India and the US are all set to kick off a major combat exercise in Rajasthan, next week under the name "Yudh Abhyas". This will be the bilateral wargame after the Biden administration took charge in Washington and reassured India’s role as a key partner in the Indo-Pacific as well as the need to strengthen the “Quad”.
According to government officials, the ‘Yudh Abhyas’ exercise, will be held at the Mahajan Field Firing ranges from February 8 to 21. The exercise will once again underscore the consistent upward trajectory in defense cooperation with the US, which enjoys bipartisan support among the Democrats and Republicans.
The US contingent for Yudh Abhyas will include a brigade headquarters and a battalion group of around 250 soldiers from a Stryker Brigade Combat Team. India will also field an infantry brigade headquarters and a battalion group from the J&K Light Infantry for the exercise.
“The aim is to further enhance interoperability in counter-terrorist operations in a semi-urban, semi-desert terrain, along with attack helicopters and infantry combat vehicles,” said an officer.
Yudh Abhyas, which comes after India conducted the `Malabar’ naval exercise with the other Quad countries (US, Japan and Australia) in November, will be followed by the ‘Vajra Prahar’ land combat exercise in March. The Malabar, of course, sent a strong strategic signal to China amidst the continuing military confrontation in eastern Ladakh.
The Quad nations are showcasing their commitment to “support a free, open, inclusive Indo-Pacific as well as a rules-based international order”, said a defense official.
India recently conducted the `Sea Dragon’ anti-submarine warfare exercise with the US, Japan, Australia and Canada from January 14 to 27 in Guam. Indian Navy deployed a long-range Poseidon-8I maritime patrol aircraft and other personnel during the exercise. The aim, interestingly, was to strengthen interoperability among partner nations for “regional contingencies”.
The new US secretary of state Antony J Blinken, secretary of defense Lloyd J Austin, and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, in their talks with their Indian counterparts, have all conveyed their intention to carry forward the Indo-Pacific strategy of the previous Trump administration.
“The Biden administration’s overall policy towards China will, of course, be more nuanced. But defense cooperation between India and the US will continue to be the main driver of the bilateral strategic partnership,” said an official.
India has signed four “foundational military pacts” with the US, with the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation (BECA) being concluded last year. The US has also bagged various Indian defense deals worth over $21 billion just since 2007, with the latest ones for 24 MH-60 ‘Romeo’ multirole naval helicopters and six more Apache attack choppers for $3 billion.
It is important to note that India has been inducting a lot of US-made military equipment in recent years, the main aim is to increase joint-interoperability between Quad countries by using similar equipment in case of joint confrontation with China. All the future made Indian aircraft such as Hal Tejas, TEDBF, AMCA will also incorporate US-made GE414 and GE404 engines.