THE LEFT’S heightened rhetoric against the five-nation naval drill is unlikely to derail the Malabar exercise next month.
Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta said on Thursday that India and the US are going ahead with their biggest-ever joint naval exercise, slated to be held from September 4-9 in the Bay of Bengal. Japan, Singapore, Australia, the US and India are the five participating nations.
Mehta’s statement indicates that the government is paying no heed to the Left’s threats to stage protests across the eastern coast against the naval exercise.
The Navy chief said the armed forces are apolitical and driven by national interest. “Such exercises are planned well in advance. It will be incorrect to link it up with the current situation,” said Mehta, who later held talks with Admiral Timothy J. Keating, commander of the US Pacific Command.
Top defence ministry officials are wondering what the fuss is all about, given that India and the US have held 27 joint military exercises since 2002. Fourteen of these involved the land forces, seven the navy and six the air force. The September drill will be the 13th edition of Malabar, first conducted in 1994-95.
In an interview to HT, Minister of State for Defence Production Rao Inderjit Singh dismissed the Left’s high-pitched opposition to military ties with the US as nothing but a political game plan.
The US Navy is moving a flotilla of warships to the Bay of Bengal led by supercarrier USS Nimitz for Malabar, which will involve 20-odd warships. Australia, Japan and Singapore are also contributing assets to build a climate of confidence. The American armada will include aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Chicago and guided missile cruiser USS Princeton, as well.
Indian warships participating in Malabar will be led by aircraft carrier INS Viraat and include Rajput class destroyers INS Ranvijay, INS Ranjit and guided missile frigate INS Brahmaputra. The IAF will field its maritime Jaguar fighters and the navy its Tu-142 long-range reconnaissance aircraft.
The Navy has maintained that the aim of such exercises is to gain operational and doctrinal expertise, imbibe best practices and enhance maritime domain awareness through sharing information.
This apart, US marines are also slated to polish their skills at the Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School at Vairengte in Mizoram.
Next year, the IAF will participate in the prestigious Red Flag exercises, hosted by the US Air Force at Nellis airbase.