India-UK Defence Relations The Sunak Factor

With signing of the FTA on the anvil, two-way trade between India and the UK should flourish under Sunak's premiership. India-UK collaboration in defence trade is being supported by a new export licensing arrangement intended for shortening delivery times for defence procurement. It would be prudent to acknowledge that Sunak will place Britain's interests the foremost as any country head would do.

October 31, 2022 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd) Photo(s): By gov.uk, Twitter / adgpi, SP Guide Pubns
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army

 

Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister of the UK

The media has been in frenzy since Rishi Sunak became leader of the Conservative Party of Britain and thus the Prime Minister of the UK. He is the first Asian and of Indian-origin to become the Prime Minister of that country. The euphoria is more because he is a Hindu and visited the Iscon Temple to pay obedience after being elevated to that post. In a message to Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: "Warmest congratulations @RishiSunak! As you become UK PM, I look forward to working closely together on global issues, and implementing Roadmap 2030. Special Diwali wishes to the 'living bridge' of UK Indians, as we transform our historic ties into a modern partnership."

Sunak was born in Southampton to parents of Indian descent who migrated to Britain from East Africa. He is faced with the herculean task of bringing the UK's economy back on track. The poor state of Britain's economy was the BREXIT hara-kiri committed by some self-serving politicians to seize power in Britain, further aggravated by the global fallout of the Ukraine conflict. In his first public address outside 10 Downing Street, after meeting the King, Sunak said that the aim of Liz Truss (his predecessor) to elevate the British economy was correct.

Boris Johnson would be waiting in the sidelines to grab the premiership from Sunak whenever the opportunity comes up

In its present economic crisis amid soaring prices and public discontent, the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India is extremely important for Britain. It is quite possible that following the resignation of Liz Truss as prime minister, Boris Johnson did not run for premiership with the general perception that Sunak's India connection would facilitate early signing of the India-UK FTA.

However, Boris Johnson, blue-eyed of America's Joe Biden Administration because of all out support for Ukraine including multiple visit to Kiev, would be waiting in the sidelines to grab the premiership from Sunak whenever the opportunity comes up. For the time-being, Boris plans to promote all out support for Ukraine in the West, according to new reports; an international envoy for aiding Ukraine and rebuilding it. That way he will remain in the limelight. Besides, the 're-building business' is so very lucrative moneywise.

Rishi Sunak has already signaled full support for Ukraine. Britain has been drawing artillery ammunition from Pakistan and packaging it with British markings before supplying it to Ukraine. Traditionally, Britain has been America's protégé (or rather pooch) following American policies in letter and spirit. Sunak will be doing the same including supporting America's re-kindled love for Pakistan. For that matter, Britain's own tilt towards Pakistan vis-à-vis India should be expected to continue, the reasons for which have been explained in these columns earlier including the lucid justifications given by Pakistani-origin author Ayesha Siddiqa.

Traditionally, Britain has been America's protégé following American policies in letter and spirit. Sunak will be doing the same including supporting America's re-kindled love for Pakistan.

With signing of the FTA on the anvil, two-way trade between India and the UK should flourish under Sunak's premiership. Incidents of violence against Indians and Asians in the UK should go down, if not eliminated altogether. Otherwise, it would be prudent to acknowledge that Sunak will place Britain's interests the foremost as any country head would do.

External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar also received a call from UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly wherein both leaders discussed bilateral relations and the Ukraine conflict. Jaishankar tweeted: Received a call from UK Foreign Secretary @JamesCleverly. Discussed counter-terrorism, bilateral relations and the Ukraine conflict." This was in backdrop of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) set to hold a discussion over Ukraine's 'dirty bomb' threat".

Exercise Ajeya Warrior - The 6th Edition of India-UK Joint military exercise. The 14 day joint exercise resulted in better understanding & enhancing interoperability between both Armies.

An interesting development in India-UK defence relations is the launch of a joint defence industry group. It is a forum to support enhanced co-operation between the defence industrial bases of the two countries. The inaugural meeting of the new defence industry Joint Working Group (JWG) was held on the sidelines of the DefExpo 2022 exhibition in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, on October 18, 2022. According to the British High Commission in New Delhi, the JWG is linked to a commitment contained in the Road Map 2030 agreed to in 2021 to significantly bolster collaboration and defence industrial ties.

An interesting development in India-UK defence relations is the launch of a joint defence industry group. It is a forum to support enhanced co-operation between the defence industrial bases of the two countries.

Mark Goldsack, Director of UK Defence and Security Exports says, "This is another step in the growing defence relations between the two countries. The UK is a world leader in critical defence technologies such as jet engine developments and electric propulsion technology. We are keen to share this expertise with India supported by our respective industries."

The British High Commission has also said that India-UK collaboration in defence trade is being supported by a new export licensing arrangement intended for shortening delivery times for defence procurement. This arrangement is facilitated through a new Open General Export License (OGEL) issued in July 2022; being the first that the UK has issued to any country in the Indo-Pacific region.

UK is a world leader in critical defence technologies such as jet engine developments and electric propulsion technology. India needs support for its air combat programs including the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (shown here).

The India-UK Roadmap 2030 for a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership agreed during a virtual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the then British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on May 4, 2021, included the following among other issues:

  • Space cooperation for peaceful purposes;
  • Cooperation in nuclear domain - nuclear energy, nuclear security and safety, non-proliferation, decommissioning and waste management;
  • Defence and security cooperation to tackle cyber, space, crime and terrorist threats and develop a free, open and secure Indo-Pacific Region;
  • Maritime cooperation;
  • Joint exercises and professional military exchanges;
  • Defence collaboration (research, innovation, technology and industry) - develop transformational defence and security capabilities to tackle common threats and the operational challenges of the future, establish a portfolio of UK-India collaborative projects to support the development of new technologies and capabilities, broaden dialogue on Combat Air collaboration to determine how the UK can support India's Light Combat Air MK2 Program;
  • Cyber security cooperation,
  • Counter terrorism cooperation.

The new India-UK JWG to support enhanced co-operation between the industry bases is expected to focus on technologies to support India's air combat programs including the proposed Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA). Ironically, the West has always shied away from transfer of technologies (ToT) to India when it comes to critical technologies. India is in need of aero-engines technology. Can Britain's Rishi Sunak government facilitate such technology transfer?