In indications of a growing strategic chemistry with the US, India has joined the world's largest maritime war game led by the US Navy in which 22 nations, over 25,000 personnel, 42 surface combatants, six submarines and 200 naval planes are participating called the Rim of the Pacific Exercise or RIMPAC for short.
However, the India Navy has only sent its personnel led by a Commodore-rank officer and not any warships to the exercise that is taking place from June 27 to August 7 off Hawaii Island that houses the US Navy's Pacific Command headquarters. The Indian Navy Commodore will indeed be a "fleet component commander" during the exercise, according to the RIMPAC website.
The biennial RIMPAC, according to defence experts, is a real warfare exercise involving aircraft carriers, submarines, live firing, aircraft, anti-submarine warfare and amphibious operations by elements like the US Marine Corps.
The RIMPAC began in 1971 involving only three navies of the region and continued to grow during cold war era to keep a check on Soviet Pacific fleet. But the efficacy of having such an exercise, working on scenarios such as North Korea's offensive against South Korea or breaking out of hostilities between China and its neighbours in the Pacific Ocean, has ensured its continuance even after the cold war ended in the early 1990s.
Interestingly, Russia is part of the RIMPAC exercise this year and has sent four warships to Hawaii. China, however, has not been invited.
An infuriated China has not taken the Indian Navy participation in this year's RIMPAC kindly and has slammed the RIMPAC effort itself, with the country's ruling Communist party-backed newspaper claiming the exercise has exposed the intentions of the other nations to gang up against it.
The Indian Navy though looks at its participation in this year's exercise as an opportunity to keep in touch with modern naval warfare trends.
RIMPAC-2012, incidentally, will showcase what's now being called the "the great green fleet”.
Recognising India's growing maritime power, the US Navy commander has noted that his nation wants to maintain a ''significant'' relationship with the South Asian giant to help provide stable and secure international commerce through the sea lanes.
"The partnerships we are building during the RIM exercise is exactly why we want to maintain our relationship with India to help provide stable and secure international commerce through the sea lanes," Vice Admiral Gerald Beaman, commander of the US Third Fleet and RIMPAC, was quoted as saying during a media teleconference.
"So I believe our relationship with India will remain significant through the coming years," Beaman said, noting that India and the US have been doing a large number of bilateral military exercises in recent years.
"But in the case of RIMPAC, with 22 different nations participating, whether it's strictly through staff personnel or personnel and assets such as vessels, it expands that training value to incorporate employment of people and things in a coalition environment," he added.
Beaman was, however, quick to point out that the objective was not to build a coalition of the East Asia Pacific rim nation on the lines of NATO, minus China.
The Indian participation in RIMPAC comes coinciding with a shift in US' strategic focus from West Asia to Asia-Pacific, even as the American Defence Secretary Leon Panetta saying at the Shangri La dialogue ahead of a visit to New Delhi that the US Navy will deploy six carrier battle groups in the region.
Earlier, in 2007, when Indian Navy hosted a five-nation naval war game -- converting the India-US bilateral Malabar exercise into a multilateral one for that year -- in the Bay of Bengal off Chennai coast, the effort came under severe criticism from China, just as RIMPAC-2012 has this time.
Despite these blowing hot and cold, Indian warships visited and berthed at the Shanghai port in China as recently as in June this year and are on their way back home.