India Deploys P-8I Aircraft At France's Reunion Island For Third Time In Three Years As China Increases Presence In Western Indian Ocean

Swarajya Staff

Nov 09, 2022, 02:35 PM | Updated 02:42 PM IST

Indian Navy’s P-8I Maritime Patrol Aircraft (Boeing India /Twitter)
Indian Navy’s P-8I Maritime Patrol Aircraft (Boeing India /Twitter)

The Indian Navy has deployed a P-8I maritime surveillance aircraft at France's La Réunion Island in the western Indian Ocean.

An Indian P-8I aircraft has been deployed to the island for the third time ifour years. A P-8I aircraft of the Indian Navy participated in a joint patrol with France from Réunion Island in 2020. In May this year, an Indian P-8I landed at the Réunion Island to undertake coordinated surveillance with French Navy warships deployed in the region.

The latest deployment, reported by the Times of India, comes just weeks after India completed its first-ever trilateral naval exercise with two east African countries, Tanzania and Mozambique.

The exercise took place off the east coast of Africa, in the western Indian Ocean, just days after the India-Africa Defence Dialogue in Gujarat's Gandhinagar on the sidelines of Defexpo 2022.

India's maritime security strategy lists the southwest Indian Ocean, including the Mozambique Channel (used by shipping transiting the Cape of Good Hope) and the east coast of Africa, where China has been investing heavily, as one of the primary areas of interest.

These exercises are part of a broader effort to strengthen defence ties with east African countries and the island nations in the Indian Ocean.

Countering Chinese Presence In Western IOR

Over the last few years, China has invested in at least 17 ports in east Africa, giving it a robust presence in the western Indian Ocean. In 2017, it also launched its first foreign military base, located on Africa's east coast in Djibouti. Experts believe that some of these facilities could be used by China for military purposes in the future, allowing the People's Liberation Army Navy to sustain naval deployments in the region.

China first started sending anti-piracy missions to the Indian Ocean in 2008. Since 2013, its presence has grown to include the deployment of submarines, including nuclear-powered ones. Moreover, recent developments at China's base in Djibouti suggest that the facility is being prepared to dock submarines and aircraft carriers.

India has positioned itself as a net security provider and first responder in the region. It has played a crucial humanitarian assistance/disaster relief role in the IOR, most recently during Cyclone Idai in Mozambique in March 2019 to Cyclone Diane in Madagascar in June 2020.

New Delhi also maintains close defence ties with all the island states in the region. It is currently building military infrastructure on Mauritius' Agalega Island in the western Indian Ocean, which is likely to be ready by June 2023.

The infrastructure, which includes a 3,000-meter-long runway, would allow India to maintain a greater military presence in the region to counter China. It will support India's maritime assets, including P-8Is, in the western Indian Ocean, particularly waters close to the eastern coast of Africa.

India already has access to military facilities of Japan, France, and the United States — all three have bases in the western Indian Ocean — under the logistics exchange agreements it has signed with these countries.

New Delhi is working with France, which has overseas territories in the western Indian Ocean, on security-related issues.

Navy's P-8I Submarine Hunting Aircraft

The Indian Navy was the first international customer of Boeing's P-8 aircraft. Twelve of these aircraft are already in service with the Indian Navy, with the latest one delivered in February this year.

The Indian Navy commissioned its second squadron of P-8I long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft earlier this year.

The Navy, reports say, plans to have a total of 22 of these aircraft in the next few years to keep an eye on Chinese activity in the Indian Ocean region, most notably its submarines.

The P-8Is come equipped with the AN/APY-10 radar, which its maker Raytheon describes as a "maritime, littoral and overland surveillance radar." In the synthetic aperture and inverse synthetic-aperture modes, the AN/APY-10 radar can penetrate through clouds and foliage to give detailed images of the surface below. Images produced by the radar give details such as the size of objects and structures on the surface, movement, and change.

Over the last few years, India has also deployed aircraft to track Chinese military deployments along the Line of Actual Control amid the ongoing standoff in eastern Ladakh.

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