Ranjit B Rai
India’s oratorical & confidence oozing Prime Minister Narendra Modi well hosted the 10 ASEAN seasoned leaders who have a tougher job than him leading their countries combined 1.8 bill people with $ 2.9 Trill economies. The ‘show sha’ and RD parade was outstanding as India is now rich to splurge money, but where & what was the substance is the question, IDF grapples with.
ASEAN sees India not able to solve its poverty and now divisiveness as Padmavat was raging, experience changes in policy and is unable to display a strategy to deal with China and Pakistan, or reduce red tape. They worry.
Their concerns will never come out in the open and Indian MEDIA REPORTED THEY FEEL INDIA IS NOT DOING MUCH FOR MARITIME SECURITY TO MATCH CHINA. This is only partly true as they look for stability more than a India China slanging match as China sustains their economy and business is inter twined. China has a clear cut policy to re-ascend the world and is the richer that USA or EU.
ASEAN know the 21st Century is poised to be a Maritime Century and the litmus test of how India performs to protect its maritime interests and those of its friendly ASEAN and Indian Ocean Region (IOR) nations as the Net Security Provider of the latter, is dependent on how India steers and peaceful balance in the China-India power play in the Indo-Pacific. ASEAN wants to see India solve its problems especially border with China and Pakistan and keep the peace.
ASEAN LEADERS KNOW India will never be at ease with Pakistan or China but feel India must manage the relations. This was the message IDF got and the ten ASEAN leaders conveyed at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Summit meet on 25th January.
Maritime security which includes issues of Freedom of Navigation(FON) and China’s Naval outreach and claims over islands in the South China Seas (SCS) defying UNCLOS rulings, and setting up of naval bases in the Indian Ocean, silently dominated. However SCS was not mentioned in the Delhi Declaration as Laos and Cambodia have broken ranks on the ASEAN Code of Conduct . Philippines Roberto Duterte has caved in with offers of aid by President Xi Jinping despite having the UNCLOS tribunal judgment in his favour.
Much is expected of India’s Navy by ASEAN in India’s Act East policy.
In January 2014 PM Modi had signed a Joint Strategic Vision with President Barak Obama to promote peace, prosperity, stability and security in the Asia-Pacific and IOR to energize India’s ‘Act East Policy’ with United State’s own pivot to rebalance to Asia and strengthen defence and regional ties. America now expects India’s Navy to extend its maritime reach and patrols to the Indo-Pacific and President Trump has steered a Quadrilateral (QUAD) of USA, Japan, Australia and India.
Currently the QUAD’s objective is limited to co-operation and multi-lateral exercises like Malabar, Human Disaster Relief and Rescue (HADR) and inter-operability. ASEAN worries QUAD will become an Asian NATO and France wants in as Le Cinq (The Five) !
Dubbing India as USA’s most important trusted defence partner, short of calling India an ally, President Trump expects India and its Navy to give the US Navy a hand in the East against China and is selling latest military hardware like powerful P8i maritime reconnicance and attack planes with Mk 84 Harpoon ship attack and anti MK 48 anti submarine torpedoes and Sea Guardian Drones and F-16s. Maritime Strategists in USA look to realizing Admiral Mullen’s dream of a 1,000 ship Navy so that the QUAD transforms over time to make it a Maritime Security Pact like an ASIAN NATO and confirm a Cold war with China.
This worries militarily rising Russia, which is facing sanctions by USA and Europe, and co-operates with China on many issues. China has flouted its economic and military power, to demand and acquire its historical lands and seas and set up bases abroad. China has even thwarted India’s assertion in Bhutan’s Chumbi valley of North Dokalam, with construction and retains its presence there. Bhutan is worried.
Peoples Liberation Army, Navy and Air Force are poised to grow stronger, with bigger defence budgets currently reported at around $ 200 billion, increasing 7% annually. At the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), President Xi Jinping heralded he would achieve the China Dream and stated, “ China has grown rich and become strong and will move towards the center stage and make greater contributions for mankind by 2050”. China looks to re-ascend to the top of the world.
The PLA (Navy) added fourteen new warships and submarines in 2017 after sixteen in 2016 to its three hundred warships and fifty submarines. China has commissioned its second new powerful Jiangkai Type 54 destroyer this year and is readying its second indigenous aircraft carrier named Shandong and begun construction of its third 80,000 ton aircraft carrier, dubbed CV-18 at the Shanghai Jiangnan Shipyard to operate the Shenyang J-15 aircraft. Indian Navy added only eleven warships in the same period to its one hundred and thirty five. Many warships and submarines are aging beyond twenty five years and need replacement. Indian Navy needs more modern sea legs, to deter any nation or fight a 21st century war.
China has rented a base in Djibouti and built a jetty and has commercialized Gwadar as its captive entre port in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean astride the Hormuz Straits, which sees transit of oil for the world. China is helping build a submarine base at Ormara for the eight submarines it is supplying to Pakistan and plans to set up a listening and radar post at Jiwani next to Chahbahar, to keep watch over India’s links to Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics(CAR). China is supplying Yulin class missile frigates and supplies of C602 anti ship missiles being fitted on Azmat class missile ships being constructed at Karachi Shipyard Ltd in numbers. PLA (Navy) is fast becoming India’s neighbouring Navy. This will make it difficult for India in the years ahead to dominate the IOR, especially if the $ 56 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor(CPEC) investments in Pakistan fructify. It could make Pakistan more belligerent to India as PM Modi has demanded POK back and that worries China.
In the SCS, China has defied UNCLOS rulings and broken ASEAN’S Code of Conduct to make its illegal presence permanent in SCS with reclamations of rocks in to large islands with airfields and missile bases. Only Vietnam among the claimants to SCS remains publically opposed to China and looks to India’s support in the SCS, and India looks to OTR Operational Turn Around like in Singapore . Nguyen Xuan Phuc in a bi-lateral cleared more agreements this time. Vietnam had earlier signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with Prime Minister Modi in December, 2016 to strengthen the comprehensive strategic partnership.
The small less than a large Army Corps Indian Navy has done much but after Dokalam seems to be put on the back burner with canceled RFP too. The Naval Design Directorate (DGND) designed platforms, the Weapons Electronics and Engineering Establishment (WEESE) has supported electronics, software and communications and the DRDO-Navy’s sprawling Defence Machinery Design Establishment (DMDE) at Hyderabad tests equipment before fitment in submarines and warships.
In December 2017 Admiral Sunil Lanba stated that thirty four ships were on order in India. The number includes the 37,500 ton aircraft carrier Vikrant , four Type 15B 7,600 ton Destroyers, seven Type 17A frigates, one Project 28 Corvette and five Scorpene submarines and five smaller LCUs, most delayed,
Admiral Lanba included five Naval OPVs which are nowhere in sight though ordered on Reliance Defence at Pipavav Shipyard in 2008. The construction of five Catamaran Survey Ships with Konsberg Under Water Vessels (UWVs) at Alcock Ashdown Bhavnagar has closed down, and the matter of construction of three training ships ordered at ABG Surat is in court. OPVs are being converted as training ships. Hence there is a certain uncertainty of the number of ships on order. This is worrisome. Some one should shout for the Navy and IDF looks to a bigger Defence budget around 2.5 % of GDP to make Navy get a bigger cake. Sam No Varuna !