The Armies of India and the United States are all set to flex their muscles close to the India-China land border, just three months after Indian Navy sailed through the South China Sea in an affirmation of freedom of navigation in international waters. A total of 225 US Army soldiers are landing at Chaubuttia in Uttarakhand to start the two-week-long joint exercise called Yudh Abhyas, from 14 September. This is the 12th edition of the India-US joint exercise and the first in an area close to the border with China.
“Interconnectivity and interdependence are the new global order, interoperability and jointness as being applied in Exercise Yudh Abhyas 2016 are the new military essentials,” Lt Gen Balwant Singh Negi, GOC in C Central Command, told The Sunday Guardian.
India’s military and strategic ties with the United States are growing rapidly. The Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) signed between US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and his Indian counterpart Manohar Parrikar just a couple of weeks ago was a major step to curb firepower from likely threats. LEMOA has created a formal platform between India and the US to mutually use each other’s military bases and other facilities. With a trilateral joint exercise called Malabar involving Indian, US and Japanese Navies in June this year, India had sent a strong message to China that it would not allow any country to control the South China Sea. Yudh Abhyas is an extension of the same message of freedom from fear of threat by forces inimical to democracy and forces backing terrorism.
Lt Gen Rajan Ravindran, Chief of Staff, HQ Central Command, told this newspaper, “Exercise Yudh Abhyas-2016, the Indo-US joint exercise is a giant step for the armies of two great democratic nations to train and gain from each other’s rich operational experiences.”
Yudh Abhyas will be the first India-US exercise after LEMOA came into existence. The Chaubuttia military station near Ranikhet is situated just over 100 km away from the India-China border. Yudh Abhyas will start with the unfurling of the national flags of India and the US, apart from the playing of the two countries’ national anthems, Jana Gana Mana and the Star Spangled Banner, respectively. The US contingent will have soldiers from the 5th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade combat team and 7th Infantry Division of the US Army, while an equal strength of 225 soldiers from the Indian Army will be from the 14th Battalion of the Garhwal Rifles and the 12th Battalion of the Madras Regiment. 14 Garhwal Rifles will engage US Army soldiers in command post exercises and 12 Madras Regiment in field exercises.
An official from the US embassy told The Sunday Guardian, “Yudh Abhyas will be an excellent opportunity for US and Indian forces to share tactics, techniques, procedures and operational experiences. Yudh Abhyas is also an opportunity to broaden US-India military cooperation and enhance interoperability. The US side sincerely appreciates the excellent hospitality and amazing logistics support provided by the Indian Army in the lead up to the exercise.”
Yudh Abhyas has been strategically planned by the Ministry of Defence keeping in mind the features of the Line of Control, which India shares with Pakistan and the Line of Actual Control, which India shares with China. The exercise will be conducted in the heavily forested areas of Chaubattia, where the heights range from 6,000 feet to 8,000 feet. The exercise will begin with a difficult march of approximately 6 km with complete battle loads of almost 30 kg on each soldier. Then the soldiers of both the Armies will familiarise themselves with each other’s organisational structures, weapons and tactical drills. To simulate a counter insurgency and counter terrorism environment, the tactical part of the exercise will include “raid, cordon and search” operations, with the emphasis on using state of the art equipment for surveillance, tracking and identification of terrorists, using specialist weapons, sensing and neutralising IEDs and establishing effective communications. In the last three days and two nights of Yudh Abhyas, the validation exercise will be conducted with troops being inducted by helicopters into a notional hostile area. The drill will be followed as per the UN mandate and both militaries are looking forward to the exercise.
However, authoritative sources said that “There is no question of China being the focus, it is only because of geographical features and logistics that the region around Ranikhet was chosen for this long-planned exercise.” They add that “It is the policy of both the US and India to seek to have a friendly and cooperative relationship with a major trading partner, China.”