Digital interoperability will be the pivotal aspect of the upcoming joint military exercise between India and the United Kingdom that will mainly comprise anti-submarine and air defence operations, said Commodore Steve Moorhouse, Commander of the UK Carrier Strike Group (CSG) led by the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The UK Carrier Strike Group, which had conducted bilateral Passage Exercise with the Indian Navy in July earlier this year, is now slated to conduct more focused exercises with the Indian Navy and the Air Force later this month on its way back to the UK. The CSG, comprising nine ships, 32 aircraft, including F-35B fighters and choppers, and 3,700 personnel had set sail from the UK in May this year on its inaugural deployment engaging with 40 countries.
Interacting with reporters onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth, which was 40 miles off the Mumbai coast on Thursday, Commodore Moorhouse described the fifth generation aircraft carrier as “the largest warship the United Kingdom has ever built — 65,000 tonnes of UK’s sovereign territory with four-and-half acres of flight deck.”
Speaking about the joint exercises with Indian Armed forces, the Commodore said, “Our exercises with the Indian military are the biggest exercises we have ever done. It is one of the very few times that as a nation we are exercising in maritime, land and air dimensions. What’s really important in modern militaries is digital interoperability…ability to seamlessly share information. It is proving that you can get information from, say an Indian jet to a UK ship to an Indian submarine, as quickly as possible so that commanders can make decisions based on the best possible information. And when you have ships, aircraft, submarines and forces ashore, it becomes really complex.”
It can be recalled that in the virtual summit held between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his UK counterpart Boris Johnson in May this year, the two leaders had agreed to hold joint exercises “that will deepen cooperation in a region of critical strategic importance to both countries.”
Elaborating further on the joint exercise, Commodore Moorhouse said, “You have to have common operating procedures. No matter where you meet in the world, you can come together as an alliance, as a group of like-minded nations. We will do exercises that will test our anti-submarine procedures. For example, an Indian submarine will pretend to be the enemy and the Indian and Royal Navy ships will find it. We will do air defence exercises where our F-35s will attack the group as will the Indian Air Force jets. The forces will change sides all the time to try and increase the complexity. The challenge now for both the partners is to take it forward, be it in anti-piracy efforts in Western Indian Ocean or for freedom of trade further east.”
In the Carrier Strike Group, the HMS Queen Elizabeth is leading six Royal Navy ships, a Royal Navy submarine, a US Navy destroyer and a frigate from the Netherlands, in what the UK government has called “the largest concentration of maritime and air power to leave the UK in a generation.”
On way to Japan, CSG had earlier sailed through the South China Sea prompting a strong reaction from China. Asked about the journey through the South China Sea, the Commodore said, “We were there through August and September. India and the UK and many other countries in the region have been maritime trading nations. We rely on the free flow of trade. If anybody tries to stymie that or stop that… like-minded nations would want to come together to stand against it. That’s what a lot of these exercises are about — demonstrating that democracies with similar views of the world want to keep peace and stability. That could be in South China Sea, Western Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Aden or the North Sea.”
Speaking about the Indo-Pacific tilt of the UK, the Commodore said, “This is Queen Elizabeth-led Strike Group’s inaugural deployment. Its timing has synchronised with the recent integrated review. The headline in that review was the realisation and articulation of the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific region, and how we, as a country, wanted to have a more sustained presence in the region. Nearly one third of the deployment will be spent in the Indo-Pacific region. And nearly 10 per cent of the time spent at the sea has been in exercising and engaging with India. That just goes to show the importance we have placed on the region and India as a nation.”