|As the small green dots approached closer on the radar screen, the Indian officer sitting deep inside USS Nimitz knew it was too late to save the ship. Jaguar maritime fighters of the Indian Air Force (IAF), operating from the Car Nicobar air base, had managed to come dangerously within striking range to successfully launch anti-ship missiles on the super carrier.
The IAF registered its first â€œkillâ€ of the day none less than the mighty nuclear powered Nimitz with its compliment of 85 fighters. But the young officer, on a cross attachment to the US ship, barely had time to feel proud. The battle had begun in earnest and the target now was Indiaâ€™s lone aircraft carrier.
INS Viraat, however, proved easy meat for the joint striking force of US F-18 Super Hornets and IAF Jaguars with the American fighters deliberately flying over the ship to drive home their air-superiority skills.
With the five-nation Malabar 07-2 naval exercise entering its final two days today, the buzzword on board the Kitty Hawk the US carrier coordinating the 30-warship mock battle was the level of â€œinteroperabilityâ€ achieved by the participating Navies of India, US, Australia, Japan and Singapore.
From tracking and destroying a nuclear submarine, operating three aircraft carriers in close proximity, managing air traffic for over 200 aircraft spread over just 150 X 200 km (roughly the size of airspace between Mumbai and Pune), supporting an amphibious assault to taking on a deep-sea terror threat and tackling piracy, the five countries jointly carried out pretty much the entire range of modern maritime operations.
â€œWe didnâ€™t just get a chance to operate together but also the opportunity to assess our own capabilities by comparing them with the latest technology in the world,â€ says Vice Admiral R P Suthan, commander in chief of the strategic Eastern Command, who is the â€œtactical commanderâ€ for the mock battle over the next two days.
The location is less than 200 miles from the Chinese listening post in Coco Islands and touches the strategic Malacca Straits. But the US is quick to deny that this is an alliance to contain the military might of the Asian economic giant.
â€œThis has not been put together as a signal against anyone. It is meant to bring Naval professionals together to practise,â€ Vice Admiral William Crowder, Commander of the Seventh fleet, the largest forward deployed fleet of the US Navy, told reporters on board the super carrier.
The war game is scheduled to culminate in a final mock battle involving all battleships over the weekend. The detailed scenario has not been revealed but is likely to be an intense air-dominated battle fought between two divided groups of the flotilla.
However, USS Nimitz, which headed home today after reaching the end of its deployment period, will be missed by the Indian fighters.