‘Queen of Battle’: Indian aircraft carrier deployed to closely watch over Pakistan-China ‘Sea Guardian 2020’ naval drill

The Indian Navy has deployed its sole aircraft carrier to the Arabian Sea to keep an eye on a joint military drill between China and regional rival Pakistan.

The INS Vikramaditya, with a fleet of MiG-29K fighter jets on board, has arrived to monitor large nine-day naval exercise ‘Sea Guardians 2020,’ which was kicked off by Beijing and Islamabad in the northern part of the Arabian Sea on Monday.

The Navy spokesperson praised the “high levels of motivation & #willtowin, that were evident onboard the ‘Queen of the Battle,'” as the flagship carrier is often called in India.

Military sources told PTI that the top officials from the Navy HQ were present on board. They also said that the ship was sent on a voyage with “a strategic objective,” but did not disclose further details.

The carrier was reportedly testing out new hardware as well. A prototype of the HAL Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) has successfully taken off from the ship’s flight deck and landed on it on Saturday, military sources told NDTV and Hindustan Times. By doing so, the Tejas has become the first Indian-built jet to land on an aircraft carrier.

China brought five big warships for its drill with Pakistan, including the guided-missile destroyer Yinchuan and the guided-missile frigate Yuncheng, while Islamabad sent two Zulfiquar-class frigates, among other vessels. Pakistan’s Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi said that the joint maneuvers highlight “the long-term relationship and mutual trust” between the nations.

New Delhi has been tracking the increased activity of Chinese ships in the Indian Ocean. Last month, the Indian Navy reported that it had chased away a Chinese surveillance vessel after it had supposedly entered the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in September. 

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China is also absent from the list of more than 40 nations that India invited to participate in its major Milan 2020 naval drill next year. Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Karambir Singh explained in December that Beijing was not invited because India was calling only the “like-minded” countries.

India and Pakistan nearly went to an all-out war last February, when cross-border shelling was accompanied with the first case of open aerial combat since 1971. After a brief period of friendly gestures, the tensions between the neighbors began rising again since last summer, as India revoked the longstanding autonomy of the part of the disputed Kashmir it controls, and reorganized the region.

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Indian authorities argue that the changes in Kashmir will help fighting terrorism, and that better integration into India proper will boost the region’s economy. The country also recently adopted a citizenship law, which simplifies naturalization for several religious groups that have arrived from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, but does not do the same for Muslims.

Pakistani officials have blasted the law as discriminatory. India denies these allegations, saying that the legislation is aimed at protecting the persecuted minorities coming from the Muslim-majority states, and is not detrimental to Muslims in any way.

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