Exercise MILAN 24: Largest Ever Multilateral Naval Exercise With Over 50 Nations

Indian Navy’s largest ever nine-day exercise MILAN 24 commenced on February 19 on the East coast with Navies from about 50 nations participating in it. The event reaffirms India’s steadfast commitment to fostering global maritime cooperation

By Sri Krishna

Indian Navy

New Delhi / Visakhapatnam: Coming close on the heels of Vayu Shakti where the country’s air power was on display, the Indian Navy’s largest ever nine-day exercise MILAN 24 commenced on February 19 on the East coast with Navies from about 50 nations participating in it.

Navy Chief Admiral R. Hari Kumar said that it was for the first time both the aircraft carriers of the Indian Navy – Vikrant and Vikramaditya – will be participating in an exercise, clearly sending a message of India asserting itself in the maritime security of the nation.

The event reaffirms India’s steadfast commitment to fostering global maritime cooperation, the Navy said. The Indian Navy, which would be the sunrise command, extended a hearty welcome to the distinguished fleets of vessels from across the globe, marking the commencement of a week-long demonstration of maritime prowess and cooperation.

The arrival of the USS Halsey (DDG-97), an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer of the United States, was met with particular enthusiasm, underscoring the robust partnership between the two naval superpowers. Adding to the spectacle, the powerful MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopters and the majestic aircraft carriers Vikrant and Vikramaditya graced Visakhapatnam’s shores, further accentuating the significance of the event.  INS Vikramaditya is docked alongside the jetty of Gangavaram Port, while INS Vikrant rests at the anchorage, off the Visakhapatnam Port. Apart from the two aircraft carriers, the exercise will see around 20 Indian warships of different classes participating in this event and include INS Chennai, the Kolkata-class stealth guided missile destroyer.

The 11th edition of MILAN which was held from  February 25 to March 04, 2022 in Visakhapatnam was the largest edition of the exercise, and was the first time it was held in Visakhapatnam under the Eastern Naval Command. The theme of the edition was “Camaraderie – Cohesion – Collaboration”. The Indian Navy had invited 46 nations to participate including all Quad nations. Forty-two countries confirmed their participation

Meanwhile, the city administration are taking no chances on security and making almost fool proof arrangements which are on an unprecedented scale. With the administration expecting around four lakh people to witness this exercise from the shore and specially the international city parade which is being conducted on the lines of a carnival on February 22. Invitations have been sent to over 5,000 guests. The Ministry of External Affairs has invited several international delegates.

As the Joint Commissioner of Police, Fakkeerappa Kaginelli said “more than 6,000 police personnel will be deployed for security arrangements to prevent any incident during the major event. The focus would be more during the International city parade on February 22 along the RK Beach stretch. Hence the sandside of the Beach Road is being barricaded with proper lights, LED screen and crowd dispersal and traffic management post the event.”

February 18 saw the arrival of notable frigates, vessels, and destroyers, including HMAS Warramunga of the Royal Australian Navy, JS Sazanami of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force, and HTMS Prachuap Khiri Khan (OPV 552) of the Royal Thai Navy. These vessels, alongside Corvette 20 of the Vietnam People’s Navy, showcased a grand display of international camaraderie.

This is 12th edition of the Multilateral Naval Exercise – 2024 (MILAN 24), and is in two primary phases, the harbour phase and the sea phase. The harbour phase festivities are scheduled to commence on February 21 at the Naval Auditorium Samudrika, with Union defence minister Rajnath Singh inaugurating the Milan village at the naval base later that evening.

The first MILAN was  held in 1995. Since then, the event has been held biennially except for 2001, 2005, 2016, and 2020. The 2001 and 2016 editions were not held because of the International Fleet Review; the 2005 event was postponed to 2006 due to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami while the 2020 edition was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Indonesia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand have participated in every edition of the exercise.

Originally conceived in consonance with India’s ‘Look East Policy, MILAN expanded in ensuing years with the government’s  ‘Act East policy’ and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Security And Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) initiative, to include participation from other Friendly Foreign Countries (FFCs)

The 11th edition of MILAN which was held from  February 25 to March 04, 2022 in Visakhapatnam was the largest edition of the exercise, and was the first time it was held in Visakhapatnam under the Eastern Naval Command. The theme of the edition was “Camaraderie – Cohesion – Collaboration”. The Indian Navy had invited 46 nations to participate including all Quad nations. Forty-two countries confirmed their participation. Thirteen nations sent warships to attend the Milan 2022 exercise, while 39 nations were represented by delegations. A total of 26 ships (13 foreign and 13 Indian Navy), 21 aircraft and 1 submarine participated in the exercise.

The city parade and carnival, would  take place at RK Beach on February 22, and attended by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy as the chief guest.

The Navy Chief, Admiral Kumar, underscored the significance of the exercise, emphasising India’s growing stature on the global stage and the critical role of maritime security in safeguarding national interests. He noted the multinational nature of MILAN 2024, reflecting evolving dynamics of maritime cooperation, with countries overcoming diplomatic hurdles to participate, including Russia, Iran, and Canada. In total, 51 nations, including major powers of France, the UK, and Japan, have united to enhance maritime resilience and response capabilities through a series of drills and discussions.

This Flagship event, MILAN, is a biennial multilateral naval exercise, which was incepted by the Indian Navy in 1995. Originally conceived in consonance with India’s ‘Look East Policy, MILAN expanded in ensuing years with the government’s  ‘Act East policy’ and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Security And Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) initiative, to include participation from other Friendly Foreign Countries (FFCs). MILAN 22 was conducted at and off Visakhapatnam from  February 25 to March 04, 2022 and witnessed participation from 39 countries.

The harbour phase of MILAN 24 will comprise of International Maritime Seminar, City Parade at RK Beach, Swavlamban Exhibition, Subject Matter Expert Exchange and Milan of Young Officers. Ships, Maritime patrol aircraft and submarines of Friendly Foreign Countries would participate in the sea phase along with Indian Navy units. They will involve large-force manoeuvres, advanced air defence operations, Anti-submarine warfare and Anti-surface warfare operations

The harbour phase of MILAN 24 will comprise of International Maritime Seminar, City Parade at RK Beach, Swavlamban Exhibition, Subject Matter Expert Exchange and Milan of Young Officers. Ships, Maritime patrol aircraft and submarines of Friendly Foreign Countries would participate in the sea phase along with Indian Navy units. They will involve large-force manoeuvres, advanced air defence operations, Anti-submarine warfare and Anti-surface warfare operations.

The run-up to MILAN is concomitant to India’s G20 Presidency and the conduct of the exercise would yet again realise the ‘G20 theme Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’.

The Navy chief said that currently, the Indian Navy is undertaking two major operations – the anti-piracy operation and anti-drone operation. “Under the anti-drone operation, we are supporting our merchant ships, not just Indian ship, but other ships which are in distress as well. If there’s any damage, we have been trying to help them and assist them to get to the harbour safely,” he said.

He said that the Navy has deployed several warships in the Arabian Sea for anti-drone operations, including P8I aircraft and MQ9 drones. The Navy Chief said under the anti-piracy operation, the Navy has deployed about four ships to tackle pirates.

He said that the Indian Navy had found that there were some fishing vessels bearing flags of other countries, including Iran and Pakistan, which were being hijacked by Somali pirates. The vessels were then being used to carry out piracy attacks on other ships, he said. “We were able to make the pirates surrender and release the crew of three of such vessels. We are determined to help anyone who is in distress,” the Admiral added.