In a stern message to China amid its border conflict with India and aggressive stance in the South China Sea, a US carrier strike group led by a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz carried out a military drill with a fleet of Indian warships in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Andaman and Nicobar Islands on Monday (July 20), officials said.
The USS Nimitz is the world’s largest warship.
Four frontline warships of the Indian Navy participated in the “PASSEX” (passing exercise) when the US carrier strike group was transiting through the Indian Ocean Region on its way from the South China Sea.
India has also deployed 10 Jaguar maritime strike fighters, equipped with deadly anti-ship Harpoon missiles at the Car Nicobar air base in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a strategic spot of China’s sea trade route.
The US Navy carrier strike group comprises USS Nimitz, Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton and Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Sterett and USS Ralph Johnson, the officials said.
While operating together, the US and Indian naval forces conducted high-end exercises designed to maximise training and interoperability, including air defense, the US 7th Fleet said in a statement.
It said Nimitz carrier strike groups operations are designed to provide security throughout the region while building partnerships with friends and allies. “It was a privilege to operate with the Indian Navy,” Rear Adm. Jim Kirk, commander, Nimitz carrier strike group, was quoted as saying by the 7th Fleet.
It said such Naval engagements improve the cooperation of the US and Indian maritime forces and contribute to ability of both sides to counter threats at sea, from piracy to violent extremism. “These engagements also present opportunities to build upon the pre-existing strong relationship between the United States and India and allow both countries to learn from each other,” it added. The 7th Fleet is the largest of the forward-deployed US fleets.
India carried out similar exercises with the Japanese navy last month.
The Navy has beefed up its surveillance in the Indian Ocean region following the bloody standoff with China in Ladakh in which 20 soldiers were killed. Though India operates Sukhoi-30MKIs and other fighters in the region and P-81 maritime patrol from Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the permanent deployment of Jaguar is sign of its preparedness against any future aggression by the Chinese.
“The deployment of Jaguars there underlines the IAF’s capability to support the Indian Navy in dominating the IOR and swing into action if required,” TOI quoted a source as saying.
The Indian Navy is also ramping up its operational cooperation with various friendly naval forces like the US Navy and the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force in view of the fast evolving regional security landscape, the officials said. Navies from the US, India, Australia, Japan and France have been deepening their mutual cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region in view of China’s growing attempt to expand military influence in the resource-rich region.
Following the escalation in tension between India and China in eastern Ladakh, the government put all the three forces on high alert. The Indian Navy was asked to raise its alert-level in the Indian Ocean Region where Chinese Navy has been making regular forays.
(With inputs from agencies)