Malabar Naval exercise and Participation of Australia

Malabar naval exercise first started in 1992 between India and the United States. It was the period when the Cold War just ended. When America approached India in the military to military cooperation, the Indian Navy showed interest and responded eagerly.

It was an annual naval exercise between the two countries. In 2015, Japan officially joined this exercise. In 2018 and 2019, the exercise took place near the coast of the Philippines and the coast of Japan respectively. In November 2020, it is going to be held in the Arabian sea and the Bay of Bengal in two phases with the inclusion of Australia as a partner. This would be a ‘non-contact exercise’ due to Covid-19 pandemic across the globe.

Any kind of military exercise between the two countries or more enhances technical interoperability, communication enhancement, tactical and intelligence data sharing. The advanced military and naval technologies are based upon communications and cyber domain. Thus, there is a need for interoperability. The more exercises they do, they could enhance their communication system. The data sharing, message sending and communication are key areas of military exercises. It enhances synergy and discipline in military operations. Interoperability is a gradual process. It doesn’t come in one day or in one exercise. Thus, military exercises are crucial for a strong military to military cooperation and partnership. 

India’s role is significant in world politics. Its significance has gradually increased in the Indo-pacific region. As well, it has internal and external security issues which are obstacles in the comprehensive growth of India. India’s relations with China on the border have tensed since the month of June. China’s maritime activities in the region and in the maritime domain are a concern for India’s strategic interest. To balance the role of China, India and other major powers in Indo-Pacific are seeking external balancing in the region, the partnership of like-minded countries for a rule-based world order would enhance pressure on China.  Partnership with like-minded countries has been known as an element of comprehensive national power.

Image source: Indian Navy

India has signed LEMOA, COMCASA, BECA agreement with the USA. And MLEA with Australia and a logistic exchange agreement with Japan. Such agreement would help India to access their bases in the region and enhance their presence in the region. The strategic partnership between the Quad countries has been increased. They have common aims and objectives such as free, open, inclusive, and resilient Indo-Pacific. 

China was against the Malabar Naval exercise since 1992 when it was initially started between the US and India. Now it’s a full-fledged alliance. China’s nervousness has increased more by the geopolitical construct of ‘Indo-Pacific’ and ‘Quad’ grouping in the region. China is perceiving it as a counter-China alliance led by the US in the region.

Image source: Australian Navy

Australia’s participation in Malabar is significant for the Quadrilateral security alliance in the Indo-Pacific region. Earlier in 2008, Australia withdrew itself from the Malabar exercise due to its perception of the Anti-China alliance. But in the last one decade, the political situation in Australia has changed tremendously, China’s political involvement in the internal matters of Australia has increased, which was a concern for Australia. It is also looking for like-minded partnerships in the region. Quad has multiple dimensions. The military is one element of it. Malabar exercise would enhance military to military partnership between Quad countries. With the inclusion of Australia in the Malabar naval exercise, strategists are looking at it through the military dimension of the Quad. But Mr O’Farrell, Australian high commissioner to India, in an interview to The Hindu stated that “It should not look as a Quad military alliance”. Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said in a statement that “high-end military exercises like Malabar are key to enhancing Australia’s maritime capabilities, building interoperability with our close partners, and demonstrating our collective resolve to support an open and prosperous Indo-Pacific. Exercise Malabar also showcases the deep trust between four major Indo-Pacific democracies and their shared will to work together on common security interests”.

Maritime security is one of the pillars of the Quad alliance. All four nations are agreed upon maritime safety and security in the Indo-Pacific. The growth and prosperity of Indo-Pacific is largely based upon maritime security of the region. Thus, maritime surveillance, coastal surveillance, intelligence sharing, communication are important factors. Which can be achieved through multilateral exercises. The exercise would help each to introspect and develop their naval technologies in order to counter vulnerabilities in the seas. The ships, submarines, maritime aircraft will participate in this exercise. It will enhance the operational capability of naval forces of Quad country’s navies. The fruits of such exercise will not come in the immediate effect. Thus, one must look at it as a process rather than an event.


Ministry of Defence, India Press Statement (October 2020) Malabar 2020 Naval exercise 2020, retrieved from-

Megan Eskstein (October 2020) Australia to Join U.S., India, Japan for Malabar 2020 in High-End Naval Exercise of ‘The Quad, Retrieved from-

Suhasini Haidar (October 2020) A Mistake to have walked out of Quad, Malabar exercise in 2008: Australian envoy Barry O Farrell , Retrieved from-

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Nihar Kulkarni

Nihar Kulkarni is a Research Intern at The Kootneeti

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