Talisman Sabre 2021 war games emit multiple signals to China in Indo-Pacific theatre

new Delhi, July 21: The Indo-Pacific region, currently the world’s favourite hot spot owing to simmering geo-political tensions is witnessing fervent activity in Australian waters. The US and Australia are furiously conducting the Talisman Sabre military exercises with the forces of Japan, the UK, Canada, South Korea and New Zealand. Observer nations include India, Indonesia, Germany and France.

A biennial exercise, it has a number of new countries for the first time.

China has sent two spy ships to keep an eye on the exercise, adding to the significance of and interest in the Talisman Sabre war games.

Probal Dasgupta, former army officer and author of the book, Watershed 1967: India’s Forgotten Victory Over China, tells India Narrative that China would be concerned that ‘contingents from Japan and Korea are participating. Japan’s Self Defence Force has sent a specialist island warfare unit. Therefore, China wants to assess Japan’s capabilities in defending contested territories or islands in the oceans, which are also claimed by China’.

The Talisman Sabre military games are particularly focussed on invading and defending islands in the Indo-Pacific region�a region where China is asserting itself vocally and militarily by threatening Taiwan. Neighbour Japan is not feeling safe as it sees an immediate threat from China to its Senkaku islands. The troops of the participating countries are executing drills equivalent to the largest beach invasions in decades. This is a clear signal to China that the allies�the US, Australia and Japan�have not shut their eyes to a future war scenario in the region.

Last week Nikkei Asia reported that Japan sent a specialist Ground Self-Defense Force dealing in remote island warfare. The unit’s main task is to defend the Japan-administered Senkaku islands which are also claimed by China. ‘Amphibious maneuvers are critical to defending the Nansei Islands, which is one of Japan’s top defense priorities,’ GSDF Chief of Staff Gen. Yoshihide Yoshida told Nikkei Asia.

Dasgupta adds that six nations participating in the military games makes it a large exercise in terms of its scope and intent. ‘I think the participants also look at it from an angle of higher messaging. They would like a stern message to be sent to China that this coordinated exercise is not to be taken lightly. And, in that context, the presence of China’s spy ships indicates a sense of restlessness and concern in Beijing’, says Dasgupta.

The Talisman Sabre began nearly a week after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had warned China that any attack on the Philippines would automatically trigger a US response under a mutual defence treaty.

Significantly, on similar lines, Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Aso Taro too had said a few days back in Tokyo that any invasion of Taiwan by China could be met with a military response by Japan and the US.

Adding to the importance of the war games, the US forces demonstrated firing the surface-to-air Patriot missiles for the first time from Australian soil. A US Army statement said that the missiles engaged drone targets. The Patriot missile is a long-range, all-weather air defence system that defends against missiles and aircraft.

Australia, which has upped its defence budget this year due to simmering tensions with Beijing, is considering purchasing the missiles.

Giving an idea about the scale of the war games, the Australian government says: ‘It is a major combined (ie international) and joint (ie Army, Navy and Air Force and Marines) exercise involving thousands of troops on land, sea and in the air and major assets such as Australian and allied warships, fighters, bombers, helicopters and armour and artillery’.

Dasgupta says that such a large exercises creates more cohesiveness amongst participants and show involvement at the highest level of their governments. ‘China’s aim is to understand how coordinated this multi-country exercise is going to be. How incisive is this exercise that has multiple countries involved. In that sense, the exercise has set itself specific goals’, Dasgupta adds.

For Talisman Sabre 2021, besides the usual objectives of enhancing interoperability of forces and smooth communication between friendly forces, it is also about sending a clear message to all in the region that the troops are prepared and nations united against any possible aggression.

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