India’s maneuvering is taking place at sea, both literally and figuratively. Sea Vigil 21, a biennial naval exercise starts today and will run through the next forty-eight hours. The scope of the exercise, in comparison to the one held in 2019, has expanded considerably. The exercise area for Sea Vigil 21 will include all 7500+ kilometers of India’s coastline and the Exclusive Economic Zone. Although mainly a coastal defense exercise aimed at securing India’s long and somewhat vulnerable shoreline, this year’s installment of Sea Vigil will act as a lead in to the major Indian Navy theater-level exercise TROPEX. The later exercise is the larger and more expansive one. Together, they will cover a transition from peacetime to war in the maritime areas, as well as the initial phases of operations at sea against an enemy force.
In recent years it has become evident that the IOR (Indian Ocean Region) is becoming more critical to Chinese geopolitical designs. China’s power in the IOR has expanded, and the same holds true for its footprint. The IOR provides crucial Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOCs) for many Asian nations as energy and trade corridors. Any vulnerabilities to them will bring on immediate effects for the economies of most Asian nations. China included. So, with this in mind the Chinese naval presence in the IOR has grown in the past few years. It is well to remember though, that in a time of crisis or conflict Chinese naval and air forces in the IOR might be more concerned with interdicting these SLOCs instead of keeping them secure.
For much of its history, India paid limited attention to the Indian Ocean. The absence of a maritime threat kept India’s naval focus locked on combating piracy and terrorism. Pakistan posed, and continues to pose a fairly limited naval threat. Concerns about China’s emerging power in the IOR have overtaken these issues. India’s strategic position in the IOR is being challenged by China. New Delhi has grown used to the Chinese military threat posed along its land border. The growing maritime threat is bringing on a new front to the Sino-Indian rivalry, as well as additional complications for India.
Sea Vigil 21, and TROPEX signal India’s acceptance of this new reality, as well as its determination to meet the challenge being posed in close proximity to its home waters head on.