New Delhi: Amid continued tensions in eastern Ladakh, which is set to last through the winter, the Malabar naval exercise, involving India, Japan, the US and Australia, began Tuesday with a focus on anti-submarine and anti-air warfare operations.
The exercise, which began in 1992 as a bilateral India-US one, sees the participation of Australia for the first time in 13 years, a development that has huge strategic significance as it is the coming together of the Quad countries.
The decision to include Australia was firmed up at the last informal meeting of the Quad countries — US, Japan, Australia and India — which took place in Tokyo on 6 October. Japan had become a permanent member of the Malabar exercise in 2015.
China has already reacted to the exercise saying that it hopes it will be conducive to regional peace and stability and not the contrary.
Phase 1 to be held off Vizag coast
Phase 1 of the exercise, seen as coming together of four like-minded countries, with huge interests in Indo-Pacific region, against growing Chinese military and political influence, will last until 6 November. It is being held off Visakhapatnam in the Bay of Bengal.
The second phase will be held mid-November in the Arabian Sea, covering both the coastlines of India.
The USS John S McCain (a guided-missile destroyer), Her Majesty’s Australian Ship (HMAS) Ballarat (a long-range frigate) with integral MH-60 helicopter, the Japan Maritime Self Defence Ship (JMSDF) Onami (a destroyer) with integral SH-60 helicopter are participating in Phase 1.
Indian Navy units participating in the exercise include destroyer Ranvijay, frigate Shivalik, off-shore patrol vessel Sukanya, fleet support ship Shakti and submarine Sindhuraj.
In addition, the advanced Jet Trainer Hawk, long-range maritime patrol aircraft P-8I, Dornier maritime patrol aircraft, and helicopters will also be participating in the exercise.
It is expected that one American aircraft carrier with its battle group (associated frigates, destroyers and nuclear submarine) along with the Indian Battle Carrier Group led by INS Vikramaditya will participate in the second phase.
‘Non-contact, at sea only exercise’
The exercise, being conducted as a ‘non-contact, at sea only’ exercise in view of the Covid-19 pandemic, will involve complex and advanced naval exercises, including surface, anti-submarine and anti-air warfare operations, cross deck flying, seamanship evolutions and weapon firing exercises.
India and the US have agreed to expand their bilateral military relationship, especially in the Indo-Pacific, and the inclusion of Australia in the Malabar exercise was something that the Americans were very keen on.
Former Navy chief, Admiral Arun Prakash (retd) had earlier said that while the inclusion of Australia in the exercise may seem a symbolic move, it will have substantive geopolitical implications not only in the current China-India face-off, but also in the larger Indo-Pacific context where China is flexing its muscle.