Govt. mulls Australia’s entry into Malabar drill

Context: A key meeting of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) discussed the issue of inviting Australia for the trilateral Malabar naval exercise with Japan and the United States.

Analysis

  • The final decision is likely before the exercise, which could take place towards the end of this year.
  • The naval exercise has been delayed this year due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • After years of reluctance due to Beijing’s sensitivities, India said it was open to Australia’s inclusion in Malabar, which began as a bilateral exercise between India and the U.S. in 1992 and was expanded into a trilateral format with the inclusion of Japan in 2015.
  • Japan and the U.S. have been pressing India for Australia’s inclusion in Malabar.
  • While New Delhi was reluctant to accept Canberra’s request, the bilateral cooperation has gone up significantly over the years.
  • In June 2020, the two countries signed the long-pending Mutual Logistics Support (MLSA), elevated their partnership to Comprehensive Strategic partnership and also announced a joint declaration on a shared vision for maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

Malabar Naval Exercise

  • It involves the US, Japanese and Indian navies and is aimed at achieving deeper military ties between the three nations.
  • The Malabar series of exercises, initiated in 1992 between the Indian and US Navies, and later joined by the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF).
  • The Malabar Coast refers to India’s southwest coast, lying on the narrow coastal plain of Karnataka and Kerala states.
  • The initial series of exercises were held off the coast of Malabar, and hence the name of the series but these naval engagements have been held in other areas as well including the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and in the Western Pacific.
  • The 23rd edition of the Trilateral Maritime Exercise Malabar took place in October 2019 off the coast of Japan.
  • The 23rd edition of the Trilateral Maritime Exercise Malabar will take place in Bay of Bengal.
  • The Exercise generally encompasses conduct of complex maritime operations in the surface, sub-surface and air domains, and focus on Anti-Submarine Warfare, Anti-Air and Anti-Surface Firings, Maritime Interdiction Operations (MIO) including Visit Board Search and Seizure (VBSS) and tactical scenario-based Exercise at Sea.
  • Japan has been in and out of the Malabar Exercise, mainly because of China’s protests.
  • The Indian government, had often given in to Chinese pressure, for the sake of overall improvement in relations with its Asian neighbour.
  • But in 2015, India put its foot down and a formal announcement was made that Japan would be a permanent invitee to Malabar, making it a trilateral exercise.
  • Australia’s request to join the Exercise has repeatedly been declined.
  • Australia believed that joining the Malabar Exercise was a natural progression of the Quad group (United States, Japan, Australia and India).
  • India has for several years resisted bringing Australia on board, reportedly because of possible negative reactions from China.
  • The fact is that the first and only time Australia has been part of this exercise was in 2007, when both Australia and Singapore were invited to join India, Japan and the United States.

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