23 May 2019
by EWEN LEVICK
India’s absence from the new exercise signals trouble in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. Defence
Naval vessels from Australia, France, Japan and the US are set to commence the first iteration of the French-led maritime exercise La Perouse in the Indian Ocean.
According to Defence, Exercise La Perouse will consist of the helicopter frigate HMAS Toowoomba and the submarine HMAS Collins along with vessels from France, Japan and the US.
RAN Fleet Commander Rear Admiral Jonathan Mead said Australia’s participation in supporting the Charles de Gaulle Carrier Task Group highlighted the valued working relationship between Australia and France.
“The inclusion of an Australian frigate and submarine with a French Carrier Task Group provides a positive example of the cooperative relationship our Navies enjoy,” RADM Mead said.
“This activity demonstrates Navy’s capability in operating with our regional partners, highlighting the importance of interoperability in promoting stability and security.”
Toowoomba’s CO Commander Mitchell Livingstone said the ship’s contribution to Exercise La Perouse would test the skills and experience of both the surface and underwater warfare operators.
“The opportunity to integrate with international partners in a Carrier Task Group is a highlight of the deployment and will provide the opportunity to demonstrate our skills to all the units involved,” Commander Livingstone said.
During the exercise, the ships will conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, maritime security operations, sea control, anti-submarine and air-defence exercises.
Following the conclusion of Exercise La Perouse, Toowoomba and Collins will continue their deployment, conducting further bilateral exercises and international engagement with regional nations.
ADM Comment: This exercise brings together a number of regional powers in the Indian Ocean, which is now a contested naval space following the opening of China’s first overseas military base in Djibouti and attempts to secure port rights in Sri Lanka and Pakistan. To offset this growing Chinese presence Australia has sought to diversify military ties. France is an obvious choice, as it retains a military presence and vested strategic interests east of the Suez through its Pacific island territories.
However, there is an elephant quite obviously absent from this particular room – India. Given the resuscitation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Australia, India, Japan, and the US) in 2017, it is curious that France is leading three of the Quad powers in an Indian Ocean military exercise rather than India.
Whilst India has shown willingness to participate in exercises alongside one or two Quad partners, its hesitance to be seen alongside all three could stem from a desire to avoid antagonising Beijing. New Delhi has previously refused to allow the ADF to join in Exercise Malabar alongside the US and Japan. For its part, Beijing may see India’s absence as confirmation that the Quad is unlikely to coagulate into a meaningful obstacle to its growing naval capabilities in the Indian Ocean.