‘Malabar is the most complex naval exercise’

More and more countries want to exercise with us, says defence official

While the Navy gears up to hold its largest multilateral exercise ‘Milan’ end February, there are requests from several countries for various formats of exercises, defence officials said, pointing out that Malabar is the most complex naval exercise India does with any other country.

Meanwhile, China continues to expand its presence and assistance in the region, the latest being the delivery of Ming class diesel-electric submarine to Myanmar, its second submarine after the first one given by India.

“The tempo of exercises has been very high last few years and more and more countries want to exercise with us,” one defence official said. This could see some consolidation with expansion of existing bilateral or trilateral exercises into larger formats which could bring down the overall number while increasing the engagements, the official stated.

Logistics agreements

These engagements are further amplified by the bilateral logistics agreements, Navy to Navy agreements and information sharing agreements that India has concluded with several countries. Some countries require a Navy to Navy agreement for their bureaucratic process, the official explained.

India also exchanges maritime Information bilaterally with Friendly Foreign Countries to create Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the government said recently in Parliament.

In a rare acknowledgement, Minister of State for Defence Ajay Bhatt, in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha in November, said, “This includes information on military and naval assets of hostile/adversarial countries; assessment of maritime activities of mutual concern and activities related to transnational maritime based threats.”

These developments have gained pace in the backdrop of rapid expansion of the Chinese Navy and its presence in the IOR. There has been a significant increase in exercises as well as operational interactions with regional navies.

Malabar, which began as a bilateral exercise between India and the U.S. in 1992 and became multilateral with the addition of Australia and Japan, has also significantly grown in scope and complexity. Twenty-five editions of the exercise have been conducted till date with the last edition conducted in two phases in August and October 2021.

Information exchange

Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) has emerged as an important theme for regional cooperation in recent years and the Navy’s Information Fusion Centre for Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) positioned itself as an important hub for it. International Liaison Officers from 14 countries have been invited to join the centre, of which nine ILOs have joined and at least three more are expected to join very soon, including from Bangladesh, Seychelles and Sri Lanka, another official stated.

India has also signed white shipping exchange agreements with 22 countries and one Multi-national Construct.

Chinese presence

India has also taken up capacity building in a big way to assist littoral states in augmenting their armed forces. This comes in the backdrop of China’s efforts in this direction in the region.

The old Type 035B Ming class submarine from China was inducted into the Myanmar Navy on December 24, just a day after the visit of Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla’s visit to the country. In October 2020, India has transferred INS Sindhuvir, a Russian origin Kilo class submarine, from its naval fleet to Myanmar, renamed UMS Min Ye Thein Kha, its first submarine.

In 2016, Bangladesh has procured two Ming class submarines from China. It has also announced plans for the supply of its new Yuan class conventional submarines equipped with air independent propulsion as well as Type-054A stealth frigates among other equipment to Pakistan.

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