According to the Business Standard, the annual Indian-U.S. Exercise Malabar will soon be permanently expanded to Japan. Earlier this year, Indian and U.S. military officials were in Tokyo planning this year’s exercise which will be held from October 14 to 19 in the Bay of Bengal. China reacted harshly when the location of this year’s exercise was announced earlier in the year. Now that Tokyo is set to be a permanent participant, the frustration emanating from Beijing will likely increase. The location of this year’s Malabar exercise and the decision to permanently incorporate Japan shows the growing wish of India to counter China in the Indian Ocean and court potential allies.

Japan To Participate In Annual US-India Naval Exercise

Exercise Malabar 2015

Exercise Malabar is an annual exercise between India and the U.S. that has been conducted since 1992. This year’s exercise is not the first time that the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) has participated. In the past the JMSDF has joined in 2007, 2009, and 2014. Additionally, Australia and Singapore have participated in the past as well.

This year submarine-hunting drills, aircraft carrier operations, long-range surveillance, protection of island territories and amphibious warfare techniques will be practiced. Indian Navy spokesman Captain D.K. Sharma stated, “These exercises are all-encompassing, starting from one spectrum to the other including anti-piracy operations, board, search and seize and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”

Ten warships from India, the U.S. and Japan will take part in the upcoming exercise. The U.S. component will be led by the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS City of Corpus Christi, Freedom-class littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth, and the USS Normandy, a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser. A single P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft will take part as well. Just a week ago, the Fort Worth completed the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training Bangladesh (CARAT) exercise with the Bangladesh Navy.

The Indian Navy will be represented by a Rajput-class destroyer, a Brahmaputra-class frigate, an advanced new Shivalik-class stealth multi-mission frigate, a fleet support ship and the Sindhughosh-class diesel-electric submarine, INS Sindhudhvaj. Like the U.S., India will also provide a single P-8I Poseidon aircraft, a type which India first acquired in 2012 to replace its Soviet-era Russian Tupolev Tu-142Ms.

The JMSDF is sending only one ship this year though it is the second newest destroyer to be commissioned in the fleet. The Akizuki-class destroyer JS Fuyuzuki commissioned in March 2014 is a highly capable platform intended to escort the helicopter carriers and AEGIS destroyers of the JMSDF. Equipped with the ATECS battle management system dubbed the “Japanese AEGIS”, the ship is capable of handling aerial, surface and undersea threats.

Japan’s Response

When asked for China’s reaction to the exercise, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying brushed off concern saying, “You mentioned India is having naval exercises with US and Japan and you ask whether China is concerned. I think you are thinking too much… Everyday a lot of activities take place around the world. We cannot connect every activity with China.” She added, “We are not that fragile and we are having sound relationship with both India and the US. We hope that relevant activities will contribute to the regional stability they will contribute more positive energy for that.”

Chinese media though has not been as reserved in voicing its opinions in the past. The state-run Global Times has called Indo-Japanese military cooperation “dangerous for Asia.”  In an August article it said Japan’s decision to participate this year “makes clear Japan’s underlying intention to build a maritime cooperation alliance in the Asia-Pacific region” and that “Japan has attempted to follow the steps of its ally the US and meddle in the affairs of East and South Asia, and its expanded military cooperation with India is surely no good sign for the region.” Furthermore, it added that if Tokyo continues on its current path, it will “certainly pose serious threats to the regional security”.

New Delhi has not hosted such a multilateral exercise in the Bay of Bengal in eight years since the last exercise met with harsh criticism from Beijing. Malabar 2007 involved ships from the JMSDF, Australian and Singaporean navies in addition to those from the U.S. and China. Beijing lodged a strong protest having viewed the multi-lateral exercise that year as a step towards the creation of a security axis to “contain” China in the Asia-Pacific. Following this, the Indian government restricted Malabar to a multilateral format when it was held in the Indian Ocean. This has changed though under Prime Minister Modi who is seeking a more active foreign policy for New Delhi and greater military engagement with potential partners such as Japan.

Interestingly enough, the timing of Malabar 2015 coincides with an India-China bilateral “Hand-in-Hand” (HiH) military exercise army drill named “Hand-in-Hand” that began in Kunming China on October 11 and ends on the 23rd. This will be the fifth annual HiH exercise to be held since 2007.

Conclusion

Having Malabar 2015 take place in the Bay of Bengal somewhat shows the growing importance of the Indian Ocean as a place of rivalry and competition between China and India. Furthermore, having Japan take part this year and incorporating it as a permanent member also shows a tightening of military relations between India and Japan. New Delhi has expressed concern at what it views as China’s advances in the Indian Ocean over the years while Japan is growing increasingly active in disputes China is a party to. The governments in India and Japan under Prime Ministers Modi and Abe respectively are more foreign policy active than their predecessors and are keener to counter China. In any case, Beijing will view any form of greater collaboration between countries such as Japan and India as attempts to curb its influence.