07 Dec 22
Posted by: BRIAN TRIM

Though it is clearly now a couple of years old, this slim volume is a useful little primer on the Indian Navy, including perspectives on its neighbours and competitors. The author is a member of the NR and has been writing in various fora on both the Indian Navy and Indian Defence matters for some decades. He clearly enjoys a wide network amongst senior Defence leaders and seems to lobby passionately for a couple of key ideas. I am also reviewing his 2014 book Warring Nuclear Nations, in which these are also represented.

The Navy Year Book is 100 pages long; the first half consists of short essays on various topical issues. These include useful short summaries of developments in regional navies such as Bangladesh and Pakistan. Several sequenced articles provide a neat synopsis of developments with Chinese carriers, maritime aviation, and the fleet more widely. There is also a useful summary of the last six decades of Indo-Russian cooperation on nuclear submarines. The second half of the book comprises a ‘recognition guide’ style summary of the IN fleet.

There are several notable topics that lend interest to the book. First, it shows a very clear, consistent focus on China as the foremost and pacing threat which the IN must be prepared for. Where it is mentioned at all, Pakistan is considered only as an outpost for the PLA(N) to enable forward operations. The growth of Chinese influence amongst regional navies – and thus regional states – is evaluated through the lens of shipbuilding and delivery. It is clear that China is a fast and responsive provider, illustrated by a 35-month timeline from contract to delivery for Bangladesh’s SSK squadron. Chinese basing in the Indian Ocean region (IOR) is a golden thread throughout. More broadly, the book notes in passing the IN’s contractual arrangements for logistics visits at Duqm – a noteworthy example of overlapping interests that could lead to both cooperation and to competition for resource.

These many points of utility and interest are, regrettably, offset by inclusion of some poorly focused, off-theme entries that add no real weight to the volume. Amongst these is a summary of IN disaster relief ops following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which feels rather out of place in a 2020 year book. More puzzling is a three-page review of the career successes of students from the author’s tenure in charge of the Naval Academy.

Several contributors note the IN’s declining share of Defence spending: 13% of the budget, down from 18% in 2012, as compared to 22% for the IAF and 52% for the Army. Despite the growing challenge from the PLA(N) in the IOR, the Army retains institutional dominance. Regrettably, the implications of this shrinking share are merely lamented, not examined. From my imperfect perspective, there appears to be a significant mismatch between ambitions and funding. Tangentially, the author has a clear passion for mitigating inter-service competition through the establishment of a Chief of Defence Staff post. This volume hails the post’s creation in January 2020; I note it has remained vacant since the first appointee’s death in office in December 2021.

Despite admirable optimism throughout the book, there are clear challenges ahead, both internally and externally. This is a short, informative read. I have been unable to find it online but would happily forward my copy to any interested reader.