Satellite images have confirmed the presence of Chinese nuclear submarines in Karachi port last year. Nuclear subs have several advantages over the conventional electric-diesel subs. First, they can launch nuclear missiles. Secondly, they can remain under water for a far longer period than the conventional subs. And lastly they are practically undetectable. In peace time, the primary job of submarines is intelligence gathering like photographing of ‘enemy’ naval installations. The chief of Indian navy, Admiral Lanba, has said that our navy is aware of the presence of Chinese subs and ‘keeps a close eye and monitors them’ through surveillance by ships and aircraft. It is heartening to know that our navy is aware of the lurking danger and taking steps to neutralize it.
The naval wing of India’s defence forces was neglected for a long time. No longer so. The navy is aiming at raising a 200-ship fleet by 2027. Considering that the present fleet strength is 137 ships, it is a big expansion programme. Six conventional submarines are being built at a cost of Rs. 60,000 under Project P751. India also has a plan to build a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Last year the Government sanctioned the project for building six nuclear submarines as well. China’s rising naval strength poses a big challenge to India to keep its sea lanes free from possible blockade and attacks. If India has to maintain its supremacy in the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, it has to have a strong navy.
China’s interest in both the eastern and western flanks of India has increased lately. China is building the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (which runs through the Pak-occupied part of Kashmir). China has recently gained control of the Gwadar port (a military project) from Pakistan. It has also become Pakistan’s biggest supplier of military hardware. China is also trying to bring under its influence other maritime countries of the region. Unless India acquires a naval strength to neutralize the growing threat from China, she cannot infuse confidence of her neighbours.
As China increasingly asserts its military prowess in the region, India has to make a perspective planning to contain the danger. This will mean greater vigilance on the movement of Chinese naval vessels in our neighbourhood and the strength and the determination to foil any Chinese manoeuvre that threatens our security or poses a danger to our free movement in the high seas. China’s contemptuous rejection of international court’s verdict against China’s unilateral claim on the South China Sea is a pointer that India cannot afford to take a conciliatory attitude to China.