Eyeing China – India’s Two Aircraft Carriers To Lead Navies From 50 Countries In Milan 2024 Drills

At the end of February 2024, India will flex its Naval muscle in Milan drills. With an eye on China, an armada of 50 navies will congregate in the strategically vital Bay of Bengal, giving an unequivocal message of ensuring a secure and stable Indo-Pacific in the face of China’s belligerence in the region.

Indian Navy’s twin aircraft carriers (INS Vikramaditya and the INS Vikrant) and foreign submarines will be the stars of the exercise.

Apart from the Quad countries – the US, Japan, and Australia, navies of south-eastern countries will participate in the Milan maritime exercise. India will be deploying its twin aircraft carriers – INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant, for the exercise from February 19 to 27. Besides these, 20 naval warships, maritime patrol aircraft like P-8I, and submarines will be participating in the exercise.

“The sea phase of the naval exercise will involve large-force maneuvers, advanced air defense operations, anti-submarine warfare, and anti-surface operations,” a naval official told the EurAsian Times. This will be the 12th edition of the Milan exercise, and it will be the largest.

The ‘Harbour phase’ of the exercise would comprise an International Maritime Seminar, International City Parade, Maritime Tech Exhibition, Subject Matter Expert Exchange, Milan of Young Officers, and various sporting events.

Navies from the US, Japan, Australia, France, Bangladesh, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia are some of the countries expected to participate in the exercise. The exercise aims to help friendly navies in the region achieve synergy and reiterate commitment to open, inclusive, and rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific, which is being threatened by China’s increasing aggression.

China has been muscle-flexing in the Indo-Pacific region coming in direct conflict with Japan and the US, primarily in the East and South China Seas. The situation with the Philippines and Taiwan has also been fluid for several years.

India, on its part, has been actively engaging with the Southeast Asian countries, and its engagement with the Quad countries has also increased considerably.

But the exercise is not only meant as a show of force but also for diplomatic outreach among many key players like the United Kingdom, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and UAE, Brunei, the Philippines, Maldives, Kenya, Indonesia and Mauritius.

The exercise comes at a time when the freedom of navigation in the Red Sea is threatened by Houthi militia and Somali pirates.

The Iranian-backed Houthis rebels are targeting commercial ships, making the trade expensive. The Indian Navy has been the primary responder against the piracy bids in the Arabian Sea, mainly around the Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa, where Somalian pirates have created a maritime menace.

According to an official statement, “for restoring maritime security in the region, enhanced presence of ships, aerial surveillance by maritime patrol aircraft, RPA (Remotely-Piloted Aircraft) in the Central Arabian Sea and Off East of Coast of Somalia is being undertaken by Indian Navy.’’

The Indian Navy’s area of influence extends from the Gulf of Aden in the West to the Malacca Strait in the East. For this, it has deployed 50 warships to escort merchant vessels through the 490 nautical mile-long Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC).

Minister of State for Defense Ajay Bhatt told the Parliament that “since 2008, Indian Navy has deployed units in Gulf of Aden and East Coast of Africa towards anti-piracy patrols. A total of 3,440 ships and over 25,000 seafarers have been safely escorted.”

While the Indian Navy is playing a yeoman role in defending commercial shipping from pirates and missile attacks in the Arabian Sea, maritime security in the Indo-Pacific is currently under threat, with China and the rapidly expanding PLA Navy playing the hegemon in the South China Sea.

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Previous Editions Of Milan

The 11th edition of Milan took place in 2022 amid tensions between the West and Russia. The warships from Quad countries participated in the exercise along with France, Myanmar, South Korea, and Vietnam.

Russia, Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, among others, participated in the exercise without ships. A total of 39 countries participated in the exercise.

The first two days of exercises at sea included complex anti-air warfare drills with US P8A aircraft shepherding a strike of Indian fighter aircraft on a formation of warships of the participating navies.

File Image: Indian Navy Warships

Additionally, weapon firings against low-flying air targets were conducted, reflecting the crews’ proficiency and high levels of interoperability.

Cross-deck landing operations were carried out with helicopters, and ships from the participating countries took turns to replenish at sea with the Indian Navy’s tanker. The sea phase saw the practice of anti-submarine exercises.

The sea phase witnessed the participation of 26 ships, one submarine, and 21 aircraft.

Starting with the participation of four countries – Indonesia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Thailand – in 1995, the exercise has since transitioned in terms of the number of participants and complexity of exercises.

  • Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
  • She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at) mail.com
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