When the Indian Navy started Milan at the Andaman and Nicobar Command in 1995, the multilateral naval exercise saw just four participants from Indonesia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
But 27 years later, the biennial exercise has not just grown in size with 40 countries, including India, participating in it, but also in sheer complexity, with a focus on exercises at sea in surface, sub-surface and air domains, also including weapon firings, and participation of extra regional navies such as the US Navy.
Milan 2022 began on February 26 and took place in two phases — the harbour phase from February 25 to 28 and the Sea Phase from March 1 to 4. The theme of the exercise – ‘Camaraderie – Cohesion – Collaboration’ – is aimed at promoting collective responsibilities of maritime security for ensuring safe and secure seas, as per the Navy.
As many as 46 countries were invited for the exercise, of which 39 participated. Of the participating navies, 13 sent their warships for the exercise, while others were represented by delegations.
As per the Navy, the aim of the exercise is to “hone operational skills, imbibe best practices and procedures, and enable doctrinal learning in the maritime domain, through professional interaction between friendly navies”.
As the Indo-Pacific gets exponentially complex with a number of foreign navies operating and also faces rising law and order issues, News18 traces the journey of Milan and its significance to the Indian Navy at this time.
Admiral Prakash explained that enhancing regional maritime cooperation and coordination to enhance maritime security or “good order at sea” is the main purpose of Milan. He said that aside from the “non-traditional maritime threats”, equal importance is given to issues such as pandemic relief, humanitarian assistance & disaster relief (HADR), search & rescue (SAR) at sea, submarine rescue, refugee/non-combatant evacuation operations (NEO), among others.
“In all of these ops, navies have a critical role to play. Therefore, close cooperation and understanding (inter-operability wherever possible) between respective navies is of utmost importance, and Milan plays a vital role in their enhancement,” he said. The former Navy chief also said that the participation by the US Navy in Milan is a welcome sign.
“It is the biggest and most resource-rich navy in this part of the world, and has a valuable contribution to make to regional maritime security of the Indo-Pacific, especially in the domain of non-traditional threats,” he said. “In the 2004 Great Asian Tsunami, apart from the Indian Navy, it was the USN which played a most significant role in rendering HADR,” he added.
A senior Navy officer, who chose to remain anonymous, explained that today the Indian Ocean is host to a number of extra regional navies, in addition to the regional navies operating, for reasons such as anti-piracy, FONOPS, IUU, trade protection, among others.
He added that the capability to attract so many navies to an exercise like Milan is indicative of the respect that not only the Indian Navy commands, but also the “izzat of India as a country”.
“Neighbouring countries no longer view us as a bully, but as a friendly neighbour, which is sincerely interested in the enhancement of the capability of their navies,” the officer said. “Milan is a good mix between power projection and diplomatic outreach to our friendly navies as well as some navies which are fence-sitters.”