India’s recent demonstration of its maritime prowess by conducting a Carrier Battle Group (CBG) operation serves as a significant display of its evolving naval posturing in the Indian Ocean.
This exercise in the Arabian Sea is the first of its kind where major assets of the Indian Navy were utilized in a coordinated manner. Keeping in view China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean, this twin Carrier Battle Group (CBG) operation in the Arabian Sea can be interpreted as strategic signaling to China.
Indian Naval spokesperson in his statement stated that this exercise provides Indian friends with an assurance that the Indian Navy is capable and ready to support collective security needs in the region. Additionally, this exercise has been conducted ahead of the Prime Minister of India’s visit to the United States which suggests that this CBG operation is a display of India’s willingness to engage China within the Indian Ocean.
It was reported on June 10 that India carried out first of its kind naval exercise that involved the operational integration of two aircraft carriers INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant. This was a twin CBG operation that involved two aircraft carriers along with a diverse fleet of ships, submarines, and over thirty-five aircraft. These aircraft included MiG-29K and choppers such as MH-60 Romeo, Kamov, and Advanced Light helicopters. It is pertinent to note that this exercise utilized an extensive array of air resources within the Navy that were effectively operated from the dual aircraft carriers functioning as mobile bases.
Similarly, on June 9, Indian Air Force (IAF) carried out an exercise by deploying Su-30MKI aircraft to execute a tactical maneuver spanning eight hours across the Indian Ocean. The eight hours flight of Su-30MKI aircraft was sustained by air-to-air refueling, which ensured their successful flight over the Indian Ocean’s southwestern sector. Prior to this, the Indian military conducted a six-hour mission by employing four Rafale jets to cover the eastern region of the Indian Ocean. In addition to this, India is planning to procure a naval variant of Rafael i.e., Rafael-M which can operate from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier. This deal is likely to be finalized during the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to France in July this year.
It is worth noting that China’s eighty percent of oil passes through the Malacca Strait and such massive trade volume has compelled Beijing to secure a strategic position in the Indian Ocean to protect its interests. This is why China has been actively securing a strategic position in the Indian Ocean Region. In this context, the conduct of dual aircraft carrier operations by India, ahead of the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to the US, seems to be a calculated move reflecting strategic signaling towards China. India’s twin CBG operation in the Indian Ocean, as mentioned in the Indian Naval spokesperson’s statement, signifies that it is ready to assume a greater role in the region. This not only serves as a reassurance to the US but also as a display of power, projecting its ability to control the strategic seascape and counter any adversarial advances.
India is an important country for the US to counter China. However, on one hand, India is cautious to officially declare an alliance with the US against China, and on the other hand, in practice, the actions of New Delhi signal that it is acting as a counterweight to China.
In particular, the CBG operation and the statement of the Indian naval spokesperson highlight that India is willing to become part of the US strategy to counter China. The US is willing to deepen its defense ties and expand New Delhi’s access to cutting-edge technologies. However, many believe that India might be a bad bet for the US vis-à-vis China.
It is pertinent to highlight that the US and China competition and India being the counterweight to China will have adverse effects on South Asia. As India strengthens its military capabilities, particularly naval capabilities, scholars in Pakistan believe that New Delhi will become more aggressive in its dealings with Pakistan. India is likely to acquire more and more sophisticated technology and in doing so, will disturb the strategic stability of South Asia. Apart from disturbing the stability, India’s ambitions to close the technological gap with China are likely to initiate an arms race in this region. Keeping this in view, it is important for Pakistan to enhance the operational capabilities of its navy in order to secure its sea lines of communication and counter any aggressive moves made by India.
The Author is associated with the Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad. He is a published author and holds certifications from Stimson Center and Chatham House. He tweets at @AhmadAliHaral and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.