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With 12 confirmed warships, MILAN to be biggest international exercise by India

With over a dozen confirmed foreign warships and close to 20 other nations sending delegations, the MILAN exercise early next year will be India’s largest ever international war game, with top officials saying it will showcase the ability to carry out a world-class naval engagement.

While 41 nations have been invited by India for the exercise that is to take place in March at Visakhapatnam, sources told ET that confirmations have been received by a majority and the focus of the war game will be to hone interoperability—a key shift from the past where the MILAN series has been seen as more of a cultural and academic exchange.

The invitee list, which includes most major navies of the world but excludes China, Pakistan and Turkey, is also an indication of India’s strategic interests in the region, with several nations from Africa making it to the list.

“We are not trying to make any statement,” a senior official told ET. “There are different ways to look at it but this will be a field practitioners meeting. There will a professional exchange and a key difference from other events like the International Fleet Review (IFR) will be that this is an operational exercise.”

In terms of scale, the exercise would be in the category of Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC)—the largest naval wargame in the world that is organised at Pearl Harbour by the US Indo-Pacific Command. In its last edition in 2018, 28 nations participated in RIMPAC, including India, which had deployed a stealth frigate.

While MILAN will not have the number of warships at RIMPAC—this number has gone up to 55—in terms of participating nations, it just might beat the world’s largest naval war game. “We now have the capability to conduct an exercise of this scale. It will be similar to RIMPAC where we will also be sending a ship next year,” the official said.

Besides the dozen odd foreign warships—officials said the exact number is still to be finalised—the exercise will see a large participation of warships, submarines and aircraft from the Indian Navy’s eastern fleet. Given the scale of the exercise, it has been shifted from its traditional base of Port Blair to Vishakhapatnam, which is also the headquarters of the Eastern Command.

Initiated in 1995 with four littoral nations coming together, the MILAN series has grown in strength over the past years, with the 2014 edition being the largest with the participation of 17 nations and 15 warships. This was also the edition on which the exercise was expanded to bring in nations from the western Indian Ocean region, an area of growing interest for India.

Key Points ::

41 nations invite
Venue shifted to Visakhapatnam from Port Blair to accommodate participants
12 foreign warships confirmed, number likely to go up
To be in the category of RIMPAC, the world’s largest naval war game that saw 28 participating nations in 2018
Key exclusions from invitee list include China, Turkey and Pakistan
Special focus on African nations
Eastern fleet of the Indian Navy to participate with warships, aircraft and submarines
Key partners US, UK, France, Russia, Japan, Australia, South Korea to attend exercise
Strong participation expected from the Middle East too with Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UAE invited
India extends invitation to Iran and Israel as well

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