Naval diplomacy invariably conjures up visions of warships staging port-calls to show the flag and to indulge in some rather muscular, yet harmless promotion of a country’s maritime prowess. However, India’s relationship with Mauritius has taken the concept to a new and perhaps unprecedented level where the Indian Navy and Coast Guard have quietly but effectively rebuilt, restructured and dramatically enhanced the efficacy of the Mauritian National Coast Guard (NCG). Furthermore, Indian naval officers provide key leadership experience to bolster the expertise of the NCG while Indian warships have often performed the vital function of patrolling the Mauritian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This interaction between the NCG and the Indian Navy and Coast Guard has been augmented in recent years by some astute defence diplomacy which has resulted in lines of credit being extended to Mauritius for the procurement of ships at Indian shipyards resulting in India’s first warship exports. Long-standing training links with India continue to augment the capability of the Mauritian security forces while Indian assistance has enabled Mauritius to establish an effective force of maritime reconnaissance aircraft and a coastal radar network. These assets, combined with Indian capacity building efforts in the Seychelles, have enhanced maritime security in the Southern Indian Ocean. This cooperation between India and Mauritius has produced excellent results and is mutually beneficial.
For a country that is closer to the African mainland than to India to have such close defence ties to India as opposed to regional powers such as South Africa or even Tanzania is at first glance somewhat unusual. However, one look at Mauritius’s demographics shows that approximately two-thirds of the Mauritian population is of Indian descent with well over 48% identifying themselves as Hindu.1 Following its independence in 1968, Mauritius pursued a policy of embracing close ties with India being prepared to intervene in 1983 when it looked as if radical leader Paul Berenger might topple the government of the pro-India Anerood Jugnauth.2 Though no such intervention took place, the close alignment of Indian and Indo-Mauritian political, economic and most importantly, security interests was clear.
Mauritius has no military forces. Rather, all its security forces – air, sea and land – are under the administrative control of the Mauritius National Police Force (MPF) which totals approximately 12,500 personnel.3 In lieu of an army, the MPF maintains a battalion sized motorised infantry formation called the Special Mobile Force (SMF) which from 1978, under its first Mauritian commander, Colonel D. Bhima, has maintained very close training links with India although none of its equipment is of Indian origin.4 India has focused efforts on providing training support to commando units of the NCG and the MPFs Intervention Group (GIPM) through a program of regular exercises undertaken during periodic visits of Indian warships whereupon the GIPM and NCG commandos would receive instruction from Indian Marine Commandos (MARCOS) and Visit Board Search and Seizure (VBSS) teams aboard the said ships.5 In addition to training carried out during Indian Navy visits, under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Program II Division (ITEC-II), between 45 and 50 personnel of the MPF, usually either NCG or SMF are trained annually in Indian defence training establishments. Furthermore, MARCOS teams are deputed for two to three weeks each year starting from 2008 with a view to providing training to NCG divers as well as NCG commandos.6 Refresher training is provided to NCG commandos on an annual basis by MARCOS instructors.7 This program not only imparts a degree of proficiency and consistency to MPF and NCG personnel but forges a close and influential bond between Indian instructors and Mauritian pupils. It is interesting to note that India’s strongest training influence is with the militarised elements of the MPF.
The most startling, yet understated aspect of India-Mauritius defence cooperation is the fact that several elements of the Mauritian security establishment are commanded by Indian military officers on attachment to the MPF. While the Commissioner of the MPF is always a Mauritian national, the NCG and the Police Helicopter Squadron (PHS) – part of the MPF and operating five helicopters, three of which are of Indian manufacture –are respectively headed by an Indian naval officer)8 and an Indian Air Force officer 9 Even the Mauritian Maritime Air Squadron (MAS) is currently led by an Indian,10 while the new NCG Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV), the CGS Barracuda, is captained by a serving Indian naval officer, Commander Rajneesh Kumar Dalal on secondment to the NCG.11 It is of interest to note that it is easy to identify Indian officers in service with the NCG, PHS and MAS as they continue to use their Indian military ranks as opposed to the police ranking system of the MPF. Moreover, as they are still part of the Indian military, they wear their Indian uniforms while on secondment.
In every sense of the word, India has been a critical supporter of the Mauritian NCG from its very inception when an ex-Indian Navy Seaward Defence Boat – the INS Amar – was transferred to the Mauritian NCG on April 3, 1974 where it was renamed the CGS Amar and served as the country’s only naval vessel for over two decades, being decommissioned only in 1998, though largely inactive since 1984.12 India subsequently gifted 9 Mandovi patrol craft and thereafter arranged for the replacement of five of them, in 2000, with Cochin built Praga class patrol craft of similar size. The CGS Amar and these assorted boats formed the backbone of the NCG until 1990 when a limited expansion of the NCG fleet was undertaken.
In 1990, Mauritius received two Zhuk-class patrol boats as gifts from the former USSR and which remain in service as the CGS Rescuer and CGS Retriever following refits in 2002 and 2009.In 1993, the Indian navy transferred a SDB Mk.3 patrol boat – the T-61 - to Mauritius which remains in service as the CGS Guardian with India supplying engines and spares to keep the vessel operational on a gratis basis as well as refitting the vessel in 2005-2006 at a subsidised rate.13 Furthermore, India has kept the main armament of the vessel – a Bofors 40mm L/60 gun – serviceable to the present date, ensuring that the vessel which was commissioned into the Indian navy in 1984, remains fully operational and combat capable.14 India’s final gift (on a free-lease) to Mauritius was that of an interceptor boat in 2001 which continues in service as the CGS Observer.15 It is to be noted that all the vessels mentioned above were obtained by the NCG second-hand. The NCG attempted to break out of this mould with the procurement of its first OPV in 1996, with less than satisfactory results.In 1996, Mauritius commissioned the OPV CGS Vigilant, designed by STX Marine of Canada and built by the Asmar Shipyard of Talcahuano in Chile. Within a year it developed serious problems on its port shaft, and after the builders failed to rectify the problem, the vessel was towed to India by the Indian Coast Guard ship Samar to the Naval Dockyard where, after repairs, she was returned to service in 2000.16 However, despite these efforts, the Vigilant never functioned satisfactorily and in 2011, it was revealed that she had not sailed for five years and was subsequently put up for disposal.17 This effectively left the NCG with a handful of ageing second-hand vessels to secure its waters and EEZ.
The re-captialisation of the NCG with Indian assistance did not begin with vessels, highlighting the less-known fact that India-Mauritius cooperation in the naval sphere extends beyond the supply of ships. In 1990, an Indian made Dornier Do-228 maritime patrol aircraft (designated MPCG-1) was transferred to the NCG to begin the Maritime Air Squadron (MAS).This was followed in 1992 by a Pilatus Britten-Norman Defender (MPCG-2) which was employed for short range patrols. A second Do-228 was delivered by India in 2004 (MPCG-3) and for more than a decade these three aircrafts performed the maritime patrol role for Mauritius.18During their time in service, India provided not only support for the Indian-made Dorniers but also gifted spares and engines to Mauritius for the maintenance of MPCG-2.19 More recently, in July 2016, India delivered a third Do-228 (MPCG-4) to Mauritius being purchased under a USD 16 million line of credit which included spares and maintenance support.20 It should be noted that the each of the Dorniers is equipped with a sophisticated surveillance suite and India’s supply of the same to Mauritius is in stark contrast to the supply of aircraft for maritime patrol by the United States to the Caribbean which were second-hand airframes with no mission equipment.21 Done as part of a 2007 MoU, with contract signing in 2009, by 2011 the radars were operational and the network commissioned.22 This network forms part of an ambitious Indian plan, currently being implemented, to establish a larger grid of coastal surveillance radars from Sri Lanka down to Mauritius.
The establishment of the MAS and the creation of the coastal radar network are excellent examples of a mutually beneficial arrangements between India and Mauritius. Mauritius is now in possession of a comprehensive air and land based maritime surveillance system, at an affordable price and on favourable financial terms, capable of effectively monitoring its maritime domain while India has not only strengthened its influence over the NCG, it now is able to consider data linking the radar data from its planned Indian Ocean grid to provide a comprehensive common operating picture of the maritime situation in the region.
It is no exaggeration to say that India has laid the foundation for a complete transformation of the NCG. In 2011, Mauritius ordered the 1300 ton, 74.1 metre CGS Barracuda from Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE).23 This vessel, delivered in 2015, marked a quantum leap in capability for the NCG being equipped with a 30mm gun, an advanced surveillance system and a helipad. The Barracuda was priced at USD 58.5 million and this was funded through an outright grant of USD 10 million from the Government of India with the remainder being through a loan facility of USD 48.5 million from the Indian EXIM bank.24 The Indian EXIM bank also provided funding for the next phase of the NCG modernisation program when it extended loans worth USD 27 million to enable Mauritius to purchase ten 14.5 metre Fast Interceptor Boats (FIBs) and two 50 metre Fast Attack Craft (FACs) from Goa Shipyard Limited in 2014. Delivery of the FIBs has already been completed while the first FAC has been launched.25 The NCG modernisation program, when completed, will transform the force into a well-equipped formation, capable of effectively performing ever more sophisticated maritime patrol, surveillance and interdiction operations. When combined with the coastal radar network and the MAS, Mauritius is now better able to secure its maritime domain as well as positively contribute to maritime security in the region.
The naval relationship between Mauritius and India is symbiotic. India gets a reliable partner in Mauritius and, through the coastal radar network, the MAS and its leadership of the NCG, has effectively extended its maritime surveillance capability into the Southern Indian Ocean. Mauritius benefits from being able to draw on the experience of professional Indian Navy and Air Force officers as well as being able to avail itself of naval vessels being produced at Indian shipyards at competitive prices and attractive financing packages. In addition, through its relationship with India, Mauritius has been able to avoid having to create dedicated military forces, maintaining very modest paramilitary capabilities relative to its neighbours. At relatively little cost to either party, a mutually beneficial partnership has evolved over the decades, with the NCG and India being inextricably intertwined. It is to the credit of both countries that this relationship has lasted and thrived and continues to grow stronger without undue fanfare or hype and without, thus far, any tangible problems.
In a further boost to the NCG’s abilities to conduct effective maritime surveillance, Mauritius, making use of an Indian line of credit, contracted with the Indian company Bharat Electronics Limited to establish a coastal radar surveillance network consisting of eight radars.