The MILAN 2022 marks the 75th anniversary of India’s independence and involves multiple activities including a ‘fleet review’ by the President of India (held on 21 February) who is the supreme commander of the armed forces. The theme for MILAN 2022 is ‘Camaraderie Cohesion Collaboration’ and reflects the spirit of cooperation by building bridges among navies across the globe. As many as 35 navies are attending MILAN 2022 including major naval powers, Quad Member States and Russia; however it is not clear if the PLA Navy is participating. Be that as it may, Vietnamese Navy frigate ‘Quang Trung’ participation in the above event is noteworthy and merits attention from at least four perspectives.
First, the event must be seen through the prism of India-Vietnam Comprehensive Strategic Partnership which marks the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The defence and security cooperation between the two countries is quite advanced and Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his Vietnamese counterpart Sr Lt Gen Phan Van Giang have agreed to “initiate measures to enhance cooperation in Defence Industry and Technology domain” in line with the 2013 defence manufacturing collaboration i.e. “Implementing Arrangement on Defence Industry Cooperation”.
At the functional-operational levels, the bilateral military cooperation spans training-exercises-port calls (by Indian Navy)-high level (political and military leader’) visits. Also, India has provided submarine training to the Vietnamese Navy, and Larsen & Toubro, a private shipyard is building 12 High Speed Guard Boats under US$ 100 million Line of Credit. Five of these are being built in India and the balance seven will be constructed by Hong Ha Shipyard Company in Vietnam.
Second, Vietnam has promoted naval diplomacy in its foreign policy and according to Colonel Nguyen Van Ngan, Deputy Chief of Staff of Region 4 of the Navy, the head of the mission, the Vietnam Navy is supporting national objective of promoting multilateral activities such as the MILAN 2022.
In this context, it should be noted that during the last four years (barring 2020), the VPN has conducted bilateral as well as under the ASEAN banner, naval exercises with major naval powers such as the US, China, Russia, India and Japan. These engagements have strengthened naval friendships and enhanced mutual understanding and cooperation. For instance in July 2021, two VPN frigates including ‘Quang Trung’ participated in the Navy Parade hosted by the Russian Federation Navy at Vladivostock to mark the 325th anniversary of the Russian Navy. The VPN competed with teams from 40 countries the “Sea Cup” competition that covered navigation skills, rescue operations and gunnery competition.
Third is the VPN’s ability to leave its home waters in East Sea/South China Sea and sailing to distant waters and developing robust ‘sea legs’ which is important for building capability for sustained operations at sea.
Fourth, the visit is also an occasion to showcase that the VPN is capable of operating sophisticated warships such as the frigate ‘Quang Trung’, a Gepard-class frigate fitted with advanced weapons and stealth capabilities and the Ka-28 helicopters carried onboard serves the purpose of search and rescue as well as for combat preparations in the South China Sea. It is important to mention that in 2019, VPN had dispatched frigate ‘Quang Trung’ to Vanguard to signal to the PLA Navy about “Vietnam’s resolve to defend its sovereign rights and protect its Coast Guard ships on station at Vanguard Bank”.
Finally, VPN frigate ‘Quang Trung’ participation in the MILAN 2022 is a display of a confident navy that is now ready to participate in international naval activities in distant waters.
Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.
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Dr Vijay Sakhuja is Honorary Distinguished Fellow with CPPR and associated with our Centre for Strategic Studies. Dr. Sakhuja, a former Indian Navy officer, is also former Director, National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. He earned his MPhil and PhD from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He specializes in issues of national security and public policy, particularly in the context of ocean affairs, geopolitics, Climate Change, Arctic, Blue Economy and 4th Industrial Revolution Technologies.