A massive naval drill kicked off in the Indian Ocean on Tuesday with warships from the US and four other nations teaming up in one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.
Twenty-seven ships and submarines from the United States, Australia, Japan and Singapore joined seven from India in the Bay of Bengal, at the northwestern entrance to the Malacca Strait, for the six-day exercises.
The exercises, the biggest peacetime joint military exercises in recent years, include anti-piracy, reconnaissance and rescue missions, Indian Navy spokesman Vinay Garg told AFP.
They involve the super-carriers USS Nimitz, USS Kitty Hawk and nuclear-powered submarine USS Chicago of the US Navy's Pacific fleet and India's lone aircraft carrier, the INS Viraat.
Some 160 fighter planes backed by reconnaissance aircraft, would be constantly in the air during the wargames, Indian naval officials said in New Delhi.
They said although live ammunition would not be used, commercial maritime traffic had been warned not to stray into the "warzone."
The exercises will also touch the Malacca Strait, a 805-kilometre (500-mile) channel between Malaysia and Sumatra that accounts for 60 percent of the world's maritime energy transport.
The international exercises, codenamed Malabar, are facing resistance from anti-US communist allies of India's ruling Congress party, who denounced them as proof of "India's growing subservience to the United States."
In Kolkata, capital of communist-ruled West Bengal state, Marxist leader Jyoti Basu Tuesday flagged off two protest buses packed with left-wing activists.
The communists, who prop up the government in parliament, also oppose a landmark Indo-US civilian nuclear energy deal to bring New Delhi back into the loop of global atomic commerce after decades in the nuclear wilderness.
India, who opposed the United States during the Cold War, has also denied claims that the exercise is aimed at intimidating neighbouring giant China, with which the country fought a brief but bitter border war in 1962.
"This is simply directed at ensuring security of the sea lanes of communication," deputy defence minister Pallam Raju said.
In the past, India has held exercises with navies from Britain, France, Russia, Singapore and Vietnam. A tri-nation event involving Brazil, India and South Africa is slated for May 2008.
The nuclear-armed Indian navy, which operates 137 ships, wants its supremacy in the region unchallenged. During the 2004 tsunami it rebuffed US offers of aid and sent out relief ships to ravaged Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
The latest drill is the second Malabar exercise since April 2006 when the Indian and US navies met off the Japanese coast of Yokosuka.
Sri Lanka, which is battling a bloody Tamil separatist revolt, has welcomed the exercises saying they would bolster maritime military cooperation in the troubled Bay waters infested with pirates and Tamil Tiger arms smugglers.
"Whatever activity is taking place, if that strengthens international trade and commerce through the high seas, it's something intrinsically welcome to us," Sri Lankan ambassador to India C. R. Jayasinghe said.
Last Mod: 04 Eylül 2007, 16:16