With China in mind, Indian Navy enhances interoperability with friendly navies

Considering that Indian armed forces are presently preparing for war, the last quarter of 2020 has been quite eventful for the Indian Navy

Col Anil Bhat (retd) Nov 27, 2020

Considering that Indian armed forces are presently preparing for war, the last quarter of 2020 has been quite eventful for the Indian Navy. The keel-laying of a stealth frigate, commissioning of a stealth corvette  and a made in India submarine as well as testing of some lethal weapon systems followed by the Naval Chief’s review of combat readiness amount to some satisfaction about the Navy’s progress, at a crucial stage of dealing with two troublesome neighbours. 

Thereafter,  three significant joint naval exercises covering both of India’s seaboards done during and despite the coronavirus pandemic with a precaution, ‘non-contact at sea only,’ reaffirmed the strength of partnerships. The biggest of these exercises was Malabar, for which the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) was invited again after 2007. RAN’s participation in Malabar Exercise was discontinued owing to the China-Australian economic ties and China pressurizing Australia not to be part of the grouping. 

However, for both India and Australia, the dynamics with China changed considerably after it became clear that China was exploiting the pandemic to the hilt by upping its expansionist moves not only against India on its land border but also in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. And for India already encircled by China’s ‘String of Pearls’ in ports of all its neighbours Bangladesh’s Chittagong, Pakistan’s Gwadar, Sri Lanka’s Hambantota, Myanmar’s Kyaukpyu, and the Maldives’ Ihavandhippolhu Atoll, there remained no doubt that it should become part of a strong quadrilateral group. And so RAN was invited - a development that China ‘noted.’  

Malabar Exercise 2020 

The 24th edition of Malabar exercise, hosted by Indian Navy in two phases concluded in the Arabian Sea on November 20.  While Phase 1 of the exercise involving participation by Indian Navy, United States Navy (USN), Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) and Royal Australian Navy (RAN), was conducted off Visakhapatnam in the Bay of Bengal from November 3 to 6, the second phase was conducted in the Arabian Sea from November 17 to 20.

The phase-1 of Malabar exercise witnessed participation of Indian Navy units with United States Ship John S McCain, Her Majesty’s Australian Ship (HMAS) Ballarat with integral MH-60 helicopter, and Japan Maritime Self Defence Ship (JMSDF) Onami, with integral SH-60 helicopter. Indian Navy’s participation in this phase was led by Rear Admiral Sanjay Vatsayan, Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Fleet and included destroyer Ranvijay, indigenous frigate Shivalik, Offshore Patrol Vessel Sukanya, Fleet Support Ship Shakti, submarine Sindhuraj, P8I and Dornier maritime reconnaissance aircraft and Advanced Jet Trainer Hawk.

During phase 11, the four navies participated in joint operations centered on the Vikramaditya Carrier Battle Group of the Indian Navy and Nimitz Carrier Strike Group of the US Navy.  The two aircraft carriers, along with other ships, submarine, and aircraft of the participating navies, engaged in high-intensity naval operations including cross-deck flying operations and advanced air defence exercises by MIG 29K fighters of Vikramaditya and F/A-18 fighters and E2C Hawkeye from Nimitz. The US Navy’s Strike Carrier Nimitz was accompanied by cruiser Princeton and destroyer Sterett in addition to P8A maritime reconnaissance aircraft.  The Royal Australian Navy and JMSDF were represented by frigate Ballarat and destroyer Murasame respectively, along with their integral helicopters. 

The Indian Navy’s participation in Phase 11 was led by Rear Admiral Krishna Swaminathan, Flag Officer Commanding Western Fleet, and included aircraft carrier Vikramaditya, indigenous destroyers Kolkata and Chennai, stealth frigate Talwar, Fleet Support Ship Deepak and the integral helicopters of these warships, indigenously built submarine Khanderi and P8I and IL-38 maritime reconnaissance aircraft.

In addition to ‘Dual Carrier’ operations, advanced surface and anti-submarine warfare exercises, seamanship evolutions, and weapon firings were also undertaken during both phases of Malabar exercises, demonstrating the synergy, coordination and inter-operability between the four friendly navies.

The Malabar series of exercises, which began as an annual bilateral naval exercise between India and the US in 1992, has seen increasing scope and complexity over the years. The 24th edition of Malabar exercises was reflective of the commitment of the participating countries to support a free, open, inclusive Indo-Pacific as well as a rules-based international order.


Indian Navy (IN) Ships including indigenously built ASW corvette Kamorta and missile corvette Karmuk participated in the 2nd edition of India, Singapore and Thailand Trilateral Maritime Exercise SITMEX-20, from November 21 to 22 in the Andaman Sea. 

The first edition of SITMEX, hosted by the Indian Navy, was conducted off Port Blair in September 2019. The SITMEX series of exercises are conducted to enhance mutual interoperability and imbibing best practices between the Indian Navy, Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) and the Royal Thai Navy (RTN). The 2020 edition of the exercise is being hosted by RSN. RSN was represented in the exercise by the ‘Formidable’ Class frigate ‘Intrepid’ and ‘Endurance’ Class Landing Ship Tank ‘Endeavour’ and  RTN by the ‘Chao Phraya’ Class frigate ‘Kraburi.’ 

Conducted as a ‘non-contact, at sea only’ exercise in view of the pandemic, validated the growing synergy, coordination, and cooperation in the maritime domain between the three friendly navies and maritime neighbours. Two days of maritime drills featured the three navies practicing naval manoeuvres, surface warfare exercises and weapon firings. 

Besides improving interoperability between the friendly navies, SITMEX series of exercise also aims to strengthen mutual confidence and develop common understanding and procedures towards enhancing the overall maritime security in the region.  


Indian Navy hosted the 27th edition of India-Singapore Bilateral Maritime Exercise SIMBEX-20 from 23-25 November 2020 in the Andaman Sea. The SIMBEX series of exercises between the Indian Navy and Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), which began in 1994, to enhance mutual inter-operability and imbibe the best practices from each other steadily increased the scope and complexity over the past two decades to include advanced naval drills covering a wide spectrum of maritime operations.

In the 2020 edition of SIMBEX, Indian Navy’s component included destroyer Rana with its integral Chetak helicopter, indigenously built corvettes Kamorta and Karmuk, submarine Sindhuraj and P8I maritime reconnaissance aircraft.

RSN was represented by the ‘Formidable’ Class frigates ‘Intrepid’ and ‘Steadfast’ with integral S70B helicopter and ‘Endurance’ Class Landing Ship Tank ‘Endeavour.’

The two navies participated in advanced surface anti-air warfare and anti-submarine warfare exercises including weapon firings, over three-days of intensive joint operations at sea.

The SIMBEX series of exercises exemplify the high level of coordination and convergence of views between India and Singapore, particularly in the maritime cooperation, towards enhancing the overall maritime security in the region and highlighting their commitment to a rules-based international order.

India signing the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) with the US is going to majorly benefit its armed forces with technology to enhance domain awareness/intelligence and accuracy of its crucial weapon systems. With India being part of the Quad, the possibility of the Indian Navy operating with the Quad’s maritime forces in the South China Sea cannot be ruled out.

Soon after the Galwan Valley clashes of June 15-16, Indian Navy reportedly deployed a warship in the South China Sea, which the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy objected to. At that time, there were US naval ships deployed there, which were in close and secure communication with the Indian Navy’s ship and also keeping it well informed about the presence of vessels of other countries operating there.

(The author is former spokesperson, Indian Army and Ministry of Defence. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at wordsword02@gmail.com)