Interview | Flag Officer Commanding in Chief, Eastern Naval Command, Vice Admiral HCS Bisht

‘The Indian P-8I and the US P-8A Have a Considerable Amount of Commonality... the P-8I is Perfectly Capable of Operating Alongside the P-8A’

How is Malabar 2017 different from the first Malabar exercise of 1992 and what has been accomplished in these years through this exercise?

Exercise Malabar was initiated in 1992 as a bilateral exercise between the US and Indian Navy and has evolved progressively over the years with increase in the scope of the exercise. The exercise has resulted in all-round strengthening and development of cooperation between the countries. It has enhanced interoperability between the navies. Each iteration of this exercise has also helped to advance the level of mutual understanding between our crew.

 

Why is the focus of Malabar 2017 on anti-submarine warfare?

The focus areas of Malabar 2017, like all other editions in the past, has been on all facets of naval operations such as subsurface, surface and air operations. The thrust this year is not limited to anti-submarine only but also includes aircraft carrier operations, air defence, anti-submarine warfare, surface firing operations, search and rescue, and interaction between Special Forces. All of these are focused around the central theme of synergising resources towards ensuring safety of ships operating in the global commons.

 

In operational terms, what is meant by ‘exchanging best practices’?

Each navy, notwithstanding the level of sophistication achieved by it, has evolved methods and procedures over a period of time to achieve a particular task based on their experience whilst undertaking a particular operation. When navies operate together in such exercises, professionals interact and share their experiences so as to adopt the best practices and refine their own procedures. These could range from operations, maintenance, HR practices, etc. Learning from each other and improving an existing process is the essence of exchanging best practices and joint exercises like Malabar provide an ideal opportunity to do the same.

 

How much inter-operability has been achieved between P-8I and P-8A and how can this be further improved?

The Indian P-8I and the US P-8A have a considerable amount of commonality in terms of the sensor fit and equipment, since both aircraft share the same original equipment manufacturer (OEM), and were inducted into the Indian and US navies, around the same time. Hence, the P-8I is perfectly capable of operating alongside the P-8A.

Till date the aircraft have operated together on three occasions. The first such instance was towards Search and Rescue missions undertaken for the ill-fated Malaysian Airline MH 370, wherein a P-8I operating from Subang, Malaysia undertook SAR along with USN P-8A. Additionally, both the IN P-8I and the USN P-8A have operated together from INS Rajali for operations during Malabar-15 and the recently concluded Malabar-17. The aircraft participated in tandem, undertaking Anti-Submarine missions in support for the combined fleets of the participating navies. Operations undertaken from the same base provided an opportunity for the crew from both navies to professionally interact and learn from each other’s experience.

Such interactions between two navies are always valuable, wherein they provide an opportunity to learn new concepts and tactics, which would have been developed or refined based on operations that have been undertaken. Besides, due to the commonality of equipment and sensor fit on the two aircraft, joint operations also assist in achieving operational synergy and learning from each other’s best practices. Towards that, it would be beneficial for both the navies that the frequency of such occasions wherein both the P 8I and the P-8A operate together is progressively increased.

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