Britain and India find themselves similarly placed. They are both globalising while being mindful of rapidly changing geo-political equations and economic challenges that temper their ambitions. In a sense these are the motivations of the UK’s recently concluded Integrated Review and, while not spelt out as explicitly, of the doctrine of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’. How can these two aspirations help each other?
Co-innovating technologies of the future
A strategic relationship is built on shared foreign policy goals as well as economic partnerships. In the areas of defence risk perceptions and of military technologies, these lend themselves to a natural synergy between India and the UK. Co-innovating and co-creating the technologies of the future – from vaccines to clean energy solutions to, of course, military technology – is a logical corollary. Yet, despite the UK accounting for [16%] of global defence sales, its share of the Indian defence market has steadily tumbled over the decades to around [2%].
This is where a meeting (virtual or physical) of the Prime Ministers of the two countries offers a once-in-a-century opportunity for a paradigm shift in defence collaboration between the two nations by building on recent steps taken through the government to government framework that offers the prospect of much deeper strategic engagement.
Integrated Review and the tilt to the Indo-Pacific
The UK has recently published the outcomes of the Integrated Review (IR) of security, defence, development and foreign policy titled ‘Global Britain in the Competitive Age’ that describes the UK government’s vision for the UK’s role in the world over the next decade.
The review clearly enunciates a tilt towards the Indo-Pacific region with the goal of “strengthening defence and security cooperation, including in maritime security, building on our overseas military bases and existing contribution in the Indo-Pacific”. The review also recommends enhancing UK’s engagement with FPDA (Five Power Defence Arrangements) partners, and increasing engagement with regional security groupings.
Desire for a quantum leap in the Indo-UK relationship
The review focuses on the UK-India relationship, recognising the existing strength of the relationship and clearly envisioning a desire for, what Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently described as “quantum leap” in the relationship.
The foundations are strong as we share several commonalities and values. India is the world’s largest democracy and an actor with a growing global footprint. As Commonwealth nations, India and the UK share strong cultural links: 1.5 million British nationals of Indian origin are making huge contributions to various walks of life in Britain; and there is broad and extensive collaboration across the education, science, and technology sectors.
Trade between the UK and India more than doubled between 2007 and 2019, and the investment relationship supports over half a million jobs in each other’s economies, and the UK is India’s second-biggest research partner.
Most importantly, there is a strong convergence of strategic vision between the two countries and no unresolved disputes that could become deal breakers in future.
From Make in India to Co-Create in India
UK and Indian companies, as highlighted in India Global Business’s recently concluded ‘Defence Boardroom’ meeting, are ready to take this relationship to the next level in defence cooperation – and step up the engagement from ‘Make in India’ to ‘Co-create in India’. As India embarks on the path of self-reliance in defence production, in line with the vision of Indian Prime Minister Modi, it will find in the UK a partner ready, willing and able to collaborate in the transformation of India’s defence sector.
The UK, as a leading nation in defence systems, has a track record of partnerships that goes beyond physical assets and includes embracing technology sharing and security partnerships.
G2G framework opens up new opportunities
As our two countries look to set up a much deeper government-to-government (G2G) framework for defence and trade, it opens up opportunities for companies in the UK to partner with their Indian counterparts. Britain’s defence equipment makers can become partners of choice for both the public sector as well as the private sector in India for co-creating and co-developing technologies for the Indian armed forces as well as for exports to friendly nations.
To achieve this, we must work together to develop new intellectual and ground-breaking property that will enable both countries to strengthen their positions in the global defence production value chain.
Benefiting from India’s globally admired frugal engineering capabilities
There will be scope to leverage India’s globally admired frugal engineering capabilities and the power of the new IP we jointly develop to produce military equipment as well as related software and services.
Not only will this help create thousands of new jobs for our highly skilled workforces in both countries, but it will also generate immense skilling and re-skilling opportunities in the local supply chain eco-system that such a defence manufacturing environment will inevitably foster.
I see tremendous synergies between the needs and capabilities of both countries by building on the foundations of the centuries-old relationship between our two countries.
The time has truly come for us to make that “quantum leap” that both Prime Ministers will strive for in the coming days.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.