India, Saudi Arabia ready to start new defence chapter

In a turn of events that could add to India’s diplomatic heft in West Asia and the ‘Arab world’, India and Saudi Arabia will do their first-ever joint naval exercise next year in March. The two countries are working to have a white shipping information-sharing agreement and New Delhi is looking to sell military grade vehicles and equipment to Saudi Arabia.

The two sides have had discussions on how the growing Indian defence industry can be roped in to provide the needs of Saudi Arabia, so far dependent on supplies from the US-led NATO Bloc.

A delegation of the Indian industry that included Bharat Forge, Ashok Leyland and L&T among others has been hosted in the Kingdom in the recent past. The General Authority of Military Industry has visited India. “Initial talks have been conducted to see what all cooperation is possible,” sources on the Indian side said.

Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest importer of weapons and equipment. Data released in March 2019, by Swedish think-tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, titled “Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2018” says: “Saudi Arabia imported 12 per cent of all global arms sales during the five year period 2014-2018”. Global arms sales are estimated close to $280-290 billion.

The US supplied 68 per cent of these weapons, arms and platforms, followed by the UK at 16 per cent and France at 4.3 per cent, respectively. India is itself is the second-largest importer but has ambitions of exports.

The sharing of information about cargo vessels in Arabian waters would entail the Indian Navy getting a wider picture of its western flank. The Naval exercise will be path-breaker. its complexity and scope will be decided at meeting in December this year, sources said.