Ships of the Indian and US navies during the Malabar exercise in the Bay of Bengal. (PTI)
New Delhi, April 28: The Centre recently turned down an air force request to participate in the war games with the US navy in the Bay of Bengal that concluded last week.
The seven-day Malabar 2012 exercise involved the American and Indian navies.
The Centre’s move followed a quiet policy decision in the defence ministry to scale down — but not stop — the friendly military engagements with the US armed forces, which have gathered pace and increased in complexity over the past decade.
The defence ministry is wary of the “hype” that the US builds around joint military exercises with India.
Among the most important of the war games that the Indian and US forces conduct is the Malabar series involving the two navies. An air force component is integral to the exercises because the US deploys a carrier battle group.
The Malabar exercise in 2007 in the Bay of Bengal involved the armed forces of five countries and was easily the largest international war games that India has hosted. The exercise involved three aircraft carriers and the Indian Air Force (IAF).
That drill irritated the Chinese so much that Beijing asked New Delhi if it was forging a military alliance against it.
For this year’s Malabar exercise, based out of Chennai, the US deployed the Carrier Strike Group-1 with the Nimitz-class carrier USS Carl Vinson in the lead. The US also deployed a Los Angeles-class nuclear submarine.
When the IAF asked to be part of the exercise, the ministry turned down the request. While it was reworking its proposal, air headquarters communicated its desire to naval headquarters.
The navy was of the view that involving the air force would require a change in the “Con Ops” (concept of operations).
The air force wanted to deploy its Shamsher (Jaguar) fighter-bombers that are assigned to the maritime strike role. The IAF’s Maritime Air Operations are headquartered in its southern command.
After the navy told the IAF that it was too late to change the “Con Ops”, the air force wanted a separate exercise with the US navy, the second-largest air force in the world. The USS Carl Vinson alone carries 85 aircraft in its hangars and flight deck.
The highlight of the seven-day Malabar 2012 in the absence of complex maritime-aerial drills was the refuelling in high sea of the USS Carl Vinson by the Indian Navy’s new Italy-built feeder vessel, the INS Shakti. India also deployed the INS Satpura, the indigenously built stealth frigate commissioned earlier this year.
The Carrier Strike Group-1 included, apart from the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey (DDG 97).
It also deployed the Military Sealift Command fast combat support ship, the USNS Bridge. The Indian assets included the frigate INS Satpura, destroyers INS Ranvir and INS Ranvijay (D55), and the corvette INS Kulish along with the replenishment oiler INS Shakti.
The exercise took place in approximately 450 nautical miles of sea and air space. The INS Satpura led one group and the USS Bunker Hill another.