India is set to play war games at sea with 22 other countries including China and the US. It is a departure from its recent policy of participating only in bilateral naval war games.
India is about to make an exception and take part in the multilateral, US-hosted international maritime war exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) in Hawaii next year. China, which along with India attended the 2012 biennial exercise in Honolulu just as an observer, has already confirmed participation in the 2014 event.
The prospect of better understanding strategic imperatives — China’s growing influence in the region’s waters has been a major worry — and exposure to the world’s finest naval warships are believed to have swung India’s decision to participate.
“The decision to participate in RIMPAC 2014 has been taken in principle. The Indian Navy is most keen to send its warships to the Asia-Pacific games hosted by the US Pacific Command. We are waiting for the written confirmation from defence minister AK Antony,” said a South Block official.
Sources said the Indian confirmation was likely to be conveyed to US deputy defence secretary Ashton Carter during his September 16-18 visit to the Capital.
The defence ministry was not inclined to participate in the 2014 war games as it does not want to be seen as part of any anti-China grouping. The political leadership, however, changed its mind after it was pointed out that 22 countries including China, Indonesia and Japan were also participating in the month-long event next June. Also, Asia-Pacific is an area of interest to India.
New Delhi has been cautious after China expressed its opposition to the 2007 Malabar exercise in Bay of Bengal in which the US, Australia and Japan also took part.
With 22 nations and more than 40 warships confirming participation, RIMPAC 2014 aims to foster cooperation among world navies. The exercise has three levels: Surface, submarine, and electronic surveillance and reconnaissance.
India is planning to send two destroyers, one tanker and two newly acquired Boeing P-8I long-range maritime reconnaissance, anti-submarine aircraft.
“The final decision on which warship or aircraft will be sent will be taken later,” said a South Block official. “Given the growing assertiveness of the naval wing of China’s People’s Liberation Army in Asia-Pacific, it is important for India to understand the strategic imperatives of this region, with Japan Self Defense Force also taking part for the first time.”