We've presence from Gulf of Aden to western Pacific: Indian Navy chief

Admitting to increased presence of Chinese naval ships and submarines in the Indian Ocean Region and calling as "odd" Chinese deployment of submarines for anti-piracy operations, Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba on Friday said Indian naval ships too had a presence from the Gulf of Aden in the west to the western Pacific in the east.

The Navy chief, at the annual press conference of the Indian Navy ahead of the Navy Day on December 4, said while India has not said it in as many words, it is "odd" to deploy submarines for anti-piracy operations. 

He said at one point in time in August, there were at least 14 ships of China's Navy in the Indian Ocean Region.

Admiral Lanba said Chinese PLAN submarines had been regularly visiting the Indian Ocean since 2013 and there were two deployments alternately -- a conventional submarine and a nuclear propelled submarine, which are there in the waters for about three months every time.

"China's submarines are deployed in the IOR (Indian Ocean Region), which it says are deployed for anti-piracy patrol. It is an odd task to give to a submarine. We have not stated this in so many words but it is not the most ideal platform for anti-piracy patrol," he said. 

"When you have deployment of submarines in your area you do carry out threat assessments and we have done so," he said.

Talking of ship deployment by China in the IOR, the Navy chief said: "They started deployment in 2008-end; now in 2017, at any given time, on an average, there are seven to eight Chinese Navy ships in IOR."

"Three of them are part of anti piracy escort group in the Gulf of Aden and twice in a year a submarine comes with an escort ship..." he said.

However, in August, for about two weeks there were 14 Chinese naval ships in the IOR. This was also the time when India and China announced disengagement at Doklam in the Sikkim sector after a two-and-a-half month long stand-off from June 26 to August 14.

The Navy chief said the situation arose as vessels were handing over or taking over anti-piracy operations charge, while a group of ships was on the way to Russia for an exercise.

"It was a unique situation. For about two weeks, we had 14 ships in the area," he said.

Admiral Lanba also highlighted how Indian naval ships have increased their presence in the IOR, fulfilling its role of being the "net security provider" in the area.

"On the operational front, we have reoriented our deployment philosophy to mission- based deployments," Admiral Lanba said.

He said an Indian naval ship is permanently deployed near the Horn of Africa and Gulf of Aden in the west, and also near the Strait of Malacca and Andaman sea in the east. 

"In addition, regular deployment of naval ships and aircraft is being maintained in the North Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman, Persian Gulf, Andaman Sea and approaches to the strategically important Strait of Malacca, Sunda and Lombok."

"In short, our ships and aircraft are deployed from the Gulf of Aden to western Pacific on an almost 24x7 basis. Waters beyond these geographical expanses are also frequented as part of an international maritime engagement in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans," he said.

The Navy chief said the Indian Navy has actively engaged in ensuring safety and security in the IOR, in the presence of both "conventional and non-conventional threats".

About an agreement signed with Singapore, which includes on logistics, he said it would allow the Indian Navy to use temporary facility for basing ships, submarines and aircraft in their base. 

Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who was in New Delhi earlier this week, also said he would "encourage" Indian naval ships to come to their Changi naval base, which is close to the contested waters of the South China Sea.

Admiral Lanba however said this should not been seen in the context of China.

"Why do you try to link everything, every bilateral or multi-lateral agreement, with China? It is a construct between two countries to provide maritime security in common area of interest," Admiral Lanba said. 

On the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between India, US, Japan and Australia, he called it "another construct which is being developed", adding that the Navy will see what role the government wants it to fulfil in it.

About including Australia in the India-US-Japan trilateral naval exercise Malabar, he said: "Malabar at the moment is a trilateral exercise and that is what it is going to remain."


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