Quad to kick off Malabar tomorrow, 1st tri-service drills with UK in October
India, the United States, Japan and Australia will kick off the latest edition of the Malabar naval drills off the Pacific Ocean island of Guam on Thursday, with the exercise involving destroyers, frigates, corvettes, submarines, helicopters, long-range maritime patrol aircraft and elite special forces elements including the US Navy SEALs and the Indian Navy’s marine commandos (MARCOS), top officials familiar with the developments said on Wednesday.
India is also preparing to conduct its first tri-service exercise with the United Kingdom in the Arabian Sea in October-end, said one of the officials cited above, asking not to be named. The Royal Navy will send a carrier strike group led by HMS Queen Elizabeth for the drills that will be conducted from October 21 to 27. India has so far conducted tri-service drills only with two other countries --- the US and Russia.
The Quad navies had carried out complex naval drills under the Malabar banner in November 2020 in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal.
Two Indian warships, INS Shivalik and INS Kadmatt, will be taking part in the 25th edition of the Malabar exercise along with the P-8I maritime reconnaissance aircraft and MARCOS.
“A wide range of surface, sub-surface and air operations will be carried out by the participating navies during the exercise. Special operations teams --- US Navy SEALs, Indian MARCOS and Special Boarding Units of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) --- will carry out visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) training and simulated hostage rescue operations,” said a second official.
The US Navy will be represented by an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, two tankers and P-8A long-range maritime patrol aircraft, the JMSDF will field a helicopter carrier, two destroyers, a submarine and Kawasaki P1 maritime patrol aircraft, and the Royal Australian Navy is taking part in the drills with a frigate. The exercise ends on August 29.
China has been monitoring the activities of the Quad countries. Beijing 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 in 2019.
Speaking at an Observer Research Foundation (ORF) event in New Delhi on the eve of the Malabar exercise, Admiral John C Aquilino, commander, US Indo-Pacific Command, said, “There is no better ally and no worse adversary than the US (in the Indo-Pacific region).”
An official release issued by US INDOPACOM on Aquilino’s India visit quoted him as saying, ‘Our network of allies and partners are our greatest strength and a centre of gravity in the Indo-Pacific. Our relationship with India is based on aligned values and presents an important model for building enduring partnerships. As we increase interoperability, information-sharing, and access with allies and partners across the globe, this partnership enhances our capabilities, improves our coordination, and shows that we are stronger when we stand together.”
The exercise will involve the participation of the US Navy’s MH-60R helicopters, which the Indian Navy is also inducting to modernise its ageing helicopter fleet.
A month ago, the US delivered two MH-60R helicopters to the Indian Navy at the Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego. Last year, India ordered 24 Lockheed Martin-Sikorsky MH-60R helicopters from the US to strengthen the navy’s anti-submarine/anti-surface warfare and surveillance capabilities. The government-to-government contract for the helicopters is worth around ₹17,500 crore.
The drills planned with the UK in the tri-service format in October will include air defence exercises, anti-submarine warfare drills, anti-surface operations, amphibious operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations (HADR) in a contested environment and other joint manoeuvres, said a third official.
India and France are also laying the groundwork for a new format of military exercises involving their armies, navies and air forces in what will be a major boost for defence cooperation between the two countries.
In April 2021, France, India, the US, Japan and Australia carried out complex maritime drills, Exercise La Pérouse, in the eastern Indian Ocean Region (IOR) to enhance interoperability among their navies.
“The frequency of our bilateral and multi-lateral exercises has gone up over the years. We are now conducting up to 30 such exercises annually,” said the second official.
From carrying out naval drills with like-minded countries to reaching out to states in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the Indian Navy is focusing on checking China’s rising ambitions in the region and sending out a strong message that Beijing’s power play in South China Sea cannot be replicated in the Indian Ocean.
“We are carefully monitoring Chinese presence in the IOR, including the movement of their warships for anti-piracy deployment in the Gulf of Aden, research ships and intelligence-gathering vessels. On Wednesday, the Indian Navy tracked a Chinese space-tracking ship enter the IOR,” the official added.
Last November, navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh said a “great power competition” was playing out vigorously in IOR, where the navy has stepped up surveillance to check China’s ambitions.