India and U.S. are in talks to convert their bilateral Malabar series of naval exercises into a joint services war game involving their navies, air forces and marine commandos.

U.S. Pacific Command chief Admiral Robert F. Willard, who is on a two-day visit to India, said both nations’ militaries had “joint capabilities” but that needed to be practised and hence the idea to involve both countries’ air forces and marine commandos in the exercise.

“On both sides, there has been a desire to increase the complexity of the (Malabar) exercise and conduct it in a more joint fashion, by which I mean combining services of the respective nations together... the IAF and Indian Navy conducting a joint exercise in conjunction and in our case, U.S. Navy and Air Force or U.S. Marine Corps,” Adm. Willard said.

The opportunity to combine services was in itself a complexity and a challenge, he said.

Calling the 2007 multi-lateral Malabar war game involving navies as “exceedingly effective exercises,” Willard said a repeat of the five-nation exercise needed to be explored, keeping in mind the “sensitivities” in India, in an apparent reference to the Left parties’ vociferous protest in this regard.

“The choice of how the Malabar exercise series should evolve is very much under dialogue with India, the host nation. If there are sensitivities regarding Malabar being multi-national exercise in the Indian Ocean Region, then there are other ways by which we can explore to make the exercise more complex and we do this,” Adm. Willard said.

He said the U.S. and Indian Navy counterparts had discussed prospects of a more complex Malabar exercise to make it meet the two nation’s needs.

In 2007, all participants — U.S., India, Singapore, Japan and Australia — during the Malabar exercise had learnt a “great deal” from each other about coalition operations, which are difficult and complex, and if it ever goes multi-national again, there was “great benefit” for all concerned, he said.

On the possibility of a trilateral India-U.S.-China military arrangement in the Asia-Pacific region, Adm. Willard said it was “premature”, though both New Delhi and Washington were engaging Beijing at a bilateral level.

When queried if the long India-Russia military relationship was a hindrance to U.S.’ engagement with India, he said there was “no such invisible walls”, as open discussions took place on Russia between the two sides.

“In fact, the U.S. is also improving relations with Russia and we will have open relations with them,” he said.

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