The Indo-Pacific region has been fraught with maritime issues, including an array of non-traditional security threats, notably seaborne piracy and terrorism — two salient challenges highlighted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he addressed the valedictory function of India's recent International Fleet Review. This warning came at an apt moment when regional waters have seen a recent spike in the number of piratical attacks and sea robberies. At the same time, the prospect of extremism and militancy spreading from land to the maritime domain constitutes a very real threat.

But without a doubt, simmering tensions in the East and South China Seas have overshadowed reports of, say, pirates in regional waters. In the South China Sea especially, the situation has taken a turn for the worse. Between October 2015 and February this year, the U.S. Navy conducted freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) while U.S. Air Force B-52 strategic bombers flew close to China's artificial islands in the South China Sea. Washington's show of force may perhaps forestall growing Chinese assertiveness, but there are already concerns over the evolving Sino-U.S. military power balance in view of China's growing military capabilities, which contrast with the budget constraints faced by the U.S. military.

One such example is the area of submarines. Between 2000 and 2014, China acquired at least 41 submarines whereas the U.S. acquired only 11. Moreover, Washington has seen its total number of submarines decline from 127 in 1990 to 73 in 2015. In February 2015, Vice Admiral Joseph P. Mulloy, deputy chief of naval operations for capabilities and resources, told the House Armed Services Committee's seapower subcommittee that even though Chinese submarines are technologically inferior, Beijing has more submarines and is seeking "to be in this world of advanced submarines." The expansion of China's undersea capabilities is part of the regional proliferation of submarines, which may constitute a source of destabilization when seen in the context of existing maritime flashpoints in the Indo-Pacific.