India-China Maritime Race and Its Potential Implications

Throughout history, military technology has played an important role in shaping warfare and states behavior towards each other as they looked to exploit technological advancements and innovations to make progress in war zones. Likewise, it would be easy to understand the phenomenon by looking into the history of wars, the use of chemical weapons in WW1 eventually led to the prohibition of chemical gasses in wars, similarly, use of atomic weapons in WW2 resulted in the ban on the proliferation of Nuclear weapons. The warfare debates have shifted towards the emergence of new warfare technologies such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Artificial Intelligence (AI), cyberspace and ASAT. Each of these technologies is significant when looked deeper into its uses and disruptive capabilities but Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are taking the lead in many nations due to its advantages but at the same time, disruptive characteristics. 

“Sea power is inseparable from national greatness, whoever conquers the Indian Ocean will dominate the whole of Asia “- Alfred Thyer Mahan, Former US Navy officer and Historian

Indian Ocean holds some of very significant points of global trade, namely the Strait of Malacca, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Strait of Bab al Mandeb. If any of these points is choked by any state, the whole world trade can be disrupted. Consequently, the Indian Ocean is a trade hub of geopolitical, geo-economics and geostrategically important points. India, after military confrontation with China at Ladakh, is increasing its maritime power to compete with China. China is working to enhance its maritime power by accessing the world as 80 percent of Chinese Oil passes through the Indian Ocean and Strait of Malacca, whereas 95 percent of Chinese trade with Middle East and African countries also passes through the Indian Ocean. While India is increasing its Naval capabilities in order to increase its maritime influence over the Indian Ocean, India on the other hand, is also working on land trade routes to compete with China’s One Belt and One Road initiative. India is also making alliances like ‘QUAD’ and ‘AUKUS’ to counter China from the Indian Ocean and Pacific fronts. Furthermore, India is investing in Iran’s ‘Chabhar Port’ to compete in the ‘China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’ CPEC.

India has served 490 crores rupees to purchase a counter-drone system to increase its maritime defense capability in the name of countering threats coming from China and Pakistan. The Indian Navy has ordered the Naval Anti Drone System (NADS), which was created by the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and produced by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), and is currently being placed on board its surface warships. This is the first anti-drone system that the Indian Armed Forces have integrated on their own, and it offers an efficient inclusive counter-defense to the growing drone threat to vital naval stations. The NADS can identify and jam micro drones and employ a laser-based kill mechanism to destroy targets. It has features with both hard kill and soft kill capabilities. The micro-drones are detected and jammed by the system using radar, electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors, and RF (radio frequency) detectors. The signals are then blocked when the RF/GNSS (global navigation system) determines the frequency that the controller is using.

According to the Indian Ministry of Defence, the counter-drone technology will eliminate targets by employing a kill mechanism based on laser beams, “It will be a successful all-encompassing response to the growing drone threat to important naval installations”. Drone technology developed under the “Atmanibhar Bharat Initiative” is aimed to tackle fast-emerging aerial threats. It would have the capability to detect, intercept, and destroy aerial vehicles. The system has been already deployed to provide security to the Republic Day’s parade, on the address of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. By acquiring the NADS, it will not only increase the Indian strategic installation but also enable their first-strike capability, reflecting the Indian aspirations to become a regional hegemon.

One can analyze the situation by looking into the history when India justified its Nuclear Weapons System (NWS) by citing “security” as the main reason. By using Scott Sagan’s proliferation puzzle to understand the Indian NW program, one can say that security was not the main driver in the Indian case of NW proliferation. Similar to NWs, Indian authorities’ claims that NADS would counter security threats from Pakistan and China is vague. Pakistan and China have no record of direct maritime confrontation with India, although, there are a number of occasions where Indian navy officers have been found guilty of lawless activities. Indian Navy has a poor record of working with other countries’ intelligence agencies, likewise, in 2022, Indian Navy officers were caught spying at Qatar’s secret submarine and another officer was caught in Pakistan for conducting disruptive activities. Development of such technologies by the Indian Navy would be a better option than sending spies to other countries.

By acquiring the NADS technology, India once again is disrupting the ‘balance of power’ in South Asia because the acquisition of nuclear weapons by both India and Pakistan had created a ‘stability-instability paradox’. On the maritime front, the Pakistan navy has maintained its strong arsenal and proficient system, an example can be traced back to 2021 when the Pakistan Navy detected and blocked an Indian submarine from entering Pakistani waters. While, it comes to competition with China, India is unlikely to surpass China in terms of maritime technology.