Eye on China: India-led Quad displays military prowess in Malabar naval exercise

India, Australia, Japan and the United States had started naval drill in the Bay of Bengal, with all four countries keeping a wary eye on China's military.

Anti-submarine and anti-aircraft drills

The 24th edition of MALABAR maritime exercise, hosted by Indian Navy (IN) in two phases, concluded in the Arabian Sea on Nov 20.  

Phase 1 of the exercise involving participation by Indian Navy (IN), United States Navy (USN), Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) and Royal Australian Navy (RAN), was conducted off Visakhapatnam in Bay of Bengal from 3-6 November 2020.  

The second phase was conducted in the Arabian Sea from 17-20 November 2020.

India, Australia, Japan and the United States had started a strategic navy drill in the Bay of Bengal, with all four countries keeping a wary eye on China's growing military power.

The exercises -- with anti-submarine and anti-aircraft drills -- went ahead as India is embroiled in a deadly border showdown with China and has sought closer military ties with other countries.


Indo-Pacific region

Indian Navy’s participation in Phase 2 was led by Rear Admiral Krishna Swaminathan, Flag Officer Commanding Western Fleet and included aircraft carrier Vikramaditya, indigenous destroyers Kolkata and Chennai, stealth frigate Talwar, Fleet Support Ship Deepak and the integral helicopters of these warships, indigenously built submarine Khanderi and P8I and IL-38 maritime reconnaissance aircraft.

"Exercise Malabar is an important opportunity to work in concert with like-minded nations to support a secure, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region," Australia's Defence Minister, Linda Reynolds, said in a statement.


Quad group

Phase-1 of MALABAR 2020 witnessed participation of Indian Navy units with United States Ship (USS) John S McCain, Her Majesty’s Australian Ship (HMAS) Ballarat with integral MH-60 helicopter, and Japan Maritime Self Defence Ship (JMSDF) Onami, with integral SH-60 helicopter.

Indian Navy’s participation in this phase was led by Rear Admiral Sanjay Vatsayan, Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Fleet and included destroyer Ranvijay, indigenous frigate Shivalik, Offshore Patrol Vessel Sukanya, Fleet Support Ship Shakti, submarine Sindhuraj, P8I and Dornier maritime reconnaissance aircraft and Advanced Jet Trainer Hawk.

The four nations make up the so-called Quad group (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), established in 2007 to counter growing Chinese influence.  


USS John S. McCain in Malabar excercise

The drill "will showcase the high-levels of synergy and coordination between the friendly navies, which is based on their shared values", the Indian Navy said.

The United States sent the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain, which re-entered service this year, three years after a collision in which 10 sailors were killed.


Problematic relations with China

Australia -- which also has problematic relations with China -- is taking part in the Malabar exercises for the first time in more than a decade, a sign of the growing importance of the group.

During Phase 2 of Exercise MALABAR 2020, the four navies participated in joint operations centered on the Vikramaditya Carrier Battle Group of the Indian Navy and Nimitz Carrier Strike Group of the US Navy.  

The two aircraft carriers, along with other ships, submarine and aircraft of the participating navies, engaged in high intensity naval operations including cross-deck flying operations and advanced air defence exercises by MIG 29K fighters of Vikramaditya and F/A-18 fighters and E2C Hawkeye from Nimitz. US Navy’s Strike Carrier Nimitz was accompanied by cruiser Princeton and destroyer Sterett in addition to P8A maritime reconnaissance aircraft.  

The Royal Australian Navy and JMSDF were represented by frigate Ballarat and destroyer Murasame respectively, along with their integral helicopters.



China trouble

Australia's diplomatic relations with China also worsened this year after Canberra led calls for an international inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic and Beijing imposed trade sanctions on Australian beef and barley.

Separately, Japan is embroiled in a dispute with China over ownership of islands in the East China Sea.

The Malabar series of exercises, which began as an annual bilateral naval exercise between India and the US in 1992, has seen increasing scope and complexity over the years.

The 24th edition of MALABAR, conducted in a ‘non-contact at sea only’ format in the backdrop of COVID-19 pandemic, was reflective of the commitment of the participating countries to support a  free, open, inclusive Indo-Pacific as well as a rules-based international order.


Amid India-China standoff along LAC

In addition to ‘Dual Carrier’ operations, advanced surface and anti-submarine warfare exercises, seamanship evolutions and weapon firings were also undertaken during both phases of MALABAR 2020, demonstrating the synergy, coordination and inter-operability between the four friendly navies.

The exercises comes at a time when the host, India, is locked in a military stand-off on the disputed land border with China.

Thousands of troops are in close proximity in the western Himalayas, where India says Chinese troops have intruded across its side of the de facto border. Beijing denies any intrusion and says India has been building roads and other infrastructure in the disputed area, causing the crisis.


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