July 17, 2017: The F/A-18 super hornet fighter jets line up along the 4.5-acre flight deck of the 98,000-tonne displacement US navy aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in the Bay of Bengal.
The ship is sailing about a hundred nautical miles off the coast of Chennai. One after the other, a dozen aircraft are catapulted into the sky in under two minutes each. The aim is to dominate the skies as the P-8 A and P 8 I Poseidon aircraft of the US and Indian navies carry out long-range maritime reconnaissance and antisubmarine warfare operations to dominate the seas. 21 ships, including two submarines and over 100 aircraft and helicopters of the US, Japan and Indian navies are currently carrying out the most complex naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal in an aim to hunt down enemy submarines.
"This is the most complex exercise undertaken by the three navies together. INS Vikramaditya, India’s aircraft carrier with its MiG-29 K aircraft and P 8 I reconnaissance aircraft are participating in this exercise for the first time. The Japanese maritime defence force has also sent its most potent weapon platform JS Izumo with nine anti-submarine warfare helicopters for the first time.
EXERCISE A MESSAGE TO BELLIGERENT CHINA
"The US Navy has this aircraft carrier, LA class submarine, destroyers and cruisers, fighter aircraft, helicopters and P 8 A for joint submarine hunting and sea domination exercise,’’ says a top officer participating as an observer.
Though on record officers of the three countries insist the operations are all about interoperability and jointmanship to work together from humanitarian aid disaster relief to anti-piracy, scratch beneath the surface they admit the exercise is an attempt to send out a signal to an increasingly belligerent China.
The aim is to checkmate China. "The exercise is designed to advance military to military coordination and capacity to plan and execute tactical operations in multinational environment. There is a live firing gunnery exercises, helicopter cross deck operations and anti submarine warfare,’’ says Rear Admiral William Byrne, Commander of the US Carrier Strike Group.
CHINESE SUBMARINES LURKING IN INDIAN OCEAN
The message, to China, he insists is the same as to the rest of the world and that is to follow international norms. The Indian Navy is in the market hunting for anti-submarine warfare helicopters and on display are the capabilities of the MH 60 R ASW helicopters.
The Chinese navy submarines are increasingly lurking in the Indian ocean region. "We need better technology and more platforms to keep up with the Dragon’s every increasing footprint. This exercise is a step in the right direction,’’ he adds. As the navies refine their interoperability, the message is not lost. Today the three powerful maritime forces are operating in the Indian ocean region. Tomorrow, if required the three navies along with their allies can also operate across the high seas - from north Arabian Sea to the South China sea.