International Fleet Review: India projects its pivotal maritime role, backs enhanced naval cooperation

The much awaited International Fleet Review got off to a colourful start, with President Pranab Mukherjee reviewing India’s naval fleet on February 6. A fleet review is a ceremonial and stately inspection of naval warships by the supreme commander of the armed forces, the president of India.

President Pranab Mukherjee, who was onboard the presidential yacht INS Sumitra, inspected the fleet of 71 Indian naval ships. The yacht also had Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and the three defence chiefs.

Addressing the International Fleet Review, Mr Mukherjee said: “The navies world over have conducted Fleet Reviews to symbolise their loyalty, allegiance to the nation, and strengthen bonds between the sailors and the state. The International Fleet Review 2016 does that and much more. IFR 2016, while showcasing the prowess of the Indian Navy, has brought together navies from across the globe here on Indian shores, signifying our common desire to use the seas to promote peace, cooperation and friendship, as also to develop partnerships for a secure maritime future. Your presence in such large numbers has made this international event spectacular and truly reflects the spirit of this IFR, we are indeed United through Oceans.“

The fleet review has 71 of Indian Navy’s ships lined up, including both aircraft carriers, INS Vikramaditya and INS Virat. However, INS Virat will be retiring soon. Around 50 navies and 24 foreign ships are participating in the International Fleet Review, the second to be held by India and largest military exercise hosted by the country so far. The last IFR was held in Mumbai in 2001 which was presided by the then President APJ Abdul Kalam. At that time 29 countries had participated in the event.

With a focus on India’s role in maritime security in the region, Mr Mukherjee said: “India’s geographical location, astride the major shipping routes of the Indian Ocean, gives it a pivotal maritime role. Considering the globalised nature of today’s political and economic environment, it is our belief that the present day maritime domain requires navies across the world to re-focus their efforts to counter the rising tide of non-traditional maritime challenges in the brown, green and blue waters across all oceans.” Mr Mukherjee thanked the participating countries and asked them to carry India’s message of global peace and brotherhood.

The IFR brings together 50 countries, 99 ships, 24 foreign warships and 4,000 sailors. Some of the participating navies includes those of the US, China, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Canada, Russia, South Africa, Japan, South Korea, Peru, Chile, Colombia and Brazil.

India has been exploring building a fifth generation aircraft carrier with the US under the DTTI agreement.

India has begun to play a more proactive role in the Asia-Pacific. The global IFR event will help India showcase its capabilities to the world.  Despite India and China fighting for strategic space in the Indian Ocean, the participation of China in the exercise is being seen more as a goodwill gesture. With India sharing maritime boundaries with Southeast Asian countries, this exercise would bolster India’s maritime cooperation in the region.

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