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Malabar Exercises gets off to a start; Not directed against any nation but would eliminate risk of miscalculation

The 21st edition of Malabar Exercises, a 25 year old war game indulged by US-Indian Navies joined later by Japan, essentially an anti submarine war practice this time got off to a colorful start on July 10 amidst the playing of the naval band but the exercise was largely overshadowed by the looming threat of the Dragon be it the large scale surveillance operations unleashed by the Chinese Navy in the Indian Ocean region 2 months prior to the exercise or the latest skirmishes off the Indo Chinese border in Bhutan.

While the Indian Flag officer Commanding in Chief of the Eastern fleet Vice Admiral H C S Bisht was circumspect saying the exercise was not directed against any nation and that it was to increase the interoperability among the three navies and enhance the level of understanding of the Standard Operating Procedures of the participating navies.

The US side was more forthcoming when the Commander of the Strike group 11 Rear Admiral William D Byrne said the strategic message the Malabar exercise 2017 is sending to the navies of the world is that we are better together. “ The drill should eliminate possibilities of miscalculation” he said in an indirect message to China not to muddy the waters in the Indian Ocean Region like they do in South China Sea.

Vice Admiral Bisht, Rear Admiral William D Byrne and Vice admiral Yamamura of the Japanese navy took few questions on board the Indian naval vessel Jalashwa after launching the harbor phase of the Malabar exercise on July 10. The conference venue inside the ship resembled a football field. Majority of questions related to China factor in the naval exercise.

Vice Admiral H C S Bisht who formally declared the exercise open described it as a joint attempt to address common challenges and address shared threats.

He said each round of exercises helps the participant navies to advance the level of understanding of the participating personnel while warding off volley of questions on the China factor. He merely said the exercises were planned nearly an year ago (when there was no Chinese issue in the horizon).

When asked about the unusual presence of the Chinese naval vessels in the Indian Ocean Region for the past two months including a spy vessel, Vice Admiral Bisht said there are many extra regional ships in the region and the navy has the mechanism to monitor them.

The current exercise on sea board will focus on submarine tracking. Three aircraft carriers USS Nimitz of the US Navy, INS Vikramaditya of the Indian navy and J S Izumo of the Japanese Maritime Self defense force will take part in Malabar exercises 2017.

In addition a large contingent of 16 ships, 95 aircrafts including a number of fighter jets and two submarines will take part in the war games in international waters off the Chennai Coast during the sea phase which begins on July 14. The sea phase exercises will last for three days.

Indian navy will be represented by aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya with its air wing guided missile destroyer Ranvir, indigenous stealth frigates Shivalik and Sahyadri, indigenous ASVV Corvette Karnorta, Missile Corvettes Kora and Kirpan, a Sindhughosh class submarine, fleet tanker INS Jyoti and a Long range Maritime patrol aircraft P 81.

The US Navy will be represented by the ships from the Nimitz Carrier Strike group and other units of the US Seventh fleet. Apart from Nimitz, the other US naval ships which will participate in the exercise include Ticonderoga class cruiser Princeton, Arieigh Burke class destroyers Kidd, Howard and Shoup along with integral helicopters, a Los Angeles class attack submarine and a long range Maritime patrol aircraft P8A.

The exercise will also witness a separate interaction between Indian and USN Special Forces and explosive Ordinance disposal teams at the IN Marcos Training base INS Karna, at Visakhapatnam. The Japanese force will be represented by JS Izumo, a helicopter carrier with SH 60 K helicopters and JS Sazanami, a missile destroyer and SH 60 K integral helicopter.

The joint fleet deployed by the three navies is significant in its size and timing given the fact the Chinese are flexing their muscles in the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean region and South China Sea

Malabar Exercises were planned in early 1990s by US and India to give latter a regional role in the crucial seas from Arabian Sea to Malacca straits through which energy requirement of US allies South Korea and Japan pass through. Both the US allies depend entirely on Persian Gulf countries for their energy requirement. Japan joined the exercises last year.

The primary aim of the exercise is to increase the interoperability among the three navies as well as develop common understanding and procedures for maritime security operations.

The thrust of the exercise at sea this year would be on Aircraft carrier operations, air defense, anti submarine warfare, surface warfare, Visit Board Search and seizure, Search and rescue and tactical procedures

It is ironic but true that the US Seventh fleet moved towards the Chittagong port way back in 1971 in supportof the Pakistani  adventure in the then East Bengal.. The decision to dispatch the US fleet was taken by the then US President R Nixon. Much water has flown in Bay of Bengal since then that India and US navies have decided to stand together to defend the seas of the area.


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