La Pérouse, a naval exercise led by France commenced in Bay of Bengal on Monday, 05 April. All four Quad nations including India are participating in the exercise which is the second major military engagement of Quad after the Heads of States summit hosted by President Biden a month ago. Speculations are rife of the Quad Plus arrangement taking shape as the French Navy leads the current exercise in Indo Pacific. “Great to see the US and India participating in the Quad + France naval exercise beginning today in the Bay of Bengal,” US Congressman Brad Sherman said in a tweet on Monday.
The exercise is scheduled from 05 to 07 April with participation of two ships and a P8I aircraft of Indian Navy, two ships of French Navy, an amphibious transport dock ex US Navy, a frigate and a tanker of Royal Australian Navy as well as a Destroyer of Japanese Navy. Commander Vivek Madhwal, spokesperson of Indan Navy said on Monday, “Exercise La Perouse will witness complex and advanced naval operations including surface warfare, anti-air warfare and air defence exercises, weapon firing exercises, cross deck flying operations, tactical manoeuvres and seamanship evolutions such as replenishment at sea. The exercise will showcase high levels of synergy, coordination and inter-operability between the friendly navies. Participation by the Indian Navy in the exercise demonstrates the shared values with friendly navies ensuring freedom of seas and commitment to an open, inclusive Indo-Pacific and a rules-based international order.”
Is it a mere coincidence that the exercise commenced on the same day when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov landed in India for a two day visit, a precursor to Modi-Putin summit this year. A Russian statement on Sunday said that Russia attaches great importance to “rejection of confrontation and bloc type approaches” which it views as “divisive”, an oblique reference to Quad and Indo Pacific initiatives aimed at containing Chinese influence. Lavrov’s visit comes in the backdrop of confusion prevailing over non inclusion of India in Afghan Peace Talks in March, recent visit of the Russian FM to Beijing and growing Sino-Iran ties. Mr Lavrov will be holding discussions with Dr Jaishankar today and will follow up with a Joint Press Conference.
It is also worth noting that the ongoing Quad Plus naval exercise comes at the heels of Indo – US two day PASSEX a week ago involving a major US Navy Carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. Philippines and Japan has also raised concerns over recent increase in Chinese activities in South China Sea and even warned of hostilities if incursions continue.