Quad navies join France-led drills in Indian Ocean Region
France, India, the United States, Japan and Australia on Monday kicked off complex maritime drills in the eastern Indian Ocean Region (IOR) to enhance interoperability among their navies, the Indian Navy said. The exercise comes at a time when China is making concerted efforts to strengthen its presence in IOR. Two Indian warships and a long-range maritime patrol aircraft are taking part in the French Navy-led exercise called La Pérouse for the first time.
“Participation by the Indian Navy in the exercise demonstrates the shared values with friendly navies ensuring freedom of seas and commitment to an open, inclusive Indo-Pacific and a rules-based international order,” Commander Vivek Madhwal said.
India, the US, Japan and Australia constitute the Quadrilateral security dialogue or Quad. China has been wary of the Quad that was revived in late 2017. And Beijing’s suspicions have increased since the four countries upgraded the forum to the ministerial level in 2019.
Indian warships INS Satpura (with an embarked helicopter) and INS Kiltan, and a Boeing P-8I submarine hunter aircraft are taking part in the three-day exercise being held from April 5 to April 7.
France is represented at the multi-lateral exercise by amphibious assault ship Tonnerre and frigate Surcouf; the US Navy has sent its amphibious transport dock USS Somerset for the drills; Australia has deployed its frigate HMAS Anzac and tanker Sirius; and Japan has sent Akebono, a destroyer, for the drills.
“Exercise La Pérouse will witness complex and advanced naval operations including surface warfare, anti-air warfare and air defence exercises, weapons-firing exercises, cross-deck flying operations, tactical manoeuvres and seamanship evolutions such as replenishment at sea,” Madhwal added.
Last November, navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh said a “great power competition” was playing out vigorously in IOR, where the navy has stepped up surveillance to check China’s ambitions.
“IOR is one of the most militarised regions… Also, there are differing interpretations of international laws and there is this fear that ‘Global Commons’ can change to ‘Contested Seas’, threatening free flow of commerce and trade,” the navy chief then said.
Former navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash (retd) described the French Navy-led drills, involving the participation of the Quad navies, as a positive development, and a message to China.
He said, “So far, naval cooperation in IOR has been limited to the Quad. The presence of France is an expression of intent of other European powers to be there in IOR and send a message to China. Other countries like the United Kingdom are also deploying to the region for drills.”
From carrying out naval drills with like-minded countries to reaching out to states in IOR, the Indian Navy is focusing 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.