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Joint naval exercises begin today

Sandeep Dikshit

India, United States, Japan, Australia and Singapore to take part

Two aircraft carriers from U.S. and one from India will take part

The exercises will conclude with a mock battle

NEW DELHI: The biggest-ever naval exercises in the Bay of Bengal will begin on Tuesday and end on September 9. The war games in the international waters between Visakhapatnam and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands will have the participation of the United States, Japan, Australia and Singapore.

The last time such a large flotilla of U.S. warships entered the region was in 1971 during the war for liberation of Bangladesh. However, the conflict ended by the time the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet positioned itself in the Bay of Bengal. This would also be the first time that as many as 26 warships from other nations will practise not far from the Indian coastline.

The exercises will involve three aircraft carriers — two from the U.S. and one from India — hundreds of military aircraft, destroyers, frigates and submarines. Besides the aircraft carrier INS Viraat, India is fielding maritime Jaguar and Sea Harrier fighters, Tu-142 surveillance planes, Delhi and Kashin Class destroyers, Godavari and Brahmaputra Class guided missile frigates and a German origin submarine.

The two aircraft carriers from the U.S. — USS Nimitz and USS Kitty Hawk — have regularly participated in operations in West Asia.

‘Neutral’ umpires

The exercises will involve capsules of anti-piracy, anti-marine terrorism, air defence, surveillance and interception elements and conclude with a mock battle in which all the forces will be divided into two groups. They will be overseen by ‘neutral’ umpires to verify their claims of foiling one group’s attempt to overwhelm the other.

Significantly, Japan, Singapore and Australia are the only three countries in the U.S. [Military] Pacific Command’s area of responsibility that have signed the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). This pact permits signatories to interdict ships suspected of carrying nuclear, chemical and biological weapons on the high seas which, critics say, violates several United Nations conventions. However, the U.S. says it is within the framework of international conventions and the PSI content varies from country to country. As India is opposed to inking the PSI, the U.S. is keen to sign the Container Security Initiative, which will allow it to post inspectors at Indian ports to ostensibly inspect cargo bound for U.S. ports.

Widespread interest

The exercises have also evoked interest among China, Russia and Central Asian countries with Beijing even issuing a demarche to India, U.S. Australia and Japan when they met on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Manila earlier this year. A demarche is a formal diplomatic communication from a country seeking information from another.

However, at that time all the countries denied that security was the focus of the ‘quadrilateral’ meeting. This aspect was re-emphasised by the visiting Australian Defence Minister, Brendan Nelson, in July when he insisted that Canberra was content with the existing post-World War II security architecture and unwilling to create another security grouping in the region.

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