The UK Secretary of State for Defence, Grant Shapps, met with his Indian counterpart, the Honourable Raksha Mantri Shri Rajnath Singh on 9-10 January 2024 to extend the two countries’ existing defence ties.

The ministers agreed to act upon their strategic partnership enshrined in the 2030 India-UK roadmap, announced in May 2021, which details a range of “ambitious” commitments to matters such as the climate, security, terrorism and maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific – a theatre that has gained growing attention due to China’s military posture.

In that spirit, the Indian Ministry of Defence noted the two countries shared interests in a statement on the 9 January. “Raksha Mantri noted with appreciation the growing strategic convergence between the two countries, particularly in the Indo-Pacific.”

A number of plans were made including the deployment of a British Littoral Response Group (LRG) to the Indian Ocean later this year, with a Carrier Strike Group (CSG) to follow in 2025. Both forces will operate alongside Indian forces.

This comes just off the heels of Shapps’ December pledge to deploy another CSG to Japan in 2025.

Depending on operational requirements, an LRG comprises at least two amphibious warfare ships, a company of Royal Marines and auxiliary elements primarily tasked with amphibious warfare from littoral areas. While a CSG consists of a Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier and two accompanying surface escorts – one Type-23 frigate for anti-submarine warfare and a Type-45 destroyer for anti-air warfare.

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Curiously, Shapps’ announcement of an LRG in 2024 comes just after concerns that both Albion-class amphibious assault ships – designated Landing Platform Docks – could face the chop to alleviate personnel difficulties in the Royal Navy.

While Britain is demonstrating a commitment that goes well beyond the recent deployment of two River-class offshore patrol vessels – HMS Tamar and Spey – to the Indo-Pacific, the extent of Shapps’ ambitions are unprecedented given the apparent struggles of Britain’s naval forces.

New Anglo-Indian initiatives

Building on the existing strategic partnership, during the visit the UK and India also confirmed several new joint initiatives.

This includes establishing a bespoke office to help further defence collaboration between the two countries; several instructor exchanges; a youth exchange to solidify the already strong relationship between their cadet organisations; and a Letter of Arrangement that will enable further emphasis to be placed on research and development, focused on next-generation capabilities.

Furthermore, additional joint training, joint exercises, authorised port visits and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations were also discussed.