On October 14, the United States, Japan, Australia, and India completed Malabar 2021, a joint defense drill in the Bay of Bengal, located in the northeastern part of the Indian Ocean. The drills were part of the second phase of the annual Malabar exercises which are held to showcase defense collaboration. The first phase was held in the Philippine Sea near Guam in August where participating navies engaged various warfare drills and naval operations. .
The United States, Australia, India, and Japan make up the “Quad”, officially called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. The group was formed by President Bush in 2004 to allow for maritime cooperation after the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. After coming apart in 2008 the group reformed in 2017 and began convening on a bimonthly basis under shared security concerns. The Quad operates as a meeting format to discuss regional security issues and to hold training exercises like Malabar 21.
This year’s Malabar exercise is significant because this will be the first time the Quad participated in a joint military exercise of this size and the second consecutive year all four nations were present in over a decade. Malabar is an annual maritime exercise that enhances planning, training, and employment of advanced warfare tactics between the four navies. The exercise is designed to strengthen maritime security cooperation, improve the participating nations’ ability to conduct joint, bilateral operations, and improve military-to-military coordination.
The Malabar exercises first began in 1992 as a bilateral operation between the Indian and US Navies. The exercises were carried out in 1995 and 1996, but there was a break until 2002 due to India engaging in nuclear tests. Since 2002, the United States and India participate every year. Japan and Australia first participated in 2007, and Japan became a permanent member in 2015.
Malabar is now one of the cornerstones of military interoperability of the Quad forces. In response to this year’s Quad training initiative, Chief Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said in a press release, “by our navies continuing to exercise together, as we are doing right now alongside Japanese and Australian naval forces, there is no doubt our partnership will only continue to grow. Cooperation, when applied with naval power, promotes freedom and peace and prevents coercion, intimidation and aggression.”
Beyond military defense drills, the four nations also work together on security, economic, and health issues. In March, Quad leaders launched the Quad Vaccine Partnership to help the Indo-Pacific region gain access to safe and effective vaccines, and to assist the region in pandemic responses. So far, the Quad has pledged to donate more than 1.2 million COVID-19 vaccines. In addition, the group is focusing on an infrastructure partnership highlighting digital connectivity, climate, health, and gender equality. The sentiment behind Adm. Gilday’s words and the recent growing military ties behind the United States, Australia, Japan, and India, show how the Quad’s strengthening partnership is important for development and aid in Indo-Pacific region.
Shannon Wells is a participant of the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a first-year Master's of International Studies student at North Carolina State University.