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Largest-ever naval exercise signals new era in Indo-Lanka co-operation October 16, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : DeSilva-Ranasinghe, Serge, Future Directions International, India, Sri Lanka , trackback

Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe

First published by Future Directions International on 28 September 2011.

Background

In a bid to strengthen naval and maritime interoperability and co-operation, India and Sri Lanka have held their first joint-naval exercise since 2005, the largest-ever naval exercise between the two countries. Codenamed SLINEX II, the six-day exercise was held from 18-23 September off Sri Lanka’s eastern coastline and involved 17 warships, including helicopters and maritime aircraft.

Comment

The Indian Navy’s involvement comprised one Destroyer (INS Ravijay), one Frigate (INS Shivlik), one missile corvette (INS Khanjar), one Landing Ship Tank (INS Gharial), two Fast Attack Craft (Cheriyam and Koradivh) and one maritime patrol aircraft. The Sri Lankan contribution to the exercise was two Offshore Patrol Vessels (SLNS Sagara and SLNS Samudura), a Fast Missile Vessel (SLNS Nandimihra), two Fast Gun Boats (SLNS Prathapa and Ranajaya) and six Fast Attack Craft.

As reported in the Indian daily, The Hindu, Rear Admiral Bisht, Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Fleet, Indian Navy, who commanded the Indian ships, affirmed India’s primary interest in the exercise: ‘The Sri Lankan Navy has gained a lot of experience in asymmetric warfare, basically handling attacks by small boats. We learnt from them how they handle these attacks.’

The manoeuvres were held against a backdrop of criticism from fringe ultra-nationalist Tamil parties in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. They accused the Sri Lankan Navy of a string of attacks against Tamil Nadu fishermen – allegations Sri Lanka has strongly denied. ‘India, which has been renovating the Kankesanturai port in Sri Lanka at a huge cost, is about to extend training and other assistance to the Sri Lankan Navy,’ said Dr Ramadoss, leader of the Tamil ultranationalist Pattali Makkal Katchi party. He added, ‘When the whole of Tamil Nadu is demanding that India have no relations whatsoever with Sri Lanka, it is improper for the Indian Navy to engage itself in joint naval exercises with the same country.’

Although India has attempted to address the concerns of Tamil Nadu fishermen it has, however consistently dismissed such criticism and has continued to strengthen its relations with Sri Lanka. In fact, during Sri Lanka’s conflict, the Indian Navy provided considerable support to aid the war effort against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). This involved the provision of enhanced access to training facilities, co-ordinated intelligence sharing and joint patrols of the maritime boundary in the Palk Strait, Gulf of Mannar and the Bay of Bengal.

Since the defeat of the LTTE, India has placed greater emphasis on strengthening bilateral defence ties, which it formally announced during Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar’s visit to Sri Lanka in December 2010. This has resulted in India increasing the number of training placements for Sri Lankan military officers and technicians, the frequency of military exercises and the provision of an annual defence dialogue; all of which are significant events.

However, while India’s foreign policy objectives towards Sri Lanka appear to be designed to contest China’s soft power dominance on the island, this is unlikely to be India’s only major goal. Although the LTTE has been militarily defeated in Sri Lanka, both India and Sri Lanka continue to fear the prospect of a revival in secessionist-militancy. Both countries remain on high alert due to the group’s intra-regional and international activities. Given such considerations, it is likely that jointly conducted training exercises like SLINEX II will become an increasingly important feature in defining Indo-Lanka relations in the years ahead.

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