India-US-Japan naval exercise to focus on anti-sub warfare

New Delhi, Dec 16 (IANS) The next edition of India-US-Japan trilateral exercise ‘Malabar’ will be held in the Indian Ocean with a major focus on anti-submarine warfare, Commander of the US Seventh Fleet Vice Admiral Joseph P. Aucoin said on Friday.

Aucoin, now visiting India, in an interaction with journalists said he was happy with the three countries participating in the Malabar exercise and a decision on including any other country will depend on the leadership of these countries.

Asked if the US would like Australia or China to join the Malabar exercise, Aucoin said: “It’s a trilateral exercise, that’s what I am focused on. In future, I am not sure that there is a possibility… Multilateral exercises are very good…”

“I think that is for my leadership, also for the leadership in India and Japan to decide. It really helps — three of the largest democracies, their naval forces working together. I am very happy with this,” he said commenting on the current format of the exercise.

He said the exercise will be held next year in the Indian Ocean, but the place or date has not been decided yet.

Asked what will be new in the Malabar exercise this time, he said: “We want to do different mission areas, specially now that India flies P8Is and we fly P8As, I would like to have two of those aircraft working together and to hunt submarines.”

“So, anti-submarine warfare is one I think will be very beneficial, so I am looking forward to it in Malabar,” he said.

Malabar is a joint exercise between India and the US, which now has Japan as a permanent partner.

In 2007, Australia was included along with Japan in the exercise. But a strong protest from China led to its withdrawal.

In 2015, Australia again expressed interest in participating in the Malabar exercise.

Commenting on the implementation of the logistic agreement between India and the US – LEMOA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement), Aucoin said it may take around a couple of years to implement it.

He also said that the US has shared its “points of contact” — the details of designated officials to whom the US military would have to send its request for logistics support under LEMOA — but India is yet to share the list.

He added that the problem of common accounting system for the three services also needed to be worked out.

The US’s Seventh Fleet has patrolled Asia’s waters since World War II. Its coverage area extends from Japan to India.

In the 1971 India-Pakistan war that led to creation of Bangladesh, the Seventh Fleet was dispatched to put pressure on the Indian side when India bombed the Karachi harbour. The Soviet Union had then dispatched the Tenth Operative Battle Group of its Pacific Fleet to support India.

Asked to comment on the incident, as Vijay Diwas, the commemoration of India’s victory on Pakistan in 1971, was celebrated on Friday, Aucoin said both countries have come a long way from that time.