Tue, May 03, 2016 - Page 6 News List

India, US aim to track submarines in Indian Ocean

Reuters, NEW DELHI and HONG KONG

India and the US are in talks to help each other track submarines in the Indian Ocean, military officials said, a move that could further tighten defense ties between New Delhi and Washington as China steps up its undersea activities.

Both the US and India are growing concerned at the reach and ambition of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, which is taking an increasingly assertive stance in the South China Sea and is challenging India’s domination in the Indian Ocean.

New Delhi, shedding its decades-old reluctance to be drawn into the US’ embrace, last month agreed to open up its military bases to the US in exchange for access to weapons technology to help it narrow the gap with China.

The two sides also said their navies would hold talks on anti-submarine warfare (ASW), an area of sensitive military technology and closely held tactics that only allies share.

“These types of basic engagements will be the building blocks for an enduring navy-to-navy relationship that we hope will grow over time into a shared ASW capability,” one US official familiar with India-US military cooperation said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Indian naval officials said Chinese submarines have been sighted on average four times every three months.

Some are seen near India’s Andamans and Nicobar islands that lie near the Malacca Straits, the entry to the South China Sea through which more than 80 percent of China’s fuel supplies pass, they said.

India and the US, which already conduct joint naval exercises, both fly the new version of the P-8 Poseidon spy plane, making information sharing easier on highly sensitive submarine tracking activities.

The P-8 is Washington’s most advanced submarine hunting weapon, equipped with sensors that can track and identify submarines by sonar and other means.

An Indian naval spokesman declined to comment on the proposed anti-submarine warfare cooperation with the US.

However, an Indian naval source, briefed on the discussions, said the focus of the next set of joint exercises to take place in the northern Philippine Sea next month would be on anti-submarine warfare.

Japan, a close US ally whose submarines are believed to track Chinese submarines in the western Pacific, is also to be a participant in the exercises.

Two linked factors are driving the cooperation, regional military attaches and security experts said.

The prospect of active patrols by nuclear-armed Chinese submarines has sparked intense surveillance activity around China’s southern submarine base on Hainan Island and nearby waters.

Meanwhile, India is preparing to launch its first locally built submarine armed with nuclear-tipped missiles.

So just as US attack submarines are seeking to track the Chinese nuclear-armed submarines in the Pacific, the Chinese are expected to send their own attack submarines to the Indian Ocean in greater numbers to scrutinize the Indian patrols.

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