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India sends China stern message with naval build-up

NEW DELHI — In a dock opening near central Kolkata, one of India’s most lethal new weapons, the submarine killer, Kadmatt, is going through a final outfit.

NEW DELHI — In a dock opening near central Kolkata, one of India’s most lethal new weapons, the submarine killer, Kadmatt, is going through a final outfit.

The Kadmatt is the second of four warships in India’s first dedicated anti-submarine force — a key part of plans to spend at least US$61 billion (S$83 billion) on expanding the navy’s size by about half in 12 years.

The build-up is mostly aimed at deterring China from establishing a foothold in the Indian Ocean.

It also serves another goal: Transforming India’s warship-building industry into an exporting force that can supply the region, including United States partners in Asia wary of China’s increased assertiveness.

“India’s naval build-up is certainly occurring in the context of India moving towards a greater alignment with the US and its allies to balance China,” said Dr David Brewster, an Indo-Pacific security specialist at the Australian National University (ANU).

“India wants to be able to demonstrate that Beijing’s activities in South Asia do not come without a cost, and Delhi is also able to play in China’s neighbourhood.”

China showed its growing naval prowess when it deployed a nuclear-powered submarine to patrol the Indian Ocean for the first time last year, while a diesel-powered one docked twice in Sri Lanka.

On a January visit to New Delhi, US President Barack Obama pledged to explore ways of sharing aircraft carrier technology.

The two countries also flagged the need to safeguard maritime security in the South China Sea.

India’s present fleet of 137 ships falls far short of the more than 300 vessels in China, which boasts at least 62 submarines, including four capable of firing nuclear ballistic missiles, according to the Pentagon.

The vessels on India’s wish list show Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intent on expanding the navy’s influence from Africa to the Western Pacific.

Most of them will be made in India, a sign that moves to upgrade the country’s shipyards are starting to pay off for the world’s biggest importer of weapons.

India plans to add at least 100 new warships, including two aircraft carriers, as well as three nuclear-powered submarines.

Part of its strategy involves overseas sales.

A government-run shipyard, Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers, is bidding to win a Philippine tender for warships, and last year India agreed to sell Vietnam four offshore patrol boats. Both nations compete with China for territory in disputed waters.

India is also reaching out to the region, offering to help Myanmar modernise its navy.

India is also hosting naval exercises with the US and Japan later in the year, and will also be holding its first set of drills with Australia in September.

Chinese experts, led by Defence Ministry spokesman Senior Colonel Yang Yujun, told Indian media this month that clashes are possible if India views the adjacent ocean as its “backyard.”

“India wants to take a leadership role in the Indian Ocean and ultimately become the predominant naval power,” said ANU’s Dr Brewster. BLOOMBERG

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