Antony nixes expansion of India-US Malabar naval exercise


New Delhi : The defence ministry has decided against expanding the India-US Malabar naval exercise after its 2007 multilateral edition was marred by controversy due to criticism by the Left parties.

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Defence Minister A.K. Antony Wednesday said this year’s Malabar war game Oct 15-24 will be a purely bilateral exercise with the US Navy off the country’s western seaboard.

“Only last year was Malabar a multilateral exercise. It invited a lot of criticism. Now there will be no multilateral element and it will remain an India-US bilateral exercise,” Antony told reporters here.

Last year, the Malabar exercise saw five countries – India, the US, Australia, Japan and Singapore – taking part. The event, however, was marred by controversy with the Left parties that at the time supported Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government from the outside vehemently protesting the drill and seeing it as yet another sign of the growing closeness between New Delhi and Washington.

The ministry’s decision comes even as the Indian Navy has been pushing for multilateral war games as this saves on resources and on the time taken to prepare for each exercise.

“We would want to participate with as many nations as possible as it is economical in terms of our resources and time. This time, the exercise is going to be a low key affair with only one aircraft carrier of the US Navy participating as our carrier INS Virat is undergoing a refit,” a senior naval official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The US Navy will be fielding the nuclear powered carrier USS Ronald Reagan, nuclear powered submarine USS Springfield – sans its ballistic missiles – guided-missile frigate USS Thach, guided-missile destroyers USS Gridley and USS Decatur and guided missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville.

The USS Ronald Reagan, the US navy’s newest Nimitz-class carrier, has set out to sea from Japan and will reach India’s west coast after calls at a few ports en route.

The Indian Navy will be fielding a Shishumar class submarine, frigates INS Talwar, INS Godavari, INS Brahmaputra and INS Betwa, and fleet tanker INS Aditya.

The exercise will involve anti-submarine operations, submarine-to-submarine operations, flying operations and cross-deck embarkation. The drill will also involve alternating command and control, with the Indian fleet commander take over the command of the US fleet and vice versa.