The navies of India, United States, Japan and Australia will kick off the second phase of the Malabar exercise in the northern Arabian Sea on Tuesday at a time when China is closely tracking the activities of the Quad countries and seeking to increase its footprint in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), officials said on Monday.
The second phase of Malabar naval drills — to be conducted from November 17-20 — will be more elaborate and complex than the first one as it will involve the participation of Indian and American aircraft carriers.
“Phase 2 of Exercise Malabar 2020 will witness joint operations centered around the Vikramaditya Carrier Battle Group of the Indian Navy and Nimitz Carrier Strike Group of the US Navy. The two carriers, along with other ships, submarines and aircraft of the participating navies, would be engaged in high intensity naval operations over four days,” an Indian Navy spokesperson said on Monday.
The exercise is being conducted at a time when India and China are locked in a border row in the Ladakh sector and talks to reduce military tensions remain deadlocked.
The first phase of the exercise was held in Bay of Bengal from November 3-6. The exercise is being conducted in a ‘non-contact, at sea only’ format in view of Covid-19 pandemic.
The second phase of the drills will include cross-deck flying operations and advanced air defence exercises by INS Vikramaditya’s MiG-29K fighters and USS Nimitz’s F-18 fighters and E2C Hawkeye aircraft, the officials said.
The drill will cover advanced surface and anti-submarine warfare exercises, and weapon firings to “further enhance inter-operability and synergy between the four friendly navies,” the spokesperson said.
The Indian warships taking part in the exercise include indigenous destroyers INS Kolkata and INS Chennai, stealth frigate INS Talwar, fleet support ship INS Deepak and integral helicopters. Rear Admiral Krishna Swaminathan, Flag Officer Commanding, Western Fleet, will be leading the Indian Navy during the exercise, which will also feature the indigenously-built submarine INS Khanderi and P-8I maritime reconnaissance aircraft.
The USS Nimitz will be accompanied by cruiser USS Princeton and destroyer USS Sterett, with the US Navy’s P-8A maritime reconnaissance aircraft also taking part in the drills. Her Majesty’s Australian Ship (HMAS) Ballarat (long-range frigate) with its integral MH-60 helicopter will also take part in the exercise. The last time Australia was invited as a non-permanent partner by India for Malabar was in 2007, a move that drew sharp reactions from China.
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The Indian Navy statement said the Japanese navy would be taking part in the drills, without giving out the details of its participation. Japanese destroyer Onami with its integral SH-60 helicopter had taken part in the first phase of the drills.
“The 24th edition of Malabar highlights enhanced convergence of views amongst the four vibrant democracies on maritime issues, and showcases their commitment to an open, inclusive Indo-Pacific and a rules-based international order,” the spokesperson said.
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.
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Speaking at an event on November 6, navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh said a “great power competition” was playing out “fairly vigorously” in IOR. The navy has stepped up surveillance and activities in the IOR to check China’s ambitions.
“IOR is one of the most militarised regions… Also, there are differing interpretations of international laws and there is this fear that ‘Global Commons’ can change to ‘Contested Seas’, threatening free flow of commerce and trade,” the navy chief said.
The exercise comes after the Quad foreign ministers meeting in Tokyo on October 6 and follows the India-US two plus two dialogue on October 26-27.
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