China's Military Power Projection - a View from India

Posted in China , India | 14-May-08 | Author: Neha Kumar

"It is high time that India, Japan and the United States come together and take the necessary steps to avert…
"It is high time that India, Japan and the United States come together and take the necessary steps to avert China’s threat."
China has announced an increase of 17.6 percent in its military budget. According to the International Herald Tribune, the increase in China’s budget will amount to US $58.8 billion. China has maintained that the increased military budget is set to meet the growing needs of living expenses and pensions of the 2.3 million People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) civilian personnel, soldiers and retired soldiers and officers. However, the international community views it as another move by China to strengthen and modernize its defense forces. China’s anti-satellite weapon test (ASAT) in January 2007, the acquisition of SU-30 fighter bombs and air-to-air refueling capacity, the drive towards acquiring reentry vehicle technology to equip China with Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) with a Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) and China’s growing dominance in the South China Sea have confirmed this fact. The recent photographs of China’s Jin class nuclear submarine at Sanya on Hainan Island have certified that China is developing its military forces at a higher pace. China has already established its rule over Tibet and now has its eyes on neighboring states like Taiwan and Arunchal Pradesh (India). The military developments and modernization of China will challenge American power in the region and make it easier for China to achieve its political intentions. However, the US is still more technologically advanced than China. On the other hand, India lacks the technological capabilities to deal with the Chinese threat. There have been attempts by China to encircle India by both land and naval means. As a result, India is alarmed by the military developments in China.

Latest development

China is in the news again due to satellite images that show the deployment of China’s new Jin-class nuclear submarine at Sanya on Hainan Island in the South China Sea. The Jin-class nuclear submarine is capable of carrying 12 nuclear-tipped JL-2 (also called asDF-31) ballistic missiles that have a range of 8000 km. Another concern is that the underground submarine facility could hide the movement of submarines from spy satellites, thus providing a strategic advantage to China during war. China has managed to develop massive tunnel entrances that are approximately 60ft high. According to military experts, these tunnels are capable of hiding 20 nuclear submarines from spy satellites. The submarine is based in Hainan, which will give the submarines access to very deep water exceeding 5000 meters within a few miles, making them even harder to detect.

"Another concern is that this underground submarine facility could hide the movement of submarines from the spy satellites"

Implications of China’s nuclear submarine

This development has international implications. Naval Chief Admiral Suresh Mehta said: “It is not the nuclear submarine bases that matter, we are concerned about the number of nuclear submarines that are being built in our neighborhood.” On the other hand, Christian Le Mière, editor of Jane’s Intelligence Review, said: “This is a challenge to any hegemonic power, particularly the US which still remains dominant in the region.” The US believes that China is preparing to deter the US from any kind of intervention in Taiwan as the US would not like to risk its own aircraft carriers to torpedoes or submarine-launched ballistic missiles for the sake of Taiwan. The US will not risk its own military people for the sake of a country where it does not have any direct strategic interests. This development is a crucial element that can affect the three access points of the Indian Ocean/South China Sea region, via the straits of Singapore, Malacca, Sunda and Lombok, through which all international shipping must continue to pass without any major risk.

India is alarmed by this development because China’s nuclear submarine is barely 1200 nautical miles from the Malacca Strait in which India has direct economic and strategic interests. Also, naval domination would permit Chinese submarines and surface units to foray to the Indian Ocean. This is of great concern to India because of the Andaman Islands, which are only 2000 km away. The Malacca Strait is a narrow stretch of water between Peninsular Malaysia and the Indonesian Island of Sumatra. The Malacca Strait is important for China, India and the US for economic reasons. 40 percent of India’s trade passes through the Malacca Strait. Therefore, it is very important for India to safeguard the security and safety of ships passing through this body of water. Vijay Sakuja, Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation said that mercantile traffic transiting the Malacca Strait passes close to Indian areas of maritime interest and therefore any development in this area has security implications for India. Similarly, China is also heavily dependent on the Malacca Strait because 60 percent of its crude oil imports pass through it. Oil from the Persian Gulf and Africa is shipped to the People’s Republic of China via the Malacca or Lombok/Makkasar Straits. Over the past few years, Chinese leaders have come to view the straits, especially the Malacca Strait, as a strategic vulnerability. Therefore, both India and China seek strategic domination in the Strait of Malacca. Presence of a Chinese nuclear submarine near the Strait of Malacca is of great concern to India’s economic interests because it would give China the capability to cut off the Malacca Strait and South China Sea for commercial traffic in the event of any crisis between India and China.

Chinese advanced missiles and space capabilities threat

This is only one part of the story. China is working on all three sectors of defense: Land, air and navy. Chinese IRBMs and MRBMs could reach the most distant corners of India. Chinese missiles like DF-2, DF-3, DF-4 and possibly DF-5 are deployed in Tibet, Datong and Kunming. These missiles could target India’s land easily. The opening of Tibet’s railways also poses a threat to India because it enables China to easily transport shorter range missiles to the Indian boarder should there be a conflict. China is busy in missile modernization as a response to the US Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) program. The country is also working to replace its liquid fuel ballistic missiles with solid fuel ones. Solid fuel ballistic missiles have greater advantage over liquid fuel missiles as they are more accurate and easy and quick to launch. It has carried out tests of advanced versions of DF-31 and DF-31A, which have a range of approximately 12 000km. China has MIRVs that have the capability to hold 3 warheads each. In addition, China is producing short-range missiles that are comparable to Agni and is deploying them in Tibet, facing India. China considers this missile to be a conventional one whereas India treats it as a nuclear one. As a result, the conventional balance is shifting in favor of China. Similarly, China’s missile and nuclear modernization program will give it a survivable second strike capability which could pose a threat to the US. China is also trying to develop countermeasure technology so as to penetrate and defeat the US BMD program.

"China DF-5 ICBM: These missiles could target India heartland easily"
"China DF-5 ICBM: These missiles could target India heartland easily"
China is also trying to develop space capacities. China carried out an ASAT test in January 2007. The country has demonstrated the capability to get an asymmetric advantage against superpowers like the US and also a symmetric (or conventional) advantage against Asian rivals like Japan, India etc. Since China cannot match the US in terms of numbers and technology, its policy is to develop asymmetrical space warfare advantages. China may utilize jamming technology and laser technology to jam India's satellites. The ASAT test can be expected to pose a challenge to India's C4ISR architecture.

Pakistan as a trusted alliance of China could also benefit from Chinese space technology and this has strategic implications for India. China and Pakistan are developing strategies that are dangerous for the Indian region. Apart from missiles and nuclear help to Pakistan, China has also participated with Pakistan in building the Gwadar seaport. The Gwadar project is important to China because of its implications on energy imports. However, India views this as an attempt by China and Pakistan to encircle it from all sides. China’s massive military buildup is combined with a continued claim on India’s territory, that is, Arunchal Pradesh and Sikkim.

Does India have minimum credible deterrence against China?

It has become a necessity for India to strengthen its deterrence and to divert scarce economic resources to missile and nuclear development. With the revelation of China secret nuclear submarine development, the Indian government announced that it would test the Agni III in May 2008. Agni III is the only strategic missile that could target the main cities of China. It was successfully tested on April 12, 2007. It has a range of more than 3000 km and can carry nuclear warheads of 1.5 tons. However, this missile is not yet inducted into India’s defense forces. India is also years away from developing and inducting nuclear submarines and sea-based ballistic missiles. At present, India has two programs related to nuclear submarines: The Akula class submarines from Russia and the indigenous program of Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV). After the Kargil War, former Prime Minister Sh Vajpayee held talks with the Russian government about acquiring Akula class submarines on lease. A deal was signed between Russia and India in 2004 and Russia agreed to provide Akula on lease. It was decided that India would finance the construction of an unfinished Russian nuclear submarine and then lease it for 10 years. The deal to acquire an Akula II on lease from Russia was signed in 2007. It was agreed that the Indian Navy would commission the INS Chakra, a 12 000-ton Akula II class nuclear powered attack submarine from the far eastern Russian port of Vladivostok. But apprehensions about the quality of the submarines to be leased from Russia do remain.

"Akula class submarine on lease from Russia:China's submarine nuclear submarine force is barely 1,200 nautical miles from Malaca street in…
"Akula class submarine on lease from Russia:China's submarine nuclear submarine force is barely 1,200 nautical miles from Malaca street in which India has direct economic and strategic interests."
India has also been trying to develop its own nuclear submarine known as the ATV since 1974. It is believed that the ATV would be capable of storing 12 ballistic missiles in four launch containers. Earlier, their was a delay in the project due to technical problems in designing and fitting PWR and its containment vessel in the submarine hull. Indian scientists have managed to integrate an 80MW nuclear reactor into the submarine, and there has been considerable progress ever since. Larsen and Turbo (L&T) has begun construction of the hull of a second ATV at its facility in Hazira and hopefully will be integrated by 2012. Nevertheless, there are still many technical challenges faced by this project. For example, there is a technological problem in building a containment vessel. An 80MW nuclear reactor is of small capacity and needs to function near peak power all the time and the reactor needs constant fuelling, which is very expensive and difficult to sustain. The sea-based missiles like Brahmos, Sagarika and Dhanush have a limited range which necessitates closing in with the target. This would make these missiles vulnerable to anti-submarine warfare.

This shows that India lacks the capacity to deal with future Chinese threats. If India wants to avoid this strategic gap with China it has to take some drastic steps to revamp the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) to develop its nuclear submarines and ballistic missile programs quickly. India has already taken 15 years for the ATV program, and it is still not ready. It’s only with the development of nuclear submarines and sea-based missiles that India could achieve deterrence against China. To reinforce the argument, paragraph 3.1 of India’s Draft Nuclear Doctrine states that “Indian nuclear forces will be effective, enduring, diverse, flexible and responsive to the requirements in accordance with the concept of credible minimum deterrence. These forces will be based on triad of aircrafts, mobile land based missiles and sea-based assets.” Therefore, it is very important for India to develop nuclear submarines and sea-based ballistic missiles. It is high time for India to pay attention to maritime security which has been neglected for years. However, in my opinion, India, with its present limited resources will not be able to match the threat from China.


Clearly China is threatening the global military balance. On the international front, Russia has a soft corner for China. China is gaining in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, including Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. China is well aware that it should weaken the interest of the US in Taiwan where it might be successful by making itself militarily very strong. India is technologically inferior to China and the US is technologically superior to China.

"Naval domination will permit China submarines and surface units to foray to the Indian Ocean"
"Naval domination will permit China submarines and surface units to foray to the Indian Ocean"
China’s intention to become a superpower in Asia has long-term implications. If we analyze the situation, we will find that the various steps that China has taken are designed to weaken India and the US. Firstly, it wants to threaten other countries not only through its military preparedness, but it also wants to block their economic progress by dominating sea-trading activities. This will not only always create an atmosphere of cold war and arms race but also it will worsen the economic situation of the effected countries. The third dimension is also forgotten by the experts. Keeping a large number of submarines and nuclear arms results in inviting other countries to follow suit and will necessarily harm the environment. It is therefore essential that strong and quick steps are taken to avoid such a chaotic and dangerous situation.


  • It is high time that India, Japan and the United States come together and take the necessary steps to avert China’s threat. These countries should carry out joint defense exercises and should share military technology for the benefit of each other.

  • On the diplomatic front, the US and India should develop a strategic policy for building a strong alliance with countries like Japan, South Korea and Australia. Russia should also be taken into confidence for diplomatic alliance.

  • It is needless to mention here that diplomatic measures should also include a strong alliance between the countries for economic partnership. The economic steps will also involve spreading the economic wings and helping all underdeveloped countries like Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. We should not forget that the Chinese policy is to first control the market of the country and break its economic strength for making any negotiations in its favor, including defense deals.

To conclude, the US, India and Japan have to combine their joint efforts not only on the military front but also at the diplomatic and economic levels in the region to counterbalance the Chinese immediate real threat. Therefore, it will be in the interest of the US, India and Japan, being the largest democratic states with the same ideologies, to improve their relations not only on the diplomatic front but also create an atmosphere of economic and military cooperation.