Eastern Naval Command gets more teeth
China is increasing its presence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), and that includes the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. China has increased its presence in the IOR through military and civil vessels.
It is quietly gathering ocean data and mapping the sub-sea environment to facilitate naval asset movement in the future. India is not taking it lightly.
Some time back, the Indian Navy chased away a civilian vessel operating near the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Chinese vessels don’t come here for fishing. The East and South China Seas are adequate to feed China. These civilian vessels sent for spying stay safe from military action.
The Indian Navy is strengthening its Eastern Naval Command and has decided Visakhapatnam will be home to the new INS Vikrant. Indian Navy’s air assets will get a further boost with Visakhapatnam hosting a new MiG29k squadron. It will serve both the training and operational needs of the Navy.
The Navy is looking forward to the government finalizing the procurement of 24 MH60R Anti-submarine helicopters from the US worth US$2 Billion. It will further strengthen India’s sea denial capabilities.
Indian Army steels up for mechanized warfare
The Army is looking to strengthen its rapid reconnaissance, patrol and interception capability in the western sectors of Rajasthan and Punjab. The Army has already ordered 464 T-90S tanks to augment its dessert warfare capability. However, the tanks are slow to deploy and not efficient for patrolling or intercepting across the vast expanse stretching between the southern desert border areas of Rajasthan to the northern plains of Punjab.
The Army is looking to induct 8×8 wheeled Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFV) with the amphibious capability. It must move at a fast speed with a cruising range of 500 km, to fill the operational gap between the slow-moving heavy tanks and unprotected lighter vehicles for patrol and interception.
The Army requires the AFV to fulfil anti-tank operations yet light enough to be rapidly transported and deployed in rugged terrain by the recently acquired US-made C-17 Globemaster III and the C-130J Hercules, or the Russian IL-76 military transport aircraft.
The AFV must carry two Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) launchers capable of firing missiles with a kill range of up to 4 km, 1 x 30 mm automatic cannon with 7.62 mm remotely operated coaxial machine gun, Grenade launchers, and one Man-Portable ATGM.
The AFV must hold at least 500 rounds of ammunition for the 30 mm cannon and 2,000 rounds of 7.62 mm ammunition for the remote-controlled machine gun.
The Tata-manufactured WhAP has cleared extensive field tests and is best placed to get the order.
AIP to be a game-changer for the Navy
Sea denial capability is core to India’s strategic dominance of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), and submarines play an essential role. Barring INS Arihant, India’s nuclear powered ballistic submarine, all other submarines are diesel-electric.
The diesel-electric submarines need to surface at frequent intervals to get oxygen to replenish its batteries. The DRDO has developed fuel cell-based Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) technology, which allows non-nuclear submarines to stay submerged over extended periods.
It is crucial as a submarine’s potency lies in its ability to remain undetected. The AIP gives the submarine an operational advantage over an adversary who does not have this technology.
The DRDO is behind schedule in developing the AIP. The new INS Kalvari-class submarines will come with AIP, while those already operational will be upgraded with AIP when they come up for the next retrofit, usually every seven years.
Besides giving the Navy an advantage, the indigenous AIP will save the government massive amounts of foreign exchange.
IAF pushes for early delivery of Meteor and Scalp
India signed the €7.87 Million deal with France for the supply of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft. The deal included 13 India-specific enhancements, and weapons package comprising the Meteor, Scalp or Storm Shadow, and MICA missiles.
India took delivery of the first Rafale in October and has received a total of three fighters with the balance to be progressively delivered by April 2022.
India is now pushing France to advance deliveries of the missiles. The urgency underscores the security environment prevailing with Pakistan’s continued belligerence and China pushing its strategic envelope towards our borders.
The 190 kg Meteor is an air dominance Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM) with an active seeker with a 180 km range and a no-escape range of 60 km, the maximum for an air-to-air missile of its class.
The Scalp or Storm Shadow missile is a long-range (300km), deep strike, stand-off air-to-ground missile. The MICA is a short-range quick reaction stealth air-to-air missile for within range air interception.
The American F-35 Stealth fighter comes armed with the Meteor and Scalp missiles.
The missile’s arrival in India will add teeth to the Indian Air Force’s warfighting capability. The IAF will now be able to engage with the enemy from a safe distance, without fear of hostile enemy countermeasures.
The Philippines in advance talks for the BrahMos missile
India has offered its potent anti-ship, anti-surface supersonic missile – BrahMos to the Philippines, in a sign of growing ties between the two countries. The deal is likely to be finalized soon.
The Philippines has a running dispute with China over the Spratly Islands, also claimed by Malaysia. After initial moves to improve ties with China, President R Duterte has been raising his voice against China’s continuing militarization of the Spratly Islands.
The BrahMos acquisition will boost the Philippine’s naval deterrence capability.
Why India’s Milan 2020 Naval Exercise will be a game-change in the Indo-Pacific waters?
India has announced it will be holding the biennial international maritime exercise Milan 2020 in Visakhapatnam, under the aegis of the Eastern Naval Command (ENC) in March 2020.
Milan 2020 will be the biggest ever naval exercise organized by India and will showcase India’s growing geo-strategic influence in the Indo-Pacific region. Earlier editions were held in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and for the first time, the exercise will be hosted in the Indian mainland.
The first edition of Milan held in 1995 had four littoral countries participating – Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. Thereon, India has consistently built maritime relations with friendly countries through this exercise.
Barring 2001, 2005, and 2016, Milan has been a regular feature every two years. The last exercise, Milan 2018, had 16 countries participate.
Milan 2020 will have 55 countries participating.
- New Zealand
- South Korea
- Sri Lanka
- Saudi Arabia
- South Africa
Note: The number of participating countries has since increased to 55.
Countries not invited
China, Pakistan, and Turkey
The Strategic Context of Milan 2020 and RIMPAC 2020
Milan is the second-largest maritime exercise closely rivaling RIMPAC of the United States, in size and influence. RIMPAC 2018 had 25 countries participating with a total of 41 ships, five Submarines, and 200+ aircraft.
Milan 2020 will have 55 countries joining with a total of 12 ships (as on date and likely to increase) along with several submarines and aircraft. Milan 2020 is set to emerge as the most important naval exercise ever.
The United States had initially invited China to join RIMPAC 2020 but later withdrew the invitation on account of the ongoing tensions between the two countries.
Participating countries in RIMPAC 2018:
- New Zealand
- South Korea
- Sri Lanka
So what is the strategic connect?
The profile of participating countries matters and reflects the priorities of the host nation. The United States has its priorities; India has its interests. However, over the years, the geo-strategic interests of India and the United States have converged.
India’s focus for asserting strategic influence is the Indo-Pacific region stretching from the waters around Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, and Strait of Hormuz right up to the Strait of Malacca.
Forty per cent of the global sea trade passes through the above waters, including the crucial oil. Keeping the sea lanes free and open is in the strategic interest of all major nations, including India.
Therefore, the profile of nations in Milan 2020 matters more over the number of participating ships. India is progressively forging closer relations with countries along the waters mentioned above, a region of interest to both the United States and China.
Milan 2020 vs RIMPAC 2020 vs RIMCHN
China is the emerging superpower and is positioning itself to challenge US domination in all spheres – military, diplomatic, economic, and eventually cultural.
China is involved in an ongoing trade dispute with the United States and is confronting it in the South China Sea. China stakes claim to ninety per cent of the waters around the so-called Nine-Dash Line, also referred to as the 10 Dash or 11 Dash Line.
China started by initially sending fishing boats to the Spratly Islands before overtly taking control and establishing seven military outposts on the islands there. It plans to extend power to the islands in James Shoal, Scarborough Shoal, Macclesfield Bank, and Vanguard Bank.
Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Brunei dispute China’s claim over the Spratly Islands. Similarly, Taiwan and Vietnam dispute China’s claim over the Paracel Islands.
In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), unanimously rejected China’s claim over the Spratly Islands, deeming it unlawful under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). China has rejected the ruling and continues to flex its muscles against the smaller countries of the region.
This is how the naval exercise of Milan and RIMPAC plays a significant role. Both pose a challenge to China’s ambitions. The United States wants to reassert its dominance in the region and keep the international waters of the Yellow, East and South China Seas free for maritime navigation by all countries. China opposes it.
China looks ahead, plans ahead
China has long term plans and is carefully laying out a strategic roadmap to meet its objectives. It is actively pursuing the Belt and Road initiative to secure its source and routes of raw material imports as also for exports of finished goods to the world.
For this, it has forgone traditional animosity with Russia and other countries of Central Asia and has opened up the land access through rail and road between China and the western end of Europe.
In Southeast Asia, China continues to cultivate members of ASEAN actively to pull them away from the US influence. Through cheap loans and trade incentives, China has cultivated countries like Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and the Maldives along with countries of Africa and the Middle East. Many find themselves in deep debt and open to economic and diplomatic pressure from China.
The challenge to China’s long-term goals comes from the US, its western allies, and India. India is the pivot for trade and maritime movement between the east and west of the Indian subcontinent. It can enforce free movement or disrupt it. And China recognizes it.
In October 2018, China hosted RIMCHN 2018, a naval military exercise in the South China Sea involving ten ASEAN countries. It hopes to reduce the influence of US exerted through RIMPAC.
However, it is India which is emerging as the pivotal power in the region. The Quad – US, Australia, Japan, and India, is gaining traction and posing a threat to China’s plans in the area. Milan 2020 is an assertion to that objective.
So what’s China’s biggest worry going into 2020?
The United States is hosting RIMPAC 2020 in June-July (Milan 2020 is in March) and is yet to confirm the operational region for the exercise.
China is dreading the United States holding RIMPAC 2020 in the South China Sea. Were that to happen, it will be interesting to see how China responds and how the post-exercise geo-strategic dynamics unfold.