Given the widely shared criticism of the wide gap between rhetoric and reality in India-UK defense relations in recent years, the just-concluded visit of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in India cause it to shrink, perceptibly?
In their April 22 joint press briefing, Johnson and his host, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seemed to think so. But then, such an atmosphere of optimism also existed when the two met “virtually” last May and outlined their “2030 roadmap” or vision.
The two Prime Ministers echoed more or less the same themes and their importance this time too, notably the five sectors that the 2030 Roadmap had identified – revitalized and dynamic links between the peoples of the two countries; reinvigorated trade, investment and technology collaboration that improves the lives and livelihoods of their citizens; enhanced defense and security cooperation that brings a more secure Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific region; and Indo-British leadership on climate, clean energy and health acting as a global force for good.
Here, defense and security cooperation included maritime cooperation, cybersecurity and counter-terrorism, as well as space and nuclear cooperation (particularly on nuclear security and safety issues, non-proliferation, disarmament and non-proliferation).
In this context, the only concrete decisions that were taken during the British Prime Minister’s visit to India (his first as Prime Minister) interestingly concern the defense sector (the big announcement of the free trade pact if not, Johnson said, would wait a few more months at least, Indian festival “Deepavali” in October).
First, there was the conclusion of a cybersecurity pact. The two sides issued a joint statement to further intensify cybersecurity cooperation, particularly in the areas of cyber governance, cyber deterrence and safeguarding critical national infrastructure. They also agreed in this context to cooperate closely to counter the persistent threat of terrorism and radical extremism.
It can be noted here that the UK is the largest cybersecurity market in Europe and that India’s own cybermarket is growing at around 15% per year. Greater collaborations on this front also mean generations of mutually beneficial businesses and jobs. It is an area, alongside homeland security, that the UKIBC is currently developing with a number of state governments in India, it is said.
Secondly, two MoUs on the implementation of the India-UK Global Innovation Partnership and the Global Center for Nuclear Energy Partnership (GCNEP) were exchanged during the visit. Under the Global Innovation Partnership, India and the UK have agreed to co-fund up to £75 million to support the transfer and scale-up of climate-smart sustainable innovations to third countries.
The new GIP fund created under this partnership will also aim to raise an additional £100 million from the market to support Indian innovations.
Third, there would now be a “strategic technology dialogue – ministerial-level dialogue” on new and emerging communication technologies such as 5G, AI, etc.
Fourth, it was decided to collaborate on “Integrated Electric Propulsion – co-development of technology between the two navies”, although it can be said, as we will see, that it is not exactly a question of a new development.
Fifthly, the UK is creating an India-specific open general export licence, reducing bureaucracy and delivery times for defense procurement. As Johnson pointed out, “to support greater defense and security collaboration with India over the next decade, the UK will issue an Open General Export License (OGEL) to India. India, reducing bureaucracy and shortening delivery times for defense procurement. This is our first OGEL in the Indo-Pacific region.”
Only the European Union and the United States currently have such licenses with the United Kingdom, it is said.
India-UK Defense Collaboration
This is an important development in the sense that while importing sophisticated foreign arms and ammunition, the Modi government nowadays prefers to import them as foreign military sales/government to government transactions through government-to-government negotiations rather than direct commercial sales.
In addition to eliminating the possibility of corruption allegations that surrounded many defense imports in the past, this not only allows for higher “comfort levels” for the Indian government, but also provides “sovereign guarantees” in terms responsibility for products, deadlines and costs. .
But this was something that had hitherto been missing from Indo-British arms sales, which relied on commercial transactions. As Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, senior fellow at the London-based think tank, has argued, a new government-to-government framework for arms transfers to India could be a game-changer in British arms transfers to India. ‘India.
As things stand, Britain is a negligible source of Indian arms. India is the second largest arms importer in the world, but its arms acquisition from the UK remains between 2 (two) and 3 (three) percent. The most notable defense imports from the UK to India are the 123 Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) aircraft from defense firm BAE Systems.
Perhaps that’s why Johnson agreed with Modi that there are now better prospects for defense collaborations, especially co-development and co-production to meet the needs of both countries’ armed forces.
The UK Prime Minister said he discussed next generation defense and security collaboration across all five domains – land, sea, air, space and cyber – as both countries face “complex new threats “.
He added that “the UK will work with India to strengthen security in the Indo-Pacific, including new fighter jet technology, helicopters and collaboration in the underwater combat space.
We have agreed to a new and expanded defense and security partnership, a decades-long commitment that will not only forge closer ties between us, but support your goal of Make in India,” referring to the push from national manufacture of Modi.
But this is not something new that the British Prime Minister revealed. In fact, at their virtual summit last year, Modi and Johnson had spoken about the same thing, a little more clearly about the UK’s collaboration with India on the development of the future combat air engine of India for its indigenous Mark 2 light combat aircraft.
British officials had further clarified that the Indian Aviation Development Agency (ADA) and British industry would collaborate on the LCA Mk2, and possibly AMCA (India’s Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft Program to develop a stealth, multi-role, air superiority fighter for the Indian Air Force), under the banner of the UK-India Defense Technology and Industrial Capability Cooperation (DTICC) agreement, signed in 2019.
The idea was to have “more than ever co-creation, co-development and government-to-government stewardship”.
It was also hoped last year after the virtual summit between Modi and Johnson that the deal, already signed between Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and Rolls Royce, would move components from manufacturing the MT30 gas turbine engine to India.
The MT30 is a widely used engine in navies around the world and forms the basis of the UK’s integrated electric propulsion system that powers the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.
The idea here was that Indo-British collaboration in the maritime domain, particularly in India’s indigenous transport program and the electric propulsion of its next-generation warships, would further cement the defense ties between the two country.
It has also been said that the UK’s advanced integrated electric propulsion technology could be tested under India’s project to build six AIP submarines – the “P-75I programme”.
Obviously, things haven’t changed much over the past year. If they move after the conclusion of the agreement on “Integrated Electric Propulsion – Technology Co-Development between the two Navies”, it will be a positive development, indeed.
It seems that the British are now more willing to liberalize their transfer of technology to the Indian defense industry.
All in all, things have moved very slowly when it comes to defense collaborations between India and the UK over the years. British defense industries must show the same zeal and enthusiasm as Prime Minister Johnson to partner with their Indian counterparts, with the notable exception of BAE Systems which has partnered with Mahindra Defense to manufacture M777 ultralight howitzers.
And all this despite the fact that in 2015 the UK-India Defense and International Security Partnership (DISP) was signed to “step up” cooperation. There was also the MoU on Defense Technology & Industrial Capability Cooperation (DTICC), signed in 2019; Memoranda of Understanding for logistics and training; agreements to allow a smoother exchange of information between the armed forces on each side; and more joint exercises.
Above all, the United Kingdom has publicly announced its “inclination” towards the Indo-Pacific region, a policy in which relations with India occupy a primordial place.
As far as Europe is concerned, India’s defense/security relations with France are very advanced compared to those between India and the United Kingdom. Therefore, London needs to do much more after Brexit to maintain the multi-faceted Indo-British military ties. There must be a “quantum leap”, to use what Modi once said.
- Veteran author and journalist Prakash Nanda is Chairman of the Editorial Board of EurAsian Times and has been commentating on politics, foreign policy and strategic affairs for nearly three decades. A former National Fellow of the Indian Council for Historical Research and a recipient of the Seoul Peace Prize Fellowship, he is also a Distinguished Fellow of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies. CONTACT: [email protected]
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