NEW DELHI: Slowly but surely, India and the UK are working to ramp up maritime cooperation in the the Indian Ocean region (IOR). The strategic salience of the region as well as the wider Indo-Pacific has seen the two countries engage more closely to explore ways to increase collaboration.
It’s already bearing fruit, say UK government sources. The two countries have decided that a UK liaison officer will be posted in the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) in the New Delhi suburb of Gurugram. Moreover, aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth will undertake her maiden voyage with her carrier strike group in the IOR in 2021.
Royal Navy destroyer HMS Defender, which is powered by an integrated electric propulsion system, visit Goa earlier this week. Indian Navy officers had a close look at the ship against the backdrop of their force being in the hunt for such systems for its warships.
Greater collaboration in the maritime domain has also made the UK government hopeful that ‘Konkan 21’, the bilateral maritime exercise to be held in 2021, “could be the most complex and sophisticated yet” in their bilateral wargames. The UK is equally optimistic that when HMS Elizabeth undertakes her first full operational deployment in the IOR, India too will deploy an aircraft carrier alongside for an exercise.
The Indian Navy’s Fusion Centre, established less than a year ago, is an information hub processing and collating information on white shipping in the IOR with the aim of keeping a hawk-eye on maritime security threats.
The placing of an officer from the UK at the IFC-IOR is part of the initial plans to host liaison officers from partner countries at the centre. “We are talking much more closely with the Indian government on collaborating in the IOR. We recognise the value of working together and discussions on the IOR have been important and increasing in pace,” said UK government sources.
The British Vice Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Tim Fraser, was in New Delhi last month as part of the effort to give a fillip to bilateral ties in the maritime domain. Admiral Fraser, said sources, reiterated the UK’s commitment to the IOR.
Even as UK and India forge closer links in the IOR, UK government sources noted that Britain has been present in the region for long. They drew attention to the presence of the UK near the Straits of Hormuz, which straddles important sea lanes, right up to the waters near the ASEAN countries.