suggest an operational vision that is tempered by four guiding factors:

  • Unmanned systems will augment and not replace existing and projected manned force structures.
  • Unmanned systems will be standardized to four basic design categories: Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAV), Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV), Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) and Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV to include sea bed mobility). Mission packages will be modular and will conform to respective design categories. Platform size will be minimized.
  • Unmanned systems will be compatible for operations by all major surface combatants.
  • While automation will be enhanced to give near autonomy to platforms, high level human supervision will, however, prevail. Weapon release will in most cases require human control.

Platform Priority for development may be distinguished by operational needs, a suggested set of priorities are: Priority 1: Scouting, Priority 2: Mine sweeping and hunting, Priority 3: Undersea offensive operations.

Operational Mission Requirements: Unmanned Combat Systems

We have thus far, through the devices of a simulated scenario and historical reference made a macro case for the development, induction and integration of unmanned systems into the Navy of the foreseeable future. While our approach has been evolutionary we have to remain sensitive to the fact that risk aversion and economics alone cannot be the reason for an unmanned orientation. After all from a moral standpoint, armed conflict is a national political endeavour that is characterized by human violence; to remove the human from one side in order to sanitize war fighting is to run the danger of trivializing armed conflict to a video game. The man must not only take responsibility for decisions he makes, but also for the consequences of his action. Because the systems we are dealing with are maritime systems, in peacetime they will be forward deployed in international waters for operations that aim at monitoring and projecting presence to a greater degree than other technologies. As discussed earlier their very character will encourage their use in a wider variety of contexts than current manned units. Both forward deployment and broader applications give to the unmanned maritime systems an operational potential that in theory places them in the vanguard of operational utility. Given such a potential it is extremely important that the Commander at sea envision what transformation the system will bring about and how both man and material must respond. Two factors play a pivotal role in understanding the altered circumstance; firstly, the unmanned system remains a tool in the hands of planners to further, as always, political objectives whether these are humanitarian, economic, surveillance or power projection. Second, most contemporary assessments about these systems build a rationale a that unmanned systems, being defenceless against a well equipped foe, can figure with any prominence only in the Navy’s benign and policing roles without a mention on the impact that it may have on the future operational maritime space. This second consideration is hardly surprising since assessments can only be made with some anticipated use in mind and perhaps the most simplistic is that it extends an existing capability; overlooking the discreet strike role that these systems played in America’s war on terror in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Pakistan and the surveillance role that they continue to play in disputed waters such as the South China Sea.

Deployments of unmanned systems in numbers particularly space based systems for operational and even tactical scenarios will require changes to our command and control doctrines and structures. This is significantly true in dense and complex situations when the fleet commander and his deployed combatant elements are recipients of combat information from unmanned systems over which they have no control yet will have to respond to. Satellite and long range surveillance imagery are cases in point when the sensors and remote sensing devices could well be national assets that deliver right up to the tactical level. Therefore while defining the mission requirements for the instruments of unmanned naval warfare it is important to keep the larger context of the nature of armed conflict in stark perspective. The primary requirement, within the parameters of the planner’s vision (discussed earlier) is for war fighting. This will include scouting by which is meant missions’ involving search, patrol, tracking or reconnaissance.[ii] All four design categories of unmanned systems may be engaged in scouting operations. It must be noted that when deployed on patrol missions, a strike capability is intrinsic either by a cooperating unit or by the unmanned system. Human supervision is an essential part of our requirements for our unmanned combat systems accordingly a special cadre will have to be raised for control. Tactical and operational assignments may include deception, electronic warfare, information warfare and environment data collection (both meteorological and hydrological) in all three dimensions. The planner will also remind us that operational decisions always carry with them a probabilistic uncertainty much in the mould of CTF 911’s quandary. In the aggregate what the planner behind his desk will do well to pay heed to while defining the mission requirements of the unmanned combat system and the Commander at sea hark back to before deploying his mission is Clausewitz’ insightful message on the non-linearity of warfare, that the “complexity of war is greater than the sum of its parts”.

Mission Packages

Mission packages for the four standard design categories identified earlier must necessarily lead off from the operational mission requirements identified earlier and conform to the considerations that influence the planner’s vision. Platform standardisation, modularity of mission packages that would permit easy role configuration changes within a standard platform as well as between platforms (where possible) as well as adaptation of the technology trends particularly those related to automation, autonomy and control will be central to the realisation of the mission packages. In broad terms, five main mission packages have been identified which may further be de-aggregated to functional modules. The 5 packages are:

  • Scouting, navigation, target acquisition and weapon delivery.
  • Sensors.
  • Meteorology, hydrology, bathythermal and underwater topography.
  • Information warfare, Electronic warfare and communication relay.
  • Battle Damage Assessment.

Conclusion: To Catch the Transformatory Moment

Induction of unmanned combat systems into the Indian Navy has thus far been haphazard. It has neither been guided by an integrated approach between services nor has development of unmanned systems for the navy followed a set of priority driven requirements. The approach hitherto has been, unique designs for stand alone specific missions and a concentration on performance. How else does one explain the sponsoring of the Nishant short endurance UAV, acquisition of the medium endurance UAV Searcher, acquisition of the long endurance Heron and the induction of an assortment of mine sweeping and mine hunting UUVs? There has been no movement towards developing a planner’s vision nor a policy orientation directed at standardisation of platforms, modularity of mission packages, recognising technology trends or creating control compatibility and interoperability. So currently the Navy finds itself with non interactive systems segregated into unique and specific platform “stove pipes” with little or no compatibility with major manned combatants.

In the absence of a mechanism that first, makes a prognostication of the direction that unmanned naval warfare is likely to take and then formulates plans and coordinates the future of unmanned systems; the Indian Navy is quite likely to miss a tranformatory moment in the course of maritime warfare. We began with a hypothetical maritime scenario when the Commander of Task Force 911 was placed on the horns of an operational dilemma through loss of control of his unmanned forces, the situation was more a planner’s lesson that unmanned forces are not intended to replace manned combatants but to integrate and enhance capability. In order to do so a case was made in support of the unmanned combat platform at sea and a tempered operational vision was developed for standardising unmanned platforms. This led to the macro definition of mission requirements in all three dimensions and then zeroed in on the essential mission packages. While emphasising the need for an integrated approach what should not be lost sight of is the perils of viewing the unmanned system as an economical weapon that could avert risks to the man behind the machine, rather the intention is not to replace but combine. In our historical review of the Battle of Poyang we saw how well directed unmanned fire ships delivered victory to an inferior force; the question before us is clear do we choose the Zhu Yuanzhang model and catch the transformatory moment or not.

End Notes 

[i] Dreyer Edward L, The Poyang Campaign, 1363. The Chinese Ways of Warfare edited by Frank A Keirman and John K Fairbank. Harvard University Press 1974. pgs 202-242.

[ii] Allied Naval Manoeuvring Instructions. NATO Publication 1957, Pg 8-3