Amid the recent missile tests by North Korea and the continuing war in Ukraine, the Malabar multilateral naval exercise involving India, Australia, Japan and U.S. got under way on Tuesday as the International Fleet Review (IFR) and the 18th Western Naval Pacific Symposium (WPNS), also hosted by Japan, concluded. Pakistan and South Korea also participated in the IFR and the WPNS while China, which declined invitation for IFR, participated in the WPNS.
An earlier invitation extended to Russia was cancelled by Japan due to the Ukraine war. In all, the IFR held on Sunday saw the participation of 13 countries while the WPNS on Monday and Tuesday had the presence of 27 countries.
‘Free and open ocean’
“Held IFR-2022 with the participation of naval vessels and aircraft from 13 countries. We will contribute to realise a ‘free and open ocean’ through confidence-building and friendship with the navies of the WPNS member-countries,” the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF) said.
The JMSDF which hosted the IFR to commemorate its 70th anniversary also conducted a multilateral search and rescue exercise with the participating navies which, it said, was to improve the JMSDF’s tactical capabilities and to promote mutual understanding with the participating navies.
In the past, India, China and Pakistan have taken part in Army exercises conducted by Russia or under the ambit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). While China is a full member of the WPNS, India and Pakistan are observers.
In the past, India could not attend the WPNS due to delay in approval from the Defence Ministry. In early 2020, Philippines had hosted the WPNS workshop 2020 for which India was invited but the Defence Ministry did not approve the participation in time.
South Korea’s participation is a sign of warming ties with Japan, which saw lot of friction a few years back, amid repeated missile tests and provocation by North Korea. In 2018, Japan refused to join a fleet review by South Korea after Tokyo was asked not to fly its flag showing the rising sun, and in 2019 Tokyo refused to invite South Korea to a planned fleet review, which was eventually cancelled, due to a maritime incident.
Apart from the JMSDF, the participating navies included Australia, Brunei, Canada, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Singapore, Thailand, and the U.S. and saw over 30 warships and five surveillance aircraft. The U.K. which was to take part got delayed due to a cyclone in the Philippines.
“We must be ready for those who violate rules and who would use force to trample on the peace and security of other nations,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in a speech on the JMSDF helicopter carrier Izumo on Sunday. “We will formulate a new national security strategy by year end and drastically strengthen our defence capabilities,” he added.
Earlier this year, India joined the U.S.-led Bahrain based multi-national naval partnership Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) as an associate partner of which Pakistan is also a member. In September, the Indian Navy participated in its maiden exercise with the CMF as an associate partner.
On the Malabar exercise which is in its 30th edition, the JMSDF said in a statement that it conducts the multilateral exercise Malabar-2022 with the Royal Australian Navy, Royal Australian Air force, Indian Navy and U.S. Navy in order to strengthen cooperation to realize a “free and open Indo-Pacific”. The objectives are to improve the JMSDF’s “tactical capabilities” and to improve “interoperability” with three partner nations.
Japan has deployed five warships and a surveillance aircraft while U.S. fielded its Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, two other ships, a P-8A long range surveillance aircraft and special operation force personnel. Indian Navy has two warships INS Shivalik, INS Kamorta, a P-8I aircraft and MARCOS (Marine Commandos) and Australia’s presence includes two warships and a P-8A aircraft along with special forces.
The exercise will see the four nations undertaking Anti-Submarine Warfare and anti-air warfare exercises, replenishment at sea among others.