First bilateral naval exercise in 2020 will deepen India-Saudi Arabia ties
The first bilateral naval exercise in 2020 and collaboration in research and acquisition of military hardware will help broaden defence cooperation between India and Saudi Arabia, people familiar with developments said on Thursday.
The two sides held a meeting in Riyadh this month and are expected to hold another meet in India in December to decide the contours of the naval drill that will be held in the first half of March next year. The scale of the exercise is yet to be decided though both sides are expected to field several warships for it.
The exercise is expected to strengthen the position of the Indian Navy, whose stated position is that its area of interest spans from the Straits of Hormuz to the Strait of Malacca.
A joint statement issued after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Riyadh on Tuesday said the two sides had agreed on the “importance of bilateral engagement to promote ways to ensure the security and safety of waterways in the Indian Ocean region and the Gulf region from the threat and dangers that may affect the interests of the two countries”.
The Indian Navy has been conducting anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden since 2008 and briefly deployed warships in the Persian Gulf to escort Indian merchant vessels when tensions soared between Iran and the US earlier this.
Though the location for the drill is yet to be finalised, a drill off the Saudi coast will bolster the Indian Navy’s efforts aimed at force projection and building inter-operability with the navies of countries in West Asia, experts said.
The people cited above said the move to step up research and acquisition of military equipment as a new area of cooperation that had been suggested by the Saudi side. Work done over the past six months had led to the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Military Industries (GAMI) and the department of defence production under India’s defence ministry during Modi’s visit.
The MoU covers collaboration in military acquisition, industries, research, development and technology. In August, a delegation from GAMI travelled to India and visited companies engaged in making military equipment, including Ashok Leyland, Bharat Forge and L&T.
“There is traction between what Indian defence industries are making and what the Saudis need,” said a person who declined to be identified so that he could speak freely on the issue.
One area in which the Saudi side had shown interest is military vehicles. “In the first stage, they are looking at procurement and later, there could be things like joint production,” the person cited above said.
In an interview with Arab News ahead of his visit, Modi described security and defence cooperation as “robust and deep” and said the two sides had identified a number of areas of mutual interest and cooperation in this field.
Saudi Arabia was the world’s largest importer of military hardware during 2014-18, according to a report released in March by the influential think tank SIPRI.