China's Indian Ocean Military Base Can Now Accommodate Aircraft Carriers And Submarines, US Defence Department Report Says
China has operationalised a 450-meter pier at its Indian Ocean military base in Djibouti, US Defence Department's China Military Power Report released on 30 November has revealed.
In March this year, a FUCHI II class (Type 903A) supply ship Luomahu docked at the pier, indicating that it was operational.
The pier, the US Department of Defence report says, is likely capable of accommodating aircraft carriers and submarines operated by China's People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
"In late March 2022, a FUCHI II class (Type 903A) supply ship Luomahu docked at the 450-meter pier for resupply; the first such reported PLA Navy port call to the Djibouti support base, indicating that the pier is now operational," the Department of Defence report indicates.
"The pier likely is able to accommodate the PLA Navy's aircraft carriers, other large combatants, and submarines," the report adds.
As reported by Swarajya in April 2021, the new pier at China's base in Djibouti was completed sometime in 2020.
When asked about China's expanding naval presence in the Indian Ocean in 2020, then Indian Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh said the PLAN has been maintaining a "regular" presence in the region for over a decade now, and it was not surprising for the Indian Navy because "flag follows trade."
The PLAN's "intention is to replicate something of the Carrier Battle Groups that U.S. Navy has," he said, responding to a question on China deploying aircraft carriers, adding that the Chinese "have nearly all the components in place."
The Chinese base at Djibouti, its first foreign military base, is a fortress with wide perimeter walls, watchtowers, and underground quarters. It is located only a few kilometers from the US naval base in Djibouti — the Expeditionary Base at Camp Lemonnier.
The base was in the news in 2018, when the US accused China of pointing military-grade lasers at its aircraft near Djibouti.
"PLA personnel at the facility have interfered with US flights by lasing pilots and flying drones, and the PRC has sought to restrict Djiboutian sovereign airspace over the base," the report reiterates.
China's Growing Presence in Indian Ocean
The stated purpose of the Chinese base in Djibouti was to support PLAN’s anti-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden, which began in 2008. However, in recent years, anti-piracy missions have become a means for China to justify an expanding naval presence in the Indian Ocean. The base is now turning into a logistical hub critical for the PLAN to sustain this presence in the Indian Ocean.
China has consistently deployed some of its most modern warships for “anti-piracy” missions in the Indian Ocean, including its newest destroyers, and, interestingly, even submarines, which has led many in India and the US to question PLAN’s motives.
In East Africa, where the base is located, China has investments in at least 17 ports as part of President Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), giving it a robust presence in the western Indian Ocean.
Similarly, closer to India, China has invested in infrastructure, including ports in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Myanmar, and has taken over on lease the ones it has built in the first two. It is currently building a base in Cambodia, on the edge of eastern Indian Ocean, and the likelihood of another base on the eastern coast of Africa in the next five to 10 years can't be ruled out.
"Some of the PRC’s BRI projects could create potential military advantages, such as PLA access to selected foreign ports to pre-position the necessary logistics support to sustain naval deployments in waters as distant as the Indian Ocean," the Department of Defence report says.
Since 2013, the PLAN's forays have grown to include deployment of submarines. It was no surprise that a Yuan-class diesel electric boat of the PLAN was in the region at the peak of the standoff with India in Bhutan's Doklam in 2017. PLAN submarines, including nuclear-powered boats or SSNs, have docked in Pakistan and Sri Lanka in recent years.
At the same time, China has consistently deployed survey or research vessels capable of bathymetric studies — mapping the depth of the ocean floors, studying the ocean environment and collecting hydrological data.
In September 2019, India had spotted a Chinese research vessel in its exclusive economic zone around the islands, just west of Port Blair, operating without permission, and expelled it.
By investing in port infrastructure, building economic leverage and influence, deploying warships to the region and collecting bathymetric data, China is trying to put in place the pieces necessary for an increased PLAN presence in the Indian Ocean over the next decade.
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