Presently, Naval warships and submarines from India, US, Japan and Australia are taking part as a QUAD Force in the second phase of the four-day Malabar naval exercise underway in the Arabian Sea. The Ex Malabar had two phases planned, with Phase I in the Bay of Bengal conducted from November 3-6, 2020 and on-going Phase II starting Tuesday (November 17-20) is being held on India’s Western seaward. The QUAD Navies participation in the Malabar 2020 and especially Australia’s involvement has already been viewed with concern by China. Exercise Malabar has showcased that INS Vikramaditya operating in regions well beyond the Indian shores can provide the capability to rapidly deploy warfighting units, while projecting air power at sea and ashore.
Today, the Indian Navy with an operational aircraft carrier has the envious ability to meet specified military objective anywhere in the Indo-Pacific and IOR. The availability of a functional Aircraft carrier flying the Indian Naval ensign maybe one of the top force multiplier NATO and friendly forces may be expecting India to contribute so as to create an effective deterrence to the Chinese expansionist agenda in the Region.
Phase II Ex Malabar: During Phase II of the exercise, the Nimitz carrier Strike Group has an additional complement of a Japanese destroyer Murasame and Australian frigate Ballart. The Royal Australian Navy frigate Ballarat had participated in Phase I too. The accompanying US cruiser Princeton and destroyer Sterett are deployed along with the Nimitz Strike Group for an enhanced maritime security operations and theatre security cooperation. The US is also flying their own P8A maritime reconnaissance aircraft for ASW and ISR missions. Phase II of Ex Malabar may be considered as a keenly contested sea dominance maritime activity utilizing the sea-based Air assets. India’s Russian built aircraft carrier Vikramaditya operating Russian MIG29K fighter jets is taking part in a joint mission with the US super-carrier operating F-18 fighter jets.
India’s Aircraft Carrier Battle Group: The uniqueness of this exercise is the fielding of an Aircraft carrier-based Battle Group from the Indian side. India’s sole carrier INS Vikramaditya is the Flagship along with indigenous destroyers IN Ships Kolkata and Chennai, stealth frigate Talwar, Fleet tanker ship Deepak along with their integral helicopters. The indigenous submarine INS Khanderi is the underwater contingent during the exercise and P8I ASW maritime reconnaissance aircraft as Fleet ASW submarine hunter and ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) aircraft. This carrier-based Task Force fielded by the Indian Navy is definitely a potent sea supremacy force to reckon with, and its joint operations with QUAD naval force is expected to emanate some very interesting statistics for the Indian Navy to sharpen its Warfare tactics. With only one operational Aircraft Carrier in the fleet presently, Vikramaditya shall gain a lot from this opportunity to conduct joint fighter jet exercises with another Carrier Group (from the US Fifth fleet).
US Nimitz Carrier Strike Group: The US Fifth Fleet Area of Operation (AOO)stretches to approximately 2.5 million square miles of waters and includes the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean. This zone includes three chokepoints and the expanse includes twenty countries. The chokepoints are the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab al Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen.
The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), is the flagship of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group (CSG) of US Fifth Fleet. The 1975 commissioned Nimitz supercarrier is one of the largest and oldest aircraft carrier in service with the fleet, with CVN nomenclature representing it as a nuclear-powered multi-mission aircraft carrier. As a preparatory exercise, a few months back Nimitz conducted composite training unit exercise (COMPTUEX), which is an intensive exercise carried out to integrate units of the Carrier Strike Group while maintaining Strike group’s ability to undertake sustained combat operations at sea.
The US carrier Nimitz is carrying the standard Air Wing complement of carrier-based Airborne Early WarningE2C Hawkeye aircraft, multi-purpose F-18 fighter jets and the Electronic Warfare(EW) aircraft. Under the watchful Command and Control of E2C Hawkeye, which in close partnership with the Flag Officer onboard Nimitz, shall coordinate the operations of the deck launched fighter jets for carrying out practice strikes on fictitious targets. These air assets too shall provide the Fleet level Air protection through Combat Air Patrol (CAP) duty cycles maintained by the fighter jets withAir-to-Air combat capabilities. The Deck launched aircraft shall also carry out ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) missions. Indian MIG-29K fighters too shall have a Duty cycle schedule promulgated for this work.
The helicopters operating from the two aircraft carriers and various fleet warships shall provide the AEW&C (Airborne Early Warning and Control) and ASW capability and ensure logistics support transfers. With support Tanker Deepak as part of the Exercise, Replenishment at Sea shall be undertaken to top up the fuel and resources for continued operations.’
INS Deepak is 27,500 tonnes displacement ship capable of refuelling multiple ships simultaneously on its Port and Starboard sides. Refuelling at high seas is a highly risky manoeuvre where two ships are required to maintain exactly the same speed and course while interconnected through fuel pipes.
Indian Navy with its predominantly Russian weapon systems shall be watchful of Jointness achieved with NATO Navies during the maritime exercise. On its conclusion, Ex Malabar shall be the basis of various inter-operability aspects to be studied under COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) and BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation) which shall require further analysis and technological solutions to be implemented for a future operational role.
(By Milind Kulshreshtha – The author is C4I Expert. Views are personal. All images provided by the Indian Navy)
Courtesy – Financial Express