The next chapter in the defense relationship between India and the UK
Despite the cancellation of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s trip to India due to the worsening COVID-19 pandemic, London and New Delhi’s progress towards a closer and more meaningful partnership is not expected to slow. At the virtual summit between Johnson and Prime Minister Narendra Modi next week, the agenda will likely be quite broad. It will include the signing of an enhanced business partnership agreement and the unveiling of a roadmap for the future of the bilateral relationship during this decade, which will specify the commitment in the fields of trade and investment, defense and security, technology, climate change, energy clean and health care.
Strengthening defense relations between the two countries is important, especially in light of the declaration that he “will pursue a deeper engagement in the Indo-Pacific” and sees India as a “key pillar” in this endeavor. India was also keen to strengthen support from like-minded countries to safeguard its national interests and strengthen its territorial and regional security. This has led India to formalize defense agreements, participate in joint military exercises, and strive to modernize its military in a number of ways. Therefore, the UK’s foray into the Indo-Pacific will certainly be warmly welcomed by India. And while it is too early and strategically unwise for either party to release the details of how this mutually beneficial partnership will play out, contemporary history and events provide an excellent perspective from which to assess where they are. go.
Commitments made in the defense sector
After gaining independence from the British Raj in 1947, India embarked on its own foreign and national defense policy, characterized by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). With the colonial experience fresh in their minds, Indian policymakers chose this approach so as not to find themselves caught between the great powers in their cold war. This did not mean, however, that India was isolated in times of need. During the India-China War of 1962, the United Kingdom supported India’s claim to the disputed territories, and shortly after China declared a ceasefire, it allowed India’s demand for arms and equipment to defend itself “against Chinese aggression.” Two years later, in 1964, the United Kingdom expanded a special defense credit of £ 4.7 million to India for “the reconstruction of the Mazagon shipyard in Bombay and the construction of Leander class frigates”.
Over the following decades, India’s defense relationship with the UK remained largely stagnant, with the exception of the acquisition of defense systems. This slowly began to change after the end of the Cold War, and the two countries entered a strategic partnership in 2004. Annual summits and meetings between heads of government and foreign ministers were envisaged, as well as cooperation in the fields of the fight against terrorism, civilian nuclear activities and civilian space programs, among others. . The UK also reaffirmed its support for India’s permanent membership in the UN Security Council. Then in 2015, the International Defense and Security Partnership The framework was unveiled, calling for enhanced collaboration in cybersecurity, defense and maritime navigation and indicating UK support for projects under the ‘Make in India’ initiative.
Imports of arms and defense production
One would expect that as India inherited its military strength and equipment from the UK at the end of colonial rule, it would continue to rely on the island country for its future needs. As might be expected, it was true, but for a remarkably short period. After enjoying a 100% share of India’s arms imports by value in 1950, the UK’s share of the pie began to decline rapidly throughout the century, amounting to only 4.6% in the 2000s.
UK share of India’s arms imports (in value)
|Year / Period||share percentage|
Source: The limits of the India-UK defense relationship (2013)
This continuing decline can be directly attributed to the Soviet Union’s (and later Russia’s) willingness to sell its defense systems and transfer technology to India, even when the US and UK refuse to do it. As a result, Moscow has established itself as a more reliable defense partner for New Delhi, as illustrated by the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation signed in 1971. Nevertheless, India has continued to stand firm. to procure defense systems for the United Kingdom, in particular the – decommissioned aircraft carriers INS Vikrant and INS Viraat, the Jaguar attack aircraft from the Anglo-French manufacturer SEPECAT and the Sea King helicopters.
With the aim of revitalizing their defense industrial partnership, India and the United Kingdom signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on defense equipment in 1997. The MoU has since been renewed twice, in 2007 and 2019, but the initiative has so far had limited success. While a few joint ventures (JVs) and co-production agreements have materialized, namely the JV of AgustaWestland – Tata Sons making AW119 Koala utility helicopters, the co-production of M777 howitzers by Mahindra Defense-BAE Systems and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited -BAE Systems “Licensed production of advanced Hawk trainer aircraft – more ambitious projects failed to take off.”
On India’s side, the main hurdles have been its red tape-laden and perilously slow purchasing / procurement process, weak incentives for foreign original equipment manufacturers to invest in India, and rules and regulations. uncertain about the exportability of the systems developed. However, in recent years, constant efforts have been made to overcome these obstacles. The limit on foreign direct investment (FDI) in defense production was increased to 49 percent in 2014, then to 74 percent in 2020 under the automatic lane. New acquisition methods, such as the strategic partnership model and Buy (Global – Manufacture in India), have been added. Two industrial defense corridors have been created also in the country, one in the state of Uttar Pradesh and another in Tamil Nadu. British arms manufacturer Webley & Scott has notably set up production in Hardoi, UP, taking advantage of this initiative.
In addition, the Indo-Russian BrahMos supersonic cruise missile and the Indo-Israeli Barak 8 surface-to-air missile systems have become shining examples of India’s defense industrial collaboration with partner countries and have great potential for development. ‘export.
On the other hand, the UK has been slow to adapt to the Indian government’s increasingly preferred procurement method – through government-to-government (G2G) agreements or military sales to the foreign (FMS) for agreements with the United States. Recently, India’s two major defense purchases, France’s Rafale fighter jets and Russia’s S-400 Triumf air defense systems, were made via the G2G route. Realizing the untapped potential, London has developed a G2G framework whose focus will be on the co-development of intellectual property by “designing and manufacturing in India”. Projects Offers under this agreement include the joint development of jet engine technology and sixth generation fighter aircraft technology that can be used in Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) in India currently under development. development. The UK has also offered designs of its Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier for the development of India’s third aircraft carrier. In addition, the collaboration on integrated electric propulsion technology that the Indian Navy was considering for its future warships, is also a possibility.
Indo-Pacific: the new point of convergence
With the UK expanding its footprint in the Indo-Pacific and India, striving to gain prominence as a network security provider in the region, the aspirations and the future of the two countries seem intimately linked. However, faulty execution can still be its downfall.
One area of future attention should be to improve interactions between the military. While there are service-specific joint training exercises, such as the biennial Ajeya Warrior for the Army, Indradhanush for the Air Force, and Konkan for the Navy, their pace was not up to the exercises of India with the United States. India and the UK also did not conduct more complex tri-service exercises, nor did they participate in trilateral or multilateral exercises with other partner countries.
Here, besides geopolitical and strategic calculations, the lack of fundamental agreements can also be a limiting factor. While a memorandum of understanding on joint training is being developed, a military logistics agreement is expected to be signed soon. This will give India and the UK reciprocal access to each other’s bases and formalize the procedures for receiving and paying for logistical support, such as maintenance and refueling. India has similar agreements with Australia, France, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States. As the UK plans to deploy offshore patrol vessels and frigates to the Indo-Pacific, access to Indian bases will increase the operational efficiency of its fleet.
The UK, with its bases in Kenya, Brunei, Bahrain, Oman, Singapore and the British Indian Ocean Territory, is by no means new to the region. Having such an infrastructure already in place will not only contribute to its ambitions in the region, but also to its partners. For India, access to these bases will increase its reach further into the Indian Ocean. By working with other like-minded countries, such as Japan and Australia, there are great opportunities for close cooperation in the areas of maritime domain awareness and intelligence sharing by leveraging the strength of strengths. of each one. In this regard, Japan initiative improving defense intelligence sharing with India, Australia and the UK is an important step.
The deployment of the HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group across the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Indo-Pacific brings yet another opportunity. And although the recently released Integrated review of security, defense, development and foreign policy specifically calls for the enhancement of the strike group’s interoperability with the United States, a similar or joint event is expected to take place with India, which is a regional power experienced in operating carrier battle groups .
Going forward, the defense relationship between India and the UK will no longer be limited to that of a buy-sell. It won’t stop with defense production either. Through close maritime cooperation and a common approach to maintaining regional security and stability in the Indo-Pacific, the two countries have the potential to forge a truly comprehensive strategic partnership in action.