NEW DELHI: The collusive China-Pakistan threat along the land borders is slowly but surely extending to the maritime domain as well. Even as China steps up its naval forays into the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), it is also helping Pakistan build its maritime combat power in the overall attempt to stymie India in its own backyard.
China is assiduously following a twin-pronged approach by facilitating Pakistan to build its fledgling Navy while hunting for more overseas bases to offset its “tyranny of logistics” in the IOR as compared to India, say Indian defence establishment officials.
Pakistan, for instance, is on course to get from next year onwards eight Yuan-class diesel-electric submarines with air-independent propulsion for great underwater endurance, four Type-054A multi-role stealth frigates and other naval platforms and weapons from China under deals worth over $7 billion. China now accounts for over 70% of arms imported by Pakistan.
“China is simultaneously looking for more military bases in the IOR after establishing the first one at Djibouti on the Horn of Africa in August 2017, in addition to Karachi and deep-water Gwadar port in Pakistan, to expand the operational reach of its warships and submarines,” said a defence official.
Though India can currently outmatch both China and Pakistan in the IOR in terms of naval capabilities, and can exploit Beijing’s “Malacca dilemma” if the need arises, it needs to systematically plan to retain the edge in the years ahead.
The People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN), for instance, is expanding at a furious pace, having commissioned at least 117 major warships in the last decade alone. “It’s just a matter of time before Chinese aircraft carriers begin entering the IOR,” said another defence official.
PLAN already has two aircraft carriers, with another two under construction, as well as 33 destroyers, 54 frigates, 42 corvettes, 50 diesel-electric and 10 nuclear submarines, among other warships. It is also building larger amphibious warships, like the Type-075 Landing Platform Docks, to add to its expeditionary capabilities.
Though the 140-warship Indian Navy has a huge geographical advantage in the IOR and is currently well-poised to take on any challenge, it has a force-level of only one aircraft carrier, 10 destroyers, 14 frigates, 11 corvettes as well as 15 diesel-electric and two nuclear-powered submarines at present.
Pakistan Navy’s ongoing modernisation is another emerging concern. Pakistan currently has only nine frigates, five submarines, 10 missile boats and three minesweepers, apart from aircraft and helicopters.
But it’s slated to get the four new stealth frigates, with a range of almost 4,000 nautical miles and well-armed with surface-to-air and anti-submarine missiles, from China in 2021-2022.
Similarly, the first four of eight Yuan-class or Type-039A submarines, considered among the quietest diesel-electric boats in the world, will be delivered to Pakistan by 2022-2023. The other four will be built at Karachi.
Pakistan has also gone in for a $350 million upgrade of its five French-origin Agosta-90B submarines from Turkey. It will also get four Milgem-class anti-submarine warfare corvettes, under a $1.5 billion deal with Turkey, in the 2023-2025 time-frame.
India has no option but to prepare for this emerging new China-Pakistan collusive challenge in the maritime domain.


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