China may station aircraft carriers, large warships and submarines in its first overseas military base in Djibouti, a move that would have profound security ramifications for the Indian Navy.
Details of the base feature in the US Department of Defence’s annual report on China, which is submitted to the US Congress. The report, released on Sunday, comes less than four months after NDTV published high-resolution satellite images of the base, including a large Chinese Navy landing ship at the dock. This is the backbone of China’s amphibious assault forces.
“In late March 2022, a FUCHI II class (Type 903A) supply ship Luomahu docked at the 450-metre pier for resupply; the first such reported PLA Navy port call to the Djibouti support base, indicating that the pier is now operational,” says the US Department of Defence’s 2022 China Military Power Report.
“The pier likely is able to accommodate the PLA Navy’s aircraft carriers, other large combatants, and submarines,” it adds.
This is not the first time that the United States has raised the possibility of China getting ready to deploy aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean region. In 2017, Admiral Harry Harris Jr., who was commanding the US Pacific Command, told NDTV, “There is nothing to prevent them from sailing in the Indian Ocean today.”
Since then, China has been busy developing its aircraft carriers and now has three operational ships, each with incrementally greater capability. The Indian Navy presently operates two aircraft carriers, the made-in-Russia INS Vikramaditya and the INS Vikrant which is still several months away from being fully operational.
The US report says, “PLA Navy Marines are stationed at the [Djibouti] base with wheeled armoured vehicles and artillery, but are currently largely dependent on nearby commercial ports due to the lack of experience utilizing its recently operational pier on its base.”
Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces deployed in the Djibouti base “have interfered with U.S. flights by lasing pilots and flying drones, and the PRC (People’s Republic of China) has sought to restrict Djiboutian sovereign airspace over the base”, it notes.
In other words, the US military believes Chinese forces deployed in the region have used ground-based lasers to temporarily blind or impair the vision of US fliers in the region. These have also targeted US drones.
The base in Djibouti appears to be just the start of a process of Beijing identifying and ultimately acquiring land in countries where it can expand its military presence.
With inputs from NDTV