AUKUS, a trilateral alliance of Australia, UK, and the US, has stirred up a debate over nuclear proliferation, as Canberra will obtain atomic-powered submarines under the deal. China has criticised the trilateral partnership as "extremely irresponsible", saying it would "seriously undermine regional peace and stability and intensify the arms race"

Captain DK Sharma, VSM, a spokesperson for the Indian Navy, who retired in from the service in August 2019, discussed about a range of issues related to AUKUS and its impact on India.

Q: In your view, will AUKUS fuel tensions in the Pacific and other regions?

Captain DK Sharma: I do not think so... AUKUS has a purpose, firstly, to increase the military capabilities of a nation i.e. Australia. Australia said that it will now buy weapons which will have more lethality. They have made it clear that there is a threat from China.

If China is trying to flex its muscles and is putting pressure on smaller or less developed countries or less powerful nations in the region, the answer to it is you should have military alliances, and AUKUS is one of them. Australia is also a part of a military alliance with Japan, India, and the US, which is called Quad.

The reason for forming AUKUS is very clear. The US and UK are going to extend their technologies, including nuclear-powered submarines, to Australia. They have still not said whether they will give the weapons but the SSN is going to be the answer to Chinese SSNs/SSBNs that are roaming around the Indo-Pacific. China has 18 nuclear-powered submarines, 14 of which are believed to be operational.

Everybody in the world knows that AUKUS is the answer to China's assertiveness. The Quad is a reality. AUKUS is a reality now. This is a military coalition to give a very, very apt answer to the high-handedness of China.

Chinese Type 039A class diesel-electric submarine

Q: France has reacted furiously to the development since Australia ditched a multi-billion submarine deal with Paris in order to form a trilateral alliance with the US and the UK. What's your take on the unfolding rift?

Captain DK Sharma: France is feeling a little bad because they had a big contract to make conventional air-independent propulsion (AIP) submarines for the Australian Navy. But then one should not read too much into the furious reactions because that is a business part of relationships. France has an interest in the Indo-Pacific, Western Pacific, and Indian Ocean region. Also, France has its own island territories and they are also exercising with Quad-plus. So, yes, it is a setback for France but that is very, very temporary. Relationships between countries should not be measured in terms of what business you are doing. It is fine if the requirements of another country change, so they have all the liberties to cancel the order and go for something else.

Q: Pakistan and Bangladesh have been acquiring submarines from China. Could China share nuclear technology or sell nuclear submarines to India's neighbours? How will it potentially affect the Indian Navy?

Captain DK Sharma: You cannot predict anything with China. China is using Pakistan's port. They made the Gwadar port and they will come to Chittagong also. They have given submarines to the Bangladesh Navy too. We have full information about that. The Indian Navy keeps an eye on whatever is happening in these countries. China is also making air-independent propulsion (AIP) boats for Pakistan. So, nothing can be discounted at this stage, if Pakistan is being given all this. They are being given 054-class destroyers, Pakistani Navy submarines are coming with AIP technology made in Gwadar, and four others are coming from China.

So, what will be the next step? The next step would be logical - to provide nuclear submarines. We are keeping our options open and we know exactly what is happening in our area of interest. So, that should not bother India too much.

Q: India has developed strong a relationship with France and Australia over the past couple of years. Do you think India will find itself caught in the crossfire in light of the AUKUS sub row?

Captain DK Sharma: Nothing will happen. France is a strategic partner of India because it has an interest in the Indian Ocean region as well as in the western Pacific. This is a little setback because of an order being cancelled. This does not mean that all ties will go off. We are mixing two things, business with strategic partnerships. France will gain other business.

Q: What kind of steps do you foresee by China following the formation of AUKUS?

Captain DK Sharma: China will do whatever they are doing. Now, democratic countries and big navies are getting together so that they can rein in a kind of nation which tries to exert pressure through various dubious means, high-handedness, and coercive manners, without showing any kind of regard to rules and regulations on the high seas. So, they will find their tricks will not work any longer.