After ‘Free & Open’ Indo-Pacific, USS Nimitz exercises with India

India hold key to China’s Malacca Dilemma

IDD Bureau 

Just days after the US Navy carriers, the USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan, led their respective strike groups to show China ‘its place’ in the South China Sea and enforced a ‘free and open’ Indo-Pacific, the US Nimitz had turned west-wards towards the middle east, or its home, the base of the seventh fleet of the US Navy.

On Monday ( July 20 ) the Nimitz Strike Group , on it’s journey to the middle east, participated in Cooperative Exercises with Indian Navy, just west of the Andaman Nicobar islands owned by India. The islands sit at the mouth of the Malacca straits. The narrow straits through which passes China trade and oil  remain a dilemma for it. President Hu Jintao had first referred to it as ‘Malacca Dilemma’ in 2003. 

The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group, consisting of flagship USS Nimitz (CVN 68), Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59) and Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers USS Sterett (DDG 104) and USS Ralph Johnson (DDG 114), along with Indian Navy ships Rana, Sahyadri, Shivalik and Kamorta, did a cooperative deployment in the Indian Ocean.

“While operating together, the U.S. and Indian naval forces conducted high-end exercises designed to maximize training and interoperability, including air defense”

US Seventh fleet

It was a privilege to operate with the Indian Navy,” said Rear Adm. Jim Kirk, commander, Nimitz Carrier Strike Group  on the website of the US seventh fleet. On the India navy it said “Rear Adm (Sanjay) Vatsayan, Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Fleet, leads a powerful and highly skilled Fleet. The opportunity to have the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group join with his Fleet for a series of exercises improved our interoperability and is a testimony to the flexibility of both our Navies,” Admiral Kirk said. Read it here

Nimitz CSG’s operations are designed to provide security throughout the region while building partnerships with friends and allies. 

The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group at the exercise. Pic US seventh fleet ,

Naval engagements such as these exercises improve the cooperation of U.S. and Indian maritime forces and contribute to both sides’ ability to counter threats at sea, from piracy to violent extremism. These engagements also present opportunities to build upon the pre-existing strong relationship between the United States and India and allow both countries to learn from each other.

Growing talk of Militarization of ‘Quad’

This exercise  comes just three weeks after India and Japan carried out similar exercise on June 27 in these very waters. 

Japan Maritime Self Defense Force training squadron ships JS Kashima and JS Shimayuki took part in the maritime exercise. From Indian Navy, INS Rana and INS Kulish were involved in the day long exercise.

“On 27th June, Japan Maritime Self Defense Force conducted goodwill training with Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean,” tweeted Japanese Ambassador Satoshi Suzuki. This is the 15th training exercise between JMSDF and Indian Navy for the past 3 years.

 “The focus of the exercise was interoperability between the two navies,” Indian authorities had said.

There is growing talks in strategic circles of the possibility of emergence of a joint front of India, Japan, US and Australia to counter the threat of the Chinese Navy in the region.

China’s ‘Malacca Dilemma’

Some tine 2003, then Chinese President Hu Jintao talked of the “Malacca Dilemma” and the need to secure China’s strategic and economic interests in the region. For China, the debate boils down to two key points — either they find a way to reduce their dependency on the Malacca Straits or they maintain a credible presence in the Indian Ocean to equally secure the SLOCs.

Beijing is relying more on economic initiatives to strengthen its ties with small but critical islands in the Indian Ocean.

INS Baaz at Campbell Bay. Indian Navy base

Beijing has always been concerned about the security of its oil and gas imports from the Middle East and Africa transiting through the Indian Ocean and the Straits of Malacca. What is emerging as a greater concern is the presence of American forces to secure the sea lines of communications (SLOCs) and chokepoints along the route.  Beijing’s energy imports are highly vulnerable in the event of a military standoff with New Delhi or Washington.

Hence these small islands of Andaman & Nicobar are emerging at the center stage of the unfolding power politics and are critical in sustaining China’s credible presence in the vast Indian Ocean outreach, Control over the Indian Ocean will help a nation emerge as true maritime power.

India holds the key

In July 2017, the Indian Navy had started this mission-based deployment, tasked to patrol sea-shipping routes to the Straits of Malacca.

Patrolling off the straits of Sunda, Lumbok and Ombai Wetar—all in the eastern Indian Ocean region—started in phases thereafter. These straits are narrow ocean passes that connect the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea. Malacca accounts for the passage of 70 per cent of the world’s trade volume and energy.

A Boeing P8 I routinely patrols the Malacca

Leveraging the air bases at Campbell Bay, Car Nicobar and Port Blair has been the focus of the line of defence against an aggressive China for some time now. The Indian Navy has positioned about 19 warships in the area and has built two floating docks to repair and refurbish warships.

Navy’s long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft, the Boeing-made Poseidon 8I planes, have been tasked with flying sorties, sometimes up to the South China Sea, almost daily from INS Rajali in Arakkonam, Tamil Nadu.

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