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A day on a US warship

October 30, 2006
Some 25 nautical miles from Goa, 11 naval vessels of varying type and tonnage steamed in formation along the calm waters of the Arabian Sea.

From the flight deck of the USS Boxer, a group of us media people watched as the other ten ships steamed along, all at identical speeds, positioned at equidistant points along a circle of radius 6,000 yards, of which the Boxer was the focal point.

On view was one of the components of Malabar 2006 - the eighth, and latest, in a series of naval war games involving the forces of the United States and India, that had its genesis in 1994.

The ships steamed on, for hours, seemingly at peace with themselves and with the world around them - a demeanor that somehow put a question mark after the 'war games' this exercise was part of.

Was it, as it appeared on the surface, just toys for the naval boys? Just another public relations exercise?

Rear Admiral Anup Singh, Flag Officer Commanding for India's Western Fleet, rubbishes the thought at a media briefing. Malabar, he explains, was conceived of in 1992 "over a handshake."

In the first exercise of the series, two ships took part. Each successive iteration of the exercise has, Admiral Singh points out, has seen the two sides step things up, adding weight and heft to the type and quality of the participating vessels, and to the nature of the exercises themselves.

"The idea behind these exercises," Admiral Singh says, "is to add inter-operability between forces."

Steven Newton, a senior officer attached to the Boxer, puts that in lay idiom. "It is about faith, and trust," he says.

Slipping naturally into football idiom, he explains: "You need, in a team, to trust the members - those who will pass the ball to you, screen you while you make a run. Without trust, no team functions at its best.

"Exercises like these build trust among the participating navies. They build the confidence in the US Navy that our Indian counterparts are capable of holding their end up in a joint operation; they build trust among the officers and men of your navy that the American navy will be able to back any play they make.

"A mutual belief, trust, in each other's capabilities - that's the whole point," Newton, who in his spare time works to hone, polish and showcase semi-precious stones, and who raised a bit of a giggle when he told us he wanted to buy a sari for his wife but wasn't sure of the size, explains.

Image (Top): At a media briefing on board the USS Boxer, from left, Captain David S Angood, Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group; Rear Admiral Anup Singh, Flag Officer Commanding, Western Naval Command; Geoffrey Ross Pyatt (partly obscured), Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy, New Delhi; Colonel Brian Beaudreault, Commanding Officer, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Captain Bruce W Nichols, Commanding Officer, USS Boxer

Image (Bottom): The USS Boxer, seen from the deck of INS Mysore (Pic: Sebastian D'Souza/Getty Images)

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