The inaugural General Rawat India-Australia Young Officers Exchange Program wrapped up in Delhi on March 14.
Under the program, initiated by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – and announced jointly in 2021 with then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison – five officers from each service travel to India for what will become an annual exchange program between the two nations.
During the two-week tour, the 15 Australian and 15 Indian officers travelled to a range of operational units, military academies, research-and-development facilities, and conducted a number of cultural exchanges and visits.
The program was established in honour of the late Indian Chief of Defence Staff, and comes at a salient time for Indian-Australian relations, including Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s visit in early March and the Australian test cricket tour of India.
Head Australian Defence Staff – India Commodore Damien Scully-O’Shea said the relationships formed during the tour for the future of Australia-India relations were invaluable.
“The first iteration of the program has set a high bar, and the relationships formed by the young officers – both professional and personal – are what characterises true partnership,” Commodore Scully-O’Shea said.
“Australia and India are doing a lot with each other, and our future together as comprehensive strategic partners is bright.”
The program was designed to foster friendships and working relationships at a junior officer level, to establish long-lasting bonds between the future strategic leaders of each nation.
The senior officer of the Australian contingent, Royal Australian Navy Lieutenant Commander Sid Raper, said despite some cultural differences there are many similarities between the two forces and nations.
“We bonded very quickly with our counterparts, and all the officers on the program have made friendships that will outlast the bounds of the program,” Lieutenant Commander Raper said.
“It was particularly heartening to see while we were obviously learning a lot about how India conducts its defence force, the Indian officers themselves each learned more about their sister services than they had perhaps imagined.”
Outside of the frenetic pace of official activities, the program included cultural exchange visits to Golconda Fort in Hyderabad, Goa, Delhi markets and the Taj Mahal in Agra.
The program coincided with Holi, the festival of colours.
Australian Army Captain Saarthak Shetty said Holi was an opportunity to experience an important part of Indian culture.
“It was fantastic to see how excited the Indian officers were embracing us into their celebrations,” Captain Shetty said.
Royal Australian Air Force Flight Lieutenant Aimee Parsons said there was good reason India and Australia were described as natural partners.
“Whether in the armed forces, on the cricket pitch or over a beer, there is a real ease in developing an understanding of each other and becoming good mates,” Flight Lieutenant Parsons said.
“The hospitality shown throughout the tour by the Indian defence forces eclipsed our expectations.
“The bar has been set very high and we look forward to reciprocating next year by showing them what Australia has to offer.”