How times change. Nearly 50 years after then US President Richard Nixon ordered the Aircraft Carrier USS Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal to threaten India in the face of its imminent victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war, Washington has sent the nuclear-powered supercarrier USS Nimitz to the same waters in a show of solidarity with New Delhi amid tensions both face with China.
Currently the world’s largest aircraft carrier, Nimitz sailed into the Bay of Bengal on Monday to be greeted by the Indian Navy’s Eastern Command for what was described as a “passex,” an incidental naval exercise during a warship’s passage (rather than a planned exercise). It was a far cry from December 1971 when the Indian Navy was tasked with confronting the US Navy battlegroup, and the Soviet Union rushed its nuclear submarines to support Delhi.
“The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group is transiting through IOR. During the passage, #IndianNavy units undertook Passage Exercise (PASSEX) with #USNavy. Indian Navy had also conducted similar PASSEXs with (Japan’s) #JMSDF and #FrenchNavy in recent past,” an Indian Navy spokesperson said in a tweet on Monday, seeking to place the exercises, which will extend into Tuesday, in a broad context.
The US too made no reference to China, but its language preceding the exercise was unmistakably aimed at Beijing. “Don’t underestimate the strength of free democracies,” US defense secretary Mike Esper tweeted, supplementing a US Navy tweet that said “The strength of @USNavy aircraft carriers includes the friendships they help build.”