India and the US are set to deepen and broaden their bilateral military exercises to include more warfare components involving nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. They would also invite more countries to join the Malabar exercises as the two nations share concerns about the growing Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean.
Both the Indian and US navies have been warily watching the growing Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean, especially its submarine manoeuvres. In the recent weeks, India conveyed its displeasure to the Sri Lankan government at least twice over its decision to permit Chinese submarines to dock in its ports.
According to dependable sources, India and US officials have had detailed discussions, including at the Defence Policy Group meeting in Washington DC, on stepping up the bilateral naval exercises. The decision involves a series of steps, starting with increasing the nuclear submarine and aircraft carrier warfare components.
The two sides are also looking at adding both army and air force components to the traditionally naval exercise.
Sources said the two sides are looking at inviting more countries, thus expanding them mostly into trilateral exercises. In July 2014, India and the US invited Japan to the exercises held in north-western Pacific. Malabar has featured Australia and Singapore, besides Japan, in 2007.
Through most of the UPA tenure, especially under defence minister AK Antony, Malabar exercises off Indian coast have mostly been bilateral affairs, in an effort not to raises Chinese hackles.
However, under the new regime in New Delhi there is a noticeable shift in the strategic posturing, especially vis-a-vis China. In Washington DC in October, the joint statement issued by Narendra Modi and Barack Obama had referred to the situation in South China Sea. It was the first time that the two sides had so explicitly referred to the issue in an Indo-US joint statement.
The move to deepen and broaden the Malabar exercises flow from Modi’s declared strategic vision, especially reflected in the joint statement.
The move comes even as the government is warily looking at the growing Chinese submarine activities in the region. It has for sometimes been uncomfortable about Chinese sending its submarines as part of their anti-piracy patrols. When INS Vikramaditya was sailing from Russia starting November 2013, a Chinese submarine was in Indian Ocean observing the carrier. At one point of time, the Chinese officially informed New Delhi about the presence of its submarine in Indian Ocean, though it said it was for anti-piracy operations.