Chinese warships kept Indians ‘company’ on way to Guam

New Delhi June 9 Indian warships had the Chinese Navy for company for some time as they sailed across “five seas and two oceans” to the island of Guam for the Malabar war games with the US and Japan. Chinese warships trailed the Indian deployment through the South China Sea, peeling off only after they entered the Pacific.

Beijing, which contests parts of the South China Sea as its territorial waters, is keeping an eye on the ongoing Malabar exercise, with spy ships expected to watch closely as the three friendly navies undertake joint operations.

“We had good, polite conversation. They were there for some time, and then broke off. The moment we entered the Pacific across the Philippines Sea, they went back. It was interesting,” Rear Admiral Dinesh K Tripathi, the Eastern Fleet Commander who is leading the Indian delegation to Malabar, told ET.

The senior officer said the shadowing was “not surprising” through the South China Sea and that the US Navy is more used to this when it operates in the region. The primary focus of this year’s routines are the anti-submarine drills, a growing area of concern for India, as Chinese submarines are increasingly deployed in the Indian Ocean Region.

Top sources told ET that no Chinese subs have been detected this year in the Indian Ocean but till last year, frequent patrols by nuclear-powered subs of the People’s Liberation Army (Navy) had been observed.

A New Experience ::

This has necessitated a sharing of information with the US forces in the region, as well as attempts to increase Indian ability to detect and intercept submarines if required.

While similar exercises have been conducted in the past, Admiral Tripathi said operating in the Pacific will be a new experience as each ocean has its own variables such as hydrography and temperatures.

“Distance actually does not matter. Wherever Indian maritime interests are, that is our area of operation. Wherever national interest takes us, we will deploy if needed,” the officer said, explaining why Guam had been chosen for the joint drills.

Over the next few days, the three navies will exchange crews across platforms and carry out several drills including air defence missions against the F/A 18 Super Hornets deployed on board the Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, joint search and seizure of vessels at sea and anti-surface operations.

An interesting part of the exercise this time will be replenishment at sea — during which warships take on ammunition, fuel and supplies — while operating in a combat-like situation. This will cement the abilities of the navies to jointly operate in a warlike situation over prolonged periods.

While drills will continue over the next editions of Malabar that are also likely to see the participation of Australia, the objectives of the exercise are based on the common principles of the three nations, senior officers said.

Quoting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at the Shangri-La dialogue, the US Task force 70 Commander Rear Admiral Marc Dalton — leading the Ronald Reagan battle group — said the sea can be the pathway to prosperity if principles such as freedom of navigation are upheld.

The Japanese Navy — participating in full strength with its biggest warship in service — said the exercise would demonstrate a joint commitment to maintaining maritime order in the region. “At present, destabilising maritime threats are drastically increasing… there’s an attempt to change status quo by force, these are existential threats. We have a shared view on the importance of the Indo-Pacific and will address the maritime challenges together based on common values,” said Vice Admiral Hiroshi Yamamura, vice chief of staff, Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force.