India-UK defence

As widely speculated the Narendra Modi visit to United Kingdom did not result in new contracts for Hawk trainers but the two sides signed a comprehensive defence and international security partnership which will tie the two nations in close security framework.

For example the resolve by both countries to work together to promote a secure international maritime domain. Without referring to China this extremely significant paragraph applies to South China Sea, as both countries have said that they will work together to promote and uphold freedom of navigation and overflight, in accordance with accepted principles of international law, including the UN convention on the law of the sea.

Freedom of navigation

China has been dishonoring and violating this law in the South China Sea and India has a vital stake in preserving the independence of this vital maritime trade route which accounts for over half of Indian export and import. Once this trade route is treated as falling under the territorial waters of China, India will find it difficult to send its warships through the South China Sea and Indian trade shipments will also need to be intimated to the Chinese.

Though India and Britain has not engaged in any major defence deal after the famous Hawk trainer deal in the nineties, UK campaigned unsuccessfully for the four nation Eurofighter Typhoon, as a major partner . Britain has earlier supplied to India the Jaguar deep penetration strike aircraft and the Aircraft Carrier Hermes ( INS Virat).

The British Rolls-Royce is a major supplier of aero and ship engines for Indian aircrafts and ships. Indian armed forces had inherited the British defence equipment the defence ties between the two nations were very deep as India was dependent on UK defence companies for defence spare parts supplies and later Indian Navy decided to import second hand Aircraft Carrier Vikrant from the Royal Navy, which raised Indian Navy profile in the region.

Incidentally the second aircraft carrier was also imported from UK. However, with the deepening of Cold War India-UK defence ties declined and picked up in late seventies when India decided to import the Jaguar fighters for its Air Force. In the late nineties the defence relations again picked up when India decided to import Hawk trainers and assemble it in the Hindustan Aeronautics complex.
The two countries have also decided to strengthen their naval cooperation in Indian Ocean, including through Royal navy participation in the International Fleet Review, enhancing the Konkan series of bilateral naval exercises and exchange of information to enhance Maritime Domain Awareness( MDA).

Expanding cooperation

As an expanded mechanism of cooperation both the countries will deepen their bilateral relationship through biennial summits, which will be supported by their annual Foreign Office Dialogues and NSA level talks. The two countries will also hold their annual strategic dialogues between the Defence Ministers and between the joint/ integrated and single Service Chiefs. The two countries will also hold annual Defence Consultative Group and executive Steering Group talks and will also introduce a sixth steering group, to coordinate Joint Forces and Integrated Defence Staff Cooperation.

Both the countries will also intensify their biennial military exercise program, which will start with the Naval, Army and Air Force exercises planned for 2017 in India. The two sides will also strengthen the training and lecture exchange programs across their defence and staff colleges and training establishments. The two countries will also develop their annual joint working groups on counter-terrorism and Cyber including encouraging close contacts between CERT-UK and CERT-IN.

The two Prime Ministers also agreed to work together in support of Make in India on indigenous defence projects. However it is doubtful if the British defence companies will transfer their production to India as they are already under the obligations to provide jobs to British youths. The British will invest only in those projects under Make in India, which will have firm orders from Indian armed forces.

The close coordination and cooperation in defence and security issues has led to a commitment expressed in the joint vision statement. This says, “ we are both global actors, committed to upholding the international rule of law and to seeking solutions to global problems within the framework of the UN and other international organisations. The UK reaffirmed its support for permanent membership for India in the UNSC, enhanced role in other international bodies and membership of International export control regimes.

The vision statement reasserts the forward looking steps in security and defence cooperation. “We want to work more closely together to respond to the threats of terrorism and extremism, cyber attacks, nuclear proliferation and violent conflict. We will also pursue enhanced engagement in defence capability, expertise and in sharing technology, analysis and information that enables us to better respond to contemporary challenges and ensure safety and security of the citizens of two countries,” said the vision statement. One can only hope that these commitments will really be put on ground.