PLA Navy Ships Zhenghe and Weifang off Visakhapatnam Naval base in May 2014

As India prepares to host 16-17 navies for the Milan multilateral naval conclave in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago in early-March, Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba tells Rajat Pandit that his force is closely tracking the expanding Chinese naval presence in Indian Ocean Region and is well prepared to counter any threat to national security. 


What are the objectives behind Milan?

The Milan series of naval exercises was initiated in 1995 to promote regional cooperation with navies of East Asia as well as South East Asia. India’s ‘Look East’ policy has transformed into ‘Act East’ over a period of time. Today, an expanded Milan is a symbol of our enduring commitment to engage with maritime neighbours to ensure security and stability in the Indo-Pacific. Maritime security is a strategic imperative as nearly 90% of our trade by volume and 70% by value flows through the sea. Milan facilitates exchange of views and best practices as well as operational interaction towards developing a shared understanding of the maritime challenges of our region.

What is being done to upgrade India’s only theatre command on the strategically-located Archipelago?

Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) has matured as a tri-Service command, built on the edifice of jointmanship with effective synergy among Navy, Army and IAF. Plans are afoot to further strengthen ANC with appropriate assets and infrastructure augmentation to increase overall security in the region. The Navy has already augmented force levels there with additional weapons-intensive warships, apart from progressing construction of jetties, extension of runways of naval air stations etc .
What is the aim behind the Navy’s new mission based deployments (MBD) in the IOR?

Continued prevalence of piracy, illegal fishing, arms smuggling and other such nefarious activities directly impinge on the maritime security of India in particular and the region at large. Natural disasters also ravage the region frequently. In addition, there has been an increase in the presence of ‘extra-regional forces’. Early and effective response is extremely important towards successful management of many of these contingencies. The Navy, therefore, moved to the new MBD philosophy in June 2017 to ensure availability of warships in 7-8 critical areas of the region on a near continuous basis to provide rapid response to any contingency. 

China has been sending warships regularly into the IOR over the last few years, apart from setting up a base at Djibouti? There has been a noticeable increase in the deployment of Chinese ships, submarines and research vessels in the IOR. While the early Chinese deployments were projected as anti-piracy deployments, the setting up of bases and the increasing presence of ships and submarines have implications for the regional security environment. The Indian Navy constantly evaluates the maritime security environment in our areas of interest and manages its own deployments to address new challenges. We also pursue constructive maritime security cooperation with friendly nations. The Navy remains well prepared for countering any threat to national security, within the IOR and beyond.

India often promises a lot to IOR countries but under delivers?

Indian Navy is committed to provide capacity and capability building assistance to friendly navies. Every navy has unique requirements which necessitate customised solutions. Indian Navy has provided such tailor-made assistance to several countries like construction of ships for Mauritius Coast Guard and Sri Lankan Navy and development of coastal surveillance radar systems in Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Seychelles and Maldives, among other things.

How has the logistics pact with the US helped? Is a similar pact with France on the anvil?

The Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) between India and USA enables ease of access to logistics services during authorised port visits, joint exercises, joint training and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts. This has helped Indian Navy to extend as well as consolidate its operational reach in our areas of interest. India-France relations are also very robust, and we work closely with the French Navy in many areas. Accordingly, the proposal for a similar agreement with France is under examination by the government.