India and the US are set to conduct a joint military exercise next week in the Rajasthan desert close to the Pakistan border. This will be their first war drill since US President Joe Biden assumed office on January 20, according to The Times of India.
The exercise, named ‘Yudh Abhyas’, will take place at the Mahajan Field Firing Ranges in Bikaner from February 8 to 21.
The American contingent will include a brigade headquarters and a battalion of 250 soldiers from a Stryker Brigade Combat Team, and India will field a brigade HQ and a battalion from the Jammu & Kashmir Light Infantry regiment.
The numbers and the location clearly point that the exercises could focus on urban mechanized warfare, as Mahajan Field Firing Ranges are stated to be the primary firing grounds for the Army’s tanks, Infantry Combat Vehicles (ICVs), all Infantry, air defense, and artillery weapon systems. Other practice ranges are Pokhran and Babina in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh respectively.
“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,” an officer was quoted by the Times of India as saying, indicating the possible use of Rudra attack helicopters of the Army Aviation Corps.
It’s noteworthy that the Indian Army is looking forward to rapidly expand its attack helicopter fleet with the indigenously-produced Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) and AH-64E Apache Guardian gunships.
The US aerospace giant Boeing has already delivered 22 Apache and 15 Chinook heavy-lift choppers to the Indian Air Force.
Last year, India hosted the Malabar-2020 naval exercise, a major event in the geopolitics of the region involving aircraft carriers and their battle groups of the United States (USS Nimitz) and India (INS Vikramaditya) along with combat ships from Japan and Australia.
With the four nations forming the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or QUAD, the Malabar exercises were seen as a strong message to China against its dominating posture in the Indian Ocean.
The latest war drill is coming at a time when India and China have been locked in a bitter standoff at their Himalayan border of eastern Ladakh for the past nine months.
Interestingly, India also deployed a P-8I Neptune (Indian-specific variant of the P-8A Poseidon) Maritime Patrol Aircraft and other personnel for anti-submarine warfare exercises named ‘Sea Dragon’ from January 14 to 27 in Guam, in cooperation with contingents from the US, Canada, Japan, and Australia.
New US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other officials of the Biden administration have already conveyed their message to carry forward with Trump’s policies for the Asia-Pacific, with China being the elephant in the room.