Noting that Chinese research vessels, which are free to operate in international waters, have the ability to track and collect electronic signals, Navy Chief Admiral R. Hari Kumar on Saturday said that it becomes a challenge when such vessels in the region operate too close to areas of Indian national interest. India has to work with the its neighbours and other friendly nations to convey these challenges and keep a close watch on the activities of such vessels, he added.
“We are keeping a very close watch in the Indian Ocean Region.. We put lot of effort on surveillance, on maritime domain awareness... Our effort is to know who is present and what are they up to on a 24x7 basis. That is our job and we deploy aircraft, UAVs, ships, submarines, etc.,” the Navy chief said, speaking at a seminar organised by The Chanakya Dialogues and the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The Chinese presence
At any point of time, there are between three to six Chinese warships in the Indian Ocean Region, with some close to the Gulf of Oman, some on anti-piracy patrol, and some in the eastern part of the region. Apart from these, and Chinese fishing vessels, Chinese research vessels are ever present, numbering from two to four, undertaking research activities in international waters, the Navy Chief explained. “So, we revise our plans, actions that are required to be taken, and this also feeds into our capability development process.,” he said.
In August 2022, the docking of Chinese spy ship Yuan Wang-5 at the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka created a major diplomatic showdown between India and Sri Lanka. Later in November, another vessel Yuan Wang-6 had entered the Indian Ocean region coinciding with a planned Indian long-range missile launch, The launch was deferred, but the vessel had re-entered the region in December when the missile test was rescheduled.
On the massive expansion of the Chinese Navy, Admiral Kumar said that India is not looking at matching it platform to platform. “That is not our intent,” he said.
Carrier vs suvmarine
A Navy has to be a “well-balanced force”, he said, weighing in on the debate between aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines. “Each of the two bring their own capabilities. It is not either/or,” Admiral Kumar said.
He explained that an aircraft carrier forms the centrepiece around which a carrier battle group is structured. It is a “tremendous capability” to have and there are a lot of roles that it can achieve, he said, adding that the main difference between land and sea-based air power is mobility, with the ability to move 1000 km in 24 hours. “A nuclear submarine brings a different set of abilities, stealth, long endurance... It is a more survivable part of the nuclear triad,” he added.
‘State of flux’
On the global situation, he said that on a daily basis, it is being seen that there is a certain amount of “contestation” happening at sea. “It is well below the threshold of conflict, but possibility of a full-fledged war cannot be ruled out,” Admiral Kumar said.
The global security order is in a state of flux and new linkages and partnerships are on the anvil, which gives rise to uncertainty, said Chief of Defence Staff General Anil Chauhan, who also addressed the event. Russia and China are getting closer together, with Iran joining the bandwagon, he noted.
Self reliance critical
He said that black swan events like pandemics, and the western sanctions against Russia have exposed the vulnerabilities of global supply chains, thereby impacting the operational preparedness of most armed forces. “In such a situation, indigenous defence equipment is the safest bet for guaranteed and assured supplies. Self-reliance and reducing import dependencies is important for India to maintain its strategic autonomy and shoulder new responsibilities commensurate to its size and economy,” he said.