New Delhi: India is keeping close tabs on the Chinese submarine currently prowling in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), which is now likely to head for Karachi after being refused permission to dock at Colombo, even as it has dispatched four warships on an overseas deployment to south-east Asia and southern Indian Ocean.
The Yuan-class conventional submarine was “picked up” by Indian Navy’s Poseidon-8I long-range maritime patrol aircraft as soon as it crossed the Malacca Strait on April 19-20 as part of the 26th anti-piracy taskforce of the People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN).
PLAN has been regularly sending its nuclear and diesel-electric submarines to the IOR since December 2013 to extend its strategic reach in the region. “The pretext is anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden. But what role can submarines play against pirates and their dhows?” said a defence ministry source.
The Navy has tracked seven Chinese submarines in the IOR till now, with the first being a Shang-class nuclear attack submarine (SSN) from December 2013 to February 2014. “Two Chinese submarines, a nuclear one alternating with a diesel-electric one, are coming for three months each to the IOR every year. They usually come through the Malacca Strait, where they have to surface due to shallow depth, and exit through the Sunda Strait,” he added.
They have included the Song and Yuan-class conventional submarines and the Shang and Han SSNs, with the PLAN yet to deploy its new Jin-class advanced nuclear submarines to the region so far. India, of course, lags far behind China in the underwater combat arena, with just 13 old diesel-electric and two nuclear submarines. China, in contrast, has well over 50 submarines.
China has also systematically forged extensive maritime links with several IOR nations, and is now even establishing its first overseas naval facility at Djibouti. Though China’s primary aim may be protection of its trade and energy sea routes, India has reason to be wary of PLAN’s expeditionary forays in the region.
India, on its part, is slowly but steadily stepping up military ties with Asean countries as well naval deployments to the Far East to strategically counter all this. Stealth frigates INS Sahyadari and INS Shivalik, anti-submarine warfare corvette INS Kamorta and tanker Jyoti, for instance, are part of the ongoing deployment to south-east Asia in pursuance of the “Act East” policy.
The induction of eight P-8I aircraft, under a $2.1 billion deal inked with the US in 2009, has also helped the Navy keep an “intelligent hawk-eye” over the IOR region. Another four P-8Is, packed with sensors and weapons for anti-submarine warfare, will join the force from July 2019 onwards at a cost of $1.1 billion.
Anti-submarine warfare will also be a major thrust area during the forthcoming Malabar exercise among India, the US and Japan in the Bay of Bengal in July.