In a significant step forward in the increasing military cooperation between India and the US, a US Navy tanker refuelled an Indian Navy ship in the Sea of Japan this week. This is the first time an Indian ship has been refuelled at sea by a US tanker, an activity facilitated by operationalisation of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Association (LEMOA) between the two countries.
INS Satpura, an Indian Navy stealth frigate, was refuelled by USNS John Ericsson, a US Navy tanker, as a Replenishment at Sea (RAS) activity carried out under Exercise PASSEX (participation exercise). Besides INS Satpura, INS Kadmatt and a Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force vessel, J S Inazuma, also participated in the exercise, which was conducted from November 3-6 in the Sea of Japan.
“The refuelling from a US Navy tanker extends the reach of the Indian Navy, allowing it to operate further, more persistently and for a longer duration. It is also a statement of intent about the India-US relationship,” sources told The Indian Express.
This PASSEX, which hoped to build on Exercise Malabar between the three navies in July, was requested by the Indian Navy, as per sources. A PASSEX like this arises when ships from two or more navies are operating in the same area and take the opportunity to train together.
During Exercise Malabar, the two countries had first utilised the LEMOA to transfer fuel from INS Jyoti, an Indian Navy tanker, to two US Navy ships. LEMOA was again used for accounting purposes during the training Exercise Yudh Abhyas in the US.
India and the US signed LEMOA last August, giving the militaries of both countries access to each other’s facilities for supplies and repairs. The bilateral agreement was, however, operationalised earlier this year, once the two sides exchanged the annexures listing the point of contacts and the authority chain to be followed.
“The refuelling of US ships during Malabar was part of a training exercise. This PASSEX is more difficult and operational in nature. This refuelling is more operational in nature and would not have been possible without LEMOA. But it was not meant to prove LEMOA, it was done for tactical reasons,” sources explained.
Meanwhile, India and the US are working closely to sign the Helicopter Operations on Ships Other than Aircraft Carriers (HOSTAC) agreement, which will allow the two navies to land and take off from ships of both. The agreement was first proposed by the US Navy three years ago but got an impetus during the maritime security dialogue between the two countries last May. It was also discussed by US Defense Secretary James Mattis with Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman during his visit to Delhi in September.