New Delhi: The Navy has begun preparing for its major theatre-level exercise TROPEX, which is scheduled for January next year, even as it remains on high alert in light of India’s tensions with China, ThePrint has learnt.
According to top defence sources, the preparations are on in full swing even as additional ships, both from the eastern and the western fleets, have sailed out and continue to remain at sea.
TROPEX, the sources said, will further aid an already-alert Navy in preparing for further contingencies. In the current scenario, they added, the exercise is likely to focus on Chinese actions.
TROPEX or Theatre-Level Readiness and Operational Exercise is carried out by the Navy every alternate year, with individual command exercises — Defence of Gujarat (DGX) by the Western Command, and the Eastern Naval Command Operational Readiness Exercise (ENCORE) — held in the intervening period.
TROPEX is meant to assess the Navy’s operational preparedness based on fixed contingencies that are kept classified. The exercise goes on for nearly a month and is followed by a debriefing session.
Soon after the exercise, the Navy was immediately deployed in an operational role in the northern Arabian Sea, in light of the tensions between India and Pakistan in the wake of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror attack in Pulwama and India’s retaliatory airstrikes against a terror training camp in Balakot.
The campaign season or the preparatory phase for TROPEX starts by October in the year before it’s held. The participating teams are marked “blue” and “red”, denoting the Indian Navy and the potential adversary, respectively, and, based on conceptual requirements, a large ocean area is outlined for the exercise.
The stages include a paper exercise, an independent training period for the two sides, a joint training phase, and the final Tropex situation.
Talking to ThePrint, former Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash said TROPEX is a large-scale mobilisation of naval forces, where ships, submarines and aircraft, as well as special forces, are deployed in a mock war-like scenario. The entire exercise is geared to test the professional skills of operators and the doctrinal acumen of commanders, he added.
“Units of the Indian Army, the IAF and the Coast Guard also participate in this exercise in order to build inter-service synergy, interoperability and ‘jointness’,” he said.
The Navy veteran said TROPEX starts with simulated paper exercises at the harbour, followed by a “work-up” phase, where live-weapon firing exercises are undertaken, and, finally, the “tactical phase” that involves pitting the two forces against each other in a realistic war scenario.
“Efforts are made to include as many war-fighting domains as possible — including carrier operations, submarine and anti-submarine warfare, amphibious warfare, missile-warfare, information and electronic warfare etc,” he added.
“This year, there is likely to be focus on operations involving ‘blockade’ of merchant shipping and ‘trade warfare’ and may include the nuclear attack submarine as well as the P-8I patrol aircraft,” he said.
The next edition of TROPEX, the former Navy officer said, has “special significance” in view of the developments on the India-China border and China’s aggressive posturing in eastern Ladakh.
“The possibility of Pakistan attempting to open a ‘second front’ to gain advantage cannot be ruled out,” he said.
“Under these circumstances, the Indian Navy should prepare itself and remain in full readiness to open a ‘maritime front’ where it can mount surveillance and, if required, pose a threat to the adversary’s Indian Ocean energy and trade traffic via warships, submarines and combat air-power,” he added.
Vice-Admiral Anup Singh (Retd), former Commander-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, said the Navy constantly reviews the potential of Chinese and Pakistani navies, given that they openly declare each other to be all-weather friends while being potential adversaries of India.
“We keep track of Chinese as also Pakistani surface ships as well as sub-surface platforms through surveillance of their exit points/choke points, and relevant trade routes,” he added. “The Chinese do not go unnoticed even if their submarines try submerged passage through a deep-exit area. Their activities at the mouth of Malacca and Lombok straits are watched closely.”
Talking about the objective of the exercise, Singh said “it is classified, but generally keeps into account the potential of the adversaries and our own forces and the strategy to be adopted by us to keep the adversaries under check”.
TROPEX is one of multiple exercises that the Indian Navy conducts, including those with foreign navies, such as INDRA with Russia, KONKAN with the UK, VARUNA with France, AUSIndex with Australia, SIMBEX with Singapore, SLINEX with Sri Lanka Navy. It also conducts MILAN and CORPAT, which are multilateral exercises.
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