India and the US have been steadily cranking up the scope, strength, complexity and frequency of their bilateral military exercises as part of their “strategic partnership and convergence”, with this year’s Yudh Abhyas drills being upgraded to “a battalion-level field training exercise (FTX) and a division-level command post exercise (CPX)”.
Soldiers of both countries after the validation exercise during Ex Yudh Abhyas at Chaubattia on September 26. (File photos)
“Yudh Abhyas will see around 350 soldiers from each side this year, increasing the participation from around 200 each earlier. We will be fielding the 15 Garhwal Rifles for the intensive exercise, which will focus on counter-terror drills. Last year, Yudh Abhyas was held at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in the US,” said an officer.
As was first reported by TOI, India and the US have also decided to hold their first-ever mega tri-Service amphibious exercise off the eastern coast of India next year. This will be only the second time India will deploy assets and manpower from its Army, Navy and IAF together for an exercise with a foreign country after the Indra wargames were held with Russia at Vladivostok last year.
Russia has been India’s long-standing defence supplier since the 1960s but the militaries from the two countries have not exercised much together. In sharp contrast, India and the US hold a flurry of wargames every year, which range from the top-notch naval Malabar (with Japan as the third participant) to the counter-terror Vajra Prahar and Yudh Abhyas drills between their armies. The US, of course, has also emerged as one of the largest defence suppliers to India, having bagged defence deals worth $17 billion just since 2007.
During the 2+2 talks on Thursday, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said, “Today, India’s defence forces carry out extensive training and joint exercises with the US. Our joint exercises have acquired greater complexity and newer dimensions, both bilaterally and in wider formats. To enhance our synergies in this area, we have decided to carry out for the first time a tri-Service joint exercise with the US off the eastern coast of India in 2019.”
“We are also putting in place an enabling framework for closer cooperation between our defence forces. The signing of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016 and the Helicopter Operations from Ships Other Than Aircraft Carriers (HOSTAC) earlier this year were important steps in this direction. The signing of the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) today will enable India to access advanced technologies from the US and enhance India’s defence preparedness,” she added.