The multilateral Malabar Exercise 2022 commenced on 9 November 2022 between the navies of the Quad countries consisting of India, Japan, the US, and Australia and concluded on 15 November 2022. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF hosted the Malabar joint exercises this year onboard JS Hyuga at Japan’s Yokosuka. The joint drills saw the participation of 11 surface ships, including a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with integral air element, two submarines, and four long-range maritime patrol aircrafts. The drill’s significance can be measured against the background when China is expanding its influence in the far seas.

By Prof Rajaram Panda

Malabar is a war-gaming naval exercise. It started in 1992 and this year it marked he 30th anniversary. First the exercise started between India and the US. After the exercises were held in 1995 and 1996, India’s nuclear test in 1998 created controversy and the exercise remained suspended until 2002 when it resumed. Two more countries – Japan and Australia – joined for the first time in 2007. When Japan joined the exercise as a permanent member in 2015, Malabar became trilateral. When Australia too joined, Malabar exercise became quadrilatetal in 2020, thereby involving the four countries of the Quad grouping. It was for the second time all four Quad countries participated in the Malabar series of naval exercises in 2022.

Why is the Exercise Malabar unique? The objective of the exercise is to build on complementarities and improve upon interoperability. When line-minded nations sharing common values and rules of law, it provides greater confidence on Indo-Pacific security issues and contributes to the welfare of the mankind in the region.

Japan was the exercise’s lead in 2022. It rotates each year among participating nations. The host country decides the exercise location which showcases the combined strength of the participating countries across the entire Western Pacific and Indian Ocean.

India was led by Rear Admiral Sanjay Bhalla Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Fleet (FOCEF). The delegation comprised of Commanding Officers and the crew of INS Shivalik and INS Kamorta, the two-frontline indigenously built warships which participated in the exercise. The four nations undertook Anti-Submarine Warfare and anti-air warfare exercises, replenishment at sea among others. They also conducted complex surface, sub-surface, and air operations, including live firing drills. The overall objective of the exercise was to strengthen cooperation which contributes to the realising a “free and open ocean” through confidence-building measures.

While Japan deployed five warships and a surveillance aircraft, the US deployed its Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, two other ships, a surveillance aircraft, and special operation force personnel. Besides fielding INS Shivalik and INS Kamorta, India also deployed a P-81 aircraft, and MARCOS (Marine Commandos). Australia participated with two warships along with Special Forces.

India’s INS Shivalik and INS Kamorta arrived at Yokosuka, Japan, ahead of the Malabar on 2 November to take part in the International Fleet Review (IFR) and then in Exercise Malabar 2022. Ahead of the Malabar 2022, Admiral R Hari Kumar arrived in Japan on a five-day visit from 5 to 9 November, met his counterparts from Japan, Australia and the US. The purpose of his visit was to enhance cooperation in the future editions of the exercise.

The significance of deploying two indigenously built ships was to showcase the ship-building capabilities in Indian Shipyards during a large international gathering. Indeed, India has a ship-building tradition from ancient times when indigenously built boats and ships travelled on long voyages for trade with the Southeast Asian countries from Indian ports. The advent of colonial powers scuttled such initiatives as they took control of Indian ports.

The example of Bali Jatra held every year during the Kartik Purnima period (October-November) at the bank of the river Mahanadi in Cuttack, Odisha, symbolised by Boita Bandana commemorating Odisha’s glorious maritime history is a beautiful remembrance of India’s maritime history. In the absence of compass and other advanced navigational tools, the seafarers were guided by the direction of sea wind to navigate their journey to the countries in Southeast Asia, particularly Bali in Indonesia. Since then India has gone a long way in strengthening its ship-building and port development capabilities as demonstrated by India’s current naval strength. The two years of Covid-19 pandemic had dampened the Bali Jatra celebration but returned with all enthusiasm in 2022 when it was celebrated from 8 to 16 November 2022. Over a lakh of people celebrated the States’ ancient maritime glory.

The Indian Knowledge System (IKS) wing of the Ministry of Education as well as the Ministry of Culture, Government of India, partnered with the deemed to be university Sikhaya O’ Anusandhan (SOA) located in Bhubaneswar organised a three-day conference from 8 to 10 November 2022 on Orissa’s maritime glory at the Odisha Maritime Museum located at Cuttack. Several experts including retired senior naval officers and serving marines shared their experiences in the maritime domain in brain-storming sessions with the civilian scholars. Titled as ‘Samudramanthan’, it was a part of the Dhara series of the IKS division of the Ministry of Education. The author had the privilege of being a participant in the conference and chaired a session. It is befitting that Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the G-20 summit at Bali, Indonesia, thereby reconnecting and reminding India’s historical past. Addressing the Indian diaspora in Bali, Prime Minister Modi stressed on the historical cultural links between India and Indonesia, reminding the audience about lakhs of people in Cuttack celebrating Bali Jatra festival with all enthusiasm and pride, evoking the emotional bond and love the people of Odisha cherish for the people of Indonesia.

It was therefore appropriate that Admiral Hari Kumar interacted with his counterparts from the Quad groupingon further enhancing interoperability in future editions of Malabar. Admiral Hari Kumar witnessed the IFR conducted by the JMSDF at Yokosuka on 6 November to commemorate the 70th anniversary of its formation. After the 18th Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS) on 7-8 November at Yokohama, Admiral Hari Kumar attended the inauguration of the 2022 edition of Exercise Malabar. It was a good opportunity that Admiral Hari Kumar interacted with his Quad counterparts and other Heads of Delegations from close to 30 countries that participated in the IFR, WPNS and the Malabar.

What are the strengths of the two warships that India deployed for participation in both the IFR and Exercise Malabar? INS Shivalik is powered with a wide range of electronics and sensors and mounted with naval gunsand Klub and BrahMos supersonic anti-ship missiles. It also has anti-submarine rocket launchers and close-in weapon systems. It also carries two HAL Dhrub or Sea King Ms. 428 helicopters. INS Shivalik has a speed of around 50 km per hour.

As regards INS Kamorta, it is equipped with a wide range of weapon systems, OTO Melara 76 mm main gun, and two AK-630 guns, 2 RBU-6000 anti-submarine rocket launchers and torpedo tubes capable of firing heavyweight torpedoes. INS Kamorta is the first warship to be equipped with the Kavach decoy system for protection against anti-ship missiles. The Ship provides information on all submarines up to 200 km and capable of fighting nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare.

The Indian delegation was led by Rear Admiral Sanjay Bhalla, FOCEF. The exercise witnessed live weapon firings, complex surface, Anti-Air and Anti-Submarine Warfare drills, and joint manoeuvres and advanced tactical exercises. The high-tempo exercise witnessed large scale participation from partner navies, comprising Aircraft Carrier USS Ronald Reagan, eight destroyers/frigates, one corvette and two tankers along with LRMPA, advanced jet trainers, integral helicopters and submarines.

This year’s at-sea exercise included a variety of high-end tactical training events, submarine integration, anti-submarine warfare training, air defence exercises, multinational replenishment-at-sea operations, communications drills, joint war fighting planning scenarios, gunnery exercise, and maritime interdiction operations. The exercise provided an outstanding opportunity of the like-minded maritime forces for the four Quad member countries to work together, demonstrating their shared commitments to the peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. The overall objective has been to create a desirable security environment in the entire Indo-Pacific region so that a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” is realised.. For India, Exercise Malabar 2022 provided another opportunity for the Indian Navy to enhance interoperability and mutual understanding with the participating navies in keeping with its national vision of security and growth for all in the region (SAGAR).

Exercise Malabar cements the Quad. A consensus has emerged among every major liberal democracy in the world that China’s behaviour is a threat to political systems and open societies, economic self-reliance, and a rules-based regime, particularly in the international seas. Australia’s participation in particular is noteworthy after a sharp dip in China-Australia relations over trade frictions and Australia’s demand for an inquiry over Covid-19’s origin by the WHO. The convergence of interests between the four Quad countries on the need to signal determination against any attempts to impose hegemony is a testament to how quickly the international order is evolving. It is given that China only respects power and strength. The four member-states of the Quad coming together to cooperate and work together in the maritime domain is an attempt to counter China’s assertiveness and belligerence in the region.

This article first appeared in and it belongs to them.