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NEW DELHI : India, the US, Japan and Australia—also known as the Quad—kicked off the second phase of this year’s Malabar naval drills in the Bay of Bengal on Tuesday, with the exercises aiming to build on the coordination and interoperability achieved during the first phase held in August, the Indian Navy said in a statement.

The second phase, which takes place from 12 to 15 October, will focus on advanced surface and anti-submarine warfare exercises, seamanship evolution and weapon firings, the Navy statement said.

The drill—which Beijing has been wary of—is taking place coincidentally with the 13th round of India-China military talks, aimed at resolving a 17-month long military standoff in eastern Ladakh, have stalled with each side accusing the other for the impasse.

China has been monitoring the activities of the Quad countries and also has been suspicious of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue among India, US, Australia and Japan that was revived in November 2017.

According to analysts, the chill in India-China relations sparked by Chinese intrusions into Indian territory and Beijing’s refusal to vacate territory seen as lying within the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control is expected to see India consolidate countries such as the Quad partners and others. India giving its nod to Australia joining the Malabar exercises in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea in November 2020 to make it a Quad drill is seen as an outcome of the India-China tensions triggered by the face-off that began in May 2020.

The exercise also comes as US navy chief Admiral Michael Gilday, began a five-day official visit to India, from 11-15 October. During the visit, Gilday will interact with Indian navy chief Karambir Singh besides other high ranking Indian government officials. Gilday is scheduled to visit the Indian Navy’s Western and Eastern Naval Commands at Mumbai and at Visakhapatnam respectively. Gilday is also scheduled to visit the USN Carrier Strike Group off the East Coast of India along with an Indian delegation, the Indian Navy said in a statement.

“India and the US have traditionally maintained close and friendly relations. The defence relationship between the two countries has been one of mutual trust and confidence, which has transformed after the accord of major ‘Defence Partner Status’ to India in June 2016," the statement said.

“In addition, both countries have concluded certain foundational agreements," that have laid the foundation for closer collaboration between the defence ministries and the militaries of the two countries, it said.

“The Indian Navy closely cooperates with the US Navy on numerous issues…In addition, warships from both Navies regularly make port calls at each other’s ports. Both Navies have also been cooperating towards exploring new avenues for collaboration with a shared aim of a ‘Free, Open and inclusive Indo-Pacific,’" it added.

The first phase of the 2021 Quad sea drills was conducted near the Pacific Ocean island of Guam from 26 to 29 August. Those exercises had involved destroyers, frigates, corvettes, submarines, helicopters, long-range maritime patrol aircraft and elite special forces elements, including US Navy SEALs and Indian Navy’s marine commandos.

For the current drills, the Indian Navy has deployed INS Ranvijay, INS Satpura, P-8I long-range maritime patrol aircraft and a submarine, the Navy statement said.

The US Navy is represented by aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, and two destroyers, USS Lake Champlain and USS Stockdale.

Japan has sent the JS Kaga and the JS Murasame, while the Royal Australian Navy is represented by HMAS Ballarat and HMAS Sirius.

Separately, the Indian Navy is also preparing to conduct its first tri-service exercise with the UK in the Arabian Sea later this month. The Royal Navy will send a carrier strike group, led by HMS Queen Elizabeth, for the drills that will be conducted from 21 to 27 October, officials said.

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