Week of April 05, 2024

Indian Navy Raises Profile in Red Sea Operations
Which Navy has the most naval ships in and around the Red Sea?

If you picked the United States, you are wrong.  The Indian Navy has deployed over a dozen ships in and around the Red Sea.  And, according to experts, they are as professional as the most competent navies.  They operate two aircraft carriers and operate several radar and monitoring stations around the Indian Sea to monitor communications and locations of sea going vessels.

Although the Indian Navy isn’t operating in conjunction with the US led task force operations in the area, they have been quite successful.  While the Western nations have focused on intercepting and attempting to destroy Houthi missiles and drones, the Indian Navy has investigated over 250 vessels and boarded 40 ships as part of the attempt to restrict Houthi’s access to rocket parts and other weapons.

The Indian Navy also has surveillance aircraft operating in the north and west part of the Arabian Sea.


Power Projection of the Indian Navy

The Indian Navy isn’t a small, green water navy.  It has a naval heritage from the British Navy and takes its protection of maritime routes and its Exclusive Economic Zone seriously.  It also carries out operations ranging from the China Sea to the Western Mediterranean.

One area where the Indians copied tactics of Western maritime nations was with their Maritime Commando Force, known as MARCOS.  Like the US and UK, it has strict selection processes and training.  Of those who make it through the selection process, only 10% to 15% make it through training.

MARCOS demonstrated its exceptional training during Red Sea and Gulf of Aden operations.  The Indian Navy rescued 17 crew members of the MV Ruen during an anti piracy operation.  No casualties were reported, and dozens of pirates were captured.  The Ruen hijacking was the first in the region since 2017.

John Bradford of the Council on Foreign Relations told CNN, “What marks this operation as impressive is how risk was minimized by using a coordinated force that includes use of a warship, drones, fixed and rotary-wing aircraft and marine commandos.”

After the pirates fired on an Indian drone and destroying it, the Indian warship INS Kolkata fired on the Ruen, disabling the steering.  Military cargo aircraft then dropped rafts into the water for the marines, who had parachuted into the water.

Although outnumbered, the Indian marines captured 35 pirates.

This wasn’t just a piece of luck as MARCOS showed its skill again.  The Greek owned cargo ship MV True Confidence was hit by a Houthi missile that killed three crew members and injured four more.   The ship was carrying steel products to Saudi Arabia.

The INS Kolkata moved in to help the injured.  They rescued 21 crewmen, including one Indian national.

An Indian naval medical team provided medical care before evacuating them to Djibouti by helicopter.


Maritime protection and economics

Although the Indian Navy has recently rescued several ships of different countries, there is an economic side to India’s actions.  Oman is the third largest export market for India among GCC nations.  From a military and security angle, Oman has allowed India to build communications and tracking stations to monitor shipping. Oman has also granted berthing rights to India.

In addition, Oman and India are considering building an underwater natural gas pipeline.

India is also building monitoring stations in Madagascar, Seychelles, Maldives, and Sri Lanka.

But Oman isn’t the only GCC country involved.   Saudi Arabia and the UAE have close naval cooperation with India.  In 2021, the Saudi, UAE, and Indian navies carried out joint naval exercises.

There is also a demographic reason for the Indian Navy to work closely with GCC nations.  38.2% of the UAE population is Indian, which makes it the largest ethnic group and three times larger than the next largest ethnic group (Egyptian 10.2%).

The UAE and India also have healthy export/import trade.  Non-oil trade between India and the UAE grew by 3.9% in 2023, totaling 7.6% of the Emirates total trade.  This occurred at a time when global trade shrank by 5%.  UAE exports to India included gold, jewelry, plastics, cement, oil, and dates.

The Emirates know that the Houthi retaliatory actions have impacted the UAE economy.  Shipping costs have gone up along with food inflation.

Monica Sood of the Indian National Unity and Security Council said, “Addressing food inflation concerns particularly in the UAE presents a complex challenge, with potential implications for global trade dynamics.”