Quad set to kick off Malabar drills in Bay of Bengal, China to keep watch
The navies of India, United States, Japan and Australia are set to kick off the first phase of the Malabar exercise in the Bay of Bengal next week, officials familiar with the development said on Friday, announcing the line-up of major warships and aircraft that will take part in the drills that are expected to be closely tracked by China.
The opening phase of the multi-nation naval drills will be staged off Visakhapatnam from November 3 to 6. The drills come at a time of increased Chinese belligerence in the Indo-Pacific region and the border row with India in the Ladakh theatre.
“Phase-1 of MALABAR 20 will witness participation of Indian Navy units with USN Ship USS John S McCain (a guided-missile destroyer), RAN Ship HMAS Ballarat (long range frigate) with integral MH-60 helicopter, and JMSDF Ship JS Onami (destroyer) with an integral SH-60 helicopter,” said an official.
Indian and US aircraft carriers will not feature in the first phase and are likely to be deployed in the second phase of the exercise in the Arabian Sea in mid-November.
Led by Rear Admiral Sanjay Vatsayan, Flag Officer Commanding, Eastern Fleet, the Indian participation in the first phase of the drills will include destroyer INS Ranvijay, frigate INS Shivalik, off-shore patrol vessel INS Sukanya, fleet support ship INS Shakti and submarine INS Sindhuraj, official quoted above said.
“In addition, advanced jet trainer Hawk, long-range maritime patrol aircraft P-8I, Dornier maritime patrol aircraft, and helicopters will also be participating in the exercise,” the official added.
China has been wary of the Quadrilateral security dialogue, or Quad, that was revived in late 2017 by India, the US, Australia and Japan, and these suspicions have increased since the four countries upgraded the forum to the ministerial level last year.
The first phase would witness complex and advanced naval exercises including surface, anti-submarine and anti-air warfare operations, cross-deck flying and weapon firing exercises, officials said.
“The exercise, being conducted as a ‘non-contact, at sea only’ in view of COVID-19 pandemic, will showcase the high-levels of synergy and coordination between the friendly navies, which is based on their shared values and commitment to an open, inclusive Indo-Pacific and a rules-based international order,” said the official.
The decision to invite Australia was announced by the government on October 19.
“As India seeks to increase cooperation with other countries in the maritime security domain and in the light of increased defence cooperation with Australia, Malabar 2020 will see the participation of the Australian Navy,” the defence ministry announced in a statement.
The exercise comes after the Quad Foreign Ministers meeting in Tokyo on October 6 and follows the India-US 2+2 dialogue on October 26-27.
The last time Australia got invited as a non-permanent partner by India for Malabar was in 2007, prompting Beijing to issue a demarche to India, US, Japan and Australia seeking details of the exercise in the context of Quad initiative.