PACIFIC OCEAN: The Indian Navy, Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) and U.S. Navy expanded their maritime partnerships during exercise MALABAR 2009, held off the coast of Japan April 29-May 3.

MALABAR aims to increase coordination between the navies, thus creating a more effective response to maritime threats by developing common procedures in maritime operations. Historically, MALABAR was a bilateral engagement between the United States and India, who leads the exercise. This year the Indian Navy invited the JMSDF to participate.

“With the Japanese Navy there are a greater number of ships involved, which increases the complexity of the exercise,” said Lt. Cmdr. Hamanth Gopal, assistant surface warfare officer of INS Mumbai (D 62).

“With more ships involved, there is a wider range of operations we can conduct together, as well as learn the many ways of approaching the same challenges.”

MALABAR included surface, subsurface and air operations, including helicopters from each navy landing and taking off from the other navy’s ships. A visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) operation, during which Indian and Japanese VBSS teams boarded USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) to simulate searching a merchant vessel highlighted the exercise.

“It’s been a good experience for all three navies,” Gopal added. “We are utilizing each other’s experience, and learning to work together by holding these scenarios.”

“The U.S., Japan and India share democratic and seafaring traditions,” said Lt. Cmdr. John Fleming, Blue Ridge operations officer. “We look forward to continuing to strengthen the bonds and personal relationships between our navies and advancing into more complex operational and strategic areas that go beyond tactical exercises.”

“MALABAR 2009 is significant because it is the second time the Indian, U.S., and Japanese have operated together in the Western Pacific,” said Lt. Aaron Kakiel, 7th Fleet South Asia Policy and Exercise officer. “We were excited to have Japan involved this year, and we hope to see them in future MALABAR exercises.”

MALABAR was last held in 2008 off the coast of India between the U.S. and India. Japan last participated in Malabar in 2007. The ships involved were INS Mumbai (D 62), INS Khanjar (P 47), INS Ranvir (D 54), INS Jyoti (A 58), JDS Kurama (DDH 144), JDS Asayuki (DD 1532), USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62), USS Chafee (DDG 90) and USS Seawolf (SSN 21).

Blue Ridge is commanded by Capt. Thom W. Burke and serves under Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 7/Task Force 76, the Navy’s only forward-deployed amphibious force. Blue Ridge is the flagship for Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with an operating detachment in Sasebo, Japan.