The Sunday Leader

China Vs Japan Vs India In Asia Pacific

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Tragedy struck India and at a very euphoric time for India when the Indian submarine Sindhurakshak blew up on Tuesday in its home port in Mumbai killing its18 strong crew and setting off two torpedoes that damaged two other vessels in the naval dockyard.
It was a Kilo Class Russian built diesel-electric submarine built at St Petersburg in 1997 capable of firing cruise missiles at a 125-mile range and the incident came as a major setback for the Indian Navy. Reports said that of the 14 submarines of the Indian Navy only a few were operational and the Sindhurakshak was one of them.

Giant Stride

The Indian submarine Sindhurakshak blew up on Tuesday killing its18-member crew

India was celebrating two breakthroughs in naval technology before the tragedy last week. On August 10, it activated the nuclear reactor aboard INS Arihant, India’s first indigenously designed and built nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine.

It will undergo sea-trials soon.

Described by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as ‘a giant stride in the progress of India’s indigenous technology capabilities’, the 6,000 ton submarine is a part of a project to build 5 such vessels which can be armed with nuclear tipped missiles and torpedoes. The Arihant powered by a 85 megawatt nuclear reactor to reach a speed of 40 km/hr would add a third dimension to India’s defence capability, so far the country has only land-to-air ballistic missiles, reports of defence analysts said.

Indians were over the moon when they launched INS Vikrant, the biggest warship to be built in the country and was said to be the ‘centrepiece of Indian Naval power’. Launched on August 12 in Kochi port in the Kerala state it has a displacement of 40,000 tons, length 200 metres (850 ft), speed of 28 knots, carry 29 MiG aircraft, and sail over 8,000 nautical miles. It is expected to be operational in 2020. The cost is estimated at US$ 2.2 billion original estimate being US$ 500 million.

The launch of the Vikrant made the staid ‘Hindu’ say it was a ‘proud moment for the Indian Navy’ and some other Indian national newspapers pointed out that India was joining the ‘select club of four nations’ – US, UK, France and Russia – that has the capability to build, operate warships of this size. The joy was understandable. India, despite its magnitude in geographical extent or population, for almost 50 year after Independence was considered a ‘cow dung’ power till it announced to the world it was a nuclear power by exploding 5 nuclear bombs in 1998. Now it’s a demonstration of its prowess in military technology.

Remember Gandhi?

In its obvious quest to be a global military power – or rub shoulders with such powers – India appears to have forgotten the message of Ahimsa – non-violence – of its founding father, Mahatma Gandhi whose frail half naked photo hangs at the entrance to every Indian chancery. Of course 21st Century India’s resolve is as peaceful as Gandhi’s, it will be said. This build up of the state-of-the-art armaments have the objective, peace, the defence of India. So are the declared intentions of emergent Asia-Pacific nations who now appear to be engaged in a fierce arms race, particularly in acquiring aircraft carriers.

China over a year ago put to sea its first aircraft carrier Lialong, a former Soviet Union ship launched 25 years ago rebuilt by China and has been sailing the Yellow Sea for over a year. Lialong has a flight deck 999ft long and a displacement of 55,000 tons in comparison to Vikrant’s 850 ft and 40,000 tons displacement.

Even though India’s military build up is considered by some analysts to be a ‘countervailing force’ to China, the latter’s concern is more of Japan and not India. With Japan there are bitter memories going back to World War II. In recent times there has been intense tension built up between both countries over the disputed islands of Senakaku (in Japanese), Diyayou (in Chinese) lying between China and Japan.

Japan this month launched a destroyer ‘Izumu’ which has characteristics similar to a conventional air carrier, designed to carry 14 helicopters but defence analysts have said could also be used as a platform for fighter jets. Japan under its own post war constitution is not permitted to have armed forces or offensive weapons and only for the purpose of defence.

The recent election of Shinto Abe as Prime Minister and his intention to amend article 9 of the constitution to change the pacifist constitution imposed on it has given rise to speculation in countries of the region of Japan’s militaristic intentions. But Japan is yet to forsake its pacifist constitution.

Defence or Offence

While most military analysts have speculated about power projections into the Asia-Pacific region by these new ‘naval powers’ although all of them profess only self-defence and peaceful intentions, some western analysts scoff off any possible immediate threat posed by them. The comments indicate western disdain for Orientals achieving success in technology, particularly military technology.

Forbes Journal in an online comment points out that the INS Vikrant is far from being functional. ‘It is in the water to the din of the traditional band and Sanskrit chants Christened by the wife of Deputy Minister A. K. Anthony when she broke a coconut on the bow but basically it is still awaiting a flight deck, bridge and much else’. China’s ability has not been subject to much criticism but Japan’s prowess on building commercial ships is pointed out and it could deter China in its confrontation with Japan, it is claimed.

China, Japan and India claim their naval build up at great cost is mainly for protection of its sea-lanes to bring in vital materials to sustain their economy. But national pride and not remain second-class behind the former colonial rulers must also be a prime motivating factor.

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