With China flexing its muscle in the seas, India now guards every entry and exit point of the Indian Ocean, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sunil Lanba has said.
India now guards every entry and exit point of the Indian Ocean - one of the most militarised regions of the world with at least 100 warships, including those of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (Navy), prowling at any given time, Chief of Naval Admiral Sunil Lanba told India Today in an exclusive interview.
The Navy Chief spoke to India Today on the sidelines of the Goa Maritime Conclave, a first-of-its-kind initiative. "As China's aggression in the Ocean grows, India has formed a new grouping of friendly countries and navies in the Indian Ocean to explore areas of mutual interest and cooperation. The idea is to explore what more we all can do to protect our common interest", he said.
In 2017, at least 14 Chinese warships and submarines, including nuclear submarines, criss-crossed the waters of the Indian Ocean. "Our assessment indicates that Chinese deployment in our areas of interest is unlikely to increase immediately", Admiral Lanba told India Today.
Earlier, inaugurating the conclave, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman warned about the presence of "extra regional" powers in the Indian Ocean. She also made a categorical mention of "colonial era" land - border disputes spilling over into the oceans. "We must take steps to protect India's interests. India must dovetail its deployments and surveillance missions to be aware of what and who is around", the Chief of Naval Staff said.
In an attempt to strengthen the bond between Indian and friendly navies, a new "Naval Diplomacy Fund" has been created, the Navy Chief told India Today. The fund will allow India and the Indian Navy to provide small warships and naval patrol vessels to smaller countries. India trains soldiers and officers and men of friendly navies. For instance, India trains Vietnamese submariners among others. Vietnam has been opposing Chinese claims in the South China Sea.
Besides deploying warships along the Malacca and Sunda Straits - the two main entry points from east into the Indian Ocean Region and a natural choke point - India also carries out coordinated patrols with Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand among others. "Frequency of patrols and the numbers of assets used can be increased", Admiral Lanba told India Today.
"China recently opened its first off-shore base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa. However, Sri Lanka has assured India that its ports, especially Chinese-built Hambantota Port, will not be used by military purposes, Admiral Lanba told India Today. He added, "We will continue to work with like-minded navies to protect our interests".