Joint exercise bonds militaries of India, Thailand

Joint exercise bonds militaries of India, Thailand

Tom Abke

The armies of India and Thailand participated in a joint infantry exercise in August 2018 designed to strengthen their partnership and hone the skills needed to combat insurgents and terrorists.

The Exercise Maitree, held in Thailand’s Chachoengsao province east of Bangkok, featured joint counterinsurgency and counterterrorist drills in urban, rural and jungle settings. One week after the exercise, the countries agreed to strengthen bilateral cooperation on security and military affairs when Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha met in Bangkok.

“Exercise Maitree [pictured] reflects India’s regular and broader institutionalized defense cooperation” with Thailand, Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told FORUM. “The key objective is to hone the tactical and technical skills in joint counterinsurgency and counterterrorist operations in diverse scenarios.”

The armies have exercised together since 2007 in Thailand and India, according to India’s Ministry of Defense. Maitree means friendship in both languages.

The armies kicked off Maitree with cross-training drills to familiarize Soldiers with the operational methods of the partner nation and to work on techniques and procedures for fighting insurgents and terrorists in urban, rural and jungle terrain, according to the ministry. The second phase involved counterinsurgency drills and tactical operations such as search-and-destroy missions. The final 72 hours focused on tactical operations and establishing military check posts and cordons.

“Increasing interoperability is crucial for success of any joint operation,” Chaturvedy said. “The emerging transnational security threats and challenges require joint efforts and cooperation.”

The cooperation has been improving over the last several years. India and Thailand signed a memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation in January 2012. That led to an increase in military exercises, joint patrols, exchanges and meetings between the countries.

At his meeting with India’s defense minister, Prayuth said he appreciated Thai-Indian cooperation on security affairs, reported the National News Bureau of Thailand. He added that the defense partnership can make the militaries “better equipped to handle all threats to security in the Indo-Pacific region.”

 Thailand assigned observers to the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation military exercise, which India hosted September 10-17, 2018.

Meanwhile, India is conducting regular consultations on defense affairs at ministerial and senior official levels with many Indo-Pacific countries to align with its Act East policy. “Deepening India’s security and economic engagement with the Indo-Pacific region is being seen as a factor of stability by many countries,” Chaturvedy said.

Many Indo-Pacific countries, particularly members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), are working to deepen their defense ties with India, he said. “With each ASEAN partner,” he said, “as also with other major countries and small island states in the wider region, India has developed strong political, economic and defense relations. India has engaged in joint naval exercises and exchanged port calls with some Southeast Asian states, including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. The Indian Navy has also been involved in several high-profile humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in the region.”

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.