Indian Navy’s task force anchors bilateral defense ties

Indian Navy’s task force anchors bilateral defense ties

Mandeep Singh

A task force of the Indian Navy’s Eastern Fleet continued its deployment to Southeast Asia, the South China Sea and the western Pacific Ocean in August and September 2021, making stops for bilateral exercises with the navies of Brunei, the Philippines and Singapore.

The exercises marked milestones in New Delhi’s long-standing defense relationships with both countries and reflected the goals of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Act East” policy, including more defense cooperation.

The 28th iteration of the Singapore-India Maritime Bilateral Exercise (SIMBEX), conducted September 2-4, featured gunnery live-firing, replenishment-at-sea approaches and maneuver and communication drills, according to Singapore’s Ministry of Defence. It also included a virtual planning phase followed by a “contactless” phase in international waters in the southern South China Sea.

The Indian Navy was represented by the INS Ranvijay guided-missile destroyer, the INS Kiltan and INS Kora corvettes and a P-8I maritime patrol aircraft. Singapore’s vessels included two corvettes — the RSS Steadfast and RSS Vigour — and a submarine.

“The success of SIMBEX-2021 is yet another demonstration of the mutual resolve on both sides to strengthen the bilateral partnership further in the years ahead,” according to an Indian Navy statement. Defense ties remain a vital part of the relationship, from military-to-military exchanges to cybersecurity and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, the statement said.

Ahead of SIMBEX, the INS Ranvijay and INS Kora joined the Philippine Navy’s newest frigate, the BRP Antonio Luna, for an August 23 maritime partnership exercise in the West Philippine Sea, which included maneuvers to enhance interoperability, the Indian Navy said in a statement. (Pictured: The Philippine Navy frigate BRP Antonio Luna, foreground, sails with the Indian Navy vessels INS Ranvijay and INS Kora during a maritime partnership exercise in the West Philippine Sea on August 23, 2021.)

“Both navies remain committed to further strengthening bilateral collaboration in the maritime domain towards a collective aim of ensuring a stable, peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific,” the statement said.

The exercise was an important demonstration of the BRP Antonio Luna’s capabilities, according to the Philippine Navy. The 2,600-ton vessel, commissioned in March 2021, is the result of multilateral collaboration — built by South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries, its engines, instruments and armaments were supplied by at least 10 nations.

The Indian Navy vessels made a replenishment port call at Manila following the exercise.

In announcing the Eastern Fleet task force’s deployment in early August 2021, India’s Ministry of Defence said the exercises would help fulfill the Act East policy, a diplomatic initiative unveiled in 2014 to strengthen economic, geopolitical, defense and cultural ties throughout the Indo-Pacific region.

The deployment has also included bilateral exercises with the Australian, Indonesian and Vietnamese navies, as well as the multilateral Malabar-21 exercise in the western Pacific with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, the Royal Australian Navy and the United States Navy.

Mandeep Singh is a FORUM contributor reporting from New Delhi, India.