India and the United States are holding discussions on anti-submarine warfare (ASW) as well as "more complex" naval exercises, the two sides moving closer in the face of China's growing maritime and undersea activities.
The two countries, along with Japan, will hold the annual Malabar Exercise off the northern Philippine coast next month, which will focus on ASW, an area of sensitive military technology, according to those in the know. The exercises will include mock drills to hunt and destroy enemy submarines.
A Reuters report yesterday quoted unnamed military officials as saying that India and the US were in talks to help each other track submarines in the Indian Ocean.
"These types of basic engagements will be the building blocks for an enduring navy-to-navy relationship that we hope will grow over time into a shared ASW capability," a US official said on condition of anonymity.
An Indian defence spokesman declined to comment on specifics but pointed instead to US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter's visit here last month during which the two sides agreed, among other things, to hold talks on ASW.
China's growing assertiveness and activities in the disputed South China Sea have worried its neighbours, especially those also with claims to the resources-rich waters, as well as the US.
As for India, it has been alarmed by Chinese submarines showing up in waters of the Indian Ocean, which Indian naval experts warn is likely to become more frequent.
India has been careful not to escalate tensions with China, recently ruling out the possibility of conducting joint patrols with the US in the South China Sea.
Still, analysts such as Dr P.K. Ghosh, a retired naval officer, believe that India would do well to come up with a response strategy.
"The Chinese are going to operate many more submarines in the region in the years to come. So India has to develop a response strategy," said Dr Ghosh, senior fellow at the Delhi-based think-tank Observer Research Foundation.
Dr Patrick Cronin of the Centre for a New American Security in Washington said: "By tracking submarines in the Indian Ocean, India can help the US preserve strategic and conventional deterrence."
Asked about the India-US collaboration, Reuters quoted a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying that "we hope the relevant cooperation is normal, and it can be meaningful to the peace and stability of the region".