NEW DELHI: The Indian Navy is conducting a major exercise off the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago, in a clear display of strategic intent against China amid the ongoing military confrontation along the border in eastern Ladakh.
The Indian naval manoeuvres come at a time when two American super aircraft carriers, USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan, are conducting rare dual combat drills in the South China Sea, much to China’s chagrin.
Sources on Friday said several Indian warships, including destroyers, frigates and submarines as well as maritime patrol aircraft, are conducting the exercise near the A&N archipelago, which dominates China’s critical sea lanes transporting the bulk of its energy and other trade through the Malacca Strait.
The exercise, led by eastern naval fleet chief Rear Admiral Sanjay Vatsayan, is being conducted with warships and aircraft from both the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) and the Eastern Naval Command (ENC) headquartered in Visakhapatnam. “Some warships deployed near the Malacca Strait are also taking part,” said a source.
The eastern fleet exercise comes soon after TOI reported earlier this month that India was now finally looking to fast-track plans for basing additional military forces, along with developing the requisite infrastructure, in the strategically-located ANC.
The ANC, the country’s only theatre command with all assets and manpower of Army, Navy, IAF and Coast Guard placed under one operational commander, can be used as an effective pivot to counter China’s expanding footprint in the Indian Ocean Region as well as ensure security of sea lanes converging towards the Malacca Strait.
Sources said the submarine hunting Poseidon-8I aircraft, which are armed with deadly Harpoon Block-II missiles, MK-54 lightweight torpedoes, rockets and depth charges, are also taking part in the exercise from their base at the INS Rajali naval air station in Arakkonam (Tamil Nadu).
Indian and Japanese warships had carried out a small exercise near the Malacca Strait late last month. While Japan has become a regular participant in the high-voltage ‘Malabar’ naval combat exercise between India and the US since 2015, India is yet to take a decision on including Australia in the top-notch wargames.
TOI was the first to report in January that India was considering inviting Australia to take part in the Malabar exercise. If the move translates into reality, a military construct will firmly be added to the so-called ‘Quad’ countries that have a shared interest in building a free, open and stable Indo-Pacific against an aggressive and expansionist China.