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'Your navy is world class'

Admiral Gary Roughead heads the world's largest combined fleet command, covering 102 million square miles and more than 190 ships and submarines, 1,400 aircraft, 191,000 sailors and Marines and 30,000 civilians.

In India last week to meet Admiral Arun Prakash, Defence Secretary Shekhar Dutt and other senior naval and defence officials and chart out a course of cooperation, the Commander of America's Pacific Fleet took time out to grant an exclusive interview to Deputy Managing Editor Ramananda Sengupta and Nikhil Lakshman on what the Indian and American navies propose to do together, and why. The first of a two-part interview:

You recently mentioned that the Indian and American navies need to go beyond exercises, and get into the area of interoperability. What exactly did you have in mind?

We've talked about range of issues at the meetings that I've had since I've been here.

The whole focus of my visit here was to interact with the navy leadership. To talk about where we have been with regard to the various exercises and interactions we have had, and then to look at how we can move forward in a cooperative way that is mutually beneficial to our navies.

When I talk about getting beyond exercises, exercises are wonderful vehicles to advance the relationship, and to allow our forces to interact. But I believe it is important that we have a dialogue on how we can become inter-operable. What are better ways of moving information back and forth, how can our subject matter experts come together to talk about how we do things. Because I believe that no one organisation or any profession has a lock on good ideas.

Your navy is very competent, very professional. It is a truly world class navy. And that allows us to work together in ways that are perhaps different from our relationships with our other neighbours. So when we look at equipment inter-operability, information sharing, procedures and protocols, and with that, we then can begin to work on areas that go beyond exercises. Because as we saw, in the tsunami last year, you don't have a lot of time to prepare for things.

Normally when we do exercises, it's a question of initial planning meets, mid-planning meetings and final planning meetings, all these go into the exercises. Going back to the professionalism of the Indian navy, there will be things that could happen like the tsunami when you have to come out of the blocks, and how we do business in a day to day method, how we exchange information that could make a difference in how quickly we respond to events that take place in this important part of the world.

So you see it quickly moving beyond sharing of information and equipment to conducting operations together?

I believe we can put ourselves in a position to conduct operations that again are mutually agreeable by our governments, which fulfil the objectives that we share. It is clear to me and has been for some time, and this has also been acknowledged at the highest levels very recently that as the biggest and the oldest democracies we have so much in common.

As we look to this region with the importance of freedom of movement on the sea lanes of the world, that is a role that navies can support. It is clear that both the US navy and the Indian navy share the view that security and stability on the world's oceans is important to our country's prosperity, regional prosperity and ultimately global prosperity.

Also see: Navy replaces vessel on patrol in Malacca Straits Photograph: Jewella C Miranda


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