India to provide patrol ships to Vietnam’s Border Guard

India to provide patrol ships to Vietnam’s Border Guard

A new cooperative arrangement between India and Vietnam is aimed at helping Vietnam better navigate the fast-changing environment of the South China Sea along its coastline.

India’s Larsen & Toubro Shipbuilding has committed to building a dozen high-speed patrol ships for the Vietnam Border Guard, according to the Viet Nam Newsnewspaper. An Indian credit package is funding the project.

Lt. Gen. Hoang Dang Nhieu, deputy commander of the Vietnam Border Guard, told those assembled for the August 14, 2019, announcement that the two countries hope to cooperate in technology and engineering, including shipbuilding.

The project is the first in the defense partnership between India and Vietnam and will help build continued ties, Nhieu said.

Larsen & Toubro, based in Chennai in southern India’s Tamil Nadu state, already has produced 46 of the aluminum alloy ships for the Indian Coast Guard. The high-speed patrol ships, which are about 35 meters long and travel at speeds of up to 35 nautical miles per hour, have high-tech defense, guidance and monitoring capabilities, Viet Nam Newsreported. The ships will allow coast guard personnel to perform search-and-rescue missions and detect smuggling and other threats to Vietnam’s maritime security. (Pictured: An artist’s rendering of one of the new high-speed patrol ships.)

The ships may also help Vietnam support its maritime claims in the South China Sea. For years, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which claims almost all of the South China Sea, through which roughly U.S. $3.4 trillion in commerce traverses annually, has antagonized countries with competing claims to the area and Vietnam in particular. As a result, Vietnam has developed increasingly stronger ties with the United States, given shared concerns about the PRC, Reuters reported.

On August 24, 2019, a Chinese survey vessel ventured close to Vietnam’s coastline, raising tensions again between the two nations, Reuters reported. The Haiyang Dizhi 8 ship first entered Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which extends up to 200 nautical miles from its coast, early in July and spent weeks conducting a seismic survey in a move that led to a standoff between vessels from the two countries.

“Recently, China resumed its coercive interference in Vietnam’s longstanding oil and gas activities in the South China Sea,” a U.S. Defense Department statement said in late August 2019. “China will not win the trust of its neighbors nor the respect of the international community by maintaining its bullying tactics.”

The PRC’s August incursion into Vietnam’s EEZ came with an escort from at least four ships and went as close as 102 kilometers southeast of Phu Quy island and 185 kilometers from the city of Phan Thiet, Reuters reported. China claims a vast swath of the South China Sea that includes parts of Vietnam’s continental shelf.

Vietnam and India’s commitment to work together goes back more than five years, according to a December 2014 report in the online news magazine The Diplomat. Then-President Pranab Mukherjee of India visited Hanoi in September 2014, and then-Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung of Vietnam visited Delhi the next month.

After the visits, the two countries issued a joint statement to announce “that cooperation in national defense was an important pillar in their strategic partnership,” and they would work together on defense, energy, South China Sea issues, space, and trade and investment.

In 2016, India’s Export-Import Bank issued Vietnam a low-interest U.S. $100 million line of credit to help the nation procure defense equipment through 2030. India also agreed to expand military training and help Vietnam’s naval strike capacity, The Diplomat reported.