'India-US military ties improving steadily'
Thursday August 23, 08:24 PM
India-US military ties are 'solid, good and improving steadily', a senior US Navy officer said Thursday, even as he sought to downplay Chinese concerns that an upcoming joint drill in the Bay of Bengal involving five navies was aimed at containing Beijing.
'I came with high expectations and I must say these have been more than exceeded. Our military-to-military relations are solid, good and improving steadily,' Admiral Timothy J. Keating, head of the Hawaii-based US Pacific Command, said of his meetings here with the top brass of the Indian armed forces.
Keating, who reports directly to US President George W. Bush and Defence Secretary Robert Gates, arrived here Wednesday on a three-day visit. On Thursday, he held a series of meetings with Indian Army chief Gen. J.J. Singh, Indian Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta, Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major and Defence Secretary Vijay Singh.
'I am immensely gratified with the discussions, encouraged by the progress made and optimistic on the future,' Keating noted.
'We are exchanging information in a more dynamic, flexible and rapid fashion. This is a big step to enhance security in the world as we engage in the global war against terror,' he added.
Keating's visit comes ahead of the Sep 4-9 annual Malabar joint drill - the 13th in the series - between the Indian and US navies that this time around also involves Australia, Japan and Singapore. The exercise will be the biggest ever to be staged in the Bay of Bengal.
'Japan, Australia and India share interests and if you join the dots, you will see there is no formal quadrilateral. There is no effort to isolate China or put it in a closet,' the admiral maintained.
In June, China had issued a demarche to India, the US, Japan and Australia seeking details about their four-nation meeting. India and Australia had then assured Beijing that security and defence issues did not form part of the meeting's agenda.
A demarche is a formal diplomatic communication from a country seeking information from another.
India's Left parties, which are giving Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government a hard time on the landmark India-US civilian nuclear deal, have announced plans to hold demonstrations along the country's east coast during the naval drill.
Asked whether there had been any move to postpone the exercise in view of the protests, Keating replied: 'I am not aware of any discussions.'
Besides interception and dissimilar air combat exercises, Malabar-2007 will also feature surface and anti-submarine warfare, maritime interdiction and VBSS (visit, board, search and seizure) operations to counter piracy and terrorist acts at sea.
The Indian and US militaries have conducted some 40 joint drills in the past six years, with eight slated for 2007 alone.
On Saturday Indian and US special forces begin a 20-day joint drill at the Indian Army's elite Counter-Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School at Vairengte in Mizoram.