China remains a formidable challenge and has increased its presence not only along India’s land borders, but also in the maritime domain by leveraging anti-piracy operations to normalise its naval presence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), Navy Chief Admiral R. Hari Kumar said on Wednesday.
Speaking at a separate event, Army chief General Manoj Pande said there are still two friction points at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh that India and China need to move forward.
Admiral Kumar was speaking on the security challenges that India faces. He noted that China had maintained continuous presence in the IOR since 2008 using anti-piracy operations “as the reason”.
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“At any point we have anything between five to eight Chinese Navy units, be it warships or research vessels and a host of Chinese fishing vessels operating in the IOR. We keep a watch on them and see how they are undertaking their activities in the IOR,” Admiral Kumar said at the 49th annual management convention of the All India Management Association.
He said China now had a base in Djibouti, and was also involved in the development of various ports in the IOR, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Pakistan and many other countries.
“Our capability plans and developments that we are looking at is not based on a nation, it is based upon our requirements to protect, preserve and promote our national interests,” the Navy chief said.
“That is how we structure our force and while structuring the force and developing the capability, these get factored and enable us to keep the Indian Ocean under surveillance,” he said, adding that the Navy conducted aircraft sorties and had ships deployed almost 24X7 to keep an eye on the IOR.
Speaking at an event organised by Bharat Shakti, General Pande said, “I am sure we will be able to find resolution towards these two friction points. That is our immediate aim to disengage from these friction points before we look at the next step of de-escalation, which will involve pullback by troops and tanks.”
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He said the lessons learnt were to maintain high level of operational preparedness at all times whatever be the situation and the importance of infrastructure development, especially along the northern borders.
We need to develop our grey zone capability, he said, while stating that in the past two years significant enhancement in our infrastructure had taken place, especially in eastern Ladakh, including habitat for 35,000 troops, induction of mechanised forces, covered accommodation for tanks and artillery systems, among others.
As part of the latest round of disengagement towards ending the stand-off along the LAC in eastern Ladakh, the two sides had undertaken pullback from Patrolling Point 15 in the Gogra-Hot Springs area last week. This leaves two more friction areas -- Depsang and Demchok.
On the experience with Russian equipment, Admiral Kumar said they were reliable and while there had been teething issues with some of the systems, they had received good support from Russia.
Some technologies which we have not been able to get from any other sources, they have been able to support us, he said. “In that sense, we have really been receiving good support from Russia over the years.”
“While competition is being played out on a daily basis – at times testing limits – but without escalating into armed action, a war with potential adversaries can never be ruled out,” Admiral Kumar said. “To the west, Pakistan, despite economic constraints, has continued its military modernisation, especially its Navy, which is on track to becoming a 50-platform force,” he added.
Talking of the Indian Navy’s lead in indigenisation efforts, Admiral Kumar said while 29 ships commissioned in the past seven years were all constructed in India, 38 out of 40 ships presently under construction were also being built at Indian shipyards. “Further, 39 ships under contract conclusion, will similarly be indigenous. Our aim is for the Navy to be fully aatmanirbhar by 2047,” he said.
Lessons from Ukraine war
On a question about the war in Ukraine, the Navy chief said it had important lessons. A key reminder was that it was easy to start a war but a major challenge to terminate it.
“There are lessons in the naval blockade and use of drones and precision munitions,” Admiral Kumar said as also lessons in the use of media and social media to weaponisation of the cognitive domain. “You don’t know who to believe,” he added.
In addition to the conventional threats, Admiral Kumar also flagged the threat of terrorism and also challenges imposed by piracy, arms and drug smuggling, illegal immigration, among others.