India has deployed an unprecedented level of naval power near the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden in response to a rise in piracy and instability in the region. As competition with China over maritime influence grows, India is flexing its naval muscle to protect its interests and establish itself as the dominant Indian Ocean power.
India Rushes Warships to Region to Combat Piracy
According to reports, India has sent over a dozen warships and patrol aircraft to the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and East Coast of Somalia. This deployment is aimed at combating a sharp rise in piracy attacks and hijackings against merchant vessels by Houthi rebels using explosive drones.
India’s Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar stated that India has a “double problem” in the region – the safety of Indian diaspora and trade is at risk from the conflict in Yemen spilling into the seas. He emphasized that India has the capabilities and responsibility to stabilize the situation.
The Indian navy has safely escorted over two dozen ships through dangerous waters. US Ambassador to India, Eric Garcetti, praised the “swift and courageous” actions of the Indian navy in deterring attacks.
Asserting India’s Status as Indo-Pacific Power
Experts note that India’s naval surge goes beyond just responding to piracy. This deployment signals India’s ambition to be the preeminent maritime power in the Indian Ocean region.
As Chinese naval activity has increased substantially in recent years, India is making it clear that the Indian Ocean is India’s domain. Securing control of vital Indian Ocean trade routes is also strategically and economically vital for India.
Indian Navy Chief Admiral R Hari Kumar stated that while providing security and maintaining presence is important, the navy’s role is also to “shape a favorable maritime environment”. This means asserting India’s interests and position amidst rising competition.
|Type of Naval Vessel
|Offshore Patrol Vessels
|Maritime Patrol Aircraft
Table showing Indian naval assets deployed near Red Sea/Gulf of Aden
With one of the largest naval fleets in the region, observers say India aims to send the message that they have arrived as a great power and key security provider. Its willingness to take an active stabilizing role also boosts India’s prestige internationally.
India has strengthened ties and naval cooperation with Gulf countries in recent years. It also operates a key naval base in Madagascar off Africa’s east coast, giving it strategic access near Mozambique Channel shipping lanes.
Observers say the roots of this expanding maritime presence lie in PM Modi’s 2015 Indian Ocean tour that sought to re-establish historical regional ties. Subsequently, India has also stepped up naval coordination with partners like France, Japan and Australia amid shared concerns about China.
The current turbulence in the Red Sea area was triggered by Yemen’s ongoing civil war. Houthi rebels have launched drone and missile attacks on ports and oil facilities in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, key Indian allies.
This raised risks substantially for India’s large diaspora population, energy security and trade flows concentrated around the Gulf of Aden. Deploying the navy to stabilize the situation became imperative.
India has urged countries bordering the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden to take responsibility and cooperate against destabilizing non-state actors. Foreign Minister Jaishankar stated that no nation alone can reassure security in the international waterways there.
However, India’s unilateral initiative has placed it firmly as first-responder safeguarding these SLOCs. It aligns with India’s wider “Act East” policy of shoring up strategic Indian Ocean partnerships.
But maintaining permanent deployments and expanding India’s sphere of naval influence places strains on resources and personnel. It also carries risks of overextension if further regional crises emerge.
For now, India’s navy is forcefully signaling its capability and intent to keep the Indian Ocean stable while competitively positioning India as the region’s predominant power. But converting short-term tactical gains into long-term ascendance faces unpredictable waters ahead.
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