The US Navy Secretary (SECNAV), Kenneth Braithwaite, in a recent speech called for the establishment of a numbered fleet in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The SECNAV mentioned that the proposed 1st Fleet would be moved, “…across the Pacific until it is where our allies and partners see that it could best assist them as well as to assist us.”
Based on the SECNAV’s speech, some analysts have reportedly conjectured that this fleet could be based in western Australia, as opposed to Singapore. While New Delhi has not yet officially responded to the SECNAV’s call, this commentary will explain why a US numbered fleet based in Singapore under certain operational conditions, rather than western Australia, will help improve the current India-US posture in the Indo-Pacific Region (IPR).
US Presence in the IPR
The US Navy’s (USN) operational presence in the IPR is maintained by the 5th Fleet under US Central Command (CENTCOM), the 6th Fleet under US Africa Command (AFRICOM), and the 7th Fleet under US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM).
The 5th Fleet, based out of Bahrain, is tasked with strike, contingency, and expeditionary operations in the North Arabian Sea with a focus on the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf. The 6th Fleet, or US Naval Forces Europe-Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF), based out of Naples, Italy, is tasked with a similar host of operations. The 6th Fleet operates in a remarkably large arena, from the Arctic Ocean to the coast of Antarctica, with a current focus on North Africa, the Mediterranean and European waters.
In the IPR however, it is the 7th Fleet that is the US’ primary agent in deterring threats to itself, and its regional allies and partners. The 7th Fleet operates from the international date line to the India-Pakistan border. While the 6th Fleet oversees an area of 36 million sq.km, the 7th Fleet’s area of responsibility spans over 124 million sq.km.
As a result, the 7th Fleet based out of Yokosuka, Japan – the US’ largest “mixed” forward deployed fleet – maintains the highest operational tempo amongst USN vessels. Given the large area, and when deemed necessary, the 7th Fleet will be reinforced by additional carrier strike groups, like it did earlier this year; following the Galwan Valley clash in June, INDOPACOM deployed three carrier strike groups in the Pacific Ocean. In times of crisis, or medium-intensity conflict, the contingency is to integrate Arabian Sea forces with Pacific ones to build a larger fighting force.
The Focus of the IPR
India’s and the US’ current IPR posture is determined by shared and immediate interests in countering Chinese aggression in the South China Sea (SCS) and Southeast Asia, and building collective regional security measures in the region.
Beijing’s ‘nine-dash’ line claim on the SCS, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and the ongoing militarisation of the water body, continues to threaten the territorial and economic sovereignty of Southeast Asian actors, and the US’ and India’s security umbrellas; essentially eroding the IPR’s inherent multilateralism and regional security.
New Delhi’s investment in strengthening multilateralism in the IPR is due to its constant confrontations with an aggressive China. The continued stand-off along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), is testament to this. And, as a strategic signalling measure after the Galwan Valley clash, New Delhi organised a number of joint naval exercises with its strategic partners in the IOR and has signed a number of logistics and exchanges agreements with the same.
Among these exercises, the 2020 Malabar Exercise was significant as it saw the participation of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group in the Arabian-Sea phase, reiterating the USN’ operational gap in maintaining a significant deterrence in the IPR.
A 1st Fleet: Singapore versus Australia
The establishment of a 1st Fleet in the IOR is the natural conclusion to this problem. Having said that, the fleet’s location and operational limits have to work to maintain, if not improve this current posture. As a critical IPR partner, India’s maritime security priorities and New Delhi’s geopolitical interests have to be considered before such a move.
A 1st Fleet Singapore (1FS) will see US effort in the region focused on countering Chinese aggression in the South China Sea (SCS), against Taiwan and Japan. This falls squarely within the current India-US posture in the IPR.
A 1st Fleet Australia (1FA), on the other hand, radically changes the current India-US IPR posture, by raising Washington’s presence within New Delhi’s primary interest area, and potentially into a region where their interests diverge – the western Indian Ocean Region (WIOR).
In the “theatre swapping” framework adopted by New Delhi vis-a-vis the Line of Actual Control (LAC), a permanent 1FS, limited to Small Scale Contingencies (SSC) and Operations Other Than War (OOTW), will significantly enhance India’s strategic advantages in the Bay of Bengal and across the Indo-Pacific straits. In the long run, engagement with 1FS will also aid in raising the Indian Navy’s (IN) presence in the SCS and western Pacific. An ambition displayed in response to the Galwan Valley clash, when an IN warship was deployed to the SCS, coincidentally during a US naval exercise in the area.
A 1FA will effectively increase the US’ operational presence towards what it has considered “India’s backyard”, based out of a region it has been generally absent from, and away from the IPR’s current geopolitical locus, the SCS.
The probable area of responsibility of a 1FA will extend at least 5000 km into the southeastern Indian Ocean (SEIO), increasing US military presence within India’s primary maritime security interest area.
The size of the IOR, 73 million sq.km, also raises doubts as to the nature of the fleet. A 1FA solely operating under SSC and OOTW conditions will not be an effective deterrent to threats in the region. The 1FA will have to be a full-fledged fighting force to effectively oversee the entire IOR. A medium-to-high intensity fighting force in the central and western IOR will significantly alter the current India-US posture in the IPR.
And, as this potential 1FA experiences the various stages of forward deployment, it would be fair to say that US presence will expand westward, towards the East African coast, eventually challenging India’s maritime security priorities, and New Delhi’s interests in WIOR.
Even though New Delhi has welcomed Washington’s increased political presence in the WIOR – for example, India backed the recent US-Maldives defence framework – US priorities in key geopolitical arenas, like West Asia and the North Arabian Sea, and with regard to Iran and Pakistan, diverge considerably from India’s own. These considerations have not yet been discussed within the India-US IPR partnership to know exactly what the political impact of a 1FA could be.
This isn’t to say that, as the US-China strategic competition deepens, and more like-minded partners such as Germany, France and now the UK, begin to actively participate in preserving a “free, fair, open and rules-based” order, these crucial divergences won’t eventually iron out.The recently held India-France-Australia trilateral, is an example of how theme-based, multilateral arrangements could not only include traditional and non-traditional IPR partners, but also in the medium term, help lay the foundations for further multilateral cooperation.
In this assessment however, it is a 1FS in a “contingency forward” format, and not a 1FA that best suits the current India-US geostrategic posture. With a focus on humanitarian aid/disaster relief (HA/DR), air-defence, logistics and sea-lift, marine, and sea-denial operations, a 1FS will better suit New Delhi’s interests in the IPR, and India’s maritime security priorities in the IOR.
The Proxy War of Libya: Unravelling the Complexities
The African continent has been infamous for its desolate conditions and impoverished lifestyle for years. The violence has not spared the region either since the extremely unstable Middle-East has set the vendetta throughout the region, verging Africa in the east. Whether it comes to the spreading influence of ISIS under the flag of Boko Haram; a terrorist organisation operating in Chad and North-eastern Nigeria, or the rampant corruption scandals and ream of military cops in Zimbabwe, the region rivals the instability of its eastern neighbour. However, one conflict stands out in Northern Africa, in terms of high-stake involvement of foreign powers and policies that have riven the country, not unlike Syria in the Middle-East. Libya is one instance in Africa that has faced the civil war for almost a decade yet involves not only local powers but is also a focal point that has caused the NATO powers to be at odds.
Libya, officially recognised as the ‘State of Libya’, is a war-torn country in the Northern periphery of the African continent. The country is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea in the North, Egypt lies to its East and Sudan and Tunisia border in the Southeast and Northwest respectively. Apparent from the topography, Libya stands as an epicentre to the countries ridden with conflicts, stands the ground that was the central root of the infamous Arab Spring uprisings taking a rebellious storm right off its borders in Tunisia back in 2011. While the NATO-led campaign garnered success in overthrowing the notorious dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, and thus bringing the draconian regime to an end, it failed to account for the brewing rebels and militias in pockets throughout the state of Libya.
Over the following years, weaponry and ammunition was widely pervaded across the region in spite of strict embargo placed. The pilling artillery and unregulated rebels cycled the instability in the country leading to the successive governments to fail and eventually split the country in two dominant positions: The UN-recognised Government National Accord (GNA), led by Tripoli-based leader and prime minister Fayez Al-Sarraj, and the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by the tailing ally and successor to Gaddafi, General Khalifa Haftar.
While both GNA and LNA vied for the control on Libya, foreign powers involved rather similar to the labyrinth of stakes in Syria, each state split over the side supporting their part of the story and ultimately serving their arching purpose of interference in the region. Despite of the ruling regime of Al-Sarraj since the controversial election win of GNA in 2016, Haftar-led LNA controls an expansive territory and has been launching offensive attacks against the GNA alliance. GNA enjoys the support of US, Turkey, Qatar and Italy; each serving either ideological support or military backing to secure the elected government of Libya. Meanwhile, LNA is backed by Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and France. While the western powers see GNA as an economically stabilising solution to the Libyan crisis, Russia and France eye Haftar as a key ally to expand influence in the African region and reap control of the oil-rich resources under control of Haftar’s troops in the oil-crescent territory.
The Turkish regime, on the other hand, eye Libya as a direct answer to the Russian influence in the Syrian war that has been pushing the Kurdish alliance stronger along and within the southern borders of Turkey. This has led to recent clashes and direct escalation in the proxy war waged in Syria. Turkey plans to incentivise the leveraging position against Russia in Libya by deploying military advisory to Tripoli to strengthen their position against the Russian-backed Haftar to ultimately deter the alliance from spreading far in the African region.
The power split in Libya was exacerbated in 2017 following the Gulf crisis that led to the boycott of Qatar by the Arab quartet led by Saudi Arabia. Libya stood as a battle ground for both strategic and military positions to one up the other alliance in external power games while the internal matters of Libya are long forgotten and population left clueless and desperate for welfare. Since then, the vested interests in Libya have side-lined yet the peace process has been encouraged by both UN and Merkel-led ‘Berlin process’ in support to the UN efforts to restore peace in Libya. However, the strained relations and foreign demarcation is still apparent even though no escalation has been in action for months.
Now the ceasefires have been in talks for a while and except for a few skirmishes, the powers have been curbed since June 2020. The silence could imply room for diplomatic efforts to push a much-awaited resolve to this complex proxy war. With the recent turn of events in the global political canvas, wheels of the betterment might turn in favour of Libya. Saudi Arabia has recently joined hands with Qatar, opening all borders to the estranged ally and resuming diplomatic relations. Turkey is eying the coveted spot in the European Union since the UK exit. The US in redefining its policies under the revitalising administration of Joseph Biden while Russia deals with the tensed relations with the Gulf since the oil price war shattered the mutual understanding shared for years. The core players of the Libyan Proxy war are dormant and may remain passive due to external complexities to handle. Yet, with regional powers like Egypt threatening invasions in Libya and both GNA and LNA showing no interest in negotiation, a conclusive end to the Libyan crisis is still farfetched.
Pakistan Army’s Ranking improved
According to data issued by the group on its official website, Pakistan Army has been ranked the 10th most powerful in the world out of 133 countries on the Global Firepower index 2021.Especially the Special Services Group (SSG) is among the best in the world. Just behind; 1- United States PwrIndx: 0.0721, 2- Russia PwrIndx: 0.0796, 3- China PwrIndx: 0.0858, 4- India PwrIndx: 0.1214, 5- Japan PwrIndx: 0.1435, 6- South Korea PwrIndx: 0.1621, 7- France PwrIndx: 0.1691, 8- United Kingdom PwrIndx: 0.2008, 9- Brazil PwrIndx: 0.2037, 10- Pakistan PwrIndx: 0.2083.
Global Firepower (GFP) list relies on more than 50 factors to determine a nation’s Power Index (‘PwrIndx’) score with categories ranging from military might and financials to logistical capability and geography.
Our unique, in-house formula allows for smaller, more technologically-advanced, nations to compete with larger, lesser-developed ones. In the form of bonuses and penalties, special modifiers are applied to further refine the annual list. Color arrows indicate a year-over-year trend comparison.
The geopolitical environment, especially the regional security situation, is quite hostile. Pakistan is bordering India, a typical adversary and has not accepted Pakistan’s independence from the core of heart, and always trying to damage Pakistan. The Kashmir issue is a long standing issue between the two rivals. On the other hand, the Afghan situation is a permanent security threat for Pakistan. Bordering Iran means always facing a danger of aggression from the US or Israel on Iran, resulting in vulnerabilities in Pakistan. The Middle East is a hot burning region and posing instability in the region. The growing tension between China and the US is also a source of a major headache for Pakistan.
Under such a scenario, Pakistan has to be very conscious regarding its security and sovereignty. Although Pakistan’s ailing economy is not supporting its defense needs, it may not compromise strategic issues for its survival. Pakistan focuses on the quality of its forces instead of quantity. The tough training makes a real difference—the utilization of Science and Technology-enabled Pakistan to maintain its supremacy.
Pakistan is situated at a crucial location – the entrance point to the oil-rich Arabian Gulf is just on the major trading route for energy. Pakistan is at the conjunction of Africa, Europe, Eurasia, Central Asia, East Asia, South Asia, and China. Pakistan is a pivotal state and always focus of world powers.
During the cold war era, Pakistan sided with the US and protected the region’s American interests. The US military establishment knows well that as long as Pakistan stands with the US, it can achieve all its strategic goals in the region. However, It was the American choice to give more importance to India and ignore Pakistan.
Pakistan is a peace-loving nation and struggling for the promotion of peace globally. Pakistan always raises its voice at the UN and other international forums for oppressed ones and against any injustice. Pakistan. In the history of seven decades, Pakistan was never involved in any aggression against any country. Pakistan’s official stance is, “We are partner for peace with any country, any nation, or individuals.” Pakistan is a partner and supporter of any peace-initiative in any part of the world.
However, Pakistan is always prepared to protect its territorial integrity and will not allow any aggressor to harm our sovereignty at any cost. Pakistan is determined for its independence and geographical integrity.
Pakistan is no threat to any country or nation. Neither have any intention of expansion. But always ready to give a tough time to any aggressor.
Israel continues its air strikes against Syria after Biden’s inauguration: What’s next?
A family of four, including two children, died as a result of an alleged Israeli air strike on Hama in northwestern Syria on Friday, January 22, Syrian media said. In addition, four people were injured and three civilian houses were destroyed.
According to a military source quoted by Syrian outlets, Israel launched an air strike at 4 a.m. on Friday from the direction of Lebanese city of Tripoli against some targets on the outskirts of Hama city.
“Syrian air defense systems confronted an Israeli air aggression and shot down most of the hostile missiles,” the source said.
The Israeli newspaper Jerusalem Post reported that there were loud sounds of explosions in the area.
In turn, the Israel Defense Forces declined to comment on alleged strikes resulted in the death of Syrian citizens.
Over the past time, Israel significantly stepped up its aerial bombardment. This incident was the fifth in a series of Israeli air attacks on targets in Syria in the past month and the first after the inauguration of the U.S. President Joe Biden. Foreign analysts and military experts said that Tel Aviv intensified air strikes on Syria, taking advantage of the vacuum of power in the United States on the eve of Biden taking office as president.
While the Donald Trump administration turned a blind eye on such aggression, a change of power in the United States could remarkably limit Israel in conducting of military operations against Syria and Iran-affiliated armed groups located there. As it was stated during his presidential campaign, Joe Biden intends to pursue a more conciliatory foreign policy towards Iran. In particular, he unequivocally advocated the resumption of the nuclear deal with the Islamic republic. In this regard, Tel Aviv’s unilateral actions against Iranian interests in Syria could harm Washington’s plans to reduce tensions with Tehran.
By continuing air strikes against Iranian targets in Syria, Israel obviously sent a massage to the United States that Tel Aviv will consistently run anti-Iran policy, even if it will be in conflict with the interests of the Joe Biden administration. On the other hand, such Israeli behavior threatens to worsen relations with the United States, its main ally.
In the nearest future, the US reaction on the Israeli belligerent approach toward Iran will likely determine whether the relations between Tehran, Tel Aviv and Washington will get better or the escalation will continue.
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