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I Am Open To Exploring The Trilateral Cooperation With India, Indonesia & Other Countries In Our Region: Australia Defence Minister Linda Reynolds

Australian Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds in an exclusive interaction with BW Businessworld’s Manish Kumar Jha discusses the contours of the defence and strategic ties and maritime cooperation between the two nations.

Photo Credit : Australian Department of Defence

THE Indo-Pacific region is of strategic importance to India and Australia as both are heavily dependent on sea for conducting majority of their global trade. Therefore, maintaining the law of the sea and free navigation in the Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific region is crucial to both. The Military Logistic Agreement and Australia’s reentry into Malabar Exercise now build up to the formidable QUAD. Australian Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds in an exclusive interaction with BW Businessworld’s Manish Kumar Jha discusses the contours of the defence and strategic ties and maritime cooperation between the two nations.

India- Australia Virtual Leaders’ Summit between Prime Minister Scott Morrison & PM Modi held in June, is breakthrough, elevating Comprehensive & Strategic Partnership especially in Defence & security. How does Australia plan to take forward the shared vision of a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific region?
I would like to start by noting what great friends India and Australia are. India is the world’s largest democracy, and is critical to the strategic balance of power in the Indo-Pacific. Trade with India is important to many regional economies, including Australia’s. 

Australia and India have much in common: our Commonwealth history, democracy, trade, the large Indian community here in Australia, and of course cricket! 

On the 4th of June, Prime Minister Morrison and Indian Prime Minister Modi announced the historic elevation of the India-Australia relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.  

Our bilateral defence relationship is at an historic peak.  Our joint defence activities quadrupling between 2014 and 2019.

HMAS Success (centre) with Indian Navy Ships Ranvijay (L) & Sahyadri (R) AUSINDEX 2019

The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership commits us to work together in ten areas, including: science and technology; maritime; defence; regional and multilateral forums; terrorism; the economy; innovation and entrepreneurship; education, culture and tourism; UN and international bodies; and public administration and governance.

The Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) has been relatively late in coming in view of the biennial India-Australia Naval Exercise (AUSINDEX) that has existed since 2015. Will it gather momentum by includ­ing Australia in MALABAR naval exercise? What are the other mechanisms for further cooperation on security?
India and Australia are natural partners in the Indo-Pacific and India is a top-tier security partner for Australia. Building a stronger defence and strategic partnership with India will contribute to regional security and prosperity. 

The elevation of our Defence and Foreign Affairs dialogue to a Ministerial meeting at least every two years will drive our enhanced cooperation as this important relationship continues to strengthen and grow.

Australia and India have agreed to boost cooperation in the maritime domain, as outlined in the Joint Declaration on a Shared Vision for Maritime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific issued by the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Marise Payne, and External Affairs Minister Dr Jaishankar. Among other things, we have committed to deepening our naval and coastguard ties, as well as our cooperation on safety and disaster response.

Under the Mutual Logistics Support Arrangement, our two countries will enhance military interoperability, cooperative engagement, and responsiveness to regional humanitarian disasters. 

It will also enable greater cross-service military activity, building from the success of our most complex exercise to date, AUSINDEX 2019, which focused on anti-submarine warfare.

More than half of Australia’s global trade - including oil - crosses the Indian Ocean.  Exercises like AUSINDEX should give Australians confidence that Australia and India share a commitment to maintain freedom of navigation - and the protection of critical trade routes.

Regarding Exercise MALABAR, Australia is always open to participating in exercises and activities with our close partners in the interests of promoting regional security and stability.

The Science and Technology Arrangement will see greater collaboration between our respective defence science and research organisations. 

Ausindex_ Australian Department of Defence

Both countries are net importer of military equipment though act as a regional maritime power for providing net security across the pacific. How do you look at such gaps & missed opportunities in Australia’s defence architecture which is starkly similar to India? What is the potential of Australia’s defence manufacturing and R&D capabilities?
Australia has a strong interest in working together with India to support a stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific region, including through defence industry collaboration and defence exports. Like India, Australia is committed to growing its defence industrial base and sovereign industrial capabilities. 

In fact, this is a focus of our recently released 2020 Defence Strategic Update and 2020 Force Structure Plan. 

The Defence Strategic Update is a timely response to our region’s evolving security environment. The companion Force Structure Plan outlines the capabilities the Australian Defence Force will acquire. And I strongly encourage your readers to review those documents. 

The Australian Defence Force’s ability to act with greater independence is inextricably linked to a sovereign, sustainable and secure Australian defence industry. 

Investing in that industry also supports Australian companies and Australian workers during this challenging economic period. 

Through initiatives such as the Defence Innovation Hub and Next Generation Technology Fund, we are investing over $1 billion in developing cutting-edge technologies that will enhance Defence’s capability and build Australia’s defence industry and innovation sector. 

We also have a strong commitment to enhancing collaborative research and innovation with India through the Australia-India Joint Defence Materiel and Research Working Group, and collaboration between our respective Defence research organisations following the signing of the Science and Technology Arrangement.

What are the plans for India-Australia collaboration in aerospace, in areas of hi-tech components manufacture and supply logistics? Any possibility of the two and their industries coming together for building fighter aircraft, warships and advance systems?
Defence industry interest and engagement with India is increasing, demonstrated by Australia’s first defence industry delegation of ten companies attending the DEFEXPO tradeshow in India in February this year. Our defence industry is always looking to partner and collaborate with their Indian counterparts. 

Through our increased defence industry engagement, opportunities will arise to combine Indian and Australian technology to achieve highly capable and cost effective capabilities for both countries.

I understand that Thales Australia is pursuing opportunities to cooperate with the Indian Armed Forces and Indian industry. The Australian Government is supportive of those efforts. Thales Australia has a strong track record of providing capabilities to the Australian Defence Force.

These programs would deliver a world-class capability to the Indian Armed Forces and provide opportunities to support the development of Indian defence industry. 

I also note there are opportunities for collaboration in the critical minerals and rare earths industry.  Australia, including my home state of Western Australia, has significant geological reserves of critical minerals and rare earth elements. Australia and India have a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding on critical minerals, and I look forward to our business collaborating in this sector. 

 Ausindex_ Australian Department of Defence

There is great potential for India-Australia coordinated joint navy and aerospace operations from Australia’s Cocos Islands to the Indonesian straits and India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands to the Malacca straits. How is it unfolding?
The Indian Ocean is a region where India and Australia’s respective interests will intersect for many decades to come, including in preserving freedom of navigation.  

We are open to opportunities to increase cooperation with our Indian partners, and I have already mentioned that our joint activities are increasing

I am also open to exploring the possibility of trilateral cooperation with India and other countries in oru region, including Indonesia. 

As noted in our 2016 White Paper, Defence is upgrading the Airfield at Cocos (Keeling) Island to support the introduction of P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance and response aircraft.

Royal Australian Navy sailor Leading Seaman Aviation Technician Avionics Aaron Lever waves to an Indian Navy Chetak ( photo: Australian Department of Defence)

What will be the mechanism for collaboration under Australia’s Pacific Step-Up, India’s Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC) & Indian Pacific Ocean Initiatives (IPOI)? Do we need to develop joint patrolling and observation for securing the law of the sea?
Our two countries  share a commitment to supporting strong and resilient regional architecture, including through working within multilateral mechanisms, in addition to trilateral and minilateral meetings with Japan, Indonesia, the United States and other like-minded nations.

Australia and India have agreed to boost cooperation in the maritime domain, as outlined in the Joint Declaration on a Shared Vision for Maritime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific issued by Foreign Minister Payne and External Affairs Minister Dr Jaishankar. 

This will include working together to develop Prime Minister Modi’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative. Among other things, we have also committed to deepening our naval and coastguard ties, as well as our cooperation on safety and disaster response.

Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the Quad) being discussed in Summit. Still, there is less openness about it forming a credible mechanism for maritime security. Will you define it now and its mechanism and implementation?
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the Quad) is a forum for cooperation in support of an open, prosperous, stable and inclusive Indo-Pacific. 

Australia, India, Japan and the United States are committed to regular consultations in the form of the Quad, including at the Ministerial level. We are open-minded about how the meeting might evolve, and open to undertaking new activities, but our priority is to consolidate existing arrangements. 

When is the plan for holding the 2+2, the foreign & defence ministers meeting? 
I am excited about the elevation of our Foreign Affairs and Defence meeting to the Ministerial level. I look forward to locking in the dates for our first meeting at the earliest opportunity.

Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats from HMAS Newcastle prepare to board Indian Navy corvette INS Kora during AUSINDEX 2019_Australian Department of Defence