Reen­er­gis­ing Mal­abar

SP's MAI - - MILITARY FEATURE - [ By Ran­jeet Ku­mar ]

Af­ter an in­ter­reg­num of five years In­dia’s most ad­vanced and pow­er­ful war­ships en­gaged in war games with the nu­clear pow­ered war­ships of the US Navy along with the Ja­panese naval de­stroy­ers on the coast of Ja­pan in the Western pa­cific from July 24 to 30. The de­ci­sion to in­vite Ja­pan in the bi­lat­eral Indo-US Mal­abar an­nual ex­er­cises was taken by the pre­vi­ous UPA govern­ment in the last days of its ad­min­is­tra­tion and the present NDA govern­ment found it con­ve­nient to carry on with this move of re­viv­ing the trilateral mar­itime en­gage­ment , which is in fact in ac­cor­dance with the Modi gov­ern­ments pri­or­ity to deepen re­la­tions with Ja­pan and US.

De­scrib­ing the Mal­abar ex­er­cise as com­plex high end op­er­a­tional one that has grown in scope and com­plex­ity over the years, Cap­tain D.K. Sharma, Spokesman of the In­dian Navy said that the “ex­er­cises were con­ducted to en­hance multi­na­tional mar­itime se­cu­rity re­la­tion­ships and mu­tual se­cu­rity is­sues. The In­dian, Ja­panese and the US Navies have a com­mon un­der­stand­ing and knowl­edge of a shared work­ing en­vi­ron­ment at sea. This would fur­ther help ad­vance the level of un­der­stand­ing of the navies.”

If we de­ci­pher the very mean­ing­ful quote of the Navy Spokesman , it would be­come very ap­par­ent that the three coun­tries ex­er­cised to­gether to ad­vance to­gether mu­tual se­cu­rity in­ter­ests , which are very ob­vi­ous. In­dia has a stake in the main­te­nance of the right to free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion in the high seas of South and East China Sea, where China is try­ing to es­tab­lish de-jure sovereignty, for which the Chi­nese mil­i­tary has al­ready taken steps to con­trol the skies over the area, by es­tab­lish­ing the Air De­fence Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Zone. Ja­pan also can­not leave the field un­chal­lenged, whereas the Amer­i­cans can­not let the Chi­nese dom­i­nate the Pa­cific sea. Hence the se­cu­rity in­ter­ests of the three par­tic­i­pat­ing navies un­der the ban­ner of Mal­abar con­verge in the Pa­cific sea. The in­vi­ta­tion to Ja­pan also shows that In­dia wants to col­lec­tively pro­tect its mar­itime in­ter­ests in the area which is far away from its shores.

Ap­pre­hen­sive of Chi­nese re­ac­tion the US Pen­tagon officials tried to as­suage their con­cerns, “It has ab­so­lutely no re­la­tions any­thing to do with China. If any­thing it is strength­en­ing the US naval pres­ence in the Pa­cific Ocean re­gion...and mar­itime part­ner­ship with our al­lies. It is to­tally a rou­tine ex­er­cise.” How­ever one Cana­dian naval of­fi­cial Rear Ad­mi­ral Gilles Cou­turier com­mented, “It’s good for Asian coun­tries to take a greater role pro­tect­ing se­cu­rity in the re­gion. It’s a good thing if Ja­panese rise up and try to deal with some of those sit­u­a­tions.”

Re­spond­ing to the pos­si­ble view in China the mar­itime se­cu­rity ex­pert Cap­tain Alok Bansal said,” China had ear­lier ob­jected to the mul­ti­lat­eral Mal­abar ex­er­cise. It has sym­bol­ism They will feel that coun­tries are gang­ing up against China. To as­suage their feel­ings In­dia may also en­gage in same bi­lat­eral naval ex­er­cise with China.

The Chi­nese did not re­frain from of­fi­cially re­act­ing and ad­vised

the three naval pow­ers, “We hope de­fence co­op­er­a­tion among rel­e­vant coun­tries can be con­ducive to peace and sta­bil­ity in the re­gion. China ac­tively pro­motes the Asian Se­cu­rity Con­cept that is based on com­mon, com­pre­hen­sive and sus­tain­able se­cu­rity. A har­mo­nious and sta­ble Asia-Pa­cific re­gion built on the ba­sis of mu­tual trust among all coun­tries is in line with the com­mon in­ter­ests of all coun­tries in this re­gion.” The Chi­nese for­eign min­istry spokesman Hong Lei fur­ther ad­vised,. “But at the same time it also re­quires all sides to put in an ef­fort. We have no­ticed the rel­e­vant moves and hope that the ac­tions by the rel­e­vant coun­tries could fol­low this di­rec­tion and should help in build­ing mu­tual trust among the coun­tries of the re­gion and re­gional peace and sta­bil­ity.”

The ex­er­cise fea­tured both ashore and at-sea train­ing, whilst ashore at Ja­panese Port Sasebo, from July 24 to 26. Dur­ing this phase the naval officials of the three navies in­ter­acted on is­sues re­lat­ing to car­rier group op­er­a­tions, mar­itime pa­trol and re­con­nais­sance op­er­a­tions, anti piracy op­er­a­tions and visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) op­er­a­tions.

The sea phase of the ex­er­cise was from July 27 to 30 and was con­ducted in western pa­cific ocean. Dur­ing this phase the three navies in­dulged in res­cue ex­er­cises, he­li­copter cross-deck land­ings, un­der­way re­plen­ish­ments , gun­nery and anti-sub­ma­rine war­fare ex­er­cises, VBSS and Li­a­son of­fi­cer ex­change and em­barka­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the In­dian navy spokesman, these are de­signed to en­hance mar­itime co­op­er­a­tion among the navies of the par­tic­i­pat­ing na­tions , these ex­er­cises fur­ther hone in­di­vid­ual ca­pac­ity to con­duct op­er­a­tions in a multi-na­tional en­vi­ron­ment.

More than 7,000 US naval per­son­nel on board the nu­clear pow­ered car­rier USS Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton, Ti­con­deroga class de­stroyer USS Shiloh. Ar­leigh Burke class de­stroyer John S McCain and nu­clear pow­ered sub­ma­rine USS Colum­bus along with the P-3 Orion air­craft and MH-60R he­li­copters par­tic­i­pated in this ex­er­cise. In­dian navy was rep­re­sented by three of its most ad­vanced war­ships the INS Ran­vi­jay and Shiva­lik aided by fleet sup­porter ship INS Shakti. In­ter­est­ingly these very ships par­tic­i­pated in a joint Indo-Rus­sian naval ex­er­cise In­dra only a week ago. Ja­panese were rep­re­sented by two of its lead­ing de­stroy­ers.

The In­dian and US navies had staged a short of mar­itime coup in 1992 when for the first time they ini­ti­ated the Mal­abar joint naval ex­er­cises, im­me­di­ately af­ter the end of the dis­so­lu­tion of Soviet Union and the end of Cold War. Since then the two naval pow­ers has en­gaged in mar­itime en­gage­ment 17 times and it reached its peak in 2007 when the scope of Mal­abar was ex­panded to five na­tions and in Septem­ber, In­dia and US in­vited three other na­tions Aus­tralia, Sin­ga­pore and Ja­pan for a mas­sive get to­gether of “like minded” navies. A year later four na­tions In­dia, Aus­tralia, Ja­pan and US naval officials met in Tokyo where the idea of a quadri­lat­eral al­liance was pro­posed but In­dia de­vel­oped a cold feet af­ter a strong de­marche from China. How­ever, when the Mal­abar was or­gan­ised again in the Western Pa­cific sea and Ja­pan was in­vited to join, China once again re­acted strongly and In­dia fi­nally de­cided to limit the ex­er­cise at the orig­i­nal bi­lat­eral level. But China’s con­tin­u­ing as­sertive­ness and ag­gres­sive­ness in the South China Sea has raised alarm bells in South Block, forc­ing the strate­gic plan­ners to en­gage in deeper trilateral en­gage­ment with US and Ja­pan to pro­tect its na­tional mar­itime in­ter­ests. In­dia, whose 55 per cent of the world trade is con­ducted via South China Sea and the coun­try’s ma­jor mil­i­tary traf­fic also passes through this mar­itime area can­not let the in­ter­na­tional mar­itime area un­der the full con­trol of Chi­nese navy. The three na­tion strate­gic en­gage­ment has per­haps cau­tioned China. Hence, im­me­di­ately af­ter the com­mence­ment of this year’s edi­tion of three na­tion Mal­abar ex­er­cise, China has lim­ited its re­ac­tion only to ad­vis­ing the three pow­ers to fo­cus on de­vel­op­ing mu­tual con­fi­dence. Prob­a­bly, China has re­alised the lim­its of its as­sertive­ness.

Ships as­signed to Ja­pan Mar­itime Self-De­fense Force, In­dian Navy, and US Navy steam along­side Ti­con­deroga-class guided-mis­sile de­stroyer

USS Shiloh (CG 67) dur­ing Mal­abar 2014

A boat dis­patched from the Ja­panese ship Ashi­gara, car­ry­ing a Ja­pan Mar­itime Self­De­fense Force visit, board, search and seizure team makes its ap­proach to USS John S. McCain

(DDG 56), for a com­pli­ant board­ing ex­er­cise

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