The biggest military draw is happening on the eastern coast of India. It is the country’s second International Fleet Review (IFR) and ships from 50 countries are lining up with their naval contingents for a grand display of camaraderie in an increasingly complex environment.
This is the first time that India would be hosting a fleet review of such mammoth proportions. In its first IFR held in 2001 off Mumbai, reviewed by the late former president APJ Abdul Kalam, 29 countries sent their naval contingents.
So this time there are almost double that number signalling India’s growing influence both on the seas and in diplomatic circles.
The theme for this IFR is “United through Oceans”, hinting at the bonhomie India expects to build with participating countries.
There are over 90 ships, including 24 warships, and over 70 aircraft at the IFR 2016. Around 30 service chiefs will be in attendance.
President Pranab Mukherjee, the supreme commander of the armed forces, will be reviewing the fleet on Saturday, February 6.
He will be boarding the INS Sumitra commanded by Commander Milind Mohan Mokashi who was conferred the Ashok Chakra last year for a daring rescue mission of stranded Indians and people of other nationalities from war torn Yemen.
INS Sumitra has been converted into a yacht for the purpose. She will take the President through the review columns as each ship, flying their full regalia, will salute him.
Other events such as nautical exhibition, maritime conference, operational demonstration, and a book release function are planned besides the fleet review.
But the fleet review is not just about “building bridges” as the Navy claims. It is also an opportunity to show to the world the strength of the Indian Navy and its ongoing indigenisation process.
There will also be a ‘Make in India’ exhibition to showcase “innovation, indigenisation and potential of the youth”.
The Indian Navy aims at 100 per cent indigenisation in its 15-year plan released last year.
The list of participating navies includes the United States of America, China, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Canada, Russia, South Africa, Japan, South Korea, Peru, Chile, Colombia and Brazil.
That China is a part of the IFR 2016 shows that Beijing gives importance to the influence Indian Navy has in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
China is learnt to have sent one ship and a delegation to the IFR 2016. Though Pakistan was invited, it declined to participate.
Among the major attractions will be a flypast led by Rear Admiral P.K. Bahl, Flag Officer Naval Aviation and comprising 15 formations of 45 aircraft.
The display will showcase navy’s latest acquisitions such as the carrier-borne MIG 29K strike fighter, the P8I long range maritime reconnaissance aircraft and the KM-31 AEW helicopter.
But the biggest attraction will be INS Viraat, one of India’s two aircraft carriers, which will be decommissioned after this event drawing the curtains down on an illustrious career.
The IFR 2016 is being held from Feb 4-8.