“Control of the sea is the key to world dominance” said Alfred Thayer Mahan, who was very right while emphasizing the importance of the maritime security. Future wars will be fought over the sea as oceans cover 75% of the earth, which the remaining one third land mass depends heavily upon.
Among the major oceans of the world, the Indian Ocean is the third largest ocean covering approximately 73.3 million square kilometer. It is the triad of world’s most important choke points; the Straits of Hormuz, Bab-al-Mandeb and Malacca. The most significant sea lines of communications also pass through the Indian Ocean. With this strategic significance, the Indian Ocean shares its piece of pie with two important nuclear weapons states. Since India claims its control over the Indian Ocean and considers it as India’s ocean, therefore, maritime security in Indian Ocean is a subject of vital national interest for Pakistan.
A number of strategic premises act as motivating factors in India-Pakistan’s quest for naval expansion, with multiple interests in mind. In 2015, India launched a program to build six nuclear-powered attack submarines. Powered by an 83-megawatt nuclear reactor India inducted its first nuclear power submarine INS Arihant in 2016. Arihant is expected to carry 12 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM). It is also developing a more advanced SLBM that will have a range of up to 3500 km. Work on the second nuclear submarine, INS Aridaman, is also scheduled.
India currently operates a Russian Akula-II nuclear-powered attack submarine on a 10-year lease and may acquire a second vessel of the same class. Due to its no first use (NFU) policy, India continues to develop the naval component of forces as step towards nuclear triad and find it necessary to acquire sea based deterrence in order to confirm its second strike capability. India’s development of naval nuclear arsenals helps in secure the grand first strike capability, with increased options of survivability.
India’s naval expansion and nuclear triad has raised serious concerns for Pakistan. The nuclearization of the Indian Ocean is a clear threat, particularly in light of India’s aspirations for a blue water navy. This fact has widened the probability for conflict escalation. Therefore, Pakistan is required to prepare its sea-based defense.
*Qura tul ain Hafeez has done M Phil in International Relations at Quaid-I Azam University Islamabad. She is currently working as a Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute Islamabad.