Posted on October 12th, 2018


The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is likely to become a theatre of war in the near future, said India’s Col Hariharan. In the coming years the Indian Ocean will be much less peaceful than it was during the Cold War,” said Brewster. The most significant issue in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) today is the presence of China, said analysts. With China emerging as a super power, the power equation is changing in Asia. China’s army is considered the strongest in the world, only second to USA in its equipment capacity. China’s navy is also second only to that of USA.

The United States was the leading power in Asia until recently. The USA can be considered a resident power in the Indian Ocean, said analysts,  given its bases in West Asia (Kuwait, Bahrain,  UAE , Qatar), in the Horn of Africa (Djibouti) and in Diego Garcia. On the eastern flank of the Indian Ocean, the United States has a military presence in Thailand, Singapore and Australia.

But American power is now declining and China is filling the void. China’s navy came into the Indian Ocean around 2009 to counter piracy. The piracy threat   is ended, but China’s navy, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is still in the Indian Ocean. PLAN is here to stay in the Indian Ocean said analysts.

PLAN’s military movements have fuelled concerns about China’s intent in the Indian Ocean Region. China has six to seven warships deployed in the Region at any given time. Also, they send two conventional submarines to the area every year, reported India. Over the last decade, China has developed the capacity to operate its warships at a great distance from its shores and for long periods of time,”  China is systematically increasing its presence and investments in the IOR. It will strengthen and use its naval power to secure this, said China watchers.  China would become a more capable and versatile sea power in the coming years and its rivals such as India, will need to greatly improve their own navies. China’s base in Djibouti helps China sustain naval units in the Indian Ocean.

The USA intends to displace China from the IOR. USA has renamed the US Pacific Command of the US Navy as Indo-Pacific Command. This won’t result in any shifts in the command´s boundaries or assets across the vast area stretching from the western part of India to America´s Pacific coastline, said USA, but it emphasizes the new reach.  USA will become the world’s biggest net oil exporter within the next decade due to its shale oil. Which means USA will still have money.

US National Defense Strategy for 2018 intends to focus on Asia ‘in the context of China´s growing military might.’ China “seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near term and displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future,” said USA. TIME commented, ‘according to the new Defense Strategy, the United States must build up its military to prepare for the possibility of a conflict with Russia and China. Amazingly, the U.S. continues to view the world in terms of hostile competitors. A recent report suggested that the US has been at war with someone or other for over 200 years in its 242 year history’.

There is now an active military linkup between USA, India, Australia and Japan, known as Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad”). This Quad is trying to contain an increasingly economically powerful China in the Asia-Pacific.

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue was started in 2007, by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, with the support of Vice President Dick Cheney of the US, Prime Minister John Howard of Australia and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India. With the Dialogue came joint military exercises of an unprecedented scale, called Exercise Malabar. China immediately issued formal diplomatic protests to Quad members. For various reasons the Quad did not become effective, but in 2017 the Quad was revived. The four leaders met at the 2017 East Asia Summit in the Philippines  and in Singapore in 2018. The Quad is becoming active. China, Pakistan and Russia will probably gang up against the Quad, said analysts.

China‘s moves, and U.S. and Indian responses seem to indicate that a new Cold War” is brewing in the Indian Ocean. Tensions in the region are likely to escalate given that the United States and China on the one hand, and India and China on the other are competing for dominance in the IOR, said analysts.  ‘

I think that the ‘war’ will not stay as a ‘Cold War’ for long. USA will provoke a confrontation somehow. It will not fight alone, US no longer has the strength to do that. USA will drag in other countries, including Sri Lanka, to do the fighting on behalf of the USA.

The United States has the image of a powerfully armed country. USA spends more on defense than the next several nations combined, with annual outlays of more than $600 billion — three times more than China and seven times more than Russia, according to figures compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

However, the US armed forces are on the decline, according to the 2017 Index of U.S. Military Power.  The U.S. military is two-thirds the size it should be. Only a third of its units are prepared for war. The current U.S. military force is capable of meeting the demands of a single major regional conflict, but was not capable of successfully combating two simultaneous major regional wars.  If the US wishes to engage in two major wars at the same time, then it needs 50 more brigade combat teams in the Army, 624 strike aircraft in the Navy, 1,200 fighter and ground-attack aircraft in the Air Force.

This explains why the US wants to fight in the Indian Ocean, using India, Sri Lanka, Japan and Australia as proxies.  Analysts see this as a solution to stretched United States resources, given its activities in East China, South China Seas  and the Middle East. Analysts have observed that IOR countries themselves have doubts over ‘Washington’s commitment to the region.’  These countries appear to be positioning themselves for what they see as an inevitable reduction in U.S. forces.

China has made its own statement. China is committed to the principles of Non-Alignment, even though it is not a member of the Non Aligned Movement, said China. the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) of which China is a founder member, pursued the principles of non-alignment, non-confrontation and non-opposition to third parties and had opened up to the outside world. ”

China has always devoted itself to safeguarding peace and stability of IOR and promoting common development for IOR featuring harmony, cooperation and win-win result. China insists on that inclusive cooperation is the sole path for a bright future of IOR said Sri Lanka’s Chinese ambassador, YI Xianliang, in 2017.

India has become the main support of USA in the Indian Ocean. As USA is pre-occupied in West Asia and the Middle East, the United States is comfortable with India playing a leading role in the Indian Ocean, said analysts. India will assume some of the security functions carried out by US.  There will be ‘security burden sharing’ between India and the United States in the IOR. India, too, wants the US as an insurance against China.

In 2016 the United States designated India a “Major Defense Partner”.  US Defence Secretary James Mattis   and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson   visited India in 2017.  Tillerson noted, among other things, that the United States wants to ‘dramatically deepen’ ties with India.

There is considerable Indo-US defense co-operation. The United States has supplied 22 Sea Guardian drones to enhance India’s naval surveillance in the India Ocean. These drones are expected to help the Indian Navy to keep a close watch on the Chinese naval ships and submarines in the Indian Ocean. India, it appears, is the first non-NATO country to be given the drones by the United States.

India has become the third Asian country after Japan and South Korea to get the Strategic Trade Authorization-1 (STA-1) status, paving the way for high-technology product sales to New Delhi, particularly in civil space and defence sectors.USA made an exception for India, though India is not a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Traditionally, the US has placed only those countries who are members of the four export control regimes: Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Wassenaar Arrangement (WA), Australia Group (AG) and the NSG in the STA-1 list. This exception for New Delhi is intended to send a strong political message to China and the world, said analysts.

India has been investing tens of billions in updating its Soviet-era military hardware to counter long-standing tensions with regional rivals China and Pakistan. In 2017 India approved a policy to boost local manufacturing of high-tech defence equipment and cut down reliance on expensive imports. India wants to move from its status as the world’s number one defence importer and to have 70 percent of hardware manufactured domestically.

Under the new Strategic Partnership model, the government will pick Indian companies to tie up with foreign organizations to manufacture fighter jets, armored vehicles, helicopters and submarines locally. The limit on foreign investment in the defence sector has been raised and India now encourages tie-ups between foreign and local companies under the Make in India” manufacturing campaign. British defence giant BAE Systems said in 2016 that it had chosen India’s Mahindra group to build a plant for assembling howitzer artillery guns in India.

India is a member of the Quad. India and Japan  are planning a an Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) as a counter to China’s ambitious One Belt One Road (OBOR) The proposal for an AAGC was first mentioned in the joint declaration issued by Prime Ministers Modi and Shinzo Abe in November 2016.  Japan’s contribution to the project will be its state-of-the-art technology and ability to build quality infrastructure, while India will bring in its expertise of working in Africa.

Unlike OBOR which entails development of a land corridor, AAGC will essentially be a sea corridor linking Africa with India and other countries of South-East Asia and Oceania. The sea corridors will be “low-cost” and have “less carbon footprint” when compared to a land corridor. There is a plan to connect ports in Jamnagar (Gujarat) with Djibouti in the Gulf of Eden. Ports of Mombasa and Zanzibar to ports near Madurai (Tamil Nadu). Also Kolkata (West Bengal) will be linked to Sittwe port in Myanmar. India is developing ports under the Sagarmala programme specifically for this purpose.

Apart from developing sea corridors, the AAGC also proposes to build robust institutional, industrial and transport infrastructure in growth poles among countries in Asia and Africa. The idea is to enable economies in Asia and Africa to further integrate and collectively emerge as a globally competitive economic bloc. The AAGC is an attempt to create a “free and open Indo-Pacific region” by rediscovering ancient sea-routes and creating new sea corridors that will link the African continent with India and countries in South-Asia and South-East Asia.

But India does not intend stay confined to the Quad. Analysts noted that India has also signed a host of defence deals with Russia, France and Israel to modernize the Indian military.   In 2018, India’s two state refineries placed orders for crude oil from Iran, ignoring US sanctions. “We will be guided by our national interest,” said India.

India is also in discussion with its other partners like Russia and China, said observer. Putin visited India in 2018 to attend the annual India-Russia summit and signed eight pacts,  including pacts in the fields of space, nuclear energy, railways. A crucial MoU was signed between Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and the Federal Space Agency of Russia on joint activities in the field of human spaceflight programme Gaganyaan.

The most significant of these pacts, was the pact to obtain a US$ 5-billion S-400 air defence system.  India has conveyed to the US its necessity to procure this air defence missile system, despite US sanctions.  The S-400 Triumf air defence system can engage up to 36 targets at a time and simultaneously launch 72 missiles. This is the most lethal weapons system in the world and it provides four different types of layered air defence,”

The target detection range of this system is up to 600 kilometres and its tactical ballistic missile destruction range varies from five kilometres to 60 kilometres. The long and medium range air defense missile system, will provide a much needed booster” to the Air Force, is designed to destroy air attacks, including stealth aircraft and any other aerial targets.. China, too, has signed a deal with Russia to procure the same missile system.

In 2017, a consortium led by Russian oil major Rosneft   acquired Indian private refinery Essar Oil, Rosneft will get a 49 percent stake in Essar and the two investors, European trader Trafigura and a Russian fund UCP, will hold another 49 percent in equal parts. The purchase is the biggest foreign acquisition ever in India and Russia’s largest outbound deal. Essar Oil operates a 400,000 barrel-per-day oil refinery in Vadinar on India’s west coast and sells fuels through its 3,000 retail stations in India. The deal also includes the Vadinar port and a power plant associated with the refinery. The deal will help Rosneft in gaining access to India’s rising fuel retail market.

India is continuing its love –hate relationship with China. India became a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in 2017. The China-dominated security grouping is increasingly seen as a counterweight to the United States-dominated North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). China is India’s major trading partner as well.

Prime Minister Modhi met president Xi Jinping informally at Wuhan in 2018. This is a   ground breaking visit that is likely to have major implications and help restore the confidence levels of both countries in each other, said analysts. With a lot of Chinese defence equipment stashed in India the latter would want to retain its old friend and so what you are seeing now is the real picture, said India watchers.

The two leaders have formed a “Closer Development Partnership” to work together to make the 21st century an Asian Century. They have also decided to reduce border tensions after a high-altitude standoff in the Himalayas last year,  at Doklam, where India eventually withdrew its troops, leaving China there. The pair also agreed to undertake a joint India-China economic project in Afghanistan.

However, the Indian Navy is keeping a sharp eye on the pattern and periodicity of extra-regional deployments” in the Indian Ocean Region. A fleet of 50 combat-ready Indian warships is carrying out round-the-clock surveillance, China had deeper pockets” than India and it was going about systematically” increasing its presence and investments in the region, reported India.,

The deployment of Chinese warships in the IOR was being mapped. At any given time, China has six to seven warships deployed in the region. Also, China sends two conventional submarines to the area every year. This year we have detected no submarine movement, said the Indian navy, adding that the Indian Navy was also extending its own reach in IOR. (CONTINUED)

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