The Indian Navy and the marching Navy are the same

Throughout the Indo-Pacific, countries are building up their defenses. It is in response to China's massive expansion policy.

  • In the Indo-Pacific, the Chinese People's Liberation Army is surrounded by emerging competitors.
  • The countries of the Indo-Pacific region are able to protect themselves against Chinese aggression.
  • In response to China's policy of expansion, Japan, India and South Korea, among others, raised their attention.
  • This article is available for the first time in German - it was first published by the magazine on March 18, 2021Foreign Policy.

Beijing - For the past 20 years, China has got its way in almost every dispute with neighboring countries. With its advance in the Himalayas, Southeast Asia, the South China Sea, and the East China Sea, China has become the main threat in a wide arcuate area of ​​the Indo-Pacific. Beijing's defense spending is now more than six times what it was at the beginning of the millennium, according to independent estimates by the Stockholm International Peace Institute (SIPRI). Over the past twenty years, China has climbed from sixth place in the world to second in total defense spending - a spectacular increase.

Of course, this worries China's neighboring countries. And it goes without saying that these neighbors will now take action in response.

Protective wall against China's expansionism: People's Liberation Army in the Indo-Pacific surrounded by competitors

If China's closest neighbors are the potential partners that US President Joe Biden is so keen to work with, they are hardly countries that need US encouragement to increase its vigilance towards China. A look across China's borders shows that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is facing established and emerging military competitors on all sides. Even assuming rapprochement between Russia and China - a prospect that is always more imminent than actually happening - China faces challenges throughout the Indo-Pacific. The countries stretching from India in the southwest to Japan in the northeast would form an effective barrier against Chinese expansionism even without the express encouragement and support of the US.

The arched Indo-Pacific region is strongest at the ends and weakest at the center. Japan's Self-Defense Forces are highly regarded for technology and operational readiness. As a countermeasure to China's aircraft carrier construction program, Japan is converting two existing helicopter carriers into fixed-wing carriers. The Japanese aircraft carriers will be much smaller than the Chinese ones, but the fifth-generation F-35 stealth aircraft launched by Japanese aircraft carriers will have a much greater impact. In comparison, the PLA Navy's Shenyang J-15 is a less advanced fourth generation fighter aircraft that is facing serious technical problems.

Japan definitely has the resources and the technological know-how to cater for itself. At the other end of the Indo-Pacific region, India is often perceived as a relative weakling compared to China. Such assessments, however, are long out of date, if they were ever true. In 1962, China had conquered large parts of the Indian mountain region in a lightning-fast five-week war. But this victory had been the result of a surprise attack in peacetime against an unsuspecting friendly country. Since then, India has taken the old adage to heart: “Put me in there: Shame on you! Put me in twice: Shame on me! "

People's Republic of China: India has the upper hand on the Himalayan border - warfare at great heights

Despite China's massive military modernization, India is now likely to have the upper hand on the Himalayan border. For one thing, China's 1962 advances were deeply resented in India, but they moved the front line closer to India's supply bases and further away from China. What is less noticeable is that China's infrastructure improvements are juxtaposed with the mountain tunnels and all-weather roads built by India's Border Roads Organization (BRO). In a strategic area where logistics is everything, the tunnel construction of the BRO has enormously improved the ability of the Indian army to transport heavy equipment from lower-lying bases to the Indo-Chinese "Line of Actual Control" (LAC). Together with the extensive experience of fighting on glaciers and the harshness of the Indian Special Frontier Force (for which many Tibetans in exile were recruited), India has a compelling concept for warfare at great heights.

In addition, the Indian air forces have a major technical advantage over China's PLA: India's advanced air force bases are at an altitude of 3000 meters, which is very high, but not nearly as high as those of China. Unlike India, however, China has no low-altitude bases in the region. That makes a huge difference, as China's planes have to drop up to half of their missiles and fuel to take off in the very thin air of the Tibetan highlands. Coupled with the acquisition of top-of-the-line French Rafale fighter jets, the potential modernization of Russia's Sukhoi SU 30 squadrons, and the upcoming delivery of advanced Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems, the Indian Air Force could soon have absolute air superiority across the LAC. The multi-purpose fighter Tejas, developed by India itself, is just the icing on the cake.

Further east, China's 2,100-kilometer-long border with Myanmar is so unsafe that China - perhaps inspired by former US President Donald Trump - is building a 3-meter-high wall to seal it off. The takeover of power by the military in Myanmar, widely perceived in the West as useful to China, was indeed a setback: China was particularly close to Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy and now sees its position in the country through both the military and also threatened by the street protests. China has long been accused of supporting separatist rebels in Myanmar; the overthrow of the civilian government under the leadership of Suu Kyi by the military could have been an anti-China as well as an anti-democracy coup.

Vietnam, which like India was once the victim of a Chinese surprise attack, has had a bad relationship with its communist big brother since China's invasion in 1979. Vietnam's defense budget is relatively small today, but the country has focused its investments on coastal defense. Based on China's "Anti-Access / Area Denial" (A2 / AD) strategy of the early 2000s, the country invested heavily in anti-ship missiles and, according to ongoing rumors, is about to acquire the joint Russian-Indian BrahMos, a supersonic Ramjet cruise missile that is said to be the fastest weapon of its kind in the world. So as China moves from A2 / AD to power projection strategies in the South China Sea, Vietnam is developing its own A2 / AD capabilities to deprive the PLA Navy of the ability to operate in the area.

Indo-Pacific: Philippines squinting at the USA - Taiwan is another chess spot for China

The islands are the weak points in the Indo-Pacific. The Philippines, which under their capricious President Rodrigo Duterte tossed about a possible Chinese alliance, are a wild card. But after four years of sharp anti-US rhetoric, Duterte is facing mounting backlash from his largely pro-American public. The country's armed forces are also believed to favor close ties with the United States. Like its Vietnamese counterpart, the Philippine Navy is interested in purchasing BrahMos anti-ship missiles as part of a deal that is much closer to the conclusion than that between India and Vietnam. In another A2 / AD development, the only realistic target for these missiles would be the PLA's Chinese Navy operating in the South China Sea.

Taiwan is another weak point. The problem here is not a lack of determination - the repression in Hong Kong only strengthened Taiwanese opinion against China - but an unwillingness to make the necessary sacrifices. Taiwan's defense spending is only 1.7 percent of its gross domestic product - a very small proportion for a country that is constantly faced with the threat of invasion by its much larger neighbor. Although Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has planned a significant increase in the defense budget in 2021, the budget is still described as inadequate by US officials. Taiwan has announced the purchase of 66 reliable F-16 fighter aircraft but is in dire need of Harpoon anti-ship missiles and Patriot anti-aircraft missiles. The procurement programs for both are affected by budget constraints.

Finally, while the threat posed by the north is primarily at issue, South Korea has announced its own programs for aircraft carriers and jet fighters. Some commentators have labeled them national vanity projects. But they might as well be described as efforts to propel South Korea's already formidable defense industry into the information age. As aircraft fuselages and airframes become commodities, South Korea's most important domestic value-add for its fighter aircraft will be avionics such as aeronautics. B. be radar and guidance systems. The country's planned aircraft carrier will be equipped with US F-35 jets and South Korean electronic warfare.

China in the Indo-Pacific: People's Liberation Army confronts India, South Korea and Japan in the air

If you put it all together, there are the three aircraft carriers of the PLA Navy - one of which is an old Soviet fuselage, the second an improved copy of the first and the third an experimental Chinese design - two Japanese and one South Korean aircraft carriers equipped with F-35s , as well as two Indian aircraft carriers opposite. And that before the US Navy “supercarriers” stationed in Japan are included. In the air, China faces the consistently modern air forces of India, South Korea, and Japan, and faces growing A2 / AD threats from countries in between. Further afield, the Australian armed forces could potentially play a supportive role if Canberra has the political will to do so. Overall, there are still weak spots in the Indo-Pacific region, but the prognosis for China does not look good.

The overarching lesson from all of this is that the US doesn't need to keep the Indo-Pacific safe to keep the region “free and open” or even “resilient and inclusive”, as the four Quad Group leaders said at their summit last week decided. All Washington has to do is create a security framework into which other countries can contribute their own efforts. You could do this through the quad mechanism. Yet that would require the Quad group to focus on maritime security rather than climate change and the coronavirus. But even without a defense-oriented quad group, the countries of the Indo-Pacific region are quite capable of protecting themselves against Chinese aggression. The United States may provide tools, technology, and training, but China's neighbors can and should take the lead in keeping their own neighborhood safe.

by Salvatore Babones

Salvatore Babones is a columnist for Foreign Policy and Associate Researcher at the Center for Independent Studies, Sydney.Twitter: @sbabones

This article was first published in English on March 18, 2021 in the magazine “” - as part of a cooperation, it is now also available to readers of in to disposal.

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