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Aero India 2023

Ex 'Milan' seeks to provide platform to work together on common maritime challenges: Vice Admiral Sobti

NEW DELHI (PTI): Deputy Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral Tarun Sobti has said the nine-day mega naval exercise 'Milan' in Visakhapatnam seeks to provide a platform to India and other countries to work together on common maritime challenges even as he underlined "there is no message" against China in this exercise.

Interacting with the media at the Kota House here on Wednesday, ahead of the naval exercise that will take place from February 19 to 27, he also said that 51 navies are slated to participate in the exercise and added the current geopolitical situation and the maritime challenges arising out of these would also be discussed during the event.

The formal opening ceremony will take place on February 21 with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh slated to be the chief guest, according to a curtain-raiser presentation shared before the press interaction.

The exercise with two phases -- harbour phase and sea phase -- will take place against the backdrop of fractious geopolitical environment, including increasing security concerns in the Red Sea.

"Milan 2024 is a major endeavour by the Indian Navy to get together friendly foreign countries from across the globe to partner with us for a maritime activity. This year in 2024, we are having Milan in Visakhapatnam and 51 countries are participating in the event. The 15 countries are sending ships and one aircraft is also joining for the exercise," Vice Admiral Sobti told reporters.

From the Indian Navy, nearly 20 ships, including aircraft carriers Vikrant and Vikramaditya, and nearly 50 aircraft will participate in the exercise.

Highlights of the harbour phase - February 19 to 23 - include international city parade, international maritime seminar, maritime tech expo, MILAN village, subject matter expert exchange and table top exercise.

During the sea phase, the participating navies will conduct advanced air defence, anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare drills. Gunnery shoots on aerial and surface targets, manoeuvres and underway replenishment would also be conducted, the Indian Navy said.

"We will be doing the exercises at sea from February 24-27 in which we will have Indian naval ships and aircraft as well as ships from friendly foreign countries participating in 'Milan'," he added.

Navies from the US, Japan, Australia, France, Bangladesh, Brazil, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia are set to be among the participating nations.

Canada, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Spain and Yemen, besides others, are among the countries which will be part of the exercise for the first time, according to a curtain-raiser presentation shared before the press interaction on Wednesday.

Asked by a mediaperson if there is any message to China in this mega exercise, Vice Admiral Sobti said, "There are 51 countries participating (in it) and among these 51 countries, each country has its own relationship with China. I want to make it clear that there is no message here against China."

"Our message is that our challenges at sea, these we can face, if we work together. And, so we want to give this platform to the countries so that they come, discuss how to participate and the challenges, and do sea exercise," he added.

Vice Admiral Sobti said what relation any of these 51 countries have with a second or third country is not intended to be brought up at this event.

The tagline of the exercise is 'Camaraderie Cohesion Collaboration'.

Asked what will be the focus areas at this event, Vice Admiral Sobti said the particular focus area will remain the international maritime seminar in which various invited people will contribute their thoughts on various subjects.

So that is one big event where the vice president will be presiding over, he added.

Besides the international maritime seminar during which maritime threats and maritime challenges will be discussed, a lot of interactions will be there for the junior officers.

"And we have sea-going exercises, it is important that we exercise and that we exercise together at sea, learn how to operate with each other in large numbers and large groups, and learn how to communicate with each other at sea. So, these are the basic focus points," Vice Admiral Sobti said.

Asked if the current geopolitical environment will be discussed during the event, he said, "We will be discussing certainly, the current geopolitical situation and the maritime challenges that arise from these. It is the main topic of consideration this year. This will be taken up in discussion as well in tabletop exercises that we will have with the participating navies."

'Milan' exercise stared in 1995 from Port Blair and as India's 'Look East' and 'Act East' policies grew, this exercise gradually grew and it was shifted to the mainland and from 2022, it is happening at Visakhapatnam, he said.

"We face a number of maritime challenges and we don't face it alone. Many counties face common maritime challenges. And, this maritime security ...we cannot bear this responsibility alone. No navy of any county cannot do it alone. So, building the collaboration, the camaraderie and the cohesion, this is the aim of 'Milan'," Vice Admiral Sobti said.

"So that we can sit together and discuss how to face challenges and how to learn to operate in tandem, this platform we wish to give to ourselves and to the countries which want to work together with us," he added.

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