Taking advantage of its deployment purportedly for anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden, a nuclear-powered submarine of China's People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) now constantly lurks in the Arabian Sea, off the west coast on India.
The Indian Navy on its own and through intelligence gathered by friendly nations has found that the Pakistan navy's base at Karachi is often used by one of the submarines to replenish and provide rest to sailors, reports The Tribune.
During the whole of 2016, a submarine of PLAN has been noticed through satellite imagery whenever it surfaces. The vessel has been sighted in international waters, but the most recent sighting has been at Karachi. India estimates that the submarine also keeps tabs on the movement of Indian warships.
India has conducted specific sorties over the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea using the P8-I aircraft capable of spotting submarines lurking under the waters. In the past 18 months, PLAN has deployed a nuclear submarine accompanied by three warships as part of the anti-piracy task force on duty off the east coast of Africa. It is a four-month deployment. The vessels on their inward or outward journey stop in Colombo, Sri Lanka or at Karachi.
Submarines are the favoured platforms of naval commanders when tasked to launch attacks, deter enemies or for securing the vital sea lines of communication (SLOCs) - used by merchant ships carrying goods, crude oil, equipment and produce for trillion dollar economies like China or India.
The US has been vocal about the ''lack of transparency and intent'' on the part of China and the very fact that a submarine is deployed for anti-piracy operations, for which it is hardly suitable. Sources said ''it's hard for a maritime commander to understand how a submarine could support anti-piracy operations''.
The US Department of Defence, in its annual report to the Congress titled 'Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China 2016' says, ''China's Ministry of National Defense assured regional nations that the submarines deployed in the Indian Ocean were in support of China's counter-piracy patrols; however, the submarines were probably also conducting area familiarisation, and demonstrating an emerging capability both to protect China's SLOCs and to increase China's power projection into the Indian Ocean.''
It said the PLAN places a high priority on the modernisation of its submarine force.