The USS Nimitz aircraft carrier leads a flotilla of warships during the RIMPAC naval wargames in waters off Hawaii
New Delhi, July 5: India is participating in the largest US-led naval war games but shhhhh, don’t tell anyone because China does not like it.
An Indian Navy commodore will join nearly 45,000 soldiers from 22 countries at Hawaii for RIMPAC 2012, hosted by the US Pacific Command.
RIMPAC is a real warfare exercise involving aircraft carriers, submarines, live firing, aircraft, anti-submarine warfare and amphibious operations by elements like the Marine Corps.
The scale of this edition of RIMPAC most likely makes it the largest maritime warfare exercise.
RIMPAC, held once every two years, began in 1971 as a drill to stave off the Soviet Pacific fleet during the Cold War years.
But since then it has evolved into war games that the US hosts with rim of the Pacific Ocean countries in scenarios that envisage North Korea invading South Korea or hostilities in the event of Taiwan declaring its independence from China.
Russia has joined RIMPAC for the first time this year with four warships.
The Indian participation is token. Its naval attaché based in Washington DC has been asked to represent the Indian Navy. Navy sources said India was an “observer” at the exercises that began on June 27 and will continue till August 7.
But the official website for RIMPAC 2012 lists the Indian Navy representative as a “fleet component commander”.
The scale of this year’s exercise and the Indian participation has attracted adverse comments from China, which has not been invited.
“The United States is using this exercise to show off its military strength, seeking military alliances in order to contain the military rise of another country in the region. Such (a) scheme is so thoroughly exposed now,” Chinese Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily has observed.
“It is obvious that the purpose of the U.S. calling in these many allies to conduct joint exercises is to exert pressure onto certain neighbouring countries through military drills, as well as to (examine) the combat readiness of the U.S. military,” the newspaper said.
The Chinese are particularly angry over the participation of India and Russia.
In a statement in Hawaii on Wednesday, Vice-Admiral Gerald Beaman, the chief of the US Navy’s Third Fleet and the commander of RIMPAC 2012 said: “It is going to be very significant and the main reason we are building these maritime partnerships during the RIMPAC exercises is exactly why we want to maintain our relationship with India, to help provide stable and secure international commerce through the sea-lanes…Our relationship with India will remain significant during the coming years.”
The importance accorded to India’s participation, token though it may be, by the US coincides with the alteration of the Pentagon’s strategic “rebalancing” of forces from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific. US defence secretary Leon Panetta had said in New Delhi last month that nearly six carrier battle groups of the US would be deployed in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Indian Navy believes that participating in such exercises helps it keep abreast of modern trends in naval warfare. RIMPAC 2012, for example, is showcasing what has come to be called “the great green fleet”.
In a one of its kind deal, the US bought tens of thousands of gallons of biofuel that will power the vessels in the exercise.
But India’s participation in RIMPAC 2012 tests defence minister A.K. Antony’s insistence that Indian forces should only engage in bilateral exercises and not be seen as part of a potential coalition.
China had objected to the Malabar exercise in 2007 that India hosted in the Bay of Bengal.
Though the Malabar series is with the US, five other navies had participated in that exercise.
Last month, four Indian ships also berthed at China’s Shanghai port and engaged in a friendly passage exercise.