New Delhi: The Indian Navy said that the four-nation Malabar Naval exercise held recently has been going on under a professional exchange since 1992 and has proved beneficial to all sides, while distancing itself from the Quad concept and steering clear of controversy around the wargames that have generated speculation of an anti-China front.

Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh said that the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) was an external affairs ministry construct and does not involve the Navy currently. “As the external affairs minister has mentioned, the Quad is not against anybody but is for a free, open and inclusive Indian Ocean Region. I feel the Quad will grow organically. I would like to differentiate between the Quad and Malabar which is an exercise that has been on since 1992,” the Navy Chief said.

The Malabar series is a professional exercise through which the Navy has gained a lot of expertise when it comes to interoperability with foreign forces, he added. The Navy Chief did not commit to the participation of Australia in the next edition of the wargames, saying that the host for the next round will be the United States and that the governments would take a call on the matter later.

The Malabar exercise, held in two phases last month, involved aircraft carriers, frontline combatants like frigates and destroyers as well as submarines from India, the US, Japan and Australia. Australia returned to the Malabar exercise for the first time since 2007.

India has been steadily increasing maritime cooperation with Japan and Australia but its ties with the United States remain the strongest when it comes to joint training and patrolling. The two American MQ 9 drones taken on lease by the Navy last month have plugged a capability gap and will provide an Eagle’s Eye on traffic through the region, especially around the Malacca Straits.

The Navy chief also clarified that while the two drones will be operated by personnel from General Atomics (its manufacturer), the system put in place ensures that the data and images are made available only to the Indian Navy. India does have agreements in place with the US to share intelligence through a secure communication link that can be activated on request.