Full text of interview with Admiral Sunil Lanba, Chief of Naval Staff

Sunil Lanba, Chief of the Naval Staff of the Indian Navy.

Sunil Lanba, Chief of the Naval Staff of the Indian Navy.

Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sunil Lanba spoke to The Hindu on the sidelines of the first Goa Maritime Conclave, which saw participation of 10 ten Indian littoral states, on the developments in the region.

What is the outcome and take away from the two days of deliberations as part of GMC?

The most important outcome is everyone acknowledged the centrality and importance of the Indian Ocean as a key gateway to connect the East and the West and the dependence of the global economy on the sea lanes of communication. The key takeaways have been the coordination of efforts, we have identified common security threats across all countries and agreed on greater degree of coordination and information sharing to take things forward to provide maritime security and safety of the global commons of the Indian Ocean.

What are the common threats identified and how do you plan to take forward it forward?

Common security threats identified are non-traditional threats in the form of maritime terrorism, unregulated fishing, illegal fishing in the global commons, pollution, at sea piracy, drug and human trafficking. We have also agreed on need to put in place a coordination mechanism. We already have architectures available with several island nations, we have coordinated patrols with a number of countries who are participating here. We have identified ways on how we can exchange information.

Addressing the GMC, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman talked of extra-regional navies making permanent presence in the Indian Ocean. What do you have to say on it?

When you look at geo-strategic situation in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), what is happening on the ground is a fact of life. There is permanent presence of a large number of extra-regional navies in the IOR especially in the Northern Indian Ocean where at any given time there over 100 multilateral ships in the vicinity. We need to be cognizant of the fact that our presence in our areas of interest dove tail our deployment and surveillance missions so that we are aware what is happening.

When you say coordinated patrols, are we looking at more countries coming in? What about countries like US and Japan?

We only do coordinated patrols and joint patrols with nations who are our maritime neighbours and we have requested us in the IOR. We are already doing it with Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand. We are doing Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) patrols for island nations of Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles. We can look at increasing the frequency, increasing the assets which are deployed during the coordinated patrols. These are the avenues which are available.

We have been working with the US navy for a very long time. We have had the Malabar series of exercise and now we also have the Japanese Maritime Self Defence force joining it. That exercise will continue. We are not looking at joint patrols with the US Navy at this moment.

At the recent Navy Commanders Conference one key thing that came was increasing the footprint of the Indian navy under the Mission Based Deployment. What are you trying to achieve?

These are our areas of interest. We have had a permanent deployment of a ship in the Gulf of Aden for anti-piracy operations since October 2008. Last year we have relooked at our deployment pattern and we reached a consensus within the Navy to have mission based deployment so that our areas of interest can be kept under permanent surveillance. We started off by having a ship deployed permanently in Andaman Sea and approaches to the Malacca straits. Then we have mission based deployments in the North Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman and Persian Gulf. Similarly, in the Northern part of Bay of Bengal and we are enhancing our surveillance in the South part, near Sri Lanka. We are also sending ships to the Lombok and Sunda straits. So the ingress and egress routes of Indian Ocean region are being kept under surveillance so that we have better maritime domain awareness and know what is happening.

Is that the reason why we got to know that People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) deployment in the Indian Ocean has been one of the highest this year.

They (PLAN) on an average for the last 2-3 years had about 8-10 ships which have been deployed in the Northern Indian Ocean. August this year was a unique month where there was a change around of the anti-piracy escort force. There was also a group of PLAN ships which were transiting IOR to Russia to exercise. This put together in the month of August the total PLAN ships spiked to 14. The present assessment, I don’t think they will go up further.

India has been undertaking capacity building of countries in IOR. How do you plan to increase it further?

We work in close liaison with island nations Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka. We are assisting them in capacity and capability enhancements in the form of training to their personnel and other is proving assets in the form of ships and aircraft. We are working with them in coordinated patrols, keeping surveillance of EEZ on their request. That is what we are doing and will continue to do.

How far are we in countering Chinese presence in Djibouti and the Indian Ocean?

They have a base in Djibouti. There has been a change in the shareholding of Hambantota port. But Sri Lanka has assured that it is not an Operational Turn-around (OTR) port. It is a commercial hub and will be continued to be used for that. We will continue to work with likeminded nations and see how it proceeds.

How do you intend to do the information exchange with the littoral states?

Exchange of Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), India has been perusing signing of technical agreements and sharing of white shipping information. We already have agreements in place with 12 countries and most of them have been operationalized. The ones we have signed recently, we are working out mechanisms on how to operationalize. Through these agreements information has already started to flow in. In both directions, us to them and them to us. This is being collated on our systems we have in place and there is greater awareness. The picture we generate is shared with our ships through our network centric operation centres. It is a more effective system now.

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Printable version | Sep 29, 2022 2:19:34 am |