The 2019 edition of the Malabar naval exercises recently concluded off Sasebo in Japan. Malabar had started out as a bilateral naval exercise between India and the US way back in 1992, and Japan was included as a permanent member of the same in 2015. Malabar comes against the backdrop of increased tensions in the South China Sea and the wider Indo-Pacific region as China flexes its military muscles while the United States, its allies, and like-minded countries insist on a rules-based order in the region. In addition, there are a host of other challenges that countries in the region face which include the likes of piracy, human-smuggling, gun-running, maritime terrorism etc.
While Japan is a treaty ally of the United States, the US and India have come a lot closer in the last couple of years. New Delhi has been importing a host of weapons platforms, of late, from the US. Recently, the Indian Air Force inducted eight AH-64E Apache attack helicopters bought from the US. The timing of the exercises is also important as ministers from the Quad countries (India, Japan, the US and Australia) met for a meeting in New York on the sidelines of the UNGA (United Nations General Assembly). This was the first-ever ministerial level meeting of the Quad countries.