New Delhi, June 4: Three Indian warships have set sail for the Western Pacific to join the US and Japanese naval vessels for the latest edition of mega military exercise Malabar that begins on Thursday off Guam. The latest edition of the naval drill is significant as it comes amid growing Chinese assertiveness in the strategically critical Indo-Pacific region with India, the US and Japan targeting greater inter-operability to counter Beijing. The exercise begins days after the Pentagon in a largely symbolic move to reflect new US national priorities changed the name of the Pacific Command to the US Indo-Pacific Command. “Relationships with our Pacific and Indian Ocean allies and partners have proven critical to maintaining regional stability,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in Hawaii on May 31.
The command is responsible for all US military activities in the greater Pacific region. It has about 375,000 civilian and military personnel assigned to the area, which includes India. India has fielded stealth frigate INS Sahyadri, missile corvette INS Kamorta, fleet tanker INS Shakti and long range maritime patrol aircraft P8I for the exercises that were first established in 1992 between India and the US. The US has brought in its over 100,000-tonne USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered carrier with F/A-18 fighters, early-warning and electronic warfare aircraft, and other frontline assets including a nuclear attack submarine and P-8A patrol aircraft. The Japanese have sent one of the two 27,000-tonne helicopter carriers, a Soryu-class submarine, Takanami class destroyer JS Suzunami and Kawasaki P-1 maritime aircraft.
The naval drill became annual feature only after 2002 following nuclear tensions in 1998. The warships under the command of Rear Admiral Dinesh K. Tripathi, Flag Officer Commanding, Eastern Fleet, are currently on an overseas deployment to South East Asia and the Western Pacific. According to an Indian Navy spokesperson, the three ships are scheduled to reach on June 7 for the Harbour Phase of the 22nd edition of Malabar taking place off Guam. (IANS)