This is Naravane’s fifth visit to a foreign country during the Covid-19 pandemic after Myanmar, Nepal, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia

Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane on Monday kicked off a three-day visit to South Korea to bolster military cooperation with the East Asian country, the first by an Indian Army chief, the army said in a statement.

This is Naravane’s fifth visit to a foreign country during the Covid-19 pandemic after Myanmar, Nepal, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

“During the first-ever visit of an #IndianArmy #COAS to #RepublicofKorea, General MM Naravane #COAS interacted with Minister of National Defence, His Excellency Suh Wook and discussed issues of mutual interest & defence cooperation,” the Indian Army tweeted on Monday.

Naravane also called on the chairman of joint chiefs of staff General Won In Choul and discussed avenues for scaling up the bilateral defence relationship. He also met minister of defence acquisition planning administration (DAPA) Gang Eun Ho and exchanged views on defence cooperation.

He will visit the Korea Combat Training Centre in Inje County in Gangwon and the Agency for Defence Development (ADD) at Daejeon.

The K9 Vajra-T guns in the army’s inventory represent collaboration between private sector defence major Larsen & Toubro and South Korea’s Hanwha Techwin (HTW). In April 2017, the two firms signed a $720-million contract for the Indian Army’s artillery gun program. L&T has assembled the guns at a facility at Talegaon near Pune in Maharashtra. An improved version of HTW’s K9 Thunder, the K9 Vajra-T has been designed to meet Indian requirements, including those of its desert formations.

A Korean firm was also pursuing a program to build minesweepers in the country under the Make in India initiative but the plan has failed to take off. Another Korean defence firm is looking at the possibility of supplying the BIHO self-propelled anti-aircraft defence system to the Indian military.

Defence ties between India and South Korea have expanded in recent years due to a convergence of strategic interests, mutual trust and high-level exchanges, officials said. The two sides elevated their ties to a special strategic partnership in 2015, a year after they signed an agreement on the protection of classified military information.

During South Korean president Moon Jae-in’s visit to India in 2018, the two sides agreed to explore possibilities to coordinate efforts in defence to benefit from each other’s capabilities and experience, and to enhance military exchanges, training, research and development and defence industry cooperation.

Maritime cooperation too has grown through visits by warships joint exercises. During defence minister Rajnath Singh’s visit to South Korea last year, the two countries signed an MoU on extending logistics support to each other’s navies.