An informal visit by Iran's naval cadet training ships to Kochi port in Kerala emerged as an issue of concern for some members of the US Congress during the debate on changes to US laws to facilitate the Indo-US nuclear energy cooperation. This was in response to a Defense News report that India was training the Iranian Navy, and two ships visited the Indian port while US President Bush was in New Delhi. Adam Ereli, US State Department deputy spokesman has subsequently clarified that the Iranian ship visit to Kochi was a "limited type of event, and doesn't suggest Indian training or Indian contribution to Iranian military capabilities." Ereli also noted such reports were "overwritten" and Iranian Navy visit a number of countries with whom the US has close relations.
Meanwhile, Iran has been sabre-rattling in the Persian Gulf and conducting a series of naval manoeuvres involving some 17,000 Revolutionary Guards, several ships and aircraft. The manoeuvres extended from the northern Gulf coastline to Chabahar on Iran's southern coast in the Sea of Oman. Although Iranian naval authorities noted that the naval war games were meant "to display the Islamic system's defensive capabilities," the manoeuvres are aimed at sending a strong message to the US that if tension with America turns to outright confrontation, Iran has increased its ability to hit oil tankers that transit through the Strait of Hormuz, the 34-mile-wide entrance to the Gulf through which about two-fifths of the world's oil supplies pass.
During the naval manoeuvres, Iran showcased a variety of home-grown weapons such as flying boats, stealth missiles and super fast torpedoes. These include the test firing of Fajr-3 missile that is invisible to radar and is able to strike several targets with multiple warheads; Hoot, a high-speed torpedo capable of speeds up to 223 mph, four times faster than a normal torpedo; Kowsar, a shore based anti-ship missile with remote-control and searching systems that cannot be scrambled; and, a flying boat equipped with missiles and capable of skimming low over the surface of the water at a top speed of 100 nautical mph.
Iran also deployed a new indigenously built submarine Nahang, meaning whale, capable of carry a variety of weapons for different missions. "The submarine is fully adapted to the Gulf," Rear Admiral Sajjad Kouchaki said, adding that the Iranian Navy was pursuing a policy of deterrence in strategic waters. In May 2005, Iran had announced the production of its first locally-built submarine called Ghadir. Currently, Iran's inventory of submarines patrolling Gulf waters includes up to six Russian-built Kilo class diesel submarines.
Iran has touted the firings and display of new indigenously built military hardware as technological leaps in its weapons production and is a move away from reliance on foreign procurements to keep up its aging arsenal, which has been hampered by US sanctions and Washington's pressure on other countries against selling weapons to Tehran.
India and Iran have enjoyed good maritime relations that include high-level political and military visits, joint-naval exercises, naval technology cooperation, and maritime infrastructure developments symbolized by port development in Chahbahar. Naval cooperation between the two sides dates back to the mid-1990s when the Indian Navy helped the Iranian Navy to adapt four Russian-built Kilo-class submarines for warm water conditions in the Persian Gulf.
India has followed an aggressive strategy of building close relations with several Persian Gulf countries. Regional heads of state have been guest of honour at the Indian Republic Day celebrations. Military cooperation with these countries is an important facet of bilateral relations with regional countries. Several defence MoU provide not only for supply of Indian military hardware to regional forces, but also envisages military exchanges, training and joint exercises.
In this context, Iran is geo-strategically important to India and a window into the geopolitics of the Persian Gulf. This gains further significance in the light of the fact that India is heavily dependent on the Gulf States for its growing energy requirements. Above all, the possibility of constructing a $7.4 billion gas pipeline from Iran to India via Pakistan, if geopolitics permits, is also being pursued. >From the US perspective, it would like India to join international efforts to prevent Iran's emergence as a nuclear weapon power. Although India voted against Iran in the IAEA, it would not like to undermine its larger relations with Iran, particularly focusing on energy.