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Exercise Malabar is a bilateral naval exercise involving the United States and India. Participation has been expanded in some years to include Japan, Australia and/or Singapore. The annual Malabar series began in 1992, and includes diverse activities, ranging from fighter combat operations from aircraft carriers, through Maritime Interdiction Operations Exercises.
Three exercises were conducted prior to 1998, when the Americans suspended exercises after India tested nuclear weapons. However, Washington renewed military contacts following the September 11 attacks when India joined President George W Bush's campaign against international terrorism.
In 2003, US warships, USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62), USS Chosin (CG-65); US submarine USS Pasadena (SSN-752); Indian guided missile frigates, INS Brahmaputra and INS Ganga; Indian submarine INS Shalki and several aircraft conducted anti-submarine warfare tactics.
In 2004, Malabar participants included advanced assets like the USS Alexandria (SSN-757), a Los Angeles-class submarine, and US Navy P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft. This enabled both navies to engage in submarine familiarization exercises, a key capability for anti-submarine warfare collaboration.
In 2005, Malabar featured the participation of the aircraft carriers USS Nimitz (CVN-68) and INS Viraat. During a month of operations, US and Indian forces collaborated on a wide variety of tasks ranging from a joint diving salvage operation to a 24-hour 'war at sea' simulation that saw the two forces engage in mock combat.
Malabar-2007 was the ninth Malabar exercise and was the first one to be held outside the Indian Ocean, off the Japanese Island of Okinawa. Besides interception and dissimilar air combat exercises, featured surface and anti-submarine warfare, maritime interdiction and Visit, board, search, and seizure operations to counter piracy and other non-state acts at sea. On 4 September 2007, the naval exercise included 25 vessels from India, the United States, Japan, Australia and Singapore in the Bay of Bengal. This was the first time a joint exercise of this scale involving 25 vessels was conducted, an event that India says is a pointer to the country's growing importance on the world stage. The drill was previously a bilateral India-US engagement and was expanded for the first time.
India's Left parties that have criticised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government on the India-US civilian nuclear deal, had vehemently protested the joint drill, seeing it as yet another sign of the growing closeness between the two countries. At one time, the Indian government was known to have considered postponing or even canceling the drill but the Indian Navy put its foot down, saying the logistics involved made any delay impossible.
China, which has not officially commented on the drill initially, was known to be unhappy over the event as it is being conducted in the Bay of Bengal for the first time. China has been cultivating naval cooperation with Bangladesh and Myanmar to gain access to the Bay of Bengal and has also been strengthening military cooperation with Sri Lanka. In June, China had issued a 'demarche' to India, United States, Japan and Australia seeking details about their four-nation meeting, termed a Quadrilateral Initiative. India and Australia had quickly assured Beijing that security and defence issues did not form part of the meeting's agenda.
The US Navy had the largest representation during Malabar-2007 with 13 warships, including the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz that was protested when it dropped anchor off Chennai in July. The other vessels included the conventionally powered carrier USS Kitty Hawk, the nuclear submarine USS Chicago (SSN-721), two guided missile cruisers, and six guided missile destroyers. Eight warships of India, including the aircraft carrier INS Viraat, represented the Indian Navy. The other warships were the destroyers INS Mysore, INS Rana and INS Ranjit, fleet tanker INS Jyoti (A58) and a corvette INS Kuthar. Viraat's Sea Harrier jets and Sea King helicopters, and the Indian Air Force's Jaguar deep-penetration strike aircraft were also seen in action. Australia was represented by a frigate and a tanker; Japan by two destroyers; and Singapore by a frigate.
From 19 October 2008, Exercise MALABAR 08, the twelfth of the series, was conducted in the Arabian Sea. The purpose of Malabar 2008 was to promote increase inter-operability between the United States and India, with a special emphasis on maritime interdiction, including counter-piracy and counter-terrorism operation. Rear Admiral Anil Chopra, Flag Officer Commanding, Western Fleet (FOCWF), noted:
- "This greatly enhances our two navies’ interoperability, which is very important to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions, as well as issues of maritime security and piracy."
The US Navy was represented by the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76)'s Carrier Strike Group Seven. In addition, one submarine, USS Springfield (SSN-761), and one P3C Orion aircraft also participated in the exercise. Joining Carrier Group Seven were the fast combat support ship Bridge and the nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine Springfield and a P-3C maritime patrol aircraft. Indian naval units included guided-missile destroyers Mumbai and Rana; the guided-missile frigates Talwar, Godavari, Brahmaputra, and Betwa; the replenishment tanker Aditya; and a Shishumar-class diesel-electric submarine.
The Malabar Series of Exercises, from 2 April – 10 April 2011 will be held off the Okinawa coast. India had stopped involving more countries in the Indo-U.S. exercises after China, in 2007, sent demarches to all the participants of a five-nation naval exercise held in the Bay of Bengal. With the Japanese participation in 2010 raising no political storm, India was once again agreeable to the idea of allowing the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force to participate.
Carrier Strike Group Seven participated in Malabar 2011. U.S. naval units initially included the guided-missile destroyers Sterett and Stethem; the guided-missile frigate Reuben James; and nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Santa Fe (SSN-763). Indian naval units included the guided-missile destroyers Delhi, Ranvijay, and INS Ranvir (D54); the corvette INS Kirch (P62); and the replenishment tanker Jyoti.
The at-sea portions were conducted in the western Pacific Ocean, east of the Luzon Strait, and east of Okinawa. The exercise's location coincided with the Indian Navy's western Pacific deployment. Malabar 2011 was designed to advance U.S.-Indian coordination and operational capacity. Exercise events included liaison officer professional exchanges and embarks; communications exercises; surface action group exercise operations; formation maneuvering; helicopter cross deck evolutions; underway replenishments; humanitarian assistance and disaster relief; gunnery exercises; visit, board, search and seizure; maritime strike; air defense; screen exercise and anti-submarine warfare. U.S. and Indian navy ships ended the exercise on 9 April 2011.
Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 1 of the US Navy, comprising USS Carl Vinson, embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 17, Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill and Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey participated in the 10 day exercise. Military Sealift Command's fast combat support ship USNS Bridge also provided support for the exercise.
The exercise took place in approximately 450 nautical miles of sea and air space, and offered the opportunity for the U.S. and Indian naval services to conduct communications exercises, surface action group (SAG) operations, helicopter cross-deck evolutions, and gunnery exercises. The participants split into two SAGs, with Bunker Hill leading one and Satpura leading the other. Carl Vinson and CVW-17 provided air support for the exercise.
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