India emerges as a major U.S. Training partner to frustrate ‘hostile’ China
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 02 Apr , 2024

The United States of America is conducting a large number of military exercises with its allies as well as partners including India to restrain China by controlling Indo-Pacific region. It also implies their commitment to reinforce the region’s capacity and resilience to address the challenges emanating from the perceived hostile behaviour of China.

India conducts more exercises and personnel exchanges with the US than with any other country.

According to General Charles Flyn commander of the U.S. Army Pacific Command, believed that the US allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific must “participate in more multilateral and multinational” exercises to check Chinese dominance in the region. Recently, the United States participated in four such major multilateral exercises, one each with India, Thailand, South Korea, and Japan.

It has been reported that bilateral tri-service Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) Exercise named Tiger-Triumph-24 of US was conducted with India from March 18 – 31 on India’s eastern Seaboard. The exercise involved Indian Navy warships with helicopters and landing crafts, Indian Army personnel and vehicles, and Indian Air Force jet fighters and helicopters, along with the Rapid Action Medical Team (RAMT). The US was represented by US Navy warships and troops of the US Marine Corps and US Army. The Exercise represented the robust strategic partnership between both countries and aimed at sharing best practices and “Standard Operating Procedures” in undertaking multinational HADR operations. It was one of the largest bilateral exercises meant to promote mutual trust and cooperation for exchange of best practices and building of mutual friendships.

In a similar exercise, the U.S. participated in the Thailand–hosted multilateral exercise Cobra Gold 2024 from February 27 to March 8. The U.S. Army’s participating units included the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2-158th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade from the 7th Infantry Division, and 2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment, 11th Airborne Division. The US Air Force participated with the 80th Fighter Squadron flying F-16 fighters, while the Marine Corps deployed elements of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), embarked on board the amphibious transport dock ship USS Somerset (LPD-25).

The U.S. and Japan concluded the bilateral annual exercise “Iron Fist 24” on March 17. This time, it was particularly significant, as until 2023, the exercise was held in California; this year, it shifted to Japan in the vicinity of its southwest islands of Okinoerabu and Okinawa, an area that is said to be of great concern for Tokyo because of Chinese claims to the disputed Senkaku islands. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) had deployed its carrier strike groups in this area to carry out its drills.

All these exercises have taken place in the Indo-Pacific, from Australia at one end to Africa at the other.

Besides these exercises, the U.S., conducted intense exercises throughout last year with many other countries, including the Philippines and Australia. In addition, it has upgraded its diplomatic and military presence in the Pacific islands and Vietnam.

Actually, India now conducts more exercises and personnel exchanges with the US than with any other country. In the 19th edition of “Yudh Abhyas” (Army), the ground forces of the two exercises were carried out in Alaska October 2023.

Under “Vajra Prahar” (Army Special Forces), U.S. and Indian Special Forces soldiers had held 14 joint exercises since 2010, and hundreds of U.S. Special Forces soldiers had attended the course at India’s Counter-Insurgency Jungle Warfare School. The most recent edition of this platoon-level exercise was held in north-eastern India in November 2023.

“Cope India,” involving the Air Forces of the two countries, was held last April and is said to be the largest iteration since it started in 2004. It included the participation of U.S. Air Force B-1B bombers and F-15 combat aircraft.

Other notable bilateral exercises included “Tarkash” joint ground force counterterrorism exercises, which involved U.S. Special Forces and India’s elite National Security Guard troops, and “Sangam” naval special forces exercises, which bring together companies of U.S. Navy SEALs and the Indian Navy’s Marine Commando Force.

Among the multilateral exercises, it was “Malabar,” whose 27th edition was hosted for the first time by Australia in August 2023, involving several surface ships, along with maritime patrol aircraft, helicopters, and submarines. Participating U.S. forces included a guided-missile destroyer, a fleet oiler, a submarine, and aircraft. India sent a destroyer, a frigate, and a P-8I Poseidon aircraft.

In February 2024, India hosted “Milan” (Navy), the biennial Bay of Bengal exercise (first held in 1994). The US had been participating in it since 2022.

Another exercise “Rim-of-the-Pacific” (RIMPAC, Navy), the world’s largest maritime exercise was also carried out. The 28th edition, held near Hawaii with the participation of 26 countries in summer 2022, included the Indian Navy frigate Satpura and P8I aircraft.

In February 2024, India hosted “Milan” (Navy), the biennial Bay of Bengal exercise (first held in 1994). The US had been participating in it since 2022. Milan was a mega exercise with over 50 foreign navies, 15 warships, and a maritime patrol aircraft. The presence of the U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey (DDG 97) was a notable feature this year.

The U.S. and India have also participated in the “Cutlass Express” (Navy), “Sea Dragon” (Navy), “Red Flag” (Air Force), French-sponsored “La Perouse” (Navy), and Australia-hosted “Pitch Black” (Air Force) exercises. All these exercises have taken place in the Indo-Pacific, from Australia at one end to Africa at the other.

The military exercises in which the U.S., along with its allies and partners, participated resulted in constructive operational engagements and enhance the skills of their armed forces in a number of diverse areas of battle fighting through the exchange of current tactical and technological practices/techniques. Participation in these exercises implies a high level of trust and confidence among the allies and partners. It is said to be a key confidence-building measure (CBM) and an indication of the faith reposed on one another.

Significantly, these exercises also act as a “strategic signalling” to a shared adversary in the region that allies, friends, and partners are together to deal with it if the situation so warrants. It is needless to say, this common adversary happens to be China in the Indo-Pacific. Hopefully, China understands this message very well and refrain from belligerence.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Col (Dr) PK Vasudeva

is author of World Trade Organisation: Implications for Indian Economy, Pearson Education and also a former Professor International Trade.

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