New Delhi: India’s officials said, Country will set up a satellite tracking and imaging centre in southern Vietnam that will give Hanoi access to pictures from Indian earth observation satellites that cover the region, including China and the South China Sea. The move, which could irritate Beijing, deepens ties between India and Vietnam, who both have long-running territorial disputes with China.
India also extended a $100m credit line for Hanoi to buy patrol boats and is training Vietnamese submariners in India, while Hanoi has granted oil exploration blocks to India in waters off Vietnam that are disputed with China. The facility will be equipped to receive images from India’s earth observation satellites that Vietnam can use in return for granting India the tracking site, said an Indian government official connected with the space programme.
The officials said, “This is a sort of quid pro quo which will enable Vietnam to receive IRS [Indian remote sensing] pictures directly, that is, without asking India”, who declined to be identified because he was not authorised to speak to the media. “Obviously it will include parts of China of interest to Vietnam.” Earth observation satellites have agricultural, scientific and environmental applications, but can also provide military intelligence. Indian media put the cost of the station at about $23m.
India – whose 54-year-old space programme is accelerating with one satellite launch scheduled every month – has ground stations in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, Brunei, Biak in eastern Indonesia and Mauritius that track its satellites in the initial stages of flight. The Vietnam facility will bolster those capabilities, Indian Space Research Organisation spokesman Deviprasad Karnik said, according to Reuters news agency.
Security experts said Vietnam would likely seek real-time access to images from the Indian satellites as well as training in imagery analysis, a specialised intelligence field. “The advance of technology means the lines are blurring between civilian and military satellites,” said Trevor Hollingsbee, a retired naval intelligence analyst with Britain’s Defence Ministry. “In some cases, the imagery from a modern civilian satellite is good enough for military use.”
Sophisticated military reconnaissance satellites can be used to capture military signals and communications, as well as detailed photographs of objects on land, capturing detail to less than a metre, Koh and other experts said. The tracking station will be the first such foreign facility in Vietnam and follows other agreements between Hanoi and New Delhi that have cemented security ties.
India has extended a $100 million credit line for Hanoi to buy patrol boats and is training Vietnamese submariners in India while Hanoi has granted oil exploration blocks to India in waters off Vietnam that are disputed with China. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has shown a greater willingness to step up security ties with countries such as Vietnam, overriding concerns this would upset China, military officials said.
“You want to engage Vietnam in every sphere. The reason is obvious – China,” said retired Indian Air Force group captain Ajay Lele at the New Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. Both India and Vietnam are also modernising their militaries in the face of Beijing’s growing assertiveness, having separately fought wars with China in past decades.