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Peace-time manoeuvres

Print edition : Feb 19, 2000

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In a development of great importance, the Indian Navy, which is holding one of its biggest ever exercises, will soon conduct a joint exercise with the French Navy.

JOHN CHERIAN

IT is billed as one of the biggest ever exercises undertaken by the Indian Navy. Forty warships and 45 combat aircraft from the Navy and the Indian Air Force (IAF) are participating in the exercises currently under way in the Arabian Sea. The event, whic h started in the first week of February, will last until April. Codenamed Springex-2000, it will witness for the first time the IAF's Sukhoi-30s and Jaguars in action along with the Navy's Sea Harriers, the T-142M and the IL-38. The latter two are used f or long-range surveillance. Warships and submarines from both the western and the eastern fleet of the Navy will join in the exercises. The Coast Guard will also participate.

Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Sushil Kumar said at a press conference in the first week of February that the manoeuvres would culminate in the Andaman Islands. The exercises were "aimed at validating existing and future tactical doctrines along with n ew weapons and sensors".

The Navy chief said that the country would shortly acquire a Russian-made submarine (it will be named Sindhushastra) equipped with a highly accurate weapons system. The Navy has in recent years inducted state-of-the-art weapons and vessels. INS Brahmaput ra, a guided missile frigate, and Aditya, a tanker, both built at the Garden Reach Shipyard, Calcutta, will soon join its fleet. The Brahmaputra class of frigates will also be put to test during the exercises.

For the first time a seaward attack on land by cruise missiles will be simulated during the course of Springex-2000. A senior naval officer informed that India would induct the Russian Klub cruise missile into the new Kilo class submarines such as the Si ndhushastra.

Nine Kilo class submarines are already in service with the Indian Navy, and experts are of the opinion that they could be retrofitted to carry the cruise missile. These missiles will also be fitted into the Khrivak class frigates, which India will acquir e from Russia shortly. With the induction of cruise missiles, the Navy will now have a weapon capable of striking targets deep inland. The cruise missile has a range of 300 km and comes in different variants that are capable of striking at both marine an d land-based targets.

There are also reports that the naval variant of the Prithvi, the Dhanush, will be test-fired at sea shortly. A ship has already been modified to accommodate the launch platform. The missile has a range of between 200 km and 250 km. If the launch is succ essful, the Dhanush can be serial-produced and fitted on some of the ships already in service.

Commander of the Western Naval Command, Vice-Admiral Madhavendra Singh, who also addressed the press conference, said that India would host the International Fleet Review for the first time. The Fleet Review, called "Bridges of Friendship", will take pla ce at the Mumbai harbour in February next year. More than 40 countries, including the United States, Britain, France and South Africa, have announced that they would participate in the five-day event. According to informed sources, the Pakistan Navy has not been invited.

SIGNS are that the post-Pokhran diplomatic chill that New Delhi has experienced is slowly dissolving. The joint naval exercises, coupled with the International Fleet Review, are seen as an important diplomatic development. The Indian naval establishment has tried to play down the significance of the Indo-French naval exercise, preferring to describe it as a normal peace-time activity. A senior Navy officer said that joint exercises were a normal feature since the early 1960s when the navies of Commonwea lth countries came calling to Indian ports.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Indian Navy went into a sort of hibernation. There were no joint exercises even with the navy of the Soviet Union, India's closest strategic and political ally then. Joint exercises were revived in the early 1990s; the navy ha s been involved in 20 major exercises since then. The largest number of joint exercises in the 1990s have been conducted with the navy of Singapore, a close military ally of the West in Asia. Other countries with which the Indian Navy has conducted joint exercises are Malaysia, Oman, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Indonesia, Thailand, Kuwait and Bangladesh. Western powers with which joint exercises have been conducted are the U.S., the United Kingdom, Austral ia, France, Germany and Italy.

Interestingly, the French Navy will not have its annual joint exercises with the Pakistan Navy this year.

The joint exercise has been planned to take place in two phases - one in the Arabian Sea and the other in the Bay of Bengal. In the first phase, Foch, the 32780-tonne French aircraft carrier which has a range of 7,500 nautical miles, Duquesue, the escort destroyer and Jules Verne, the logistic ship, along with fighter jets and helicopters would participate in a three-day exercise from February 24.

It will be a highly symbolic visit for the Foch, as it will be phased out soon after the exercise. From the Indian side, Rajput class destroyers, Godavari class frigates, Kilo, Foxtrot and SSK class submarines, and Sea Harrier, Sukha and Jaguar fighters will participate in the exercise. In the second phase, which will start on February 28 off Visakhapatnam, France's Indian Ocean Group, which involves the missile destroyer Commandant Blaison, the missile frigate Tour Ville, and a tanker will exercise alo ng with Indian Rajput class carrier destroyers, frigate corvettes and submarines.

After Pokhran-II France has actively kept engaging India in the diplomatic field. The French seem to have decided to play an active role in Asia. Their Navy has immense reach, mainly because of the fact that the French have clung on to many of their over seas positions from Latin America to Polynesia in the South Pacific. They still consider themselves active global players, although when it comes to crunch situations, they end up kowtowing to Washington.

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