Future Capabilities and Lasting Friendships
The Bangladesh Navy focuses on solidifying itself as a distinguished regional partner
It began in 1971 with two gunboats patrolling the Bay of Bengal and surrounding waterways in a country with swift-flowing rivers and low-lying terrain prone to flooding. Decades later, the Bangladesh Navy has transformed into a maritime force on the threshold of reaching its goal as a “three-dimensional” operation with air, sea and underwater capabilities by 2030.
“Modernization of the armed forces is one of the major commitments of the present government. In order to build up the Army, Navy and Air Forces as prudent and efficient forces, modernization is essential,” according to Bangladesh government documents outlining priority spending areas through 2017. “To protect the national sovereignty and security, it is necessary to acquire essential arms, ammunitions and modern war-equipment in order to increase [the] capability of the armed forces.”
Bangladesh began plotting its course for a pre-eminent Navy — known nationally as Forces Goal 2030 — more than 20 years before the target achievement date. The country recently ramped up military equipment acquisitions and purchase orders, all the while striving to remain an active regional partner as Armed Forces personnel upgrade their skills through additional training at home. These training opportunities include lessons on modern war techniques and expanded knowledge of new information technology — both aimed at increasing the efficiency of all Bangladesh defense forces.
“We have a bright future planned,” retired Adm. Muhammad Farid Habib, who served as chief of Naval Staff when he oversaw the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) gathering in Dhaka in January 2016, told FORUM. The Bangladesh Navy holds chairmanship of IONS through 2017.
He said the Navy’s course allows it to retain the country’s best and brightest by offering a wider set of career path options to newly enlisted cadets. “If they want to be a pilot, if they want to be on a submarine, they have all these opportunities,” Habib said. “The Navy is progressing very well, expanding. We have all new state-of-the-art ships at our hand. They [new recruits] will have a much bigger role to play in the future.”
Bangladesh once lacked the number of ships it needed to accomplish necessary patrols, Habib told FORUM. As IONS 2016 concluded in Dhaka, the country added two Chinese-built frigates to the Bangladesh Navy fleet during a ceremony at the Chittagong Port. Navy officials called them the most advanced frigates in their fleet, capable of detecting, identifying and destroying surface and aerial targets, according to the online news agency BDNews24.
“The Bangladesh Navy always works together with friendly nations and friendly neighbors. Whatever cooperation is occurring, we will be there. We want to see a peaceful life for our next generation. We want to leave a good world for our next generation. If we can work together and share each other’s experience and technology, everybody will be benefited.”
~ Bangladesh Navy Adm. (Ret.) Muhammad Farid Habib
The Navy also planned to add helicopters and commission two submarines, ordered from China, to its fleet by mid-2016, allowing the country to better protect its exclusive economic zone, Habib said.
As much as the country has focused on internal priorities, it continues to push for expanded cooperation with allies across the Indo-Asia-Pacific.
“In today’s world, there is no alternative to inclusiveness,” Habib said. “Mutual cooperation is indispensable for attaining the desired benefits from the ocean. Given the growing strategic and economic importance of the Indian Ocean region — vis-à-vis the quantum of challenges encountered here — a meaningful partnership among the littorals is vital.”
He said no littoral state can address maritime challenges alone. All must work together “hand in hand” to develop a “robust cooperative mechanism” designed to face today’s challenges, Habib said.
“The geostrategic and geoeconomic importance of the Indian Ocean today has made this region the pivot and prime mover of the world economy in the 21st century,” Habib said. “It is thus essential to explore these historic opportunities through robust maritime cooperative engagements.”
He described Bangladesh’s foreign policy as “friendship to all and enemies to none.” That has remained evident in Bangladesh’s long-standing support and participation in the United Nations peacekeeping program. Bangladesh sent its first deployment of peacekeepers in 1988 and has become one of the largest peacekeeper contributors, sending more than 8,000 personnel over the years, according to the United Nations.
“The Bangladesh Navy always works together with friendly nations and friendly neighbors,” Habib told FORUM. “Whatever cooperation is occurring, we will be there. We want to see a peaceful life for our next generation. We want to leave a good world for our next generation. If we can work together and share each other’s experience and technology, everybody will be benefited.”
Toward the Bangladesh Navy’s vision of a more cooperative Indo-Asia-Pacific, Habib said Bangladesh plans to expand the working relationship among all navies operating in and around the Indian Ocean during the Bangladesh Navy’s chairmanship of IONS. He wants to see the symposium’s 35 members gather some time in 2017 to participate in a humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) exercise — a first of its kind for IONS.
“If we become closer to each other, then probably our problems will be easier to solve,” Habib said. “We want to work in harmony in a very congenial atmosphere, so that together, we can secure our Indian Ocean for our nations.”
Given the universal concern for natural disasters, Habib said an HADR exercise seems like the natural way to begin increased cooperation among IONS members — outside of its existing forums. However, he said, other issues remain equally important, like maritime terrorism.
“Any time terrorist groups try to penetrate or enter through our coastal regions, we need to stop them,” Habib told FORUM. “If every country is serious about stopping these intruders in their area, then together, we can stop this menace.”
The inaugural Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) seminar was hosted by the Indian Navy in 2008. Subsequent seminars have been held by the United Arab Emirates Navy in 2010, the South African Navy in 2012, Royal Australian Navy in 2014 and the Bangladesh Navy in 2016.
IONS includes 23 nations that permanently hold territory that abuts or lies within the Indian Ocean and seven observer nations.
- South Asian Littorals: Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Pakistan, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and United Kingdom (British Indian Ocean Territory)
- West Asian Littorals: Iran, Oman, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates
- East African Littorals: France (Reunion), Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa and Tanzania
- Southeast Asian and Australian Littorals: Australia, Burma, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Timor-Leste
China, Germany, Japan, Madagascar, Malaysia, Russia and Spain