India fearing Chinese submarines is not unwarranted. In 2014, the Chinese Navy frequently docked its submarines in Sri Lanka, saying they were goodwill visits and to replenish ships on deployment to the Arabian Sea.
Later, in 2015, the Chinese Navy, or the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), was seen docking in vessels Pakistan. The frequent visits and the constant reporting on them has led Indian Navy to get the best aircraft in its inventory, P-8I — a long-range, multimission maritime patrol aircraft known informally as sub hunter — to patrol the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
The Times of India reported that Indian Navy has deployed the P-8I aircraft to detect any PLAN submarines that might be snooping around the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC). Earlier reports had said PLAN ships trying to get closer to the base had been detected.
According to the official quoted in the daily's report, India does not have any weapon platform to deter such incidents.
PLAN ships lurking in the IOR is not uncommon, but they are supposed to tread only in international waters. Moreover, these encounters assume significance following the Chinese construction of islands in the disputed South China Sea region.
These events have made Indian Navy deploy P-8I aircraft contracted from Boeing in a government-to-government agreement with the US, where India bought eight such aircraft that boast of indigenous IFF system, AGM-84L Harpoon Block II Missiles and Mk 54 All-Up-Round Lightweight Torpedoes for the aircraft.
P-8I aircraft have an operational range of more than 1,200 nautical miles. They are equipped to perform anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare (ASuW), intelligence, maritime patrol, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. The P-8I is the Indian variant of the P-8A Poseidon built for the US Navy.
India has ordered four more of these aircraft, according to reports. Two of these has been deployed for two weeks. Apart from this, IAF and Navy have also deployed Searcher-II unmanned aerial vehicles in the islands.
The ANC is a combined command with assets from Navy, Army and Air Force. Though the current Central government had earlier noted that bringing changes in the ANC is one of its top priorities, the report notes there has not been much progress in the infrastructure and maintenance support for jetties and airstrips.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Defence Ministry need to resolve these issues, which may otherwise hamper India's plans to counter the Chinese where and when it matters the most.