NEW DELHI: Australia’s Northern Territory will host the biennial AUSINDEX maritime warfare exercises between the Royal Australian and the Indian navies this week, ahead of the two countries holding their first “2+2" Foreign and Defence Ministers meet in New Delhi.

The decision to upgrade “2+2" talks from the level of foreign and defence secretaries to the level of ministers was taken at a virtual summit between the prime ministers of India and Australia last year. The announcement of the first “2+2" at the ministerial level is expected this week. Foreign minister Marise Payne and defence minister Peter Dutton are expected in India after a visit to the US.

According to an Australian statement on the naval drills, “AUSINDEX 21 provides our Navies an opportunity to strengthen joint defence capabilities in support of a stable and secure Indo-Pacific region."

“Australia and India are comprehensive strategic partners. We share a commitment to increasing the regularity and complexity of our military training so we can be confident in our ability to work effectively to respond to the maritime security needs in our region," the Commander Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral Mark Hammond was quoted as saying by the statement.

“Each time our nations come together, we develop further maritime interoperability by exercising more involved warfare serials demonstrating our strong commitment to an open, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region," he said.

AUSINDEX 21 will be held between 5 and 13 September and includes a contactless, COVID Safe harbour phase in Darwin, followed by a sea phase in the North Australian Exercise Area, the Australian statement said. This is the first time the naval exercises are being held in the Northern Territory.

The drill will see Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Warramunga train alongside Indian Navy warships INS Shivalik and INS Kadmatt. The ships will be joined by an Australian submarine, a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) P-8A maritime patrol aircraft, RAAF tactical fighter jets, as well as helicopters from both navies.

Rear Admiral Tarun Sobti, Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Fleet, said the exercise would build on the recent navy-to-navy warfare training that was conducted during the US hosted Malabar exercises off the coast of Guam. Besides the US, India and Australian navies, the Japanese navy, too, had participated in the exercises making it an exercise of the four Quad countries— a loose grouping of the four countries aimed at countering China’s aggressive rise in the Indo-Pacific region.

“This (bilateral) exercise will further strengthen the bilateral partnership and interoperability with the Royal Australian Navy in the Indo-Pacific region. We are looking forward to adopting best practices from the RAN and to build on the warfare training standards achieved in Exercise MALABAR 21," Sobti said.

First held in 2015, AUSINDEX has increased in complexity each year the drills have been organized. The 2019 event in India saw the first anti-submarine warfare exercises and also the first coordinated P‑8 maritime patrol aircraft missions take place over the Bay of Bengal.