US conducts unauthorized navy exercise in Indian Ocean


The US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones, on April 7, Wednesday, carried out a freedom of navigation operation near India’s Lakshadweep Islands. Apparently, this operation was conducted without the consent of the Indian government.

The US 7th Fleet said that the USS John Paul Jones “asserted navigational rights and freedoms approximately 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands inside India’s exclusive economic zone without requesting India’s prior consent, consistent with international law.”

The Indian government is now closely looking at this statement as it is against India’s maritime security policy of such exercises requiring its authorization.

“India requires prior consent for military exercises or maneuvers in its exclusive economic zone or continental shelf, a claim inconsistent with international law,” the statement said. “This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging India’s excessive maritime claims.”

The statement would be jarring for New Delhi since the US is among India’s closest strategic partners with both sides having repeatedly opposed China’s maritime expansionism, particularly in the South China Sea. India and the US hold Naval exercises throughout the year.

“We conduct routine and regular Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs), as we have done in the past and will continue to in the future. FONOPs are not about one country, nor are they about making political statements,” the statement said.

Abhijit Singh, a senior fellow at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation (ORF), told Anadolu Agency that while the US Navy carried out freedom of navigation patrols close to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in 2015, this is the first time that such an operation has been conducted near the Lakshadweep Islands.

“A US operation close to the more ‘strategic’ Andaman Islands would have been far more controversial, guaranteed to draw a response from Delhi,” said Singh, who heads the maritime policy initiative at ORF.

Stating that the US Navy’s choice of the Lakshadweep Islands is not “incidental,” Singh said the Indian government can afford to give a US freedom of navigation patrol near the islands “the go-by.”

“That is because maritime boundaries around the LKW [Lakshadweep Islands] are far more settled than the ANI (Andaman and Nicobar Islands), where straight baselines have in the past raised some uncomfortable questions,” he said.

“It is a mystery as to why the US has done it at a time when US-Indian maritime cooperation is at an all-time high,” said Manoj Joshi, a former member of India’s National Security Advisory Board