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Friday, May 24, 2024

Naval Diplomacy: Significance Of Naval Exercises And Operations

“Whoever rules the wave, rules the world”

  • Alfred Thayer Mahan



An eminent historian and Naval Officer, Alfred Thayer Mahan presented his vision of the Ocean in his book ‘The Influence of Sea Power Upon History’, outlining the importance of sea power. He gave out the advantages of having a vast coastline and access to seas. Considering this theory, India, having a vast coastline is strategically located, covering the Indian Ocean with a 7517-kilometer coastline. With a huge coastline, protecting the maritime boundaries from external threats is critical. This task of securing the maritime boundaries is undertaken by the Indian Navy. However, over time, the Indian Navy has evolved as an instrument of Indian diplomacy and has positioned itself beyond hard power. It is not only involved in hard security conducts Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) Operations, conducts various naval exercises with other nations and maintains good order at Sea.

The Indian Navy is seen as a power that can make the seas a safer zone and promote regional stability by following the laws of the seas. The Indian Navy has also been actively engaged in various missions and operations to enhance naval diplomacy. Naval Diplomacy uses the Indian Navy to assist the foreign policy objectives of India by collaborating and building friendly relations with the other states. This is not only limited to conducting bilateral and multilateral exercises but also involves Humanitarian Assistance to friendly nations and Peacekeeping Operations. India has been working closely with its partners in the region of its interest like Indo-Pacific, Red Sea and other important vital points to protect the critical Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs). Indian Navy has been actively engaging in bilateral and multilateral exercises to enhance its relations with its partners. This article highlights the promotion of naval diplomacy through the naval exercises and operations of the Indian Navy.


“Warships have always had more than a fighting function,” said Ken Booth in his book ‘Navies and Diplomacy’. The Indian Navy is actively engaged in various naval exercises and humanitarian assistance missions with its partners by deploying its ships. These maritime exercises allow India to showcase its naval power and high-end technology. These exercises let the Indian Navy learn new tactics and interoperability and know the mindset of its partners. These newly learned strategies can be used to tackle unprecedented challenges in the sea. The former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Karambir Singh outlined four pillars of Defence Diplomacy including Capacity building, Capacity Enhancement, Constructive engagements and Collaborative efforts, known as the 4Cs of Defence Diplomacy. The Indian Navy follows these 4Cs to engage with its partners.

The Indian Navy has conducted various maritime exercises in the Maritime Areas of Interest (MAI) or regions of interest. The Indian Navy has actively worked towards the Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) vision. Unveiled in 2015, SAGAR focuses on the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) as it has ample resources and vital choke points. India, one of the largest Littoral states of IOR, actively maintains its presence in the region by deploying its naval ships and cooperating with its partners through joint drills and exercises. These exercises are to secure the region and maintain regional stability and a balance of power. The MILAN exercise conducted in March 2024, is a biennial multilateral exercise conducted in the Indian Ocean. MILAN means ‘a meeting of confluence’ with its motto ‘Camaraderie Cohesion Collaboration’ symbolises the enduring spirit of international maritime cooperation. This also shows the Indian Navy as a responsible regional power. The QUAD’s Malabar exercise is also one such exercise conducted in the Indo-Pacific region with a common vision of Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP). The Indo-Pacific region has been a region of increasing militarisation. Hence, the Indian Navy engages with the East Asian Countries to promote regional stability in the Indo-Pacific.

Setting another mark in Naval Diplomacy, in 2023, the Indian Navy handed over the missile corvette INS Kirpan to Vietnam. Moreover, India has hosted the Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue of 2023 in New Delhi, with delegates from over 16 countries participating, which focused on operationalising a Regional Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) Network in the Indo-Pacific; Cooperative Regional Solutions to Address Disruptions of the Maritime Rules-based Order; Staunching the Proliferation of Maritime Lawfare in the Indo-Pacific; Enhancing Underwater Domain Awareness across the Indo-Pacific; and Building a Consensual Rules-based Maritime Order in Indo-Pacific through Multilateral Engagement of Minilateral Constructs.

India also conducts and participates in naval exercises like SIMBEX with Singapore, Varuna with France, BongoSagar with Bangladesh, Ekatha with Maldives, Jimex with Japan, Slinex with Sri Lanka, CUTLASS Express conducted by USA, Samudra Shakti with Indonesia and more to enhance combat readiness, interoperability and strategic cooperation.

The Indian Navy has also taken part in overseas operations to provide assistance. The mission SAGAR III was launched under the SAGAR initiative to provide assistance to friendly nations during COVID-19. India also takes part in various anti-piracy and anti-narcotics operations in the sea to curb piracy and illegal drug trafficking across the nations. In 2023, the Indian Navy also took part in the multilateral operation called as the Southern Readiness, which was aimed to enhance cooperation and counter-piracy and also to promote the freedom of navigation. These operations and initiatives make India one of the ‘FIRST RESPONDERS’ during times of crisis.

Furthermore, the Indian Navy has deployed its naval vessels and ships at important choke points such as the Gulf of Aden, Malacca Strait, Bab-el-Mandeb Strait and the Horn of Africa to protect our interests along with our friendly nations’. In March 2024, The Indian Navy conducted an anti-piracy operation that rescued around 16 crew members from MV Ruen ship captured by Somali pirates.

Additionally, the recent outbreak of the Israel-HAMAS conflict resulted in an attack on merchant ships by Houthi rebels, the Indian Navy provided aid to these ships and secured them from attack as the Red Sea falls under India’s Maritime Area of Interest (MAI). Moreover, the Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) INS Sumitra thwarted a piracy attempt on FV Iman, an Iranian fishing vessel, in January 2024.


The Indian Navy stands top in its power projection, by having an advanced arsenal and being a blue water navy. Mahan emphasised the importance of having powerful battleships, but these powerful ships could also be used beyond hard power. Therefore, Mahan’s emphasis on the significance of sea power finds a reflection in India’s maritime strategy, which is not only maintaining a formidable naval presence but also cooperating with its partners to promote regional stability. By engaging in a multitude of bilateral and multilateral exercises, naval operations, humanitarian missions and peacekeeping operations, the Indian Navy increases its diplomatic ties. Hence, extending the Indian Navy’s role beyond traditional military might.


By Harini T R

Research Intern, RLA

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