(This was originally posted in Hindustan Times by Rezaul H Laskar)
The UK on Tuesday posted a liaison officer at a key Indian Navy centre that tracks shipping and monitors threats such as maritime terrorism and piracy in regional waters, joining countries such as the US, Australia, France and Japan that have a presence at the facility. Lieutenant Commander Stephen Smith will be based full-time at the Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) in Gurugram, serving as the UK’s international liaison officer (ILO). He will work directly with India’s armed forces and liaison officers from partner nations to enhance maritime domain awareness in the region.
Smith’s induction will build on the commitment by the UK and Indian prime ministers to boost cooperation with the launch of the 2030 Roadmap in May, the British high commission said in a statement. The move comes weeks after the UK’s largest warship, the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, and its strike task group embarked upon its maiden voyage that will bring it to the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.
Speaking about the deployment of the British liaison officer at the information fusion centre, Admiral Tony Radakin, the UK’s chief of naval staff, said he was “excited at the opportunities this position brings us for closer UK-India collaboration and information sharing”.
He added, “Coming as a natural outgrowth of the strong partnership between the Royal Navy and Indian Navy, this is a significant step up in our shared maritime domain awareness effort, and boldly underlines UK and Indian desires to work together in the Indian Ocean Region and wider Indo-Pacific.”
Acting British high commissioner Jan Thompson said the UK is committed to becoming the “European country with the broadest, most integrated presence in the Indo-Pacific in support of trade, shared security and values”. The posting of the British officer at the Indian Navy centre is “another tangible step to enhance our joint capability to tackle shared challenges”, she said.
The international liaison officers act as contacts between their countries and the Indian Navy for sharing information on the movement of merchant vessels and maritime threats. The US, Australia, France and Japan had earlier posted liaison officers at the IFC-IOR that was established in December 2018.
The three main objectives of the IFC-IOR are confidence and capacity building among partner nations to ensure swift and accurate exchange of information on maritime security, extensive linkages to ensure comprehensive maritime domain awareness of the region, and use of hi-tech and analytic tools for maritime traffic analysis to predict emerging threats and trends.
The Indian Navy took the initiative of launching the IFC-IOR because more than 75% of the global maritime trade and 50% of daily global oil consumption passes through the region, and the presence of threats such as maritime terrorism, piracy, human and contraband trafficking and illegal and unregulated fishing.
The UK has contributed more than £20 million to tackle piracy in the western Indian Ocean region, and Britain’s white shipping agreement with India enables information-sharing across the region.
Gavin Thompson, the defence adviser at the British high commission, described the IFC-IOR as an “excellent platform to enable closer engagement and ensure greater sharing of information on vessels of interest”.
“The UK and Indian armed forces already enjoy high levels of interoperability, which will be on full display during the upcoming visit of the UK’s carrier strike group, led by one of our largest aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth. The appointment of the UK liaison officer forms part of our enhanced maritime partnership to bolster security in the Indian Ocean,” he said.