*The trilateral naval exercise between India, US, and Japan, with a total of around 15 warships, two submarines, and scores of fighter jets, surveillance aircraft and helicopters begins on Monday in the Bay of Bengal.
1. The Origin
The Malabar exercise started in 1992 with the navies of US and India in the Indian Ocean. Japan only became a permanent partner of the Malabar exercise earlier in this decade, but it has participated in several drills since 2007. Last year in June, the three countries held their largest-ever joint exercise which involved 11 vessels and 8,000 personnel.
2. The Big Guns Are Out
Among the dozens of ships participating from each of the countries, the highlights are India’s 44,570 tonne aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, Japan’s largest 27,000-tonne helicopter carrier Izmuo and the US’s 100,000 tonne, nuclear powered super-carrier USS Nimitz will be a part of the exercise.
3. The Goal
One of the main goals of this 21st edition of the Malabar exercise is “submarine-hunting”, with India and the US also deploying their Poseidon-8 long-range maritime patrol aircraft. Also, being deployed is a new Japanese warship which can carry nine helicopters, which is also primarily meant for anti-submarine warfare.
4. The China Factor
This pronounced thrust on anti-submarine warfare comes at a time when the Indian Navy has recorded an “unusual surge” in the number of Chinese warships and submarines entering the Indian Ocean Region over the last two months, in a clear indication of muscle-flexing by Beijing after achieving what it believes is near-dominance in the contentious South China Sea. Indian and Chinese troops have also been locked in a tense face-off near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction since mid-June. Separately, there are disputes between China and Japan, over the extent of their respective exclusive economic zones in the East China Sea.
5. US-India Strategic Embrace
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump recently vowed to further strengthen the already expansive India-US defense and security partnership. The massive Malabar naval exercise – is the most visible sign of this partnership. As it is, the US is now one of the top three arms suppliers to India, notching up sales worth $15 billion since 2007 – it has dislodged Russia from the top slot for the last couple of years.
6. What China Says
China last week expressed hope that the upcoming joint naval drill between India, Japan, and the US is not aimed at other countries, agencies reported. “We have no objection to the normal bilateral relations and cooperation among relevant countries, but we hope that this kind of relationship and cooperation will not be directed at any third party and will be conducive to the regional peace and stability,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang.
7. What China Believes
Beijing has been suspicious about the purpose of the Malabar exercises as it feels that the annual war game is an effort to contain its influence in the Indo-Pacific region. Some reports said Beijing has sent a surveillance ship, the Haiwang Xiang, to monitor the Malabar Exercise. A Yuan-class diesel-electric submarine, the seventh underwater boat to be deployed by China in the Indian Ocean region since December 2013, is also currently in the region after an operational turnaround at Karachi.
8. Ashore Training
The exercise will feature both ashore and at-sea training. While ashore in Chennai, training will include subject matter expert and professional exchanges on carrier strike group operations, maritime patrol and reconnaissance operations, surface and anti-submarine warfare, medical operations, damage control, explosive ordnance disposal, helicopter operations, and visit, board, search and seizure operations, said a press release from Commander, Task Force 70 Public Affairs.
9. At-Sea Training
10. The Oz Factor