India may have put a halt to its bilateral and largely symbolic ‘Hand-in-Hand’ exercise with China since the military confrontation erupted in eastern Ladakh in May last year, but it’s all systems go as far as other countries are concerned.
“Exercises enhance military and strategic cooperation, confidence-building and interoperability with different countries, apart from honing combat skills, imbibing best practices and operational tactics,” said a senior Army officer. “Defence diplomacy is an instrument to further India’s diplomatic interests,” he added. India, for instance, has stepped up its outreach to Africa, where China has made deep inroads, with military exercises being used as one of the tools.
Then, of course, there is strategic signaling to countries like China through exercises like the quadrilateral ‘Malabar’ among India, the US, Japan and Australia, the last edition of which was conducted off Guam in the Western Pacific towards August-end.
The growing strategic congruence to deter coercion in the Indo-Pacific also came through the ‘Quad-plus-France’ exercise called La Pérouse’ in the Bay of Bengal in April. Having already set a scorching pace in undertaking exercises this year, India has several more scheduled in the last four months. A ‘Quad-plus-UK’ naval exercise, for instance, is slated in the Bay of Bengal next month. This will be followed by the first tri-service exercise with the UK, centered around the 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth with its fifth-generation F-35B ‘lightning’ fighter jets, off the western coast from October 24-27. India has undertaken tri-service exercises only with the US and Russia till now.
The Indian Army, having just concluded bilateral exercises ‘Indra’ in Russia and ‘Kazind’ in Kazakhstan, has currently deployed around 200 soldiers for the ongoing 17-nation ‘Zapad’ exercise at Nizhny in Russia. Other forthcoming exercises include ‘Surya Kiran’ with Nepal, ‘Mitra Shakti’ with Sri Lanka, ‘Ajeya Warrior’ with the UK, ‘Yudh Abhyas’ with the US and ‘Shakti’ with France in the September-November timeframe.
The Navy, in turn, has conducted bilateral exercises with countries ranging from Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand to Kenya, UAE, Qatar, Brunei, Bahrain, Egypt, UK and Germany this year. The IAF also dispatched its Sukhoi-30MKI fighters and C-17 Globemaster-III aircraft to take part in the ‘Desert Flag’ exercise, which saw participation of air forces from India, US, France, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.