NEW DELHI: To further consolidate the interoperability of their navies in the face of an aggressive China in the Indo-Pacific, the Quad countries of India, US, Japan and Australia are getting all set to conduct the high-voltage ‘Malabar’ exercise off Guam in the Western Pacific towards this month-end.
Australia, which was invited by India to join the Malabar exercise with the US and Japan in the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea last November after a gap of 13 years, in turn, now also wants India to take part in its largest biennial wargames, ‘Talisman Sabre’, in 2023. This year’s Talisman Sabre concluded at Queensland on Sunday with participation of over 17,000 personnel, 18 warships, 70 aircraft and 50 helicopters from seven nations — Australia, US, Japan, UK, Canada, South Korea and New Zealand.
Indian officials say the flurry of military exercises by “like-minded countries” in the Indo-Pacific, which included the Quad-plus-France La Pérouse exercise in the Bay of Bengal in April, reinforces the growing strategic congruence in ensuring a “free, open, secure and stable” Indo-Pacific against China’s expansionist behavior in the region.
Incidentally, after conducting an exercise with India in the Bay of Bengal in July, the UK’s aircraft carrier strike group led by the new 65,000-tonne HMS Queen Elizabeth, with fifth-generation F-35B ‘lightning’ stealth fighter jets, also entered the contested South China Sea last week. An agitated China has called the move “colonial” and threatened to “expel” the carrier if it intruded on Chinese-claimed islands and reefs. India this week is also dispatching a naval taskforce, including guided-missile destroyer INS Ranvijay, stealth frigate INS Shivalik, anti-submarine corvette INS Kadmatt and guided-missile corvette INS Kora, on an over two-month operational deployment to South East Asia, the South China Sea and the Western Pacific in pursuit of its ‘Act East’ policy.
The Indian flotilla will take part in the quadrilateral Malabar wargames as well as conduct bilateral exercises with Vietnam, Philippines, Singapore and Indonesia. “The deployment of Indian warships seeks to underscore the operational reach, peaceful presence and solidarity with friendly countries in the Indo-Pacific towards ensuring good order in the maritime domain and commitment towards freedom of navigation at sea,” said an officer.