On May 18, four ships of the Indian Navy’s Eastern Fleet set out for a two and a half month long operational deployment to the South China Sea and North Western Pacific, according to a recent press statement by the Indian Ministry of Defense.
“In a demonstration of its operational reach and commitment to India’s ‘Act East’ policy, the Indian Navy’s Eastern Fleet, under the command of Rear Admiral SV Bhokare, Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Fleet, sailed out today,” the press release states.
The small naval force that left the Indian shores today consists of the 6,200-ton Shivalik-class guided-missile stealth frigates Satpura and Sahyadr armed, among other things, with supersonic anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles; the 27,550-ton Deepak-class fleet tanker Shakti, one of the largest surface warships in the Indian Navy; and the 1,350-ton Kora-class guided missile corvette Kirch, armed with sub- and super-sonic anti-air and anti-ship missiles.
The dispatch of the fleet has the dual purpose of strengthening military diplomatic ties and enhancing inter-operability with other navies. The Indian warships are slated to make port calls at Cam Rahn Bay in Vietnam, Subic Bay in the Philippines, Sasebo in Japan, Busan in South Korea, Vladivostok in Russia, and Port Klang in Malaysia.
“The visits to each port will last four days and are aimed at strengthening bilateral ties and enhancing inter-operability between the navies. During the stay in harbor, various activities such as official calls and professional interaction between naval personnel of both the nations have been planned,” the defense ministry notes.
The fleet will also conduct passing exercises (PASSEX) with other navies to practice cooperation and “showing the flag” in a region “of vital strategic importance to India,” according to the defense ministry. The fleet’s operational deployment will culminate in its participation in Exercise Malabar, a naval exercise held with the U.S. Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), to take place off Okinawa in Japan in the second half of June.
As I reported previously, Japan’s participation is not new—the JMSDF have joined in 2007, 2009, and 2014 respectively—but this year will be the first time that Japan is not a foreign invitee but rather a permanent member of the annual naval exercise.
The ships of the Indian Navy’s Eastern Fleet, the largest out of a total of three fleets, are distributed among bases on the Indian east coast including Kolkata, Paradip, and Chennai, as well as on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The total strength of the fleet is around 60 vessels. The Eastern Naval Command is headquartered at Visakhapatnam in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.