New Delhi: The Indian Navy is closely tracking the naval activities of China and Pakistan in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which has had no impact on the force’s operational capability, a top naval officer has said.
In an interview to ThePrint Sunday, Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff (DCNS) Vice Admiral M.S. Pawar said China was the first country to be affected by the pandemic, which started in Wuhan, but there has been no major effect on the activities of People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
“The 35th Chinese Anti-Piracy Escort Force (APEF) has set sail and is presently heading to the Indian Ocean Region to replace the 34th APEF deployed in the Gulf of Aden. Furthermore, a large number of PLAN/Coast Guard assets, maritime militia and survey ships are deployed in the contested waters of the South China Sea,” DCNS Pawar said.
The DCNS is responsible for all operational issues in the Navy.
“Our Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets (spaceborne, airborne, shipborne, ground and underwater systems) continue to remain deployed to maintain full-spectrum domain awareness for real-time compilation of operational picture in the entire IOR,” he said.
The officer said that the South China Sea is witnessing disputes among multiple claimants to various islands, reefs and maritime zones in the region.
“A significant part of our trade passes through the area and naturally, we are interested in the safety and security of our maritime economic interests. We support peaceful resolution of disputes between the relevant parties and endorse a rules-based order,” he said.
On Chinese Navy and its modernisation pace
The DCNS said that while China has been engaged in modernisation of PLAN since the 1990s, the last 15 years have seen an unprecedented pace.
“They have commissioned at least 117 major combatants in the last 10 years itself. PLAN is likely to become a four-carrier Navy by the end of this decade and could have 10 carriers by 2049. Presently, they appear to be focusing on integrating their aircraft carriers and the associated carrier battle groups (CBG),” he said.
Vice Admiral Pawar pointed out that China is already maintaining an average of six to seven units in the Indian Ocean Region.
“PLAN is also engaged in building larger amphibious platforms to expand their expeditionary capability. China’s media has often hinted that the PLAN aircraft carrier could venture into the IOR in near future,” he said.
Apart from operationalising the Liaoning aircraft carrier, China has also commissioned its first indigenously built aircraft carrier Shandong.
Two Type 75 Landing Platform Dock (LPD) have been launched which would add to PLAN’s expeditionary capability. The Type 055 destroyer with 112 Vertical Launching System (VLS) is among the largest in the world.
“All in all, it is beyond doubt that China is focused on rapidly developing naval capabilities, not only in terms of platforms but also in furthering their reach through the concept of ‘Places and Bases’ to operate from,” he said, adding that it is instructive to note that China’s first overseas military base is located in the IOR – in Djibouti.
He said the Indian Navy’s modernisation is underway as planned, based on its needs and assessments, without any desire to match other navies’ force levels, platform for platform.
“That having been said, we have perhaps the best human capital manning our platforms, which is indeed our greatest strength,” he said.
On Pakistan’s midget submarines
Asked about inputs that Pakistan is operating midget submarines for its special forces, Vice Admiral Pawar said the Indian Navy is aware of the capabilities of adversaries and constantly monitors various procurement and developments in the region.
Midget submarines are typically used to infiltrate hostile areas for clandestine attacks, but can also undertake conventional tasks with limited endurance.
“However, our coastal security mechanisms have constantly improved over the last 12 years since the 26/11 terror strikes at Mumbai which emanated from Pakistan… We maintain thorough maritime domain awareness and are geared up to defeat all sea-borne threats,” he said.
The officer added that an electronic net backed by coastal security assets “is capable of detecting and defeating any clandestine activity”.
On operational impact due to Covid-19
Asked about the kind of operational impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the Navy, Vice Admiral Pawar said, “In short, nil”.
“Our Naval assets continue to be mission deployed in three dimensions, with all the networks and space assets functioning optimally. The Navy remains combat-ready, mission capable and is in full readiness to partake in the national mission to fight the pandemic as well as to provide support to our friendly neighbours in the IOR,” he said.
Indian naval assets continue to remain on patrol covering vast oceanic swathes – from the Straits of Malacca in the East to Bab-el-Mandeb in the West, to undertaking Op Sankalp to provide protection to the country’s merchant vessels, and to conduct anti-piracy patrols in Gulf of Aden.
“In respect of coastal security, our citizens can rest assured that the Indian Navy, in coordination with nearly 20 other government agencies, is vigilant and on guard to ensure no breach of security through the sea-route,” he said.