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Min Goo Lee asked: Is China a threat to the Indian Navy or does India has the advantage by being able to control China's sea lines of communication?

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  • S.S. Parmar replies: Threat perceptions are normally based on capabilities and perceived intentions in an area of common interest. The same would apply in the case of China in the Indian Ocean, which apparently appears to be the theme of the question. China’s entry into the Indian Ocean is presently based on economic engagements and ensuring safety of their maritime trade, especially oil, that traverses the Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOCs). In order to ensure security of these interests, the presence of the PLAN is normative.

    To be perceived as a threat, a Navy must have the ability of firstly presence in adequate numbers and secondly sustained supportable operations. The first aspect requires a good mix of combat ability in all three dimensions – air, surface and sub surface. The Chinese Navy has a big disadvantage in the air dimension, primarily the lack of ship based air cover, and the land based maritime reconnaissance capability due to the distance involved. An aircraft carrier could provide this air cover but it would be restricted in time and space. The second aspect of sustenance of operations would be driven by the number of bases available for resupply and maintenance. Air operations and support from friendly foreign bases is a possibility but nations permitting this type of support would weigh the pros and cons in terms of international pressure, and the aspect of neutrality in the event of a conflict.

    India on the other hand has the advantage over China in the Indian Ocean as the proximity of bases and operations over distances in the region are part of its normal operating philosophy, thereby permitting it to be present in adequate numbers. Therefore, presently, the Chinese Navy is not considered a cogent threat.

    The aspects covered above permits India to monitor the SLOCs in the Indian Ocean so as to ensure a secure maritime environment. As India believes in and supports the aspect of freedom of navigation in the seas, it would under normal circumstances not like to be viewed as an impediment in another nation’s maritime trade. However, in the event of a conflict, it would have the advantage of monitoring and interdicting Chinese trade traversing the SLOCs in the Indian Ocean.