With a thaw in its frosty relations with the international community, Iran is seeking to expand its strategic footprint in the region and a detachment of its leading warships are calling at the Mumbai port as part of a patrol in the Arabian Sea.
The Iranian Navy’s 28th flotilla, which comprises a frigate, submarine and a supply ship, will be berthed in Mumbai for two days and the visiting personnel will meet top Indian Navy officials. The flotilla will then proceed on its journey to Sri Lanka from where it is expected to make its way back to Iran.
The Iranian ships that will be birthed at Mumbai include Alvand Class frigate Alborz, Kilo class submarine Younes and a Bandar Abbas class replenishment ship. The next stop for the warships will be Colombo. This is the first visit of Iranian warships to an Indian port after Tehran struck a deal on its nuclear programme that was followed by suspension of the US-led sanctions on the nation. The last time Iranian Navy warships were in India was in 2009 and joint manoeuvres were conducted in 2006.
Iran has also expressed its desire of increasing military ties with India, with top officials from Tehran conveying that defence cooperation in all fields need to be pursued. India and Iran operate a number of common platforms, including the Russian origin Kilo class submarines that are the mainstay of both their undersea arms.
While defence relations between India and Iran have remained steady — several officers are trained in India and the frequency of visits has remained constant — there has been no real upswing in ties in recent years, partly due to the strong stance taken by the international community on its nuclear programme.
However, with the deal with the international community now done, several areas of cooperation are now set to gain speed, including the operation of the Chabahar port that enables Indian trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia without going through Pakistan.
There have however also been disagreements in recent years, including the strong protest lodged by India about the presence of an Iranian merchant vessel off the Lakshadweep coast in 2011 that was observed to be armed with heavy machine guns. The ship, which had been anchored without explanation for several months near the Islands, was serving as a supply vessel for guards on board Iranian merchant vessels for anti-piracy operations.