Key point: Preventing Indian access to vital sea lanes would be existential.
This week, the Indian-based news outlet, NDTV, cited unnamed Indian naval sources as saying that India’s Navy is worried by China’s increasingly frequent submarine deployments in the Indian Ocean.
In September 2013, China confirmed for the first time that a nuclear attack submarine would transit the Indian Ocean on its way to carry out the international anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden. This was followed by submarines docking in the Chinese-funded Colombo port of Sri Lanka twice last year.
The first docking, back in September 2014, was a Song-class diesel-electric attack submarine. However, seven weeks later a Type 091 Han-class nuclear-powered submarine surfaced in Sri Lanka. Around the same time, China reportedly informed India that a Type-093 Shang-class nuclear-powered attack submarine would begin patrolling in the Indian Ocean.
It is these nuclear-powered submarines that are particularly worrisome to the Indian Navy. As NDTV reports, “the deployment of the relatively advanced Shang Class nuclear fast attack boat, [is] a significant cause of concern at Naval Headquarters.”
Both India and China rely heavily on sea-borne commerce that transits the Indian Ocean on its way to Beijing and Delhi. For example, trade represents nearly 55 percent of India’s GDP, most of which is carried by sea. China is even more reliant on trade, which in recent years has comprised about 60 percent of China’s GDP. Roughly 85 percent of China’s trade is seaborne.