MILAN 2024 – Major Step in Maritime Diplomacy, Strengthening Naval Power

By Sri Krishna

Indian Navy

New Delhi: The ongoing MILAN 2024 which comes close  on the heels of the G20 Summit meeting and India’s presidency of the elite group, has given a massive boost to India’s maritime diplomacy and also to its much vaunted “Aatmanirbharta” or self-reliance in the defence sector specially in boosting the strength of the Indian Navy.

The week long exercise from February 19 onwards in the East coast along the Bay of Bengal in Vishakhapatnam comes at a time when China is moving towards dominating the Indian Ocean and this naval exercise with the participation of  navies from about 50 nations is indeed another big-ticket event that India is hosting with the Indian Navy as the prime mover.

The exercise gave an opportunity to the residents of Vishakhapatnam to see warships and  military aircraft carry out exercises on both land and sea and the twelfth edition of this flagship event saw 20 of the 50 nations sending their ships or aircraft to be a part of the marquee gathering.

MILAN, which translates into ‘meeting’ or ‘gathering’ or ‘confluence of people’ in Hindi, began in 1995 as a biennial multinational event under the aegis of Andaman and Nicobar command till its tenth edition. It shifted to Visakhapatnam for the eleventh edition held in 2022. The theme of the previous edition ‘Camaraderie–Cohesion–Collaboration’ has also been adopted for this one, thus making it an overarching vision of the MILAN.

What drew tremendous interest and attention was the  live demonstration of Indian Navy’s Submarine Rescue System as it demonstrated the Indian Navy’s unwavering commitment to safety and collaboration on the high seas.

The event is certainly big, not only in numbers but also because of its vision of enhancing maritime cooperation, interoperability, and mutual understanding among the navies of the Indo-Pacific region. MILAN 2024 also showcases India’s naval prowess and expresses its commitment to a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region.

MILAN, which stands for Multilateral International Liaison and Antisubmarine Warfare, was first held in 1995 with five countries. A modest beginning, the exercise was undertaken in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The navies of Indonesia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Thailand participated in this edition. Since then, it has grown in scale and scope, becoming a biennial event from 2003 onwards. The previous edition, MILAN 2022, was also held in Visakhapatnam, under the aegis of Eastern Naval Command (ENC), with 39 friendly foreign countries across continents participating.

MILAN 2024 inspired by the adage, “Oceans unite, they don’t divide” and is aimed at fostering a sense of ‘Camaraderie, Cohesion, Collaboration’ – which is their theme – among the participating navies. The exercise, thus, hopes to enhance maritime cooperation through friendship, goodwill, and understanding. This spirit is also derived from India’s vision of ‘SAGAR’ – Security and Growth for All’.

MILAN 2024 gave a platform to the participating nations  an invaluable opportunity to share operational insights in harbour, hone skills at sea, enhance camaraderie on the sports fields, and gain exposure to Indian culture.

The ongoing exercise taking place in the backdrop of Visakhapatnam’s coastal charm saw a blend of cultural richness and technological innovation.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated two key events, the MILAN Technical Exposition (MTEX 2024) and the MILAN Village, setting the stage for a multi-faceted maritime extravaganza.

The MILAN Village, nestled within INS Satavahana, offered visitors a glimpse into the cultural tapestry of nations participating in the naval exercise. From traditional Khadi stalls to live pottery sessions, the ambience exuded an aura of artisanal charm. International participants, including the Navy of Myanmar, showcased their stalls, fostering cross-cultural exchanges.

A stroll through MILAN Village revealed a plethora of culinary delights, with over 40 stalls ranging from Indonesian delicacies to Vietnamese specialties, along with an array of Indian cuisine. Handlooms, handicrafts, and souvenirs from various local brands, including Sankalpa Art Village, Lepakshi, Kota House, and Khadi India, adorned the stalls, offering visitors a chance to take home cherished memories. Cultural performances and dances by artistes added to the festive atmosphere, bringing people together in a spirit of camaraderie.

The live pottery wheel and session drew the attention of the audience with their simple yet captivating demonstration. As skilled artisans moulded clay into various shapes and forms, spectators were intrigued by the tactile nature of the craft.

Meanwhile, at MTEX 2024, in partnership with FICCI, India’s strides towards self-reliance in the defence sector took centre stage with the exposition showcasing the latest advancements in naval technology, emphasising India’s commitment to innovation. Exhibitors, including major players in Indian defence production and start-ups, presented their solutions, highlighting the nation’s entrepreneurial spirit.

The expo served as a platform for forging partnerships and accelerating the development of cutting-edge technologies crucial for maritime defence. Defence PSUs and Indian Naval organisations showcased their equipment and innovations, underscoring India’s capabilities in the maritime domain.

The exposition features products developed by Indian industry, with participation from major players including Bharat Dynamics Ltd., Larsen & Toubro Ltd., Bharat Electronics, Electronics Corporation of India Ltd., and Garden Reach Shipbuilders Ltd. Additionally, defence start-ups such as Sagar Defence Engineering Ltd., Daksha Unmanned Systems Ltd., and Saif Automation Ltd. displayed their innovative solutions.

Defence PSUs and Indian Naval organisations like DRDO, the Indian Naval Incubation Centre for Artificial Intelligence (INICAI), and the Weapon and Electronic System Engineering Establishment (WESEE) are also showcasing their equipment and innovations.

Against the backdrop of traditional music and colourful costumes, visitors revelled in the joyous atmosphere, celebrating the spirit of unity amidst diversity. With Milan Village open from 3 pm to 10 pm and MTEX 2024 welcoming visitors from 10.30 am to 6 pm until February 23, the stage is set for three days of collaboration, knowledge exchange, and celebration.

The International City Parade captured the cultural vibrancy and bonhomie between the Indian Navy, State and City Administration, and friends from Foreign Countries.

The City Parade exhibited a diverse array of participants, including groups such as the Indian Sea Cadet Corps Band, Indian Naval Band, Korukonda Sainik School Band, Indian Air Force Band, Sea Cadet Corps, Indian Coast Guard, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, and Indian Navy. Additionally, contingents from various countries, including Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka, the Seychelles, Russia, Myanmar, Mauritius, Malaysia, Indonesia, France, and Bangladesh, along with local entities like the AP Special Force, AP Police, AP Police Band, Veterans, and National Cadet Corps, showcased their presence.

The Operational Demonstration showcased precision manoeuvres by ships, helicopters, and aircraft, including simulated beach assaults conducted by marine commandos, leaving spectators impressed.

Tableaux by the AP government and the Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation provided insights to the public. The parade also included an air power demonstration, a search and rescue demonstration, combat-free fall, and fly-past by many aircraft of the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force.

The event concluded with a spectacular laser show, fireworks, and illumination by naval ships at anchorage, featuring vessels such as INS Vikramaditya, INS Vikrant, INS Mumbai, INS Chennai, and INS Jalashwa. Senior naval officials, many delegates from friendly foreign countries and thousands of vizagites took part in the event.