Indian Navy’s growing footprint — foreign deployment, training allied personnel, ‘backyard’ aid – ThePrint

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Similarly, India recorded a total of 248 ports of call by foreign navies to different ports across the country.

At present, the Indian Navy has deployed four warships to different countries. As part of the Navy’s long-range deployment in the southwestern Indian Ocean Region (IOR), INS Sunayna is at Port Victoria in Seychelles. 

INS Tabar, as part of its ongoing deployment to Africa and Europe, is on a visit to Egypt.

The multirole stealth frigate INS Shivalik has been deployed to South China Sea (SCS) and North Pacific Ocean. It has reached Pearl Harbour in Hawaii to take part in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise – the world’s largest naval exercise with 29 countries participating in the current edition. The warship reached Hawaii after a bilateral exercise with Japan – JIMEX (Japan India Maritime Exercise).

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INS Ranvir, a Rajput-class guided-missile destroyer, has been sent to Bangladesh for operational deployment, and is set to take part in a Maritime Partnership Exercise (MPX) with the ships of Bangladesh Navy. 

“The reach also has gone up. With the intensification of naval activities, geographic reach and naval activities are expanding. This gives the Navy the experience of operating far away from home waters and expanding its reach. The overall aim is gradual expansion and increasing strategic footprint via naval diplomacy,” Sankalp Gurjar, a strategic analyst from Pune, told ThePrint.

“Naval cooperation carried out by India currently includes partners such as Tanzania, Japan, Indonesia and Mozambique, while strategic naval cooperation with bigger countries such as the US, Russia and France has also deepened.”

Malabar naval exercises and the Quad initiative with the US, Japan and Australia, to expand maritime domain awareness in the Indo-Pacific, are also important components of the naval diplomacy. 

With the Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) initiative announced by the Quad in 2022, the countries seek to provide near-real-time, integrated and cost-effective maritime domain data to maritime agencies in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, and will expand coverage to partners in the IOR in the coming months. This initiative is aimed at combating illicit maritime activities and responding to climate-related and humanitarian events.

In November, the Indian Navy carried out an exercise in the Bay of Bengal with Russian destroyers from its Pacific Fleet.


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Other strategies to boost maritime ties

Foreign deployment, while an important aspect of boosting ties, is not the only tool used by the Indian Navy.

The Navy also offers training opportunities foreign nationals. At present, 76 trainees from Saudi Arabia’s Royal Saudi Naval Forces are training with the First Training Squadron of the Indian Navy at the Southern Naval Command in Kochi. This is the second batch of trainees, and the first batch underwent similar training in 2023.

Basic cadet training is offered at the Naval Academy in Kerala’s Ezhimala and professional training for officers as well as sailors is offered in INS Venduruthy, INS Shivaji, and INS Valsura. 

India’s immediate neighbours including Bangladesh, Sri-Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius and Myanmar regularly send their personnel for these courses, a navy source told ThePrint.

Overall, more than 1,100 foreign nationals have arrived for training, which is given mainly to junior and mid-level professionals. 

The curriculum ranges from basic seamanship activities to simulator-based training during the harbour phase. The sea phase includes an actual exposure at sea. This training is carried out in tandem with Indian naval personnel.

Moreover, the Indian Navy has established naval training teams in Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The Indian Navy also engages in Coordinated Patrols (CORPATs) with different countries, playing a crucial role in safeguarding the large and unmonitored Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of island nations. Bangladesh, Thailand, Mozambique, and Indonesia are other countries with which Indian warships regularly engage in CORPATs.

Deployment of potent Indian warships and aircraft to IOR littorals such as Mauritius and Seychelles, which face challenges of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, helps these countries in securing their EEZ. 

The Indian Navy’s increasing camaraderie with foreign nations, especially its immediate littoral neighbours, stems from the ‘Neighbourhood First’ and ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region’ (SAGAR) initiative as part of the country’s foreign policy. 

Neighbourhood focus emphasises the significance of the IOR to ensure safe transit of trade, especially energy, keeping in check an increasing Chinese influence, and overall security of the region.

The Indian Navy launched P-8I MPA from the French territory of Reunion Islands in the Southwest Indian Ocean and has worked regularly with France in a bilateral as well as trilateral format.


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How Navy has provided aid in IOR during disasters

The Indian Navy has come a long way since 2004 when an Indian Ocean earthquake triggered a major tsunami. At that time, Indian aircraft and ships arrived within 24 hours to provide aid and conduct relief operations. 

It was also the first responder after Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar in 2008. 

In December 2014, a desalination plant which provided drinking water to Maldives, was damaged in fire. INS Sukanya, which was on patrol off the coast of Kochi, was diverted to Male immediately with 35 tonnes of fresh water. It reached Male the next day. 

The ship has the capacity to produce 20 tonnes of water every day. Within the first three days, it generated 65 tonnes of fresh water for Male. In addition to this, INS Deepak, a large fleet tanker with 900 tonnes of water, also sailed from Mumbai and reached Male within three days.

The Indian Ocean is generally touted as the Indian Navy’s ‘backyard’. It has been India’s long-standing policy to prioritise the IOR. 

The Indian Navy considers the entire Indian Ocean, from the eastern coast of Africa to the Andaman Sea, as its area of responsibility. Throughout many decades, it has carved an image for itself as the first responder in the region. In accordance with the foreign policy, the Indian Navy plays a role of ‘net security provider’ in the region.

Recently, the Navy has taken steps to help regions beyond eastern and southern Africa.

“In Africa, the Indian Navy has been reaching out to important powers located in the northern and western part of the continent (Africa) such as Egypt and Nigeria. In 2022, it sent one of its ships on a port visit to Gabon in Central Africa too. With the Navy’s reach growing, it is trying to engage ‘a lot more partners, a lot more frequently’,” Gurjar told ThePrint.

In an article for Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), Gurjar wrote, “India–Africa relationship is built on the solid foundations of shared struggle against colonialism, imperialism, and racism. India particularly shared a close relationship with the East and Southern African states. These states were a part of the British Empire and were linked to India due to the intra-imperial network of trade, commerce, migration and security.”

The article further adds that as the IOR attains growing geopolitical importance, India’s engagement with the region assumes greater strategic relevance. “India is the resident naval power in this region and is directly affected by the expanding Chinese military presence in the Western Indian Ocean.”

The Navy is also deploying warships to the Gulf of Guinea and the Mediterranean. These deployments are not linked with security concerns, but help in expanding the naval footprint. 

Moreover, the Navy’s efforts stood out on a global stage in recent times, after it relentlessly deployed warships as part of maritime security operations against missile attacks and hijacking incidents in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, and amid sudden resurfacing of piracy off the East Coast of Somalia and drone attacks in the Arabian Sea, which are close to Maritime Zones of India.

While the operations were meant to deter and thwart attacks, they also provided assistance to the crew who were affected by the attacks, and belonged to different nationalities.

In the last decade, approximately 20 ships and craft, which include OPVs, Fast Attack Crafts, Fast Interceptor Boats, INS Kirpan and INS Sindhuvir, have been gifted to various countries in the IOR. 

For instance, India leased out INS Sindhuvir, which has been in service with the Indian Navy since 1988, to Myanmar in October 2020. 

The submarine was refitted before being handed over to the Myanmar Navy. The Navy also gave ab-initio training to Myanmar personnel to teach them how to operate the submarine.

Technical support is another tool to strengthen maritime ties with neighbours. Six ships from foreign countries have undergone repairs and refit assistance in India in the last two years. Instances include the Seychelles Coast Guard Ship (SCGS) Zoroaster in Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers Ltd (GRSE), and Mauritius Coast Guard Ship (MCGS) Victory in Naval Dockyard, Visakhapatnam.

The Indian Navy also conducts coordinated patrols and joint EEZ surveillance with various maritime countries including Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia, Mauritius, Seychelles and Mozambique.

In the field of intelligence gathering, large area reconnaissance by Indian maritime patrol aircraft, in conjunction with platforms that are donated by New Delhi to different littoral countries, enable sharing of maritime data through mechanisms such as White Shipping Information Exchange. 

This helps neighbouring countries fill their surveillance gaps. “This is being optimally supported by Coastal Surveillance Radar chains that have been installed through the Indian government’s funding at various significant locations in the littoral countries,” a Navy source told ThePrint.

The source also said that reciprocal postings of subject matter experts for maritime data analysis are currently being conducted at operation centres.

“The highly subscribed positions for International Liaison Officer at India’s Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) at Gurugram, and appointment of Indian Naval officers to the Regional Maritime Information Fusion Centre (RMIFC) in Madagascar indicate acceptance and legitimacy to Indian Navy’s aspiration of being the ‘Preferred Security Partner’ in the IOR,” the source told ThePrint. 

IFC-IOR hosts officers from foreign countries and builds bridges with key navies in the region and beyond.  

“Naval diplomacy continues to guide and support the delicate intricacies of power posturing in the volatile geopolitical environment constrained by the ongoing Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas conflicts,” the source added.

(Edited by Radifah Kabir)


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