India and the US are all set to kick off a major combat exercise in Rajasthan today, in the first such bilateral wargame after the Biden administration took charge in Washington and reiterated India’s role as a key partner in the Indo-Pacific as well as the need to strengthen the “Quad”. Indian officials say the ‘Yudh Abhyas’ exercise, which will be held at the Mahajan Field Firing ranges from February 8 to 21, will once again underscore the continuing upward trajectory in defence 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 Jammu and Kashmir 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 24th edition of the top-notch `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, with the Quad nations stressing their commitment to “support a free, open, inclusive Indo-Pacific as well as a rules-based international order”. India, incidentally, also deployed a long-range Poseidon-8I maritime patrol aircraft and other personnel for the `Sea Dragon’ anti-submarine warfare exercise with the US, Japan, Australia and Canada from January 14 to 27 in Guam. The aim, interestingly, was to strengthen interoperability among partner nations for “regional contingencies”.
India has inked four “foundational military pacts” with the US, with the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation (BECA) being concluded last year. Beginning with the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) in 2002, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) was inked in 2016, and the Communications, Compatibility and Security Arrangement (COMCASA) in 2018.