Games Navies Play

Malabar 2017 was the perfect platform to showcase India’s maritime might

Aditya Kakkar

Chennai: The 21st edition of the naval exercise ‘Malabar’ was held in the Bay of Bengal from 10-17 July 2017. The eight-day trilateral exercise was aimed at improving interoperability among the navies of the India, United States and Japan.

While the annual exercise began as a bilateral event between the United States and the Indian navies in 1992, it has grown both in scope and complexity over the years with Japan, Australia and Singapore participating in the past. Ostensibly, Australia has not participated again because of the strong Chinese reaction it garnered during Malabar 2007. Malabar 2017 was a complex interplay of maritime drills, with both sea and harbour phases.

Ships from the Indian Navy, Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) and the US Navy sail in formation
Ships from the Indian Navy, Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) and the US Navy sail in formation

A joint press conference in connection with the exercise by the flag officers from Indian, US and the Japanese navies was scheduled onboard INS Jalashwa, an amphibious transport dock, and currently in service with the Indian Navy. The media contingent was to assemble at INS Adyar which is one of the Naval Stations under the Eastern Naval Command and not the Southern Naval Command, as one would ordinarily infer. On a hot and extremely humid day the media contingent reached INS Adyar. The contingent was predominantly regional and bereft of national media though members of the press from Japan and the US were present. A small breakfast was served and the press members were all ushered into two buses which would take them to INS Jalashwa.

INS Jalashwa was huge and looked its part, stationed at the Chennai coast where cool winds kept us comfortable. The press conference was held at the flight deck and was a gregarious affair with everyone from the three countries in high spirits. There is some merit in soft diplomacy even amid naval war games. The press conference began and a flock of photographers descended to capture the moment as Indian Flag Officer and Commander-in-Chief of Eastern Naval Command HCS Bisht, US Rear Admiral William D. Byrne and Vice Admiral Hiroshi Yamamura, Vice Chief of Staff, Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF), Japanese Flag Officer welcomed us to Malabar 2017.

The media primarily construed the exercise as a response to China, ignoring the exercise’s history and its continuation as an annual event. Vice Admiral Bisht said, “Malabar is not to send a message to any specific country. The underlying theme of Malabar is to understand each other’s standard operating procedures and each other’s ways of working better, to enhance camaraderie and bonhomie.”

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