Indian warships reach Singapore for maiden ASEAN naval drill

Two Indian warships — the first indigenously-built guided missile destroyer INS Delhi; and the indigenously-built guided missile stealth frigate INS Satpura — reached Singapore yesterday to take part in the inaugural ASEAN-India Maritime Exercise (AIME-2023), which starts today. Meanwhile, China has also sent two ships for a joint drill with the Singapore Navy and to take part in a maritime defence exhibition in Singapore.

Indian warships INS Delhi and INS Satpura on their way to Singapore for the maiden India-ASEAN naval drill, which starts on May 2. Photo courtesy: Twitter/@airnewsalerts

According to an All-India Radio (AIR) report this morning, the Indian Ministry of Defence said that the seven-day drill would give the Indian Navy and the naval forces of the 10 ASEAN countries an opportunity to work closely together and “conduct seamless operations” in the sea.

The AIR report informed that INS Delhi and INS Satpura, which were part of the Indian Navy’s Eastern Fleet, would also participate in the International Maritime Defence Exhibition (IMDEX Asia) and International Maritime Security Conference being hosted by Singapore. Both the ships are equipped with state-of-the-art weapons and sensors.

One of the Indian warships after reaching Singapore. Photo courtesy: Twitter/@airnewsalerts

The Chinese ships were identified by a state-run news channel as the guided missile frigate Yulin and the minesweeper hunter Chibi. They will participate in IMDEX Asia (May 3-5), featuring 25 warships and attendees from dozens of countries.

It is expected that a lot of eyes will remain on the Indian ships as well as the ships sent by China and the Philippines. India and China have a long-standing face-off over Chinese encroachment attempts on the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. China has also been at loggerheads with the Philippines, an ASEAN member state, over maritime territory. In addition, the United States sees the Philippines as a strategic ally in countering any probable Chinese invasion of Taiwan. With these political undercurrents, the maiden ASEAN-India Maritime Exercise and the accompanying exhibitions and conferences have acquired an extra significance.

The naval drill, which runs from May 2 to May 8, has two phases — the ‘Harbour Phase’ (May 2-4) at the Changi naval base; and the ‘Sea Phase’ (May 7-8) in the contentious South China Sea, where China has various ongoing disputes with Taiwan, the Philippines, and Vietnam, and other nations.

The South China Sea has rich reserves of oil and natural gas, and China has tried to capture this wealth by asserting its rights over a vast swathe of the sea, a claim disputed by the geographically smaller Asian neighbours. The United States carried out a major joint naval drill with its ally, the Philippines, in March-April 2022 as a veiled warning to China.

With this backdrop, AIME-2023 is designed to enhance “interoperability and exchange of best practices among participating navies”. This exercise makes India the fourth ASEAN dialogue partner, after Russia, China and the United States, to take part in the ASEAN+1 maritime drill.