Mal­abar 2018 – Geopo­lit­i­cal Re­po­si­tion­ing in Indo-Pa­cific

Since its be­gin­ning in 1992, mal­abar ex­er­cise, the an­nual mar­itime ex­er­cise of in­dia and United states (Us), is go­ing from strength to strength. in 2018 edi­tion the ex­er­cise trav­elled to Guam which sug­gests emer­gence of a new strate­gic frame­work in the in

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Since its be­gin­ning in 1992, Mal­abar ex­er­cise, the an­nual mar­itime ex­er­cise of In­dia and United States (US), is go­ing from strength to strength. In 2018 edi­tion the ex­er­cise trav­elled to Guam which sug­gests emer­gence of a new strate­gic frame­work in the Indo-Pa­cific.

THE EX­IST­INg gEOPO­LIT­I­CAL frAme­WorK of the world was shaped by the win­ners of the World War ii. They di­vided the world in their area of in­flu­ence and used dif­fer­ent pre­text to main­tain a mil­i­tary pres­ence in those ar­eas. The Us who won the Asia-Pa­cific from Ja­pan re­al­ized the dan­ger of the com­bined strength of the com­mu­nist duos – USSR and China who jointly held al­most whole of the western shore of Pa­cific ocean.

had the Us not en­tered into the Ko­rean War, it would have been im­pos­si­ble for it to main­tain its mil­i­tary pres­ence in south Korea and Ja­pan who were made to look at the UsA as their pro­tec­tor from the loom­ing threats of com­mu­nism. This ar­range­ment has worked for the UsA for last 70 years as Ussr (later rus­sia) and China could not chal­lenge its naval supremacy in the re­gion.

learn­ing the lessons of his­tory, China, in last one decade, has added nu­mer­ous mod­ern frigates and two air­craft car­ri­ers. This has be­gun to change the tide in Chi­nese favour. The east Asian shores are wit­ness­ing Us strug­gle to main­tain its hard-earned mil­i­tary supremacy against a resur­gent China which is re­claim­ing what it deems its birthright as the biggest na­tion of the re­gion.

in­dian, al­though not part of the se­cu­rity frame­work of east Asia but is con­cerned with the in­creas­ing foot­print of the Chi­nese navy in in­dia ocean re­gion (ior). China, in the past, has ques­tioned the in­dian dom­i­nance over the ior. in 1990s China made its in­ten­sion for ior very clear when it pub­li­cally said, “In­dian Ocean is not In­dia’s oceanÓ. since then China has es­tab­lished sev­eral bases across ior and is main­tain­ing reg­u­lar pres­ence through de­ploy­ment of its naval ships in the re­gion. To counter Chi­nese expansion in the re­gion, in­dia changed its ‘Look East pol­icy’ into ‘Act East pol­icy’ which en­vis­ages strate­gic re­la­tion­ship with AseAn coun­tries. Both coun­tries are com­pet­ing to es­tab­lish their strate­gic pres­ence in each oth­ers neigh­bour­hood.

The Aus­tralia based Lowy In­sti­tute’s in­au­gu­ral ‘Asia Power In­dex’, rais­ing se­ri­ous ques­tion on the US’ abil­ity to re­tain its po­si­tion in the re­gion said, “even if the United states con­tin­ues to out­spend China in mil­i­tary ex­pen­di­ture, fu­ture trends point to a rel­a­tive de­cline in Us power, with a sec­ond place fin­ish only marginally ahead of in­dia.Ó no won­der, China is show­ing lit­tle re­gard for US power in the Pa­cific re­gion.

China is ex­pected to achieve eco­nomic par­ity with Us in next one decade. in spite of its strength, the re­port finds China “vul­ner­a­ble to a mil­i­tary and strate­gic counter-

weight led by other re­gional pow­ers.Ó This vul­ner­a­bil­ity is what in­dia-Us-Ja­pan triad is try­ing to ex­ploit through many strate­gic initiative in­clud­ing the mal­abar ex­er­cise.

The ex­er­cise

from June 7 to 16, in­dia, Ja­pan and Us navies par­tic­i­pated in the first-ever Mal­abar ex­er­cise con­ducted off Guam, a Us Ter­ri­tory, in the Pa­cific Ocean. The mar­itime ex­er­cise be­gan as a bi­lat­eral ex­er­cise be­tween in­dia and Us in 1992. Af­ter ini­tial hic­cups in­clud­ing Us sanc­tion fol­low­ing in­dian nu­clear tests of Ô98, the ex­er­cise re­sumed in 2002 when the Us re­al­ized the im­por­tance of de­fence re­la­tions with in­dia in the post 9/11 world. since then, the ex­er­cise has seen con­sis­tent expansion in its scope and has be­come the corner­stone of the indo-Us mar­itime re­la­tion.

In 2007, for the first time, the ex­er­cise saw the par­tic­i­pa­tion of Aus­tralia, sin­ga­pore and Ja­pan. since 2014, Ja­pan is reg­u­larly par­tic­i­pat­ing in the ex­er­cise and from 2015 Ja­pan is a per­ma­nent mem­ber which makes it a tri­lat­eral ex­er­cise. sin­ga­pore and Aus­tralia are the non-reg­u­lar par­tic­i­pants of the ex­er­cise.

Talk­ing on the scope of this edi­tion, In­dian Navy in a state­ment said that “the mal­abar-18 in­cludes pro­fes­sional in­ter­ac­tions dur­ing the har­bour Phase in Guam from June 7 to 10. The sea Phase from June 11 to 16 in­cludes a di­verse range of ac­tiv­i­ties at sea in­clud­ing air­craft car­rier op­er­a­tions, air de­fence, anti-sub­ma­rine war­fare (AsW), sur­face war­fare, visit board search and seizure (vBss), joint ma­noeu­vres and tac­ti­cal pro­ce­dures.Ó

Us navy, in its post-ex­er­cise re­lease, said, “The ex­er­cise ac­com­plished mar­itime in­ter­op­er­abil­ity train­ing ob­jec­tives among the three mar­itime forces, em­pha­siz­ing high-end warfight­ing skills, mar­itime su­pe­ri­or­ity, and power pro­jec­tion.Ó

“While ashore in guam, train­ing in­cluded sub­ject mat­ter ex­pert and pro­fes­sional ex­changes on op­er­a­tions, mar­itime pa­trol and re­con­nais­sance op­er­a­tions, an­ti­sub­ma­rine war­fare, med­i­cal op­er­a­tions, dam­age con­trol, he­li­copter op­er­a­tions, ship tours, and vBss op­er­a­tionsÓ whereas the “at-sea por­tions con­ducted in the Philip­pine sea were de­signed to ad­vance par­tic­i­pat­ing na­tions’ mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary co­or­di­na­tion and ca­pac­ity to plan and ex­e­cute tac­ti­cal op­er­a­tions in a multi­na­tional en­vi­ron­ment.Ó

This in­cluded li­ai­son of­fi­cer ex­changes, “sub­ma­rine fa­mil­iar­iza­tion, high-value unit de­fence, air de­fence ex­er­cises, sur­face war­fare ex­er­cises, com­mu­ni­ca­tions ex­er­cises, search and res­cue ex­er­cises, he­li­copter cross-deck evo­lu­tions, un­der­way re­plen­ish­ments, gun­nery ex­er­cises, vBss ex­er­cises, and anti-sub­ma­rine war­fare.Ó

The in­dian navy par­tic­i­pated with two in­dige­nously de­signed and built ships, ins sahyadri, a multi-pur­pose stealth frigate and ins Kamorta, an anti-sub­ma­rine war­fare corvette, and fleet tanker INS Shakti. From the In­dian Navy’s air as­set side, US made long range mar­itime Pa­trol Air­craft P8i par­tic­i­pated in the ex­er­cise.

Par­tic­i­pants from the Us navy in the ex­er­cise in­cluded the nimitz-class air­craft car­rier Uss ron­ald rea­gan, the Ti­con­deroga-class guided-mis­sile cruis­ers Uss An­ti­etam and Uss Chan­cel­lorsville, the Ar­leigh Burke­class guided-mis­sile de­stroyer Uss Ben­fold, a los An­ge­les-class at­tack sub­ma­rine and a P-8A Po­sei­don air­craft.

Ja­panese mar­itime self-De­fense force was rep­re­sented by a hyuga class he­li­copter car­rier Js ise with in­te­gral he­li­copters, Takanami class de­stroyer Js suzu­nami; Ak­izuki class de­stroyer Js fuyuzuki. Ja­panese mar­itime Pa­trol Air­craft, P1 and a sub­ma­rine.

Re­nam­ing of PACOM

Us sec­re­tary of De­fense James n. mat­tis, on May 30, “in recog­ni­tion of the in­creas­ing con­nec­tiv­ity, the In­dian and Pa­cific Oceans, to­day we re­name the US Pa­cific Com­mand to US Indo-Pa­cific Com­mand.” The re­nam­ing did not come as a sur­prise to many since the Us has been re­fer­ring to the re­gion as Indo-Pa­cific for quite some time. But the tim­ing, just be­fore the mal­abar ex­er­cise, was cer­tainly sur­pris­ing. not just the name, the com­mand also got a new com­man­der when Adm. Phil David­son took the ba­ton of the com­mand from Adm. harry har­ris.

rec­og­niz­ing the im­por­tance of the re­gion in Us na­tional De­fense strat­egy, Mat­tis said, “Re­la­tion­ships with our Pa­cific and in­dian ocean al­lies and part­ners have proven crit­i­cal to main­tain­ing re­gional sta­bil­ity. We stand by our part­ners and sup­port their sov­er­eign de­ci­sions be­cause all na­tions large and small are es­sen­tial to the re­gion if we’re to sus­tain sta­bil­ity in ocean ar­eas crit­i­cal to global peace.Ó

Hint­ing to­wards China, he said, “For ev­ery state, sovereignty is re­spected, no mat­ter its size and it’s a re­gion open to in­vest­ment and free, fair and re­cip­ro­cal trade not bound by any na­tion’s preda­tory eco­nomics or threat of co­er­cion, for the Indo-Pa­cific has many belts and many roads.Ó

This clearly means that the Us wants in­dia to guard the in­dian side of the in­doPa­cific whereas it will hold the Pa­cific side in an or­der to re­strict Chi­nese expansion be­yond the south China sea.

Aus­tralia Ques­tion

Aus­tralia, another major coun­try of the Indo-Pa­cific re­gion and close US ally, is also in­ter­ested in join­ing the three na­tions against China form­ing what is called as ‘Quad’ – a four-na­tion bloc. But In­dian re­luc­tance to form a com­pre­hen­sive mil­i­tary bloc against China doused Aus­tralian de­sire.

The four na­tions have been meet­ing diplo­mat­i­cally to dis­cuss is­sues of com­mon in­ter­est in the Indo-Pa­cific re­gion. One such meet­ing took place in manila on novem­ber 12, 2017, be­tween the for­eign of­fices of the four na­tions. “The dis­cus­sions fo­cused on co­op­er­a­tion based on their con­verg­ing vi­sion and val­ues for the pro­mo­tion of peace, sta­bil­ity and pros­per­ity in an in­creas­ingly in­ter-con­nected re­gion that they share with each other and with other part­ners,Ó in­dia said in a state­ment.

“They agreed that a free, open, pros­per­ous and in­clu­sive Indo-Pa­cific re­gion serves the long-term in­ter­ests of all coun­tries in the re­gion and of the world at large. The of­fi­cials also ex­changed views on ad­dress­ing com­mon chal­lenges of ter­ror­ism and pro­lif­er­a­tion link­ages im­pact­ing the re­gion as well as on en­hanc­ing con­nec­tiv­ity, Óit added.


on Au­gust 2, 2017, the Us Pres­i­dent signed into law the “Coun­ter­ing Amer­ica’s Ad­ver­saries Through sanc­tions Act, which for­bids coun­tries from do­ing de­fence trade with rus­sia. This has stalled indo-rus­sian deals like s-400 long-range sur­face to air mis­siles. in­dia, if not given re­prieve, is bound to re­tal­i­ate with putting on hold some of the weapons deals with Us. Us ad­min­is­tra­tion, re­port­edly, is try­ing to find a way out.

The suc­cess­ful ex­er­cise is a mark of ma­tur­ing of the re­la­tion­ship where both gov­ern­ments un­der­stand the prob­lems emerg­ing out of do­mes­tic pol­i­tics. This is no mean achieve­ment. Us navy, in its post ex­er­cise re­lease, suc­cinctly sum­ming up the achieve­ment of the ex­er­cise and said that three part­ner na­tions are “hav­ing an ac­tive role build­ing re­gional part­ner ca­pac­ity and mar­itime do­main aware­ness” and “by do­ing so, they bol­ster the shared vi­sion laid out by their re­spec­tive gov­ern­ments to con­trib­ute to over­all peace and se­cu­rity in the re­gion.Ó But only time will tell whether this part­ner­ship will be able to con­tain Chi­nese in­flu­ence in the Indo-Pa­cific or will only act as de­ter­rent to any Chi­nese mis­ad­ven­ture in fore­see­able fu­ture.


Vice Ad­mi­ral Ya­ma­mura, Vice Chief of Staff of Ja­pan Mar­itime Self-De­fense Force, Rear Ad­mi­ral D.K. Tri­pathi, FOCEF, Rear Ad­mi­ral Marc Dal­ton Cdr CTF 70 and Rear Ad­mi­ral Oban Cdr Com­mand­ing Flotilla 2 at the open­ing cer­e­mony of Mal­abar 2018 at Guam, USA

Sailors from the guided-mis­sile cruiser USS An­ti­etam, the Ja­pan Mar­itime Self-De­fense Force de­stroyer JS Fuyuzuki and the INS Shakti pose for a photo aboard the In­dian Navy oiler af­ter a visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) ex­er­cise dur­ing ex­er­cise Mal­abar.

Sailors as­signed to the Ti­con­deroga class guided-mis­sile cruiser USS An­ti­etam con­duct an un­der­way re­plen­ish­ment (UNREP) train­ing ex­er­cise with the In­dian navy oiler INS Shakti dur­ing ex­er­cise Mal­abar

The In­dian navy Shiva­lik class stealth multi-role frigate INS Kamorta and the Ja­pan Mar­itime Self-De­fense Force Ak­izuki class de­stroyer JS Fuyuzuk in for­ma­tion dur­ing ex­er­cise Mal­abar 2018

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