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USS John S. McCain represents US at Malabar naval exercise with India, Japan and Australia

A Royal Australian Navy MH-60R Seahawk helicopter takes off from the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain during Malabar drills in the Bay of Bengal, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

MARKUS CASTANEDA/U.S. NAVY

By CAITLIN DOORNBOS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 3, 2020

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Warships from the U.S., India, Japan and Australia kicked off the Malabar 2020 naval exercise on Tuesday in the Bay of Bengal.

The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain is representing the United States in the annual exercise, which “advances the planning, integration and employment of advanced warfare tactics between participating nations,” according to a Navy statement.

“Malabar provides an opportunity for like-minded navies, sharing a common vision of a more stable, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific, to operate and train alongside one another,” the ship’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Ryan T. Easterday, said in the statement.

The exercise begins as tensions mount between China and the four nations over Beijing’s territorial claims and militarization of islands and reefs in the South China Sea. India is also at odds with China over a dispute over a Himalayan section of the 2,100-mile-long border between the two.

“A collaborative approach toward regional security and stability is important now more than ever to deter all who challenge a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Easterday said in the statement.

The McCain is underway on its first deployment since its Aug. 21, 2017, collision that killed 10 sailors and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. The ship underwent more than two years of repairs before becoming mission-ready in June.

Malabar 2020 is the destroyer’s first multinational exercise since its return to sea, 7th Fleet spokesman Lt. Joe Keiley told Stars and Stripes via email Tuesday.

Malabar 2020 also marks the first time in 13 years that Australian naval vessels are participating in the exercise, India’s Department of Defense said in a statement Oct. 19.

Malabar, launched by India and the U.S. in 1992, added Japan as a permanent partner in 2015. India invited Australia to participate this year “to increase cooperation with other countries in the maritime security domain and in light of increased defense cooperation with Australia,” according to the ministry statement.

Royal Australian Navy Cmdr. Antony Pisani, skipper of the frigate HMAS Ballarat, said his crew looked forward to “contribut(ing) to the security, stability and prosperity of the region” with the exercise, according to the Navy statement.

“This is an opportunity for Ballarat to participate in a high-end maritime exercise with the four participating navies, increasing mutual understanding and enhancing our combined air and maritime domain awareness,” he said.

Also participating in the exercise from the Indian Navy are the tanker INS Shakti, destroyer INS Ranvijay, multirole frigate INS Shivalik, submarine INS Sindhuraj and various aircraft. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force dispatched the destroyer JS Ōnami, according to the Navy statement.

The statement did not indicate how long the exercise would last. Malabar 2019 ran for nine days.

doornbos.caitlin@stripes.com
Twitter: @CaitlinDoornbos