New Delhi: In a message to China on getting a wider footprint in the Indo-Pacific region, India invited Australia to take part in its high-end naval drill — Malabar Exercise — in the Indian Ocean region along with the US and Japan in November.
The Indo-Pacific region is the area covering the west coast of India to the US Pacific coast.
It is for the first time that all the ‘Quad’ countries – an informal security forum comprising India, the US, Japan and Australia – will be part of the Malabar exercise.
Confirming the Australian Navy’s participation in the Malabar series, the Indian Defence Ministry in a statement said: “India seeks to increase cooperation with other countries in the maritime security domain and in the light of increased defence cooperation with Australia, Malabar 2020 will see the participation of the Australian Navy.”
The Malabar series of naval exercises started in 1992 as a bilateral India-US naval exercise. Japan joined it in 2015. This annual exercise has been conducted off the coast of Guam in the Philippines Sea in 2018, off the coast of Japan in 2019 and is expected to be held in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea in November in two phases.
The exercise will strengthen the coordination between the navies of the participating countries. The participants in the exercise are engaging to enhance safety and security in the maritime domain and interoperability between the warships.
“They collectively support free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific and remain committed to a rules-based international order,” the ministry said.
The Quad group of India, US, Japan and Australia can be the “bulwark” of a global challenge to China’s aggressive behaviour, according to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The Quad grew out of the cooperation of the four countries during the 2004 tsunami. In 2007 a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue was held at the initiative of Japan to discuss strategic cooperation.
“We know what a peaceful, open, successful and welcoming order looks like in the Indo-Pacific. And that’s something that we’re trying to advance in a scenario where the United States and India very much share a common objective, and evolution of our defence partnership is supporting and consistent with that,” a senior US official told reporters in Washington.
The Indian Navy had carried out a three-day bilateral maritime exercise with Japan in the north Arabian Sea from September 26, 2020 to September 28. It was the fourth edition of the India-Japan Maritime bilateral exercise JIMEX, which is conducted biennially.
The Australian Navy and the Indian Navy carried out a passage exercise in the East Indian Ocean Region on September 23 and 24. The exercise involved the participation of HMAS Hobart from the Australian side and Indian naval ships Sahyadri and Karmuk.
In addition, an Indian maritime patrol aircraft and helicopters from both sides carried out coordinated exercises.
A bilateral maritime exercise took place between the Indian and Russian navies in the Bay of Bengal on September 4 and 5. The exercise is known as ‘Indra Navy’ and was the 11th edition.
Indian Navy units undertook Passage Exercise (PASSEX) with units of the US Nimitz Carrier Strike Group as they transited through the Indian Ocean region on July 20.
India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar has sharply focused on the importance of “upholding the rules-based international order”. He said that the Quad grouping had grown in importance, trailing, what appeared to be Pompeo’s pitch for mutating the Indo-Pacific Quad into a more formal security grouping modelled on NATO..
Despite their bravado, the Chinese are bound to worried by the rapid institutionalisation of the Quad to perform common security missions. Days before Tokyo conference, a US submarine-hunting P8 Poseidon, for the first time refuelled from India’s Andaman Sea hub of Port Blair – an event whose legal underpinnings can be traced to Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) (LEMOA), which became operational in 2018.
Earlier, the US had refuelled the Indian Navy’s warship, Talwar, in northern Arabia Sea, invoking the same arrangement. After signing LEMOA, India has inked similar agreements with the remaining Quad members, Australia and Japan, laying the foundations for joint operations in the Indo-Pacific region.
Later this month India and the US are set to sign the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for geo-spatial cooperation.
The last of four military communication foundational agreements, BECA is an important precursor to India acquiring armed drones such as the MQ-9B from the US as the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) uses spatial data for pinpointed strikes on enemy targets, the Hindustan Times reported.
The agreement can be a game-changer, in view of China’s heavy military buildup in Ladakh.