• News
  • Columns
  • Interviews
  • BW Communities
  • Events
  • BW TV
  • Subscribe to Print
  • Editorial Calendar 19-20
BW Businessworld

UK Carrier Strike Group To Sail India To Boost Military Alliances In Indian Ocean

The HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier of the Royal Navy will sail to India. Resulting from the cognition of Indo-Pacific tilt in the UK’s foreign policy, Strike Group will be loaded with destroyers, anti-submarine frigates and notably 5th generation F 35 entering Indian water first time. In the spirit of such maritime exercise, both nations must move ahead jointly on advance military projects beyond announcement. On the flight deck there will be eight F-35B Lightning II fast jets, four Wildcat maritime attack helicopters, seven Merlin Mk2 anti-submarine and airborne early warning helicopters, and three Merlin Mk4 commando helicopters.

Photo Credit :


The UK’s Carrier Strike Group 2021, led by HMS  Queen Elizabeth, will sail to India in the autumn on its maiden operational deployment. The Carrier Strike Group will travel over 26,000 nautical miles from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, from the Gulf of Aden to the Arabian Sea, and from the Indian Ocean to the Philippine Sea.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier of  the Royal Navy – will sail to India, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and the wider region. Resulting from the cognition of Indo-Pacific tilt in the UK’s foreign policy, the Carrier will visit West Coast Ports where it will engage in a series of events to maximise bilateral relations benefitting both countries’ trade and political alliances. 

The ship will conduct a series of joint exercises with Indian Military Forces in the Indian Ocean, expanding our interoperability and enhancing  capabilities to defend against shared threats and protect our democratic values. 

The Strike Group will also comprise Type 45 destroyers HMS DEFENDER and HMS DIAMOND, Type 23 anti-submarine frigates HMS KENT and HMS RICHMOND, and tanker and storage ships FORT VICTORIA and RFA TIDESPRING. 

Notably, first time, eight F-35B Lightning II fast jets will be entering the Indian water along four Wildcat maritime attack helicopters, seven Merlin Mk2 anti-submarine and airborne early warning helicopters, and three Merlin Mk4 commando helicopters. 

Throughout the deployment, the UK will support freedom of passage through vital global trading routes and demonstrate commitment to a recognized international system of norms and behaviours that benefit all countries.  It will also help to establish a maritime partnership with India to support our mutual security objectives in the Indian Ocean. 

It is in the pursuit of recent report of UK Government’s comprehensive review of foreign, defence, development and security policy, published last month, UK government has set forth to mark its presence in the Indo-Pacific. Firstly, the British Government has called for a strategic reorientation of its foreign and security policy towards the Indian Ocean region. 

In the published report called-- UK Defence Command paper, It focused on the security dimensions and roles with India in the shifting geopolitical arena.

Published on 22 March 2021, UK Defence Command paper put forth the vision document for the UK Armed Forces over the next decade focusing on reform, renewal and key overseas partnerships in order to ensure the military is prepared for new and emerging threats and challenges. Paper was the boldest attempt to redefine the threats and roles for UK. 

The Defence Command Paper identifies the rising importance of the Indo-Pacific and recognizes India as a key pillar in the UK’s Indo-Pacific tilt. As a priority, it calls to further develop the UK - India relationship as UK aspires to establish a maritime partnership with India in support of mutual security objectives in the Indian Ocean.

As UK aims to carry out integrated joint exercising, increase understanding of the maritime environment, and sign key agreements to increase interoperability. So far, UK and India have a bi-annual exercise programme across all the services where Indian and British forces undertake joint exercises: Exercise Ajeya Warrior for the Army, Exercise Konkan for the Navy, and Exercise Indra Dhanush for the Air Force.

But as the paper also calls out for the military industrial cooperation with India, it recognizes the pivotal role in the building capabilities together in the Region. It is a gap that is visible even though UK has announced its intent to collaborate with India on advance military project. Still much on paper, UK government has officially invited India to participate in much publicized 6th generation fighter jet project-- The tempest program.  

The Tempest -Concept Design 

If there has been a success story, it is the induction of the first lot of Indian-assembled 155mm, 39 calibre M777A2 ultra-light howitzers (ULH) by BAE Systems in partnership with Mahindra Defence & Aerospace. 

Worth USD $750 Million deal Singed under the provision of Foreign Military Sale (FMS) programme,  25 ready-built guns are to be imported while 120 are to be assembled and partly manufactured in India.M777 Assembly Integration and Test (AIT) facility at Faridabad is a step up in joint collaboration with India in terms of scale. The induction of M777 in fact breaks the deadlock after the Swedish Bofors gun scandal  that bruised Indian Army's light artillery capability.

In that spirit, some of the key initiatives like the proposed aero engine and missile defence systems joint cooperation which is stuck since 2017 must see the light of the day. It was routinely announced by successive defence minister. 

Is it stored for the PM Boris Johnson to announce big bang during his proposed visit to India which is also routinely cancelled due to the surge of Covid19? Such advance technological collaborations should not be the victim of pandemic induced deadlock. 

The UK Enhanced Forward Presence

A focus on the Indo-Pacific will see development of the UK Enhanced Forward Presence through maximising the Carrier Strike Groups regional engagement and increasing maritime presence through the deployment of Offshore Patrol Vessels from 2021, the Littoral Response Group from 2023 and Type 31 frigates later in the decade.

Despite the surge in the announcement in the backdrop of QUAD led maritime groupings of India, US,Australia and Japan, Indian Ocean has many footprints where Royal Navy has permanent base. As UK defence adviser to India, Brigadier Gavin points out: "We don't like to talk much about this." 

UK has maintained its presence in the region notably a logistical facility in Singapore and a naval command in Bahrain. The UK has a 7 x 7 presence in the Western Indian Ocean Region, alongside its presence in India: it has 7 permanent bases in Kenya, Singapore, Brunei, Nepal, Bahrain, Oman, and the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), and 7 ships deployed at any one time to provide security in the Western region of the Indo-Pacific.

The foothold that Britain maintains will serve as a valuable platform to further Britain’s Indian Ocean strategy. Along, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already announced £16.5 billion ($29.7 billion) in funding for the British Armed Forces which is the addition to the existing budget earmarked for Royal Navy.  From 2015-2025 the Royal Navy will grow 30 per cent in tonnage, be a two Carrier Navy and with plans to permanently base Offshore Patrol Vessels in the Indo-Pacific.

According to the paper, it is in the pursuit of closer defence cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other Indo-Pacific countries will see a regional increase in the level of UK activity in the Air, Land and Sea domains, evidenced by the development of an enhanced training facility at Duqm, Oman. 

Further contribution to the Five Power Defence Agreement (FPDA) will also likely see increased activity with the member nations in the form of defence training activities and cooperation.

Under the Defence and International Security Partnership (DISP), the UK and India have formed six bilateral working groups as subgroups to the Defence Consultative Group. The UK-India Logistics memorandum of understanding is currently in the final stages of agreement between our governments and probably to be signed during Johnson's visit to India.

Beyond the spectrum of Defence, UK' s Indo - Pacifc strategy aims to embrace wider connotations. During the UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab's visit to India in December, he discussed road map for greater joint cooperation, including on defence and security, trade, health and climate change. But the center of gravity remains on the security architecture and commitment on building capabilities alongside India as UK Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace MP, said: “The deployment is a symbol of Global Britain in action, and powerfully demonstrates our commitment to India, the Indo-Pacific region, and confronting threats to international order.”