Exercise MILAN 2024 will demonstrate India's arrival as a naval power

This exercise which began with just four countries and has now reached a participation level of over twelve times that number goes to show the recognition of India as a naval power and as a regional maritime security provider.

Col Anil Bhat (retd) Feb 02, 2024
Indian Navy (Photo: Twitter)

The 12th edition of the Multilateral Naval Exercise 2024, codenamed MILAN, scheduled to be conducted in Visakhapatnam, in southern India, from February 19 to 27, 2024, will be of the largest-ever participation, featuring the navies of over 50 countries and nearly 20 ships from friendly nations.

This biennial event, initially launched by the Indian Navy in 1995, began as a part of India’s ‘Look East Policy’, subsequently expanded under the ‘Act East policy’ and further into Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region’ (SAGAR) initiative, becoming a cornerstone of international maritime cooperation. The exercise aims to foster collaboration and understanding among navies, emphasizing the importance of a collective that has evolved over almost two decades into a significant multilateral naval exercise. The upcoming MILAN is poised to be a historic gathering with

A final planning conference, conducted in a hybrid mode (virtual and in-person), recently took place in Visakhapatnam, presided over by the Chief of Staff Operations, @IN_HQENC, and attended by representatives from participating nations. The conference marked the meticulous planning and coordination essential for the success of such a massive naval exercise.

Diverse array of events

The harbor phase of MILAN 24 promises a diverse array of events, including an International Maritime Seminar, City Parade at RK Beach, Swavlamban Exhibition, Subject Matter Expert Exchange, and Milan of Young Officers. These activities will provide a platform for participants to share expertise, showcase capabilities, and strengthen diplomatic ties.

During the sea phase, ships, maritime patrol aircraft, and submarines from Friendly Foreign Countries will join Indian Navy units in a series of manoeuvres. The Eastern seaboard in Visakhapatnam will witness the deployment of both Indian aircraft carriers, INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant, showcasing India’s naval strength and capability.

The exercises during MILAN 2024 will involve large-force manoeuvres, advanced air defence operations, anti-submarine warfare, and anti-surface warfare operations, demonstrating the participating nations’ commitment to maintaining maritime security in the region.

Showcasing shared responsibility

The timing of MILAN 2024 happens to be with India’s G20 presidency, emphasizing the country’s commitment to fostering global cooperation. The exercise also embodies the G20 theme of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ – the world is one family, showcasing the shared responsibility of nations in ensuring maritime peace and stability.

Ex MILAN, which began in 1995 it with just four nations - Indonesia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Thailand - has blossomed into a robust, multinational forum for maritime cooperation. The previous edition, MILAN 22, held off Visakhapatnam from February 25 to March 4, 2022, involved the participation of 39 countries. As MILAN 2024 approaches, anticipation is building for an even more significant and impactful event that will undoubtedly contribute to strengthening international maritime partnerships.

This exercise which began with just four countries and has now reached a participation level of over twelve times that number goes to show the recognition of India as a naval power and as a regional maritime security provider. When countries’ militaries exercise together, they come to know about each other’s capabilities. That is how the demand to train with the Indian Navy has been increasing. It has also been a positive catalyst for India in the arena of international relations.

Largest China-Pakistan exercise

This edition of Ex MILAN becomes more important given the largest ever China-Pakistan naval exercise termed as "first joint patrol", which was held in the Arabian Sea in November 2023. This was the third and the largest edition of Exercise Sea Guardian.  The first edition was held in 2020 in the northern waters of the Arabian Sea, while the second edition was held in 2022 in the waters off Shanghai.

According to Global Times, dated November 16, 2023, the PLA Navy sent a Type 052D destroyer, two Type 054A frigates, a replenishment ship, a conventional submarine and a submarine support ship, while the Pakistan Navy sent at least two Type 054A/P frigates, two F-22P frigates and an anti-submarine patrol aircraft, plus special forces from both sides. Explaining the differences between the joint patrol and the sea phase of the joint exercise, Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times that a joint patrol is a military presence that allows fast response to emergencies and safeguards security in a region, while a joint exercise is training with preset goals and targets. Song stated that the Arabian Sea is important to both China and Pakistan in terms of goods and energy transport, highlighted by the CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) that connects the two countries' economic activities, so it is important for the two countries to safeguard this sea lane from security threats. Song also added that this type of joint naval patrol will likely become routine.

(The author is a former spokesperson of India's Ministry of Defence. Views are personal. He can be reached at wordsword02@gmail.com)

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