India conducts major maritime exercise in Indian ocean amid reports of Chinese Naval presence in area

India conducts major maritime exercise in Indian ocean amid reports of Chinese Naval presence in area
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NEW DELHI: India continues maritime combat capabilities with major theatre-level operational readiness exercises on both the western and eastern seaboards for the first time this year.

India and China, of course, are engaged in some stepped-up shadow-boxing along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) after the rival troops disengaged from 73-day eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation at Doklam near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction six months ago. “Border transgressions” by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), for instance, jumped to as many as 426 last year as compared to 273 in 2016.

This muscle-flexing rivalry is also underway in the IOR, though both sides do not want the strategic competition to escalate into conflict on the high seas, much like the 4,057-km long land border in the Himalayan region.

Defence sources on Tuesday said a Chinese flotilla of a destroyer, frigate, amphibious transport ship and replenishment tanker did enter the eastern IOR through the Sunda Strait (Indonesia) around February 10, after conducting some drills in the South China Sea, but it went back through the Lombok Strait after some days.

Rejecting “alarmist” reports of China indulging in gunboat diplomacy amid the constitutional crisis in Maldives, the sources said the flotilla was well over 3,500-km away from the tiny island country in the Arabian Sea.

“Indian satellites, warships and long-range maritime surveillance aircraft like P-8I kept close tabs on the Chinese flotilla, which was in international waters towards Australia,” said a source. Navy spokesperson Captain D K Sharma said, “India has a very robust surveillance system to ensure clear and transparent maritime domain awareness (MDA) in the entire IOR.”

New Delhi