(Published article in Defence and Security Analysis Feb 2013)
Air Sea Battle Concept in Indian Context
“JOAC describes in broad terms my vision for how joint forces will operate in response to emerging anti-access and area-denial security challenges. Its central thesis is Cross-Domain Synergy—the complementary vice merely additive employment of capabilities in different domains such that each enhances the effectiveness and compensates for the vulnerabilities of the others—to establish superiority in some combination of domains that will provide the freedom of action required by the mission.” General Martin E. Dempsey, in Joint Operational Access Concept (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2012) Jan 2012.
China and Pakistan constitute two adversaries of India whose capabilities need to be periodically assessed keeping in view the changing maritime environment in the IOR and the Pacific region. Both the countries do not operate credible aircraft carriers, (China is rapidly catching up with commissioning of its lone aircraft carrier the Liaoning last year) and therefore are unable to project formidable power across the seas. But both appear to have greatly strengthened their offensive capabilities by acquiring potent submarine fleets which can easily deter any opportunistic foray in their waters and also force the adversaries to chart their courses only after factoring in the lurking submarine threat.
Anti Access and Area Denial (A2/AD) Capabilities of India’s Neighbours
Pakistan Navy has fortified its helicopters and MR aircraft with Exocet anti ship missiles and has procured 70, C802 Chinese anti ship cruise missiles from China for its Zulfikar class frigates and Zalalat II Class FACs. Further the PAF has ordered 50 C802s for JF-17s. The C802 missile is 6.9m long, weighs 715kg, has a range of ~200km and a 165kg time delayed SAP warhead. It is supposed to have a very low RCS with a speed of 0.9Mach and has credible anti jamming capabilities. The cruise altitude is 10-20m with terminal altitude at 3-5m. It has inertial guidance in cruise phase with active radar homing in the terminal phase. This missile is also fielded by Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, and Indonesia.
Pakistan navy already has AIP Augusta submarines which can fire Harpoon missiles without having to surface. It is acquiring 3 Type 214 submarines with AIP from Germany, and also 3 Song Class submarines from China. Both of these diesel electric types of submarines can fire torpedoes and missiles.
“China is faced with the superiority of the developed countries in economy, science and technology, as well as military affairs. It also faces strategic manoeuvres and containment from the outside while having to face disruption and sabotage by separatist and hostile forces from the inside.” China’s National Defense in 2008
China has come to accept that a maritime route is imperative for the growth of its economy, and the only power that can make it stumble if not cripple, is the U.S. Accordingly, China has progressed adding capabilities not only to its navy but also to its shore based assets such that it can deter the blockade at sea or make it very expensive for the US to do so.
Neutralising Dong Feng 21 D anti carrier ballistic missile continues to be a severe irritant in countering A2/AD strategies by the US. Chinese writings have carefully articulated that Dong Feng 21D is not only meant to target the Carriers but also the Aegis class Cruisers and Destroyers which protect the carrier! Since these missiles are road mobile it would be time consuming and very difficult to neutralise their batteries without sailing in to harm’s way. The US response has been to revert to constructing blue water BMD destroyers and relocate BMD capable ships to the Pacific. BMD is being extended to all Aegis cruisers along with increased procurement of SM-3 BMD missiles. Admiral Willard has said that the new Chinese weapon was not fully operational and would probably undergo testing “for several more years.” The key remaining step is a test of the entire system at sea. This also implies that the US has some time on its hands to put up its act together for countering the Dong Feng 21 D threat.
China has a good submarine fleet with Russian as well as home built diesel electric submarines capable of firing Klub ASCMs. In addition it has nuclear attack and nuclear missile submarines. China has maritime strike aircraft (SU-30 MK2, FB-7 etc) which can carry ASCMs, it has a large number of patrol craft which carry C-803 SSMs with a range of ~350km, and it has Russian destroyers which carry ASCM (Moskit). Apart from the above China has a formidable air defence capability on shore as well as on ships. As far as other areas directly affecting ISR and targeting at sea concerned the U.S. Department of Defense’s 2010 Annual Report to Congress on the Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China notes: PLA writings emphasize the necessity of “destroying, damaging, and interfering with the enemy’s reconnaissance … and communications satellites,” suggesting that such systems, as well as navigation and early warning satellites, could be among initial targets of attack to “blind and deafen the enemy.”
The A2/AD capabilities of China have been assessed and accordingly the US 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review announced Air-Sea Battle (ASB) initiative to support the mission of “Deter and Defeat Aggression in Anti-Access Environments”. “The concept will address how air and naval forces will integrate capabilities across all operational domains—air, sea, land, space, and cyberspace—to counter growing challenges to U.S. freedom of action.”
The ASB has yet to be embedded in US national strategy and indoctrinated and practiced by the US Navy and the USAF before it can be completely implemented. This may take some time as the other components, like additional and modernised space and ISR capabilities, long range strike aircraft and UCAVs, UUVs etc are still under development.
Contra views about ASB have been expressed in blogs and seminars. It has been said that ASB treads a razor’s edge, as on one hand ‘cooperative engagement’ with China has to be vigorously pursued and on the other hand, think tanks like Centre for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments bring out their outline of ASB replete with maps of target locations; which would be required to be bombed across interior of mainland China. Thomas P.M. Barnett in his article “TIME on PACOM versus WAPO on PRC’s DF-21D,”  has brought out that “I don’t think it’s particularly “provocative” for the Chinese to develop weaponry (which they most certainly are, even if it’s taking them time) to prevent our carriers from sitting off their coast with the capability of launching attacks across the breadth and depth of their mainland. I don’t find that counter odd at all. I would find it odd if a rising power sat idly by while another nation (that wants a different political system for it) has the capability of unleashing such military strikes and routinely floats that capability along its shoreline–especially when that same country has a record of toppling regimes.”
Ever since this concept has been articulated and the Asia-Pacific shift has been announced China has taken it as an eventual threat to its energy life lines.
The Indian Context
It may be worthwhile for India to examine and analyse the changing nature of neighbouring maritime environment and assess the extent of synergies that may be required to maintain a significant presence in waters of India’s interest. This is a required preparatory step, as once ASB starts playing out in the Pacific, India would have to, at least ensure the safety of the SLOCs leading to its shores, and may also be required to contribute in an international ASB effort west of Malacca.
India’s areas of concern are freedom of operation in the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean. Large swathes of which, even currently, lie under the Chinese missile umbrella and may prompt Pakistan to pre-empt misadventure in the areas which would critically affect oil supplies/oil production. The Indian ASB battle zone involves; Space (ISR satellites and BMD), cyberspace (e.g. Networking nodes), Island territories and inland areas (launch pads, AD systems, airfields etc), littorals in case of amphibious operations (may even include own areas which may need clearing in case of clandestine ingress), surface and sub surface for naval operations of ships, submarines and unmanned vehicles, and air space for aerial operations (both for IN and the IAF).
A glance at the battle zone reveals existence of overlapping capability areas between IN , IAF and to a lesser extent the Indian Army, even in acquiring preliminary ‘awareness’ prior to launching in to the preparatory and operations phase. As operations will progress, requirement for integrated effort will keep on increasing with the levels of networked forces being brought to bear on the adversary. The need for joint training, joint doctrines, joint preparedness exercises and ‘awareness’ sharing in the future are thus an imperative. Space, air, surface, and subsurface have to be secured for the duration of operation by both the IN and the IAF for the potent Indian Army to carry out the ground operations if required.
While it is for each service to build up its capabilities and doctrines for tackling the unfolding scenarios- closer to Indian shores in the Bay of Bengal or further away in the Arabian Sea/ Indian Ocean- as far as the ASB is concerned, the need to share the capability plans and integrate them doctrinally is as integral to the success of ASB missions as the setting up of an effective joint command and control structure. The HQIDS is ideally placed to come out with guidelines and time frames for achieving the same.
Specific to the IN two aspects- other then the emergent need for joint operations and training with IAF- which need attention at the highest echelons are the gaps in defences of own littorals and overarching domain awareness.
Strengthening Defences of Own Littorals. There is an apparent gap in the defences of India’s own littorals, ports and harbours which needs to be plugged. It can be done by procurement of, midget/ miniature submarines, UAVs/USVs for operations as swarms, Unmanned Underwater Sensor and Weapon Carriers (UUSWC), cable controlled mines, extended reach coastal ASCM and gun batteries.
Overarching Domain Awareness. The coast and Open Ocean are critical domains for the security of a nation with sea as boundaries, both at home and abroad. National-security operations in the oceans take place globally and often require continuous, near-real-time monitoring of environmental conditions using tools such as autonomous sensors, targeted observations, and adaptive modelling. The core of Marine Domain Awareness, however, is applying the vessel tracking process to a layered defence model centred on the coastline of India, the ultimate goal of which is to detect potential threats early and as far away from the Indian coastline as possible. In order to derive a comprehensive MDA picture, information needs to be fused, correlated, and analysed and for it to be relevant to national security it must be designed to operate cohesively at tactical, regional and strategic levels. The MDA capabilities, synergised with improved understanding of the ocean environment, enabled by other ocean science research activities, will support accurate ocean-state assessments and allow future forces to conduct joint and combined operations in near shore and deep-ocean operating environments, anywhere and at anytime.
India has to evaluate the ASB with reference to its own geo-strategic position, threats and resources; however enhancing IN-IAF jointness would accrue gains to both the services and increase preparedness for an ASB like operation in Indian waters.
 Gen Martin Dempsey, Joint Operational Access Concept (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2012), www.defense.gov/pubs/pdfs/JOAC_Jan%202012_Signed.pdf
 China’s National Defense in 2008, Information Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2009).
 Ronald O’Rourke, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress 26 Aug 2010. http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/RL33153_20100826.pdf
Thomas P. M. Barnett, “TIME on PACOM versus WAPO on PRC’s DF-21D,” Thomas P. M. Barnett’s Globlogization, entry posted December 29, 2010 http://thomaspmbarnett.com/globlogization/2010/12/29/time-on-pacom-versus-wapo-on-prcs-df-21d.html#ixzz2ILir2djK
 Kulshrestha S, Matters Littoral Defence, Defence and Security Alert, Dec 2012.
 Kulshrestha S, ODA: An Imperative, Geo Intelligence Nov-Dec 2012.