India's Navy Good U.S. Option
Image Credit: U.S. Navy

India's Navy Good U.S. Option

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Even as U.S. and Indian diplomats squabble over Iran, cooperation between their counterparts in the military continues apace. 

The Indian and U.S. navies began their 16th annual “Malabar” exercise last Saturday in Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu that borders on the Bay of Bengal. The 10-day joint exercise, which will conclude on April 16, consists of both ashore and at-sea training.

The harbor phase took place April 7 to 9 in Chennai, and was supposed to feature seminars on everything from air defense and integrated anti-submarine warfare operations, to carrier aviation operations and counter-piracy operations. The U.S. 7th Fleet released a statement saying that Malabar’s at-sea phase will include, “liaison officer exchanges and embarks, communications exercises, surface action group operations, helicopter cross-deck evolutions and gunnery exercises.”

Indo-U.S. naval cooperation has become increasingly important amid China’s growing naval capabilities. Washington’s ability to rely on local naval forces like India will be especially vital now that budget cuts have forced the U.S. Navy to scale back estimates on the future size of its fleet.

From 2006 to late 2011, naval officers had regularly said a 315-ship fleet was the minimum needed to meet future contingencies. Last month, however, the U.S. Navy released the annual update of its 30-year shipbuilding plan, which forecast the current 285-ship fleet continuing to shrink before bottoming out at 276 warships in 2015. Although the report said the naval fleet would begin to increase after that, it projected a peak of 307 ships in the late 2030’s.

But despite recent unsettling reports, India’s Navy remains an attractive partner for Washington. Both already operate carrier-centric blue water fleets. Furthermore, in February India’s Navy and Air Force conducted a network-centric joint exercise that complements the U.S. AirSea Battle concept. Last week, India inaugurated two Russian-built nuclear submarines and plans to purchase to 75 Naval Multirole Helicopters (NMRH) from Lockheed Martin to strengthen its anti-submarine capabilities.

The Navies are also sending large fleets to this year’s Malabar exercise. The U.S. Navy is represented by the Carrier Strike Group-1, part of Task Force 70, which is the 7th Fleet’s battle force. Among the U.S. ships and vessels taking part in the exercise are the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier; Carrier Air Wing 17; the USS Bunker Hill, a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser; and the USS Halsey, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer. 

India naval forces participating in the exercise include Guided Missile Frigate INS Satpura, Guided Missile Destroyers INS Ranvijay, and INS Ranvir, Missile Corvette INS Kulish, and Fleet Tanker INS Shakti, according to a report in The Hindu.

Zachary Keck is an editorial assistant with The Diplomat.

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