China is closely monitoring the ongoing Malabar naval exercises between India, the U.S. and Japan, in view of the Indian Navy’s growing clout to detect Chinese submarines and surface ships in the Indian Ocean, using newly acquired weaponry from Washington.
A detailed article in Pengpai, an online portal, analyses whether Chinese submarines are the unstated target of the large naval exercises, which started on Monday in the Bay of Bengal.
A press statement released on Monday in New Delhi points out that apart from two aircraft carriers — one each from India and the U.S., and one helicopter carrier from Japan — seven Indian warships, four from the U.S. and one from Japan are participating in the manoeuvres in the North Indian Ocean. Besides, a Los Angeles class submarine from the U.S., and India’s Sindhughosh underwater platform, along with the P-8 submarine detecting planes, and supporting vessels are part of the drills.
The article underscores that the presence of three aircraft carriers of three countries in the military exercises is “most noteworthy”.
It points out that the focus of the drills is anti-submarine warfare (ASW).
In turn, this has “got people really concerned”, whether the exercise is “targeted at Chinese submarines”.
“The Malabar exercise used to be a comprehensive drill that had included air defence, anti-ship elements etc. But now the subject of the drills started to show that there is more focus on anti-submarine warfare. It shows that they have someone as the target,” observes Li Jie, a Chinese naval expert.
He adds: “The U.S. and Japan both have large inventories of ASW equipment, and are experienced in this field. India can learn from them in terms of anti-submarine experience with which they can increase ASW capacity.”
During the on-going exercise, the Japanese are fielding the JS Izumo, a helicopter carrier with SH 60K helicopters. The Pengpai article highlights that the nine helicopters on board the JS Izumo are the ASW “core” of the Japan’s Self Defence Forces.
Some Chinese military specialists point out that India’s Act East Policy and China’s rise, leading to its larger footprint in the Indian Ocean, provide the larger context to the on-going manoeuvres. The article observes that in 2014, the Malabar exercise was held in the West Pacific. “Because India claimed that it had adopted the Act East strategy, so it was considered a signal from them to try and intervene in the South China Sea problem.”
Lin Minwang, a scholar at Shanghai’s Fudan University underscores that India, Japan and the U.S. will deepen their military ties in view of China’s growing military profile in the Indian Ocean, which is widely anticipated.
“As China rises, China will dispatch more military forces in the Indian Ocean to ensure its legitimate interests. In this situation the three countries will deepen their security cooperation in the Indian Ocean,” Mr. Lin said.
The article quotes the Chinese defence ministry as saying that China has sent naval ships of all levels to the Gulf of Aden and the Somalian waters to escort merchant ships since 2008. But, “because of the change in the situation accompanying and the requirements of the task, sending submarines is part of normal activity and plans”.
Mr. Li, the naval expert, attributed the expansion of the Malabar exercises to the larger contribution of naval assets by India and Japan. “Comparing this year’s drills with the past year, we can see that the Malabar exercise has a tendency of being expanded and the forces dispatched from the U.S. are relatively fixed — one career combat group. The scale of expansion is because India and Japan have sent more naval ships than before.”
The article highlighted that the presence of the U.S. built P-8 planes and the anticipated induction of MQ-9B drones in the Indian arsenal, pointed to the larger strategic convergence between India and the U.S. in the Indo-Pacific area.
“The P-8 is considered the most advanced in the world. India has bought eight of them and in the future it will buy another eight. It will fully replace the old Soviet era ASW aircraft such as the IL-38 and TU-142,” observes the article.
The online article quoted the U.S. based Defense News magazine, which said the U.S. State Department has cleared the sale of 22 MQ-9B drones to India, which are capable of carrying out 35 hours of non-stop surveillance of sea-space. According to plans, India will deploy these drones in the Andaman island chain.