India, US mull joint maritime patrol
6 Aug 2007, 0136 hrs IST,Rajat Pandit,TNN
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NEW DELHI: After sealing the 123 Agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation, India and US are now exploring ways to "operationalise" the bilateral framework for maritime security cooperation (MSCF).
Under MSCF, first announced during president Bush's visit here in March 2006, the two countries are looking at joint anti-piracy patrols by their navies and coast guards to protect the free flow of commerce, top officials said. "A core-group team, including representatives from external affairs ministry, defence ministry, Navy and Coast Guard, is also slated to go to US soon to work the mechanisms for MSCF," said an official.
The two nations have agreed to cooperate in prevention of "acts of transnational crime at sea such as piracy, armed robbery at sea, smuggling and trafficking in arms and drugs", apart from exchanging information, combating marine pollution and undertaking search and rescue operations.
India and US, as reported earlier, are already on course to sign a Logistics Support Agreement, under which their armed forces will provide logistic support and supplies, refuelling and berthing facilities to each other's warships and aircraft. The Left may criticise this ever-growing military embrace with the US but the UPA government is pressing on regardless. The Indian and US armed forces have actually held well over 40 joint exercises in the past five years to build "interoperability".
The move to "actualise" MSCF comes at a time when Indian and US navies are gearing up to hold their 13th "Malabar" exercise between September 4-9 in the Bay of Bengal, the first time it's being conducted on India's eastern seaboard. Though it will also involve two destroyers from Japan, a frigate from Singapore and a frigate and a tanker from Australia, this gigantic "extended Malabar" exercise will mainly revolve around Indian and US warships.
The US, for instance, will be deploying as many as 13 warships for the exercise, while India will pitch in with seven, including its solitary aircraft carrier INS Viraat. The US warships include the gigantic nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, which left the CPM fuming when it anchored near Chennai in early July, aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk and nuclear submarine USS Chicago, as also two Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers and six Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers.
Apart from "interception and dissimilar air combat exercises", surface and anti-submarine warfare, this Malabar will also witness "maritime interdiction" and VBSS (visit, board, search and seizure) operations to counter piracy and terrorist acts at sea. But officials take pains to emphasise that neither such interdiction operations, nor joint anti-piracy patrols under MSCF, mean that India is going to join the controversial US-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI).
First announced in May 2003, PSI seeks to aggressively interdict shipments suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) or related material to terrorist groups or "countries of proliferation concern".