Ex­er­cise Mal­abar 2017 with a Dif­fer­ence

the tim­ing, struc­ture and com­po­si­tion of par­tic­i­pat­ing forces in ex­er­cise Mal­abar 2017 ac­quired strate­gic sig­nif­i­cance in the con­text of on­go­ing stand-off be­tween china and in­dia at the Dok­lam Plateau

SP's NavalForces - - FRONT PAGE - Rear Ad­mi­ral Sushil Ram­say (Retd)

The tim­ing, struc­ture and com­po­si­tion of par­tic­i­pat­ing forces in Ex­er­cise Mal­abar 2017 ac­quired strate­gic sig­nif­i­cance in the con­text of on­go­ing stand-off be­tween China and In­dia at the Dok­lam Plateau.

tHe Tri-lat­eral An­nual Mar­itime ex­er­cise Mal­abar 2017 be­tween the navies of in­dia, United states and Ja­pan which com­menced on July 10, 2017 in the oceanic ex­panse of the Bay of Ben­gal and be­yond were ter­mi­nated a week later, on July 17, 2017, but not be­fore most tac­itly leav­ing in its wake a mes­sage, who the dom­i­neer­ing mar­itime pow­ers of the in­dian Ocean are!!

the 21st edi­tion of ex­er­cise Mal­abar 2017 had its pri­mary aim to en­hance in­ter­op­er­abil­ity amongst the three navies as well as de­velop com­mon un­der­stand­ing and pro­ce­dures for mar­itime se­cu­rity op­er­a­tions. its scope in­cluded wide-rang­ing pro­fes­sional in­ter­ac­tions dur­ing the Harbour Phase at chen­nai from July 10 to 13, 2017 and a di­verse range of op­er­a­tional ac­tiv­i­ties at sea dur­ing the sea Phase from July 14 to 17, 2017. the thrust of the ex­er­cises at sea this year was on air­craft car­rier op­er­a­tions, air de­fence, anti-sub­ma­rine war­fare (AsW), sur­face war­fare, visit board search and seizure (VBss), search and res­cue, joint ma­noeu­vres and tac­ti­cal pro­ce­dures. In ad­di­tion, of­fi­cials from the three coun­tries were flown on­board the ships at sea on July 15, 2017.

the task force of in­dian navy com­prised the air­craft car­rier ins Vikra­ma­ditya with its em­barked air wing, guided mis­sile de­stroyer ins ran­vir, indigenous stealth guided mis­sile multi-role frigates in­dian navy ships shiva­lik and sahyadri, indigenous AsW corvette ins Kamorta, mis­sile corvettes in­dian navy ships Kora and Kir­pan, one sind­hughosh class diesel-elec­tric con­ven­tional sub­ma­rine, fleet tanker INS Jy­oti and lon­grange mar­itime pa­trol, sur­veil­lance, re­con­nais­sance and AsW Air­craft P8i.

the Us navy task force was rep­re­sented by the ships from the nimitz car­rier strike Group and other units from the Us 7th fleet, com­pris­ing ticon­deroga class guided mis­sile cruiser Prince­ton, Ar­leigh Burke class guided mis­sile de­stroy­ers Kidd, Howard and shoup along with in­te­gral he­li­copters, a Los An­ge­les class nu­clear at­tack sub­ma­rine and one long-range mar­itime pa­trol and AsW air­craft P8A. the ex­er­cise was struc­tured to in­clude a sep­a­rate interaction be­tween in­dian navy and Us navy spe­cial forces and ex­plo­sive Ord­nance Dis­posal teams at the in­dian navyÕs Marine com­mando train­ing base, ins Karna at Visakha­p­at­nam. the Ja­panese Mar­itime self-De­fence forces (JMsDf) was rep­re­sented by Js izumo, a he­li­copter car­rier with SH 60K he­li­copters and JS sazanami, a guided mis­sile de­stroyer with SH 60K in­te­gral he­li­copter.

With the par­tic­i­pa­tion of 16 ships, two sub­marines and more than 95 air­craft, to­wards strength­en­ing mu­tual con­fi­dence and in­ter-op­er­abil­ity as well as shar­ing of best prac­tices be­tween the in­dian, Ja­panese and Us navies, Mal­abar 2017 raised the Bar to much higher lev­els of co­op­er­a­tion. the ex­er­cise was a demon­stra­tion of the joint com­mit­ment of all three na­tions to ad­dress com­mon mar­itime chal­lenges across the spec­trum of op­er­a­tions and will go a long way in en­hanc­ing mar­itime se­cu­rity in the Indo-Pa­cific re­gion, for the ben­e­fit of the global mar­itime com­mu­nity.

com­modore c. Uday Bhaskar (re­tired), Dis­tin­guished fel­low, so­ci­ety for Pol­icy stud­ies new Delhi re­calls, Òs­ince 1994, the Mal­abar ex­er­cise has been in­sti­tu­tion­alised in a pro­gres­sively ro­bust man­ner and both na­tions see a cer­tain value ad­di­tion in sus­tain­ing this en­gage­ment. in 2007, the scope of Mal­abar was en­hanced and the high­point was a five-na­tion mul­ti­lat­eral naval ex­er­cise that brought on board three other na­tions Ñ Ja­pan, Aus­tralia and sin­ga­poreÓ.

He adds, Òthe geopo­lit­i­cal sub­text of the Mal­abar ex­er­cise is com­plex and mul­ti­lay­ered. At one level, it de­notes the grow­ing level of in­ter­op­er­abil­ity be­tween the navies of the Us and in­dia, and this is dis­tinc­tive for in­dia has stead­fastly re­frained from join­ing any for­mal mil­i­tary al­liance. the deeper geopo­lit­i­cal salience of the ex­er­cise is about joint stew­ard­ship of the mar­itime do­main – the tra­di­tional global com­mons. It is in­struc­tive to note that the con­cept of a Ôglobal com­monÕhas now been ex­tended to in­clude the cy­ber and space do­mains and in many ways the Mal­abar ex­er­cise is a sym­bol of the depth of such col­lec­tive en­deav­ourÓ.

He fur­ther adds, Òthe cur­rent stand-off in the Dok­lam plateau is one strand of the trou­bled in­dia-china re­la­tion­ship. But for now, it is ev­i­dent that Delhi is not seek­ing to play the Mal­abar card and stoke chi­naÕs imag­ined anx­i­eties about a demo­cratic naval/mar­itime coali­tion that will bring alive the Malacca dilemma first out­lined by then chi­nese Pres­i­dent Hu Jin­tao in 2003Ó.

Com­ment­ing on the strate­gic sig­nif­i­cance, Abhijit singh, Head, Mar­itime Pol­icy ini­tia­tive at Observer re­search foun­da­tion ex­plains, ÒWhile the Mal­abar ex­er­cise takes place ev­ery year – and is, in that sense, a reg­u­lar naval en­gage­ment – the 2017 it­er­a­tion is sig­nif­i­cant for three rea­sons. First, the ex­er­cise be­tween in­dia-Ja­pan-Us comes against the back­drop of a tense face-off with china in Dok­lam at the tri-junc­tion of in­dia, Bhutan and china. there is a sense that new Del­hiÕs re­fusal to join the Belt and road ini­tia­tive in May this year up­set Bei­jing, re­sult­ing in a chi­nese in­cur­sion on the eastern bor­der. the Mal­abar is be­ing seen as an op­por­tu­nity for in­dia to strike a hard-pos­ture in a place where it per­ceives a strate­gic ad­van­tage visa-vis china Ñ mar­itime-south Asia.Ó

Òsec­ondly, the tri­lat­eral naval drill is be­ing held at a time when the PLA navy has been in­creas­ing its pres­ence in the In­dian Ocean – Chi­nese war­ships have been reg­u­larly vis­it­ing Pak­istan, sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myan­mar, even as chi­naÕs an­tipiracy de­ploy­ments in the Gulf of Aden have grown in scope and strength. Me­dia re­ports of the pres­ence of a chi­nese sub­ma­rine and an in­tel­li­gence ship in in­di­aÕs near-seas days be­fore the start of Mal­abar are be­ing seen as a sign of chi­naÕs grow­ing con­fi­dence in op­er­at­ing in In­dia’s sen­si­tive lit­torals, Òthirdly, there is a strength­en­ing china-Pak­istan mar­itime axis in south Asia, with a per­cep­ti­ble rise in chi­nese war­ship and sub­ma­rine de­ploy­ments off the Makran coast, with the os­ten­si­ble pur­pose of se­cur­ing the china Pak­istan eco­nomic cor­ri­dor,Óhe adds.

to al­lay ad­verse im­pli­ca­tions of the rhetoric that was built about Mal­abar 2017, rear Ad­mi­ral Wil­liam Byrne, com­man­der of the US Car­rier Strike Group has clar­i­fied, Òthe ex­er­cise is de­signed to ad­vance mil­i­tary to mil­i­tary co­or­di­na­tion and ca­pac­ity to plan and ex­e­cute tac­ti­cal op­er­a­tions in multi­na­tional en­vi­ron­ment. the mes­sage, to china, he in­sists is the same as to the rest of the world and that is to fol­low in­ter­na­tional norms.Ó iden­ti­cal mes­sage was also re­it­er­ated by Vice Ad­mi­ral Hcs Bisht, Flag Of­fi­cer Com­mand­ing-in-Chief, Eastern naval com­mand.

the tim­ing, struc­ture and com­po­si­tion of par­tic­i­pat­ing forces in ex­er­cise Mal­abar 2017 ac­quired strate­gic sig­nif­i­cance in the con­text of on­go­ing stand-off be­tween china and in­dia at the Dok­lam Plateau. While ex­er­cise Mal­abar 2017 had no spe­cific mes­sage for China, its con­se­quen­tial rip­ples had a nar­ra­tive for a stand-off, if it took place out at sea in the fu­ture!!

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: US Navy

(Left) Se­nior of­fi­cers and par­tic­i­pat­ing ships Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cers aboard INS Jalashwa dur­ing the open­ing cer­e­mony in Chen­nai;

(right) The Kora class corvette INS Kora (P 61) steams be­hind the guided-mis­sile cruiser USS Prince­ton (CG 59) and the air­craft car­rier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) dur­ing Mal­abar 2017.

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