During his visit to India in March, Prime Minister of Australia Anthony Albanese announced that India will participate in Talisman Sabre wargames along with the US

New Delhi: Despite the growing strategic closeness between India and Australia, as they align their security interests under the Indo-Pacific strategic framework aimed at addressing Beijing’s assertiveness in the region, New Delhi did not join the ‘Exercise Talisman Sabre’. India’s participation could have “upset” China, and New Delhi did not want this before the September 9-10 G20 Summit. India is hosting the G20 Summit for the first time.

The Talisman Sabre exercise, considered to be Australia’s biggest bilateral wargames with the US, due to its geographical reach and participating countries, officially commenced on July 21. The high-end multi-domain warfighting practice encompassing sea, land, air, cyber and space, is held biennially with the US.

This is the first time Canberra wanted India to also join the exercise, but New Delhi bowed out of it as it did not want to invite more trouble with China just months before the summit while tensions between both countries continue to simmer in the border areas, official sources told ABP Live.

This year, 30,000 military personnel are taking part in the Talisman Sabre exercise that will be conducted across Queensland, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and New South Wales. Apart from the US, forces from Canada, Fiji, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Korea, Tonga and the UK are participating in the exercise, while India, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand are attending as observers, according to a statement by Defence Ministry of Australia.

India believes participation in the exercise would “upset” Beijing with which New Delhi has already been facing a difficult and prolonged border standoff since April-May 2020. The bilateral ties continue to be at their lowest ebb with a heavy military deployment on either side of the de facto border, or the Line of Actual Control, the sources said.

Besides, the sources added, India is hosting the G20 Summit for the first time after obtaining the presidency of the grouping in 2022, and in order for it to be “successful”, New Delhi is pulling out all stops to ensure full participation by the leaders of the member countries, especially the key ones such as US President Joe Biden, Chinese President Xi Jinping and others.

The sources said New Delhi is already under pressure from the West over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s participation in the summit in the backdrop of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, and whether or not Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy should be allowed to attend the G20 Leaders’ Summit.

So far, in all the key G20 meetings that were held under India’s presidency, efforts to come out with a joint communique have gone in vain due to stiff opposition from Russia as well as China. India does not want the same situation to be repeated at the Leaders’ Summit.

India has told Australia that it will join the ‘Talisman Sabre’ as an active participant in the next edition, which is likely to be held in 2025. The matter is believed to have been discussed during the 8th India-Australia Defence Policy Talks (DPT) held last week in Canberra, said another source.

“India’s armed forces are already doing multilateral and bilateral exercises with Japan, Australia, USA and some Southeast Asian countries, which is adequate for the collaboration necessary for its commitments in the Indo Pacific. India would be observing the Talisman Sabre closely and decide on future participation if it helps,” Lt Gen (Retd.) Subrata Saha, former Deputy Chief of Army Staff and Member, National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), told ABP Live.

Australia ‘Repeatedly’ Invited India To Join ‘Talisman Sabre’

Australia had “repeatedly” invited India to join the exercise ever since both sides agreed to align their respective armed forces more closely under the ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’, said a source.

Participation by Indian armed forces in the Talisman Sabre exercise was first discussed during the maiden India-Australia 2+2 dialogue between the foreign and defence ministers held in September 2021. At that time, Canberra had said it “will” invite India to participate in the wargames in order to continue their partnership in the Indo-Pacific.

Barry O’Farrell, former Australian envoy to India, had also said that India will be participating in the exercise. During a visit to India last year, Australia’s Fleet Commander Rear Admiral Jonathan Earley had said Australia had invited India to join the exercise.

In fact, when Australian PM Anthony Albanese visited India during his maiden trip in March this year, he had announced on board INS Vikrant that India had been invited for Talisman Sabre.

Brig Damian Hill, Director of the Talisman Sabre exercise, had reportedly said before that Chinese intelligence will be closely monitoring this year’s wargames as they do every time the exercise takes place. China continues to deploy their spy ships inside Australia’s exclusive economic zone when the practice takes place.

According to a former Indian Army commander, who refused to be named, joint military exercises are mostly “cosmetic” in nature and it is also a question of how much resources to be deployed for such wargames, which becomes difficult if a country’s armed forces are already operating under challenging conditions.

The former Lieutenant General also said India’s participation in Talisman Sabre would have “angered” China resulting in Xi’s absence from the G20 Summit, which would become an “embarrassment” for New Delhi.

Joint military exercises between India and Australia have already been on the rise since 2020 when both countries upgraded their bilateral ties to ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’.

In August 2022, India participated in Exercise ‘Pitch Black’ – a biennial, multinational exercise hosted by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) – in Darwin. Apart from this, India and Australia, who are partners in the Quad along with the US and Japan, also take part in the annual ‘Malabar’ naval exercise’. Australia was invited by India to join the ‘Malabar Exercise’ in 2020.

“India participates in several bilateral and multilateral exercises with a number of countries including USA, Japan, Australia, France, UK and others keeping in view its national interests including requirements of interoperability. India’s decision to join the exercise and the scale of participation will be driven by its own strategic considerations and requirements of collaboration,” added Saha.

This year, the exercise witnessed a training accident in which four Australian soldiers lost their lives on 28 July while manoeuvring a helicopter.