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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 September 2007, 17:33 GMT 18:33 UK
Military ties of India and US
By Sunil Raman
BBC News, Delhi

US plane off Indian coast
A US plane prepares for exercises with India

India and the US are involved in army and naval exercises that have raised a political storm in India.

But for the Indian armed forces, these are opportunities they missed out on during the Cold War.

Thirty-six years ago, a threat by the US to move the Seventh Fleet to the Bay of Bengal during the India-Pakistan war had a lasting influence on Indian government policy towards the US.

This week the USS Kitty Hawk and USS Nimitz, accompanied by several other warships, are participating in joint naval exercises with India, Japan, Australia and Singapore.

Further east in the jungles of Mizoram, soldiers from the US and India are involved in a 20-day-exercise to expose the US Special Forces to tactics used by the Indian army in low-intensity conflicts.

For decades Indian soldiers have dealt with insurgency movements in India's north-east and Kashmir.

The Mizoram exercises at the counter-insurgency and jungle warfare school, codenamed Thunderstrike, aim to teach soldiers how to deal with the local population in a conflict zone "without compromising its strike power".


The Indian armed forces had to wait until the mid-1990s before the military leadership and soldiers of the two countries could start interacting.

Left-wing opponents of the exercises
Opponents of the exercises question their strategic aims

Politics in the Cold War years dictated India's calculated distance from the US, particularly the military.

India's overwhelming dependence on the Soviet Union for military hardware ensured that the Indian armed forces personnel only interacted with the Soviet military.

Retired Rear Admiral RB Vohra of the Maritime Foundation says that, as young officers, he and his colleagues never imagined that they would ever interact with American military personnel.

He recalls that exercises with the Soviet military were about "hardcore equipment", focussing on how to use Russian weapons.

That is not so with the Americans. Since 1995 there have been 13 military exercises involving the armies, navies and air forces of India and the US.


The current relationship between the two militaries is based on a 2005 agreement, the Agreed Minute of Defence Relations. This 10-year-agreement stresses an "enhanced level of co-operation" between the two military forces as well as defence industry and technological development.

A former head of the defence think-tank IDSA, retired Commodore Uday Bhaskar, says India cannot ignore the lessons to be learned from the world's "most hi-tech navy".

India's first naval acquisition from America, the landing ship USS Trenton, renamed Jalashva or Sea-horse, was due to dock in Mumbai (Bombay) on Thursday.

It will be the Indian navy's second biggest Indian ship after the aircraft carrier INS Virat.

Capable of long-range wartime operation and humanitarian relief missions, the refurbished ship can carry four landing craft, six helicopters and up to 1,000 soldiers.

Former vice-chief of army staff Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi says the US has a lot to learn from the Indian army. He says the Indian army's vast experience in dealing with insurgent groups is much valued by all countries. "They want to learn from us," he says.

The Indian army will also hold joint operations with the Russians this month and next month will hold its first joint military exercise with China.

Col Deepak Sharma has vast experience of military operations in insurgency-hit Kashmir. He says the Indian army's experience of working with other forces is limited to the UN peace-keeping operations which do not call for any offensive/defensive operations.

Holding joint exercises, he says, will therefore provide valuable training for the Indian military for joint operations with other countries.

But visiting US Pacific Commander Admiral Timothy Keating raised concerns recently when he said it would be in the mutual interest of India and the US to look after the security of the Malacca Strait.

The 805km-strip of sea between Malaysia and Sumatra, through which 60% of the world's energy is transported, is currently international water.

This suggestion has raised major concerns in India, not just on the left, where opposition to the US is taken for granted, but also in China about the future path of US-India co-operation.

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