Power play on the high seas, with China firmly in the crosshairs, kicks off next week. India, the US and Japan have all deployed their largest warships for the top-notch Malabar exercise to be held in the Bay of Bengal from July 10.
The tri-lateral exercise, with around 15 warships, two submarines and scores of fighter jets, surveillance aircraft and helicopters, comes at a time when Indian and Chinese troops are locked in a tense face-off near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet trijunction since mid-June.
The Indian Navy has also recorded an “unusual surge“ in the number of Chinese warships and submarines entering the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) over the last two months, in a clear indication of muscle-flexing by China after achieving what it believes is near-dominance in the contentious South China Sea, as earlier reported by TOI.
Incidentally, in the ongoing shadow-boxing between India and China, visiting deputy PM and foreign minister of Vietnam Pham Binh Minh met defence minister Arun Jaitley on Tuesday afternoon to discuss ways to further boost bilateral military cooperation, which already includes training of Vietnamese submariners and military supplies. India has slowly but steadily stepped up defence ties with Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore to give China a taste of its own medicine.
In the show of strength during the Malabar exercise, the Indian flotilla of six to seven frontline warships and a Kilo-class submarine will be led by the 44,570-tonne aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya. This will be the first time the country’s solitary carrier, with its MiG-29Ks, will take part in a fully fledged combat exercise with foreign countries since it was commissioned in November 2013.
Sources said the US will be fielding its over 100,000tonne USS Nimitz, a nuclearpowered super-carrier with its full complement of F A-18 fighters. The `carrier strike group’ will include a Ticonderoga-class missile cruiser, a Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarine and three to four Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.
Japan is fielding its 27,000-tonne helicopter carrier Izumo and another warship for the intensive 10-day combat manoeuvres on the high seas off Chennai. Interestingly, the new Japanese warship, which can carry nine helicopters, is primarily meant for anti-submarine warfare. So, one of the main thrust areas of this 21st edition of Malabar will be “submarine-hunting“, with India and the US also deploying their Poseidon-8 long-range maritime patrol aircraft.
China is extremely wary that such a security construct will seek to “contain“ it, and had lodged a strong protest against the Malabar exercise in 2007, which saw India, the US, Japan, Australia and Singapore come together.
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