India looks to expand strategic footprint in Indian Ocean - The Times of India NEW DELHI: India is expanding its strategic footprint in the Indian Ocean. A trilateral security group of India, Maldives and Sri Lanka will be expanded to include Mauritius and Seychelles. Senior officials of the trilateral group will meet on December 19 to prepare the ground for a formal joining of these countries, where deputy national security advisor Nehchal Sandhu will lead the Indian delegation. The government hopes that the third trilateral meeting at the NSA level would be able to formalize this arrangement before the general elections. Taking the Indian Ocean more seriously as a target for India's diplomacy, the external affairs ministry is also crafting a new territorial division to take care of Indian Ocean countries. After the second trilateral meeting, the three countries decided to harmonize identification and tracking services and training in maritime domain awareness while India committed to sharing automatic identification system (AIS) data, coordinate efforts on search and rescue efforts etc. India agreed to share with Sri Lanka and Maldives its long range identification centre (LRIT) and merchant ship information system (MSIS) for tracking merchant vessels. The three countries also agreed to intensify surveillance of each other's exclusive economic zones (EEZ). India has taken the lead in this, in an effort to tie the other countries in an information and security network where Indian information systems held the key. However, India's recurrent problem appears to be the gap between promise and delivery. Maldives has complained that India has provided very few of the radars promised to monitor the 26 atolls of the island nation. Repeated delays by India make it easier for these countries to opt for China as an alternative source of security, just what India is trying to avoid. In recent years, China has made tremendous inroads in the Indian Ocean region, including in Maldives and Sri Lanka. As India's political establishment seems determined to ruin political relations with Sri Lanka even further, the security establishment fears its impact on the security relationship between the countries. The US has offered to set up a security presence in Maldives, even offering a bilateral security agreement. This has been stalled for the time being, but Indian officials say this could return at any time.