Following much speculation, India has postponed its missile test launch, originally scheduled for November 10-11 in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The new launch window is now November 23 and 24. Various journalists and defense analysts held the presence of the Chinese “research vessel” Yuan Wang 6 responsible for the delay.
The Yuan Wang class of ships are known for their powerful satellite and missile tracking and surveillance capabilities. The People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force (PLASSF), the branch of the Chinese military responsible for space, cyber and electronic warfare, operates these vessels. Although classified as non-military research vessels, China uses Yuan Wang vessels for espionage purposes.
Indian national media quickly picked up social media updates on the ship’s movement to the Bay of Bengal, and the news spread like wildfire. Many from defense analysts to senior Indian establishment figures feared that China could use the Yuan Wang 6 to gain vital information about Indian missile capabilities, such as trajectory, speed, range and range. precision. The Indian security establishment later postponed the test of the missile.
The whole episode raises important questions, with implications for India’s maritime strategy and its signaling to China and regional partners.
First, it highlights India’s paranoia and, to some extent, an erroneous assessment of the Chinese maritime threat. China has the ability to track the missile even without sending the Yuan Wang 6. Not only are these ships repeatedly deployed by China in the event of a major foreign launch announcement, but other countries are doing the same. India itself also has a vessel called INS Dhruva for such tracking and monitoring purposes.
Second, the reason for the postponement of the test launch could be either India’s lack of confidence in its capabilities or a lack of capabilities themselves to conduct the test safely. Whatever the reason, both would bolster China’s resolve and confidence in carrying out similar operations in the IOR. For China, in the region where India sees itself as the “net security provider”, even a low-cost, low-risk operation like this can disrupt its strategic business.
Third, the Indian reaction provides a reality check to the growing rhetoric of “India coming onto the world stage” and “India as a great power”. In both incidents related to the Yuan Wang vessel – this one and an earlier incident involving the docking of the Yuan Wang 5 in Sri Lanka – India has projected the image of a chronically insecure power that lacks patience, confidence and strategy to deal with China’s growing maritime presence. in its vicinity.
Fourth, the event reflects New Delhi’s continued continental mentality in thinking about threats and associated security definitions. The Chinese vessel is well within the scope of international maritime law to operate inside the IOR. The act provides the vessel with unhindered access to the waters it is currently in and even to India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). However, New Delhi appears to have applied the territorial definition of border transgression to the IOR, treating the presence of the Yuan Wang 6 as a violation of its sovereign maritime space. A similar mindset created an unpleasant incident between the US and India when the US Navy conducted a Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) in India’s EEZ near the Lakshadweep Islands.
For India, these episodes also have international reputation costs associated with them. On the one hand, India’s credentials as a strong security partner in the Indo-Pacific region are weakening. On the other hand, it negatively affects India’s reputation as a strong follower of international law. For regional partners such as Australia, Japan and Vietnam, these two aspects carry weight in the bilateral relationship. Moreover, in the absence of an objective and unbiased examination by the Indian media, such knee-jerk reactions leave the domestic public puzzled as to India’s strategy and operational readiness to control an increasingly China. more assertive.
It is possible that the postponement of the missile test is unrelated to the movement of the Chinese spy ship. During the weekly press conference, the spokesperson for India’s External Affairs Ministry did not associate the two and declined to comment in detail on a security issue. If so, the exaggeration of the incidents of the two spy ships and the postponement of the test may remind India, the United States and other Western partners that while the Eastern European theater can being of immediate concern is the Indo-Pacific where the future danger lies.
In any case, India must come to terms with the new strategic reality of increasing Chinese footprints in the IOR. During the new launch window, Yuan Wang 5 and Yuan Wang 6 could be Operating near the declared no-fly zone. India cannot avoid Chinese spy ships and satellites in the region, and they should not affect India’s strategic activities in this maritime space. Indeed, India must adopt a pragmatic strategy to verify the same, keeping in mind the ways, means and ends. Threat inflation and deflation are issues that impact the meaningful assessment of adversary capabilities. Reactionary and immature tactical responses can be useful in the short term, but the absence of a strategy will have significant long-term security and audience costs.