The Indian Ocean is an area of primary importance to the Indian Navy and has generally been free of conflict compared with the Pacific. India’s location naturally makes its navy one of the key players in the region and an important security provider for the Indian Ocean community. In recent years, the country has significantly focused on improving its maritime domain awareness (MDA) in response to maritime security threats in coastal waters and much farther afield, and this initiative is now increasingly being driven by China’s presence in the Indian Ocean.

Darshana M. Baruah
Darshana M. Baruah is a fellow with the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace where she directs the Indian Ocean Initiative. Her primary research focuses on maritime security in the Indo-Pacific and the role of islands in shaping great power competition.
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India’s image as a regional leader was badly damaged when targets in Mumbai, India’s financial hub, were attacked from the sea on November 26, 2008. The attacks were carried out by nonstate actors originating from Pakistan and involved the perpetrators hijacking an Indian fishing vessel and sailing to Mumbai. These attacks brought to the forefront vulnerabilities in India’s defense strategy and led to a reorientation of its maritime security policies to place much greater emphasis on MDA. India’s recently released maritime security strategy emphasizes MDA as a critical requirement for maritime security and an essential tool to deter adversaries and maintain a strategic advantage.1 It is a broad concept, involving awareness of the positions and intentions of all actors (whether friendly, hostile, or neutral) and in all dimensions (on, over, and under the seas).

India’s vision of MDA now extends beyond its coastal waters and exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to cover much of the Indian Ocean. While India largely operates by itself in MDA, it will increasingly need to cooperate with key partners, including the United States. This essay looks at India’s evolving interest in MDA and concludes that the country needs to work more closely with its regional friends and develop a new maritime outlook in the face of a rapidly changing geopolitical landscape in the Indian Ocean region...

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1 Indian Navy, Ensuring Secure Seas: Indian Maritime Security Strategy (New Delhi, October 2015),