India’s decision to test the K4 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) and to establish a new base of Sukhoi-30 fighter jets not far from the Bay of Bengal coast is adding new teeth to its Act East Policy.
It is also reinforcing lines of contact with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) — a giant connectivity project on land and sea.
The 3,500-km range K4 missile, which can be launched from Arihant class nuclear submarines, add a new dimension to India’s second strike capability—the ability to carry out a retaliatory nuclear attack after absorbing an initial strike by an atomic weapon. The newly acquired heft to carry out a crushing nuclear counterattack with an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM), from a concealed underwater platform, steels India’s nuclear deterrent.
India has been developing its nuclear triad, enabling launch of atomic weapons from land, air and sea, following the 1998 atomic tests.
The K4’s 3,500 km reach, which can cover the entire Pakistan and the industrial heartland of China, helps in providing assured deterrence in the region, which includes the 10-nation Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other territories in the West Pacific.
Symbolically, the K4’s launch from the Andhra Pradesh coastline in the Bay of Bengal resonates India’s Act East Policy of raising New Delhi’s diplomatic and military profile in the Indo-Pacific. The ASEAN centered Act East Policy covers the Malacca Straits—the critical link and trade artery between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, as well as areas that lie beyond, including some of the island territories in the Pacific.
In the West Pacific, China has also been beefing up its nuclear deterrent to counter the accumulation of forces under the United States’ Indo-Pacific Command, in Guam, Okinawa in Japan, South Korea and Australia. China’s Jin class nuclear submarines deploy Jl-12 SLBMs, which have a range of 7,400 km.
In tune with its economic rise, China has also been open about enlarging its footprint in the Indian Ocean, with a base in Djibouti. Besides, it is developing the port of Gwadar in Pakistan in the Arabian Sea and Kyaukpyu in Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal, under the BRI flag.
India, on its part, has built the deep water port of Sittwe in Myanmar, while Japan, which also has points of friction with China, is constructing the Matarbari deep water port in Bangladesh, in accordance with Tokyo’s India backed Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy.
Shortly after the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Myanmar last week, the paths of China’s BRI and India’s Act East Policy are intersecting again. Government sources told The Hindu that Chief of the Naval Staff Karambir Singh is heading to Myanmar to finalise transfer of one of India’s Kilo Class submarine.
Sukhois in Thanjavur airbase
The unveiling of the Thanjavur airbase last week, where the Su-30 multi-role fighter jets have been deployed, has also reinforced the military dimension of India’s Act East Policy. Analysts say that with mid-air refuelling, the Sukhoi would bring the Malacca straits within its strike range. Besides, the Su-30 fighters will deploy the deadly BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles-a highly potent joint venture enterprise of India and Russia.
As part of the Act East Policy, Thailand and Philippines are in talks with India to buy BrahMos missiles, the sources said. Philippines had raised a missile unit which, in future, will operate the BrahMos. Thailand is also in talks to join India’s coastal surveillance radar chain. Several Indian Ocean littoral states like Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka are already a part of this initiative. Of late, India has signed a series of logistics agreements that extend the Indian military’s reach.
Apart from the Thanjavur base, the Arakkonam naval air station and the tri-service Andaman and Nicobar Command—both deploying the Navy’s P-8I planes--are important spurs of the Act East Policy. These state-of- the-art planes can monitor traffic along the Indian Ocean sea lanes, through major choke points, as well movement of submarines and warships in the area.