Naval fleet goes on a month-long expedition

Indian Navy's eastern fleet has gone on a month-long overseas deployment touching Thailand and Singapore among other countries, days before Defence Minister A K Antony goes on a trip to these nations in a bid to bolster India's “look east” policy to counter China in the Indian Ocean.

Four Indian warships—stealth frigate INS Satpura, destroyer INS Ranvijay, missile Corvette INS Kirch and tanker INS Shakti—are on a month-long deployment during which they will travel up to South China Sea. Headed by the fleet commander Rear Admiral P Ajith Kumar, the fleet reached port Klang in Malaysia on May 25 after touching base at Singapore. The fleet will conduct a passing-exercise with Royal Malaysian Navy.

While Satpura and Kirch arrived from Singapore after participating in a maritime exhibition and a bilateral naval exercise, Ranvijay and Shakti quietly sailed from Port Blair on May 21 when Chinese premier Li Keqiang was holding talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on regional security, sources told Deccan Herald.

The four warships will set sail for Vietnam on Wednesday and subsequently head to Manila in the Philippines. The ship's deployment from mid-May to end June in the South China Sea and the Western Pacific waters would reinforce military ties with Asean countries in addition to showcasing the Indian Navy's capabilities. India will soon become the first Asian nation to deploy two aircraft carriers. With the INS Viraat receiving three years of life and the INS Vikramaditya to arrive by the first quarter of 2014, India will be in a position to further flex its maritime muscles.  The eastern fleet's deployment assumes significance as it coincided with Chinese premier Li Keqiang's maiden visit to India and immediately preceded by Antony's tour to Singapore and Thailand.

The defence minister will stop at both countries while returning from Australia,  a known US ally. Antony will be the first Indian defence minister to visit Australia, which is now planning a bilateral naval exercise in the Indian Ocean.

The visit was originally planned in March but was pushed ahead due to the VVIP helicopter deal controversy that necessitated Antony's presence in India. The defence minister will travel to Australia on June 3. Following his visit, the Indian Navy is likely to participate in a fleet review in Australia by 2013 end. India attended two Australian navy exercise—Exercise Kakadu (2010) and Exercise Dougong (2002)—as an observer.

Though India and Australia had agreed to hold naval exercises in the Indian Ocean, details of the exercise are still in the planning phase. The Indian Navy invited Australia to take part in the five-nation Malabar exercise in 2007, which triggered angry reactions from China.

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