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NEW DELHI: The great game in the
Indian Ocean Region+
(IOR), where both India and China are jostling for the same strategic space, is unfolding at a rapid clip.
Around the time a
Chinese nuclear submarine+
is expected to cross over into the IOR early next year, in keeping with past deployments, India would be kicking off major military exercises to project power and hone combat capabilities on the high seas.
Concurrently, India is also fast-tracking plans to eventually induct six nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs), four nuclear-powered submarines with ballistic missiles (SSBNs) and 18 diesel-electric submarines.
At present, the Navy has only 13 old conventional submarines, one indigenous SSBN in INS Arihant, which was commissioned last year, and a SSN in INS Chakra leased from Russia, which does not have nuclear-tipped missiles due to international treaties.
But INS Aridhaman, the second of four indigenous SSBNs being constructed at Vishakhapatnam for over Rs 90,000 crore, is slated for induction next year. Moreover, India has also launched the over Rs 60,000-crore plan to construct six indigenous SSNs, which was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security in early-2015, as was first reported by TOI.
“It (the SSN project) has kicked off. It is a classified project. The process has started. I will leave it at that,” said Admiral Sunil Lanba on Friday, speaking ahead of the Navy Day on December 4.
The Navy chief was more forthcoming on the new operational plans and stepped-up presence in the IOR, even as the Modi government has signalled its intent to join the revived quadrilateral with US, Japan and Australia. The Quad’s aim to ensure “a free, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region” will be an effective counter to China’s expansionist and unilateralist behaviour as well as its Belt and Road Initiative.
Navy has launched its new “mission-based deployments” from the Persian Gulf to Malacca Strait, with warships on round-the-clock patrols for any operational eventuality. “Regular deployment of warships and aircraft is being maintained in North Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman, Persian Gulf, the Andaman Sea and the approaches to the strategically important straits of Malacca, Lombok and Sunda. In short, our ships and aircraft are deployed from the Gulf of Aden to the Western Pacific on an almost 24×7 basis,” said Admiral Lanba.
The force will also hold its massive “Tropex” (theatre-level operational readiness exercise) on both the western and eastern seaboards, one after the other, for the first time early next year. “The continued presence of both traditional and non-traditional threats in the maritime domain demand constant attention and robust mitigating measures,” he said.
The Navy chief was quite dismissive of China’s claim of deploying submarines in the IOR for anti-piracy patrols, in the backdrop of his force having tracked at least three nuclear and four conventional vessels since December 2013, as was earlier reported by TOI.
“It’s rather odd for submarines to be deployed for anti-piracy patrols. We have carried out the threat assessments from the PLAN (People’s Liberation Army-Navy) submarines,” said Admiral Lanba.
On the Chinese presence in the Gwadar port in Pakistan, the Navy chief said it may pose “a security challenge” for India in the future. “The port is a commercial hub. But if Chinese warships come there, we will have to look at ways to mitigate,” he said. China, of course, has already opened its first off-shore military base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa as part of its expanding presence in the IOR.