Having grown in scope and complexity over the years, these exercises provide an opportunity to test the combat readiness of the combined Fleets of the Indian Navy to operate in a multi-threat environment
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
On January 24, 2023, the Indian Navy (IN) kicked off a massive naval combat exercise with warships, submarines, fighter jets, maritime patrol aircraft and helicopters to test operational preparedness in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) amid the growing collusiveness between China and Pakistan in the maritime domain. This exercise, named ‘TROPEX (signifying theatre level operational readiness exercise), was preceded by a five day exercise between the IN and the French Navy, named Exercise ‘VARUNA’; a major annual aero-naval event whose first edition dates back to 1983 to test the ability of the Indian and French Navies to deploy and operate together.
Exercise VARUNA held from January 16 to January 20, 2023 was the 21st edition of the Indo-French bilateral naval exercise. Held in the Western Seaboard, it saw participation of the indigenous guided missile stealth destroyer INS ‘Chennai’, guided missile frigate INS ‘Teg’, maritime patrol aircraft P-8I and Dornier, integral helicopters and MiG-29K fighter aircraft from the Indian side. The French Navy was represented by the aircraft carrier ‘Charles De Gaulle’, frigates FS ‘Forbin’ and ‘Provence’, support vessel FS ‘Marne’ and maritime patrol aircraft ‘Atlantique’. The exercise involved advanced air defence, tactical maneuvers, surface firings, underway replenishment and other maritime operations.
Exercise VARUNA held from January 16 to January 20, 2023 was the 21st edition of the Indo-French bilateral naval exercise
Conducted biennially, Exercise ‘TROPEX’ will continue till March this year. It has participation of both the eastern and western fleets of the Indian Navy, plus units from the Army, Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Coast Guard. It is designed to strengthen the interoperability of all the participants in joint operations in a complex environment, preparing them for both offensive and defensive contingencies in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
During TROPEX, the Indian Navy has planned to put all its combatants including destroyers, frigates, corvettes as well as submarines and aircraft through complex maritime operational deployments to validate and refine the Navy’s concept of operations including operational logistics and interoperability with other Services. The exercise is being conducted in different phases, both in harbour and at sea, over a vast geographical expanse in the IOR, encompassing various facets of combat operations, including live weapon firings. The naval war-game is part of the military exercise which represents the actual conditions under the various possible scenarios of modern naval warfare.
TROPEX 23 involves the elements of naval war-game, focusing on the logistics which include ordnance deliveries including missiles, torpedoes, and rockets from frontline warships. The exercise will showcase the firepower of the Indian Navy and reaffirm the Navy’s capability to carry out long-range maritime strikes. Having grown in scope and complexity over the years, these exercises provide an opportunity to test the combat readiness of the combined Fleets of the Indian Navy to operate in a multi-threat environment.
Conducted biennially, Exercise ‘TROPEX’ will continue till March this year. It has participation of both the eastern and western fleets of the Indian Navy, plus units from the Army, Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Coast Guard
TROPEX 23, however, must be seen in the backdrop of China’s expanding naval power and focus in the IOR. China is looking for overseas bases and turnaround facilities all over the IOR, in addition to Djibouti, Karachi and Gwadar. It is only a matter of time before China begins to send carrier battle groups (CBGs) to the IOR. China already is the world’s largest navy with 355 warships and submarines. More importantly, it already has seven to eight naval vessels and spy ships deployed in the IOR at any given time.
The PLA Navy (PLAN) may be short of actual combat experience but it has also been conducting joint naval exercises with foreign navies (including with Pakistan and Iran in the Arabian Sea) to strengthen interoperability and operational capabilities, and sharing best practices. The PLA already has two aircraft carriers in ‘Liaoning’ and ‘Shandong’. After ‘launching’ the third aircraft carrier last year (the 80,000-tonne ‘Fujian’), China is also fast-building a fourth one.
The PLA Navy (PLAN) may be short of actual combat experience but it has also been conducting joint naval exercises with foreign navies to strengthen interoperability and operational capabilities, and sharing best practices
China is helping Pakistan to build a maritime force to challenge India. It is supplying Islamabad with four advanced frigates and eight Yuan-class diesel-electric submarines with air-independent propulsion (AIP) for greater underwater endurance. In the case of India, our diesel-electric submarines are without AIP and would perhaps take few months/years to be equipped with AIP, which somewhat narrows the gap with the virtually limitless endurance of nuclear-powered submarines.
Of equal concern is the fact that our newly-commissioned 45,000-tonne indigenous aircraft carrier INS ‘Vikrant’ is still without its vital fighter jet complement, while the older aircraft carrier INS ‘Vikramaditya’ is still to become operational after a major refit-and-maintenance cycle. We need to do a lot in catching up with China in terms of naval capability, including by way of drones for air, surface and sub surface operations.