An IDC Report


New Delhi, 16 June 2006

The Earl’s Court Conference Centre in London was the venue of an important naval conference on Future Plans of the Navies of the World. Under the auspices of the International Quality and Productivity Centre (IQPC) the conference brought together some 120 professionals and thinkers for discussions and networking sessions. The Conference provided an opportunity for armed forces around the globe to assess future trends, intellectuals injected trends in the world of security and representatives of the military industrial complex got a chance to plug for business. A win-win situation all round!

All Western and NATO military powers were involved one way or another in active and potential military and missile operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East area around Pakistan and the Arabian Sea. NATO ships of Task Force (TF-150) were fully armed and patrolling the areas with the Pakistan Navy in command for the present. India was not asked to join. Naval officers from Muscat and some Middle East experts were also present and they followed the actions of TF-150 and were aware that all ships were ready for littoral war, with full war ammunition outfits and missiles on board. The common man in the West had lost interest in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan but the senior brass was involved in daily operations and much money was being spent and lives were being lost. The Conference was therefore very illuminating and we learnt why Navies pay so much to attend the Conference, which is worth every penny spent by lessons to be gleaned from the papers which were presented and interaction with serving brass which included five Admirals.

The First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Band was due to attend and give the keynote address but he did not, as he was due to go to India and the plan for the India visit was made after he had accepted to speak and so he must have been occupied and busy. In his place the Second Sea Lord, a very personable officer, addressed the Conference and India and the Indian Navy figured high in the sidelines too. Discussions under the guidance of Chairman Geoffrey Till, Professor of the UK’s Staff College, were of a high caliber. A world figure Geoff Till like India’s Raja Menon is the author of the most famous book ‘Sea Power’, a subject assuming great importance all over again. Discussions with Captain Peter Hore author of ‘Sea Power and the History of the Royal Navy’ and four other books also contributed to this report as both these gentlemen had visited India for conferences recently.

We must mention that the intellectuals and Navy pundits were rightly comparing China and India to what Europe was like in the 1500s, which they saw as rising powers and the Chinese and Indian Navy expansions and 9 and 10% GNP growth figures were indicators. This subject of growth potential and India’s recent engagement prior to marriage with USA, as one put it, in connection with the Defence Framework and Nuclear Deal will be reported by us separately, as it can be eye opening to dwell upon and discuss the issue with Intellectuals and Intelligence experts in India, as Pakistan was going to receive a large chunk of military aid from USA.

Speakers from all over the world and naval leaders including the Deputy Commander of NATO spoke of China and India in their appreciations and the subject of ships being ready for littoral warfare and interoperability came in for mention by every Navy. NATO was looking for ideas for bringing peace in Afghanistan and admitted they were being lulled into complacency as Kabul was somewhat under control but NATO had no control on other areas and were nervous, as the political challenges of NATO’s 36 members were overriding.

However all the discussions brought home that in the 1500s Europe was in a mess with warring and religious differences as the Ottoman Empire receded and that’s what preceded a rise of new power. In Europe’s case it was the fall of the Spanish Armada and the rise of the English led by alliances of marriage and command of the seas. France made compromises. The route to India in 1498 and Columbus’s discovery of America changed the fortunes of nations. Sudden prosperity for the rich came about and this was evident in China and India. Spain the largest power was just throwing the Muslim rulers and the Moors out, France was ruled by the Hapsburg and the English were consolidating with the Tudors and Stuarts coming to end the War of Roses. But corruption was rife, there were multiple Popes fighting and each country had a different view of Christianity and lawlessness prevailed.

Then came the route to India and America which made Europe rich and the British Privateer Navy crushed the Spanish Armada and the great Elizabethan period began and by the late 1600s the English began to rule the world. But it was the rule of Queen Elizabeth that was the cause and nautical leaders like Sir Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh contributed. The French and English fought but also came to agreements on colonies and the Western world rose economically and strategically, till America overtook them in the 1900s.

Now they say it is the turn of the East led by China but along the way chaos would rule and Shaespeare’s plays of the time were being reenacted in India and with repression in China. We are convinced that if history is to teach lessons then this part of geo-strategy seems to be on the right lines. We feel that India had still not appreciated its potential in a globalised world. Admittedly some 7% of Indian over 80 million are as well off as the Europens and Americans but the other 940 million have some 100 years to go and unless leadership attends to basics in India, its progress will be skewed but looks certain. China was well ahead.

This year, ,he Conference which was an annual event, was preceded on 22nd May by a workshop on India’s new Defence Procurement Rules 2005, which turned out to be a professional’s delight for those doing defence business. The Indian Navy’s $4.5b Scorpene deal with France and Spain surfaced as all companies involved were at the Conference and well aware of the facts. In fact the officials told us categorically that attempting to build the first two boats in India would be a challenge and the schedule may not be maintained and the offer to build two boats in France/Spain was the way to go and we feel the money part made India change its mind on that offer. The matter is sub judice as CBI and the Vigailance Commission are on to it and a Lt Cdr Shankaran (Retd)  is being sought out.

In fact the news in London was that the Head of RAW, Tharakan and other Intelligence agency big wigs had visited London but no one was seriously looking for clues. The fuss that OUTLOOK Magazine had created was a battle between two powerful NRI Defence Agents –– of the BJP which was in power when the deal was mooted and the Congress now in power who signed the deal. No one is serious in looking for Shankaran who may provide clues, as unlike the Bofors the big chunk of money as commission was still to be paid and promises made could be denied. (It is accepted that in all defence deals commissions were the norm the world over and India accepts 3.5% in Government transactions in all contracts –– surprisingly figures of 7% being the norm were being quoted by reps at the Conference. This was the figure for the HDW submarine deal.

A Review of the fast growing Chinese Navy and an expose of the latest in Submarine Warfare by Capt Jim Patton a former US Nuclear Submarine Captain of the Hunt For Red October gave a back drop to the Conference.

The Second Sea Lord VAdm Adrian J John spoke about manpower being an important challenge and to maintain the full range of operations of a Navy including nuclear deterrent at sea and the costs that the British Government was discussing. . He was clear that if a Navy prepared for high intensity ops then it could meet low intensity tasks. He also said the RN was reducing junior ranks as the Navies were more technical and training was to be outsourcing to Flagship Training, an outfit manned by retired Naval Staff.

Part II

The Conference provided complete details of warships being constructed or on the drawing boards of all major navies of the world. Since India did not announce these details and equipment fits kept changing till the last minute for many reasons and ships took up to 10 years to be delivered, our representative could only present the unclassified programmes for Scorpenes, Krivacks, Type 17, Type 15A, Gorshkov, ADS, LST(L), AOPVs, and aviation expansion plans of the Indian Navy at the conference. The Indian Navy had ambitious plans which will need a lot of leadership skill to surmount in the face of delayed construction, late selection and freezing of equipment and shortage of good and trained manpower. As Admiral Cunningham used to stress ships can be built in three years but it takes centuries to build a Navy. The ATV programme generated great interest.

VAdm Delagado spoke of the Spanish Armada and National Defence, the need for expeditionary capability of a Navy to curtail illegal activities at sea including international terrorism, low intensity ops to face non conventional warefare. Finally he spoke of power projection and protection of a force at sea so AA and missile defence were the challenges of the Spanish Navy. The cold war scenario of a submarine threat was less but the Spanish Navy had to be ready for it. Hence sea basing was important and coordination with the Spanish Maritime Agency is the task ahead and the Spanish Navy was the fastest growing in numbers in Europe as its economy was doing well. The Admiral informed us that Spain had designed a Submarine better than the Scorpene which they built for Chile and now for India in sections, but had not opted for it themselves as it was too expensive.

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