Army Chief General Manoj Pande has recently stressed the need to develop India’s gray area capabilities. Tomorrow’s wars will take place in multiple traditional and non-traditional domains. And China over the past decade has become an excellent practitioner of gray area warfare. Look, for example, at the merger between Chinese civilian and military naval assets. Just last month, we saw a so-called Chinese science vessel, the Yuan Wang 5, dock at the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka. In reality, it was a spy ship capable of tracking intercontinental missiles.
Similarly, China, which has the world’s largest navy, has deployed civilian trawlers and a maritime militia to assert its maritime claims in the South China Sea. This, despite the fact that the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 ruled against China’s so-called Nine Dash Line mapping innovation which claimed almost the entire South China Sea region. Hundreds of Chinese fishing vessels regularly show up on disputed island groups like the Spratleys. They even encroach on the traditional fishing zones and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of neighboring states. For example, in March 2021, 220 Chinese fishing vessels had intruded on the area of Whitsun Reef, which is part of the EEZ of the Philippines. Add to that China’s hybrid maritime bullying in the waters around Taiwan, especially after Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island in August.
General Pande is right to say that such civil-military maritime forces mean daunting strategic and tactical concerns for India. To counter this, India needs to seriously improve its coastal defense and sharpen its naval fleet. While the addition of the native carrier INS Vikrant was good news, we need a lot more high-tech ships and listening posts to counter the Chinese threat. Doing this is not easy. But not doing is not an option.
This article appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of the Times of India.
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