Australia-India relations have never been better. It started with the virtual leader’s summit in June 2020, raising the bilateral relationship to a level of comprehensive strategic partnership. Bringing Australia back into the 2020 Malabar naval exercise into the quadruple regenerated multiple dialogues and diplomatic camaraderie between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Scott Morrison. It was a breakthrough possible in the shortest time within the usual and slower pace of diplomatic movement. The tide was rising in the pacific as China starting staking up Pacific Island nations under its hegemonic ambition to score both symbolic and tactical victories in its global scheme.
The joint declaration on a shared vision for maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific laid the foundation for both countries to work together to the promote a free, open, inclusive and rules-based maritime order.
It reflected when Jaishankar made the remarks addressing a press conference along with Australian Foreign Minister, Penny Wong after both Ministers held the 13th India-Australia Foreign Ministers’ Framework Dialogue (FMFD). The Foreign Ministers’ Framework Dialogue is the 13th of that series which focus on crucial issues on trade and economy, education, defence and security. Framework also dwells on the clean energy.
Jaishankar talked about the many agreements to expand our diplomatic footprint in each other’s countries. “So, we would certainly welcome Australia doing so in India and look forward to doing the same in Australia, at some point of time,” he said.
We had good discussion, Jaishankar said. The range of discussion was wide enough which reflects the growing ties. I was indeed the comprehensive scale of the bilateral discussion said a senior official who was part of the mission. It focussed on key issues: the Ukraine conflict and its repercussions to the Indo-Pacific, the progress in Quad, G20 issues, the trilaterals, the UN, the IAEA, climate finance and Sustainable Development Goals.
“So, you can see, it has been, a pretty, sort of broad ranging discussions, and I think, the underpinning of that really is that, as liberal democracies, we both believe in a rules-based international order, in freedom of navigation in international waters, in promoting connectivity, growth and security for all,” Minister Wong said, in ensuring that countries make sovereign choices on matters that are important to them.
Indian and Australia finalized the economic cooperation and trade agreement this year and are moving towards its ratification and entry into force. EAM Jaishankar talked about the barriers and streamlining the double taxation issue said: “We also note that steps are being taken to amend the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement because that was also a bit of a challenge to growing our business.”
“And then we really looked at areas like critical minerals, cyber, new and renewable energy and looked at, in a sense, integrating a lot of what our colleagues have been doing over the last few months and when we did that, it was I think very revealing that, in fact, since June this year six of my cabinet colleagues have actually visited Australia, among them the Minister for coal and mines, for renewable energy, for education, for our water resources, our home minister. And we’ve also seen that the Australian Deputy PM and Defence Minister as well as the Deputy Premier of Western Australia and the Premier of New South Wales have been to India with business delegations,” he added.
Defence Industrial Partnership
The strategic partnership turns truly substantial when defence and security start building up within the framework. At this stage of recalibration, the possibilities are emerging which need to be addressed especially in defence and aerospace.
The two countries made meaningful progress to advance defence cooperation including the signing of a mutual logistics support arrangement, and an agreement to support collaboration between defence science and technology research organisations in both countries. Also, significant was the commitment to boost research and development.
The Australian Government will invest over $200 billion over the next decade to build its capability in the Australian Defence Force. Such huge investment will power expertise and innovation, turning Australia’s defence industry in a strong position to export cutting-edge products, technologies and services. Australian Government is also committing to multiple initiatives in R&D in emerging and future technologies– the A$730 million Next Generation Technologies Fund and the A$640 million Defence Innovation Hub to mature technologies.
On the capability perspective plan, there are so much of similarities with India that puts the defence cooperation at the heart of the strategic partnership. Being a net importer of defence equipment, India is radically changing policies and plans to shift gear from heavy import to self-reliant to export. The defence industry in India is abuzz with constant debates on the indigenization drive and looking out for technological partners to drive the change.
Australia’s aerospace industry is competitive and supplies to the world’s markets. However, Australia remains a net import as its vital supplies remain depended on its traditional western partners. Australia becomes one of the major hubs of the 5th Generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter contracts which is massive at A$1 billion for subcomponents such as vertical tail manufacture, sensors and cable(wiring) production. Australia’s expertise in aircraft maintenance and life extensions is matured. Australia’s aerospace industry also has strong capabilities in system and software design, engineering, component design, manufacturing and servicing, air systems integration, airport equipment and services.
Indian aerospace stands at a vital crossroad in time. There are ambitious mega projects –Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), Tejas Mk2, Multirole Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) and Twin-Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF). The synergy and the requirement are humongous for the possible collaboration in the array of such diverse and critical projects.
Maritime is the focus area as Australia’s naval shipbuilding sector is building upon its proven track record for construction, integration, modification and support of naval vessels and on-board systems. Australia’s naval capabilities include: design, ship construction, modular fabrication, systems integration, platform integration, sub-system design and maintenance. Australia built and operates the world’s most advanced conventional submarines, the Collins Class, as well as ANZAC Class frigates, Armidale Class patrol boats and the Hobart Class air warfare destroyers.
Recently, Australia government announced a nuclear submarine prorgamme –AUKUS — with the U.K. and the U.S. This is about building new submarines in Australia. While the subs are planned on U.S. based SSBN, there are reports about the “overburdening” among the partners– the traditional partners. This opens up a new vista for Australian policymakers to engage with India on such advanced cooperation under the joint mechanism for building next generation warships.
With a share of about 3.2% of global GDP and aspiration to grow to a $ 5 trillion economy, India’s shipping and shipbuilding credentials are beginning to shape. But that is where the cutting edge technology in the shipbuilding requires global collaboration. Declared as a strategic sector, shipbuilding is the area of strategic investment from Australia for building capability and capacity together.
Space Tech in Defence
Space is the one of areas where India has been collaborating with Australian Space Agency (ASA) since 1997, supporting direct collaboration with Indian satellite systems, conducting joint research, and even launching an Australian satellite from an Indian Space Research Organisation ISRO launching facility.
The ISRO and ASA have decided to intensify their scope of collaboration in the growing space technology in civil and defence.
Barry O’ Farrell AO, Australian High Commissioner to India explained the historic partnership, remarked: “As the Australian Space agencies work with ISRO to support India’s inspirational Gaganyaan human Spaceflight mission, both the countries are opening up the sector to private players of the world. COVID-19 disrupted launches and supply chains globally, but it has also accelerated convergence in a strategic, economic, and commercial interest.”
The Australian Space Agency’s sector priorities are designed to transform and grow Australia’s space industry. These sectors include: communications technologies; services and ground; space situational awareness; positioning, navigation and timing; earth observation (EO) services; robotics and automation; research and development, and leapfrog technologies; and access to space.
How is it unfolding?
In a first such partnership between the private entities, Australia’s Space Machines Company has entered into a collaboration with Bengaluru-based aerospace and defence manufacturer Ananth Technologies on product integration, testing, technology development, and joint-space missions.
Indian space start-up Skyroot Aerospace forged partnership with Australian startup HEX20 to develop launch services, spacecraft avionics, and components to Australian Space Initiatives. Another Australian space entity QL Space also partnered with Skyroot Aerospace to develop launch facilities in Australia and support joint mineral exploration missions in space.
The opportunities are wide across the domain in the space ranging from the AI-based solutions to support the agriculture, mining, and defence industries and application to the outer space and lower earth orbit. Such applications further open up joint research and collaboration for managing space debris, fueling satellites in orbit satellites, satellite servicing and building infrastructure on the ground.
These could be part of the strategic framework and working towards the noticeable trend of consolidation of supply chains in defence and aerospace. As technology spreads across the world, this has also led to a growth in cross-sectoral opportunities for industries, which means that new markets offering immense growth opportunities that open up in the Indo-Australian partnership.
The scale of industrial production will enable the emerging defence industries to develop aerospace capabilities within and achieve a degree of self-reliance. Time is perfect now as Foreign Minister Penny Wong puts it across:
“We don’t want to see any one country dominating or any country being dominated. We both recognise our region is being reshaped economically and strategically, and I think our partnership is a demonstration that we understand that this period of change is best navigated together.”