India and the US are all set to conduct naval exercise Malabar in the Bay of Bengal in July, the first major military drill after Donald Trump took over as President.
Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force will also participate in the naval drill that will be bigger and more complex than all previous editions.
Indian Navy sources said a planning conference would be held soon in the US to firm up the dates and warships that will take part in the exercise. This will be followed by a final planning conference in India where the scenarios to be simulated during the exercise to boost the abilities of the participating navies for joint operations will be finalised.
China has been suspicious of the trilateral engagement and has even lodged protests over Japan’s participation. Beijing is expected to closely monitor the exercise at a time when the Chinese navy is expanding its footprint in the Indian Ocean region.
An Indian Navy officer said the drills could see the participation of aircraft carriers, nuclear-powered submarines and frontline warships. He said the P-8I and the P-8A ‘submarine hunter’ planes of the Indian and US navies would also be involved in the drills, simulating anti-submarine warfare missions.
The two simultaneously inducted the P-8 platform—a military derivative of Boeing's 737-800 commercial aircraft and christened P-8A for the US Navy—four years ago.
“The exact composition of the participating units will be known after the final planning conference is over. But the drills will be more complex than any previous engagement,” he added.
In 2015, India and the US renewed a significant pact to deepen bilateral defence cooperation in several security-related areas. The US-India Defence Framework Agreement aims to strengthen military-to-military engagements, improve technical cooperation and bolster overall strategic partnership till 2025.
India and the US are in the final stages of operationalising the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) that sets down the guidelines for the two militaries to share each other’s assets and facilities for repair, maintenance, supplies and training on an equal-value exchange basis.
The US has already submitted its list of logistics points of contacts and is waiting for India to reciprocate. Defence ministry sources said India had prepared a list and would share it with the US soon to operationalise the pact signed last year.