Naval build-up in Arabian Sea puts Pakistan on back foot
In a rare announcement, the navy said the build-up, consisting of an aircraft carrier, nuclear-powered attack submarines and scores of frontline warships and maritime aircraft, put the Pakistan Navy on the back foot.Updated: Apr 23, 2020 19:49 IST
Rising military tensions between Indian and Pakistan after the February 14 Pulwama suicide car bombing led the Indian Navy to cut short a major exercise in the Indian Ocean region and swiftly redeploy its frontline assets to the north Arabian Sea for operations, the navy said in a rare announcement.
It said on Sunday that the buildup consisting of an aircraft carrier, nuclear-powered attack submarines and scores of frontline warships and maritime aircraft put the Pakistan Navy on the back foot.
Experts and senior navy officials said the naval mobilisation was the biggest since Operation Parakram following the December 2001 terror attack on Parliament that brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war.
In a strongly worded statement, the navy said its “overwhelming superiority” forced the Pakistan Navy to remain deployed near the Makran coast and not venture out in the open ocean. “It is interesting to see the scale reflected in the navy’s statement. But one imagines that what may not and cannot be said is what worries our enemies more. That serves to deter which is not bad at all,” said military affairs expert Rear Admiral Sudarshan Shrikhande (retd).
Watch: Explained: Three possible reasons why China blocked UN move on Masood Azhar
India had enough warships at sea for the redeployment on very short notice. As many as 72 Indian warships and 60 aircraft were involved in the Theatre Level Operational Readiness Exercise (Tropex 19) that began on January 7 and was to go on till March 10, had the Pulwama terror strike not led to a change of plan. India responded to the Pulwama attack by sending its fighter jets to bomb a terror base in Balakot on February 26.
Army elements were also a part of Tropex 19, a biennial exercise, for carrying out amphibious assaults.
Apart from a carrier battle group consisting of INS Vikramaditya and its escort ships, the assets redeployed to the north Arabian Sea included the indigenous nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine INS Arihant, Akula-II nuclear-powered attack boat INS Chakra, the Scorpene-class submarine INS Kalvari, Boeing P-8I submarine hunter planes and several destroyers and frigates, two navy officials said on condition of anonymity.
They added that the combat units are still deployed in the region and the navy was in the highest state of preparedness.
The last time something like this happened was during Operation Parakram, said former navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash (retd). “The message of this posturing is that of deterrence. There’s no guarantee that the air strikes will deter them. So a further message has been sent to Pakistan to stop supporting terror,” Prakash said.
During the exercise, warships were deployed from Persian Gulf to the Strait of Malacca and northern Bay of Bengal to the southeast coast of Africa.
“The major combat units swiftly transited from the exercise to operational deployment mode as tensions between India and Pakistan escalated,” said navy spokesperson Captain DK Sharma.
Sharma said a “clear and resolute message” about the navy’s “operational posture” to defeat any misadventure was conveyed during a tri-services press briefing on February 28, a day after India and Pakistan lost a fighter jet each in a dogfight over the Line of Control. “Availability of such a large number of combat-ready assets in the theatre of operations for Tropex 19 allowed the navy to expeditiously respond to the developing situation,” added Sharma.
Shrikhande said he was not in the least surprised by the navy’s change of orientation from a major exercise to deploying in strength for any eventuality. “Being combat-ready is a near-constant state for core assets, with capacity to surge further at very short notice,” Shrikhande added.
Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba will travel to Kochi on Monday to review the outcomes of Tropex 19, the navy’s biggest exercise, and assess the operational preparedness of the navy.
The navy said a realistic audit of its deployment philosophy and fighting capability would also be undertaken during Lanba’s visit.
“The lessons learnt from the exercise will provide the planners accurate assessments to fine-tune force structuring requirements, operational logistics, as also material and training imperatives,” the navy statement added.