India is keeping a close eye on the growing military cooperation between Pakistan and China as Islamabad and Beijing inch closer to hammering out a landmark submarine deal, navy chief Admiral Robin Dhowan said on Sunday.
In an exclusive interview to HT, Dhowan said the navy was keeping the Indian Ocean under tight surveillance to be ready for any eventuality.
“We have our eyes firmly set on waters of interest around us. The navy is a multi-dimensional combat force and we are looking at all aspects related to sea control and sea denial amid the unfolding developments in the region,” Dhowan said in his first-ever interview after completing a year in office.
His comments come a day before Chinese President Xi Jinping lands in Pakistan for his maiden visit that is likely to see the finalisation of a deal for buying eight diesel-electric submarines, strengthening Islamabad’s current fleet of five French submarines, including two ageing vessels manufactured in the 1970s.
The agreement will be one of Beijing’s biggest exports and make Islamabad’s submarine strength competitive with that of New Delhi, which operates 14 such vessels.
“The navy is closely tracking the developments in the Chinese navy and keeping an eye on their deployment patterns in the Indian Ocean region (IOR). We will have to see which way Pakistan-China military cooperation is headed,” the navy chief said.
India has rapidly modernised its navy in recent years but still lags behind the Chinese Navy, which operates close to 60 submarines, including nuclear-powered attack and ballistic missile submarines. It is also preparing to commission three more advanced nuclear-powered attack submarines.
The last decade has seen Beijing scale up its presence in the Indian Ocean, building a string of ports, power plants and highways across the small island nations at the cost of billions of dollars. But India hasn’t been caught unawares and is planning to boost its undersea capabilities by inducting 24 more submarines, including six nuclear-powered attack vessels, by 2030, the navy chief said.
The navy was scaling up its strengths under its 15-year maritime capabilities perspective plan and “we cannot have knee-jerk reactions (to capability build up by neighbours) in these long-term plans,” Dhowan said.
The navy chief also said the only change in the Chinese navy deployment in the Indian Ocean region in the last six to seven years was the “occasional deployment” of submarines. “The navy keeps its surveillance on waters of interest to see that we are ready for any eventuality, anytime” he added.
In an exclusive interview to HT last week, defence minister Manohar Parrikar had also cautioned against Pakistani naval expansion becoming “a weakness in India’s armour of controlling the ocean”.
“We are not going to neglect any area because our maritime interests need to be guarded on all fronts and in all dimensions,” Dhowan said.
Read: Priority is to ensure we are combat-ready, says Admiral Dhowan