Pakistan Navy biennial exercise Shamsheer-e-Bahr kick started during the last week of July. Scheduled to terminate later this month, the exercise is a major conceptual undertaking and extends nearly seven weeks. It is founded on contemporary and prospective maritime security threats and challenges confronting Pakistan. The exercise enables Pakistan Navy to abstract possible response options to the entire range of threats. The final conceptulaised responses are later put to practical test at sea in Pakistan Navy biennial exercise Seaspark. All this culminates in reappraisal of developmental and employment strategy by the service.

The continuum of maritime security threats to Pakistan has seen a perpetual shift over the past two decades or so. The navy’s tasks and responsibilities have too multiplied significantly during the period. The spectrum of threat now spans from increasing nuclear and conventional disparity at one end to sub-conventional and hybrid warfare challenges at the other. The term “hybrid warfare” has gained currency over time. The term has replaced what was commonly known as “generational warfare” which now stands as a decisively discredited concept amongst modern militaries. “Hybrid warfare” involves simultaneous application of both, conventional and irregular or unconventional forms of conflict taking place within the same battle space. The adversary concurrently and adaptively employs a fused mix of conventional weapons, irregular tactics, terrorism, cyber terrorism and criminal behaviour in the battle space to obtain desired political objectives. This now seems to be the pattern and current strategy of the regional, sub-regional and extra-regional actors inimical to Pakistan.

There is no gainsaying that the Indian Ocean region (IOR) has been in international spotlight since 9/11. It has, however, lately come under renewed focus. This is not least because of geo-political upheavals or challenges to global supply chain system running through it but rather China’s phenomenal rise and perpetual inroads herein. The development has been cause of endless consternation in Washington and New Delhi. The US 2012 “Pivot to Asia” policy sought strategic partnership with India. The common foe of the two, China is now on the cusp of becoming a major regional military power. The US shift in strategic focus has resulted in both, Indian and Pacific oceans (Indo-Pacific) earning tremendous international attention. It has also caused reshaping of maritime strategies with further concentration of maritime military forces across Indo-Pacific expanse. The two are now deemed conjoined and inseparable entity.

By the end of this decade, Indian Navy (IN) plans to operate three carrier battle groups. In its new integrated perspective plan, IN aims to induct over 90 combat platforms within next decade. India’s policy on the Indian Ocean is now also more proactive than any time in the past. The Modi government is also far more eager to engage with the United States militarily than its predecessor. The two sides have now decided to upgrade Malabar series of naval exercises which now routinely involve aircraft carrier and nuclear submarines. Side by side, Indian Navy is seeking technological assistance in key areas such as nuclear propulsion and design and construction of aircraft carriers. Many Indian Naval Officials now suggest that US must help IN in its ongoing extensive modernization programme by selling top of the line equipment complemented by technology transfer. The CPEC agreement, anticipated operationalisation of Gwadar port and fearful of PLA(N) becoming “two ocean navy” has only provided a fresh impetus to USN-IN strategic collaboration.

In recent decades, IN has come to gain significantly on domestic turf. This gain comes as a result of fundamental shift in the belief of Indian strategic community. The thinking that a blue water navy is essentially needed if India is to attain status of a regional policeman capable of protecting the country’s mounting and widespread maritime interests has facilitated increased apportioning of national resources and funding to IN. An extension of this thinking is the upcoming fleet of nuclear submarine of which Arihant, SSBN is part. Commissioned in March 2016, Arihant now provides India with sustained presence in Asian waters and nuclear triad for assured strikes. Indian Navy plans to construct a series of Arihant class boats. It also contemplates to transit from SSGN to SSBNs and on to SSNs. INS Aridaman (S-3) is already in line while S-5 onwards will be bigger boats to accommodate long range SLBMs K-5.

Indian Navy recently test fired 3,500 km Arihant based SLBM, K-4. Once armed, the fleet of Indian nuclear submarines will soon be able to cover entire Pakistan with their ballistic missiles fired from either the eastern or western quadrant of Indian Ocean. Credible sources indicate that India is secretly engaged in constructing Asia’s largest nuclear facility in the country’s South (Karnataka). The facility functions directly under the Indian PM. It follows Indo-US nuclear accord which has allowed India large quantities of Uranium purchases from abroad. According to sources, the largest beneficiary of this upcoming facility will be the future fleet of Indian nuclear submarines.

While most of Asia is veering towards sea- the real battle ground in twenty first century- Pakistan seems stuck in the past with enduring land fixation. CPEC and upswing in significance of Gwadar has not caused any fresh thinking to surface in the national strategic thought process either. On the other hand, CPEC bring in its wake a host of additional tasks and responsibilities for Pakistan Navy. The projected expansion in sea commerce, coastal and commercial activity in the backdrop of utmost efforts by adversaries to crash the mega project will demand extended presence and vigilance on part of PN. This in turn will exact additional hardware and manpower resources.

A fragile nuclear balance in South Asia is now compounded by presence of India’s nuclear submarines in the Indian Ocean. On May 15, this year, New Delhi successfully test fired the first of its kind indigenously developed Advanced Air Defence (AAD) supersonic interceptor missile Ashwin naval version of Prithvi missile which destroyed a target. So far, Pakistan does not have an answer to the rapidly eroding strategic stability in the Indian Ocean. Given India’s Pakistan specific Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) duly refined to Pro Active Operations (PAO’s) and Pakistan’s shift in nuclear posture from Minimum Credible Deterrence (MCD) to Full Spectrum Deterrence (FSD), is a dangerous development. As Pakistan and India’s nuclear doctrines and postures evolve, the risks of spiraling nuclear arms race are likely to increase unless both sides reassess doctrinal issues.