Four Indian warships have docked in Dubai, signaling India’s intent to broaden military ties with the Gulf countries in tune with its growing naval reach that allows it to operate beyond domestic shores.

The task forces of four frontline ships — Mysore, Tarkash, Tabar and Aditya — had earlier split to allow separate visits to Qatar and Kuwait before all of them converged at the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The task force led by Rear Admiral Anil Kumar Chawla is set to hold an exercise with five ships of the UAE navy, before heading for Oman, where another set of joint manoeuvres are planned. “The visit of the ships is a statement of our intent to take our interaction to a higher level,” said Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, Flag Officer Commanding-in- chief (West) during a presser in Dubai.

The visit recognises the growing energy inter-dependence of India and the Gulf, the shared interest in the security of the sea lanes, the common threat posed by piracy near the Somalian coastline, as well as expanding the ambit of training of naval personnel.

Observers point out that the U.S. pivot to Asia, which focuses on greater American deployments in the Asia-Pacific region, could provide greater opportunity to countries such as India to bolster its military ties with the Gulf states.

The expansion of its footprint in the Gulf follows the steady growth in the Indian naval capabilities. Admiral Sinha explained that the development of the Indian nuclear submarine Arihant, is the result of India’s declared no-first-use nuclear doctrine, and is part of the triad of land, air and sea based platforms, which impart to the country a full-fledged retaliatory second-strike capability.

Asked about follow-up plans for additional nuclear submarines, he pointed out that “one (nuclear submarine) will not be enough”. However, the Admiral observed that conventional diesel submarine technology is not disappearing anytime soon, and pointed to the French origin Scorpene class of submarines, which were under construction at the Mumbai-based Mazagon docks.

Sindurakshak tragedy

Analysts point out that the navy’s submarine arm has taken a hit with the recent explosion on the Sindurakshak, which killed the 18-member crew, and may have caused irreparable damage to the vessel. Admiral Sinha said that 11 bodies have so far been removed from the submarine, and the identity of nine has been established through DNA tests.

The process of salvaging the vessel has commenced. The submarine has to first become floatable, so that weapon and ammunition experts can further probe the cause of the disaster. All the platforms in the vicinity of the stricken submarine are safe.

Vikramaditya induction

Admiral Sinha said that India was also qualitatively enhancing its aircraft carrier capabilities with the impending induction of the 40,000 tonne Vikramaditya from Russia later this year, which is nearly twice the size of the existing Viraat.

The Vikrant — a domestically developed carrier — which is under construction at the Cochin shipyard will complement the Vikramaditya, which will have the naval version of MiG-29 planes on board.

The navy is expected to induct 47 ships in the next 10 years, some of which will replace those which would have reached the end of their operational life.

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