(Photos: US and Indian troops sharing expertise during previous Yudh Abhyas exercises)
by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th August 09
Since 2004, American GIs and Indian jawans have trained together to combat terrorists and insurgents. Now, the two armies are about to begin training to fight a war together.
Underlining the growing military-to-military relationship, a US Army battalion group of several hundred soldiers and some 50 frontline Stryker armoured vehicles, will travel to India in October and train with Indian strike formation units at the Babina Field Firing Ranges near Jhansi. This exercise, named Yudh Abhyas 2009, will include live firing by heavy combat vehicles.
It will be the first time mechanised units of an Indian strike corps, which bases its power on T-72 and T-90 tanks, BMP-II infantry combat vehicles, missiles and 155-mm medium artillery guns, will train or share expertise with any foreign army. The Indian units taking part will be selected from the Jhansi-headquartered 31 Armoured Division.
The annual Yudh Abhyas exercises (which US soldiers are told is pronounced as “You da Boss”) kicked off in March 2004, when 60 Indian jawans and 55 US soldiers from Alaska jointly raided mock insurgent hideouts in the jungles of Mizoram.
Since then, Yudh Abhyas has expanded each year in size, scope and complexity. Last November, in Yudh Abhyas 08, an Indian Air Force IL-76 aircraft had flown a company (120 soldiers) of Indian jawans to Hawaii for training in counter-insurgency with US soldiers of the US Pacific Command. Their simulated operations were controlled by India’s 49 Infantry Brigade, which set up a command post in Hawaii as part of the exercise.
But Yudh Abhyas 2009 will impart a different trajectory to the military-to-military relationship. This is no longer about raids on insurgent hideouts or terrorist camps; strike corps training is for fighting a full-scale war together. This year, American and Indian mechanised forces will synchronise operations, planning, manoeuvring and firing together to capture a simulated objective.
Senior Indian Army officers have confirmed to Business Standard that the US Army Stryker vehicles and crews will be transported to India by sea. They will come from the US Pacific Command, or US PACOM, which is headquartered in Hawaii and which oversees US military interests from the US west coast to the western border of India.
Starting from Pakistan, and extending across West Asia, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) is responsible for American military interests. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are under the jurisdiction of CENTCOM.
Approached for their comments on Yudh Abhyas 09, the Hawaii-based USPACOM has not responded. But speaking off the record, senior US Army officers have expressed satisfaction at what they term a “quantum jump” in the US-India military relationship.
One US officer notes, “Singapore armoured units have come earlier to Babina to fire their tanks since they don’t have the space to practise in Singapore. Similarly, Singapore air force fighter aircraft fire in Pokhran and artillery units fire near Nashik. But this is not just about firing. Yudh Abhyas 09 will see the two armies practising how to fight a full-scale war together. And the engagement will only grow closer.”