NEW DELHI - India’s Navy has confirmed it sent nuclear submarines, an aircraft carrier battle group and dozens of other naval vessels to the North Arabian sea after a suicide bombing in February led to a tense military stand-off with Pakistan.
India was conducting large-scale military exercises off its coast when a paramilitary convoy was attacked in the disputed state of Kashmir on Feb. 14, prompting the navy to ‘swiftly’ shift its ships to an operational deployment, the force said in a statement Sunday. The deployment consisted of nuclear submarines, a carrier group centered around INS Vikramaditya and ‘scores of other ships, submarines and aircraft,’ it said.
The statement, which also announced an event attended by India’s navy chief, contained the most details so far about India’s military mobilization following the terrorist attack. Roughly 60 navy ships, 12 coast guard vessels and 60 aircraft were engaged in the TROPEX war games exercise, the navy’s biggest, when they were ‘swiftly transited from exercise to operational deployment,’ the navy said.
The attack in Kashmir prompted India to launch retaliatory airstrikes against what New Delhi said was a training camp in Pakistan belonging to Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistan-based group that claimed the bombing that killed 40 paramilitary troops. In a separate sortie, Islamabad sent fighter jets to hit targets in India and shot down an Indian Air Force plane, which crashed inside the Pakistan-administered part of Kashmir. An Indian pilot was captured, but was later returned.
India was following standard operating procedures and did not do anything out of the ordinary by mobilizing its ships, said Abhijit Singh, a former Indian naval officer and senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation think tank in New Delhi.
“It’s being made out that India’s navy was right on Pakistan’s doorstep, but it wasn’t like that — this wasn’t an escalation from India’s side,” Singh said, adding that ships participating in naval exercises often carry only the bare minimum of supplies and ordnance. “They would have suspended the exercises to get the ships back in harbor and get them ready for any possible engagement.”
India had previously said its armed forces shifted into a state of heightened readiness after Prime Minister Narendra Modi blamed Pakistan for the attack. At the time, Indian officials denied Islamabad’s statement that it had detected and chased away an Indian submarine from territorial waters.
An Indian foreign ministry spokesman and a Pakistan navy spokesman were not immediately able to comment.