Indo-Japan-US maritime exercise: A geostrategic analysis


Indo-Japan-US maritime exercise: A geostrategic analysis

Indo-Japan-US maritime exercise: A geostrategic analysis

Debalina Ghoshal*

The Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) has been worrying factor for not only India but also the United States as the latter has a military base in Diego Garcia. Japan too has been apprehensive of China’s naval assertiveness in the East China Sea. It is these concerns that have resulted in India, the United States and Japan conduct the annual Malabar exercise in July 2017. The Malabar exercise was initially bilateral naval exercise between Indian Navy and the United States Navy. However, growing relations between India and Japan has resulted in Japan becoming a permanent member in 2015 to participate in the Malabar exercise. The Japan Maritime Self Defence Force participates in the exercise along with the Indian Navy and the US Navy.

The exercise has acrucial significance. All the three states participating in the exercise do not share cordial relations with China, in fact, Japan and India are entangled in territorial disputes with China. In addition, China’s military, defence and nuclear cooperation with Pakistan while its silence over the North Korean nuclear impasse, has concerned both India and Japan respectively. The North Korean nuclear crisis has been a concern for the United States also and even the United States has not been happy with the way China has tackled the North Korean issue.

Therefore, the maritime exercise between United States, Japan and India is a strategic signal aimed at China. For the United States, India is a reliable partner to counter China in the IOR. While India is aware that it would need a bigger naval power in the IOR to counter China. Definitely, it cannot bank on Russia as at the moment, the Russians are not militarily capable of exerting their influence in the Asian periphery as well as the fact that the Russians have a desire to exert power and influence in Europe. Also, Russia and China share cordial relations. Hence, the United States is the only trustworthy partner for India to bank on.

Warships, submarines and aircraft became the main constituents in the maritime exercise. Aircraft carriers were also used this year for the first time. The exercise also includes exchange of anti-submarine warfare capabilities and reconnaissance capabilities. This displaying of anti-submarine warfare capabilities is very crucial for India especially as Chinese submarine has been spotted recently in the IOR prior to the commencement of the Malabar exercise. Moreover, China’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI) has also not been viewed by India in the positive stead and India has also refused China’s offer to join the initiative.

The exercise was conducted in the Bay of Bengal with the aim to enhance maritime cooperation between the three states.

Amongst aircraft carrier, the Indian Navy displayed their INS Vikramaditya with air wing, the U.S. Navy displayed Nimitz-class carrier with its air wing, while Japan displayed its helicopter carrier, the JS Izumo. Amongst missile destroyers, the Indian Navy displayed its Ranvir class, while the U.S. Navy displayed its Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, and Japan displayed its JS Sazanami missile destroyers. Amongst submarines, one Russian-made Sindhughosh-class submarine and a Los Angeles-class attack submarine were took part from the Indian Navy and the U.S. Navy respectively.

Indian Navy also made its stealth frigates Shivalik and Sahyadri participate in the exercise. Amongst long range maritime patrol aircraft, Indian Navy displayed the U.S. made patrol aircraft P8I and U.S. Navy its P-8A. India also utilised its anti-submarine warfare corvette Kamorta and missile corvettes Kora and Kirpan as well as fleet tanker the INS Jyoti during the exercise. The U.S. Navy has fielded the Ticonderoga-class cruiser Princeton. Japan displayed its SH-60K helicopters during the exercise.

The Indian Navy has increased its presence in the IOR in the recent times. There is a reason for this. Presently, 95 percent of India’s trade by volume and 68 percent by value come via the Indian Ocean. India imports 3.28 million barrels of crude oil per day via the Indian Ocean. India’s dependence on sea for oil is about 93 percent. Not only this, 45 percent of India’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) comes by sea. The Indian Navy would play a crucial role in protecting India’s energy requirements.

The Indian Navy aspires to become a ‘blue water capability’ as stated in the maritime doctrine of 2015 with aspirations to strengthen influence in Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aden, Red Sea and also points like the Strait of Hormuz. The Indian Navy in the recent times is also increasing its presence in the Malacca Strait that is closer to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

The US strategy in the Indian Ocean as mentioned below:

1.      In the IOR, the US perceives threat not only from state actors like China and Iran but also from non-state actors. The US is concerned about SLOC protection, nuclear proliferation to failed states.

2.      Countering Chinese naval influence is crucial to the US.

3.      Though the US has a policy of Asian pivot, reduction in defence spending would coerce the United States to concentrate more on East Asia than on IOR.

4.      This reduction in defence spending can result in capability gap with greater dependence on Diego Garcia.

5.      The US seeks help from countries India, Australia in the IOR to fill up this capability gap.

6.      In future, the US would seek for ‘offshore option’ to US strategic requirements that would require greater involvement of the US Navy.

Japan’s interest in the Indian Ocean also needs to be taken into consideration. Japan has taken up the task of renovation and construction of eight major ports in the IOR. Japan has increased its Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the IOR remarkably. Investments in the IOR for Japan would be a medium to counter Chinese influence in the region. Japan is also keen to build defence cooperation with IOR countries. In 2016, there were also reports that India and Japan desired to create connectivity from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean. To achieve all this, Japan needs to possess naval prowess in the IOR. Since 2001, the JMSDF has stationed destroyers and refuelling ships in the IOR. Military ties with India are helping Japan to boost its naval presence in the IOR as well as will enable Japan to protect its sea lanes of supply.Japan’s sea lanes of supply in the South China Sea would be disturbed by Chinese naval presence and hence, Japanese maritime presence in the IOR would redress this weakness by “placing for the first time, Chinese sea lanes of supply under threat from independent Japanese maritime action.”


The recent maritime exercise Malabar conducted by US, India and Japan would benefit the three countries in exerting its influence in the IOR. This could help alleviate concerns of a Chinese dominance in the IOR to a considerable extent.


* Independent Consultant

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