India is beefing up its navy and looking to its neighbors to help curb China’s increased submarine activity in the Indian Ocean.
The move comes just months after a stand-off along the disputed border dividing India and China in the Himalayas.
Chinese submarines have shown up in Sri Lanka off India’s southern coast and Beijing has strengthened ties with the Indian Ocean country of Maldives, Reuters reported Wednesday.
Four-fifths of China’s oil imports pass through the Indian Ocean, highlighting its strategic importance to Beijing which is locked in escalating territorial disputes with its neighbors over certain islands in the South China Sea.
Beijing’s naval superiority has rattled the region.
“We should be worried the way we have run down our submarine fleet,” said Arun Prakash, former chief of the Indian navy.
“But with China bearing down on us, the way it is on the Himalayas, the South China Sea and now the Indian Ocean, we should be even more worried.”
However, Prakash said there are signs the Indian government has “woken up to the crisis”.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is speeding up tenders for six conventional diesel-electric submarines at an estimated cost of 500 billion rupees (US$8.1 billion).
In addition, it has ordered six similar submarines from French firm DCNS to replace a nearly 30-year-old fleet hit by a run of accidents.
The country’s first indigenously built nuclear submarine, loaded with nuclear-tipped missiles and headed for sea trials this month, joins the fleet in late 2016.
Meanwhile, India is in talks with Russia to lease a second nuclear-propelled submarine, navy officials told Reuters.
Elsewhere in the region, Australia is planning to buy up to 12 stealth submarines from Japan while Vietnam plans to acquire as many as four additional Kilo-class submarines to add to its current fleet of two.
Taiwan is seeking US technology to build up its own submarine fleet.
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