India is keeping a watchful eye on the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) amid reports that China has now also taken to deploying underwater drones apart from hydrographic survey and oceanic research ships in the region.
The concern in the Indian security establishment is that while such surveys are undertaken for deep-sea mining and other commercial activities, they are also critical for submarine and anti-submarine warfare operations.
International business magazine Forbes on Sunday reported China had deployed adozen “Sea Wing” underwater drones from specialist research vessel Xiangyanghong 06 in the IOR in mid-December before recovering them last month.
These long-range Sea Wing gliders, which can operate for months on end, made “more than 3,400 observations” for the winter survey of the “joint ocean and ecology research project” run by the Chinese ministry of natural resources.
The Forbes report said though the Chinese underwater drones were ostensibly gathering oceanographic data, transmitting information back to their mother ship via tail aerials, such data is commonly gathered for naval intelligence and submarine warfare operations. Indian Navy sources on Monday said they “could not vouch for the authenticity” of the Forbes report.
But the Navy continues to “constantly track” the presence of Chinese research vessels in the IOR through “multiple platforms” ranging from the P-8I long-range maritime patrol aircraft to warships on mission-based deployments.