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Ground-and-air war games, China in mind

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  • Published 2.03.12

New Delhi, March 1: The air force and the army are conducting an exercise across the eastern and northeastern states to test defences and special operations in the event of hostilities with China. This is the largest exercise of its kind.

“This time we are focused on the Brahmaputra Valley, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Mizoram to exercise our entire capabilities in all roles in conjunction with the army to disrupt enemy intrusion and take the battle to the adversary,” Air Marshal M. Matheswaran, senior air staff officer of the Shillong-headquartered Eastern Air Command, told The Telegraph.

Codenamed “Pralay”, the exercise was designed by the Calcutta-headquartered Eastern Army Commander, Lt General Bikram Singh, and the Eastern Air Commander, Air Marshal S. Varthaman.

The exercise area is spread over the eight northeastern states and Bengal but action is mostly concentrated along the Brahmaputra Valley and Arunachal.

The air force has also deployed its assets from other commands to the east and northeast for the exercise, which is expected to conclude on March 3. “Pralay” began on February 29 but the mobilisation for it started on February 20.

More than 70 aircraft — including the airborne warning and control system (AWACS) planes, Sukhoi 30MKi, MiG-29, MiG-27 and Mirage 2000 combat planes — have been deployed.

This is the first time that the Israeli Phalcon AWACS are being tested in a simulated combat environment on such a scale. AWACS are designed to detect, acquire and designate targets for other fighter aircraft. Mid-air refuellers have also been deployed to practise long-range strike missions.

“Drills that will help us validate joint operational directives in the valleys and the hills are being emphasised,” Matheswaran said.

The air force spokesperson, Wing Commander Gerard Galway, said the eastern command holds an annual exercise. But the deployment of assets from the western and central air commands to the east shows that the scale this time is much larger.

The war-gamed scenario is of a short but intense conflict. Matheswaran said the AFNET — the air force’s own optic-fibre cable grid — was being used for voice, data and visual communication.

“This exercise is bringing out the net-centric capabilities that we are developing,” he said. The exercise would culminate by concentrating on a few unspecified areas in Assam and Arunachal.

The army’s 33, 3 and 4 Corps, headquartered in Sukna (north Bengal), Tezpur (Assam) and Rangapahar (Nagaland), are in the loop for the exercise. The 33 and 4 Corps have dual responsibilities for counter-insurgency and the China front.

In an unrelated exercise, platoons of the Indonesian and Indian armies are practising at the Counter-Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School in Vairante, Mizoram.

“Exercise Garuda Shakti” is the first joint platoon-level training programme for the two armies. In an outdoor drill named “Chakravyuh”, the platoons practised busting an insurgent hideout in Mizoram’s Lushai Hills early on Thursday after a nightlong march.

“They are very sincere, devoted, well-prepared and eager to learn,” the school’s commandant, Major General A.K. Sen, said of the Indonesian troops as they “slithered” from the Indian Air Force’s Mi-17 helicopters, flown from the Kumbhirgram airbase in Silchar, Assam.

The training and attack drills were coordinated in two mixed platoons (of around 30 soldiers each) of Kostrad (the Indonesian army’s strategic reserve command) and Indian infantry troops. The exercise ends tomorrow.

China talks

India and China today agreed to soon start a maritime cooperation dialogue to prevent incidents between their growing naval forces. The suggestion had come from the Chinese.

S.M. Krishna and Yang Jiechi met today for the first foreign minister-level annual dialogue, their discussions focusing on confidence-building measures and strengthening the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) forum.

In another first, the Chinese embassy here issued a detailed statement on Yang’s meetings with Krishna, Vice-President Hamid Ansari and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Chinese mission generally avoids engaging with much of the Indian media, which Beijing believes to be biased against China.

However, it would seem Beijing has eventually recognised the importance of the media in shaping public perceptions of India-China ties. Foreign ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin today said China had agreed to allow Zee TV to broadcast in China.