Academic journal article Naval War College Review

The Indian End of the Telescope: India and Its Navy

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

The Indian End of the Telescope: India and Its Navy

Article excerpt

For thirty years of the Cold War, 1955 to 1985, the United States viewed India as a strategic protege of the Soviet Union. From the mid-1980s onward, this perception altered. As its economic liberalisation gathered headway, India began to be seen as attractive for U.S. investment. By the 1990s, interaction had increased sufficiently to commence discussions on confidence-building measures. After India's nuclear tests in 1998, both sides engaged in a candid dialogue in an attempt to understand and come to terms with each other's core sensitivities. Since then there has been renewed American interest in India and the Indian Navy.

This article presents an overview of the factors that have driven the Indian Navy's development. It also discusses some of the perceptions that other nations have of the Indian Navy and explains how the Navy's development fits into a wider strategic perspective.1


When India became independent from colonial rule in 1947, after a struggle of nearly a century, it chose not to align with either of the East-West power blocs that were then taking shape. It did decide, however, to become a member of the British Commonwealth. At that time, Britain had a strategic concept for the defence of the Commonwealth against communism. In pursuance of that concept, the navies of India and other Commonwealth countries were offered reconditioned Second World War warships from Britain's reserve fleet, vessels that were surplus to British requirements.

It was dear that the only way to remedy swiftly the after-effects of the division of the prepartition navy between India and Pakistan was to continue the British connection and obtain whatever was offered and affordable. India acquired a cruiser, some destroyers, and several smaller ships. Over the next few years, India placed orders in Britain for eight new frigates and initiated steps for the creation of a naval air arm and a submarine arm. It also decided to resume construction of warships, starting with frigates. Indian warship-building expertise had languished over the century since the transition from wooden to steel hulls.

By 1962, eight new frigates (mostly antisubmarine), a reconditioned aircraft carrier, and a second cruiser had arrived. Evaluations were still in progress regarding the frigate to be built in India (with European collaboration). There had been no progress on the submarine arm; antisubmarine exercises were being seriously constrained by a lack of submarines with which surface ships could exercise.

At the same time, a boundary dispute with China erupted into hostilities on the northern mountain borders. Indian ground forces suffered serious reverses. The United States responded positively to India's request for urgent military assistance. Pakistan, being an ally of the United States, felt discomfited and, acting on the dictum that "your enemy's enemy can be your friend," sought closer relations with China and to a lesser extent with the Soviet Union, the two countries that the Central Treaty Organization and Southeast Asia Treaty Organization were meant to contain. China responded positively, initiating thereby the Pakistan-China geostrategic alignment in the Indian subcontinent.

The postmortem on the military reverses of 1962 led to the formulation of India's first five-year defence plan. Its basic features were the immediate augmentation of the Army and the Air Force. The Navy, which had played no significant role in the conflict, was to continue its programme of replacing its old ships with newer ones. The Army, entrusted with the defence of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands since 1945, when Japan evacuated them, was relieved of that duty in 1962 by the Navy, to enable the Army to focus on the borders with China. Britain agreed to train a few crews to man a submarine, so as to provide antisubmarine training.

During 1964 defence delegations visited the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain to explore ways of meeting the immediate requirements of India's defence plan. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.