NATIONAL

Navy one up in war games

NEW DELHI, AUG. 21. As the Indian Navy starts preparing for the next round of joint exercises with the U.S. Navy, comes the news that its detection unit was more successful in war games conducted at the previous `Malabar' series of exercises off the western coast.

The Indian Navy team spotted the noiseless American nuclear submarine more often than the visiting team during anti-submarine warfare exercises.

This is not the first time that the Indian armed services have bested their western counterparts. In 2002, Indian Army special forces dethroned defending champion South Africa and beat among others, the special air service (SAS) troopers from the United Kingdom and the American Rangers in an endurance and tactical competition held in Botswana.

And earlier this year, the Indian Air Force (IAF) beat the U.S. Air Force during mock battles with IAF fighters at Gwalior. Global aviation journals reported the "poor showing'' by U.S. F-15 C fighters during "dissimilar air combat training'' with IAF's Sukhoi fighters.

Naval officials were modest about this distinction which came about even though India does not have a nuclear submarine and its first and last tryst with it ended over a decade ago after the three-year lease for a Soviet submarine expired.

"We are more familiar with the waters here whether it is in terms of composition (muddy) or the variations in depth,'' said an official downplaying the better showing by the Indian team. Senior officials are not sure at this stage if the Americans will again bring a nuclear submarine.

But they agree that frequent exercises with western navies have made them more combat-ready and helped sort out friction on the high seas caused by the presence of a large number of warships from the `coalition against terror' nations since October 2001.

Understanding

As the Indian Ocean began getting overcrowded with the beginning of operations in Afghanistan and later against Iraq, both sides felt there was interference in operations by the other side.

But this `mutual interference' has since been minimised and both sides have "come to a degree of understanding. We have accepted their presence and they have also acknowledged that the Indian Navy needs to operate in the Indian Ocean,'' observes the Chief of Naval Staff, Arun Prakash.

The Indian Navy's ability to match skills with bigger counterparts has been noticed by other countries.

Mozambique requisitioned Indian Navy ships to guard the coast during a summit of African nations, and recently Malaysia has asked whether it would conduct security patrols in the piracy-prone seas in its zone of influence.

Three countries have also asked whether the Indian Navy will sanitise the narrow Malacca Straits through which 50,000 high-value cargo-carrying ships pass annually.