As tensions between India and Pakistan escalated in February, India put its key Naval assets including aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya and nuclear submarines on operational alert, the Navy said in a statement on March 17.
“The major combat units of the Indian Navy including the Carrier Battle Group with INS Vikramaditya, nuclear submarines and scores of other ships, submarines and aircraft swiftly transited from exercise to operational deployment mode as tensions between India and Pakistan escalated,” the statement said.
The deployment came in the midst of the largest war game of the Navy — the Theatre Level Operational Readiness Exercise (TROPEX 19) which commenced on January 7, and was planned to be terminated by March 10. However, the Navy stated that the terrorist attack in Pulwama on February 14 “led to the rapid redeployment of the Indian Navy for operations in North Arabian sea”.
The Navy’s announcement comes in stark contrast to assertions during media briefings from senior government officials that India did not undertake any escalatory mobilization after the Balakot air strikes. Referring to the strikes consistently as “non-military pre-emptive counter-terror strikes” the officials had accused Pakistan's government of whipping up “war hysteria” in order to mislead the international community. In briefings held on February 28, March 4 and March 16, officials had repeated the message, stressing that the Indian military had carried out no military operations post-February 27, and denied specific reports from Pakistan that said an Indian submarine had been deployed in the Arabian Sea near Pakistan.
Observing that the key attributes of naval forces are the versatility to change roles, mobility, and poise, the Navy said that availability of such a large number of combat-ready assets in the theatre of operations for TROPEX allowed it to “expeditiously respond to the developing situation in synergy with the three services.”
The statement added: “The overwhelming superiority of Indian Navy in all three dimensions forced the Pakistan Navy to remain deployed close to the Makran coast and not venture out in the open ocean.”
Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba will preside over the debrief of TROPEX exercise in Kochi on March 18 which saw the participation of about 60 ships of the Navy, 12 ships of the Indian Coast Guard and 60 aircraft.
TROPEX 19 began with a tri-services amphibious exercise in the Andaman and Nicobar islands with the participation of the Army and the Air Force. This was followed by the largest coastal defense exercise ‘Sea Vigil’ on January 22-23 with the participation of all 13 coastal States and Union Territories along with all maritime stakeholders.