Exercise Malabar 2015 – A Curtain-raiser

Issue: 4 / 2015By Rear Admiral Sushil Ramsay (Retd)Photo(s): By US Navy

Originally Exercise Malabar was conceived as naval exercises between the US Navy and the Indian Navy. However, over the years the scope of bilateral naval exercises has expanded to include Maritime Self-Defense Forces of Japan, navies of Australia and Singapore, depending upon availability. The first edition of bilateral Malabar Exercises was in 1992 and included diverse activities, ranging from fighter combat operations from aircraft carriers, through Maritime Interdiction Operations Exercises, etc.

President Barack Obama was invited to be the chief guest at the Republic Day parade on January 26, 2015, by the Indian Prime Minister. Flowing from the bilateral discussions between the two leaders it was decided to upgrade the level of Exercise Malabar 2015. In parallel, India also invited Japan to be a part of Exercise Malabar 2015 to be held in the Bay of Bengal. While there is still not much clarity on participation of Maritime Self-Defense Forces of Japan, warships from Australia and Singapore are expected to participate in the said exercises.

From all available inputs it is evident that Exercise Malabar 2015 will be significant enough for elevating the strategic partnership between the US and India at least a few notches up. Participation of a nuclear powered Nimitz class aircraft carrier and a nuclear powered Los Angeles class submarine, in addition to other two warships from the US Navy is also greatly significant as the Indian Prime Minister seeks US top-end technologies for indigenous development of nuclear powered aircraft carriers and submarines in India. The strong lobbies on both sides seem to be working vigorously for taking forward the emerging opportunities for co-development and indigenous production of platforms and systems under the evolving bilateral Defence Trade and Technology Initiative.

It was for the first time during Malabar 2004 that a nuclear powered submarine of Los Angeles class was deputed by the US. Soon thereafter for Malabar 2005, nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz made its presence. However, Malabar 2007 witnessed the largest participation of 13 warships of US Navy, including nuclear powered aircraft carrier, USS Nimitz, which was protested when anchored off Chennai in July 2007. The other US warships were a conventional aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, nuclear powered submarine USS Chicago, two guided missile cruisers and six guided missile destroyers. Indian Navy deputed eight warships to include aircraft carrier INS Viraat, guided missile destroyers Mysore, Rana, Rajput and fleet tanker, INS Jyoti, in addition to a missile corvette INS Kuthar. Australian Navy sent a frigate and a tanker, two destroyers from Japan and one destroyer from Singapore. This was the largest line-up of warships participating in Exercise Malabar.

China had strongly protested against Exercise Malabar 2007 in the Bay of Bengal since it was expanded to include the Australian, Japanese and Singaporean navies. Since then, China has always viewed the multilateral naval exercise in this region as part of a grand security axis in the Asia-Pacific region to ‘contain’ it.

Consequently, participation of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces was restricted to 2009 and 2014 editions of Exercise Malabar which were held in north-western Pacific. Speculations are rife that Japan may well be invited to take part in Malabar 2015 scheduled to be conducted on the eastern seaboard of India. If Japanese units do participate in the forthcoming event it will not be for giving momentum to the project of acquiring a dozen of ShinMaywa US-2i amphibious aircraft for around $1.3 billion, but for gaining Japanese support for India’s mission of a rightful place in the UN Security Council for which support of Japan and Germany, the standing members of G-4 is vital.

Indeed, Exercise Malabar 2015 scheduled to be held from October 14 to 20, 2015, will be gauged from the prism, the growing eminence of Indo-US strategic partnership to the levels not seen before. In this context the most significant development was the double quick time clearance by the Cabinet Committee on Security for acquiring 22 Apaches, Longbow gunships and 15 Chinooks heavy-lift helicopters languishing for a long time.