Rear Admiral Raja Menon, who retired in 1994 as Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff and is the author of A Nuclear Strategy for India, recently wrote a paper advocating a refocusing of India’s military grand strategy from a continental to an offensive oceanic strategy, considering the threat from China. The newspaper has been shared with the government.

India’s defence budget is larger than Russia’s, Menon emphasizes, but 82 percent of the army’s budget goes to personnel costs, which he says “cannot be paid”. “We need a reorientation. The foundations of strategy are wrong, the foundations of clinging to continental defences are wrong, the foundations of funding are wrong,” Menon said.

You talk about building punitive measures against China. What kind of capabilities does India have?

At the moment we have no sanctions. We are on the receiving end.

I wrote a paper on living with China, and living with China meant deterring China, leaving us alone to grow economically. Our primary goal would be to grow economically, for which we need our own geographic space, which China won’t give us unless there’s something that deters China. That was the basis of the idea to build up punishment capacity.

What kind of penal capacity should India build up?

I first looked at the Himalayan border and discovered some surprising things. One was that the Indian Army is much bigger than the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The Indian Army is a very fine fighting force, and yet, in terms of meeting over the years, we are invariably outnumbered, although they (the PLA) generally have fewer numbers.

I researched this and found that they built a six-lane highway from the Burmese crossroads to Xinjiang. And along this highway, they can move altitude-acclimatized troops to overwhelm us at every point of contact.

What the Indian military is fighting is geography, not so much the Chinese. But then China must have a weakness. I found that China’s maritime geography is very, very weak. China faces the Pacific Ocean. It is internally deeply connected via the Belt and Road all the way to Europe, but it relies on the Indian Ocean for a large percentage of its oil and commodity trade.

The connection between the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean is geographically very limited by the Strait of Malacca and the other straits. We have to take advantage of its maritime geography. But the days of the naval denial of World War II are over. You can’t ignore sinking tankers these days. I’ve calculated that China needs to unload nine 250,000-ton tankers a day to keep its economy running. If you can interrupt the flow of oil, it will enter the Indian Ocean to investigate. This allows us to start a battle on favourable terms.

First, by taking advantage of the Quad’s maritime reconnaissance, so that Chinese warships bound for the Strait of Malacca are picked up by the Quad while in the South China Sea, and we receive a warning two days in advance. get them coming.

Then we transferred the Air Force, which I foresaw would become the problem – for the Indian Air Force to forget the defence of continental airspace, which is their current strategy, and set up a base at Car Nicobar, where they have a runway anyway. The only financial input I see for the strategy I am proposing is funding the Air Force to set up a base at Car Nicobar so that fighters operating from there can dominate the Strait of Malacca and suppress Chinese aircraft that collect information.

I visualize a series of events that goes like this: the Chinese are committing aggression against us in the Himalayas; we respond by saying that we choose the time and place of our retaliation. We then exercise dominance over the battlespace and quarantine Chinese tankers in the Nicobar Islands. We’re not going to sink them. And push the Chinese to go into the Indian Ocean to find out what’s going on. We are then warned of their arrival and literally kill them.

Apart from building our air capacity in the Car Nicobar area, what other capacities do we need?

The last thing we want is to go to war with China. We want to deter China, so we need to take these steps openly and visibly: First, sign an agreement with the Quad to divide Asia-Pacific into maritime search areas. This was something I suggested to State Department, but State Department maintains the Quad as a diplomatic chat.

Then we need to develop a base in Car Nicobar. We must clearly indicate to the Chinese what our thinking is.

Third, we must be prepared that the Chinese, who have seen our approach, will send their warships before committing aggression. In my paper, I proposed that we create a second battlefield over the Strait of Hormuz, to threaten Djibouti, the UAE and the Chinese tankers in the Gulf of Hormuz. To this end, I propose a bold initiative: to take over the defunct Royal Air Force air base on Masirah Island, which is owned by Oman.

Again, I propose to fund the Indian Air Force and get it to give up the continental air spirit, go on expedition, which is what all the Air Forces in the world are doing except the Indian Air Force.

A third battlefield, dominated by Indian aircraft carriers, is said to lie in the central Indian Ocean.

Once we establish this, I think the Chinese will think a lot before committing aggression against us.

China is constantly eroding our geopolitical space and tying us down with the help of Pakistan. We have to get out of that trap. Where we’re making mistakes now, I feel, is: one, we’re appeasing China; and secondly, we are getting into an unnecessary arms race with Pakistan.

Our policy should be the other way around: where we make peace with Pakistan and stand up to China. That’s why I call my paper “Refocusing India’s Military Grand Strategy.”

Can we do this with two airlines?

Frankly, I don’t think we can. But the last thing I want is to give the impression that as a writer with a maritime background, I’m really pushing for a bigger navy.

The change must be initiated from a tri-service level. We will have a three-pronged strategy to keep the Chinese in the mountains and threaten them in the Indian Ocean.

Perhaps this brings up the other problem that we have so far written our strategy without consulting the State Department. Bring in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Because once you start operating outside the continental borders of India, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be added anyway. We need the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to establish the military component of the Quad, to negotiate, to understand that our diplomats will speak with authority if the navy is a regional navy.

Is there still a belief in the State Department that we can appease China? I think there is. We have to be on the same wavelength… We have to have a common view.

Can we rely on multilateral groups like the Quad or other nations to protect us in a conflict?

No, we can’t. And I’m not suggesting that. But maritime search is a peacetime activity. All we have to do is divide the areas where we will do our search and where the United States will search.

We have communications and intelligence sharing agreements with the United States. We don’t need to destabilize anything. We can set this up right now, as it is, for maritime search information sharing. So that India knows the image in the South China Sea and the United States the image in the Indian Ocean. This can be a peacetime activity, slightly upgraded in wartime.