With the combined fleets of the Indian, Japanese and American navies having sailed out of Sasebo harbour this morning, the 20th edition of Malabar is well and truly underway.
Here is quick a compilation of who’s there, what’s at stake and what is different this time around:
WHY THIS EXERCISE?
What began in 1992 as a bilateral naval exercise between the US Navy and its Indian counterpart has now become a permanently trilateral forum also involving the Japanese.
Since 2007, Malabar has been held alternately off the Indian and western Pacific Ocean. So, while the last one was held off the city of Chennai in the Bay of Bengal, this one’s being held in the Philippine Sea, in close proximity to a site fast evolving as a critical flash point in global affairs – South China Sea.
The USA describes the Malabar as, “Series of complex, high-end war-fighting exercises conducted to advance multi-national maritime relationships and mutual security issues.”
WHAT TO EXPECT?
Like any exercise, this one too shall have events lined up first at shore and then at sea.
ON SHORE: There will be professional exchanges on issues like aircraft carrier strike group operations, maritime patrol and reconnaissance operations, surface and anti-submarine warfare, medical operations, damage control, explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), helicopter operations, and visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) operations.
AT SEA: Officer exchanges a photo exercise; submarine familiarization; high-value unit defense; air defense exercises; medical evacuation drills; surface warfare exercises; communications exercises; search and rescue exercises; helicopter cross-deck evolutions; underway replenishments; gunnery exercises; VBSS exercises; and anti-submarine warfare.
The largest naval fleet in the world, the United States Navy will be participating with the presence of:
1. Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) with embarked Carrier Air Wing 9
2. Guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53)
3. Guided -missile destroyers USS Stockdale (DDG 106), USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110) and USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93)
4. P-8A Poseidon aircraft
5. Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine
INDIAN NAVY: Her assets sailed out on May 18 from the port city of Visakhapatnam which houses the eastern fleet. During what will eventually be a two and half month long deployment, the fleet will touch the Cam Rahn Bay (Vietnam), Subic Bay (Philippines), Sasebo (Japan), Busan (South Korea), Vladivostok (Russia) and Port Klang (Malaysia), with a four-day port call at each of the locations mentioned.
1. Stealth frigates Satpura and Sahyadri, commanded by Captain AN Pramod and Captain KS Rajkumar respectively
2. INS Shakti, a sophisticated fleet support ship, commanded by Capt Gagan Kaushal
3. INS Kirchan indigenous guided missile corvette commanded by Commander Sharad Sinsunwal
4. Sea King 42B ASW helicopter
5. 2 Chetak utility helicopters
From the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces (JMSDF):
1. JS Hyuga, a helicopter carrier with SH 60 K integral helicopters
2. Long Range Maritime Patrol aircraft, besides other advanced warships for specific parts of the exercise.
WHAT IS NEW?
Additionally, the Special Forces (SF) of the three navies will also interact during the exercise.
HOW IS THE 20TH EDITION OF MALABAR SCHEDULED?
1. Harbour phase at Sasebo from 10 to 13 June 16
2. Sea phase in the Pacific Ocean from 14 to 17 June
HOW DOES CHINA VIEW THIS?
In 2015, when Japan was made a permanent invitee to Malabar, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson reacted like this:
“You mentioned India is having naval exercises with US and Japan and you ask whether China is concerned. I think you are thinking too much,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying shot back when asked for China’s reaction to the exercises which are due to start today in the Bay of Bengal. “Everyday a lot of activities take place around the world. We cannot connect every activity with China,” she said.
“We are not that fragile and we are having sound relationship with both India and the US. We hope that relevant activities will contribute to the regional stability they will contribute more positive energy for that,” she added.
This time, however, the Chinese have taken a more nuanced stand. In their foreign ministry briefing on June 8, spokesperson HONG LEI said, “The Chinese side has noted the report. It hopes that this drill is conducive to regional peace, security and stability.”
WHAT WAS IT LIKE LAST TIME AROUND?
In its 19th edition, the Indian Navy was represented by INS Shivalik an indigenous frigate, INS Ranvijay a guided missile destroyer, INS Betwa an indigenous frigate and INS Shakti ÂÂÂÂa Fleet Support Ship. In addition, one Sindhugosh class submarine, INS Sindhudhvaj, Long Range Maritime Patrol Aircraft P8I and integral rotary wing helicopters.
The US Navy was represented by the ships from Carrier Task Force (CTF) 70 of the USN 7th Fleet, based at Yokosuka, Japan and included Nimitz class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, Ticonderoga class Cruiser USSNormandy and Freedom Class Littoral Combat ship USS Forth Worth. In addition to this, one Los Angeles class nuclear powered submarine USS City of Corpus Christi, F18 Aircraft from US Carrier Air Wing and P8A Long Range Maritime Patrol Aircraft.
The JMSDF was represented by JSFuyuzuki, a missile destroyer with SH 60K integral helicopter.