New Delhi: The Indian Ocean Region has emerged as a highly competitive field in World Geopolitics. The competition in this region is not just limited to the major powers of the world, but it has also drawn littoral surrounding island states. The most prominent player in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) after India is the People’s Republic of China (PRC). India has treated the Indian Ocean as a peaceful and stable region. But with the rise of China and its expansionist ideals, the Indian Ocean is losing its tranquillity and becoming more hostile as days pass on.
The Chinese Submarines are known to have been very active in the Indian Ocean Region. Satellites and intelligence have found and reported many submarines (nuclear and non-nuclear) in the IOR. To give a befitting reply to China, the Indian Navy has deployed INS Vela. This is the fourth submarine of the six Kalvari Class submarines for the Indian Navy. It is a diesel-powered conventional submarine with a good record of experience and expertise in the Indian Ocean. It comes under the Scorpene Submarine program built by Mazagaon Docks Limited and a French organisation called Naval Group.
This submarine was inducted into the Indian Navy in 2021. It has advanced stealth and combat capabilities. Attacks can be initiated by launching torpedoes and anti-ship missiles. It can operate on the surface as well as underwater. It is capable of offensive operations that span the entire spectrum of maritime warfare. It can contain eight torpedoes and 30 mines, along with Exocet missiles.
The Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC) in the Indian Ocean Region are strategically important for all nations in Asia. This region is home to one of the most important and busy Straits and chokepoints. Some of them include the Malacca Strait, Strait of Hormuz and Bab-e-Mandab, to name a few. The Chinese strategy of String of Pearls endangers India’s maritime security. China is developing more firepower with more destroyers, vessels and ships. Their presence will pose a threat to India’s security through the water. It is an encirclement strategy to isolate India in the IOR by constructing military bases in the neighbourhood countries. Gwadar Port (Pakistan), Hambantota (Sri Lanka), Coco Islands (Myanmar) and the Maldives are a few examples. They have developed a military harbour in Chittagong (Bangladesh).
Indian resources will be diverted towards defence and security. Thus, the economy will not reach its potential hampering economic growth. This may further lead to instability in India and the whole east and southeast region. India has formed a multi-pronged counter-strategy to ward off Chinese influence. The first step taken was to strengthen India’s Act East Policy. It is aimed at engaging cooperation with the ASEAN (Southeast Asian Nations). Military and strategic agreements have been signed with Vietnam, the Philippines, South Korea and Japan.
Secondly, India is developing a large number of port networks in the IOR. The Chabahar Port (Iran) provides a watchtower view to witness Chinese military activities at Gwadar port which is just 72 km away. The Sabang Port in particular (Indonesia) is of strategic significance for India as it lies close to the Malacca Strait and India’s Andaman and Nicobar Command. Another port has been established in Sittwe (Myanmar). India has facilities in Oman and Singapore which are equally important.
India is a member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD). It along with its fellow members US, Japan and Australia conduct naval exercises in the Indian Ocean Region, popularly called Malabar Exercises. India and France have signed an agreement which enables the militaries of both countries to visit each other naval installations, bases and airfields. A similar pact called the LEMOA with the US allows India access to Diego Garcia in the IOR.
Coastal surveillance Radars have been installed in Bangladesh, Mauritius, Seychelles, Si Lanka and the Maldives. A majority of them have been designed and constructed by BEL (Bharat Electronics Limited). In the north, India has enormously invested its relations with the Central Asian countries which have a sour relation with China.
Lastly, the Indian Ocean Region -Information Fusion Center (IFC) will share real-time maritime information with friendly nations, which will be based out of Gurgaon. All the Coastal Surveillance Radar Systems are connected to provide a comprehensive real-time picture to Indian Defence Establishment regarding Chinese presence in the region.