Milan drills to be less serious than India expects
Published: Jan 09, 2022 06:14 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

Indian media outlet The Financial Express reported earlier this month that the Indian Navy is getting ready for the "largest ever multilateral 'Milan' exercise," scheduled for the end of February, with 46 navies from across the globe expected to enter the Indian waters. "Both India and likeminded navies are getting together to find ways to counter the growing presence of China," a senior Indian officer explained, according to the report.

The 46 navies mainly include India's neighboring countries, ASEAN members, African countries, Gulf Cooperation Council countries, traditional partners (Russia and France), as well as QUAD and AUKUS member countries. India obviously wants to show its influence and discourse power in the Indian Ocean, so it has invited the above-mentioned countries, including some of its traditional military partners. By showing off advanced warships and submarines, India wants to demonstrate its military and naval power.

Although the scale of 46 navies may sound amazing, in fact, most countries will simply show their presence in the exercise and participate in simple formation sails. During the Milan exercise, the significance of these countries' military cooperation with India is not as great as it sounds. India has invited as many countries as it could, but few countries can conduct a valuable multilateral exercise with India.

India's main purpose is to invite AUKUS and QUAD members to strengthen its capabilities for maritime operations. The US, the UK, Japan and Australia are the so-called core players of this exercise. They may practice some traditional exercises with the Indian Navy, such as joint anti-submarine operations. Advanced warships, including US aircraft carriers, may integrate with the Indian Navy to launch joint anti-submarine operations with the Indian Ocean serving as an imaginary battlefield. This was also a major part of the previous Malabar exercise. Anti-submarine operations could still be major components this time, especially in an in-depth military exercise between India and the four other countries.

India has seen a serious COVID-19 resurgence recently, but it is still preparing for the exercise at a huge cost. India considers itself the most influential country in the Indian Ocean, showing off its so-called role of master and the large number of military partners it has. On the one hand, India relies on the US' military resources. On the other hand, India is also vigilant against the US to some extent. By hosting a large-scale drill, India regards itself taking a leadership role, while the US Navy plays the role of guest throughout the exercises. This means India and the US do not have 100 percent strategic mutual trust.

The Milan exercise will not be as serious as the Malabar exercise. The Malabar exercise is a targeted, multilateral anti-submarine military exercise among India, Australia, the US and Japan. Many weapons and equipment systems are interconnected among these countries, and there may be a deep integration of military forces as well as the sharing of intelligence. Throughout the Milan exercise, there may also be anti-submarine exercises, but they will not be as professional as those conducted in Malabar.

Some Indian media and officials believe that the Milan exercise is aimed at containing China, which is nonsense. China's military activities in the Indian Ocean aim to serve the purpose of maintaining global peace and regional stability, which includes combating piracy. It effectively protects maritime energy transportation and communication. If India wants to expand its military power and strengthen its maritime offensive capabilities, it needs an excuse. Therefore, it is hyping up the so-called China threat to expand its military power, especially maritime combat power.

But most countries will not blindly follow India. Countries in the Middle East and Africa will simply participate in this exercise, but they are unlikely to join hands with India to block and contain China at sea. However, other countries like Japan, the US, the UK and Australia may use India to build a large "C"-shaped encirclement against China in a wider area, which includes relevant waters of both the Western Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. Therefore, the US and India may have some common interests in jointly containing China's maritime power.

However, India is not a true ally of the US. The two sides will engage in military cooperation on the basis of mutual utilization with a sense of suspicion. Therefore, India's defense cooperation with the US and US allies is loose and lacks sincerity.

The author is a Beijing-based military analyst. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn