The US embassy in India today tweeted to announce the beginning of the four-nation naval war games "Malabar 2020" in the Bay of Bengal as its "commitment to stronger defence cooperation in the Indo Pacific".
India, the US, Japan and Australia began their largest joint naval exercises in over a decade today, seen as part of efforts to balance China's military and economic reach in the region.
The annual "Malabar" wargames that India holds with the US and Japan have been expanded to include Australia this year to cover all members of the Quad, an informal group of the four largest democracies in the Indo-Pacific.
The 24th #Malabar naval exercise begins today. #DYK, the 🇺🇸 & 🇮🇳 navies held the 1st such exercise in 1992? This now-annual exercise includes Japan, and this year Australia, and reaffirms our countries' commitment to stronger defense cooperation in the IndoPacific. #PartnersatSeapic.twitter.com/uAo5fbjcMq— U.S. Embassy India (@USAndIndia) November 3, 2020
China has accused the US, which has been leading the effort to forge a common front among its allies, of a "Cold War mentality" and ideological prejudice.
Five ships of the Indian Navy, including a submarine, were deployed in the exercise along with US Navy's John S McCain missile destroyer, Australia's Ballarat frigate and a Japanese destroyer, the Defence Ministry said.
There will be no contact between the military personnel of the four nations because of COVID-19 restrictions during the first phase of the drills running till November 6, it said.
Later this month, India and the US will deploy aircraft carriers in the drills, a military source said.
"The exercise will showcase the high-levels of synergy and coordination between the friendly navies, which is based on their shared values and commitment to an open, inclusive Indo-Pacific and a rules-based international order," the Defence Ministry said in its statement.
The exercises come at a time when India is locked in a military stand-off along the Line of Actual Control with China.
Thousands of troops are in close proximity in the western Himalayas.
Australia's diplomatic relations with China also worsened this year after Canberra led calls for an international inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic and Beijing imposed trade sanctions on Australian beef and barley.
Separately, Japan is embroiled in a dispute with China over ownership of islands in the East China Sea.
With inputs from Reuters