On October 12, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, colloquially known as the “Quad,” began the second phase of its joint military exercise Malabar, bringing together elements of the Australian, Indian, Japanese, and American militaries in the Bay of Bengal. The exercise is the 25th of its kind, and it will last until Oct. 15.
The drills come amid growing concern among Western and Asian states about China’s growing military assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific, and as the US seeks to strengthen partnerships, including the Quad, to counter Beijing’s threats.
The Malabar exercise this year was designed to improve synergy, coordination, and interoperability among the forces of the four nations, with a particular emphasis on developing advanced surface and anti-submarine capabilities.
Several large ships, including the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier, which has been deployed in almost every major conflict since 1980, are taking part in the drills, which will build on the experience gained during the first phase of the exercise, which took place near Guam in August.
According to Sam Kessler, a geopolitical adviser at the multinational risk management firm North Star Support Group, a strong focus on developing interoperable forces that can work cohesively as one unit is critical to developing a more capable international presence.
“Interoperability teaches participating nations how to work together in both peace and security scenarios,” Kessler explained. “Whether it’s to refuel, re-equip, or collaborate on missions of war and peace, the exercise helps figure out how to do that best.”
“The Quad and the exercises provide an opportunity to explore new ideas and possibilities while working on relevant engagements that promote security while also promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Malabar began in 1992 as a joint initiative of the United States and India. It has evolved significantly since then, attracting both Australia and Japan, largely in response to concerns about the Chinese Communist Party’s increasing adventurism.
The October phase of the Malabar exercise is the first held since Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States announced their military partnership, AUKUS, on September 15, which will provide the Australian military with a fleet of nuclear submarines. According to Kessler, that deal is likely one of the reasons Malabar is now focusing so heavily on interoperability, as Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States will all be using different models of the same torpedo and submarine technology.
“Because Australia recently joined the Malabar exercises in 2020, they will be able to begin utilizing elements from the recent AUKUS agreement that deals with submarine warfare, technology, and other defense and security capabilities,” he explained.
Kessler also mentioned that the exercises could be used to keep India in the loop strategically, despite the fact that India is not a signatory to the AUKUS agreement.
“It’s an opportunity not only to streamline the agreement’s purpose, but also to get other Quad members more aligned with their goals and objectives, as well as potential for future upgrades and additions to AUKUS.”
Concurrent with the second phase of Malabar, US Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday is on a tour of India, where he will meet with his counterpart and other senior Indian Navy leadership.
According to a statement from the US Navy, the trip was intended to reaffirm American commitments to expanding naval cooperation between the two countries and to champion their shared desire for a free and open Indo-Pacific.
The move also comes after the Pentagon issued a statement earlier this month reaffirming the US and India’s bilateral commitment to information-sharing, high-end maritime cooperation, logistics, and defense trade.
The fact that the US is currently expanding its military footprint in the Indo-Pacific, beginning with a new military base in Micronesia and increased aircraft rotations in Australia’s Northern Territory, ties these various strategic threads together. According to the analyst, AUKUS, the Quad, and any similar future offshoots will likely provide the framework for increased allied naval operations throughout the region.
“The Quad serves as a testing ground for future defense treaties,” Kessler explained. “Countries such as India, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam have similar concerns about China’s growing expansionism but differ in their priorities, goals, and objectives for how to address them.”