NEW DELHI - For the first time, India, Japan and the United States will hold their annual Malabar exercises off the US territory of Guam, as they seek to improve cooperation amid increasing focus on the Indo-Pacific region.
The war games, to be conducted from Thursday (June 7) till June 16, come as the three countries expand their area of cooperation beyond the Indian Ocean, where the exercises usually take place.
This is also seen by analysts as a counter to the growing maritime clout of China.
Three Indian warships and an aircaft from the Eastern Command will take part in the exercises. The US has six warships and Japan has a helicopter carrier, two warships and a submarine.
The exercises include aircraft carrier operations, anti-submarine warfare and joint manoeuvres, said the Indian Ministry of Defence.
"Over the last 26 years, this maritime exercise has grown in scope and complexity and aims to address the variety of shared threats and challenges to maritime security in the Indo-Pacific,'' the ministry said in a statement.
The Malabar exercises started off in 1992 as a bilateral exercise between the US and India, but expanded to include Japan in 2015.
The drills usually take place in the Indian Ocean and occasionally off the coast of Japan. Last year, it was in the Bay of Bengal.
The Indo-Pacific region stretches from the Indian Ocean to the coast of Africa, the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The US recently renamed its Hawaii-based Pacific Command as the US Indo-Pacific Command.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his recent speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, called the Indo-Pacific "a natural region" and described how India's armed forces, particularly the navy, was building and expanding partnerships in the region.
Analysts said it is significant that the exercises will be taking place for the first time in US territory.
"The fact that we are having the exercises off the coast of Guam is a reiteration of the wholehearted acceptance of the Indo-Pacific construct while the subterraneous strategic message to China is 'look we are in close cooperation with the US and Japan','' said defence analyst, Dr P.K. Ghosh.
"These are probably the most complex exercises we ever have with any country. It is a tactical or a strategic game played out on paper. Then the same thing plays out at sea.''
Retired air vice-marshal Manmohan Bahadur noted: "Japan is worried, India and the US are worried with respect to how China is moving into South China Sea and and Eastern Pacific. That is why the Malabar exercises are important.''