Indian naval ships today sailed for over two months long operational deployment to the disputed South China Sea during which they will take part in Malabar naval exercise with the US and Japan.
Indigenously built guided missile stealth frigates, INS Satpura and INS Sahyadri, INS Shakti, a sophisticated fleet support ship, and INS Kirch, an indigenous guided missile corvette, will participate in the MALABAR-16 exercise.
The Indians ships participation in MALABAR-16, a maritime exercise with the US Navy and JMSDF, reflects the vital strategic importance of the region to India.
“In a demonstration of its operational reach and commitment to India’s Act East policy, the Indian Navy’s Eastern Fleet, under the command of Rear Admiral SV Bhokare, Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Fleet, sailed out today on a two and a half month long operational deployment to the South China and North West Pacific,” a statement from the navy said.
During this overseas deployment, the ships of Eastern Fleet will make port calls at Cam Rahn Bay (Vietnam), Subic Bay (Philippines), Sasebo (Japan), Busan (South Korea), Vladivostok (Russia) and Port Klang (Malaysia).
The visits to each port will last four days and are aimed at strengthening bilateral ties between the navies.
PASSEX has also been planned at sea with the host navies.
Reacting sharply to India’s move in December last year of including Japan in the Indo-US Malabar naval exercises on a permanent basis, China had said that Tokyo will not “provoke confrontation” and “heighten tensions” in the region.
China claims sovereignty on almost all of the South China Sea which is disputed by Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
The US, which had been pushing for Japan’s inclusion, has said the exercise is an important element for assessing the maritime capabilities of all the three countries.
The US has in recent months ramped up its warnings over what it calls China’s growing “militarisation” in the region.
American warships and aircraft have undertaken number of operations in the region to challenge China’s moves even as the US hopes to stitch Asian military powers into a closer cooperation.
The US has also been pushing for a quadrilateral security dialogue involving itself, India, Japan and Australia.