NEW DELHI: India and the US are planning to go in for a major upgrade of their bilateral combat exercises after inking the last month in tune with their "joint strategic vision" for the Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean Region.
Defence ministry sources say the aim is to "further increase the scope and complexity" of bilateral military exercises and engagements "across the board", which will now be facilitated by the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) inked during defence minister Manohar Parrikar's visit to the US on August 29-30.
India, of course, is willing to further tighten the strategic clinch with the US, which has already bagged worth $15 billion just since 2007. But New Delhi remains reluctant to join any formal tri-lateral or quadrilateral security axis to counter China in the Asia Pacific or act as a "linchpin" in the ongoing "re-balance" of US military forces to the region.
"But we can learn a lot from the high-tech US armed forces in the exercises, ranging from complex mission planning and execution to operating in an increasingly digitised warfare environment. Conversely, they can learn from our battle and insurgency-hardened forces. LEMOA will further boost the interoperability," said an official.
After the upgrade in the annual top-notch between India and the US, with Japan becoming a regular participant, for instance, the two countries are now kicking-off Navy-to-Navy discussions on anti-submarine warfare and submarine safety as well as a maritime security dialogue. Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba, incidentally, is currently in the US for a sea power symposium.
On the land combat front, the plan is to "evolve" the Yudh Abhyas exercise into "a more complex, combined arms, divisional-level exercise". The 12th edition of Yudh Abhyas is currently underway at Chaubatia in Uttarakhand, with over 225 troops from each side honing their combat skills, as was earlier reported by TOI.
While infantry soldiers and Stryker combat teams from Fort Louis in the US are taking part in the exercise, India has fielded troops from the 12 Madras Regiment. Though the main focus is on counter-terrorism drills involving "a combined deployment at a brigade-level", deliberations are also slated on "air-ground integration, combined arms maneuver and targeting processes".
Similarly, the IAF is also going to step up its engagement with the USAF after taking part in the iconic Red Flag exercise at Alaska in April-May with eight Sukhoi-30MKI and Jaguar fighters, two IL-78 mid-air refuellers and two C-17 Globemaster-III strategic-lift aircraft.
Interestingly, at a time when the first-ever military exercise between Russia and Pakistan is creating waves in the region, around 250 Indian troops from the Kumaon Regiment are also now taking part in the Indra exercise with the Russian 50th Motorized Infantry Brigade at the Ussiriysk district of Vladivostok.
Though Russia has been India's long-standing defence supplier since the 1960s, the militaries from the two countries have not exercised with the same intensity as witnessed in the flurry of drills between India and the US over the last decade.