Look East to Act East

In ac­cor­dance with In­dia’s ‘Act East’ pol­icy, re­la­tions with In­done­sia, Malaysia, Thai­land, Sin­ga­pore, Viet­nam, and the Philip­pines have de­vel­oped and strength­ened sig­nif­i­cantly.


The An­daman & Ni­co­bar Is­lands perched at the junc­tion of Bay of Ben­gal and the An­daman Sea has re­mained strate­gi­cally im­por­tant for the times im­memo­rial for the em­pires, dis­cov­er­ers, oc­cu­py­ing forces and the gov­ern­ments who ruled the Is­lands. From the mar­itime per­spec­tive the first out­post of the In­dian Navy was es­tab­lished dur­ing mid-1960s. A small naval es­tab­lish­ment un­der the charge of Naval Of­fi­cer-in-Charge was set up as a re­port­ing sta­tion. A few pa­trol crafts and sea­ward de­fence boats built by Gar­den Reach Ship­yard were based. Com­plete sup­plies, in­clud­ing the fresh and dry ra­tions, milk, etc. for the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion were trans­ported from the main­land through Fer­ries do­ing rounds from Cal­cutta and Madras and man­aged by the A&N Administration. Flat bot­tom Land­ing Ship Tanks were run­ning naval lo­gis­ti­cal trips from Visakha­p­at­nam.

To­wards the end 1960s In­dian Navy be­gan to grad­u­ally in­crease se­cu­rity mea­sures, in­fra­struc­ture, fa­cil­i­ties, etc. Two Naval Gar­risons of Com­pany strength were es­tab­lished; one at Port Blair and the other at Kamorta Is­land in Car Ni­co­bar. Naval per­son­nel manned these Gar­risons and wore Army uni­form with naval ranks and were de­ployed to set up Camps on sur­veil­lance du­ties to var­i­ous Is­lands. Slowly the Naval Gar­risons were dis­banded, and Army pres­ence be­gan to build grad­u­ally.

The fledg­ling East­ern Naval Com­mand be­gan to grow and the East­ern Fleet slowly built up its force lev­els of Am­phibi­ous Ships, Pa­trol Ves­sels. Un­der the over­all di­rec­tions of the Chiefs of Staff Com­mit­tee, Tri-Ser­vices Am­phibi­ous Ex­er­cises (AMPHEX) be­gan to be held at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals and the In­dian Navy as­signed the task to co-or­di­nate. For sev­eral years since its in­cep­tion AMPHEX were viewed with strong sus­pi­cion by the South East Asian coun­tries like Myan­mar, In­done­sia, Thai­land, even Sin­ga­pore. These coun­tries saw the ex­er­cises as ag­gres­sive and ex­pan­sion­ist de­sign of their big neigh­bour, In­dia. Mu­tual trust and re­la­tions started to grow when In­dia in­sti­tuted nu­mer­ous con­fi­dence build­ing mea­sures un­der its ‘Look East’ pol­icy first pro­pounded by for­mer Prime Min­is­ter P.V. Nar­simha Rao. Since then sus­pi­cions have been re­placed by reg­u­lar mar­itime ex­change pro­grammes, vis­its, struc­tured bi-lat­eral and multi-lat­eral ex­er­cises to mu­tual ad­van­tage. Bi-lat­eral ex­er­cises be­tween In­dia and Sin­ga­pore with nomen­cla­ture of SIMBEX was in­sti­tuted. Soon other South East Asian mar­itime forces came for­ward to form a multi-lat­eral ex­er­cises con­struct named MI­LAN to be held at Port Blair.

In­dian Ocean Naval Sym­po­sium

In­dian Ocean Naval Sym­po­sium (IONS) a unique ini­tia­tive launched by the In­dian Navy in 2008 has been a grand suc­cess and is con­tin­u­ally grow­ing in em­i­nence as a for­mi­da­ble or­gan­i­sa­tion with 23 ‘Mem­ber’ na­tions and nine ‘Ob­server’ coun­tries. IONS con­tinue its active en­gage­ments within the char­ter. Bangladesh is its cur­rent ‘Chair’. It is a mat­ter of great sig­nif­i­cance that the reg­u­lar Bi­lat­eral Ex­er­cise Co-or­di­nated Pa­trol (CORPAT) be­tween In­dia and Bangladesh was re­cently con­ducted as the first ever op­er­a­tional ex­er­cise des­ig­nated as In­ter­na­tional Mul­ti­lat­eral Mar­itime Search and Rescue Ex­er­cise (IMMSAREX) un­der IONS Char­ter. IMMSAREX was in­au­gu­rated by the Prime Min­is­ter of Bangladesh on Novem­ber 27, 2017 in Cox Bazar. In­dian Naval Ships Ran­vir, Sahyadri, Ghar­ial and Sukanya along with one Mar­itime Pa­trol Air­craft P-8I par­tic­i­pated. In

ad­di­tion, an ‘Ex­traor­di­nary Con­clave of Chiefs’ (ECoC) meet­ing was held on Novem­ber 28, 2017 and was at­tended by the Chiefs of the Navy. The ECoC de­lib­er­ated upon the ac­tiv­i­ties un­der­taken by IONS and re­viewed progress made by three IONS Work­ing Groups (IWG) namely ‘HADR’, ‘Mar­itime Se­cu­rity’ and ‘In­for­ma­tion Ex­change and In­ter­op­er­abil­ity’.

Se­cu­rity of the Is­land Ter­ri­to­ries

While the se­cu­rity of the Is­lands both on the east­ern and south­ern seaboards has al­ways re­mained the fo­cus of at­ten­tion and the In­dian Navy has as­signed due pri­or­ity to the in­fra­struc­ture devel­op­ment, cre­ation of sup­port fa­cil­i­ties, force lev­els and man­power devel­op­ment within its al­lo­cated budget and re­sources, it was the Post Kargil Re­view of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Sys­tem by the Group of Min­is­ters which pro­vided due im­pe­tus to the se­cu­rity of the In­dia’s Is­lands ter­ri­to­ries. Con­se­quently, the Tri-Ser­vices A&N Com­mand (ANC), which was set up in Oc­to­ber 2001 as the coun­try’s only Theatre Com­mand, with all man­power and as­sets of the Army, Navy and IAF placed un­der one op­er­a­tional com­man­der.

With Chi­nese nu­clear and con­ven­tional sub­marines reg­u­larly pop­ping up in the In­dian Ocean re­gion (IOR), the Navy has now com­menced reg­u­lar re­con­nais­sance mis­sions by Po­sei­don-8I Lon­grange Mar­itime Re­con­nais­sance and Anti-Sub­ma­rine War­fare Pa­trol air­craft as well as un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles in the is­lands. The IAF, too, oc­ca­sion­ally de­ploys its front­line fight­ers like Su-30MKIs on sur­veil­lance mis­sions in the Bay of Ben­gal. These sur­veil­lance mea­sures are in ad­di­tion to AMPHEX.

DANX 2017

De­fence of An­daman and Ni­co­bar Is­lands Ex­er­cise (DANX) 2017 was con­ducted un­der the aegis of ANC. The five-day ex­er­cise, which be­gan on Novem­ber 20, 2017, and con­cluded on Novem­ber 24, 2017, com­prised com­bat forces of fight­ers, spe­cial forces, naval ships and heavy-lift trans­port air­craft.

From the plan­ning stage on­wards, a cru­cial and ve­he­mently stressed tri-ser­vices ap­proach in­volv­ing joint plan­ning and in­te­grated op­er­a­tions was adopted for syn­er­gis­tic ap­pli­ca­tion of forces. The main ob­jec­tive of DANX was to prac­tice and val­i­date pro­ce­dures and con­cepts of all the Com­mand forces to de­fend the strate­gi­cally lo­cated A&N Is­lands. Com­bat­ant units; fight­ers, spe­cial forces, in­fantry com­bat ve­hi­cles, reg­u­lar troops, naval ships and heavy-lift trans­port air­craft par­tic­i­pated in DANX-2017 to fine-tune the op­er­a­tional con­cepts and doc­trines to evolve syn­ergy among the Army, Navy and Air Force.

The high­lights of the ex­er­cise were fighter op­er­a­tions, night Para­jumps at sea, slith­er­ing of troops from he­li­copters and am­phibi­ous land­ings of troops by ships. On con­clu­sion of DANX, Vice Ad­mi­ral Bi­mal Verma, Com­man­der-in-Chief ANC com­pli­mented all four com­po­nents for their syn­er­gis­tic plan­ning and pre­cise ex­e­cu­tion of the Com­mand plans and urged all to fo­cus on the take-away from the ex­er­cise for be­ing fully pre­pared for any even­tu­al­ity in the fu­ture.

Strate­gic Sig­nif­i­cance

Re­cently con­cluded DANX-2017 is be­ing viewed as a po­tent counter to the in­creased Chi­nese foot­prints in IOR. China has par­tic­i­pated ac­tively in anti-piracy op­er­a­tions in IOR on the premise that the In­dian Ocean is not In­dia’s Ocean. DANX is emerg­ing as a po­tent fo­rum to call bluff to the of­ten-re­peated rhetoric. With req­ui­site force-lev­els and in­fra­struc­ture, it will emerge as a pow­er­ful pivot to counter China’s moves in IOR to wield greater in­flu­ence, as well as to en­sure se­cu­rity of sea lanes of com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­verg­ing to­wards the Malacca Strait.

The of­fi­cial Chi­nese me­dia has al­leged that In­dian mil­i­tary ex­er­cises in the In­dian Ocean tar­get­ing China were ir­re­spon­si­ble and a vi­o­la­tion of In­ter­na­tional Law. The ex­er­cise could be used to de­sign a re­sponse to the reg­u­lar ap­pear­ance of ‘Chi­nese nu­clear and con­ven­tional sub­marines’ in the In­dian Ocean, the re­port said. Li Jie, a Bei­jing-based naval ex­pert, told Global Times the mil­i­tary drill tar­get­ing China’s Right of pas­sage in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters was ir­re­spon­si­ble and nar­row-minded, as China has never threat­ened In­dia’s se­cu­rity. “Chi­nese ves­sels in­clud­ing sub­marines en­ter­ing the In­dian Ocean are com­pletely rea­son­able and law­ful. China’s fu­ture ac­tions in the In­dian Ocean will not be af­fected by In­dia,” Zhao Gancheng, di­rec­tor of South Asia Stud­ies at the Shanghai In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, told the Global Times on Novem­ber 26, 2017.


In­dia for the past sev­eral years has worked hard to build mu­tual trust through sev­eral con­fi­dence build­ing mea­sures to build and strengthen sev­eral bi­lat­eral and multi-lat­eral con­structs within the ASEAN re­gion for im­proved de­fence ties. In ac­cor­dance with In­dia’s ‘Act East’ pol­icy, re­la­tions with In­done­sia, Malaysia, Thai­land, Sin­ga­pore, Viet­nam, and even the Philip­pines have de­vel­oped and strength­ened sig­nif­i­cantly. In ad­di­tion to ex­change pro­grammes, port calls, vis­its, ex­er­cises, In­dia also ex­tends spe­cialised sub­ma­rine train­ing to In­done­sia and Viet­nam to whom BrahMos su­per­sonic cruise mis­siles and Akash area de­fence mis­sile sys­tems have been of­fered.

It has been re­ported that on Wed­nes­day, Novem­ber 29, 2017, In­dia and Sin­ga­pore have signed a naval pact to sig­nif­i­cantly crank up their mar­itime se­cu­rity co-op­er­a­tion with ac­cess to each other’s bases, while re­it­er­at­ing the need for all to re­spect free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion and trade in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters in the back­drop of China’s ag­gres­sive and ex­pan­sion­ist be­hav­iour in the Asia Pa­cific re­gion.

While sign­ing the Pact, Dr Ng Eng Hen, De­fence Min­is­ter of Sin­ga­pore said, “We want to see more par­tic­i­pa­tion, co-op­er­a­tion and ac­tiv­ity in both the Strait of Malacca and the An­daman Sea,” adding that it was cru­cial to join forces against ter­ror­ism, chem­i­cal, bi­o­log­i­cal and ra­di­o­log­i­cal threat. His In­dian coun­ter­part, Nir­mala Sithara­man said the two coun­tries had de­cided to ex­pand over­all de­fence ties and were “strongly com­mit­ted” to boost­ing co-op­er­a­tion in tack­ling transna­tional se­cu­rity threats, es­pe­cially ter­ror­ism.

The five-day ex­er­cise DANX 2017 in progress

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