India will hold its first naval exercise with Vietnam, as part of the overall strategy to steadily build military ties with nations in the Asia Pacific region with an eye firmly on a confrontationist and expansionist China, even as defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman is slated to visit Hanoi next month.
Three Indian warships on operational deployment to South East Asia and North West Pacific region, stealth frigate INS Sahyadri, missile corvette INS Kamorta and fleet tanker INS Shakti, will enter the Tien Sa Port (Danang) on Monday.
“From May 21 to 25, there will be a professional interaction between personnel of the two navies, official calls and interaction with dignitaries of the Vietnamese Government. On completion of the harbour phase, warships from the two navies would be undertaking the exercise,” said Navy spokesperson Captain D K Sharma.
With defence cooperation being a vital component of the “comprehensive strategic partnership” between the two countries, Sitharaman is scheduled to visit Vietnam in June to further bolster bilateral military ties. The chief of general staff of the Vietnam People's Army and the commander-in chief of Vietnam People's Navy are also slated to visit India later this year.
The two countries are wary of China’s aggressive tactics in Asia-Pacific, especially the contentious South China Sea, and have steadily cranked up their bilateral military ties over the last few years.
There have also been a series of high-level visits to Vietnam, with PM Narendra Modi visiting Hanoi in September 2016 and announcing a new $500 million defence line of credit.After inking a “joint vision statement on defence for 2015-2020” in May 2015, the two countries also decided to elevate their “strategic partnership” to “comprehensive strategic partnership” during Modi’s visit in September 2016.
India has also offered the BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles as well as the Akash surface-to-air missile defence systems to Vietnam.
India is also set to train Vietnamese fighter pilots to fly the Sukhoi-30 fighter jets, much like it has been tutoring sailors from that country on the complex art of operating Kilo-class submarines for the last four years, as earlier reported by TOI.
Apart from regular port calls by warships, the Indian Navy cooperates with the Vietnam People’s Navy on a wide range of issues from operational interactions and training to logistics support and exchange of experts.
India, of course, has also stepped up defence cooperation, ranging from expansion in military visits and exercises to training and technology-sharing, with other Southeast Asian countries like Singapore, Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia.
As for the South China Sea, India has repeatedly stressed the need for all to respect the freedom of navigation in international waters, right of passage and overflight, unimpeded commerce and access to resources in accordance with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.