Balakot action will change Pak behaviour, says navy chief

The Indian Air Force’s (IAF) air strike on a terror base in Balakot on February 26 has established a new military norm that will lead to a change in Pakistan’s behaviour towards India, India’s senior-most military commander asserted on Monday.

“The Balakot air strike, followed by the proactive forward deployment by the three services have changed the discourse and the dialogue [vis-à-vis Pakistan]. In my view, that’s the biggest change. It will bring a change in Pakistan’s behaviour,” said Indian Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba, who also holds the charge of chairman, chiefs of staff committee (COSC).

The strike on the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror camp was India’s response to the February 14 Pulwama suicide attack in which 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers were killed. Military tensions between India and Pakistan escalated following the strikes.

Pakistan Air Force fighters made a failed attempt to bomb Indian military installations on February 27, leading to an aerial engagement along the Line of Control during which an Indian combat jet was shot down and its pilot captured and briefly detained by Pakistan.

Soon after the Pulwama attack, the navy cut short a major exercise in the Indian Ocean region and swiftly redeployed its front-line assets to the north Arabian Sea for operations, even as the army and IAF were on high alert.

“The navy’s posturing was aimed to ensure that the adversary did not do anything. It worked,” Lanba said. The buildup consisting of an aircraft carrier, nuclear-powered attack submarines, and scores of front-line warships and maritime aircraft put the Pakistan Navy on the back foot, forcing it to remain deployed near the Makran coast and not venture out in the open ocean.

In a freewheeling conversation with Hindustan Times, Lanba spoke about the navy’s modernisation goals, China’s growing footprint in the Indian Ocean Region and enhancing jointmanship by the creation of theatre commands in the coming years. Jointmanship refers to the three services working towards a common tactical or strategic goal.

Lanba, who retires on May 31 after serving as chief for three years, said India was likely to hammer out a deal with the US government for 24 Lockheed Martin-Sikorsky MH-60 Romeo choppers later this year. The new multi-role helicopters, likely to cost nearly Rs 13,000 crore, will be the mainstay of the navy’s anti-submarine/anti-ship warfare and airborne early warning capabilities in the coming decades.

The navy is likely to induct the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier-I by 2021, the navy chief said. He also made a strong case for building the second Indigenous Aircraft Carrier or IAC-II, although the project would take more than a decade to materialise. INS Vikramaditya is the sole aircraft carrier the navy currently operates.

“There is a need for a third aircraft carrier so that two warships are always available to look after our expanding maritime interests that will only grow over time,” he said. According to the navy’s plans, the carrier is likely to have a displacement of 65,000 tonnes, conventional propulsion, and will deploy the electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) offered by the US.

Lanba said China was investing heavily to transform its navy into a blue-water force, building 10 to 12 ships on an average annually. “The Chinese navy is there to stay in the Indian Ocean region. They are not going away. But we have adequate force levels to look after our maritime interests,” he said.

The navy chief said the divisions created to manage special operations, cyber warfare and space operations could eventually be converted into theatre commands. Theaterisation refers to placing specific units of the army, the navy and the air force under a Theatre Commander. Such commands will come under the operational control of an officer from any of the three services, depending on the function assigned to that command.

The three services have agreed on a permanent chairman, COSC, what his role and responsibilities should be, and forwarded the proposal to the defence ministry. As of now, the chairmanship of the COSC rotates and the senior-most service chief holds the charge.

First Published:
May 28, 2019 07:15 IST

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