Exercise Malabar-2007
A Major Step Towards Finetuning Maritime Capabilities

In the biggest ever multi-national interaction involving the Indian Navy in recent times, Exercise Malabar CY-07/2 was held in the Bay of Bengal from September 4 to 9, 2007.

Ships ranging from the size of a super carrier to frigates, aircraft and helicopters from five nations - the India, US, Japan, Australia and Singapore-engaged in simulated war-games and combat manoeuvres. 27 ships from their navies (8 of Indian Navy, 14 from US Navy, two each from JMSDF and RAN, and one belonging to RSN) met at sea, about 500 nautical miles east of Visakhapatnam at 0800 hrs on September 4. Over the next six days, intensive work-up and complex exercises were conducted round the clock in all three dimensions (under-water, surface and air) that included Dissimilar Aircraft Combat Tactics (DACT), cross deck landings by aircraft and helicopters between various ships, strike and combat air patrols (CAP) by fighters operating from aircraft carriers, air defence exercises (ADEX), combined anti-submarine exercises (CASEX) with the nuclear propelled submarine USS Chicago, gun firing and opposed transit in the area of threat. In addition to this, counter mechanisms to other maritime threats that affect all countries such as marine terrorism, piracy at sea, human arms and drug trafficking were also practiced. Shore based aircrafts, namely Long Range Maritime Patrol (LRMP) TU-142M of the Indian Navy and P-3C Orions from US Navy and Japan Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF) also participated in the exercise operating out of Chennai.

For the first time ever, three aircraft carriers were participating in a Malabar Exercise in which the Indian Navy and IAF pilots got an opportunity to familiarise and then fly in the top-of the-line US fighter and strike aircraft F/A 18 Super Hornets. The exercise culminated with a "mock battle" in which all assets (irrespective of nationality) were divided into opposing groups with matching capabilities. These rival forces enacted a virtual maritime threat and engaged each other in a simulated war. This was followed by a "hot wash-up" on one of the ships - an on-the-spot debrief and assessment about the exercise. The exercise was called off at 1400 Hrs on September 9, after which the ships dispersed, headed for their respective missions and destinations.

The Indian representation in the Malabar was headed by Rear Admiral Robin Dhowan, Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Fleet (FOCEF), who assumed tactical command (OTC) of units at sea for a number of exercise serials. The US ships were formed in two groups: Task Force 70 (USS Kitty Hawk plus seven) was led by Rear Adm Richard B Wren and Carrier Strike Group 11 (USS Nimitz plus five) was commanded by Rear Adm Terry Blake. Senior dignitaries from the navies and embassies of participating countries witnessed the exercise at different stages. The prominent among them were Vice Admiral R P Suthan, Flag Officer Commander-in-Chief Eastern Naval Command, Vice Admiral Doug Crowder, Commander US Seventh Fleet, Vice Admiral Yoji Koda, Commander-in-Chief Self Defence Fleet of JMSDF and Rear Admiral Nigel Coates, Commander of Australian Fleet.

Exercise Malabar, named after the scenic south-west coast of India, is the generic name given to the Indo- US naval interaction. This exercise is generally held every year on the west coast of India since its commencement in 1992, except for a brief hiatus in late 1990s, post Pokharan II period. However, this year, Malabar CY-07/1 was for the first time conducted away from the Indian shores in the Pacific off Japanese island of Okinawa with participation of JMSDF. The current exercise, the 11th in the series and the largest so far, was held, again for the first time, in the Bay of Bengal, closer to Andaman and Nicobar chain of islands.

Over the years, these interactions have steadily increased in scope and complexity with the build-up of mutual confidence and inter-operability. As has been brought out earlier, three carriers with more than 200 aircraft and helicopters of different types and nationalities operated seamlessly in a variety of combat exercises. Needless to say, this speaks volumes about the adaptability and flexibility of the Indian Navy. From the Indian point of view, this exercise provided a unique opportunity to Navy personnel to operate technologically sophisticated platforms and equipment so as to be able to assess our strengths and the areas that we need to work upon.Those who witnessed the flying operations on board USS Kitty Hawk and also saw INS Viraat in action would tend to agree that Indian Navy has a lot of ground to cover before being considered in the big league. With India emerging as a rising economic power, and the country's own area of maritime responsibility stretching from the Persian Gulf and horn of Africa in the west to Malacca Straits and beyond in the east, Indian Navy needs to gear up to meet rising expectations at a fast clip. Add to this the growing responsibility to lend a helping hand to smaller littoral states in the Indian Ocean region - it makes us realize that we have a long way to go. Exercises such as these would help us usher in 'transformation' at an accelerated pace.

Besides the US, the Indian Navy is conducting exercises with a number of regional and extra - regional navies -Varuna series with the French, Konkan with the British, Indra with the Russians, Simbex with the Singaporeans. Also, exercises of opportunity are conducted with a number of smaller countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Phillipines in east Asia and UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and the like in West Asia.These exercises and deployments are an intrinsic part of the ongoing effort of 'constructive engagement' within the maritime field, being undertaken by the Indian Navy in concert with other instruments and mechanisms of the nation's diplomacy.

In the run-up to the exercise, there were media speculations that the exercises might be called off due to political compulsions. To a common query whether these exercises were aimed to contain China (or any other country), Rear Admiral Pradeep Chauhan, In-charge of Foreign Co-operation at IHQ MoD (Navy), clarified that this Navy interaction was not meant to be any 'country-centric', but essentially 'India-centric'. By conducting these exercises, the Indian Navy sought to enhance her "inter-operability" and "imbibe best practices". These exercises are also meant to provide an opportunity to navy personnel to interact and test their skills against the most advanced and technologically sophisticated naval platforms in all three dimensions.

On the sidelines of International Marine Archaeology Seminar at New Delhi on 23 August 2007, the Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, while interacting with mediapersons had stated that this Malabar Exercise will provide an unique opportunity to the Navy personnel to interact with the very best in the world : "Where else would our personnel get to match their skills and operate in an environment such as this (with 3 Aircraft Carriers carrying more than 200 aircraft)! The process for conducting such major exercises commences almost a year in advance. And, this is not the first time that we are exercising with the US Navy".

- Captain Vinay Garg