Sunday, June 23, 2024

DA’s Desk: Brigadier Gavin Thompson, United Kingdom Defence Adviser, New Delhi

Let me begin by acknowledging the tragic death of General Bipin Rawat, his wife Madulika and the 12 other souls who lost their lives this month. I had the privilege in my time in Delhi to work with General Rawat to strengthen our bilateral relationship; first when he was the Chief of the Army Staff and then as India’s first Chief of Defence Staff.  

He was eternally warm and open in his dealings with the UK. He had a special bond with the former UK’s Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter. They spoke frequently and General Rawat was a gracious host to his visit in October 2021. The UK grieves alongside this amazing country for the loss of so many of its most distinguished servants. 

General Rawat was a supporter of this publication and we have been delighted to publicise the UK’s deeper regional engagement and technology offer through the magazine over the last 6 months. This year, the UK Government announced its Integrated Review. In May, our respective Prime Ministers announced that the UK and India would henceforth have a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. Defence and security is a critical component of that partnership.

The UK will be engaging more deeply in the region on many of the most pressing global challenges – from climate change and biodiversity to maritime security and geopolitical competition linked to rules and norms.  As a signal of this intent, this year, our Carrier Strike Group worked alongside the Indian Navy twice. A full 10% of its activity with nearly 40 partners throughout the 6-month deployment was reserved to work with India. In October, we conducted our first tri-service exercise, Konkan Shakti, together. The UK is now only the third country with whom India has conducted a tri-service exercise. 

Equally as important as that which occurred this year is our long-term relationship. Our military relations run deep and are often strongest in areas not publicly visible. Our defence ties go back several decades. The UK respects this unique relationship. Our military institutions often share origins. Indian soldiers have fought more with those of the UK than any other country. Even today, are working together at UN peacekeeping missions. 

Our defence education programme is over 100 years old and is still today a global exemplar on the exchange of military and strategic thinkers.  We exchange officers between the Royal College of Defence Studies, the National Defence College and the Staff Colleges of the UK and India. This means there is more commonality than difference in our thought processes, emerging out of a unique military heritage. 

To build on this partnership, the UK already has multiple points of permanent presence in the region.  In the West we have training bases in Kenya.  In the East logistic supply depots in Singapore. In between there are many more including large investments in West Asia. At any point of time, we have seven ships deployed to provide security in the western region of Indo-Pacific, and we have two to the East; all visit India when opportunity allows. Earlier this year, the UK joined the IFC-IOR with the permanent deployment of our naval liaison officer at Gurugram; working together to build the essential Maritime Awareness necessary to exploit the employment of the deployed vessels. The UK has forward based two Offshore Patrol Vessels permanently in the Indo-Pacific.  The Indian Navy will be the first with whom the OPVs operate in the region.

Next year Indian Air Force jets will train with Royal Air Force jets in the UK, Royal Navy vessels will visit a number of ports in India to take part in international and bilateral exercises, the Army will first visit India in February. The UK has also committed a Littoral Response Group to the region, ready to respond quickly to regional crisis in areas of strategic importance to the UK. As a two Aircraft Carrier Nation with a fifth generation Air Force, we would expect to have a frequent presence in the Indian Ocean. India and the UK are both blue-water, multi-carrier navies, which places us in a very exclusive club. 

While we intend to build our relationship on these strong foundations, we also listen to Prime Minister Modi’s call for Atmanibhar Bharat. We support India’s ambitions of becoming self-reliant in its defence and security needs. The UK wants to work with India to combine our industrial expertise with India’s growth in the defence sector in a way that is mutually beneficial to the people of both the countries. We have much to offer one another in defence research, development and training. We have already taken a step by working together on aerospace and maritime propulsion technologies.

So as I look forward and prepare to leave my post as Defence Adviser, I think our countries have reached a point of significant strategic alignment on regional security and defence industrial collaboration. With the structural underpinning of our people-to-people relationships, I am optimistic for the future.

About The Author

Brigadier Gavin Thompson was commissioned into the Royal Tank Regiment in 1993. He has served widely as an armoured officer on operations and in many countries gaining extensive experience on multiple armoured platforms including Challenger 2. He has served in armoured, mechanised and light formations. He commanded the 1st Royal Tank Regiment Battlegroup in Iraq in 2009 for which he was awarded the Queen’s Commendation. He has worked extensively in the areas of defence, army and acquisition reform. He assumed his current appointment as the Defence Adviser in New Delhi in January 2019. 

He has a First Class Degree with Honours in History and Politics and Masters Degrees from Cranfield University, King’s College London and the University of Madras. He has suspended his PhD studies while completing his appointment in New Delhi. He is an alumnus of the UK’s Advanced Command and Staff Course, the Royal College of Defence Studies and the 8th National Defence College in New Delhi. He is the Colonel Commandant Royal Tank Regiment, a member of the Royal Armoured Corps Council and Chairman of Royal Armoured Corps Nordic Skiing.


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