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Operation Vanilla - Humanitarian Missions in IOR, towards strengthening soft power

Published: 10th Feb, 2020



India sent an amphibious warship, INS Airavat, to Madagascar in the Indian Ocean Region to help in rescue efforts after the island nation was hit by a cyclone.


  • As part of Operation Vanilla, the Navy delivered clothing, food and medicines, and also provided diving and communication assistance for evacuation.
  • This was done after an appeal is made by Madagascar President to deal with unprecedented situation caused by floods.




Look at Indian Navy’s Peacetime Efforts in IOR

  • In March 2019, the Navy deployed four warships for relief operations, when Mozambique was hit by Cyclone, Idai. Indian naval teams played a stellar role in search and rescue operations and even set up medical camps.
  • A few months later, the Navy sent two warships to Japan to assist in rescue efforts following Typhoon Hagibis.
  • A year earlier, Indian vessels had delivered urgent medical assistance to Sulawesi, Indonesia, after it was struck by a high-intensity earthquake. Operation SamudraMaitri was launched after a telephonic conversation between Indian Prime Minister and Indonesian President.
  • The Navy’s new humanitarian approach, many say, is a maritime manifestation of Prime Minister’s vision for the IOR, christened SAGAR (Security And Growth for All in the Region).

The Origin Goes Back To 2004

  • It was in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami that naval commanders first recognized the importance of large-scale relief and rescue missions.
  • For over a decade, considerable resource and energy has been spent developing specialist capability and skills for navalhumanitarian operations.
  • The Navy reached out to countries across the Indo-Pacific Region, with greater deployment of assets, personnel and specialist equipment, showcasing its ability to undertake complex and diverse missions.
  • Some of the India’s benign efforts were the evacuation of over 1,500 Indian expatriates and 1,300 foreign nationals from Yemen in 2015.
  • In 2018, India evacuated 38 Indians stranded in the cyclone-hit Socotra Island.

First Responder Concept - Towards Soft Power

  • Navy’s humanitarian impulse stems from a desire to be a linchpin (vital) of security in the IOR.
  • It is the concept of ‘first responder’, with the capability and willingness to provide assistance.
  • It has the potential to create an extended sphere of Indian influence in the IOR.
  • It helps India project as ‘soft power’.

How India’s Humanitarian Gestures Are Different from Other Countries?

  • Other countries like U.S. and China have in their inventory hospital ships fully equipped for medical assistance.
  • India deploys regular warships and survey ships converted for medical aid.
  • India’s improvised platforms do not match the U.S. Navy’s medical ship USNS Mercy or the China’s Peace Ark that enable specialized medical services on a more visible scale.

India Needs To Be Cautious

  • Prolonged presence of front-line warships in foreign waters has the potential to make partners anxious.
  • Naval powers must be deployed discreetly.
  • The mission should not appear geopolitical and the motives should not be misunderstood and the assistance provided should be efficient and cost effective.


  • As natural disasters in the IOR become more frequent and intense, India’s regional security role is likely to grow expon
  • At the forefront of disaster scenarios, the Indian Navy and Coast Guard would find themselves undertaking demanding missions.
  • Humanitarian operations could serve as a springboard for a larger cooperative endeavourin the maritime commons.

Verifying, please be patient.

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