Malabar-2015: Towards collective security in the Indo-Pacific
Ramanand Garge

The strategically significant Joint India-US Naval exercise MALABAR-2015, hosted by India between October 14 and 21, 2015, conducted in the Bay of Bengal, in many ways, illustrates the growing multi-faceted military cooperation between India and the US and underpins their collective effort to define the strategic contours of the Indo-Pacific security.

The MALABAR was noteworthy this year for the trilateral nature it acquired with Japanese participation, signifying a major shift in India’s approach in relation to the evolving contemporary security calculus of the Indo-Pacific region. It may be mentioned here that MALABAR was initially designed as an annual event when it started in 1992 as a joint naval exercise between the navies of India and the US.. It was institutionalized under the India-US Defence Framework Agreement signed in June 2005. This has now been extended for a further period of 10 years under an agreement signed by US Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on June 03, 2015.

Japan, it may be mentioned here, had earlier participated in MALABAR exercises in 2007, 2009 and 2014. The Japanese participation on a regular basis in a trilateral initiative could eventually become an integral part of the strengthened strategic relations between India, US and Japan. However, the US pressure to further upgrade it by including Australia as well is still a work in progress on which India is yet to take a final call, although it must be pointed out that the Indian Navy has recently held a highly successful joint exercise AUSINDEX – 15 with the Australian Navy off India’s East Coast.

While showing its readiness to respect its commitment towards secure oceans in the region, India has provided full cooperation in the maritime security domain and even signed a joint statement with the US on the Asia-Pacific region and the Indian Ocean during President Obama’s visit to New Delhi in January this year. As part of this vision and commitment and recognizing the strength and strategic significance of Japan and its Navy in the Indo-Pacific, India extended an invitation to Japan to participate in MALABAR-2015 and both US and India welcomed its participation in the exercise. Japan, has ‘normalized’ its armed forces and initiated military operations abroad, clearly indicating its concerns on China’s moves in the South China Sea and the wider region. So, in a way, the growing convergence of India-US and Japan in the Indo-Pacific was the core objective of the first US-Japan-India trilateral dialogue on September 29, 2015 on the sidelines of the recent UNGA session in New York. It created a constructive backdrop for these exercises which has clearly defined the wide gambit of these exercises underscoring its essentiality at present.

MALABAR-15 saw the US Navy deploying its Nimitz class nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt which had earlier participated in operations in in Serbia, Iraq and was recently deployed in support of the Saudi military action in Yemen with its nearly 90 aircraft on deck. Along with Theodore Roosevelt, US fleet included two combatant vessels USS Normandy, a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser and USS Forth Worth a Freedom-class littoral combat ship as also a Los Angeles-class submarine USS City of Corpus Christi (SSN -705) . The US also deployed its ASW expert machine P-8I Poseidon Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance and Anti-Submarine Warfare aircraft. The US had emphasized strongly on the participation of INS Vikramaditya in the exercise. However, the lead aircraft carrier of the Indian Navy was due for its maintenance during the same period and hence could not participate. The Indian Navy was represented by INS Ranvijay, a Rajput class destroyer, INS Sindhudhwaj a Sindhughosh (Kilo) class submarine, INS Kora – lead ship from Kora class of corvettes, INS Vibhuti, INS Nishank indigenous Veer Class corvettes based at Eastern Naval command, INS Betwa, a Brahmaputra class guided missile frigate from the Western Naval Command and one P-8I Poseidon Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance and Anti-Submarine Warfare aircraft. The fleet was supported by replenishment oiler INS Shakti a Deepak class fleet tanker.

After confirming its intention to do so during the seventh US-India-Japan trilateral dialogue held at Honolulu in early July this year, the Japanese representation in the exercise was in the form of JS-Fuyuzuki, the latest Akizuki class destroyer which is known for its enhanced C4ISR and Anti-Aircraft Warfare (AAW), with an OYQ-111 advanced Combat Direction Sub-System (CDS) and FCS-3A2 AAW weapon sub-system. As part of war-game, the US Navy Seals and Indian Marine Commandos (MARCOS) conducted joint drills as well. A table-top exercise to acquaint the personnel from the three navies was earlier conducted from October 12-14, 2015 followed by the Harbor phase till October 16. Thereafter the action began in the Sea-phase which continued till October 19, 2015.

US interest was clearly to establish “inter-Ooperability” of the three navies through the joint exercise and it received constructive response from the two other participating navies. The normalization3 of Self Defence Forces of Japan enabled JMSDF to conduct military operations abroad. Japan’s main concern, as pointed out earlier, has been the rising assertive military presence of China in the South China Sea. In keeping with the threat, it was willing to strengthen its security relations with India. The Indian Navy also respected the trust with its strategic partners by introducing its ace pack INS Sindhudhwaj the Russian designed Sindhughosh (Kilo) class submarine, known for its capacity to stealthily monitor the warships traversing the waters of the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Till now, Indian Navy had flatly refused to give foreign forces an access to train against the ‘Kilo’ class to potentially detect and record the elusive sound profile of the submarine. The data generated is so precious that it is considered a ‘gold-mine’ by the naval intelligence fraternity. Thus the introduction of its ace machine into the exercise signified the enormous trust evolving between the navies of India, US and Japan.

Australia too had apparently wanted to rejoin MALABAR as articulated by the visiting Australian Minister for Defence, Kevin Andrews during a remarkably frank and forthright talk at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi when he remarked that it was a “a mistake” on the part of the then-Labor government to pull out the quadrilateral defence dialogue and naval drill..

Anti-Submarine Operations to Secure the Indo-Pacific:

Like the AUSINDEX 15, the MALABAR-15 also focused prominently on anti-submarine warfare. The exercise was carried out in the format of submarine versus submarine and aircraft carrier versus submarine engagements. For the first time India and the US navies deployed their P-8I Poseidon Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance and Anti-Submarine Warfare aircraft operating together from Chennai, thereby further defining the broadened scale and scope of the exercise.

Growing Relevance of Anti-Submarine Operations in the Region:

The growing sub-surface presence of China is raising concerns of countries in the Indo-Pacific, especially the Asian littoral states. In the IOR, Chinese submarine movement was realized when a Chinese Yuan-Class submarine visited Karachi, clearly signifying the undersea footprints of an assertive China in the Indian Ocean region. While justifying the submarine visit, China claimed that it was for anti-piracy mission; an explanation that maritime professionals found hard to believe. Under the anti-piracy operations, Chinese submarines have been performing specific stand-alone missions which are meant to lay a ground work for regular deployments of the submarine and ascertain the suitable areas and controlled spaces in Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

The subsurface activities by PLAN signifies the credible role of submarines in the assertive maritime strategy of China which tactfully plays a role of gathering critical intelligence, and detecting movement of Indian vessels in the IOR affecting Indian interdiction capabilities in the IOR. Further it may evade comprehensive surveillance measures by India, facilitating hostile attacks on Indian shores (Singh, 2015). This also projects the grown Chinese confidence to assertively maneuver and maintain its standing presence in the Indian Ocean Region which has witnessed the unchallenged dominance of Indian Navy.

What is more interesting is the micro analysis by Chinese planners of the IOR and their choice of deployment of Yuan Class submarine for overseas operations. These are small in size, quiet and slow moving anti-surface warfare platform and can have crucial role in Chinese littoral settings. It comfortably dives in the role of intelligence gathering and coastal defence which is strengthened by its critical fire power in the form anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM and land attack capabilities. The mature China-Pakistan defence bonhomie is also one of the credible rationales for littoral states like India to be wary of. In January 2013 Pakistan handed over the management control of strategic but commercially troubled deep-sea port to a Chinese company (Walsh, 2015). Since then the Pakistan-China naval engagements have rapidly increased. The Aman exercise between Pakistan and China in the Western Indian Ocean is a classic testimony to it.


Image – the Strategic location of Gwadar deep sea port in the Arabian Sea. Source - http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/01/world/asia/chinese-firm-will-run-strategic-pakistani-port-at-gwadar.html?_r=0

It is no more a matter of surprise that China’s active assistance to Pakistan in modernising its Navy, includes sale of Type-41Yuan class submarines, which are China’s first class of submarines powered by indigenously designed and constructed Air-Independent Propulsion system (AIP) enhancing its dived endurance in the range of 8000 nautical miles. Though, the export version of Yuan, which is also classified as S-20, does not automatically come fitted with AIP. However, Pakistan has already been able to secure it for its subs. China will be constructing 4 submarines in Karachi and 4 submarines in China simultaneously reducing the delivery time by half (Syed, 2015). Pakistan have always considered the submarine as an offensive means; however, in addition, these submarines will provide Pakistan much needed Anti-Access/Area Denial capabilities against the Indian Navy; which is significant in the event of blockade or war. By selling Yuan class submarines, China is ensuring a facility for its own PLAN Yuan class submarines in the western Indian Ocean which can further be exploited for maintenance, upgrades and crew rotations. Apart from submarines China is showering military hardware to Pakistan by providing F-22P frigates with improved versions and six 022-Houbei stealth catamaran missile boats (Baker, 2015) which are sufficient to disturb the potential maritime balance of the region.

In today’s context, Indian Navy’s growing potential is in line with its larger role of defending India’s strategic assets with an assertive prominence on economic security in the Indo-Pacific. While doing so, its countervailing concerns about China’s maritime power in the Indo-Pacific are obvious. However, India does not have political capital nor strong naval capabilities to restrain Chinese assertive navall accomplishments in maritime Asia. Similar concerns about China’s increasing footprint in the IOR are also sensed by the US and France who have a number of bases in the IOR. While seeking the solutions for such critical complexities, India must ensure that the Indian Navy must deliver its principle mandate of defending its national interests. In the contemporary existing power asymmetries evolving in and around Indo-Pacific it can credibly play a role of gentle stabilizer in the region. However, while enhancing its reach in the Indo-Pacific a comprehensive maritime partnership with Japan which has assured security of the US will ensure credible security and stability in the Indo-Pacific. Significantly, the reinterpretation of Article 9 of the Constitution of Japan this month enables Japan as a credible military power in the East and a potent military partner for India to elevate and redefine its strategic posture in the Indo-Pacific.

For dealing with such a complex situation in its neighbourhood and to maintain credible consistent influence in the Indian Ocean Region, India is creating partnerships to plug these critical gaps. In doing so, military exercises and mature interoperability will hold the key in establishing military-to-military linkages amongst the strong militaries of the region which have a global reach. It can also be leveraged for joint surveillance by sharing information as also for strengthening cooperation in the field of logistics to achieve more comprehensive coverage. Thus, the ‘MALABAR’ can be seen as a routine professional interaction amongst navies of India, US and Japan which will strengthen mutual trust and confidence by sharing operational capabilities together. These exercises will not only enhance the interoperability but will provide exposure to Indian planners about the methodologies and doctrines framed and executed by the prominent navies like the US and Japan.

On a larger scale, it is also a reflection of intertwining of strategic interests combined inevitably navigated by the political leadership signaling a clear message widely visible and easy to read. In the evolving strategic environment of newly formed strategic geography of the Indo-Pacific, the maritime domain has become the linchpin in the broader scale of engagement of these prominent players of Indo-Pacific which defines their collective strategic interests. Thus ‘MALABAR’ holds a great significance not just as a routine joint naval activity but defines the proactive approach of India in the vital region of the world.

Works Cited

Andrews, K. (2015, September 02). Speech by Australian Minister for Defence, Kevin Andrews, on ‘Australia’s Defence Policy and Relationship with India'. Retrieved September 02, 2015, from http://idsa.in: http://idsa.in/keyspeeches/AustralianMinisterforDefence2015.html

Baker, B. D. (2015, September 28). Revealed: Why China Is Selling Submarines to Pakistan. The Diplomat.

Embassy of India, Washington, G. (2015, September 30). India-US Defense Relations. Retrieved October 02, 2015, from https://www.indianembassy.org: https://www.indianembassy.org/pages.php?id=53

Garamone, J. (2015, June 04). U.S., India Sign 10-Year Defense Framework Agreement. Retrieved September 22, 2015, from US Department of Denfense: http://www.defense.gov/News-Article-View/Article/604775

Global Security.org. (2015, February 10). DD Destroyer. Retrieved September 18, 2015, from globalsecurity.org: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/japan/19dd.htm

Ministry of External Affairs, G. (2015, September 30). Inaugural U.S.-India-Japan Trilateral Ministerial Dialogue in New York. Retrieved October 02, 2015, from http://www.mea.gov.in: http://www.mea.gov.in/press-releases.htm?dtl/25868/Inaugural_USIndiaJapan_Trilateral_Ministerial_Dialogue_in_New_York

Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet. (1947, May 03). The Constitution of Japan. Retrieved September 29, 2015, from http://japan.kantei.go.jp: http://japan.kantei.go.jp/constitution_and_government_of_japan/constitution_e.html

Singh, A. (2015, September 09). Anti-Submarine Operations in the Indian Ocean. The Diplomat.

Syed, B. S. (2015, October 07). China to build four submarines in Karachi. Dawn.

The Permanent Mission of India to the UN. (2015, September 30). inaugural US-India-Japan Trilateral Ministerial Dialouge. Retrieved October 12, 2015, from https://www.pminewyork.org: https://www.pminewyork.org/slide.php?id=102

US Department of State. (2015, June 27). Media Note - 7th U.S.-India-Japan Trilateral Dialogue. Retrieved September 18, 2015, from http://www.state.gov: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2015/06/244441.htm

Walsh, D. (2015, January 31). Chinese Company Will Run Strategic Pakistani Port. The New York Times.

Endnotes

  1. This is the first CDS adopting a fully distributed computing architecture to be implemented in general-purpose destroyers of the JMSDF. AN/UYQ-70 workstations form the basic computing platform, with Link 16 datalinks. In addition to the CDS, this class is equipped with SATCOM terminals linked to Superbird satellites, part of the Maritime Operation Force (MOF) system. The MOF system is the operational C4I system used in the fleet of the JMSDF, based on the ILOG architecture and interoperable with other JSDF forces. There are also USC-42 DAMA terminals for GCCS-M, the American counterpart of the MOF system.
  2. This is a domestically developed AAW combat system. It consists of two main components, one is an OPS-50 dual-band and multimode active electronically scanned array radar, and the other is the fire-control system. The FCS-3A is the derivative of the FCS-3 of the Hyūga-class helicopter destroyer, but with additional Local Area Defense (LAD) capability. An ESSM SAM VLS is integrated with the FCS-3A.
  3. Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution – 1) Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. 2) To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized
  4. .


Published Date: 4th December 2015, Image Source: http://www.edristi.in
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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