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India strengthens deployment in Arabian Sea to demonstrate naval power

Indian Navy:

After a series of attacks on ships, the Indian Navy increased the number of warships deployed in the Arabian Sea. In recent days, the Indian Navy has widely shared dramatic footage of its commandos chasing pirates in the Arabian Sea. Analysts say India has “significantly” expanded its maritime power and reflected its global ambitions.

Bloomberg reported that in response to the threat of piracy in the Arabian Sea, India will continue to increase the number of warships deployed in the Arabian Sea, which will be several times higher than last year.

India’s expanded deployment in the Arabian Sea is important given the geopolitical context and active utilization of naval assets, said Uday Bhaskar, head of the Indian think tank Society for Policy Studies and a former naval admiral. The widely circulated video also shows that India can “establish a reliable naval presence in a short period of time and when needed.”

In fact, India’s rival China has already expanded its maritime sphere of influence, and the two sides are competing for influence in the Indian Ocean.

In recent years, China has conducted infrastructure deals with countries around the Indian Ocean, including Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Bangladesh, and Djibouti, through the Belt and Road Initiative. In 2017, China opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti, causing concern in India.

DK Sharma, a retired former Indian Navy spokesman who is currently a defense adviser, said that the deployment was only against “lawless elements who used the Israel-Kazakhstan war to attack shipping” and had no ambition to declare the ocean as India’s ocean.

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But Sharma also believes Beijing has noticed that India’s quick response forced the pirates to “scuttle like rats.” “China can look at this the way they want to,” he said.

Don McLain Gill of De La Salle University in the Philippines said, “As India continues to rise in the international power hierarchy, it hopes to establish itself as a leading and responsible power.” The naval deployment is part of its “playing a more active role.”

‘Maintaining a deterrent presence’

India’s combat operations against piracy are not uncommon. Since the surge in piracy in 2008, the Indian Navy has been combating pirates from the Indian coast to the Gulf of Aden.

However, the Indian Navy has deployed a much larger force since December, including three guided missile destroyers and P-8I reconnaissance aircraft, in order to “maintain a deterrent presence” after a series of maritime attacks.

Two weeks ago, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said at the launching ceremony of India’s latest warship that is committed to ensuring the security of sea lanes in the Indian Ocean region to maintain maritime trade.

“India plays the role of a security provider in the entire Indian Ocean region. We will ensure maritime trade in the region, from the sea to the heights of the sky,” Singh said. Earlier, the Israeli-affiliated merchant ship MV Chem Pluto was hit off the coast.

Singh said that the Indian government takes the attack very seriously, has stepped up maritime patrols, and will find out those behind the attack and take stern action against them.

Still, India, which has close trade ties with Iran, has been reluctant to formally join a U.S.-led multinational naval coalition to fight Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the Red Sea.

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The Houthis have launched dozens of attacks on Israeli ships in the Red Sea, saying they were in solidarity with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

On Thursday (January 11), the United States and Britain launched large-scale attacks on more than a dozen targets of the Houthi armed forces. The United States and nine allies said in a statement that their goal was to stabilize the vital waterway and protect the free flow of commerce.

On the other hand, with the transfer of international naval power to the Red Sea, the first case of Somali pirates successfully hijacking a merchant ship in 2017 occurred last month, and India is worried about the impact on trade.

Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Hari Kumar said on Wednesday that India was taking “very proactive action” to ensure that pirates “do not venture into the Indian Ocean region.”

About the Indian Navy:

The Indian Navy, a vital component of the Indian Armed Forces, operates under the supreme command of the President of India. Led by the Chief of Naval Staff, a four-star admiral, the navy functions as a blue-water force, actively engaging in regions such as the Persian Gulf, the Horn of Africa, and the Strait of Malacca and conducting anti-piracy operations. Additionally, it participates in extended deployments in the South and East China Seas, along with the western Mediterranean, simultaneously.

The core mission of the navy is to safeguard the nation’s maritime borders, working collaboratively with other branches of the Armed Forces to deter or overcome threats to India’s territory, people, or maritime interests. This commitment extends to both wartime and peacetime scenarios. Through joint exercises, goodwill visits, and humanitarian missions, including disaster relief efforts, the Indian Navy plays a crucial role in fostering bilateral relations between nations.

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As of June 2019, the Indian Navy boasts 67,252 active personnel and 75,000 reserves, supported by a formidable fleet comprising 150 ships and submarines, along with 300 aircraft. Notably, the operational fleet, as of September 2022, includes two active aircraft carriers, one amphibious transport dock, eight landing ship tanks, twelve destroyers, twelve frigates, two ballistic missile submarines, sixteen conventionally-powered attack submarines, eighteen corvettes, one mine countermeasure vessel, four fleet tankers, and various auxiliary vessels, small patrol boats, and advanced ships. Renowned for its multi-regional power projection capabilities, the Navy continues to be a prominent force in blue-water naval operations.

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