With Pakistan and China conducting a major joint naval exercise in the northern Arabian Sea, India too has deployed its aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya on its western seaboard to send a clear strategic signal to its neighbours about its operational readiness and combat capability in the maritime domain.
Navy deputy chief vice admiral M S Pawar personally reviewed the “intense air and sea operations” from on board the 44,400-tonne INS Vikramaditya, which operates the supersonic MiG-29K fighters from its deck, in the Arabian Sea. “Admiral Pawar expressed the confidence that INS Vikramaditya will live up to its name and remain victorious in battle always,” said an officer.
The Navy, of course, is keeping a close watch on the nine-day “Sea Guardians 2020" exercise between the Pakistani and Chinese warships and submarines, which kicked off on Monday to “further consolidate their all-weather strategic partnership”.
While the Pakistani Navy is not a worry for the Indian Navy, New Delhi remains concerned about Beijing’s expanding strategic footprint in the Indian Ocean Region. Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh just last month had said that seven to eight Chinese warships are present in the IOR at any given time, while also confirming that Indian warships had driven away a Chinese oceanic research vessel indulging in suspicious activity near the strategically-located Andaman and Nicobar archipelago in September.
China, with an overseas military base at Djibouti in the Horn of Africa and turnaround facilities at Karachi, is fast increasing the size of its naval forces. It already has two aircraft carriers (two more are being built), 33 destroyers, 54 frigates, 42 corvettes, 50 diesel-electric and 10 nuclear submarines, among other warships. China is also helping Pakistan develop its deep-water Gwadar port in the region.
The Indian armed forces, on their part, have been maintaining high operational readiness ever since the IAF conducted the pre-dawn air strikes against the major Jaish-e-Mohammed training facility at Balakot in Pakistan in February last year.
Soon after the Balakot air strikes, Indian warships, submarines and aircraft had swiftly transited from the then ongoing “Tropex-2019” exercise, which included INS Vikramaditya and nuclear submarines INS Arihant and INS Chakra, to operational deployment in the north Arabian Sea to “box the Pak Navy close to the Makran coast”, said officials.
INS Vikramaditya, or the refurbished Admiral Gorshkov inducted in November 2013 under a $2.33 billion deal with Russia, is India’s largest and most powerful ship. With the 45 MiG-29Ks ordered for another $2 billion to operate from its deck, the carrier is also the costliest single weapon platform the country has ever bought.