India-US conduct PASSEX Exercise
Indian navy conducted a Passage Exercise (PASSEX) with the United States near the Andaman and Nicobar (A&N) islands as it was transiting the Indian Ocean.
• The exercise comes amidst high alert by the Navy in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) due to the ongoing stand-off with China along the border in Ladakh.
• With regular large-scale exercises deferred due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the India Navy has recently undertaken several PASSEXs as an opportunity to improve interoperability on the high seas.
• The Indian Navy had conducted similar PASSEXs with the Japanese Navy and the French Navy in the recent past.
• The India Navy is keeping a close watch on the movement in the IOR of Chinese naval ships, whose presence has gone up considerably over the years in the name of anti-piracy patrols.
• In 2017, China opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.
As part of this exercise, four Indian naval ships-INS Rana, INS Sahyadri, INS Shivalik and INS Kamorta,teamed up with USS Nimitz and three other U.S. ships in the Eastern Indian Ocean near the A&N islands.
USS Nimitz, the U.S. Navy’s largest aircraft carrier, was returning from the South China Sea through the Malacca Straits.
A significant volume of China’s oil imports passes through the Malacca Strait, which is south-east of these islands.
Given their strategic location, India is also undertaking a major infrastructure expansion plans on the A&N island chain.
The navy has been on an operational alert in the Indian Ocean where scores of warships are ready for any task in the aftermath of the border row.
It has positioned warships along critical sea lanes of communications and choke points under its mission-based deployment and the vessels could be diverted for any mission.
Indian warships are deployed from as far as the Persian Gulf to the Malacca Strait and northern Bay of Bengal to the southeast coast of Africa.
The stage is also set for Australia to be part of the next Malabar naval exercise conducted by India with the US and Japan. The next edition of Malabar, already delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, is set to be held by the end of the year.
The formal invitation to Australia is expected to be extended after some time in view of delicate negotiations between India and China on disengagement and de-escalation to end their standoff along the LAC.
China has also been wary of the Quadrilateral security dialogue or Quad that was revived in late 2017 by India, the US, Australia and Japan, and these suspicions have increased since the four countries upgraded the forum to the ministerial level last year.