Joint Cooperation by Indo-Pacific Navies under Exercise Malabar

November 2, 2020 4:21 PM

The two-phased Ex Malabar is going to start from November 3-6, 2020 and the Phase 1 will be held in Bay of Bengal, off Visakhapatnam.

US always maintained an advanced strategic partnership with Japan and Australia, both on one-to-one basis and as a part of bilateral and trilateral engagements.

By Milind Kulshreshtha

The two-phased Ex Malabar is going to start from November 3-6, 2020 and the Phase 1 will be held in Bay of Bengal, off Visakhapatnam. The inclusion of Royal Australian Navy in this exercise holds an importance this year due to Australia’s significant Naval role and operations to curtail China’s growing dominance in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

Malabar Maritime Exercise

The maritime exercise conceptualise and practised since 1992 as a bilateral Indo-US, Malabar has altogether taken a new dimensionin today’s Chinese threat in the region and may be seen as India’s Force projection beyond its own territories, somewhere to thwart growing Chinese influence in the IOR. Due to geo-political reasons, the Ex Malabar has itself grown in strength with participation of Japanese Maritime Self defence Force (JMSDF) since 2015 and now with the Royal Australian Navy too participating this year.

For Malabar, the foreign naval group shall comprise of two destroyers ships viz. USS John S McCain, Japanese JS Onami and Australian frigate HMAS Ballarat. USS destroyer participating is a Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, had recently undergone a major repair cycle and this opportunity was used by US Navy to upgrade the ship’s internal data network, radar systems and combat weapon system to ensure its future operational missions have an improved capability and lethality in the Indo-Pacific region. The ship’s crew participating in the Exercise have recently completed a long training course ashore and onboard. This US warship constitutes part of US Navy’s largest forward-deployed Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) as part of US 7th Fleet.

It shall be interesting to see the operations of the MH-60 deck launched maritime helicopters carried by the participating foreign Naval ships. MH-60 are considered to be world’s most advanced maritime helicopters, designed for operations from Destroyers, Frigates, Cruisers and Aircraft Carriers, to undertake Command and Control role along with the fleet. The primary role of MH-60 shall be for Anti-submarine, Anti-surface warfare, combat SAR (Search and Rescue) and airborne Mine Countermeasures. India too is in the process of procuring the MH-60 Naval helicopters for its warships.

Indian Naval force deployed for the Ex Malabar shall comprise of modern frigate INS Shivalik, Russian class destroyer INS Ranvijay, re-fuelling Tanker INS Shakti and OPV Sukanya. India’s Russian built Diesel Electric submarine Sinhuraj too shall participate in this multi-national fleet level exercise. The Indian Navy’s Air complement shall include latest US supplied P-8I maritime aircraft, Dornier patrol aircraft, deck based helicopters and Hawk AJTs (Advance Jet Trainers).

The Naval assets at sea which form the part of Ex Malabar shall be undertaking drills to create a collaboration at Fleet level for coordinated offensive and defensive operations related to Anti-Air Warfare at sea, Surface Warfare and Anti-submarine Warfare. The Combat Management Systems (CMS) like Aegis CMS with the foreign Navies and India’s own indigenous CMS (CMS-SNF and CMS-17) shall participate in the combat drills albeit without the Inter-operability as envisaged under Indo-US Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement(COMCASA). In the Indo-Pacific, Aegis CMS is operated by navies of US, Australia, Japan and South Korea, thereby making these war assets at sea intrinsically inter-operable and compatible for Fleet level utilisation.

During these multi-national sea Exercises, various helicopters of the warships shall undertake cross deck flying, while the ships are underway and this shall fine tune the abilities of the Pilots and the Helo-handling crew onboard the other’s nations warship. At every stage, ahelicopter landing operations on a warship underway is a high risk activity due to wind direction and speed and ship’s own roll, pitch and yaw motions contributing to an unknown risk till last minute due to highly uncertain sea turbulences.

Indo-Pacific Partnerships

US always maintained an advanced strategic partnership with Japan and Australia, both on one-to-one basis and as a part of bilateral and trilateral engagements. Along with Japan, Australia already have an advanced strategic partnership with US for military roles. Similarly, India too has now forged a partnership with US like LEMOA, BECA, COMCASA, US-Japan-India and Japan-India-Australia trilateral dialogue. This shows the growing collaboration between the four nations as part of the Quad Agreement and India too gradually imbibing common weapon platforms(like P-8 aircrafts, MH-60 helicopters) as possessed by these other three nations for an inter-operability advantage to enhance Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA).

In recent times, numerous initiatives at bureaucratic and Defence level in terms of technology aspects and dialogue,have ensured a regular US-India exercise by all the three service arms of the Indian Armed Forces with their counterparts. This may be considered more of a trend set in place by various geo-political Threat perceptions evolving in the Indo-Pacific due to China’s own ambitious plans. India is determined to further expand the Indo-US cooperation as already detailed under the 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue framework to realize the full potential of the India-US Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership.

(The author is C4I expert. Views expressed are personal)

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