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India and Vietnam: Defense and Strategic Cooperation (Part 3)

06/10/2016


India and Vietnam: Defense and Strategic Cooperation (Part 3)

Though India has various social, economic and strategic relations with most of the Southeast Asian nations, Vietnam remain among the most important Southeast Asian nation for India’s security interests. With the fast changing strategic scenario in the neighbourhood and the rising challenges that is faced by Vietnam, India can play a larger role in strengthening the regional strategic theater by coming closer to Vietnam in the strategic and defense sectors.


(Part 2)

India and Vietnam: Defense and Strategic Cooperation

Dr. Dhrubajyoti Bhattacharjee*

According to former deputy prime minister of Vietnam Vu Khoan, “We understand that our country, in comparison with China, is a small one…Although they say friendship, they have invaded our territory. Ultimately, China must respect our nation and our sovereignty. Otherwise, Vietnamese will be 'allergic' to China”.[1]

Vietnamese Defense Modernisation and India

Vietnam also turned its eye towards military modernization during the last five years. The chart depicts the importance that has been given for such a modernisation process.  Kommersant, an independent Russian newspaper, reported that Hanoi is looking to purchase up to twelve Su-35 fighters to augment its existing Su-30MK2 fleet from Russia.[2] Indonesia is interested to buy 10 Su-35. Vietnam is also partnering with India to build a jointly operated satellite data transmission station. The Asahi Shimbun reports that officials in the Vietnamese Ministry of Defense are using the station as part of a larger plan to “strengthen intelligence-gathering capabilities in the South China Sea.”[3]

In the last few years, Vietnam already has acquired 2 Varshavyanka class submarines, 2 Yugo class SSI, 2 Frigates, 6 Corvettes, 8 Tarantul class Corvettes, 54 Patrol and Coastal Combatants, 8 amphibious ships, 30 landing crafts, 13 Mine Warfare and Countermeasures and 29 Logistics and Support mechanisms along with various other naval defense technology and hardware from Russia, North Korea as well has started developing close strategic relationship with Japan and Israel.[4]The recent visit by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to Vietnam in June 2016, where he met the President Tran Dai Quang, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Defence Minister Gen Ngo Xuan Lich to discuss new initiatives in the military sector, strengthened the bonding between the two nations. Along with other discussions, both defence ministers discussed the need for sharing white shipping information to facilitate exchange of data in the maritime domain. The two sides also focused on enhancing hydrographic cooperation. The major areas identified for working together are for upgrade of Soviet legacy systems, up gradation of Thermal Sights and Fire Control Systems for – BMP, T 54 and T 55 Tanks, upgrade of MI 17 / Mi 8 Helicopters, Shipbuilding Programmes, Missile Systems from India and Software Defined Radios for Vietnam.[5]

The highlight of the meeting was the handing over of the bid document by Vietnam Border Guards to Larson & Toubro Limited. The Indian defense minister stated that he desired Indian private sector to lead the initiative and explore and actively participate in Vietnamese modernization of defence forces. This will not just strengthen the diplomatic and military bond between both the two nations but also open the doors of strategic exports.[6]

India’s joint counter-piracy patrols help shore up its sea lines of communications (SLOCs), while ministers from India and Vietnam have stressed the importance of the freedom of navigation, safe and peaceful maritime trade routes and security of its strategic assets in the region. Both the countries navies are also part of MILAN, a multinational exercise and interaction with the navies of South East Asia [Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines] in the Bay of Bengal. It was initiated in 1995 and is a biennial gathering hosted by the Indian Navy.

In relation to the regional volatile situation, Vietnam's strategy has stepped beyond contingency planning. Key units have been placed on "high combat readiness" - an alert posture to fend off a sudden attack - including its elite Division 308, which guards the mountainous north. Hanoi has started strengthening its naval deterrent with the purchase of six advanced Kilo-class submarines from Russia, amongst which five of the submarines have already been delivered.[7] As noted by analysts, in relation to the fact evolving crisis in the South Chain Sea, Hanoi's generals are reaching out to a broad range of strategic partners. Russia and India are the main source of advanced weapons, training and intelligence cooperation. Hanoi is also building ties with the United States and its Japanese, Australian and Filipino allies, as well as Europe and Israel.[8]

The Indian government’s decision to sell BrahMos missiles to Vietnam underscores the evolution in India’s policy towards the Indo-Pacific. And for the moment at least, this stance is being welcomed by states like Vietnam, which fear the growing aggression of China. A more engaged India will also lead to a more stable balance of power in the region.[9]

Suggested Areas of Cooperation

There are multiple avenues that can trengthen defense and strategic cooperation between these two nations.

An area of defense cooperation in between India and Vietnam is in providing training to submariners particularly in regard to the Russian submarines.

Indian Air Force can actively cooperate through the training of technicians of the Sukhoi Aircrafts as well as pilots on an annual basis. This arrangement can be setup in collaboration with the Indian Air Force, where a five member training team can be constituted to provide operational training to the young Vietnamese pilots by swiftly resolving various logistical and cost related bottlenecks.

Vietnam also lacks in the manufacturing of small arms which is associated with coastal security. There is significant scope for the manufacture of assault rifles that is used by Indian Coast Guard personnel. The Indian defense establishment can also set up manufacturing facilities of carbines and small range missiles for which the potential buyers will be both from India and Vietnam.

India and Vietnam can also work out a coastal defense mechanism which would integrate coordination between marine or sea police, coastguards and navy as well as coastal radar systems to thwart away attacks on commercial or strategic installations along the coast of both the countries.

India and Vietnam can also work in mutually developing ports in Vietnam, which the government of Vietnam has shown keen interest to develop, especially on the country's international gateway ports in the northern province of Hai Phong and the southern province of Ba Ria – Vung Tau.[10]

After the decision of India setting up a satellite tracking and imaging centre in southern Vietnam, which will give Hanoi access to pictures from Indian earth observation satellites that cover the region, another area of cooperation remains to be the area of nano and micro satellite technology.[11]  Both India and Vietnam hold wide range of offshore assets, including oil exploration sites and islands. The security of these assets should be reinforced by better aerial surveillance systems and in this regard the scientific and technological institutions along with universities that have developed itself on such research can undertake pioneering research based projects. These satellites can be used for geo-spatial mapping as well as for gathering environmental data and sea explorations.

There is also the scope of electronic and military aerial radar systems, in which India has made substantial technological progress. Especially in the case of vehicle mounted electronic aerial radar systems, which can also work as an electronic guidance for counter measures. India and Vietnam can work on flat surface electronic aerial radar which can be installed in the various islands.

There are other defense collaborative possibilities. The case of exporting Dhruv and Kamov helicopters, which are produced under Russian license, to Vietnam will also remain beneficial. The versatility of the Kamov helicopters would remain significant as they are efficient for monitoring and undertaking difficult terrain operations during various times of need. India has also developed the Griffon/GRSE 8000 TD, a multipurpose hovercraft, developed along with Griffon Hovercraft Ltd, England, which has been inducted by the Indian Coast Guard. Such technology will certainly benefit the Vietnamese Marine Police significantly.

Assessment

With the rise of the Asian century, there is a need to strengthen the ancient bonds that existed before. With various strategic regional forums in place in Southeast Asia, India, which has a robust expertise in defense and space technologies and hardware production is slowly turning into an approachable destination as well as a viable partner for such forums. India and Vietnam has come a long way together building and fostering a relationship based on mutual trust and understanding.

With the fast changing strategic scenario in the neighbourhood and the rising challenges that is faced by Vietnam, India can play a larger role in strengthening the regional strategic theater by coming closer to Vietnam in the strategic and defense sectors. With the sharing of each other’s expertise and technological knowhow, they will be able to counter the rising challenges that are fast taking shape in the region. Both together can counter the larger powers at play, threatening the regional stability and strategic maritime routes.

Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi


[1] Erika Miranda, “Vietnamese Leader Shares Advice on Dealing with China”, Yibada News, May 23, 2016, http://en.yibada.com/articles/125563/20160523/vietnamese-leader-shares-advice-on-dealing-with-china.htm

[2] Diego, “Vietnam, Pakistan danAljazairIkutBeli Su-35, Saudi Pilih S-400”, Jakarta Greater, April 1, 2016, http://jakartagreater.com/vietnam-2/; Chris Mirasola, “Water Wars: Fishermen Again Steer China into Hot Water”, Law Fare, April 1, 2016, https://www.lawfareblog.com/water-wars-fishermen-again-steer-china-hot-water

[3] Chris Mirasola, “Water Wars: Fishermen Again Steer China into Hot Water”, Law Fare, April 1, 2016, https://www.lawfareblog.com/water-wars-fishermen-again-steer-china-hot-water

[4] Carlyle Thayer, “Vietnam’s Maritime forces”,  Presentation to Conference on Recent Trends in the South China Sea and U.S. Policy, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C., July 10-11, 2014, http://www.iacspsea.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Vietnams-Maritime-Forces-July-10-2014.pdf; Muhammad ZulfikarRakhmat, “Vietnam: Israel’s closest ASEAN partner”, New Mandala, December 04, 2015, http://www.newmandala.org/vietnam-israels-closest-asean-partner/; Japan - Vietnam Joint Statement on the Establishment of the Extensive Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity in Asia, March 2014, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, http://www.mofa.go.jp/files/000031617.pdf

[5] “Parrikar holds talks with Vietnamese President, Prime Minister and Defence minister”, The Indian Express, June 6, 2016, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/manohar-parrikar-vietnam-president-prime-defence-minister-military-india-2838016/

[6] “Parrikar holds talks with Vietnamese President, Prime Minister and Defence minister”, The Indian Express, June 6, 2016, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/manohar-parrikar-vietnam-president-prime-defence-minister-military-india-2838016/

[7] “Vietnam builds military muscle to face China “, The Economic Times, December 18, 2015, http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/vietnam-builds-military-muscle-to-face-china/articleshow/50230360.cms; Alexander Korablinov, “5th Russian-built Kilo-class submarine arrives in Vietnam”, Russia Beyond the Headlines, February 9, 2016, http://rbth.com/defence/2016/02/09/5th-russian-built-kilo-class-submarine-arrives-in-vietnam_566041

[8] “Vietnam builds military muscle to face China “, The Economic Times, December 18, 2015, http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/vietnam-builds-military-muscle-to-face-china/articleshow/50230360.cms

[9] Harsh V Pant, “India’s strategic gambit in Vietnam”, Live Mint, June 15, 2016, http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/K4RMcKDJDYtplAwoJcPY9O/Indias-strategic-gambit-in-Vietnam.html

[10] “Deep sea ports to be developed”, Vietnam News, December 18, 2013, http://vietnamnews.vn/society/249067/deep-sea-ports-to-be-developed.html#W4u4PwwlSUTimCDU.97

[11] Sanjeev Miglani and Greg Torode, “India to build satellite tracking station in Vietnam that offers eye on China”, Reuters, January 25, 2016, http://in.reuters.com/article/india-vietnam-satellite-china-idINKCN0V309W

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