Malabar Exercise kicks off today with the QUAD countries reuniting after over a decade

Malabar Exercise kicks off today with the QUAD countries reuniting after over a decade
First phase of the 24th edition of naval Malabar Exercise to commence off the coast of Visakhapatnam in the Bay of Bengal today, November 3, with all four QUAD member participatingIndian Navy
  • The annual Malabar Exercise kicks off today with Australia as a permanent member.
  • This is the first time that all four QUAD members — the US, Australia, India and Japan — are participating in the Malabar Exercise together in over a decade.
  • The timing of their cooperation is significant with China’s growing assertiveness in Taiwan, Hong Kong, the South China Sea, and, of course, Eastern Ladakh.
India, the US, Japan, and Australia haven’t had their navies alongside each other for over a decade. Today, they kick off the first phase of the annual Malabar Exercise in the Bay of Bengal.

The last time around, in 2007, Singapore was also among their ranks for the first-ever Malabar Exercise conducted outside of the Indian off the Japanese island of Okinawa. The event was a ‘test drive’ for how QUAD could coordinate on the open seas.

While the partnership between India and the US remained strong — Australia withdrew in 2008 after a slew of diplomatic protests from China and India’s narrative under former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that year to prioritise the India-China relationship. The QUAD was also on a nearly decade-long hiatus.

In 2020, that is no longer the case. Japan became a permanent member of the Malabar Exercise in 2015. And this year, Australia also accepted India’s invitation to join in with its Royal Australian Navy (RAN).

NavyShips participating in the Malabar Exercise
Royal Australian NavyHMAS Ballarat
US Maritime ForcesUSS John S McCain
Indian NavyShakti, Ranvijay, Shivalik, Sindhuraj
Japan Maritime Self Defence Force JS Onami

Malabar Exercise kicks off today with the QUAD countries reuniting after over a decade
US and Japanese (R) Navy ships are pictured docked at a harbour during the inauguration of joint naval exercises with India in Chennai on 10 July 2017BCCL


The significance of the Malabar Exercise
The coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing conflict along the border with China only served as more incentive for India to make the QUAD work. The members have refrained from referring to China directly and claim the organisation’s goal is to work towards a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’.

Malabar Exercise kicks off today with the QUAD countries reuniting after over a decade
Sships of the Indian Navy and U.S. Navy sail in formation in the Bay of Bengal during the Malabar Exercise 2017 between India, Japan and the USUS Navy

Even at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Ministerial Summit, the countries were careful not to name China but insist that the QUAD has a positive agenda based on shared interests and democratic values.

However, this is the first year that all four member countries of the QUAD, or the Asian NATO, are ‘officially’ participating in the Malabar Exercise. The solidification of the alliance between them is a strong signal to China who has been asserting itself in the straits of Taiwan, South China Sea, Hong Kong and, of course, Eastern Ladakh.

On its part, China has made it clear that it's not particularly comfortable with the Malabar Exercise. “We hope relevant countries’ military operations will be conducive to regional peace and stability, instead of the contrary,” said China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin during the regular press conference in Beijing on Tuesday.

The 2020 Malabar Exercise
The 2020 Malabar Exercise makes its 24th iteration. Alongside the Indian Navy, the RAN, and Japan’s Maritime Self Defence Force (MJSDF), the US will be sending its Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain.

“It is fitting to see our Navies operate in a high end, tactically relevant exercise like Malabar. It is another opportunity to further strengthen our combined capabilities and enhance our partnerships," said Captain Steven DeMoss, commodore of the US Destroyer Squadron Fifteen in a statement.

This year’s exercise at sea includes a variety of high-end tactical training aimed at specific interactions designed to enhance interoperability between the navies of the four counties.

The Indian Navy’s participation will be led by Rear Admiral Sanjay Vatsayan. Along with its ships, India will also be sending its submarine dubbed Sindhuraj and many aircraft, including the advanced jet trainer Hawk, martin patrol aircraft Dornier, and the long-range maritime patrol aircraft P-8I.

Once the first phase of the Malabar Exercise is complete on November 6, the second phase is scheduled for mid-November in the Arabian Sea.

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