26 Apr 22. Boris Johnson’s visit to India and his subsequent meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi last week in order to discuss matters of defence, diplomacy and trade appears to have to have gone down well.
Pre-visit blurb put out by the MOD suggested that Mr. Johnson and his host would discuss next-generation defence and security collaboration across the five domains – land, sea, air, space and cyber and the facing up to complex new threats. That, said the MOD in its statement, included support for new Indian-designed and built fighter jets and that the UK would be offering to India the best of British know-how on building battle-winning aircraft and also that the UK would be seeking to support India’s requirements for new technology to identify and respond to threats in the Indian Ocean.
In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine it seems that collaboration is not just a word of hop but one of reality. Yesterday for instance, the UK through MBDA and the Polish Armaments Group signed an interim capability contract with the Polish Government supporting the early introduction of Poland’s future Common Anti Air Modular Missile (CAMM) surface to air missile short-range air defence system
MBDA’s Managing Director Chris Allam said that the company is proud to be part of such an important programme for the protection of Polish skies together with our Polish partners from the Polish Armaments Group. This rapid initial ‘Narew’ project demonstrates MBDA’s agility to respond to urgent needs and develop sovereign system solutions in rapid timescales. We are already working to deliver the first systems to Poland as well as addressing the wider Narew programme of technology transfer and Polish manufacture.
The number of collaborative defence projects that UK companies are involved has been increasing and it is less than two years since the Ukrainian Naval Capabilities Enhancement Programme was also announced – one that includes naval infrastructure, new missile craft, retrofit of existing ships plus the purchase of two upgraded former Royal Navy mine counter measures vessels.
The MOD statement in relation to India noted that in order to support greater defence and security collaboration over the coming decade, the UK intends to issue an Open General Export Licence (OGEL) to India – this in order to reduce bureaucracy and to shorten delivery times for defence procurement. This would, apparently, be the first OGEL in the Indo-Pacific region.
So far so good but let us not forget that India is now racing to cut imports of defence equipment and that over the past two years India has announced at least three large lists of sub-systems and components that will now not be allowed to be imported into the country. More of these are likely to follow given particularly that the stated overall aim by the Indian Government is that India itself intends to become a hub for manufacturing of military platforms.
Between 2017 and 2021 India had been the largest global importer of defence equipment – this accounting for 11% of total global arms imports according to the Stockholm-based defence organisation SIPRI. The bottom line is that India continues to welcome foreign OEM’s (original equipment manufacturers) as long as they are designing and manufacturing equipment in India.
That India should be pushing a policy of increased ‘self-reliance’ is nether surprising or wrong. This is after all a vast nation with a massive coastline extending to 7,516km plus 2,94 km of island territories.
India has long felt threatened and I recall reading an ‘India Quarterly’ view in regard of Security Threats and Responses which without specifically mentioning Pakistan or China suggested that ‘Challenges to internal security of India are numerous and that the extent and scope of these threats are complex, varied and vast and that no other country in the world confronts so many threats, with so much intensity at the same time.
Russia has long been the major supplier of imported defence equipment but as older contracts draw to an end defence related imports from Russia have, over the past five years, declined by 47%. The major beneficiary of this appears to have been France due to orders for Rafale fighter jets and purchases of anti-tank guided missiles and munitions.
The UK has not been a major exporter of specific defence equipment to India in recent years but the UK has plenty of defence technology and equipment that India would probably like.
To that end, in 2021 India and the UK agreed on a ‘road map’ in order that the UK would support India’s development of a light combat aircraft as well as supporting collaboration in areas such as maritime propulsion systems, space and cyber.
I note that during Mr. Johnson’s visit to India last week India’s Foreign Secretary, Harsh Vardhan Shringla was reported by The Wall Street Journal to have said that:
“Propulsion systems for naval ships and the aviation sector are among the British technological innovations that India has an interest in” noting that “the key attraction for India was that the expanded cooperation would foster collaboration between scientists from both countries and boost domestic defense manufacturing. What we’re looking at is a combination of UK technology and our production base to make it a win-win situation.”
Technology transfer can be expected to be a big part of this. India has come a very long way over the past twenty years in developing the abilities and know-how to produce more of its own defence capability.
There are issues left to be resolved and there were few signs last week that the two countries were ready to agree a free trade deal. Relaxation of immigration rules for Indian nationals seeking to come to the UK may need to be a big part of that but that does not appear to be in prospect yet.
India is a massive country and one that has massive potential for the UK. It is good to see that after years of seemingly losing out to Russia and France that relations between the UK and India are seemingly moving back to where they should be and that increased defence collaboration is playing a part in that.
CHW (London – 26th April 2022)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785