Britain’s Chief of Defence Staff made a visit to India to cultivate their military ties as a key strategic partner in the Indo-Pacific region. The three-day visit lasted from 17-20 April, and it was led off by Chief of the Defence Staff Admiral Sir Tony Radakin’s high-level meetings with the Indian military.

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) stated that the agenda covered the propect of further military-to-military engagement, and the possibility of exploring opportunities around the co-creation of future technologies.

Admiral Radakin and his counterpart, General Anil Chauhan, met to review the progress on various pillars of the UK-India defence partnership.

The MoD made reference to one particular ongoing collaborative programme, which involved “discussions around industrial collaboration in the aerospace sector”. The MoD also stated that these plans “have been progressing”, with the UK’s Minister for Defence Procurement visiting India in February, which was followed by the First Sea Lord visiting in March.

Despite the UK’s shrinking fleets – with forecasts pointing to a mere 15-hull force by the middle of the decade – we are left asking if aerospace technologies are the most important priority for UK defence right now?

That is not to suggest that the Royal Air Force is prospering in comparison, as they too have faced an immense reduction in their resources and service-people.

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While the MoD does state that the talks did encompass “views to further expand ties in all the domains,” the aerospace industry is the only domain specified and has already seen efforts so far this year.

Balancing sustainment and ambition with India

In accordance with its Integrated Review Refresh, published on 13 March, the UK is committed to a greater involvement in the Indo-Pacific region, where tensions are mounting in the context of the US-China confrontation. With reference to the ‘Indo-Pacific tilt,’ the UK must contribute to a coalitionary deterrence effort in the region.

The Refresh states that the UK ought to take an “integrated approach to deterrence and defence, to counter both state threats and transnational security challenges.

“It reaffirms that Nato is at the core of this effort, but is clear that – given the changing threat picture – effective deterrence will mean working through other groupings and beyond the Euro-Atlantic theatre.”

This is where its Indo-Pacific partnerships come in. However, the UK is too ambitious in its commitment to providing military support to the deterrence effort. The reality of their war stocks and reduced capacity severely limit the country in how far it can deliver.

A UK defence committee met recently to discuss the implications of the Refresh, where it was found that there is a “complete lack of urgency” to respond with an acceptable level of military readiness.

Although the talks for industrial collaboration with the Indian armed forces will help to fortify Britain’s defence in the long run, much like the various other programmes that are pending, it does not dispel the problem of Britain’s current capacity.

Neither does it resolve the issue of mounting a formidable maritime deterrence in the Indian and Pacific oceans, as it is expected that confrontation will heat up in the maritime domain in the coming years.