Achievements: India – Vietnam Defence and Security Cooperation
PM Modi’s Visit to Vietnam IN 2016 and Defence and Security Aspects
During PM Modi’s visit to Vietnam in September 2016, India and Vietnam formally upgraded their relationship to ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’ which in fact paid enhanced attention to evolving bilateral defence and security ties. The upgraded partnership is designed to provide a new direction, momentum and substance to the bilateral cooperation. The common efforts of both the countries are expected to contribute to stability, security and prosperity in this region. Both sides also underlined their commitment to effectively implement the Joint Vision Statement India-Vietnam Defence Relations of May 2015.
During the visit India provided the biggest defence line of credit of US 500 million dollars so far. Earlier India had offered a $100 million line of credit for patrol boats. The $100 million LoC is being utilised to build Offshore Patrol Vessels for Vietnam’s Coast Guard construction of which has been contracted to Indian firm Larsen and Toubro. India is also helping out in the construction of an Army Software Park at the Telecommunications University in Nha Trang as announced during PM Modi’s visit.
An MOU has also signed between the two sides to establish a Vietnam-India Centre for English Language and Information Technology Training at the Telecommunications University, Ministry of Defense of Vietnam. The Centre will provide a permanent venue for teaching English language and information technology for raising the general level of proficiency of trainees in these skills. It shall train and upgrade the skills of English language teachers from schools and training institutions of the armed forces and also prepare students for tests essential for tertiary education. It will strive to develop into a Centre for Excellence while at the same time; collaborate with other Centres of English and IT education set up in Vietnam with the assistance of the Government of India.
Space & Cyber Security Cooperation: During PM Modi’s visit in September last year the countries signed another important pact – the Inter-Governmental Framework Agreement for the Exploration of Outer Space for Peaceful Purposes. This would also enable in downloading images from Outer Space to provide real time picture of activities in Vietnam’s areas of Interest. Vietnam has already been chosen as the location for establishing an ISRO satellite tracking centre, however the project is under the aegis of the ASEAN-India initiative and not a bilateral arrangement. Further, a MOU on Cyber Security between Ministry of Public Security of Vietnam and Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology of India and the transfer of equipment to the Indian funded Indira Gandhi High-Tech Crime Laboratory has also been signed. Both sides have agreed to conclude a pact between their national security councils and set up a dialogue at the deputy ministerial level that would enhance cooperation on traditional and non-traditional security issues, cyber security, counter-terrorism, transnational crimes, disaster management and response, and undertaking training and capacity building programmes.
Widening of Defence Cooperative Framework
All these steps could be seen as gains and achievements in a very graduated manner for deepening and widening of the defence and security cooperation. This was reflected in Joint Statement made on the conclusion of PM Modi’s visit which expressed satisfaction at the significant progress made in defence cooperation, including exchange of high level visits, annual high-level dialogue, service-to-service cooperation, naval ship visits, extensive training and capacity building, defence equipment procurement and related transfer of technology, and cooperation at regional fora such as ADMM-Plus.
It is well known that India has been providing spares for some Russian-origin equipment to the Vietnamese Navy and also basic training in submarine operations. For instance India has supplied spares for the Russian-origin Petya class warships and OSA-II class missile boats of the Vietnamese Navy. Vietnam has acquired three modern versions of the Kilo class submarine, much advanced though than what the Indian Navy had acquired over two decades back. Vietnamese sailors are being trained in submarine warfare or ‘underwater combat training’ at the Navy's submarine school INS Satavahana in Visakhapatnam since October 2013. This includes training in submarine warfare doctrine and tactics. Indian naval ships have been regularly making port calls in Vietnam and showing their flag to indicate the right of passage and freedom of navigation in the international waters. In so far as Indian Air Force is concerned there are also plans to provide training for Vietnamese Air Force pilots for flying Sukhoi fighters. Capacity building of Vietnam Armed Forces for improving the security environment is one of the major goals to be achieved.
To build upon and continue with the rapid pace of evolving defence and security relationship the then Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Air Chief Marshall, Arup Raha (he is also Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee) was in Hanoi in middle of September 2015 to discuss military cooperation with Vietnamese counterparts. Though maritime security has been dominant theme of Indo-Vietnamese cooperative mechanisms Anup Raha’s visit reflected widening of agenda of strategic cooperation.
At the multilateral level India has also become member of ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meet –Plus Eight (ADMM-Plus). The basic objective of creating this framework was to bring about co-operative security, especially in the areas of humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, maritime security, counter-terrorism and peace keeping operations. ADMM-Plus Eight has also proposed furthering of bilateral and multilateral dialogue and sharing of expertise among the military forces of member states. The arrangement also to counter particular threats and issues such as piracy and natural disaster through joint military exercises. Vietnam and India both as members of this mechanism have been supporting this multilateral initiative and coordinating their activities. India and Vietnam have also co-chaired the Expert Working Group on Humanitarian Mine Actions in the ADMM+ forum.
While the pace of India-Vietnam defence and strategic cooperation has acquired some traction over the years the potential for the relationship remains under exploited. This is especially so when India looks at the countries in its neighbourhood where China has been able to forge extensive relationships in the defence and security spheres. Recently, some of the Indian Defence Public Sector Undertakings have announced their intentions of defence exports. For instance Bharat Dynamics limited is going to be in the market to export a variety of anti-tank guided missiles (Konkur and Milan ATGMs) and surface to air missiles (Akash missile systems) etc. BDL is said to be in preliminary discussions with various countries including Vietnam to tap the export potential of the weapon systems. According to a report India has identified 15 weapon systems for exports including Astra beyond-visual range air to air missiles, Prahar surface to surface missiles, light combat aircraft (LCA), Brahmos supersonic cruise missile, sonars, Arjun Mk-2 battle tanks, airborne early warning systems, battlefield radars and a variety of unmanned systems. Last year Defence Minister had stated that 10 percent of missile systems may be exported. One estimate suggests that India could export defence equipment worth about 2 billion USD per year to start with.
With this as background plus reflecting on the evolving multifaceted engagement with Vietnam, following are some of recommendations that merit attention.
In the last 45 years of establishing of our diplomatic relations and in ten years of our strategic partnership a considerable amount of progress has been made but the full potential is yet to be realized. Given the fast changing and uncertain strategic dynamics in the region both countries share common perceptions on the nature of both traditional and non-traditional threats and challenges to the security, therefore, cooperation between the two is an imperative. While economic development remains a priority for both the development of defence capabilities is also a must and therefore coordination of both the efforts is inescapable. The overall objective of India-Vietnam defence and strategic partnership would be to continue to contribute towards maintaining peace and stability in the region both at bilateral and multilateral level.
While India, Vietnam and other nations in the region have been in a strong economic relationship with China they remain wary of China’s growing assertion and irredentist tendencies. India’s efforts in its defence cooperation with Vietnam and ASEAN members both as part of multilateral and bilateral efforts also aims at addressing its own strategic concerns both in Indian Ocean littoral as well as in South China Sea.
Both Ministry of Defence and Ministry of external Affairs need to coordinate their efforts in order to add meaningful substance to the evolving defence and security relationship with Vietnam and ASEAN members as part of a composite endeavour to achieve success in the strategic objectives of its LEP and now Act East Policy. Possibilities of trilateral between say India, Vietnam and US or for that matter one between Japan, India and Vietnam on the same format and basis as the existing trilateral between India, US and Japan need to be explored.