An unprecedented display of Indian Navy (IN) might occurred during the 1971 Indo-Pak War. Aside from their important roles in the Liberation of Goa (1961) and defensive activities during the 1965 Indo-Pak War, the IN had a limited role before this. Many different types of naval activities took place in 1971 in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. A few examples of these tactics were the following: anti-submarine warfare, deceit, riverine operations, subversive activities in East Pakistan, daring missile boat attacks on Karachi, surface warfare with fleet operations in both the East and West, and amphibious operations (with mixed results).
Various levels of success were achieved in the strategic marine warfare operations that were planned and carried out, including blockade, interruption of Sea routes of Communication (SLOC), and cutting supply routes between the two wings of Pakistan.
It is essential to emphasize the many operational insights and lessons that came out of the battle, notwithstanding the widespread coverage of the fight. Winning games aren’t usually given the same level of analysis as losing ones. Nevertheless, missions that were successful and those that were not must be thoroughly investigated.
A reassessment of both completed and ongoing operations is necessary in light of the naval war’s emphasis on risk-taking, careful preparation, and daring execution. Several events warrant mention, such as the amphibious invasion at Cox’s Bazaar, the sinking of the INS Khukri by PNS Hangor, and the apparent limits of the Western Fleet and submarines. Both sides had operational and tactical difficulties during the fight, including as malfunctioning equipment, frequent changes in plans, a lack of communication, and personality confrontations. The ‘fog and friction of battle’ may be to blame for certain problems, but by digging deep into these incidents, we can learn important lessons for the future.
Political limits in the Rules of Engagement (ROEs) limited the submarine’s attack capacity, forcing ‘positive identification’ before targeting and having a significant influence on Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) interdiction. The PN, or Pakistan Navy, encountered comparable limitations. Strict ROEs prevented Indian Navy (IN) submarines from successfully attacking, however, a submarine from the Pakistan Navy skilfully sunk the Indian Naval Ship Khukri.
Aiming to avoid legal complications post-hostilities, the tight ROEs were put in place. Maybe it would have been better to declare “War Zones” and destroy ships after a warning period. During missile boat strikes off Karachi, surface forces were able to sink commercial ships without facing any constraints.
IN submarines served as deterrence by limiting enemy shipping zones, even though the Submarine arm was still in its early stages and deployed with caution. While at war, the enemy shoreline was confined to small regions due to the presence of INS Karanj, which restricted navigation. The inability to strike ships within enemy territory was a source of anger for submariners, who saw ROEs as restricting.
Introducing New Gear
Acquiring modern naval gear in the lead-up to the conflict was important. Ships of various classes were acquired, including missile boats of the Osa class, antisubmarine vessels of the Petya class, submarines of the Kalvari class, the INS Amba, and smaller vessels of the Seaward Defence Boat class. The Navy was able to strengthen its capabilities with the addition of Sea King helicopters, trained personnel, and operating Seahawk and Alize aircraft aboard Vikrant. Admiral AK Chatterji, the previous CNS, made significant contributions. The Navy must continue to prioritize the introduction of modern technologies to counter the capabilities of prospective adversaries.
Effect of Guerre De Course
Because of its reliance on maritime imports for economic growth, Pakistan’s ports were exposed to the effects of Guerre de Course. By controlling contraband, regulating Pakistani trade channels, and blocking Karachi, the IN chose to engage in commercial warfare. The strategic importance of guerre de course was demonstrated by this maneuver and the subsequent interceptions and seizures of commercial ships, which greatly impeded shipping commerce to and from West Pakistan.
The radio interceptions of SIGINT units gave vital information, enabling the services to work together in planning. The interception of communications from Pakistan, which violates their Naval Code, was made possible due to Major General JFR Jacob’s insistence on an Eastern Command signal intercept unit. The existence of PNS Ghazi in the Bay of Bengal was quickly detected thanks to SIGINT. Methodically organized strikes were successful in part because fake traffic drove Pakistani intelligence posts astray. Today, Signal Intelligence is just as important as it was before.
Shipbuilding and MRO Centres
Some ships’ less-than-ideal material conditions were brought to light during the war, highlighting the necessity for domestic construction and MRO facilities.
The use of second-hand ships maintained by British agencies was problematic, as material faults reduced combat capacity. An important lesson that shaped the Navy’s focus on independence, indigenization, and being a builder’s navy was the need of unbroken, ongoing, top-class maintenance.
The CNS, Admiral Nanda, showed visionary leadership by partnering with the Army and Air Force to achieve some degree of unity and influencing the political elite.
As Flag Officers Commanding-in-Chief East and West, respectively, Vice Admirals N Krishnan and SN Kohli demonstrated operational acumen and strategic reasoning. The different abilities of the senior officers on display were those of Vice Admiral J. Cursetji, Rear Admiral EC Kuruvilla, and Rear Admiral SH Sarma, among others. Good preparation at NHQ and other Headquarters backed up instances of bravery at the ground level. The allocation of INS Vikrant to the Eastern Fleet by Admiral Nanda was a strategic move that demonstrated his visionary leadership.
Lessons on leadership, indigenous shipbuilding, SIGINT, strategy, hardware inductions, guerre de course, and submarine operations were gleaned from the 1971 fight. The Navy’s focus on indigenization, self-sufficiency, and top-notch, constant upkeep was moulded by these experiences. The success of the Navy was due in part to the strategic vision and operational acumen displayed by leaders at all levels. Because of the conflict, the Navy’s strengths were recognized, its dedication was solidified, and funds were allotted to help it grow and develop. The importance of flexibility and learning for future attempts is highlighted in the analysis, which acknowledges the inherent fog and friction in warfare. The Navy is still guided by the lessons learned from the war of 1971.
Chaitali Bag is a senior journalist.