(This was originally posted in Hindustan Times by Rahul Singh)
The scope of the multi-nation Malabar exercise in terms of more like-minded navies taking part in the drills could expand in future, Chief of US Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday said on Tuesday, adding that it was for the Quad partners to discuss the possibility of an expansion. His comments came on a day India, the US, Japan and Australia kicked off the second phase of this year’s Malabar naval drills in the Bay of Bengal, with the exercise seeking to build on the synergy and interoperability developed during the first phase held in August.
“In future, that exercise could expand. It is for the partners inside the Quad to discuss that. But remember there are many exercises that go on in the Indo-Pacific and globally which bring like-minded navies and partners together,” Gilday said, in response to a question on the possibility of more navies coming together under the Malabar banner. He is in India on a five-day official visit.
The second phase of Malabar exercise is being conducted from October 12 to 15. Gilday said the cyber domain is one area that the Quad navies would continue to refine in terms of working together as well as high-end operations in the air, on the sea and under the sea. “We are committed to operationalizing our #USIndiaDefense partnership, including through enhanced information-sharing, regional security, and exercising at sea together,” he wrote on Twitter.
The Quad navies conducted the first phase of the exercise off the Pacific Ocean island of Guam from August 26-29. It involved destroyers, frigates, corvettes, submarines, helicopters, long-range maritime patrol aircraft and elite special forces elements including the US Navy SEALs and the Indian Navy’s marine commandos (MARCOS). The Indian Navy is taking part in the exercise’s second phase with INS Ranvijay, INS Satpura, P-8I long range maritime patrol aircraft and a submarine, the US Navy is represented by the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson along with USS Lake Champlain and USS Stockdale, Japan is taking part with JS Kaga and JS Murasame and the Royal Australian Navy has sent HMAS Ballarat and HMAS Sirius for the drills.
Malabar began as an annual bilateral naval exercise between India and the US in 1992. It has increased in scope and complexity over the years. It was in the 2005 edition of the drills that the aircraft carriers from the Indian and the US Navy operated together for first time. In 2014, the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF) became a permanent participant in the drills followed by Australia in 2020. The Quad navies had earlier carried out complex naval drills under the Malabar banner in November 2020 in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal.
Wary of the Quad, China has been monitoring its activities closely. The Quad was revived in late 2017 by India, the US, Australia and Japan, and Beijing’s suspicions have increased since the four countries upgraded the forum to the ministerial level in 2019. From carrying out naval drills with like-minded countries to reaching out to states in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the Indian Navy is focusing on checking China’s rising ambitions in the region and sending out a strong message that Beijing’s power play in South China Sea cannot be replicated in the Indian Ocean.