New Delhi: The upcoming deployment of an Indian spy plane to Australia to conduct maritime surveillance in the Indian Ocean is the first step for both countries to more regularly host visiting forces.
The leaders’ communique following Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s virtual summit with Indian counterpart Narendra Modi – released almost 24 hours after it concluded – flagged the prospect of Australia and India striking reciprocal access arrangements that would make it easier for military exchanges.
Such agreements can cover access to bases, ammunition, and fuel stores in foreign countries for visiting forces. The communique said agreements between Australia and India were important for “facilitating deeper operational defense co-operation and its contribution towards free and open critical regional maritime corridors”.
“Leaders reaffirmed following up on opportunities for further defense co-operation in areas of mutual interest,” the communique said.
Further details about the Indian spy plane deployment were not available, but Australian Strategic Policy Institute head Peter Jennings said the P-8 Poseidon aircraft was one of the few western military systems India operated, and Australia would help India maximize its use.
“The types of exercises we’ve done with the Indians in the past have been pretty light on, but this would be a step-up in terms of complexity,” he said.
“This is where we were 15 years ago with Japan: fairly uncomplicated maritime surveillance, then it becomes coordinating ships and aircraft at sea. Exercises are the ladder of complexity and this is the first step being climbed.”
Jennings said while the Indian Ocean was not as contested as the Pacific Ocean, South China Sea, and the East China Sea, China was building its presence, funding commercial ports in Sri Lanka and Pakistan that could also be used by the Chinese navy.