India, Japan, the United States and Australia kick off today the 10-day MALABAR naval exercise on the east coast of Australia; Sydney, instead of the west coast. Traditionally, the exercise has been held in the Indian Ocean, this is the first MALABAR to be undertaken in the Pacific Ocean. It is also the first time that the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) has hosted the mega naval war game to demonstrate camaraderie building between the QUAD navies envisioned to operate together all across the Pacific Ocean.
The ongoing engagements aim to send a strong message to China, which has been flexing its muscles in the Indo-Pacific, particularly in the South China Sea. The QUAD navies exercise aims at enforcing the rule of law and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific region to tame an aggressive Chinese Navy.
Beijing has refused to accept the UN Law of the Sea’s tribunal ruling that China has no legal claim to the South China Sea. It has persistently threatened, and sometimes attacked Philippine ships and other nation’s assets operating in what it claims as its own waters.
“Malabar gives us that capability and that tactical interoperability, to be able to go up there and sail confidently to ensure that a body of water – the South China Sea, which is close to a tremendous amount of trade stays free,” said Vice Adm. Karl Thomas, the American head of the Seventh Fleet, while addressing to media in Sydney on Thursday.
Indian Navy’s indigenous frontline warships, along with ships and aircraft from the US Navy (USN), Japan Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF) and the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), are participating in Exercise MALABAR 2023. One of the key additions to this latest edition of Malabar is Australia’s F-35s, appearing for the first time. P-8 sub-hunting aircraft will also be flying, in addition to subs taking part.
“The Pacific is very important to us,” said Australian fleet Commander Rear Admiral Christopher Smith while describing the significance of the mega naval war game. He went on to say that “it would provide a significant opportunity for all of us to operate with a fifth-gen aircraft, and enable us to get the most out of that exercise. The F-35 was an important part of it, and it also provides the Air Force an opportunity to train against some very, very sophisticated ships and all of the ships that are participating here are very sophisticated high-end warfighting ships.”
Six ships are taking part, two from Australia and India and one from Japan and the US. India’s newest ship, the INS Kolkata, is the first-in-class of a stealthy guided-missile destroyer that sailed with the INS Sahyadri, a frigate. HMAS Brisbane’s Hobart Class guided-missile destroyer joins the HMAS Choules, a helicopter and landing craft ship that can carry up to 700 troops from Australia. Japan and America sent guided missile destroyers: the JS Shiranui, an Asahi-class ship, and the USS Rafael Pearlta, an Arleigh Burke-class ship.
The Indian and Japanese Navy stopped at the Pacific Island states of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands on their way to Sydney, highlighting the region’s strategic importance at a time of friction between China and the United States.
“The four nations, the four democracies can work together in the maritime domain, and that can send some signals around the world,” said Vice Admiral Dinesh Tripathi, Chief of India’s Western Naval Command, who is leading the Indian contingent.
MALABAR 2023 is to be conducted in two phases. The Harbour Phase involves wide-ranging activities such as cross-deck visits, professional exchanges, sports fixtures and several interactions for planning and conducting the Sea Phase. The Sea Phase will include various complex and high-intensity exercises in all three domains of warfare, encompassing anti-surface, anti-air and anti-submarine exercises, including live weapon firing drills.
“The exercise provides an opportunity for the Indian Navy to enhance and demonstrate interoperability and gain from the best practices in maritime security operations from its partner nations.,” according to the releases issued by Indian Navy.
The Malabar series of exercises, which began as an annual bilateral naval exercise between India and the US in 1992, has increased in scope and complexity over the years. The Malabar had traditionally been held between the Indian and US navies. The IN-USN bilateral exercise initially prospered into a trilateral exercise with the participation of Japan and further grew in stature with the Royal Australian Navy joining the group. However, Australia dropped out of the so-called QUAD in 2008 after protests from China over its participation in Malabar. The QUAD was revived, and Australia rejoined Malabar in 2020, although China continues to criticise the grouping as an attempt to contain it. It is the fourth consecutive year when navies of all four member countries of the Quadrilateral coalition are carrying out the naval wargame, which has matured with the increasing scope and complexity of operations.