In October the UK’s Carrier Strike Group (CSG), led by HMS Queen Elizabeth sailed into the Bay of Bengal in what was a demonstration of the UK-India Comprehensive Strategic Partnership agreed by leaders of both the countries earlier this year.
The deployment of CSG was all about the UK’s commitment to deepening its economic, diplomatic, and security ties in the Indo-Pacific region. For ensuring a free, open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific, India is very important.
Earlier this week, Gavin Thompson, Defence Adviser at the British High Commission in India, discussed various aspects of India-UK Defence Cooperation with Huma Siddiqui.
Following are excerpts
Have the UK’s military relations with India only become more visible recently with the Carrier Strike Group’s visit to India?
Our military relations run deep and are often strongest in areas not as publicly visible as the recent visit of the Carrier Strike Group (CSG). Our military institutions often share origins and our defence education programme is over 100 years old – we exchange officers between the Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS), the National Defence College and the Staff Colleges in the UK and India. Indian soldiers have fought alongside those of the UK more than any other country. Even today, we are working together at UN peacekeeping missions around the world.
This means we have more in common than differences in our ways of working. We are also of course proud of the vibrant presence of personnel with Indian heritage serving in the UK’s armed forces. They represent the very best of the living bridge that connects our two nations.
The CSG visit in October led HMS Queen Elizabeth, one of the two largest warships ever built for the Royal Navy, underscores a new phase of ambition and interaction between the UK and India. A full 10 percent of the CSG’s activity on this deployment was committed to India, which is considerably more than any other partner. This was a major step forward in the ongoing deepening of our ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’ with India. During the CSG’s visit, elements from all the three services participated in the first tri-service exercise, Exercise Konkan Shakti. Operating at this level of complexity is only possible when military cultures and thought processes run deep.
What kind of a relationship is your government envisaging with India? What role do you think the British Navy can play in the region?
The UK shares India’s desire to see a free, open, democratic Indo-Pacific region that supports the rules based international system.
The UK’s Integrated Review – a landmark review of our foreign, defence, development and security policy, published earlier this year – committed the UK to becoming the European country with the broadest, most integrated presence in the Indo-Pacific in support of trade, shared security and values. The Royal Navy will play its part in that. The UK will, for example, forward base two Offshore Patrol Vessels permanently in the Indo-Pacific. We are also committing a Littoral Response Group to the region, ready to respond quickly to regional crises in areas of strategic importance to the UK.
The 2030 Roadmap announced by Prime Ministers Modi and PM Johnson in May 2021 is the commitment from the highest levels of Government to strengthen bilateral relationships across multiple pillars. Defence and security is a critical component of that Roadmap, in which we agreed a shared ambition and commitment to regional security and to the co-development of defence technology.
Earlier this year the Indo-Pacific Strategy was rolled out. What role does the British Navy have in the Indo-Pacific?
The Indo-Pacific is the fastest-growing economic region in the world; a crucial transit point for global trade and home to a number of UK allies and trading partners. The UK’s ‘Indo-Pacific tilt’, as articulated in the Integrated Review, sets out that we will be engaging more deeply in the region on many of the most pressing global challenges – from climate and biodiversity to maritime security and geopolitical competition linked to rules and norms.
The Royal Navy is a potent demonstration of ‘hard power’ but it is also capable of significant contribution across the whole range of maritime security threats. It is already working with partners to tackle shared regional threats like terrorism, piracy and smuggling.
What is the status of the Indo-UK Military Relations post BREXIT? Most importantly on Maritime Security.
The UK’s exit from the European Union marks the beginning of a new chapter in our national story and 2021 has been our opportunity to show what Global Britain offers to the rest of the world.
The UK and India are natural partners in defence owing to decades of working closely together and to our shared cultures. We intend to build on these strong foundations in the decade ahead. This includes, for example, Prime Minister Modi’s call for Atmanirbhar Bharat – in the 2030 Roadmap we committed to work closely on the co-development of defence technology, including aerospace and maritime propulsion.
The UK is world renowned for its maritime awareness capability and I am pleased to note that in June, the UK placed its first International Liaison Officer at the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) in Gurugram.
The Logistics Agreement according to reports is already finalized. By when do you think it will be signed? And how useful will it be for the Indian Navy?
“The Logistics agreement was signed by both Prime Ministers in the 2030 Roadmap. The MoU itself is in the final drafting stages and we expect it to be finalised soon. It will be a foundational agreement upon which our armed forces can operate together with reduced logistical burden.”
What about the government-to-government agreement related to collaboration in developing a jet engine?
We know that India intends to develop an indigenous fighter jet engine by building technological capability in India. DRDO has been looking for a partner and the UK’s world leading experience in jet engine design and manufacture is an obvious candidate. We envisage that such an arrangement will progress via a government-to government agreement. This ambition is consistent with the 2030 Roadmap commitment from both the UK and India to establish a portfolio of collaborative projects to support the development of new technologies and capabilities.
Are there any plans to collaborate with the Indian Navy for building warships?
India has excellent warship building capability in both its private and public sector shipyards and is already exporting vessels to customers all over the world. The UK also boasts world-leading capability having produced the Daring Class Type 45 Destroyers, the Type 26 Global Combat Ship and Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers. A new fleet of Inspiration Class Type 31 Frigates are currently under construction in Birkenhead.
As world leading developers of maritime propulsion technology and operators of Integrated Full Electric Propulsion, there is huge scope for knowledge sharing between the Royal Navy and Indian Navy in not just maritime design and construction, but development of maritime propulsion capability. We have begun early discussions and Rolls Royce has already signed a Memorandum of Understanding with HAL.
Should India seek collaboration in this area, they will find a willing government and industrial partner in the UK.
Last but not the least: Will the AUKUS military alliance start an arms race in the region? And how does AUKUS plan to deal with Chinese aggression in the waters?
Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom are establishing an enhanced strategic partnership – AUKUS. This partnership is incredibly important for our security. It builds on the vision set out in the UK’s Integrated Review about promoting stability in the Indo-Pacific. The AUKUS announcement is a demonstration of that broader vision for our role. Both the US and Australia are trusted allies who share our vision of the world and an international order in which free societies can flourish.
This is about the long-standing and deepening defence and security relationship between the UK, Australia, and the United States. Australia has one of the largest maritime domains in the world. This capability will help Australia to fulfill its defence and security responsibilities and promote stability in the region.
This is not a zero sum game; we have established a range of enduring partnerships in the region. The UK is also the first new ASEAN Dialogue Partner in over 20 years and the first country to launch negotiations to join the £9 trillion Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).