Yudh Abhyas, a joint military exercise, held between the Indian Army and the US Army is one of the critical aspects of the defence cooperation between the two countries. This exercise takes place at the Battalion level with its joint planning at the Brigade level. It provides an opportunity for both armies to enhance interoperability through the exchange of some of each other’s best practices and techniques in combat, counter-terrorism, counter-ambush, rescue, and other missions. The exercise focuses on the employment of “integrated battle groups (IBGs)” highlighted under the statute of Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
By Sweta Kumari
The 18th edition of Yudh Abhyas took place in Auli, Uttarakhand between 15th November 2022 and 2nd December 2022. The field training exercise gained traction from the media for its features such as the “validation of IBGs, force multipliers, establishment and functioning of surveillance grids, validation of operational logistics, mountain warfare skills, casualty evacuation and combat medical aid in adverse terrain and climatic conditions.”
Indo- US Defence Engagements and Joint Military Exercises
The conversation between India and US about deepening the defence ties between India and the US began in the concluding years of the Cold War. However, there were some reservations amongst the strategic thinkers of Washington on issues such as India’s dependence on the Russian weapons system and the nuclear tests of 1998 to move ahead in this venture. Despite India’s consistent appeal for a comprehensive approach against terrorism, it was only after the 9/11 incident that for the first time, the issue was perceived as a common threat for both countries and the world by the US. The geopolitical importance of India in counterterrorism efforts and in promoting peace and stability in Asia began to be reflected in their foreign policy strategy. The signing of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) by the Vajpayee Government and the Bush Administration in 2002 led to increasing of the information exchanges and interoperability between the defence establishments of the two nations.
Enhanced dialogues and engagements between New Delhi and Washington paved the way for the initiatives such as the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) and the New Framework for the India-US Defense Relationship in 2005 resulting in a growth of defence cooperation. Yudh Abhyas began in 2004 in the midst of the converging geostrategic thinking between the two countries under the ambit of the US Army Pacific Partnership Programme. Since then the two armies have engaged in this exercise almost every year alternatively in the training camps in the US and India.
Over the years, with the increased interoperability and technology sharing, facilitated by the signing of foundational defence agreements i.e. the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA; 2016), the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA; 2018), and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA; 2020) between India and the United States have enhanced the scope and the intensity of Yudh Abhyas exercise. The diversification of India’s defence trade through accords such as the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI; 2012) have made both armies more familiar with each other’s’ weapon systems.
The geostrategic importance of the Indo-Pacific region as well as the augmentation of both traditional and non-traditional security threats in it is shared by policymakers in New Delhi and Washington. American legislation in recent years such as the United States-India Enhanced Cooperation Act (UIEC; 2018) and the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA; 2018) have been emphasising elevating India’s status as its Major Defense Partner and further deepening defence cooperation with India through mechanisms such as “joint exercises, military exchanges, and port calls” in order to promote a rule-based order in the region.
The National Defense Authorization Act (2022) has also stressed broadening ties with India “to advance the shared objective of a free and open Indo-Pacific region through bilateral and multilateral engagements and participation in military exercises, expanded defence trade, and collaboration on humanitarian aid and disaster response.”
Recent Yudh Abhyas Exercises
The political will to strengthen defence cooperation and the established mechanism for defence trade and procurement have given a boost to the Yudh Abhas as well. The analysis of the past few editions of the joint exercise projects how the compatibility between the militaries has been increasing. Yudh Abhyas began with basic battle drills conducted by some platoons and companies, however, lately about 500-750 soldiers from the Indian and US armies have been participating in this exercise
Chinese ‘Uneasiness’ with Yudh Abhyas 22
The Yudh Abhyas also got attention after the unhappiness expressed by the Chinese government. Responding to a question posed by the Associated Press of Pakistan on China’s stand over the exercise happening near the Line of Actual Control (LAC), PRC’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian on November 30, 2022, stated that the exercise “violated the spirit of relevant agreements signed by China and India in 1993 and 1996, and does not help build bilateral trust.” The Indian government rejected such claims. Even the US Charge d’ Affaires to New Delhi Ambassador Elizabeth Jones responded that Yudh Abhas was none of China’s business. It is ironic that despite conducting repeated incursion attempts at the LAC and multiple military drills near the Tibetan region, China expresses objection over a bilateral engagement that took place within the territorial boundaries of India and that too in accordance with the UN Charter.
Today, India and the Indo-Pacific region face a varied number of complex, conventional, and ever-evolving security threats. First, the activities of the terrorist groups have become multifaceted given their access to cyber and other emerging technologies. For India, the rise in the use of Unmanned Arial Vehicles/drones by Pakistan-based extremist groups for cross-border narco-terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab is a newly added contingency for India’s national security. Joint exercises with other militaries such as the Yudh Abhyas provide the Indian and the US armies the opportunity to keep updating their techniques to cope with such newly emerging and more penetrating threats.
Second, India and the US have been actively participating in UN peacekeeping operations. India has been the largest troop contributor in the world for the same. Joint exercises held under the mandate of the United Nations not only make the soldiers better equipped to handle adverse situations but also safeguard themselves overseas.
Third, the impact of climate change and the altering weather patterns have led to an increased number of natural disasters both in India and the United States. The occurrence of hurricanes is common in the coastal areas of the US that require rescue and evacuation missions on a large scale. India and other countries in the Indo-Pacific region are prone to natural calamities such as earthquakes, floods, and landslides. The Indian defence forces play a vital role in making India a net- security provider in the region through HADR operations and countries such as Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indonesia, Mozambique, Maldives and Madagascar. Joint training exercises such as Yudh Abhyas prepare the armies to operate in such hostile situations and save lives.
Yudh Abhyas 2022 was another step further in deepening Indo-US strategic ties. Joint exercises and the overall defence cooperation between India and the US is expected to play an important role in advancing the approach to tactfully dismantle terrorist and insurgent networks, enhance rescue and relief missions and humanitarian efforts, and prepare themselves for unforeseen contingencies to foster an environment for peace, stability, and rule-based order in the Indo-Pacific region. Hence, Yudh Abhyas should be promoted and enabled by the governments and the respective defence organisations of India and the United States.
This article first appeared in www.vifindia.org and it belongs to them.