By Vladimir Terehov
In the complicated geopolitical game unfolding currently in the “expanded” Asia-Pacific region, the primary focus is on Eastern Asia, which is quite reasonable. Tensions have been escalating and now cover the entire subregion which includes the southern part of Asia mainland and the Indian Ocean.
A tendency towards the formation of two confronting partnerships – Japanese-Indian and Pakistani-Chinese – has emerged. What’s more, there are no doubts about the preferences of the leading world player (USA) with regard to the strategic standoff in the Indian Ocean.
NEO articles have repeatedly discussed various issues related to the creation of the first partnership. Speaking of the latter, the most important act lately was an official state visit of PRC President Xi Jinping to Pakistan in April 2015.
Two agreements stand out from the key outcomes of the visit. One of them envisages the construction of infrastructure and an energy corridor of USD 46 m which will connect Pakistan ports on the Arabian Sea coast with the western Chinese provinces, the other one – the delivery of eight diesel-electric submarines (DES) to Pakistan Naval Forces.
The second agreement closed the preliminary bilateral talks about the delivery of (initially six) Chinese DESs which had been ongoing since 2011. The agreement was finalized as a contract early in October. The deal is worth USD 4-5 m, which makes it the biggest contract signed by PRC for the supply of military equipment to international markets.
India paid special attention to the second agreement. It suggests that China will provide Pakistan with the newest Yuan Tipe-041 DESs which are equipped with modern anaerobic power units enabling the submarines stay undersea for two or three weeks. The core equipment of Yuan Tipe-041 will include air-to-ship missiles and new torpedoes.
These and other visible characteristics make it possible to state that subs of this class are an effective tool in the struggle for control over the ocean space.
The contract provides for the licensed production of vessels in Pakistan shipyards, where the construction of four subs out of eight is planned. There has been information about the possibility of continuing construction after the contract is fulfilled.
The bilateral military and technical cooperation of this kind between China and Pakistan was established long time ago. Its best known large-scale example until now is the joint development of JF-17 fighter and production thereof in the recent decade at plants owned by Pakistan aviation companies. In terms of key features, JF-17 is no worse than the Indian Tejas. The latter took 30 years to be developed; its mass production was planned to be launched only this year.
It is worth mentioning that recently there has been information about the potential supply of the newest Soryu DESs by Japan to the Indian Naval Forces.
It might turn out to be quite real, especially in view of the fact that the deal for production of Japanese flying Shin Maywa US-2 vessels is close to completion. In this way, along with the discussed Pakistan-China contract, there will be important evidence showing tangible outlines of the aforementioned tendency towards the formation of two confronting partnerships in the Indian Ocean.
In particular, execution of the supply contract of Chinese DESs to Pakistan Naval Forces will test the reality of a popular Indian meme saying that “ the Indian Ocean should be Indian” (that is, remain under control of the Indian Naval Forces).
This is favoured by the US which does not mind putting India (together with Japan) at the “frontline” of the China deterrence strategy in the scope of “offshore balancing”. This time it will be done in the Indian Ocean.
But the meme is now being tested for efficiency by the emerging “power” penetration from the side of PRC which strongly refuses to take notice of its meaning. The disagreement is gaining material support, including the aforementioned deal with Pakistan.
Pakistan Naval Forces currently hold five out-of-date French Agosta DESs which will be partially replaced with the new Chinese subs. Indian Naval Forces have 13 different DESs and a Chakra NPS (that is, a K-152 Nerpa leased out from Russia).
The Indian submarine fleet is now being updated with the technological basis made of French Scorpene DESs; the latter are constructed in Indian shipyards under license. As it was already mentioned above, Japan with its Soryu DES may join the process.
The contract for supply of the newest Chinese DESs to Pakistan and the licensed domestic production thereof make it possible to assume that key features of the discernible modernization of Pakistan Naval Forces may result in sharp weakening of the current superiority of the Indian Naval Forces over Pakistan.
In particular, it is worth mentioning the statement made by the Indian navy chief, Admiral Robin Dhovan shortly before Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan. The admiral said that his agency was “closely watching” all the events happening in the Indian Ocean.
Of course, the comparison of naval capacity of some countries should not be narrowed down to the evaluation of quality and quantity characteristics of the existing submarines; in fact, it is an issue for special consideration by military experts.
What we can say here is that the supply contract of Chinese DESs to Pakistan fits nicely into the phase of aggravation in the new global game (which has been discussed many times by NEO with the leading world powers as key participants.
In connection with this, the article headed “Sub sales no cause for worry in India” in the Chinese Global Times particularly stands out. Admittedly, what should be the reason to fret in a situation when mutual friendly visits at different levels are arranged regularly, trade is more or less in order and even joint military exercises take place?
But the illustrator’s special gift for making drawings for articles published by the Chinese semi-official newspaper did not fail. The procedure of the Pakistan-China deal is shown as a nice toy-like submarine being transferred from hand to hand over the head of an elephant – the symbol of India. The elephant looking up from under its eyebrows is extremely perturbed.
Finally, all the aforesaid provides the next reason to make a conclusion of the most general nature. Contrary to a popular thesis about “non-conventional challenges faced by humanity” and coming from the “ant hill” called “Greater Middle East”, the global-scale troubles creep in from totally different and relatively “structured” world locations. At that, they are doing so in quite a “conventional” manner and relatively unnoticed.