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Malabar Exercise
Jul 15, 2017

On July 10, the navies of India, Japan and U.S. began the 21st edition of annual Malabar exercise off Chennai coast in the Bay of Bengal for enhancing inter-operability, mutual confidence, and sharing of best practices. 

  • The thrust of this year’s exercise is on aircraft carrier operations, air defence, anti-submarine warfare (ASW), surface warfare, visit board search and seizure (VBBS), joint manoeuvres and tactical procedures. 
  • The Indian Navy for the first time is featuring its aircraft carrier - INS Vikramaditya, guided missile destroyer Ranvir, and its stealth frigates and corvettes, including one Sindhughosh class submarine.
  • U.S. navy has brought USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and Japan has brought its largest helicopter carrier JS Izumo.  

Malabar Exercise 

  • It began in 1992 as a bilateral naval exercise between India and the U.S.
  • In 2007, the scope of Malabar was enhanced and a five-nation multilateral naval exercise taking on board three other nations — Japan, Australia and Singapore - was organised. 
  • However this display of multilateral naval cooperation heightened China’s anxiety. Both India and the US sought to allay Chinese concerns and the Malabar exercise was made bilateral.
  • In January 2015, India and the US formally included Japan expanding the exercise into a trilateral format.

Significance of the Malaabar Exercise 

  • Malabar exercise denotes the growing level of interoperability between the navies of the US, India and Japan.
  • The region of Indian Ocean contains 1/3 of the world’s population, 25% of its landmass, 40% of the world’s oil and gas reserves. More than 80% of the world’s seaborne trade in oil transits through Indian Ocean.
  • With China’s growing military strength and its increasing presence in the Indian Ocean, Malabar exercise has assumed greater importance. 
  • The Malabar exercise enhances India’s credibility in the maritime domain and prioritises collective effort to secure the first of the three global commons (oceans, space, cyberspace).
  • U.S. participation in the exercises indicates its interests in ensuring maritime security in the Indian Ocean region.

Note: ‘Global Commons’ refer to resource domains that lie outside the political reach of any one nation and have been historically guided by the principle of the common heritage of humankind - the open access doctrine or the mare liberum (free sea for everyone) in the case of the High Seas. International law identifies four global commons namely: the High Seas; the Atmosphere; Antarctica; Outer Space. 

Why is China concerned?

  • China has always viewed Malabar as a grouping to contain it and its fears have been aggravated with Japan being included and Australia keen to join as well. 
  • In September 2007 when the Navies of Australia, Japan and Singapore joined India and the U.S. in the Malabar exercises, China issued a demarche (a representation or statement of views, complaints, etc) to New Delhi questioning the intent behind the war games forcing India and the U.S. to abandon the expansion. 

Way Forward 

  • Naval exercises can be treated as a dating game falling short of a marriage. The strength in relationships comes from a broad foreign and economic policy engagement on many different levels. 
  • Also, when dealing with a country as wealthy and powerful as China maintaining discipline in the ranks is always an issue. The collapse of the Quad (India, U.S., Japan, and Australia) is a testament to the reluctance of foreign governments to be on the wrong side of Beijing.
  • With the invaluable accession of Japan, the India-Japan-US triad must now be elevated to strategic status. A proposal worth considering would be the creation of a “maritime-infrastructure and economic initiative” that reaches out to smaller Indian Ocean nations as well.

PT Facts

  • The Malabar Exercise started as an annual bilateral exercise in 1992 between India and US.
  • The first edition took place in 1992 in the Indian Ocean.
  • The exercise became trilateral in 2015 with the formal inclusion of Japan.
  • The 21st edition (July10-17) is being held off the Chennai coast in Bay of Bengal. 


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