India's Navy Steps Into the Spotlight in Red Sea Crisis

bab el-mandeb
Indian commandos capture suspected Somali pirates aboard a dhow, January 26. Somali piracy has surged back in parallel with Houthi attacks (Indian Navy)

Published Feb 1, 2024 9:48 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Red Sea maritime security crisis is an unwelcome burden on Indian commerce, but it is also a moment for India's blue-water navy to step out into the spotlight. The Indian Navy has established a heavy presence in the Gulf of Aden and the Western Indian Ocean, responding to Houthi attacks and helping to chase off the Somali pirate groups that are taking advantage of the conflict. 

At least a dozen Indian warships are operating to the east of Bab el-Mandeb, complementing the U.S.-led naval coalition without directly participating under its umbrella. It is the largest maritime force that India has ever deployed to the region, officials said. 

The Indian Navy's warships have served as first responders, helping in the aftermath of Houthi strikes and defeating hijackings (three in the span of two days). 

"[The Indian Navy] is increasingly showcasing the ability to be able to protect not only its interests but also give confidence to regional players that it is willing and able to shoulder regional responsibility," said Harsh Pant of the Observer Research Foundation, speaking to VOA. 

According to Chinese military researcher Zhang Junshe, the People's Liberation Army believes that India may have an additional reason for the large-scale deployment: a "gesture of goodwill towards the United States." Even though it has not publicly joined the American-led alliance, India's presence substantially expands the available pool of response assets in the region. 
Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy can concentrate on the more politically fraught task of countering Houthi attacks.