Both India and Vietnam are concerned about China’s growing assertiveness; thus, they are working to strengthen their defence ties. Following negotiations with the Minister of National Defence of Vietnam, General Phan Van Giang, who visited Delhi on an official visit, the Ministry of Defence of India reported that the Minister of Defence of India, Rajnath Singh, announced on June 19, 2023, the transfer to Vietnam of the R 44 small missile corvette INS Kirpan (type Khukri, Project 25) that was being withdrawn from the Indian fleet as military assistance. A missile corvette is a small warship mostly used for coastal defence.
The ships of the Indian Project 25 were developed with technical assistance from the USSR following the Soviet-Indian agreement of 1976. A total of four corvettes of this type were built for the Indian Navy, including two ships (P 49 Khukri and P 46 Kuthar) under the 1983 contract at Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL), and two more (P 44 Kirpan and P 47 Khanjar) under the 1985 contract at Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers (GRSE) in Kolkata. All of them were commissioned between 1989 and 1991. P 44 Kirpan was commissioned in January 1991.
The Project 25 ships were equipped with mostly Soviet weaponry and radar systems, including four launchers for the P-21/P-22 anti-ship missile complex, a 76mm AK-176 artillery installation, two 30mm six-barrel AK-630 artillery installations, “Positiv-E” and “Harpoon-Bal” radar stations, and jamming devices. Later, the corvettes were equipped with indigenous electronic warfare (EW) and passive anti-torpedo defence systems. The corvettes displaced 1291 tons and had a maximum length of 91.1 meters. The main power plant consisted of two licensed SEMT Pielstick/Kirloskar 18 PA6V 280 diesel engines with a total power of 7200 hp, providing a top speed of 24 knots.
The lead corvette, P 49 Khukri, was decommissioned from the Indian Navy in December 2021 and is now preserved as a museum ship in Diu. The Corvette P 44 Kirpan was the second planned for decommissioning, and the flag-lowering ceremony on it was reportedly scheduled for this month.
India -Vietnam Defence Cooperation
The purpose of the visit by the Vietnamese Minister of Defence to New Delhi was to improve military cooperation further. According to the statement, he also reportedly discussed ways to improve the capabilities of the defence industrial sector by collaborating on defence research and producing goods jointly.
Though the strategic partnership between the two countries reaches back to 2016, it took off after they signed a historic military logistics pact the previous year. This pact made it simpler for warships, military aircraft, and troops to visit each other’s shores for repairs and resupply. In June of the previous year, India presented Vietnam with twelve high-speed patrol boats as part of a credit line worth one hundred million dollars.
In 2007, when Dr Manmohan Singh was serving as Prime Minister of India, a prior Strategic Partnership Agreement was signed between the two countries. Before 2016, India supplied Vietnamese ships, submarines, and aircraft with essential spare parts and ancillaries. This was made possible because both countries shared a common inventory of military hardware. In addition, occasional attempts have been made to organise the servicing and maintenance of military hardware and port operations. In training, several joint activities, such as attending courses of instruction at various institutions, training pilots, and joint exercises between the Navy and the Coast Guard, had been conducted on occasion. India also provided training in the maintenance and repair of key equipment. Importantly, in September 2011, India consented to train on Kilo-class platforms held by both nations for submarine operations training. Vietnam expected to benefit from India’s extensive experience in training for United Nations peacekeeping operations, which is a growing area of focus.
Since PM Manmohan Singh’s time, one component of New Delhi’s strategy to ensure peace and order in the Indo-Pacific region is to increase its level of defence cooperation with Vietnam. India and China’s militaries have been fighting along the contested Himalayan borders that run through both countries for several decades. China’s rising foothold in the Indian Ocean, where it has undertaken infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Pakistan, is another concern for India.
In Hanoi, there is a widespread fear that Chinese warships and survey vessels would sail into the exclusive economic zone that Vietnam possesses. Based on what Beijing refers to as “outdated maps,” China claims that practically the whole South China Sea is part of its territory. This includes waters that Vietnam and other Southeast Asian nations claim.
A request to have a survey ship and other Chinese vessels that were following it removed from Vietnamese waters was made by Vietnam one month ago. They left after having been in operation for close to a month.
Several years ago, India had also considered selling its indigenously manufactured Brahmos supersonic missile systems to Vietnam, but progress on that potential transaction has been painfully sluggish.