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MULTIPLE FRAMES FOR MARITIME CONSCIOUSNESS

Several factors such as the growing economic interdependence in the post-globalisation world, the rise of China, and India’s slow but steady presence in the strategic scenario have brought the significance of maritime connectivity back to the fore.

Commodore Odakkal Johnson

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In the words of Late Prof B. Arunachalam, “Long before man learnt the art of saddling a horse, he had learnt the skills of paddling in waters.” Eventually, man became more terrestrial. An increasing sea blindness directed our attention to the mainland. Yet, flourishing movement and migration, trade and commerce and cultural exchanges have an undeniable maritime connect. Sufficient literary and epigraphical evidence offers a panoramic view of India’s rich ancient maritime history which has waxed and waned. Indians by no means stopped sailing altogether or deviated entirely from the maritime medium. Maritime Studies is a multi-frame space gaining momentum in academic deliberations. India, a maritime nation is surrounded by oceanic expanse on three sides and must own the rich maritime heritage and legacy we withhold. There is an imminent need to reset the frames of our history with the full spectrum of maritime consciousness.

It is time to introspect India’s engagement with the Indian Ocean and understand conventional and emerging perspectives on nautical activities in the Indian Ocean region. Remnants of material culture that can be found in distant shores testify to the maritime trade links and the subsequent cultural engagements. The Indian Ocean is the third-largest body of water in the world, covering about 20% of the Earth’s water surface. It provides major sea routes connecting the Middle East, Africa, and East Asia with Europe and the Americas. Peninsular India is the most prominent geographical feature in this oceanic space, even as these waters wash the shores of the entire East Coast of Africa, the South Coast of Arabia, the Southern shores of Iran and Baluchistan, the Malaysian Peninsula and Indonesia’s Sumatra. Indian Ocean has always been regarded as an area of great geopolitical significance and India its centre of gravity. Unique feature of the monsoons and a distinct civilisation around this Ocean enhanced maritime activity and traditions in this region. Centuries prior to seafaring in the Aegean Sea, the littoral states of peninsular India had already built up their oceanic traditions.

Research studies and material evidence affirm the presence of a flourishing Sindhu-Saraswati civilisation. Indian maritime history recognises Lothal is the link between the settlements in then Harappa, current Gujarat and a time lapse across the region. The excavation and discovery of Lothal was a result of the need for exploring India’s ancient past. A testimony to the maritime prowess of the Indians, Lothal continues to add to our national memory of our maritime past. The efforts to develop a National Maritime Museum in the vicinity of Lothal is eagerly awaited as the coalescing of long overdue material tribute to a significant legacy.

Tamil Sangam literature of a few centuries before and after the Common Era, especially Silappadikaram and Manimekhalai, testifies to the great overseas trade of the ancient Indian mariners. The Indo-Roman trade was a very intensive maritime venture. There was an established maritime trade network in India. Maritime trade was regulated by the merchant guilds that played a crucial role not just in maintaining trade-inland and overseas-but also provided proper protection to the commodities and actively participated in the development of the places that they traded from.

From the West to the East, Indians dominated the Indian ocean waters with their navigational expertise. We have the account of the Cholas who subjugated the Sri Vijayans and established their control on trade routes which shows the understanding of the geo-politics and foresight in order to improve their monetary benefits. The naval expeditions of the Cholas should be studied as with the ones that were undertaken due to motivation for removal of interference from the flourishing Chola Maritime trade establishing their supremacy in the Bay of Bengal region.

India has a sociological lineage of seasonal festivals and associated rituals among certain coastal communities that had a flourishing maritime practice that compensates for the lack of literary and documented sources. A few of these indicate India’s clear maritime connect with countries afar. The festival of Boita Bandana celebrated on the Odisha coast during Kartika Purnima is a classic example of it. We tend to neglect the voice of the subaltern communities along the coast who essentially have been practitioners and guardians of the traditional maritime legacy. These communities harnessed essential nautical skills with multi-dimensional maritime knowledge to build a framework of sea-mindedness that is still to fully emerge.

Amidst a turbulent socio-political metamorphosis of hinterland rulership through the medieval era, one can notice that a sea-going nation is suddenly found challanged in the clutches of social taboos like Kalapani and people begin to dread crossing seas or water bodies because such an act was tantamount to losing one’s respectability. By and large, the shipping and maritime sector remained largely confined to the coastal communities with their practice diminishing from large trade to fishing for subsistence. The space vacated by Indian mariners was filled in the oceanic routes by Arabs, Malays and the Chinese. In the aftermath of this confluence of oceanic interactions there is a watershed moment with the European advent in India. It brought in a period of conquest, commerce and colonisation. Indian history and historiography changes.

An era of native maritime resurgence spans across the Malabar and Konkan Coasts. Heroic instances of the Kunjali Marakkars to Sarkhel Kanhoji Angre’s strong Naval fleet, and unsung accounts of Colachal and Rani Abakka together point out to our extensive maritime valour. Sadly, these regional histories are only now emerging on a nationwide framework. The unrecognized and silent brave hearts who played a vital role in our ancient past deserve all accolades for their sheer administrative and governance ingenuity and for us to learn from their mistakes and omission of those in present times for a better future.

In modern times, we see a resurgence in Indian shipping sector from shipbuilding that reached a new zenith under the Wadia shipbuilders to the making of the indigenous state-of-the-art vessels. Post the transition from steam to steel vessels, our indigenous shipbuilding industry did incur a severe setback. Although there is a decline in the art of making traditional ship-crafts, with proper support, we can ensure its sustainability. Today, we have a renewed sense of pride about the Make-in-India initiative, but it was said and done by the the Indian Navy, with the saga of INS Ajay, the Nilgiri Class and the amazing Godavari series. That is a story of genuine maritime pride.

India’s geographic location in the Indian Ocean naturally renders the Indian Navy as one of the key players in the region, and an important partner for the Indian Ocean community to keep the area stable and secure. The Indian Navy continues to protect our water frontiers and safeguards our maritime interests. India has one of the largest fleets in the world today that continues to commission a number of indigenously built vessels, warships and submarines in service.

Concepts have been interpreted differently by historians at different times to give a comprehensive view of the past. We are familiar with political history, social history, economic history and administrative history. Maritime history is a larger and inclusive canvas, which has been gaining momentum and currency these days. The seas and the coast have drawn fresh focus by several Indian historians who are interested in understanding the transitions and intrusions of Maritime History. The study of oceanic space enables us to come closer to the crucial dynamics of our journey through time. Knowledge and skill-based examination with community practices will enrich the enquiry into India and the Indian Ocean studies. It has relevance in the exchange of culture, the establishment of political power, the dynamics of society, trade and commerce and religion of these areas.

One challenge that India faces is to reset the apathy towards our maritime past in the context of the huge groundswell of interest. There is a dire need to enhance a maritime consciousness amongst people. We have to explore the myriad opportunities and lessons that the sea has to offer through multiple disciplines that are untouched and untold. It’s a long way and we have a proactive role to play in exploring, conserving and passing the legacy of the maritime heritage of India. With a renewed sense of maritime consciousness, we can relook at the traditional narratives that have shaped our history and historiographies; the application of a sea minded approach can help us look at how the maritime medium has influenced all walks of our life.

We, at Maritime History Society, take pride in being a premier institute in what can be called as an established legacy for matters maritime. An article in a leading daily that bemoaned the lack of attention to the preservation of our maritime heritage was all that it took to stimulate and germinate an idea that led our Founder Chairman & Patron Emeritus Late VAdm MP Awati (Retd), PVSM, VrC to start the Maritime History Society on 12 May 1978. With a view to promoting a learned understanding of the vast maritime expanse and the rich Indian maritime history, the journey began forty years ago. Today the Maritime History Society has crossed four decades; much more than what was originally expected. It has conducted over a hundred monsoon lectures and has published more than 20 excellent works on Indian Maritime History with some more projects in the pipeline. It continues a rich journey of promoting Indian maritime wisdom through a variety of means and services.

MHS holds seminars and leads initiatives to showcase the maritime heritage and share its research and collaborate with eminent scholars in the maritime domain. Maritime Research is a continued effort. Keeping this in mind, MHS Manthan- our in-house Research initiative got underway to promote research and writings in maritime history. The vibrant team at MHS faced initial setbacks during the pandemic and lockdown. But, in their resolve to promote a maritime consciousness, the obstacles were turned to opportunities. Right from putting up interesting content through Blogs, short Vlogs to conducting webinars, MHS also continued the traditional Monsoon Series Lecture that has been an annual routine albeit it was the first time it was on a digital platform; conducted as a four-part Monsoon Musings series that remains available on our website and social media platforms.

Today, MHS seeks to draw attention to the lesser-known snippets from the Indian Maritime history that remain unsung or are barely mentioned as a footnote in the annals of our Indian history and their role in India’s long maritime past. There is a wide chasm in our historical narratives as it overlooks and undermines the subaltern narratives of the coastal communities. Oceans are our Great Commons and it is important to look at all the aspects it touches. When six Indian Naval Officers; an all-women crew circumnavigated the globe in INSV Tarini, history was created. They defied all odds and proved that Sea knows no gender. Defying the social construct of gender, their momentous feat also broke the barriers of sailing and navigating that was an all-male business.

Another important aspect of seafaring history is maritime connectivity in the Indian Ocean. It becomes vital as it has garnered renewed focus over the last few years. Despite the fact that seas and oceans have always had an impact on civilisations, for many decades during the latter half of the past century the attention of states had shifted from a maritime perspective to a continental one. Several factors such as the growing economic interdependence in the post-globalisation world, the rise of China, and India’s slow but steady presence in the strategic scenario have brought the significance of maritime connectivity back to the fore. Within the IOR, maritime connectivity holds the key to act as the forerunner for enhanced bilateral and multilateral engagement. Indian commitment to a ‘Free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific’ builds further from ‘Act East’ policy and enhances ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR)’ approach as envisioned by India are gaining traction. In this context, convergence and collaboration explicate the importance of maritime connectivity.

This is the century of the seas, with multiple sea-based trade conduits connecting the states, compounded with the constantly increasing significance of the maritime chokepoints and the international sea lanes. The concept of ‘Maritime Consciousness’ has been gaining prominence among the various jargons used in the maritime domain. Any country seeking a strong influence in the global high table must remain committed to ensure the security of the seas and sustainably exploit marine resources. Efforts for preserving good order at sea to realise this common interest has found momentum across the globe. Achieving maritime consciousness, covering awareness, immersive engagement and skilful harnessing the dimension, can genuinely catalyse such efforts. Being a country, which is excessively reliant on the maritime trade routes, the need to develop a comprehensive maritime consciousness has been critical for India.

Maritime History Society, India as an organisation has envisaged on following important aspects

•To promote awareness of and debate in all aspects of India’s maritime interests, especially in the field of naval, geo-strategic, maritime history, Shipbuilding and heritage.

•To generate awareness of and research in India’s maritime heritage and related history.

•To foster an environment of informed maritime opinion among the various maritime interests pertaining to history and archaeology

•To engender awareness for Maritime Sustainability and Consciousness.

With the regular Annual Maritime Seminar scaled up to the first National Maritime Heritage Conclave, the objective is to stimulate deliberations on the under-explored dimensions of Indian maritime history and enhance the direction of maritime history as a discipline in India so that it may include areas neglected previously. A two-day National Maritime Heritage Conclave 2020 is envisaged on the theme of “Exploring Unsung Frames in Indian Maritime History” on 18-19 November 2020 from 1000h to 1300h on both the days. The online Conclave is curated around the themes of Coastal communities, Gender in Maritime history and Trans-maritime connectivity in the Indian Ocean Region. It has a vibrant lineup of deliberations that includes established academicians who have contributed to the vast body of knowledge and young research minds that look forward to interchange ideas by sharing this platform to disseminate maritime consciousness. It will benefit a wide segment of enthusiasts. Visit www.mhsindia.org/events/ to know more and register.

MHS continues its commitment to supplement more pronounced research in the realms of maritime studies and promote a maritime consciousness amongst people. We make an earnest appeal for your support. Do participate in our events and spread a good word about us. Quality research requires your help in every way possible. Follow us on our social media pages for latest updates of events and content. Do become a part of our sustainability campaign. We urge you to network us towards increasing our sustainability. We urge you to help us continue to pursue the mission of letting heritage awaken our maritime consciousness.

The writer is Director, Maritime History Society (MHS).

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Defence

‘ARMY CAN MEET ANY CHALLENGE TO SAFEGUARD COUNTRY’

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The Army is fully prepared to meet any challenge like the use of drones and social media by adversaries to safeguard the country, said Commandant of Chennai-based Officers Training Academy (OTA) Lieutenant General M K Das. Lt Gen Das, who is also the colonel of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry (JAKLI) regiment, said the situation in J&K is getting better with the Army and other security agencies working together to stamp out terrorism. Speaking to media on the sidelines of the maiden attestation parade of 460 new recruits of the 126th batch after a successful 40-week training period at Dansal here, he said the Indian Army is aware of the challenges and prepared to give a befitting response to the enemies of the nation.

Talking about the need to introduce special training courses for soldiers in the aftermath of the developments in Afghanistan, he said, “Our training is very contemporary as it caters for all the contingencies and unforeseen situations. My young soldiers, who have taken the oath to defend the constitution and the country, will live up to all the challenges. One of the unique things of this regiment (JAKLI) is all our troops hail from J&K and Ladakh. They have ingrained quality to be security conscious much more than others.” Lt Gen Das said, “All the situations unfolding in the country or in our neighbourhood, the JAKLI regiment will continue to excel and be the lead agency in the fight against terrorism.” Asked about the challenges posed by the use of drones to hit targets and deliver weapons and narcotics from across the LoC and International Border, he said a capsule course on anti-drone measures has been introduced. “On Army Day on 15 January, our chief took the threat seriously and our soldiers are being prepared to deal with the challenge in a better way.” During recruitment training, Lt Gen Das said that besides the arms handing and exercises, thrust is also given on science and technology, cybersecurity and other new challenges. He said the misuse of social media by “anti-national” elements is a reality and the new recruits are being trained in cybersecurity during their basic and orientation courses.

On attempts by Pakistan to mislead the youth of J&K, Lt Gen Das said, “The youth of J&K is showing keenness to be a part of the regiment which is a message to those who think they can mislead our youth. Joining the regiment is the best way to serve the nation, the youth live like a family and there is complete communal harmony.” He said the regiment is increasing the number of local youth from Ladakh and would also go for recruitment in J&K to provide an opportunity to the local youth to become part of this regiment. Asked about his message to the misguided youth, he said, “J&K is the crown of India but if I focus as a soldier, I feel they (misguided youth) have not understood their country… the situation has not gone out of hand and the Army has kept its window open to allow them to surrender and join the national mainstream.”

He added, “We have a unit of 162 Infantry Territorial Army who are former militants but have become upright soldiers.” Lt Gen Das said the Army and other security agencies are working in close coordination and the situation in J&K is getting better and the “day is not far when this region will make our country proud.”

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Defence

SOUTHERN NAVAL COMMAND OBSERVES INTERNATIONAL COASTAL CLEAN-UP DAY IN KOCHI

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The Southern Naval Command observed International Coastal Clean-up Day on Saturday with a focus on mangrove plantation and clearance of plastic/non-biodegradable waste along with waterfront areas in and around Kochi, said a press release from the Ministry of Defence.

Pursuant to the global campaign of keeping coastlines clean, more than 600 Naval personnel and the families of Southern Naval Command undertook clearance of plastic and non-biodegradable waste at different locations spread across the city, coastal areas such as Fort Kochi beach, Thevara waterfront, Willingdon Island, Cherai beach, Bolgatty and around 2 km stretch of the Venduruthy channel while restoring around 1 lakh sqm of mangroves to the pristine condition. In addition, 80 mangrove saplings were also planted along the Venduruthy channel. Similar coastal cleanup drives and lectures/webinars/competitions emphasising protection of the coastal and marine environment were undertaken with the enthusiastic participation of the Naval community at other outstation Naval units located at Lonavala, Jamnagar, Chilka, Coimbatore, Goa, Ezhimala and Mumbai.

Being the Training Command of the Indian Navy, the Southern Naval Command has always been at the vanguard in promoting environmental conservation activities both at the Command Headquarters, Kochi as well as at Naval stations spread across the country.

Mandated to oversee naval training, the Southern Naval Command has conceptualised and implemented a variety of green initiatives. Keeping environmental preservation as one of the Key Result Areas, the Command has constantly endeavoured to motivate young officer and sailor trainees of the Indian Navy to imbibe the habit of protecting mother nature as part of their grooming efforts in preparing them to become responsible future Naval leaders and dependable citizens of India.

Particular attention has also been given to create more awareness among the families and more importantly the children.

During the last three years, the Command has adopted a multi-dimensional approach towards conservation of the environment and implementation of energy conservation methods.

To highlight a few, the personnel of the Command were actively involved in the rejuvenation of 4.5-km-long Venduruthy Channel near Kochi Naval base, creating awareness in and around Naval establishments.

Efforts were undertaken to enhance green cover by conducting mass plantation drives which included planting more than 75,000 trees, using the fast-growing Miyawaki forestation method. In addition, regular coastal clean-up drives, mangrove plantation drives, in-house handling and recycling of bio and non-biodegradable waste, adopting efficient energy and water-saving methods etc were also undertaken. The Command has also earnestly endeavoured to continue all the efforts for protecting and conserving the environment and natural resources. Towards achieving the same, the Command has implemented a Green Initiative and Environment Conservation Roadmap with a prime focus on Carbon footprint reduction.

With the personal involvement of Vice Admiral Anil Kumar Chawla, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command is committed to creating a clean, green and healthy environment in line with the visionary environment conservation policies of the Govt of India. On the occasion, Adv M Anilkumar, Mayor, Kochi Municipal Corporation and staff also participated in Kochi.

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Defence

IAF TO HOLD AIR SHOW OVER DAL LAKE IN SRINAGAR ON 26 SEPT

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An air show will be held here on 26 September where IAF’s skydiving team Akash Ganga and Suryakiran Aerobatic and Display Team and paramotor flying will manoeuvre the skies over the famous Dal Lake, officials informed on Saturday.

The air show will be organised by the Air Force Station Srinagar and the Jammu and Kashmir administration as part of the ongoing celebrations commemorating ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’, they said. The main aim of the exercise—under the theme ‘Give Wings to Your Dream’—is to motivate the youth of the valley to join the Indian Air Force (IAF) and to promote tourism in the region, the officials said.

The event will be flagged off Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC) overlooking Dal Lake.

More than 3,000 college and school students are expected to participate in the programme to witness the impressive manoeuvres of the IAF, which will motivate them to dream about a career in the force and in the aviation sector, the officials said. “The show will also develop passion among the students to give wings to their dreams. Along with the students, 700 teachers will also be present at the venue,” they added.

During the demonstration, students will also be familiarised with the new technological advancements achieved and incorporated by the IAF while flying aircraft in the sky over the world-famous Dal Lake, the officials said. Stalls will be established at SKICC where students will be familiarised with the achievements of the Air Force, employment opportunities in the IAF, recruitment rules and eligibility criteria, they added.

Srinagar-based PRO Defence Col Emron Musavi said the display will include flypast by various aircraft of the IAF. The spectators would also get to witness paramotor flying and IAF’s skydiving team Akash Ganga in action. ‘Ambassadors of IAF’, Suryakiran Aerobatic Display Team, will be performing in the valley after a gap of 14 years, he said. Col Musavi said the symphony orchestra of the IAF would also be performing at the event. The event would also consist of a photo exhibition depicting the history of the

IAF, he said. 

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Defence

ARMY ORGANISES EXHIBITION IN JAIPUR TO COMMEMORATE INDIA’S VICTORY IN 1971 WAR

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JAIPUR : South Western Command of the Indian Army on Saturday organised an exhibition showcasing defence equipment at Chitrakoot Stadium in Jaipur to mark the 50th anniversary of India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war.

Speaking to ANI, an Indian army official said, “We have displayed the defence equipment in this exhibition to make people aware of the Indian army achievements. We want to motivate the youth by showcasing these types of equipment.” “Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, these events had been started to make people aware of Indian Arm Forces. So, we are also continuing the move by organising these kinds of events,” he added.

Further, he said that India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war is memorable for all the Indians, so, every citizen should be aware of this war.  

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Defence

BRO makes history, appoints woman Army officer in-charge of road construction unit

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The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has appointed a woman Army officer for the first as the Officer Commanding of its 75 road construction company (RCC) in Uttarakhand, the Defence Ministry said on Sunday.

The three platoon commanders under Major Aaina, Captain Anjana, AEE (Civ) Bhawana Joshi and AEE (Civ) Vishnumaya K became the first women RCC. The appointments were made on August 30.

BRO on Sunday recalled the list of women officers who were assigned higher leadership roles in the organisation in the current year.

According to a statement issued by the Defence Ministry, BRO has inducted a large number of women into its workforce over the years, right from officers to the level of commercial pilot license holders. “In this regard, a General Reserve Engineer Force (GREF) officer EE (Civ) Vaishali S Hiwase took over the reins of 83 Road Construction Company on April 28, employed on an important Indo-China road connecting Munisairi-Bughdiar-Milam, in an area full of adversity and challenges. The lady officer has taken control and is leading the charge with meticulous execution of her tasks,” the statement said.

“The BRO created history again on 30 August when Major Aaina of Project Shivalik took charged as Officer Commanding, 75 Road Construction Companies (RCC) at Pipalkoti in Chamoli district in Uttarakhand. She is the first Indian Army Engineer Officer to command a road construction company. Not only this, all three platoon commanders under her, Captain Anjana, AEE (Civ) Bhawana Joshi and AEE (Civ) Vishnumaya K are lady officers and they have together created a first-ever women RCC. The Border Roads plans to make four such all women-led RCCs, two each in North Eastern and Western Sectors.”

As India celebrates 75 Years of Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, it also celebrates the ongoing efforts of our Nation towards women empowerment. Women today have started assuming their rightful, equal place as the frontrunners in nation-building and representatives of our strong national character, the statement read.

Over the last six decades, in a graduated and steady manner, the BRO has increased the number of women employed in various roles and duties of road construction. A consolidated effort is being made to empower them by giving them authority and responsibilities to undertake work independently. These women have become symbols of Nari Shakti in their respective areas.

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Defence

IN FIRST FOREIGN VISIT AFTER TAKING OVER AS CDS, GEN BIPIN RAWAT TO VISIT RUSSIA, US

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In his first visit abroad after taking over as the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat will be visiting Russia and the US.

Rawat took over his new office as CDS on 31 December 2019, and since then has been declining foreign invitations for focusing on the new assignment of integrating the defence forces as a combined fighting force. “There is a conference of the CDS-rank officers of the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement member countries. China and Pakistan are also part of this grouping,” senior defence officials said.

The CDS conference would be focusing on addressing the regional security issues and Afghanistan is also likely to come up for discussion, they said.

The CDS would also witness the activities of the respective armed forces taking part in the SCO peace mission drills being held in Russia. Indian Army and Air Force are also taking part in the exercise there.

The visit will take place in the coming week and soon after return from Russia, Rawat would be leaving for the US for meeting his counterpart and other American military leadership at the Pentagon.

The two countries have been coming closer militarily in the last few years and have been holding multiple military exercises and hardware cooperation.

The Indian military saw a major change in senior-level structures under the Narendra Modi government as the focus is now on the theatrisation of the fighting forces and bringing in more capabilities and jointness among the three services. 

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