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US, India, Japan Hold Massive Naval Drills Amid Rising China-Vietnam Dispute in South China Sea

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The 23rd edition of Malabar naval exercise comprising Indian, US and Japanese navies will commence on Thursday off the coast of Japan, amid growing tensions and belligerence by the Chinese military in the contentious South China Sea.

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The Malabar exercise is a trilateral naval exercise which began in 1992 as a bilateral exercise between India and the United States while Japan became a permanent partner in 2015. Australia and Singapore have also been part of the Malabar exercise as non-permanent members.

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During the nine-day exercise, the three navies will hold complex maritime operations in the surface, sub-surface and air domains with a particular focus on anti-submarine warfare, officials said.

A significant number of aircraft, naval ships and submarines of the three navies will be part of the annual Malabar exercise, considered a major war game in the region. The 23rd edition of the exercise is taking place amid a major confrontation between Vietnam and China in the South China sea.

On July 4, Chinese survey vessel Haiyang Dizhi 8, escorted by a large number of ships, began marine seismic surveys near several offshore oil blocks, which according to Vietnam, fall within its exclusive economic zone.

Vietnamese diplomatic sources said the Chinese ships came close to areas where India’s ONGC has oil exploration projects. The defence ministry said the Malabar exercise beginning Thursday would endeavour to further strengthen naval cooperation and interoperability among navies of India, Japan and the US.

It said two frontline Indian naval ships — guided-missile frigate Sahyadri and anti-submarine warfare corvette Kiltan — are participating in the exercise.

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In addition to the ships, a ‘P8I’ long-range maritime patrol aircraft will also be part of Indian platforms at the drill. “The exercise would encompass conduct of complex maritime operations in the surface, sub-surface and air domains, and focus on anti-submarine warfare, anti-air and anti-surface firings,” said an official.

The US Navy is being represented by USS McCampbell, a Los Angeles-class attack Submarine and a ‘P8A’ long-range maritime patrol aircraft. Japanese Navy will deploy its Izumo class helicopter destroyer JS Kaga, guided-missile destroyers JS Samidare and Choukai and a ‘P1’ long-range maritime patrol aircraft.

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