By Arul Louis
New York, May 10 (IANS) In the trend of India and the US intensifying naval links to protect maritime freedom in the Indo-Pacific region, the US Navy chief will visit India next week, four days after the Indian Navy ships concluded exercises with the US and its allies in the South China Sea.
During his visit scheduled from May 12 to 14, Admiral John Richardson will meet Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Sunil Lanba and other senior Navy, military,and national security officials, the US Navy announced on Thursday.
India and the US share the vital interest of keeping the Indo-Pacific region open for trade for security while China is flexing its military muscles on the oceans.
“The strategic environment is becoming more complex and the nature of our shared challenges requires frequent discussion of our views of the maritime domain and how best our two navies can operate in line with our respective objectives,” Richardson said in the US Navy statement.
“The visit aims to further strengthenthe strategic partnership between the two navies by emphasising the importance of information sharing and exchange.”
Recent weeks have seen a flurry of naval activity and other nations that share its interests in the region.
On Wednesday, the destroyer INS Kolkata and tanker INS Shakti concluded a week of exercises with the navies of the US, Japan and the Philippines in the international waters off the South China sea, according to the US Navy.
Both the Philippines and Japan are involved in disputes with China in the region.
Separately, India has held bilateral naval exercises with Japan and the US in recent weeks.
India and the US had also held a joint submarine-hunting exercise in the Indian Ocean on April 15.
The Indian Navy and Japan’s Maritime Self-Defence Force, as its navy is officially known, conducted a joint anti-submarine exercise off the coast of Goa on April 24.
In the South China Sea this week, ships from the four countries “conducted formation exercises, communication drills, passenger transfers and held a leadership exchange aboard (Japan’s) JS Izumo”, the US Navy 7th Fleet said.
The other ships in the exercise were the USS William P. Lawrence; Japan’s helicopter-carrier JS Izumo and destroyer JS Murasame, and Philippine Navy patrol ship BRP Andres Bonifacio.
The US Navy statement quoted Japan’s Rear Admiral Hiroshi Egawa as saying the exercise “served as a way to enhance peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region”.
US Navy Commander Andrew J. Klug said: “Professional engagements with our allies, partners and friends in the region are opportunities to build upon our existing, strong relationships, as well as learn from each other.”
The US and India started holding a naval exercise call Malabar since 1992 and Japan became its permanent member in the annual exercises starting in 2015. The latest Malabar exercise was held last June in the Philippine Sea.
India also holds naval exercises with another country in the region, Australia. They held their third biennial exercise AUSINDEX off the Visakhapatnam coast.
(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)