Exercise Malabar 2017
India, Japan and US Conduct Most Advanced Tri-Nation Naval Exercise in Bay of Bengal
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
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