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US-India military exercises have grown dramatically: Pentagon

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WASHINGTON (PTI): Commensurate with the growing Indo-US military-to-military ties, joint exercises between the two forces too have grown dramatically, with as many as 56 cooperative events in 2011, more than India has conducted with any other country, a Pentagon report has said.

In a rare report on India submitted to the Congress, the Department of Defense lists all major exercises currently on between the two militaries and says these exercises are important vehicles in developing professional relationship and familiarity between different wings of the militaries.

"US-India military exercises have grown dramatically in size, scope and sophistication. We now have regular exercises across all services that help to deepen our military and defence relationships," the Pentagon said in its report.

In 2011, there were 56 cooperative events across all Services - more than India conducted with any other country, the report informed the Congress.

In 2010, the US Pacific Command (USPACOM) and the Indian Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) conducted the inaugural Joint Exercise India (JEI) tabletop exercise in Alaska which is a significant step in the evolution of the exercise programme because it facilitates multiservice and bilateral cooperation.

It said JEI may include a command post exercise in 2012.

Noting that Naval cooperation between the two countries helped to lay the groundwork for cooperation to evolve in complexity, the report said the two navies conduct four exercises annually: MALABAR, HABU NAG (naval aspects of amphibious operations), SPITTING COBRA (explosive ordnance destruction focus), and SALVEX (diving and salvage).

MALABAR, which has been a multinational exercise, is the premier annual bilateral maritime exercise conducted to reinforce maritime tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) of both nations.

HABU NAG is also increasing in scale and complexity, and was conducted this year in conjunction with USPACOM's JEI to leverage the complementary characteristics of amphibious and HA/DR operations, it said.

These exercises are important vehicles in developing professional relationships and familiarity between the two navies and run the gamut of high-end naval warfare, including integrated air/missile defence, anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, and naval special warfare.

"In addition to the annual Pacific Fleet-Indian Navy Executive Steering Group meeting, we also hold regular naval bilateral staff talks, engage in port visits, and conduct personnel exchanges at all ranks," it said, adding that the US Coast Guard had also recently begun engagement and training with the Indian Coast Guard.

The US Army's engagement with India centres on the annual YUDH ABHYAS exercise that commenced in 2004, it said, pointing out that this was the first year the two conventional armies exercised together in India since 1962.

YUDH ABHYAS has expanded from a company-size field training exercise to battalion live fire exercises and brigade-level command post exercises.

"In addition to the Executive Steering Group meeting convened annually between our armies, there have also been numerous subject matter expert exchanges on challenges of mutual concern, including countering improvised explosive devices," the report said.

Although India does not have a direct counterpart to the US Marine Corps, the Indian Army desires engagement with the US Marine Corps to develop the capabilities of its amphibious units, the Pentagon said.

In this light exercise SHATRUJEET, that has since 2010 focused on amphibious doctrine and operations, is an annual, reciprocal, company-sized, ground field training exercise that could easily be expanded in size and scope.

Besides, COPE INDIA, meant to be held bi-annually, is the primary exercise between the two air forces, the last of which was held in Agra, in October 2009, focused on mobility operations in a humanitarian assistance scenario.

The report said that the IAF also intends to participate in RED FLAGNELLIS in 2013, likely with both fighters and airborne warning and control system aircraft.

RED FLAG is a joint, combined training exercise that provides a peacetime "battlefield" to train interoperability across a variety of mission sets, including interdiction, air superiority, defence suppression, airlift, aerial refueling, and reconnaissance.

"The course of air force engagement is charted annually at the Pacific Air Forces (PACAF)-IAF Executive Steering Group, and several subject matter expert exchanges and exchanges are conducted annually on topics such as airfield engineering, intelligence, weapons and tactics, and flight safety," the report said.

US Special Operations Forces (SOF), Pentagon said, interacts with Indian SOF through Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) events, incorporated as part of Service- sponsored exercises MALABAR, YUDH ABHYAS, and COPE INDIA.

Another SOF exclusive exercise is VARJA PRAHAR which focuses on advanced rifle marksmanship, combat marksmanship, close-quarters combat, helicopter insertion, medical evacuation, combined mission planning, and scenario- based missions, it said.

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