China is concerned about its sea trade and supplies arriving through these critical sea lanes, and is not likely to limit itself to military, diplomatic and political talks

The ongoing hostilities with China is no more limited to land border dispute of India, and in times to come it is expected to be more actively seen in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). China is concerned about its sea trade and supplies arriving through these critical sea lanes, and is not likely to limit itself to military, diplomatic and political talks.

Against this backdrop, the annual Naval Ex Malabar which is planned as an endeavour to bolster India-Japan-US Naval cooperation and to achieve interoperability for synergy holds a far reaching meaning for India and especially the navy.

“This time all the four Quad countries viz. United States, India, Japan and Australia are part of the exercise. The exercise may be considered more than simple Station Keeping manoeuvres and maritime operations. The efforts to create the maritime bonds by India over the last two decades today are at the anvil of being tested out,” according to a senior Navy officer, who wished to remain anonymous.

Australia – China Relationship

Australia is a great supporter of the US regional influence and seen as an important hurdle to Chinese maritime ambitions. Australia has a military collaboration with the US and strategic security relations with Japan, China’s closest strategic rival. “For Australia, Taiwan is an important link in global supply chains for advance manufacturing. And Japan and South Korea, along with China are some of Australia’s largest trading partners. Therefore, stability in this region is vital for Australia’s economy. China’s aggression towards Taiwan has caught the attention of the West and the USA along with its allies has come out more aggressively in the SE Asia region, and this is likely to propel India as a local naval power in the region,” the officer quoted above explained.

Advantages For The Indian Navy

Australia has an important geo-political role in the region and is an advanced NATO alliance nation in the SE Asia region.

Milind Kulshreshtha, the man behind the designing of the indigenous Naval Combat Management System (CMS), and a C4I expert, says, “The warships and submarines operated by Royal Australian Navy possess some of the latest weaponry in the NATO’s arsenal, and the SSM, SAMs and anti-ship capabilities are unique for effective support in the SE Asia region. Such capability advantages would be the aim of the study by Indian Navy in the Fleet support role during Ex Malabar. For example, the well-proven 124km Harpoon anti-ship cruise missiles onboard Australian warships and Naval helicopters are also capable of engaging land-based targets, coastal fortifications, enemy airfields, ports etc. The missiles are accurate at targeting ships entering/leaving harbours or travelling in congested sea lanes. This is the unique kind of capability which would be of interest to Indian Navy for creating an International tactical support unit in the IOR.”

Mr Kulshreshtha, while designing the CMS for the Indian Navy had also studied Lockheed Martin’s Aegis CMS which is with the Australian Navy. “Aegis CMS is a highly capable C4I system which would be the core of Australian Naval operations planning and execution along with the US and Japanese forces. The Air Defence capabilities, in tandem with surface and sub-surface capabilities designed into the core of the Aegis CMS shall be a great tactical advantage even for Indian warships while forming a part of the multi-nation fleet within an Aegis Air Defence protection bubble,” Mr Kulshreshtha explains.

According to the designer of the Indian Navy’s CMS, “India’s own CMS systems onboard the modern warships have a different algorithms and threat perception mechanisms, and it shall be interesting to see the outcome results as part of the friendly tussle at high seas, even though inter-operability between the NATO and Indian Navy is not yet achieved. But such war games shall be also keenly observed by China, probably using undersea submarines and most importantly from Space. The anti-submarine patrols launched by India along with MH-60R helicopters of Australian Navy shall be on a look out for alien submarines in the region of exercise”.

Cyber Security And Space Command

However, it would be highly advantageous for India in case the participation at sea could be backed up by Cybersecurity and Space command inter-operability with the Quad members. According to the C4I expert, “Cybersecurity is likely to be the future start point of any skirmish with China. And, a multi-national cooperation against hacking and cyber espionage data on attacks emanating from Chinese sources is valuable information with Australia. India too would like to be aware of for its own Defence and Commercial agencies.”

In 2011, Australian parliamentary computer network was hacked to gain access to new Australian Security Intelligence Organization. The cyber vulnerability study already undertaken by Australia can be advantageous to Indian defence forces too as Cyberattacks emerge as India’s security priority too.

Similarly, while India is working on the Space Command rule set, a multi-national sharing of military information is something India can only observe during joint exercise like Ex Malabar, as NATO ships and submarines have a sophisticated real-time communication network established on highly advanced SATCOM backbone. “In today’s Network Centric Warfare, such capabilities even if for limited abilities like hostile target tracking could be the most advantageous for establishing India’s stance in IOR,” Mr Kulshreshtha concludes.