The second phase of Exercise Malabar presently underway in the western Indian Ocean is significant in its expanded scope with the participation of the US Navy aircraft carrier USS Nimitz with two escorts and the Indian Navy’s Carrier Battle Group led by INS Vikramaditya, two Kolkatta class destroyer, a stealth frigate and a Scorpene-class submarine which is participating in the Malabar for the first time. The Royal Australian Navy is represented by a sole frigate, HMS Ballarat and the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force is represented by the destroyer JD Murasame.
From a former submariner’s perspective
Commodore Anil Jai Singh, tells Financial Express Online, “The participation of a Kilo class submarine, INS Sindhuraj in the first phase and INS Khanderi, a Scorpene class in the second phase is significant because navies closely guard the acoustic signatures of their submarines since stealth is critical to effective submarine operations and it would require a high degree of trust to allow their acoustic signatures to be disclosed. However, in the case of the Kilo-class, it probably provides these navies with an idea of the acoustic profile of similar submarines operated by the Russian, Chinese and Iranian navies.”
Exercise Malabar, which commenced as a bilateral US- Indian in the early 90s has grown in scope and scale into a quadrilateral format with the inclusion of Japan as a permanent participant in 2015 and Australia for the first time (after 2007) in 2020.
“Australia’s inclusion is significant and signals a distinct shift in both Australia’s and India’s stance towards China. Gone are the days of being sensitive to China’s concerns and high time too given China’s trade bullying of Australia and blatant aggression towards India’s in Ladakh. This shift found expression in the Quad foreign ministers meeting in Tokyo in early October and formalised Australia’s inclusion in Malabar,” Commodore Singh opines.
According to Commodore Singh, who is also Vice President Indian Maritime Foundation “This year’s Malabar is also significant for being held in two phases – the first in the eastern Indian Ocean for obvious reasons and the second in the western Indian Ocean which could be seen as a subtle acknowledgement of the extended geography of the Indo-Pacific and aligned with the underlying theme of a rules-based international order and a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.”
“The purpose of such exercises is to understand each other’s operating philosophies and validating interoperability and common procedures at varying levels of complexity. It is understood that aircraft form both carriers have landed on each other’s decks including the F-18 and the E-2C Hawkeye which may be a subtle indication of the US interest in selling both these aircraft to India.
Besides these, the navies will carry out weapon firings, coordinated operations, anti-surface and anti-submarine exercises etc.,” he concludes.
Growing India-US Military Ties & Raising of a new fleet
To cover the Indo-Pacific Region the US Navy has plans to revive its First fleet which was disbanded in 1973 and is for countering the growing aggression of China. The First Fleet according to reports will be located near Singapore.
The US Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite, who earlier in the week was speaking at the Naval Submarine League’s annual symposium had stated that a new numbered fleet will be put to have an Indo-PACOM footprint in the region. “The numbered fleet will be in the crossroads between the Indian and the Pacific oceans.”
What is a numbered Fleet?
It is the tactical unit of the Navy.
It is subordinate to major fleet command.
There will be various task forces, groups and units which have specific naval operations.
What is the importance of this announcement?
It comes at a time when Phase II of Malabar is going on. The navies of the QUAD: India, the US, Japan and after a long gap Australia are participating and are part of the drill in the North Arabian Sea.
Agenda of the US Navy Secretary
Topping his agenda during the visit to India will be the security challenges of both countries and how the US Navy can help in dealing with them. It will focus on India-US Maritime Cooperation.