Readdressing India-ASEAN Defense Cooperation

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The cooperation is not only limited to military engagement but has moved forward with future looking prospects in space and intelligence

By Aishwarya Nautiyal

ASEAN Regional forum which is a major platform of ASEAN security dialogue for consultation and cooperation at a highest level of defense engagement has seen an active participation of India prioritizing relations between ASEAN-India highlighting the importance of the forum as a key towards regional engagement with a vision of mutual security and growth maintaining the equilibrium through port visits and military exercises. India’s Act East Policy has brought new platforms like SIMBEX and SITMEX with Singapore and Thailand through military drills ensuring readiness to maintain regional peace and security. Maritime engagement by taking advantage of the strategic geographic location of Andaman & Nicobar (India) islands and its neighbors such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Singapore that provides a key focus to Malacca cooperation and promoting a secured line for international trading channels.

      India has also been looking forward to providing various defense platforms such as Brahmos missile systems to the Philippines which nearly cost around 375$ million for the navy. On the other hand India and Singapore have shown a significant growth in bilateral security cooperation engaging in various naval exercises including new naval cooperation where India gained access to Changi naval base for its ships with refueling rights and logistics support. The agreement also provides a provision for mutual restock and rearm on each other's military bases. One of the significant developments can be seen with India-Vietnam defense cooperation where India gained access to Cham Ranh Bay naval and air base also providing training and advanced weapon systems to Vietnamese defense forces. Till now 550 Vietnamese submariners have gained in-depth training and knowledge at INS Satavahana submarine training base along with 100$ million credit to buy Indian defense equipment. Vietnamese pilots regularly get trained for Sukhoi platforms whereas private enterprise engagement can also be seen with Larsen and Toubro to equip Vietnamese Border Guards with 12 offshore vessels.In 2016, a new credit line of 500$ million has been provided for procurement of new defense platforms.

     The cooperation is not only limited to military engagement but has moved forward with future looking prospects in space and intelligence. India’s decision to establish a satellite tracking and imaging system around Ho Chi Minh city with the funding from ISRO of 23$ million for tracking and exchanging data with Vietnam and sharing future surveillance and intelligence linked up with stations in Biak in Indonesia and Brunei. Looking at a new geo strategic convergence several warships from Eastern naval command of India have been dispatched with an aim to engage bilateral exercises with Philippines, Singapore and Indonesia. Recently, Malaysia tends to procure Lightweight fighters and has engaged Indian fighter jet TEJAS to participate in procurement tender along with other global competitors. This is the first time that an Indian origin jet has been involved in a global tender. Mekong- Ganga Cooperation in which India and Vietnam are both members along with other other ASEAN members such as Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos. The key focus of this engagement lies towards cooperation in exchange of culture and tourism along with educational and transportation development.

      India Thailand shares their maritime boundary through a crucial trading route of Malacca Strait. This brings both the countries at a focal point of ensuring safety and security of the Bay of Bengal region. The relations between two countries have been centuries old with several historic commonalities within their cultural relations. India has been providing regular engineers and medical delegations in various exercises conducted between two nations including Ex- Cobra Gold one of the largest military exercises. The 31st edition of India-Thailand Coordinated Patrol (CORPAT) was one of such engagements where HTMS Krabi along with INS Saryu and Dornier Patrol Aircraft have been engaged for 3 days near strategically located Andaman Sea. Bridging the friendship between two militaries along with several issues such as unregulated fishing, drug trafficking, piracy, terrorism, smuggling and illegal immigration including relief operations at sea have been a key fundamental in understanding interoperability between two navies in CORPAT.

      With India looking forward to expansion of its geostrategic footprint in Southeast Asia, energy rich Brunei seems to feature in a prominent position in India’s Act East policy. Till now the relations haven’t been in focus and have not been able to realize it’s full potential but with new vision India is looking forward to increase the level of intensity and vitality of connecting with Brunei as a crucial maritime partner. The port led development where Maura port can be a new focal point of Indian policymakers along with India- Brunei agreement in 2018 to boost defense relations including exchange of information, exercises, training and defense industrial development. Being at a crucial juncture of changing global dynamics from Europe to the Middle East, South Asia is becoming more and more crucial in balancing and benefitting through various platforms in which defense and intelligence cooperation has its own pivotal role ensuring trust between regional partners.

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