Chennai: Amid vociferous protests and far from subtle bluster by China, the navies of India and the US and the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force on Monday opened the 21st edition of maritime exercise Malabar on Monday with the US unequivocally standing by the country in its efforts to check Beijing’s growing footprint in the Indian Ocean.
Commander US Strike Group 11 Rear Admiral William D Byrne said the only strategic message that Malabar 2017 is sending to “all navies is that we are better together”, adding that the drill should “eliminate possibilities of miscalculations”.
Another US commander, who asked not to be named, said the exercise would have a significant impact on the Chinese. “They will know that we are standing together and that it is better to stand together,” he said. Flag Officer Commanding in Chief, Eastern Naval Command, Vice Admiral H C S Bisht declared the exercise open, describing it as a joint attempt to address common challenges and address shared threats.
He refused, however, to acknowledge that the choice of ships and the venue had anything to do with the presence of Chinese ships or Indian threat perception in the Bay of Bengal and The Indian Ocean.
Three aircraft carriers – the USS Nimitz of the US Navy, the INS Vikramaditya of the Indian Navy and the JS Izumo of the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force – will take part in Malabar 2017.
In addition, 16 ships, 95 aircraft including a large number of fighter jets, and two submarines will take part in the war games in international waters off the coast of Chennai from July 14 to 17.
The joint fleet deployed by the three navies is significant in its size and timing, given that China is flexing its muscle in the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean, to the vexation of India, and that North Korea is growing increasingly hostile to its neighbours and America with successive tests of nuclear missile-capable ballistic rocket, to the consternation of the US.
India and the US commanders denied that China may be snooping on the exercise.
Vice Admiral Bisht denied that Malabar 2017 would have any implication for India’s current standoff with China but said the exercise is aimed at a long-term strategic relationship between the three countries.
“Each exercise helps advance the level of understanding of the personnel,” he noted. “The process of planning the exercise began a year ago.”
“There are many extra- regional ships in the region,” Bisht said. “The Navy has the wherewithal to monitor them. The exercise will focus on submarine tracking.”