NEW DELHI: India is fast inking reciprocal military logistics pacts with like-minded countries to extend its strategic and naval operational reach in the entire

Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and beyond, with an eye firmly on China’s expansionist behavior in the Indo-Pacific.

After similar agreements with the US, France, South Korea and Singapore, it was India’s turn to ink the mutual logistics support arrangement (MLSA) with Australia during the virtual summit between the two PMs on Thursday.

That’s not all. India is set to ink a military logistics pact with Japan next, while similar agreements with Russia and UK are also being negotiated, said sources. “The MLSA will enable our warships to get refuelling from Australian tankers on the high seas, while also availing of berthing, maintenance and storage facilities at Australian naval bases. It will, of course, be on a reciprocal basis,” said a source.

The Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) inked with the US in 2016 similarly gives India refuelling facilities and access to American bases in Djibouti, Diego Garcia, Guam and Subic Bay.

The one inked with France in 2018, in turn, also extends the Indian Navy’s reach in south-western IOR due to French bases in the Reunion Islands near Madagascar and Djibouti on the Horn of Africa.

“The MLSA with Australia will help us to extend the reach of our warships in southern IOR as well as the Western Pacific region. The region south of the Indonesian Straits is also important for us,” said the source.

The pacts are crucial for India in the backdrop of China fast expanding its strategic footprint in the IOR after its first overseas military base at Djibouti became operational in August 2017.

China, of course, also has access to Karachi and Gwadar ports in Pakistan for turnaround facilities for its submarines and warships. It is also trying for military bases in

Cambodia, Vanuatu and other countries to further consolidate its presence in the Indo-Pacific.

Closer to India, China has six to eight warships deployed in the IOR at any given time. Furiously modernizing its naval forces, from long-range nuclear ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles to submarines and aircraft carriers, China has commissioned well over 80 warships in the last six years.

Though India is yet to formally invite Australia to join the trilateral Malabar naval exercise it conducts with the US and Japan, India is steadily cranking up its bilateral military engagements with the country.

India and Australia conducted their biggest-ever naval exercise called “AusIndEx” to “build inter-operability” off the Visakhapatnam coast in April last year. So, in effect, there is already a military construct to the so-called “Quad” of like-minded democracies for a free, open and rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific, said sources.