Ex­er­cise Mal­abar 2017

In­dia, Ja­pan and US Con­duct Most Ad­vanced Tri-Na­tion Naval Ex­er­cise in Bay of Ben­gal

India Strategic - - CONTENTS - By Cmde Ran­jit B Rai (Retd)

NEW DELHI. The In­dian Navy played hosts for the 2017 Mal­abar ex­er­cise at sea in the Bay of Ben­gal in July un­der the di­rec­tions of Vadm HC Bisht the Flag Of­fi­cer Com­mand­ing East­ern Naval Com­mand Vishaka­p­at­nam. The ad­vance plan­ning was done in the East­ern Naval Com­mand Mar­itime War­fare Cen­tre (MWC) at Vishaka­p­at­nam months ear­lier. As it was, the 21st Ex­er­cise in the se­ries which be­gan in 1992 as a US-In­dian Navy Joint Ex­er­cise and now is a Tri-Na­tion US-In­dian Navy and Ja­pan Mar­itime Self De­fence Force (JMSDF) event, the stan­dard op­er­at­ing and safety pro­ce­dures with equip­ment guide­lines are well de­fined and fa­mil­iar to the three navies. The Com­mu­ni­ca­tion in­ter­faces and in­ter­net ex­changes are of­fered by US Navy with CENTRIX mo­dem satel­lite con­nec­tiv­ity and In­dian Navy uses ISRO’s GSAT-7 Ruk­mini and the Is­raeli Or­bit sup­plied Ruk­mini ter­mi­nals on front line ships for data in­ter­face net­worked.

Se­nior com­man­ders with few ships started ar­riv­ing for the har­bour phase in Chen­nai early July for fi­nal plan­ning which had been com­pleted and over­seen by the re­spec­tive Fleet Com­man­ders who of­fered only brief com­ments

to the me­dia for the six-day sea phase from mid July. The US Navy flew sor­ties of C-2 Grey­hound lo­gis­tic planes from Chen­nai with se­lected me­dia and In­dian Navy of­fi­cers to USN Nimitz. As a stan­dard pro­ce­dure ‘Sea Rid­ers’ from each navy of the three na­tions were ex­changed. They are ex­pe­ri­enced of­fi­cers and are fa­mil­iar with the whole ex­er­cise pro­gramme for smooth run­ning and safety as de­tails of se­ri­als are given by time in ad­vance, with in­struc­tions. No mis­sile fir­ings took place but gun fir­ings were re­ported and mis­sile tri­an­gu­la­tions may have been ex­er­cised in day and night sur­face en­coun­ters.

The US Navy re­ported it was the most ad­vanced ex­er­cise with eigh­teen war­ships as two pow­er­ful air­craft car­ri­ers of the US and In­dian Navy par­tic­i­pated for six days at sea with over 85 F-18 and MiG-29K fight­ers co­or­di­nat­ing op­er­a­tions with two 737 Boe­ing P8 Mar­itime Re­con­nais­sance air­craft of both navies with in­ter­op­er­abil­ity and anti-sub­ma­rine and an­ti­sur­face ca­pa­bil­ity. Tankers fu­elled the ships and the two na­tions’, the USN Los An­ge­les class nu­clear and con­ven­tional In­dian Navy Kilo class

sub­marines par­tic­i­pated.

In MAL­ABAR 2017 it is re­ported there was em­pha­sis on Com­bined ‘Anti-Sub­ma­rine Ex­er­cises’ (CASEXES) and the In­dian sonars the HUMSA on IN ships and USHUS on the Kilo would have been put to test with the more ad­vanced US war­ships’ ship mounted AN/SQS-53C and AN/ SQR-19 tac­ti­cal towed ar­ray sonars. The warm In­dian Ocean wa­ters pose chal­lenges of tem­per­a­ture and bathy ther­mo­graph lay­ers and sub­marines hide un­der the lay­ers as the sonar beam gets de­flected and towed sonars and P8 Sonar buoys are the an­swer. The In­dian Navy is in the process of fit­ting out Ger­man sup­plied At­las Elec­tronix towed ar­rays on IN’s front line ships. All the com­po­nents of a pow­er­ful Naval Task Force in sub-sur­face, sur­face and un­der wa­ter war­fare op­er­ated in Mal­abar 17, with ro­ta­tional com­mands as Of­fi­cer in Tac­ti­cal Com­mand (OTCs).

Radm Biswa­jit Das­gupta, Flag Of­fi­cer Com­mand­ing East­ern fleet fielded INS Vikra­ma­ditya which was chopped from the West­ern Naval Com­mand at Mum­bai, with the BrahMos fit­ted Kashin class INS Ran­vir, and Mazagon Dock built Klub mis­sile fit­ted INS Say­hadri and Shiva­lik with their 76.2 mm OtoMe­lara In­dia BHEL built guns and Barak an­timis­sile mis­siles. Sup­port for sub­ma­rine op­er­a­tions was pro­vided by the In­dian built ASW Project 28 Corvettes, the INS Kamorta and Kad­matt, built by GRSE and the large OPV INS Sukhanya and the INS Kora with Uran mis­siles. The Rus­sian sup­plied tanker INS Jy­oti ex­er­cised fu­elling at sea with the va­ri­ety of ships with the stan­dard com­mon quick re­lease equip­ment now car­ried by most navies.

The US Navy fielded the 103,000-tonne USS Nimitz, the world’s largest air­craft car­rier in the ad­vanced ex­er­cises with six US front­line war­ships of the Pa­cific Fleet un­der Vadm Joseph Acoin who this writer and Edi­tor In­dia Strate­gic met at IMDEX 2016. Acoin has in­ter­acted with In­dian naval brass on oc­ca­sions as In­dia comes un­der USA’s Pa­cific Com­mand and Pak­istan un­der USA’s Cen­tral Com­mand.

Be­sides USS Nimitz ( CVN 68), the guided mis­sile cruiser USS Prince­ton ( CG 59), Har­poon fit­ted guided mis­sile de­stroy­ers with Stan­dard mis­siles the USS Howard ( DDG 83), USS Shoup (DDG 86) and USS Kidd ( DDG 100), a Po­sei­don P-8A Mar­itime Re­con­nais­sance air­craft as well as a Los An­ge­les fast-at­tack sub­ma­rine took part. No mis­sile fir­ings took place as no NOTAMs were re­ported but gun fir­ings and mis­sile tri­an­gu­la­tions must have been ex­er­cised in en­coun­ters.

Ja­pan Mar­itime Self De­fence Force ships (MSDF) JS Izumo (DDH 183) a mod­ern lat­est mul­ti­pur­pose 27,000-tonne pow­er­ful he­li­copter car­rier which was built for HADR and anti-sub­ma­rine de­fence and com­mis­sioned on March 25, 2017 at Yo­sukais re­ported to have op­er­ated with around 7 ASW and SAR he­li­copters and has towed de­coys for self de­fence and can carry troops. The Izumo can op­er­ate VSTOL planes like F-35 ver­sion and was en­tered in the Bay of Ben­gal for Mal­abar for the first time with JS Sazanami ( DD1 13) un­der Radm Yo­hi­hiro Giko.

The MSDF ships took part with least pub­lic­ity as Ja­pan looks to mar­itime co-op­er­a­tion with USN in the Senkaku is­lands claimed by China. In­dia has ex­pressed sol­i­dar­ity with Ja­pan for China to ad­here with UNCLOS 1982 reg­u­la­tions and even in the South China Sea which China re­jects and has claims with re­claimed rocks turned in to is­lands. In­dia is a votary for Free­dom of Nav­i­ga­tion (FONOPS), not only for white mer­chant ship­ping

but war­ships which China ob­jects to when US war­ships en­ter the 12 mile ter­ri­to­rial sea off reefs like Mis­chief in the South China Sea.

With eigh­teen worked up front­line sur­face and AA mis­sile and tor­pedo fit­ted war­ships bristling with net-cen­tric elec­tron­ics and radars for six days at sea af­ter a small har­bour phase in Chen­nai, the at­mos­phere must have been war like to hunt for sub­marines. They were at sea to har­monise anti-sub­ma­rine war­fare op­er­a­tions (ASW) and must have tested both the ships’ and sub­marines’ ca­pa­bil­i­ties and op­er­a­tors’ abil­ity with dummy drills. The re­sults are an­a­lysed by each Navy which is the aim of such ex­er­cises and kept clas­si­fied as it is op­er­a­tional data.

The NATO and In­dian Navy pro­ce­dures for CASEXES and drills which are in­cluded are ex­tracted from each na­tion’s tac­ti­cal and fight­ing in­struc­tions. In­dian Navy has INTPs and INFIs re-writ­ten to In­dian spec­i­fi­ca­tions by rule writ­ing groups based on the orig­i­nal Royal Navy and NATO Al­lied Tac­ti­cal Pub­li­ca­tions ( ATPs). This al­lows for in­ter­op­er­abil­ity of plat­forms and it is im­por­tant to be­come fa­mil­iar with each oth­ers’ ca­pa­bil­i­ties and stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures ( SOPs). The fact that the ex­er­cises went off well with worked up war­ships showed the Mar­itime Forces were in sync for ad­vanced ex­er­cises to de­pict that they can de­ter and even en­force Free­dom of Nav­i­ga­tion (FONOPS). This was the mes­sage. A Shang class PLA(N) sub­ma­rine was re­ported in the area, pos­si­bly for snoop­ing, but ex­er­cise Com­man­ders dis­counted that.

As the In­dian of­fi­cers in the ex­er­cise must have learnt about the US car­rier, the US of­fi­cers must have learnt about the 44,000-tonne INS Vikra­ma­ditya ( ex- Gor­shkov) STOBAR air­craft car­rier with a straight 14 de­gree ramp for take­off and (bar­rier) wire as­sisted re­cov­ery fly­ing the MiG- 29K Ful­crum Pan­thers and KA- 31 AEW he­li­copters. US Navy sea rid­ers for the first time must have seen the air­craft car­rier’s long range radar, mi­crowave air­craft hom­ing sys­tems ( Repi­tore), a huge han­gar with lifts and the lat­est com­mand and con­trol sys­tems (So­bitore and Luna) with Bharat Elec­tron­ics Ltd sup­plied com­mu­ni­ca­tions and ac­com­mo­da­tion for 1,500 ship’s com­pany.

The geo-strate­gic sit­u­a­tion in the East is fast chang­ing. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi had signed a Joint Strate­gic Vi­sion Jan­uary 25, 2015 in New Delhi for the Asia Pa­cific and In­dian Ocean as US has an an­nounced Pivot Pol­icy to the East. Pres­i­dent Trump is in­creas­ing the em­pha­sis of the US mil­i­tary pres­ence in the Pa­cific with threats posed by North Korea and ap­pears to be re­duc­ing it in the Mid­dle East.

Mal­abar 17 has as­sumed sig­nif­i­cance as it was held at a time when China has be­come more as­sertive and in­creas­ing PLA( N) at­tempts by sub­marines to foray into the In­dian Ocean and the two armies of In­dia and China in a pro­longed ‘Stand Off’ over Bhutan’s small Dok­lam (China calls Donglang) plateau with ingress by China and road build­ing and claimed by China.

MAL­ABAR 2017 has given the US, Ja­panese and In­dian mar­itime forces con­fi­dence to “achieve deeper mil­i­tary ties be­tween the three na­tions, ” as the Com­man­ders stated and was pos­si­bly the mes­sage to China.

Vice Ad­mi­ral HCS Bisht with se­nior naval com­man­ders of the par­tic­i­pat­ing forces

Clock­wise from top: USS Nimitz (CVN-68) with its fully crowded flight deck; USS Nimitz spear­headed by a Los An­ge­les Class US fast-at­tack sub­ma­rine; A mixed for­ma­tion of MiG-29 Ks and F-18 Su­per Hor­nets flies past INS Vikra­ma­ditya

On the hover; A healthy walk on the long flight deck of INS Vikra­ma­ditya!

Clock­wise from top: Mal­abar 2017 ex­er­cise un­der­way; Brief­ing: and De­brief­ing

From top: A MiG-29 K flies over parked F-18 Su­per Hor­nets; In­dian Naval team on board USS Nimitz

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