Last week, India and Vietnam held a launching ceremony for a patrol vessel project between them. The development spotlighted efforts by the two sides to break ground on what is effectively the first specific project to operationalize their defense partnership in this realm following previous inroads made in recent years.
As I have observed in these pages previously, Vietnam and India have been looking to advance their existing defense relationship as part of their wider ties, which were elevated to a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2016. Defense ties have grown in recent years to include not just the traditional components in this realm of ties like exchanges and port calls but also coast guard collaboration, the training of personnel, capacity-building funding and equipment, and even discussions about coproduction and technology transfer with a new credit line offered by India to help develop Hanoi’s military capabilities.
Last week, the defense aspect of the relationship was in the headlines with the launch of a new project around patrol vessels. The two sides launched a project where India would help build vessels for Vietnam as part of New Delhi’s ongoing efforts to assist the development of Hanoi’s military capabilities.
A launching ceremony was held on August 14 for the initiative where India’s Larsen & Toubro shipyard near Chennai in India’s state of Tamil Nadu launched a project to build 12 high-speed vessels for the Vietnam Border Guard Force, funded by a wider Indian government’s credit package. The launching ceremony was attended by delegations on both sides led by KJ Kumar, flag commanding officer of the Tamil Nadu and Puducherry Naval Area, and Hoang Dan Nhieu, who is the deputy chief of the Vietnam Border Guard Command.
While the project itself has long been in the works and is modest in its scope, in is nonetheless significant because it represents the first specific project to operationalize this aspect of the defense partnership between the two countries. Though incremental progress has continued to be made in the defense aspect of the relationship in recent years including the Indian government’s credit package, some projects have taken much longer than intended to actually get off the ground.
Per the official statement on the interaction by Vietnam’s defense ministry, both sides acknowledged the importance of the development at the ceremony, with Nhieu in particular emphasizing that the interaction, which he characterized as the first specific project in the defense partnership between the two countries, signified the collaboration by both sides to strengthen ties in areas such as shipbuilding.
To be sure, despite the general significance of the project, it is still early days and few specifics have been disclosed about how it is set to proceed, including updated delivery timelines. As of now, per the official statement, five of the high-speed patrol ships will be built at Kattupalli Shipyard of Larsen & Toubro, while the rest will be built at Hong Ha Shipyard of Vietnam with support from the Indian firm. The ships are intended to be used to help countries supervise and safeguard their sovereignty at sea, including detecting illegal activities and performing search and rescue missions.