Iran, Russia and China Plan Joint Naval Drill in Gulf of Oman

Iranian naval exercise Velayat-90, 2012 (file image)

Published Sep 23, 2019 9:47 PM by The Maritime Executive

Iran says that it is planning a joint naval drill with Russia and China in the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean, according to semi-official news agency Tasnim. 

Under ordinary circumstances, a naval exercise among three partner nations would be unremarkable. However, tensions between the United States and Iran are unusually high, and Russian and Chinese forces are the U.S. military's primary identified competitors. The United States is leading a naval patrol coalition in the same region in order to deter a repeat of the attacks on six tankers off Fujairah earlier this year. 

The head of foreign affairs for Iran's General Staff, Ghadir Nezami, told Tasnim that the joint drill will be held in the Gulf of Oman and the northern portion of the Indian Ocean. He added that Iran has no intention of holding the drill within the Persian Gulf. Nezami did not specify a timeline, but he did indicate that the exercise has "political goals" - namely, showing cooperation among the three partner nations. 

In a regular press conference Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang declined to provide details on the drill. "What I can tell you is that the Chinese armed forces maintain normal exchange and cooperation with armed forces of other countries. I would like to refer you to the PLA for the specifics," he said. 

Several Chinese military analysts told the South China Morning Post that China's contribution to the drill would probably be a temporary retasking of anti-piracy assets that are already located in the region. With tense trade negotiations under way, Beijing is unlikely to want to draw further criticism from Washington, international relations scholar Niu Zhongjun told SCMP. 

The American coalition - called the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) - formally launched September 16 with an opening conference in Bahrain. The current members include the United Kingdom, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and the United States. Representatives from two dozen additional countries attended the conference, according to U.S. Central Command.