India's gift of Missile Corvette INS 'Kirpan' to Vietnam marks a major milestone in Bilateral Defence Partnership
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
On July 22, 2023, India gifted INS ‘Kirpan’ to Vietnam. This was the first time that India handed over a fully operational corvette to any friendly foreign country and is a reflection of the growing bilateral strategic and defence partnership between India and Vietnam amid common concerns over China's increasingly aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea. India’s Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral R. Hari Kumar, who was on an official visit to Vietnam, presided over the handing over ceremony at the deep water bay of Cam Ranh where the frontline INS ‘Kirpan’ was handed over to the Vietnam People's Navy (VPN).
INS ‘Kirpan’ departed on her final journey flying the Indian Tricolour from India to Vietnam on June 28, 2023 and reached the bay of Cam Ranh, Vietnam on July 8. The indigenously built Khukri-class missile corvette INS ‘Kirpan’ was handed over to Vietnam in line with the announcement by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in June 2023 that India will gift an in-service missile corvette to Vietnam.
In his address at the handing over ceremony, Admiral Hari Kumar said, “Today's handing-over ceremony symbolises the deep-rooted friendship and strategic partnership between India and Vietnam. What makes this occasion even more significant is the fact that this is the first-ever occasion that India is offering a fully-operational Corvette to any friendly foreign country. The transfer of INS Kirpan to the Vietnam People's Navy resonates with India's G20 vision of "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam --- One Earth, One Family, One Future.”
Amid rising regional tensions, India's gift of a fully operational corvette to Vietnam signals a stronger alliance in countering common concerns over China's actions in the South China Sea
The Naval Chief further said, “Today's event serves as a reaffirmation of our commitment to expand and deepen our defence partnership, not only bilaterally but also in the broader multilateral framework. As we entrust INS Kirpan to the Vietnam Navy, we do so with complete confidence in their ability to operate and maintain this magnificent vessel. We are certain that they will harness its immense potential to safeguard their national maritime interests, contribute to regional security, and foster peace and stability.”
Admiral Kumar hoped that INS Kirpan would continue to navigate the vast seas, "upholding the principles of freedom, justice, and international rules-based order to be the pillar around which a 'force for good' be built". His comments were made in the backdrop of China's increasing military muscle flexing in the South China Sea. Vietnam, an important country of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), has territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea region.
The Indian Navy said the ship has been handed over to Vietnam People's Navy (VPN) with complete "weapon complement". A statement issued by the Indian Navy said, "On completing 32 years of illustrious service to the nation, Indian naval ship Kirpan has been decommissioned from the Indian Navy and handed over to VPN today. The transfer of INS Kirpan from Indian Navy to Vietnam People's Navy symbolises the status of Indian Navy of being the 'preferred security partner in the Indian Ocean Region."
Vietnam plays a crucial role in India's Act East policy and Indo-Pacific vision. The recent gift of 12 high-speed guard boats and the signing of a Joint Vision Statement on Defence Partnership towards 2030 further cemented their mutual interests.
INS Kirpan, since its commissioning in 1991, has been an integral part of the Indian Navy's Eastern Fleet and has participated in many operations over the last 32 years. Manned by about 12 officers and 100 sailors, the ship is 90 metres long and 10.45 metres in width with a maximum displacement of 1,450 tonnes. Indigenously built Khukri-class missile corvettes have a speed of 24 kn and a range of 4,000 nmi. Equipped with electronic warfare and decoys, their armament includes four missile launchers, one AK-176 76mm 60-cal main gun and two AK-630 mm guns. One light helicopter (Chetak or ALH Dhruv) is carried on board.
Vietnam is an important player in India’s Act East policy and also its Indo-Pacific vision. India has oil exploration projects in the Vietnamese waters in the South China Sea. India and Vietnam have been boosting their maritime security cooperation in the last few years to protect common interests. India-Vietnam bilateral defence relations got a major boost when Defence Minister Rajnath Singh visited Vietnam on June 8-10, 2022 to further strengthen the defence and maritime security cooperation.
During the above visit, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh handed over 12 high-speed guard boats to Vietnam; five of which were built in India, and the rest in a Vietnamese shipyard under India’s $100 million Defence Line of Credit. The Defence Minister held extensive talks with his Vietnamese counterpart, General Phan Van Giang, with a focus on exploring new initiatives to further strengthen the defence engagements, besides exchanging views on regional and global issues of shared interest. He also visited training institutions of Vietnam at Nha Trang, including the Telecommunication University where an Army Software Park is being established with a $5 million grant from India.
As India and Vietnam explore avenues for closer collaboration, there are indications of Vietnam procuring BrahMos cruise missiles from India
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on mutual logistics support was also signed allowing militaries of the two sides to use each other’s bases for repair and replenishment of supplies. Both countries also signed the ‘Joint Vision Statement on India-Vietnam Defence Partnership towards 2030’, significantly enhancing the scope and scale of bilateral defence cooperation. Both sides also agreed to early finalisation of the $500 million defence Line of Credit (LoC) extended to Vietnam by India.
Vietnam was the first country in the Southeast Asian region with whom India had signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement in 2007, which from 2016 onwards after the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Vietnam has been elevated to a ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’. During the signing of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, India had reiterated its commitment to provide necessary assistance in developing Vietnam’s defence capabilities as well as providing a new line of credit facility. Vietnam’s Minister for National Defence, General Phan Van Giang visited India on June 18-19, 2023. He called on President Draupadi Murmu and held bilateral talks with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to carry forward the India-Vietnam bilateral defence relationship.
Vietnam has faced the brunt of Chinese aggression in the South China Sea since the 1970s; from China’s occupation of Paracels in 1974 to the occupation of Spratlys in the 1980s; with the Chinese threat intensifying in recent times. Vietnam, therefore, needs close relations with potential like-minded players in the Indo-Pacific like India. Over the past few years, there has been talk of India supplying BrahMos cruise missiles to Vietnam, which possibly was not fructifying because of Russian concerns and the Russia-China relationship. But there is speculation that the deal is likely to come through with Vietnam procuring three to five BrahMos missile units from India.