India is giving INS Sindhuvir, a Kilo-class submarine in service with the Indian Navy since 1988, to Myanmar, the Ministry of External Affairs has said.
The submarine has been refurbished by Hindustan Shipyard Limited in Visakhapatnam. This has increased its service life by 10 to 15 years, which means it will be in service with the Myanmar Navy until the 2030s.
The decision to transfer the submarine, experts say, has been taken to counter China’s influence in Myanmar and its growing naval presence in the Indian Ocean region.
In 2017, China sold two Ming-class submarines to Bangladesh in a $200 million deal. This has made the Bangladesh Navy dependent on China for maintenance of its naval assets, its weapons and future upgrades.
Since then, the Bangladesh Navy has taken delivery of many naval vessels from China and has signed contracts for a few more.
Its increased dependence on China for its defence needs can be understood from the fact that a Chinese state-owned firm has been contracted to build Bangladesh Navy’s submarine base at Cox’s Bazaar. Its dependence on China has grown to a point where Chinese personnel will be “supervising the construction and providing the designs” for the warships being built in Bangladesh.
Put simply, Bangladesh Navy’s dependence on China for equipment and weapons has created scope for Chinese presence in waters close to critical Indian Naval installations on India’s east coast and not far from an under-development base for India’s nuclear submarine fleet (called INS Varsha) coming up near Visakhapatnam.
The use of the Bangladesh Navy’s upcoming submarine base by Chinese ships and submarines for replenishment and refuelling can’t be ruled out.
In 2016, just weeks after a Bangladesh government official said the country has no plans to host Chinese naval ships at its ports and bases, two Chinese guided-missile frigates and a supply ship docked at Chittagong. Bangladesh Navy regularly holds drills with the Chinese Navy in the Bay of Bengal.
If India hadn’t agreed to help Myanmar meet its naval requirements, it could have taken the route Bangladesh took — an adverse scenario for the Indian Navy as it would have meant an even greater Chinese presence in the Bay of Bengal.
India and China have been competing for influence in Myanmar. Both countries are part of major port projects in the Buddhist country.
To counter China’s influence, India has been supplying military equipment to Myanmar. In 2017, India supplied lightweight torpedoes to the Myanmar Navy, paid for through a line of credit given to Myanmar by India.
Earlier this month, Indian Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane and Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla visited Myanmar.
During the visit, India agreed to supply more military equipment to Myanmar, including artillery guns, ammunition for T-72 tanks, sonars and torpedoes.
Greater Chinese influence in Myanmar could not only create trouble for India in the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean but also in the North East.
Many rebel groups operating in the North East have their bases in Myanmar, and Myanmar’s security forces have been cooperating with India to eliminate these bases. But growth in Chinese influence in Naypyitaw would give Beijing the option to limit this cooperation between India and Myanmar.