India will soon activate a satellite tracking and imaging station in Vietnam that will give Hanoi access to pictures from earth observation satellites launched by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Deccan Herald has reported.
Located in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, the station will cover much of the region, including China and the highly contested South China Sea. The centre will be linked to existing ISRO stations in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, Brunei, Biak in eastern Indonesia and Mauritius, significantly improving India’s reconnaissance, surveillance and intelligence-gathering capabilities.
The station will be used to track satellites launched from India and receive data from them. It will also facilitate the sharing of data with the remote sensing agencies of Vietnam and other member countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), helping them in the management of natural resources, the study of ocean and responding to natural disasters.
“This is a sort of quid pro quo which will enable Vietnam to receive IRS (Indian remote sensing) pictures directly, that is, without asking India,” an unnamed official told Reuters in 2016, when details of the project were first revealed.
The station, which is the first such foreign facility in Vietnam, would reportedly keep track of Chinese coastal naval bases, the operations of its coastguard and navy and its island building activity in the disputed South China Sea.
China has already registered its protest against the move, although unofficially. In a report published in 2016, China’s state-run newspaper, Global Times, said India’s move to set up the satellite tracking station in Vietnam “clearly” indicated its “attempt to complicate the regional dispute” over the South China Sea.
Work on the satellite tracking station began in 2016 as part of the programme for space cooperation between India and the ASEAN. ISRO has spent around $23 million on the construction of the centre.