All preparations for the Malabar exercise have been completed, said Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba, as India, the United States and Japan prepare to deploy their frontline military assets off Guam in the Western Pacific from June 6 to June 15 for wide-ranging naval manoeuvres.
The three countries will deploy a mix of aircraft carriers, submarines, submarine hunter planes and warships for a raft of drills to sharpen interoperability among their maritime forces, at a time China is demonstrating new assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific.
The manoeuvres will be carried out in two segments: the harbour phase from June 6 to June 11 followed by the sea phase till June 15. “The Indian Navy will be represented by frontline warships of the Eastern Fleet and long range maritime reconnaissance aircraft. Similarly, US and Japan are also expected to commit assets such as aircraft carrier, submarines and modern patrol aircraft,” Lanba said.
He said various focus areas for the annual exercise had been mutually identified and the planning conferences had been successfully concluded.
The at-sea phase is expected to cover areas such as surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, air defence, search and rescue, gunnery operations and submarine familiarisation.
Experts said Malabar is being conducted at a time when the US appears to be realigning its posture in the Asia-Pacific by deploying more warships and aircraft, scaling up infrastructure and re-evaluating the scale and scope of exercises with its allies and partners to counter China and its moves to militarise the region, including the South China Sea.
“Malabar essentially signals closeness of intent between India and the US at the strategic level. But China may interpret it differently and view it as a move against it,” said Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan (retd), director, National Maritime Foundation.
Chauhan said build-up of US force levels in the Asia-Pacific would continue as Washington strengthens its commitment to the region, amid China’s opaqueness of intent.
The US recently withdrew an invitation to China to participate in the RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific) naval exercises after Beijing deployed surface-to-air missile systems and jammers, and landed bombers at an island in the disputed South China Sea.
“It clearly shows that the US will act if China challenges international norms. The larger policy for Asia-Pacific will see the US beefing up its presence in the region,” said an official, who did not wish to be named.
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