Building capacity to counter whatever capacity China can bring into the region, it tells House Committee

The basic advantage is our geography in the Indian Ocean and “we are utilising that”, a Navy representative told the parliamentary standing committee on defence. The Navy said it is building capacity to ensure that whatever capacity China can bring into the region, it has all those capabilities to counter that.

On the future roadmap to defend the Indian Ocean, the Navy representative said China’s coastline is 18,000 km and has other adversaries also. “So, the number of assets that she can bring into the Indian Ocean is much lesser,” the representative said also noting that the maritime domain is global common and so “we cannot really stop her [China] from coming into our region.”

“But what we are doing is that we are building a capacity to match the assets that she can bring into our waters,” the Navy said according to a report tabled in Parliament last week.

The representative said if China is able to bring in submarines, “we are improving our capacity to have anti–submarine warfare capability enhanced so that we can detect her submarines”. We have our air surveillance and surveillance aircraft which can carry out Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) and also carry out anti–underwater surveillance by dropping sonobuoys, the Committee was told. “So, we are building our capacity to ensure that whatever capacity she can bring into our region, we have all those capabilities to counter that. That is what we are doing”.

The Navy has inducted 12 P-8I long–range maritime patrol aircraft from the U.S. which are potent ASW platforms, while six more are under the process of procurement. It has also contracted 24 MH-60R multi–role helicopters, the first batch of which will arrive in the next few months.

Major Areas of Regional Cooperation

While information sharing and Maritime Domain Awareness have emerged as major areas of regional cooperation with friendly navies, the Navy has significantly scaled up ASW training and cooperation, especially with the Quad navies. On information exchange, last November, the government acknowledged in Parliament, “This includes information on military and naval assets of hostile/adversarial countries; assessment of maritime activities of mutual concern and activities related to transnational maritime based threats.”

To a question, the Navy representative said several countries in the region have the “affinity to bring in China to help them in their growth”. “I would like to submit that we are also engaging the same nations and building their capability by having a lot of training for their defence personnel in our country and building our relationships in such a manner that when it comes to having a say in the matters of the country, all these initiatives that we are taking will help our cause.”

The Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) has steadily been increasing since 2008 and it now has a naval base at Djibouti in addition to several dual use facilities across the region.

The Navy’s engagements and tempo of exercises has significantly gone up in the last few years. These engagements are further amplified by the bilateral logistics, Navy to Navy and information sharing agreements that India has concluded with several countries. India has also taken up capacity building in a big way to assist littoral states in augmenting their armed forces. Senior defence officials had termed exercise Malabar with Australia, Japan and the U.S. as the most complex naval exercise India does with any other country.

The present force level of the Navy includes more than 130 ships and submarines and over 230 aircraft. In addition, 37 ships and submarines are under construction at various shipyards.

Multiple Security Challenges

The Committee in its observations noted that the IOR has multiple security challenges as it contains major shipping lines and nearly 1,20,000 ships transit through various choke points. Almost 13,000 ships are in IOR at any point of time and the region is the centre of gravity of piracy and trans–national crimes and also locus of 70% of world’s natural disasters, the report said. Around 120 warships of extra–regional navies are in the IOR at any point of time, a significant increase in the last two decades, officials had said earlier.

In an indirect reference to the massive expansion of the Chinese Navy, addressing the Goa Maritime Conclave last November, Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar said we cannot ignore the impact of expansion at an unprecedented speed of conventional navies in the Pacific.

“We are also witnessing enhancement of certain maritime presence and passages in our region, which may not be always be innocent. The negative effects of such rapid expansion are felt far beyond the Pacific,” Mr. Kumar said without naming any country. “Though it is early to conclude, such expansion has potential to trigger others to acquire additional capabilities and thus start a new genre of arms race,” he had said.