The PASSEX (passing exercise) between the two navies, which have built “interoperability” through a series of “Malabar” and other exercises, comes after the mammoth nuclear-powered USS Nimitz and her accompanying warships entered the Indian Ocean by crossing the Malacca Strait on Saturday.
The USS Nimitz carrier strike group, along with another one led by USS Ronald Reagan, has just completed an operational deployment and “freedom of navigation” mission in the South China Sea in a major show of support for US allies and partners in the region against an aggressive and expansionist China. The UShas 10 Nimitz-class “super-carriers”, each of which is around 100,000-tonne and capable of carrying 80-90 fighters, deployed around the globe.
TOI was the first to report last week that India was also holding a major naval exercise off the A&N Islands, which dominate China’s critical sea trade routes passing through the Malacca Strait, while the two US carrier strike groups were showing the flag in South China Sea.
Several Indian warships, including destroyers, frigates and submarines as well as maritime patrol aircraft, are taking part in the exercise led by eastern naval fleet commander Rear Admiral Sanjay Vatsayan. It includes warships and aircraft from both the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) and the Eastern Naval Command (ENC) headquartered at Visakhapatnam.
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.
Indian and Japanese warships had also 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 the final decision to include Australia in the top-notch wargames.
TOI was the first to report in January this year 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 region against an aggressive and expansionist China.