Australia to be Included in Malabar Exercise | 04 Jun 2020

Why in News

India is prepared to expand the Malabar exercise to also include Australia.

  • India and Australia are soon to be holding a virtual summit for better cooperation and strengthening bilateral ties.

Malabar Exercise

  • It is an annual trilateral naval exercise between the navies of India, Japan, and the USA which is held alternately in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
  • It began as a bilateral naval exercise between India and the USA in 1992 and was expanded into a trilateral format with the inclusion of Japan in 2015.
  • Other exercises between India and Australia are Pitch Black and AUSINDEX.

Key Points

  • Despite regular requests from Australia, India resisted issuing the invitation due to its concerns that the move would give the appearance of a ‘quadrilateral military alliance’ aimed at China.
    • However, the recent India-China tensions over the situation at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) may have brought more flexibility to the decision making process.
    • India is already a member of the Quad and attended the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue held in November 2019.
      • Quad is the informal strategic dialogue between India, the USA, Japan and Australia with a shared objective to ensure and support a free, open and prosperous” Indo-Pacific region.
  • Focus of the Virtual Summit:
    • Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.
      • Both countries have a shared approach to a free, open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific which leads to a convergence of mutual interest in many areas.
    • Strengthening of defence ties.
      • A broader maritime cooperation agreement with a focus on Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) is also in the works.
      • Australia has agreed to post a Liaison Officer at the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) at Gurugram.
    • Expected conclusion on Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) to elevate the strategic partnership between India and Australia.
      • MLSA would allow reciprocal use of each other’s military bases for exchange of fuel and provisions to simplify logistical support and improve operational turnaround.
      • India has similar logistics support agreement with the USA named Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA).
  • Background:
    • Australia was the first country to submit a draft MLSA after India signed the first such agreement with the USA in 2016.
    • Initially, it was to be signed in 2019 and then in January 2020.

Way Forward

  • The two nations are at very different levels of development so there can be converging and diverging interests. Therefore, the future must be woven around the three pillars, which are economic relationship, geostrategic congruence and people-to-people ties and the glue that can bind this is a sustained momentum.
  • India and Australia are wary of China’s assault on maritime security and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific region. Inclusion of Australia in Malabar exercise along with strengthening the idea of ‘Quad’ can therefore promote rule-based, open, free and inclusive Indo-Pacific.

Source: TH