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US presence in South China Sea: Is China being encircled?

Wing Commander A.R. Giri (Retd.)

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USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan have sailed for the South China Sea (SCS), definitely a muscle-flexing manoeuvre by the United States. The Chinese, on their part, have not really been the silent bystander, conducting their own military exercises in the same area. The situation in SCS is ‘eyeball to eyeball’ between two major powers, with the smaller nation breathing relief at some long sought support against China.

Why is the Area so important?

SCS has traditionally been the point of contention between China and other countries who surround it. The main reason being rich mineral deposits which the controlling country would be exploiting. The area is said to have large reserves of oil and natural gas, two of the most sought after deposits in the world. Other than the deposits, the SCS has maritime trade routes which serve territorial countries around it. China for ages has laid claim to the sea and has even been seen to have usurping small islands and aggressively developing them, militarily. It is rumoured that China has also been able to build its first artificial island in the region. Given the fact that 80% of the Chinese energy imports pass through the SCS and so does 37% of its total global trade the area definitely assumes strategic importance for China.

What does the US presence mean?

China has been long eyeing the position of the second pole in a bipolar world. It has not hidden its desire to transform from “another oriental country” to a world economic superpower. The presence of the US navy in the region, that too with formidable firepower to cause some serious damage to the Dragon’s desire would not at all go down well with China. Nobody likes ‘Big Brother’ sitting right on your trade routes with potential to cause some serious damage. Predictably the Chinese military has started flexing their muscles and showing off their might. The PLAN has countered the two Carrier Battle Groups (CBG) of the US with two of their own. Their Chinese media, state controlled albeit, has gone onto an overdrive of a badly controlled Information Warfare campaign, something which it started post the Galwan fiasco with India. Tall claims of the Dragon’s might with questionable information and staged managed videos have been seen to surface on social media recently.

Comparison: who wins?

The US presence is in the form of its “Supercarriers” the Nimitz and Ronald Reagan and its associated groups of ships and submarines. The Nimitz is part of the US seventh fleet and houses about 60 to 80 aeroplanes – of the F 22 Raptor and F/A 18 Super Hornet class, the Reagan is similarly capable. Both the Carriers have their own flotilla known as the Carrier Battle Group (CBG) and the entire package offers some serious firepower, not to forget the eleven more of these that the US Navy can push in, if required. In comparison the PLAAN has two Carriers, the “Liaoning” capable of carrying a total of 36 airplanes including the J15 class of fighters and the “Shandong”, whose sea trials have just about finished. The Shandong would be fit to carry a complement of J15 fighters and helicopters, nothing more, not at present.

The recent claims by the state owned Chinese media about the DF 21 D and DF 26 aircraft carrier killers are yet to be proven. Both are ballistic missiles and are rumoured to have a range of 1,700-2,400 km, at these ranges the first problem the Chinese would face is pick up and pinpointing the target. It either has to be done from space or with a “over the horizon backscatter radar (OTH-B)”, the latter would be required to update the missile in its terminal stages, not a very accurate or feasible option. The PLAN is rumoured to have deployed a self-developed OTH-B radar for the SCS but the success of it is yet to be verified. The US CBGs would be a little bothered with these claims if true but still would hold their edge. Every CBG of the US has their own Base Missile Defence (BMD), a concept wherein the enemy ballistic missiles are shot before re-entry, either post launch or in space. The BMD is a proven umbrella and is worth every penny that was spent on its development.

What does It Mean for India?

With most of the world’s developed nations changing and voicing their dissent to the present Chinese antics, CoviD, Hong Kong, Galwan and SCS all inclusive, the scene for India couldn’t have been better. The Dragon is now being encircled and may be forced to relax its posture with India so as to focus on more emergent fronts. For the past few days India has been gaining positive vibes from most of the developed nations of the world. That speaks a lot about the governments’ maintenance of relations with these countries. The diplomatic elation, coupled with the squeeze on China from all sides, may actually deter China from exercising, uncalled for, aggression towards India. This gives us the much needed time to tighten our belts and be ready for the next round of antics by the PLA. China can ill afford to spark off an incident and go into a war, be it with the US or with India, war at this time would signal the death knell of the Chinese dream of economic supremacy and surely the Red Dragon wouldn’t want it.

Amit Ranjan Giri is a veteran of the IAF who retired as a Wing Commander. An erstwhile fighter pilot who has flown the MiG 27 and MiG 21 aircraft, Giri has served the IAF for 24 years. He has also been a Ministry of Defence PRO before retirement. At present, the Wing Commander flies for a commercial airline and writes on defence-related matters in his spare time.

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Defence

Two Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists killed in the J&K encounter

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Ansar Ghazwatul Hind (AGH), an Al-Qaeda-linked terror outfit in Kashmir, has suffered a major setback. In an encounter on the outskirts of Srinagar, security forces killed two more AGH terrorists.

The AGH terrorists were apprehended after the army and police received specific information about their presence.

During the exchange of fire, forces killed two local Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists from AGH. Both terrorists are Pulwama residents who have been involved in a number of terrorist attacks.

According to police, the terrorists were also involved in an attack on a migrant worker in Pulwama.

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Defence

N. Korea enacts law on preventive nuclear strikes, France calls “threat to peace”

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France criticised North Korea’s adoption of a law announcing its preparedness to launch preventive nuclear strikes on Friday, calling it a “threat to international and regional peace and security.”

The announcement from the foreign ministry came after North Korean state media earlier on Friday reported that Pyongyang had enacted a law authorising preventative strikes, including in the event of conventional attacks.

“This new escalation on the part of the North Korean authorities represents a threat to international and regional peace and security,” said a ministry spokeswoman.

France “notes with great concern the increasingly aggressive declarations from North Korea,” she added.

The decision by Pyongyang practically puts an end to the possibility of denuclearization talks after leader Kim Jong Un said that the nation’s nuclear status is now “irreversible.”

The announcement comes at a time when the North and South are experiencing greater conflict.

In addition to conducting a record number of weapons tests this year, Pyongyang has blamed the COVID-19 outbreak in its territory on Seoul.

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Defence

China has successfully tested its first solar-powered drone capable of acting as a satellite

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A Chinese government official informed in a tweet that China has successfully tested its first fully solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), named Qimingxing-50, which can fly for months and can function even as a satellite if required.

What is the significance of this test flight?

The Qimingxing-50, with a wingspan of 50 m, is a high-altitude long-endurance drone that is capable of high-altitude aerial reconnaissance, assessing forest fire and can also be used for communications.

This technology will bolster Chinese defences in space and at sea. It can be used in the fields of renewable energy, new materials, and aeronautical engineering. The Chinese official also asserted that this test flight is an important step towards sustainable development.

Use of the UAV as a satellite:

The UAV, whose name translates as “Morning Star-50” in English, is claimed to be capable of functioning uninterrupted for months. This capability of having a long-endurance flight gives it a use case of operating as a satellite.

Like satellites, it is fully electric-driven, powered by solar energy and can operate at 20 km above the Earth’s surface for an extended period of time continuously. It is also referred to as a “High Altitude Platform Station” or a “pseudo-satellite.”

It can be used when there is unavailability or disruption in satellite services. The report says that compared to the cost and complexity of installing a satellite in orbit, this UAV is much more cost-effective and easy to operate.

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Defence

Strict security measures have been taken at the Central Vista ahead of the inauguration by PM Modi

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As Prime Minister Nrendra Modi is going to inaugurate the newly revamped Central Vista on Thursday, over 1,500 police personnel have been deployed for security over there.

A senior official of Delhi Police who is aware of the security arrangements said that the area has been divided into eight zones, which will be manned all day by eight deputy commissioners of police (DCPs) and additional deputy commissioners of police (ADCPs).

The officer, on condition of anonymity, said, “Besides 17 assistant commissioners of police (ACPs), 43 inspectors and nearly 1,200 upper and lower-rank staff of Delhi Police will be patrolling in the areas. While ten Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) companies will patrol the area during the day, two additional CAPF companies have been deployed for security arrangements during the evening shift.As many as five patrolling teams in 10 mobile patrolling vans (MPVs) will be keeping a constant watch on all the public movement in the area.” 

Another officer said that, “The Multi Zone Door Frame Metal Detectors (DFMD) have been installed at 90 points in 25 locations in the area. Apart from one anti-drone gun, one counter-unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has also been installed in the area, to detect, track, and ultimately disrupt and destroy any suspicious aerial intrusion. While five teams of spotters will keep a strict vigil in the area, another five traffic decongestion teams have been deployed there to immediately remove any traffic bottlenecks in the area. As many as five SWAT teams have been deployed in the area to avert any emergency crisis.”

The official added that drones will not be permitted near Central Vista on Thursday.

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Defence

Pakistani rangers opened fire on BSF patrolling party in J&K

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As per the reports, Pakistani rangers opened fire on a Border Security Force (BSF) patrolling party in Jammu and Kashmir’s Arnia sector on Tuesday morning, prompting the BSF to respond appropriately to the “unprovoked firing”.

“Today morning the alert BSF Jammu troops gave a befitting reply to the unprovoked firing by Pak rangers on BSF patrolling party in Arnia Sector. No loss (of lives) or injury (reported) to the BSF troops,” a statement issued by a BSF spokesperson said.

On February 24, 2021, India and Pakistan agreed to strictly adhere to all agreements and understandings concerning cross-border firing along the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB) in Jammu and Kashmir, among other sectors.

Other incidents of firing by Pakistani troops have occurred in the last year and a half, but Tuesday’s incident was “a major one” and occurred on a day when Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was in India for talks, an officer anonymously said.

According to a second officer, the Indian Army and BSF respond immediately and effectively to unprovoked firings and ceasefire violations by Pakistan along the LoC and IB.

Before the agreement in 2021, there were 5,133 ceasefire violations in 2020, 3,479 in 2019, and 2,140 in 2018. However, this number dropped to around 700 last year. Statistics for 2022 are not yet available.

The Indian government has maintained that it is Pakistan’s responsibility to create a conducive environment by taking credible, verifiable, and irreversible action to ensure that no territory under its control is used for cross-border terrorism against India in any way.

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Defence

India sends the body of Lashkar terror operative via LoC in Poonch

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Pakistan accepted the body of Tabarak Hussain, Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist operative via Chakan Da Bagh on the Line of Control in Poonch district on Monday.

“Officials of the Indian Army and civil administration took the body of slain terrorist in an ambulance to Chakan Da Bagh where it was handed over to Pakistani army officials,” said a senior official.

Tabarak Hussain, son of Mistri Malik of Sabzkote in PoK, was apprehended in an injured state by the army on August 21 in the Jhanger area of the Nowshera sector in Rajouri.

Tabarak was apprehended while allegedly infiltrating with a fidayeen terror group to attack Indian army posts along the LoC.

However, Indian army troops noticed the movement and opened fire on the intruding terror group, injuring Tabarak while other infiltrators fled to PoK.

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