Indian warships are now steaming towards the Western Pacific to take part in the top-notch Malabar naval exercise with the US and Japan off Guam, with the three countries keen to further bolster “interoperability” in the Indo-Pacific amidst China’s continuing aggressive moves in the region.India will be fielding its stealth frigate INS Sahyadri, missile corvette INS Kamorta and fleet tanker INS Shakti as well as P-8I long-range maritime patrol aircraft for the Malabar exercise from June 6 to 15. Interestingly, the three warships held India’s first naval exercise with Vietnam last week while being on operational deployment to South East Asia and North West Pacific.The US will be fielding its over 100,000-tonne USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered super-carrier with its full complement of F/A-18 fighters, early-warning and electronic warfare aircraft, and other frontline assets including a nuclear attack submarine and P-8A patrol aircraft for the Malabar exercise. Japan, in turn, will participate with one of its two 27,000-tonne helicopter carriers, a Soryu-class submarine and Kawasaki P-1 maritime aircraft.”The exercise’s focus will be on anti-submarine warfare, though other kinds of maneuvers ranging from surface warfare to VBSS (visit, board, search and seizure) and maritime interdiction operations will also be held,” said a senior officer. With the three countries remaining suspicious about China’s growing military capabilities and increasing assertive behavior in the entire Asia Pacific region, especially in the contentious South China Sea, they have repeatedly stressed the need for all to respect freedom of navigation and right of passage in international waters as well as unimpeded commerce and access to resources.Though Australia has also been keen on joining the trilateral Malabar for some years, India does not want to needle a prickly China, which sees any multi-lateral naval grouping in the region as a security axis seeking to contain it. China, for instance, had lodged a strong protest against the Malabar exercise in the Bay of Bengal in 2007 when it had been expanded to include Australia and Singapore as well.Navy chief Mr Admiral Sunil Lanba also ruled out imparting any “military dimension” to the emerging quadrilateral with US, Japan and Australia. “There are dependencies of other nations involved. Australia’s dependencies on China for economic benefits, the uncertainty of America when push comes to shove. We are not going down the route (military dimension). There are other avenues,” he said.At a time when China is making regular naval forays into the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the Indian Navy has adopted several measures to ensure security in the region from the Persian Gulf to Malacca Strait, with warships spread across choke points on round-the-clock patrols for any operational eventuality. “No one is going to come and hold your hand,” said Mr Admiral Lanba.
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