NEW DELHI — The navies of the United States, India and Japan have begun war gaming in the Bay of Bengal as part of the Malabar 2017 exercise.
Three aircraft carriers — the USS Nimitz of the U.S. Navy, INS Vikramaditya of the Indian Navy and the JS Izumo of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force — are part of the 21st edition of the exercise July 10-17, which analysts say is aimed at checking the increased Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean region.
Without naming any country, Rear Adm. William Byrne, commander U.S. Strike Group 11, told reporters at Chennai that the only strategic message Malabar 2017 is sending is to "eliminate possibilities of miscalculations" and that "we are together."
Gurpreet Khurana, Indian Navy captain and executive director of the National Maritime Foundation, said, "Malabar is essentially a combined endeavor between India and the U.S. — now expanded to Japan — to translate their national-strategic convergences in the Indo-Pacific region into functional maritime-military collaboration."
"The thrust of the exercises at sea this year would be on aircraft carrier operations, air defense, anti-submarine warfare (ASW), surface warfare, visit board search and seizure (VBSS), search and rescue, joint manoeuvres and tactical procedures," according to the official release of the Ministry of Defence.
The Indian Navy is being represented by the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya with its air wing, guided missile destroyer Ranvir, stealth frigates Shivalik and Sahyadri, anti-submarine warfare corvette Kamorta, missile corvettes Kora and Kirpan, one Russian-made Sindhughosh-class submarine, fleet tanker INS Jyoti and U.S.-made long-range maritime patrol aircraft P8I.
The U.S. Navy has fielded the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier with its air wing, Ticonderoga-class cruiser Princeton; Arleigh Burke-class destroyers Kidd, Howard and Shoup; along with integral helicopters; a Los Angeles-class attack submarine; and one long-range maritime patrol aircraft P-8A.
The Japanese have fielded their JS Izumo, a helicopter carrier, with SH-60K helicopters and missile destroyer JS Sazanami.
Beginning in 1992, the Malabar exercise was a bilateral sea exercise between India and the U.S. until 2015, when it became trilateral after the formal inclusion of Japan.
In 2007, the exercise included five nations, with Japan, Australia and Singapore as invitees
However, China made a diplomatic opposition to the extended exercise, after which it was restricted only to Indo-U.S. bilateral exercise until 2015, when Japan officially joined.
"Unlike India, Japan and the U.S., Australia has not made its strategic priorities clear in terms of its commitment to join the three in 'moderating' China's increasingly assertive behavior," said Khurana.
Making a case for Australia to join the exercise, Khurana said, "Cooperation with Australia is very important to India for good order in the Indian Ocean. Hence, it's very professional navy would be among the foremost choices for inclusion in Malabar, provided the aforesaid ambiguity with regard to China is addressed."
"The Malabar exercises come at a time when India, the U.S. and Japan have serious concerns on the dramatic growth and deployment of the Chinese Navy," said Probal Ghosh, retired Indian Navy Captain and independent defense analyst.
"India is concerned about the large deployment of Chinese submarines, warships and tankers in the Indian Ocean," Ghosh added.