Amid growing Chinese assertiveness on matters pertaining to the South China Sea, Indian Naval ships carried out ‘Group Sail’ (drills) with vessels from Japan, the Philippines and the United States in the disputed sea.

The exercises, conducted from 3-9 May, saw the participation of guided missile destroyer ‘Kolkata’ and fleet support vessel ‘Shakti’ from India, an aircraft carrier and a guided missile destroyer from Japan, a Philippine patrol vessel and a US guided missile destroyer.

‘’The ‘Group Sail’ was aimed to deepen the existing partnership and foster mutual understanding among participating navies,’’ the Defence Ministry said on Thursday.

Although similar drills have taken place in the South China Sea in the past, this is the first time that these four countries have jointly carried out what they called ‘Group Sail’ in the sea, over which China is involved in bitter disputes with almost all its maritime neighbours.

The ships undertook various drills which included formation manoeuvring, underway replenishment runs, cross-deck flying and exchange of sea riders.

‘’The Group Sail exercise with naval ships of Japan, the Philippines and the US showcased India’s commitment to operating with like-minded nations to ensure safe maritime environment through enhanced interoperability,’’ the ministry added.

The Indian ships are on return passage after their successful deployment in South and East China Seas as part of the annual ‘Eastern Fleet Overseas Deployment’ during which the vessels visited Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam, Qingdao in China and Busan in South Korea.

The two ships also participated in the International Fleet review (IFR) as part of the 70th anniversary celebrations of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China.