The 31st edition of the Malabar multilateral exercise comprising India, Australia, Japan and the U.S. will be held off Sydney from August 11-21, as Australia hosts the war games for the first time this year. Australia has also invited India for the Sea Power conference that it is hosting from November 7-9 and defence sources said India is likely to attend it.
The exercise will take place in a large designated area, the East Australian exercise area, spread over a couple of hundred miles off Sydney and will have a harbour and sea phase. Exercise Malabar will be followed by AUSINDEX, the India-Australia bilateral naval exercise. In the past, officials have termed Malabar as the most complicated naval exercise that India does.
Australia has also just hosted multilateral Exercise Talisman Sabre, which involved more than 33,000 troops from 13 countries, for which India had sent four observers.
Australian Navy is deploying two ships, destroyer HMAS Brisbane and landing ship HMAS Choules while Indian Navy has deployed destroyer INS Kolkata and frigate INS Sahyadri for the exercise. The U.S. will be represented by a destroyer and the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF) by a surface vessel. In addition, P-8 maritime patrol aircraft of India, Australia and the U.S. will take part in the exercise with focus on anti-submarine warfare (ASW).
En route to Australia, the two Indian warships made a port call at Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea (PNG) last week as part of India’s Pacific outreach.
During a visit to India in March this year, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had announced that they would be hosting the multilateral exercise for the first time this year, when he took a tour of India’s indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant in Mumbai. He had also stated that for Australia, India is a top-tier security partner. He is the first foreign leader to go onboard the indigenous aircraft carrier that was commissioned in September 2022. “My visit [to India] reflects my government’s commitment to place India at the heart of Australia’s approach to the Indo-Pacific and beyond,” he had said addressing the Navy personnel onboard.
Australia was included as a permanent member of Ex. Malabar in 2020 amid the stand-off with China in Eastern Ladakh. Japan hosted the last edition of Malabar which was held in November 2022. It also marked 30 years of the exercise that began as a bilateral exercise between India and the U.S. in 1992.
Malabar has grown in size, scope and complexity with ASW training emerging as a major focus area in the last few years, especially in the backdrop of rapid expansion of Chinese Navy and its increased forays into the Indian Ocean. India’s growing line-up of military platforms from the U.S. has increased commonality of platforms, in addition to New Delhi concluding all foundational agreements with the U.S.
Officials have repeatedly asserted that Malabar and the Quad are different and the latter was not a military grouping. However, Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) has emerged as a key focus area for the Quad with the four countries announcing an Indo-Pacific MDA to assist countries in the region.
During the last edition, Navy chiefs of the four countries, also part of the Quadrilateral grouping, were present for the inaugural ceremony as the JMSDF also hosted an International Fleet Review and the 18th Western Naval Symposium before the naval war games. The four chiefs met and exchanged views on “further enhancing inter-operability” in future editions of the Malabar multilateral naval exercise.