The United Kingdom will send its Littoral Response Group to the Indian Ocean Region in 2024, followed by its Spearhead Carrier Strike Group (CSG)in 2025 for joint maritime exercises with India, signaling the growing defense cooperation between the two nations and the deepening British naval focus to the Indo-Pacific Region.
This was the outcome of the talks between United Kingdom’s Defense Secretary Grant Shapps and the Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh during the latter’s two-day visit — the first in over 20 years by an Indian defense minister — that ended on January 10.
A Littoral Response Group (LRG) is a Royal Navy task group consisting of at least two amphibious warfare ships, a company of Royal Marines, and supporting elements.
The LRG is primarily tasked with amphibious warfare from the inshore areas, the coastal zones where land and sea meet. The LRG is part of a broader initiative to adapt the UK’s amphibious forces to operate more dispersed and agilely.
The UK CSG is NATO’s first fifth-generation carrier strike capability. According to reports, it is the sword arm of the UK’s joint expeditionary capability and a cornerstone of the UK’s conventional military deterrent.
The CSG was deployed in 2021 when it undertook a port visit to India, apart from Singapore, Korea, and Japan. The CSG can move, act, and fight as an integrated and cohesive force, even across thousands of miles. Still, individual ships can detach from the leading group to conduct independent or concurrent tasks as required.
In their meeting on January 9, the UK’s defense secretary and India’s defense minister “discussed a range of defense, security, and cooperation matters with particular emphasis on enhancing defense industrial collaboration,” the Indian Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
Shapps stressed that “the relationship between the UK and India is not transactional. Instead, both countries are natural partners with many commonalities and shared goals.” The Indian minister appreciated the growing strategic convergence between the two countries, particularly in the Indo-Pacific.
The bilateral defense meeting was followed by the signing of two agreements between India and the UK: An MoU on the conduct of a bilateral international cadet exchange program and a Letter of Arrangement between the Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) on defense collaboration in research and development.
“These documents will provide impetus to the people-to-people exchanges, particularly among the youth, and a larger area of defense research collaboration between the two countries,” the Indian statement said.
Vowing to continue strengthening their military ties, the two sides agreed to unprecedented levels of UK-India defense cooperation. Shapps announced “the UK’s plans to send its Littoral Response Group to the Indian Ocean Region later this year, with plans for the Carrier Strike Group to visit in 2025 both will operate and train with Indian forces,” a statement from the British High Commission in New Delhi said.
The two nations also discussed future defense cooperation, from joint exercises to knowledge sharing and instructor exchanges. The British statement said these steps build on the comprehensive strategic partnership envisaged in the 2030 India-UK roadmap, announced in 2021.
“In the coming years, the UK and India will also embark on more complex exercises between their respective militaries, building up to a landmark joint exercise to be conducted before the end of 2030, supporting shared goals of protecting critical trade routes and upholding the international rules-based system.”
Shapps said: “There is absolutely no question that the world is becoming increasingly contested, so it’s vital that we continue to build on our strategic relationships with key partners like India.
“Together, we share the same security challenges and are steadfast in our commitment to maintaining a free and prosperous Indo-Pacific. Clearly, this relationship is going from strength to strength, but we must continue to work hand-in-hand to uphold global security in light of threats and challenges that seek to destabilize and damage us.”
The “international rules-based system” and the “global security in light of threats and challenges that seek to destabilize and damage us” are all euphemisms for the international concerns over China’s aggressive military modernization and territorial contestations with its neighbors, be it India or those littorals in East China and South China Seas.
“Collaboration with industry is also key in the strategic defense partnership between the UK and India, with the two nations working together on electric propulsion systems that will power our future fleets and cooperating on developing complex weapons,” Shapps said.
The electric propulsion system from the UK is being considered for India’s indigenous aircraft carriers of the future, including the second IAC, likely to be christened ‘Vishal.’
Building on the existing strategic partnership, during the visit, the UK and India also confirmed several new joint initiatives: The launching of the Defense Partnership-India, a bespoke office designed to further defense collaboration between the two countries; a commitment to several instructor exchanges between our world-leading Officer Training Colleges and specialist schools, alongside the signing of a Youth Exchange MOU to solidify the already strong relationship between our cadet organizations.
The two sides have also signed a Letter of Arrangement to emphasize research and development between our two nations, focusing on next-generation capabilities. However, these next-generation technical areas of cooperation have not been spelled out either by the United Kingdom or India more specifically.
The two leaders also solidified an agreement on logistics exchange, allowing for the provision of logistic support, supplies, and services between the United Kingdom and Indian Armed Forces for joint training, joint exercises, authorized port visits, and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations.
India has similar logistics exchange arrangements with several other nations, including the United States, Australia, and Japan — the other three Quad nations — apart from Singapore and South Korea.
- NC Bipindra is a 30-year veteran in journalism specializing in strategic affairs, geopolitics, aerospace, defense, and diplomacy. He has written extensively for the Times of India, New Indian Express, Press Trust of India, and Bloomberg News. He can be reached at ncbipindra (at) gmail.com
- Follow EurAsian Times on Google News