AFP: A top US navy commander involved in Indian Ocean wargames said Friday the exercises were not aimed at sending a message to either China or Iran. ON BOARD THE USS KITTY HAWK (AFP) A top US navy commander involved in Indian Ocean wargames said Friday the exercises were not aimed at sending a message to either China or Iran.
Seventh Fleet commander William Crowder was speaking aboard USS Kitty Hawk, the US navy’s second largest supercarrier, as the six-day exercises hosted by India that began on Tuesday neared a close.
“There is no connection between these manoeuvres and anything else,” Crowder said in reply to reporters’ questions over whether the wargames were intended to send signals to Tehran and Beijing.
“The US has been jointly exercising with India since 1994 and the only thing new this time is that India has invited three more countries… This is not aimed against anyone,” the fleet commander added.
The movements of US carrier groups are being closely watched amid mounting tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme, seen by Washington and its Western allies as a covert atomic weapons drive.
The exercises involved 28 ships, one submarine and 160 warjets from the United States, Australia, Japan, Singapore and India.
The nations staged the wargames 150 kilometres (90 miles) off India’s Andaman island chain in the Bay of Bengal.
The exercises, one of the biggest ever peacetime military events, also included super-carriers USS Nimitz, the nuclear-powered submarine USS Chicago and Indian aircraft carrier the INS Viraat.
Crowder said the US Navy was not seeking an Indian Ocean base but was “looking for places to exercise with our allies.”
“We’re really not in the business of setting up bases but we aim to boost cooperation with navies in areas such as disaster relief such as the tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean region in 2004,” the vice admiral said.
The Seventh Fleet is the largest of the forward-deployed US fleets, with some 50 ships, more than 200 of the latest warjets and 20,000 sailors and Marines assigned at any given time.
“We have some close allies in the Asian region and we want to improve our ties,” the admiral said on the deck of the 46-year-old Kitty Hawk, due to be decommissioned next year.
India, which was on opposite sides of the fence from the United States during the Cold War, has also denied claims that the games were an attempt to intimidate neighbouring China, with which the country fought a brief, bitter border war in 1962.
“It’s completely an apolitical decision to hold the exercises off our eastern coasts in the Bay of Bengal,” said Indian Navy rear admiral R.R. Suthan.
“We look at the exercises as a professional interaction between the friendly navies and our allies,” the Indian taskforce commander added aboard the US ship.
The nuclear-armed Indian navy, which operates 137 ships, wants its supremacy in the Indian Ocean unchallenged. During the 2004 tsunami it rebuffed US offers of aid and sent out relief ships to ravaged Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
Japan, Australia and Singapore also tried to distance themselves from the controversy, saying the event was just an occasion to sharpen their response to natural disasters that often hit Indian Ocean rim nations.
“The quick response to the tsunami by militaries of the region did not happen by accident and so we want to use this exercise to learn more from each other,” said rear admiral Nigel Coates, leading the Australian contingent.
Japan, participating for the first time in a multi-nation wargame, argued the now-controversial drill would strengthen links between Asian and Western militaries.
“We are flexible enough to learn the different ways from the international navies and it is easy for us to become friends on humanitarian issues,” said Japan naval chief Yogi Koda on board the Kitty Hawk, as it engaged the other ships in a mock battle.