Indian Navy ships in the Andaman Sea. (Representational image/ANI)
Indian Navy ships in the Andaman Sea. (Representational image/ANI)

India to kick off major drills in Andaman Sea to sharpen military synergy

The exercise, codenamed Kavach (shield), is being conducted at a time when India and China are locked in a border standoff in the eastern Ladakh theatre
UPDATED ON JAN 21, 2021 03:59 PM IST

The Indian military will carry out complex drills off the Andaman and Nicobar Islands next week to fine-tune joint war-fighting capabilities and sharpen operational synergy between the three services, with the high-tempo exercise involving fighter jets, transport aircraft, helicopters, warships, infantry combat vehicles and elements of special forces, the defence ministry announced on Thursday.

Indian forces will execute high-intensity offensive and defensive manoeuvres in the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal as part of the wargames, the ministry said. The Andamans are located more than 1,200km away from mainland India.

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The exercise, codenamed Kavach (shield), is being conducted at a time when India and China are locked in a border standoff in the eastern Ladakh theatre and the Indian Navy has stepped up surveillance in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) to keep tabs on China’s moves to expand its footprint in the strategic waters.

The military drills will be coordinated by the Port Blair-based Andaman and Nicobar Command—India’s only tri-services command.

“The exercise will involve synergised application of maritime surveillance assets, coordinated air and maritime strikes, air defence, submarine and landing operations,” the defence ministry said in a statement. The scope of the exercise will cover joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) tasks that will involve the military’s technical, electronic and human intelligence elements.

From carrying out naval drills with like-minded countries to reaching out to states in the IOR, India’s focus remains on checking China’s rising ambitions in the region and sending out a strong message that Beijing’s power play in South China Sea cannot be replicated in the Indian Ocean.

“The ISR exercise will validate the capabilities of intelligence gathering from space, air, land and sea-based assets/sensors, its analysis and sharing to achieve battlefield transparency for quick decision making at different stages of operations,” the statement said.

The drills will witness the deployment of the assets belonging to the army, navy, air force and coast guard.

The exercise will involve the air force’s Jaguar maritime strike aircraft, transport aircraft, elements of the Indian Army’s amphibious brigade, destroyers, anti-submarine warfare corvettes and amphibious warships with ship-borne helicopters of the Vishakhapatnam-based Eastern Naval Command, the statement said.

The waters in which the exercise is being conducted hold strategic value for India as China is trying to open multiple routes to the Indian Ocean to overcome the Malacca Dilemma (China’s strategic weakness), officials said.

The Malacca Dilemma refers to China’s apprehension of major naval powers controlling the Malacca Strait between Malaysia and Indonesia and interdicting vital supply lines. A significant volume (more than 80%) of China’s oil imports passes through the strait connecting the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. The Malacca Strait is about 350km from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

“The joint force would execute multi-domain, high-intensity offensive and defensive manoeuvres in the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal and carry out amphibious landing operations, air-landed operations and helicopters-borne insertion of Special Forces from sea, culminating in tactical follow-on operations on land,” the statement added.

Since all wars are ‘joint’ in nature, it is imperative that constituents of a fighting force plan and exercise together, said Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies. “The exercise off the Andaman coast is vital in nature for any amphibious operation. In the present security environment, with both neighbours testing us, it is essential that such war-fighting expertise be kept honed for any eventuality,” Bahadur added.

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