France, India, the United States, Japan and Australia on Monday kicked off complex maritime drills in the eastern Indian Ocean Region (IOR) to enhance interoperability among their navies, the Indian Navy said, at a time when China is making concerted efforts to strengthen its presence in the IOR. Two Indian warships and a long-range maritime patrol aircraft are taking part in the French Navy-led exercise called La Pérouse for the first time.
India, the US, Japan and Australia constitute the Quadrilateral security or Quad. China has been wary of the Quad that was revived in late 2017. And Beijing's suspicions have increased since the four countries upgraded the forum to the ministerial level in 2019.
Indian warships INS Satpura with an embarked helicopter and INS Kiltan, and a Boeing P-8I submarine hunter aircraft are taking part in the three-day exercise being held from April 5 to April 7.
The exercise will showcase high levels of synergy, coordination and inter-operability between the friendly navies, an Indian Navy spokesperson said on Monday. "Participation by the Indian Navy in the exercise demonstrates the shared values with friendly navies ensuring freedom of seas and commitment to an open, inclusive Indo-Pacific and a rules-based international order," Commander Vivek Madhwal said.
France is being represented at the multi-lateral exercise by amphibious assault ship Tonnerre and frigate Surcouf, the US Navy has sent its amphibious transport dock USS Somerset for the drills, Australia has deployed its frigate HMAS Anzac and tanker Sirius, and Japan has sent Akebono, a destroyer, for the drills.
"Exercise La Pérouse will witness complex and advanced naval operations including surface warfare, anti-air warfare and air defence exercises, weapon-firing exercises, cross-deck flying operations, tactical manoeuvres and seamanship evolutions such as replenishment at sea," he said.
Last November, navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh said a "great power competition" was playing out vigorously in IOR, where the navy has stepped up surveillance to check China's ambitions.
"IOR is one of the most militarised regions… Also, there are differing interpretations of international laws and there is this fear that 'Global Commons' can change to 'Contested Seas', threatening free flow of commerce and trade," the navy chief then said.