In recent weeks, Indian navy carried out drills with navies of the Gulf countries with an aim to enhance the interoperability and coordination between the two sides, but through such moves, one significant message that India conveyed to the world was that New Delhi along with its partner nations is determined to safeguard the law of sea in the Indian Ocean and beyond
In the Middle-East region, India’s naval diplomacy was at its zenith this summer when Naval Chief Admiral R. Harikumar visited Omanis port Duqm on August 2, while Indian warships made port calls at Omani, Saudi, Emirates and Bahraini ports. Along with showcasing India made warships, it helped Indian and Gulf navies in developing interoperability, which will come handy during any conflict situation.

On August 15, the day India was celebrating its 77th Independence Day, Indian Naval Ships, INS Visakhapatnam and INS Deepak made port calls in Bahrain. Earlier on August 8, INS Visakhapatnam and INS Trikand, under the command of Rear Admiral Vineet McCarty, Flag Officer Commanding Western Fleet, arrived at Port Rashid to participate in bilateral naval drills with the UAE Navy.

As per the Ministry of Defence, navies of India and the UAE conducted the bilateral maritime partnership exercise with an aim to enhance the interoperability and synergy between the two sides by cross training on tactics, techniques and procedures while developing stronger professional bonds.

The ongoing defence partnership between India and Oman received a boost when Indian Naval Ship INS Tarkash made a port call to Muscat from June 19 to 22 and undertook myriad activities including ‘Ocean Ring of Yoga’ as part of 9th International Yoga Day on June 21.

During the port call, the ship's crew interacted with the Sultan of Oman’s Armed Forces, wherein an organised visit was conducted to Sultan's Armed Forces Museum and Maritime Security Centre, Muscat, Oman. The Indian Navy and the Royal Navy of Oman share close bonds of friendship and the same was evident during all interactions, the Ministry of Defence said in a statement.

India and Oman undertake regular bilateral naval exercise ‘Naseem Al Bahr.’ The 13th edition of Naseem Al Bahr bilateral naval exercise was conducted off the coast of Oman last year. This is an important biennial activity which was initiated in 1993, Indian and Omani navies also appear together under the aegis of various multilateral constructs such as Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS).

But it was three-day (May 23-25) bilateral exercise ‘Al Mohed Al Hind23’ between Indian Navy and Royal Saudi Naval Force (RSNF) off Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia, which imparted significance to defence partnership between the two countries. Besides showcasing a high degree of professionalism, the second edition of ‘Al Mohed Al Hind23’ naval drills led to interoperability, and exchanges of best practices between the two navies.

By undertaking such naval exercises, the Indian navy indirectly conveyed to all the adversaries, from tiny sea pirates to gigantic ex-regional navies that India along with its partner nations is here to safeguard the law of the sea.

India’s Gulf inclination

India’s penchant for SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) binds all the coastal states for the common welfare. India considers the Gulf region as a part of its immediate neighbourhood hence, special focus on developing cooperative bilateral defence and naval ties with all the Gulf partners.

Developing friendly security relations with the Gulf nations have special meaning---not just for energy supplies but also for securing interests of over eight million Indian expatriates who contribute significantly to the Indian economy’s growth.

The Arab countries also recognize their contribution in keeping the economy of their nations afloat.

Strategic meaning of naval drills with Gulf nations

In the fast-changing geopolitical equations, Indian naval warships’ deep foray inside the exclusive maritime zone of the Gulf countries, create ripples in the maritime waters elsewhere.

As the strategic space in the region is being vacated by the US, there are moves by the Chinese to occupy the high table, but India through its benign activities is winning the hearts and minds of the Gulf armed forces.

Indian and Gulf navies interact with each other under various foreign cooperation avenues, which include operations, training, and exchange of subject matter experts in various fields.

India’s growing inroads into the Middle-East, especially the Gulf region are a topic of hot discussion among members of the Pakistani strategic community.

As the more interactions happen between India and Gulf countries, the more chances are that they would lead to further lessening of Pakistan’s influence in the region and with this, a consequent impact on Pakistani narrative on Kashmir in the Islamic world.

India’s benign power across seas

Carrying the banner of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam’ (world is one family) and SAGAR, Indian navy has been flashing its benign power all across the seas and reaching ports on a professional and goodwill visit.
Growing defence and security interactions also raise the profile of overseas Indians living in the region. In fact, their interests are being safeguarded through developing cordial diplomatic and defence relations.


These goodwill visits to the Gulf region also provide India an opportunity to showcase its strength in shipbuilding and potential cooperation areas between India and the Gulf.

India has of late displayed to the international strategic community its indigenously built aircraft carrier Vikrant, various big sized destroyers and stealth frigates armed with indigenously built offensive and defensive missiles, torpedoes, guns and electronic warfare instruments.

Since Gulf nations are planning to strengthen their naval capabilities and realign their international relations in the face of new emerging geopolitical equations, India can emerge as an important partner and player in the region.

*The writer is a senior journalist and strategic affairs analyst; views expressed here are his own