The Indian Navy and the Republic of Singapore Navy began a major bilateral naval exercise on Sunday in the South China Sea. The exercise, code-named SIMBEX 19, will run through May 22. Last year’s exercises took place in the Indian Ocean, off India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
On the Indian side, two vessels that have been on a two-month-long deployment to East Asia are participating. INS Kolkata, the lead ship of the Kolkata-class guided missile destroyers, and INS Shakti, a Deepak-class fleet tanker, participated in the exercise.
Singapore, meanwhile, was represented by RSN Steadfast, a Formidable-class frigate, and RSN Valiant, a Victory-class corvette. Fokker-50 maritime patrol aircraft and Republic of Singapore Air Force F-16 fighters also participated.
This year’s exercise will include a live-fire sea phase exercise, which will encompass a range of maritime combat drills, including “firing on aerial/surface targets, advanced aerial tracking, coordinated targeting exercises and tactical exercises on surface/air scenarios,” according to a statement released by the Indian Navy.
Last year’s exercises also included a live-fire component and additionally featured anti-submarine warfare drills.
According to the Indian Navy, prior to SIMBEX 19, INS Kolkata and INS Shakti were in Singapore for the biennial maritime defense trade show IMDEX 19. “On successful completion of IMDEX 19, IN ships Kolkata and Shakti are continuing their stay at Singapore to participate in the annual Singapore India Maritime Bilateral Exercise SIMBEX-2019,” the Indian Navy noted in a statement.
In recent years, India has increased its naval activities in the South China Sea. This month, for the first time ever, India joined the navies of the United States, Japan, and the Philippines for quadrilateral presence exercises, including “formation exercises, communication drills, [and] passenger transfers,” according to a U.S. Navy 7th fleet statement.
The quadrilateral activities followed the first phase of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM)-Plus Maritime Security Field Training Exercise (MS FTX) in the South China Sea.
INS Kolkata and INS Shakti, last month, participated in a major bilateral exercise with the Vietnam Navy. The two vessels also attended the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy’s 70th anniversary fleet review in Qingdao, China, and also visited Busan, South Korea, where the opening ceremony of the ADMM-Plus FS MTX took place.
Singapore and India have developed defense ties. In April 2019, the two countries held their annual joint army exercise, Bold Kurukshetra 2019. The two countries have expanded their defense cooperation since the signing of their Defense Cooperation Agreement in 2003.