A U.S. Navy P-8A long range Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) landed at Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the last week of September for refuelling under the bilateral logistics support agreement, two defence sources confirmed. This is the first time a U.S. P-8 has got access to the islands for operational turnaround.
On Saturday, the second edition of the bilateral naval exercise between India and Bangladesh “Exercise Bongosagar” began in the northern Bay of Bengal which will be followed by a Coordinated Patrol (CORPAT) for the next two days, the Navy said.
“The P-8A was in Port Blair on September 25 for refuelling under the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). The aircraft came from Japan and was at Port Blair for few hours,” one of the sources said.
Another Passage Exercise (PASSEX) between Indian Navy ships and a U.S. aircraft carrier transiting the region as in July is expected to take place later this month, the source added.
While P-8s of India and the U.S. had exercised together in the past, practised locating submarines together and the LEMOA has been operational for few years now, this is the first time the U.S. got access to A&N under LEMOA. Several countries have expressed interest in getting access to the strategically located A&N islands which are close to the Strait of Malacca and global sea lanes of communication.
In July, frontline warships of the Indian Navy conducted a PASSEX with the U.S. Navy’s Nimitz carrier strike group near the Andaman and Nicobar (A&N) islands as it was transiting the Indian Ocean. The USS Nimitz was returning from the South China Sea through the Malacca Strait where it undertook freedom of navigation operations.
There has been a sharp increase in India’s maritime interactions with the Quad countries on a bilateral basis centred around information sharing for improved Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) in the Indian Ocean Region and Indo-Pacific. India has logistics agreements with all three Quad countries — Australia, Japan and the U.S. India has also signed maritime information sharing agreements with Australia and Japan and a similar agreement is in the works with the U.S.
Along with the LEMOA, India has signed three of the four foundational agreements with the U.S., the others being the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) signed a long time ago. An extension to the GSOMIA, the Industrial Security Annex (ISA), was signed at the last 2+2 dialogue.
Ex Bongosagar, whose first edition was held in 2019, is aimed at developing inter-operability and joint operational skills through conduct of a wide spectrum of maritime exercises and operations, the Navy said in a statement. “In this edition of Ex Bongosagar, ships from both navies will participate in surface warfare drills, seamanship evolutions and helicopter operations,” the Navy said.
The exercise will be followed by the 3rd edition CORPAT in Northern Bay of Bengal from October 4-5, wherein Indian and Bangladeshi units will undertake joint patrolling along the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL).
India has deployed anti-submarine warfare corvette INS Kiltan and guided missile corvette INS Khukri for the exercise, while Bangladesh has deployed guided-missile frigate BNS Abu Bakr and guided-missile corvette, BNS Prottoy . In addition to ships, MPA from both navies and integral helicopters would also be participating in the exercise.