Some Banter, Some Baiting

At his customary Navy Day Press Conference, Adm. Sunil Lanba was on the roll

Ghazala Wahab

New Delhi: By turns cutting, indulgent, witty, suggestive and even provocative, the chief of naval staff, Admiral Sunil Lanba (also chairman chiefs of staff committee) clearly enjoyed every minute of his customary Navy Day press conference. Spilling onto the lunch spread out on the lawns of Kota House, the interaction with the media was remarkable as much for what was said as for what was left unsaid.

Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sunil Lanba with navy PRO Captain D K Sharma

It was one of those refreshing engagements when even the usual ruse of China did not provoke the chief into making either fantastical claims or issuing veiled threats. On the contrary, he actually threw the gauntlet at the journalists by mentioning that, “Only two months ago, Chinese conventional submarine came to the Indian Ocean.” While this was the first such sighting since the Doklam crisis of June-August 2017, and widely reported in the media at that time, this was the 8th time Chinese submarines were spotted in the Indian Ocean since 2013.

“Interestingly, all of them have come through Malacca Strait,” said Admiral Lanba, taking the conversation forward during lunch. To cross the Malacca Strait, a submarine must surface because of the shallowness of the waters. However, if a submarine uses the Ombai Wetar strait in southern Indonesia, the depth of the sea does not need it to surface.

So why the People’s Liberation Army’s Navy’s (PLAN) submarines don’t cross into the Indian Ocean through Ombai Wetar, instead of the Malacca strait? The CNS smiled enigmatically and shrugged. Or is it possible that some may be using that route, especially if it’s a nuclear-powered submarine, and we have not been able to track it?

“There are ways to find that out,” he said.


“One gets to know when the submarine leaves the port,” he said without elaborating.

In that case, could PLAN be using the Malacca to announce its sub-surface capabilities or long legs?

“Could be,” he said, adding, “But their submarines never come alone. They are always accompanied by submarine support ships.”

Maybe they don’t want to hide them because there is no reason to hide them as of now? The CNS smiled again.

What could be the reason for their frequent visits to the Indian Ocean? Are they carrying out research on the water conditions here as some have suggested?

“They don’t need the submarines to do that,” he pointed out. “PLAN’s hydrological survey vessels have been operating in the Indian Ocean for a few years now. They have been doing their research and collecting data on the water conditions.”

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