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The India, Japan, US Alliance Blossomed In Malabar 2017

July 17, 2017

One of the largest joint naval exercises in the world took place during the past week. Malabar 2017 saw ships from the Indian, Japanese, and US navies conduct drills over a 10 day period, from July 7 to 17, in the Bay of Bengal. The scope of the exercises were seen as a concerted effort to anticipate a future showdown against China over sea lanes.

Although the PLAN and its capabilities were never officially brought up for the duration of this year’s Malabar, with officers from both Indian and US navies insisting their activities weren’t “aimed at China,” the focus on anti-submarine warfare did suggest who the imagined adversary was. Only two other countries can deploy submarines in the Indian Ocean–these are Iran and Pakistan–but neither can challenge India’s dominance either above or under water.

China, on the other hand, now maintains the world’s second largest navy and is putting together a network of bases stretching from artificial islands in Southeast Asian waters until the Horn of Africa. Beijing has made its plans for a revitalized marine corps known and is paying for the construction of new aircraft carriers, guided missile destroyers, and submarines.

But Malabar 2017 was fairly benign and its most noteworthy aspect were the presence of three aircraft carriers from the participating countries; the supercarrier USS Nimitz, the INS Vikramaditya, and the JS Izumo. India and the US each sent a single submarine to the gathering, these being an unnamed diesel-electric model and an American Los Angeles-class SSN.

The various activities of this year’s installment, with 16 ships total participating, were supposed to improve wartime skills like carrier strike ops, damage control measures, explosive ordnance disposal, search and rescue, medical evacuation, and boarding and interdiction.

The Malabar exercises originated in 1992 as a bilateral effort between ships of the US and Indian navies. It was a breakthrough of sorts at a time when the troubled Russian Federation almost lost its role as India’s steadfast geopolitical partner.

The annual exercise went on hiatus in the late 1990s as US-Indian relations were strained by the latter’s public nuclear tests. But Malabar was restarted at the turn of the century. In 2007 ships of the US and Indian navies traveled all the way to Japan, signalling its eventual inclusion. This culminated in 2015 when the Maritime Self Defense Force were allowed to take part as a “permanent member.”

The USS Nimitz and its carrier strike group, composed of four Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, represented the US’ contribution to the 10-day event. The Nimitz is the largest ship in its class and was commissioned in 1975. It supports 5,000 crew members and 90 fixed wing and rotary aircraft.

The INS Vikramaditya is a 44,500 ton STOBAR carrier based on the Soviet-era Admiral Gorshkov. The vessel underwent almost 10 years of refitting in Russia’s Sevmash shipyard before it was commissioned by the Indian Navy in 2013. It supports a crew of 1,700 and carries a MiG-29K squadron.

The Japanese Izumo “helicopter destroyer” is one of the lightest naval carriers at 27,000 tons. Considered a half measure to comply with existing restrictions on Japanese warships, the Izumo excels at ASW missions and long-range patrol. Despite having a flight deck it’s unsuited for holding and launching fighter jets unless these are VTOLs, a type of aircraft Japan doesn’t build. The Izumo was accompanied by a single destroyer during Malabar, the JS Sazanami.

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