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Saturday, 11 September 2010

From Today's Papers - 11 Sep 2010






Sino-US ‘Shadow Boxing’ in the Western Pacific Ocean
ð  An assessment of the current developments in the South China Sea and Yellow Sea by
                                                                                                                                                                         K K Agnihotri*
                                                Towards the end of August, the US and South Korea on one hand and China on the other, have announced the conduct of naval exercises in the Yellow Sea and the adjoining waters, in assertion of their maritime rights and interests in the region.  These US – China announcements are the logical follow up of the sequence of events which commenced with the sinking of the South Korean naval ship Cheonan on March 26, 2010, killing 46 sailors and the subsequent regional turbulence that peaked in Hanoi at the ARF meet.
The latest Chinese assertion was preceded by a strong riposte by Major General Luo Yuan, Deputy Secretary-General of the Academy of Military Sciences, in a PLA Daily editorial on August 12, 2010, terming the US naval manoeuvers in the Yellow Sea and South China Sea as ‘flagrant provocation’. This PLA Daily editorial piece was presumably in response to the US plans to again dispatch a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to the Yellow Sea and a report by South Korea's Yonhap News Agency which quoted Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, as stating that “the carrier operated up there last October, and it is going to operate up there again”.
                This rather tersely worded editorial was part of a constant barrage of articles in the Chinese media since the reports of US intent to deploy its nuclear powered Carrier USS George Washington for a joint US-South Korean naval exercise, first appeared in June 2010. The Chinese foreign office at that time expressed serious concern over such a contingency stating that “… the relevant parties should refrain from doing things that might escalate tension and harm the security interests of the countries in the region....” The situation eased somewhat when the joint exercises were initially postponed till after the issuance of the UN Security Council Statement on the Cheonan incident and thereafter the exercises were relocated to the Sea of Japan. However the appearance of USS George Washington in Vietnamese waters, ostensibly to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries fanned the underlying tensions again. The chronology of important events in the region since the US and South Korea announced their intention to conduct joint maritime exercise in the Yellow Sea, are enumerated below in order to give a snapshot view of the volatility of the situation:- 
Ø  June 2010 - Chinese media and foreign office expressed grave concern over the exercise in the Yellow Sea and participation of the US aircraft carrier therein.
Ø  End June - US-South Korea joint Exercise postponed.
Ø  July 05-07 - PLA Navy carried out a live fire Maritime Exercise in the Yellow Sea.
Ø  July 09 - UN Security Council Presidential statement on ‘Cheonan’ sinking issued.
Ø  July 23 - Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State stated during the ARF meet in Vietnam that the US has “national interest in the freedom of navigation and open access to Asia’s maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea”.
Ø  July 25 - The Chinese Foreign Minister responded by exhorting the US not to internationalize a bilateral issue between China and the individual ASEAN nations.
Ø  July 27 - China carried out two more exercises in the vicinity of the Yellow Sea - one a land based long range rocket firing by Nanjing military Command and the other involving satellite communication facilities by the Jinan Military Command.
Ø  July 25-28 - US-S. Korea joint exercise ‘Invincible Spirit’ was conducted in the Sea of Japan.
Ø  August 06 - Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell announced that the US warships will conduct exercises in the Yellow Sea in near future.
Ø  August 08-10 - US carrier USS George Washington carried out naval exercise with the Vietnamese Navy in waters off Vietnam and also hosted the Vietnamese Government and military officials on board. Destroyer USS John McCain visited Da Nang port in Vietnam. 
Ø  August 12 - Chinese Major General published an editorial on the Yellow sea issues.
Ø  August 29 - Chinese North Sea Fleet announced the conduct of maritime exercise off Qingdao from September 01-04, 2010.
Ø  August 31 - US and South Korea announced the conduct of joint maritime exercise in the Yellow Sea, closer to the Korean peninsula from September 05-09, 2010.
                The sequence of above events over the last four months have kept the Western Pacific ‘pot’ simmering and it is felt that more such events will unfold in the near future. This exigency is likely to unfold since the PLA Navy, as an instrument of rising Chinese power seeks to create space and expand its maritime area of influence farther into the Pacific Ocean. It is instructive that General Ma Xiaotian, the Deputy Chief of PLA General Staff cited three issues which were obstructing the smooth progression of the China-US military relations, namely: US arms supply to Taiwan; reconnaissance activities of US aircraft and ships in the airspace and sea space in the Chinese Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ); and the provisions of the Defense Authorization Law of 2000, which limit US-China military relations.
To specifically address the second issue, China has concurrently been displaying its assertiveness in the East and the South China Seas. On March 8, 2009, the US Navy surveillance ship, USS Impeccable which was conducting military survey about 75 miles south of Hainan Island, was reportedly harassed by some Chinese vessels. A similar type of incident was reported against another US research ship USS Victorious in May 2009 in the Yellow Sea. China also reiterated its indisputable sovereignty over a major portion of the South China Sea in a communication to the United Nations Secretary-General on May 07, 2009 stating that China “enjoyed sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the islands in the South China Sea and the adjacent waters”.  It also imposed a general fishing ban in the area with effect from May 16, 2009 and sent eight ‘fisheries patrol vessels’ to enforce the same.
These Chinese initiatives appear to clearly impinge upon the unfettered freedom of the Seas hitherto enjoyed by the US Navy, the visible instrument of Uncle Sam as the sole super power and go against the basic tenets articulated in various US strategic documents. The US Navy’s ‘Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Sea Power, 2007’ seeks to “continuously posture credible combat power in the Western Pacific with a view to deter and dissuade potential adversaries and peer competitors”. China obviously fits the bill as the ‘potential adversary and peer competitor’ in the Western Pacific Ocean. In line with the above strategic direction, the US ‘Naval Operations Concept, 2010’ envisages “…continued deployment of US Carrier Strike Group (CSG), Amphibious   Readiness Group (ARG) and Marines’ Expeditionary Units (MEUs) in the Western Pacific Ocean in the foreseeable future...” The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) of 2005 directed the US Navy to deploy six aircraft carriers and 60 percent of its submarine force to the Pacific Ocean and it was stated in the CRS report to Congress in December 2009 that the US Navy had more or less met the QDR directive by deploying 31 of its 53 attack submarines and six of its 11 carriers in the Pacific Ocean in order to counter the improved Chinese military forces in the immediate future. Many of these assets have been forward-based at Japan, Guam and Hawaii while the rest remain based on the US Pacific coast. In fact, the carrier USS George Washington which has been the centre-piece of the currently tangled US-China interaction in the region, is based in Japan and is supported by up to 11 front line warships, amphibious ships, marines and US Air Force bases.
The particularly assertive articulation by the US Secretary of State and other top US military leadership in recent past can thus be presumed to flow out of the massive US Defense Forces’ presence (with the US Navy forming a major component) in the Pacific Ocean. The stated raison d’être is very much ‘to support engagement, presence and deterrence’. There are no awards for guessing as to whom the deterrent is aimed against.
The prevailing US-China dynamic in the Western Pacific is progressing in a complex maritime environment wherein the prime concern of the US revolves around the freedom of access and navigation in the international waters, while China seeks to deny that very freedom to the US and the others. The disputes over Paracel and Spratly group of islands also bring at least four of the ASEAN countries into the picture. The reported potential of underlying natural resources including oil, in the region and the Chinese actions to virtually secure the entire area for themselves, to the detriment of other regional countries’ national interests, further raises the stakes. Vietnam and the Philippines are the most affected parties and have been resorting to certain measures (though perceived to be insufficient) to stave off such overarching Chinese intentions. These countries would therefore be the best candidates to support the latest US stand vis-à-vis the South China Sea, as was evident during the July ARF meet in Hanoi. Similarly Japan and South Korea are fully supportive of the proactive US maritime stance in the East China Sea, particularly the Yellow Sea.
It is therefore considered that the last act in the ongoing turn of events in the East Asian waters is yet to be resolved, though some kind of uneasy and temporary state of equilibrium may eventually be attained in the short term. The upcoming US-South Korean joint naval exercise in the Yellow Sea, though significantly toned down due to the non-participation of the US aircraft carrier, is still likely to hurt the heightened Chinese sense of nationalism. The strong line taken by Major General Luo Yuan to the effect that: "… A country needs respect, so does a military. We will retaliate if we are offended…”, indicates that China will find it increasingly hard to retract, especially since the issue has been linked with the Chinese ‘core interests.’ With both the major players in the region advocating increasingly assertive positions, the roiled Western Pacific waters are not likely to be calmed in the near future unless one of them ‘blinks first’. Meanwhile the global community should be cognizant of the potential of this US-China ‘shadow boxing’ possibly intensifying, with likely ‘lose-lose’ results for all.
Commander Kamlesh Kumar Agnihotri is a Research Fellow with the China Cell of the National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. The views expressed in the paper are solely his own and do not reflect the views of the Indian Navy or the Foundation. The Author can be reached at kkagnihotri@maritimeindia.org







India, Russia to make multi-role aircraft 
Bangalore/New Delhi, September 10 Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and United Aircraft Corporation & Rosoboronexport of Russia have formed a joint venture to co-develop and produce multi-role transport aircraft (MTA).  Under the deal, each party will pay $300.35 million to the joint venture’s charter capital.  The pact was expected to be announced during Russian PM Vladimir Putin's visit to New Delhi but New Delhi failed to complete the paperwork, delaying the deal. The proposed aircraft which will meet the requirement of both the Indian Air Force and its Russian counterpart.— TNS








India, US discuss ways to expand counter-terror pact
Ashok Tuteja Tribune News Service  New Delhi, September 10 US Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer today met Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, hours before an American Pastor gave up his plan to burn copies of the Quran on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Chidambaram had yesterday hoped the American authorities would take action to prevent Pastor Terry Jones from carrying out his threat. Talking to reporters after the meeting, Roemer said he had conveyed to Chidambaram that Washington strongly condemned any  act by any individual or organisation which was “disrespectful, intolerant, divisive and unrepresentative of American values”.  In a statement to the media, Roemer said that as the world remembers the thousands of lives lost in the 9/11 incidents, it must strive to make this day a time to reflect on the power of tolerance to triumph over terrorism. “It is more important than ever before that we speak clearly and consistently about our commitment to religious tolerance.”He called upon the people of India to resist those who seek to undermine the very values that both India and the US were built upon.  Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has written to External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, extending her wishes to the people of India on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr.









India, China set for rivalry in Kabul
Ashok Tuteja Tribune News Service  New Delhi, September 10 The mineral-rich fields of Afghanistan are set to become another battleground for rivalry between India and China when the Karzai government starts the bidding process for exploitation of the country’s untapped mineral wealth sometime after the September 18 parliamentary polls.  Afghanistan is keen on India’s participation in exploiting the mineral deposits, said to be to the tune of more than one trillion US dollars. Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rassoul and National Security Adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta, who were here last month, are believed to have conveyed to the Indian side that the first bids for iron ore and copper mines could be invited after the parliamentary polls.  Asked how Kabul proposed to use the country’s mineral wealth, Spanta told the media that his government would first understand the positive and negative aspects of resource exploitation in African countries. “We want to make this mineral wealth the foundation for implementation of sustainable development, to make the future of the people secure. There will be transparent and open bidding as per international norms.”  It was in June that the US discovered that the battle-scarred nation was sitting on the world’s largest mineral reserves. The country had mineral deposits far beyond the previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the ongoing war itself.  The previously unknown deposits, including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals, are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centres in the world.  Immediately several countries, particularly those in the neighbourhood like India and China swung into action, establishing contacts with the Afghan authorities. Of course, both India and China are engaged in massive development projects in Afghanistan and are quite keen to increase their influence in the region.  Not only the Karzai government but the people of Afghanistan have been quite appreciative of the work done by India by pumping in money in development projects to help stabilise the situation in the country. Successive opinion polls in Afghanistan have suggested that India enjoys tremendous goodwill among the ordinary people. New Delhi hopes this goodwill could be translated into economic rewards when the time comes for exploiting the mineral assets in Afghanistan.  The Afghanistan Mining Ministry has already held at least one round of talks with officials of the Mining Ministry in India, seeking New Delhi’s assistance to develop mines in Afghanistan primarily through iron ore, copper, gold and coal exploration and extraction. Afghanistan has also indicated that it would welcome Indian companies, especially the steel makers, to extract iron ore and set up steel units to help provide badly needed employment opportunities to the Afghans.  An Indian official said the mining industry in Afghanistan was in a nascent stage and New Delhi desired to develop it. There was tremendous potential in Afghanistan and India was definitely keen to tap the opportunity. India was a natural partner for Afghanistan, he added.  For its part, China has also made deep inroads into Afghanistan. It certainly has a major advantage over India, having been the first to become a stakeholder in the existing mines in Afghanistan.  The state-owned China Metallurgical Group (CMG) scored the biggest win for China when it won rights to Aynak copper mine in the Logar province with a 4 billion dollars bid in 2008.










CCS will meet today to discuss rollback of AFSPA
Tribune News Service & PTI  New Delhi, September 10 The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) will meet here on Saturday amid indications that the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) could be partially withdrawn from Jammu & Kashmir.  The government, which is treading a cautious path over the issue of AFSPA, is expected to make some announcement to address the resentment in Kashmir, particularly with regard to the Act that gives sweeping powers to security forces, sources said. The CCS would also hold discussiosn on a special peace package to curtail violence in J&K  The Congress core committee, headed by party president Sonia Gandhi, today witnessed differences over the rollback issue. The core panel discussions today are learnt to have centered around the need for striking a fine balance between the security requirements of the state and dissipating the growing anger among the people.  While the overall mood was to adopt a cautious approach especially with regard to the state Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's demand for a partial withdrawal of the AFSPA from four districts in the Valley.  The 90-minute meeting was attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Home Minister P Chidambaram, Defence Minister AK Antony and Congress president's political secretary Ahmed Patel. Prithviraj Chavan, AICC in-charge of Jammu and Kashmir, and senior party leaders from the state Ghulam Nabi Azad and Saifuddin Soz were specially invited for the meeting for their inputs.  While Chidambaram is reported to be favourably inclined to Abdullah's proposal, Defence Minister AK Antony was not happy even with the partial withdrawal of the AFSPA. Articulating the concerns of the security forces, Antony is learnt to have pointed out that there is no army presence in the four districts where Omar Abdullah wants the AFSPA to be curtailed. Warning that the army should not be projected as a "demon", he advocated a more cautious approach and that no hurried decision be taken.  The defence forces have consistently opposed to any changes or dilution of the AFSPA on the plea that such a move would severely handicap them in handling the volatile situation in Kashmir. It has been suggested that the Army should be withdrawn from the state if its presence is not required or it could be deployed only along the border and called in whenever the need arises.  The Home Minister, however, underscored the need for a political package, stating that the the Centre should heed the state government's demands. The peace-package also includes the release of political prisoners and special compensation for families whose kin were killed in the recent violent incidents. Chavan and Azad, it is learnt, were not in favour of making concessions which, they said, would suggest that the Centre has wilted under pressure. Besides, there is no guarantee that the stone-pelting would cease after a peace-package is announced.










HC issues contempt notice to Defence Secretary 
Taking strong exception to its orders not being implemented, the Delhi High Court on Friday slapped contempt notices against Defence Secretary and Indian Air Force for not granting permanent commission(PC) to serving women officers.  Justice G S Sistani issued show cause notices to Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar and Air Marshal K J Mathews, Air Officer Personnel, and sought their response by December 14 on a contempt petition filed by a group of nine serving IAF women officers.  Appearing for the officers, counsel Rekha Palli assisted by Punam Singh submitted that they were only granted extension in service but there was no response to their representations for permanent commission following the court's direction.  On March 12, a Division Bench of High Court, while considering the plea of women officers for parity with their male colleagues in the defence forces, had said, "the women officers in Air Force who had opted for PC but granted extension of Short Service Commission(SSC) and of the Army are entitled to PC at par with male Short Service Commissioned officers with all consequential benefits".  The counsel claimed that these officers have served the nation for 15 years and the High Court while disposing of their petitions in March had specifically directed that "the serving officers who wish to be considered for PC ought to be extended the benefit of grant of permanent commission."  According to the officers, following the court's ruling, they had sent their representations seeking grant of PC to them in June and July but have received no response so far.  In a communication, the IAF said the High Court directive applied to on those women officers who had opted for PC at various stages in their career.  It said only 44 women officers fall under the purview of the judgement and of them 23 have retired and the remaining are serving.  A detailed plan for the re-instatement of the retired officer has been formulated, the IAF said adding that while 21 of them opted for PC, the remaining two were not inclined.  For the remaining serving officers, a human resource policy is under formulation, the IAF said in its August two communication.  In all there are 2,200 women officers including 1,200 in army, 763 in airforce and 250 in navy, according to Defence Ministry figures










India, Russia to build military transport planes
NEW DELHI: India and its biggest military supplier Russia announced on Friday a 600-million-dollar joint venture to manufacture military transport aircraft for the two countries.  The 50:50 venture was signed by India's state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, Russian United Aircraft Corp and the Russian state-run arms exporter Rosoboronexport, the Indian defence ministry said in New Delhi.  The "15-20 tonne payload capacity aircraft would meet the requirements of the Indian Air Force and the Russian Air Force," the Indian defence ministry said in a statement.  Russia is also in the race for a 12-billion-dollar contract to sell 126 fighter jets to the Indian air force and supply hundreds of combat helicopters to the country's million-plus army.  Russia supplies more than 70 percent of India's military hardware.










Vindhya set to bag INR 75.82 bln BSNL deal for Indian army
Friday 10 September 2010 | 13:17 CET   Cable company Vindhya Telelinks is set to bag an INR 75.82 billion contract from state-run Indian operator BSNL, to build an optic fibre cable network for India's armed forces, reports The Economic Times. Vindhya Telelinks, along with its consortium partners, Telecommunications Consultants India and Aster has emerged as the lowest bidder for this defence project and as per practice, PSUs award contracts to the lowest bidders, a BSNL official said to the newspaper. He also said that INR 40 billion will be executed by Vindhya Telelinks, while the rest will be split between the other two consortium partners. The contract is divided into three parts, the southern region, the east-central zone, and the west-north and south-west region. Following the completion of this project by 2012-end, the armed forces will use this alternate network for a bulk of their communication requirements and vacate additional frequencies to be used for commercial telephony.










'China indulging in muscular diplomacy with India'
Agencies Posted online: Fri Sep 10 2010, 09:53 hrs Washington : China is indulging in 'muscular diplomacy' with India, two noted American scholars have said and recommended the US to not only keep a close tab on Sino-India border frictions, but also enhance the defence co-operation with India.  Over the last few years, tensions have been brewing between India and China over their long-held border disputes, said Dean Cheng and Lisa Curtis of The Heritage Foundation.  "The source of the tensions is multi-faceted but driven in large part by China's concern with an emergent India and Beijing's desire to consolidate its position on Tibet," they said.  While military conflict between the two Asian giants is unlikely any time soon, recent Chinese moves illustrate a broader trend of muscular diplomacy from Beijing over its various territorial claims, Cheng and Curtis said.  "In order to guard against a variety of threats, including a potentially hostile China, India will continue to pursue a robust military modernisation programme and closer diplomatic ties with other Asian nations," they said.  "The US should keep close tabs on the simmering Sino-India border friction and continue with plans to enhance US-India defense cooperation, through coordinated maritimesecurity programmes, joint military exercises, and defense trade deals that assist India in accessing advanced military technology," the article said.  Cheng and Curtis referred to the recent Chinese steps with regard to Kashmir, including issuing of stapled visa, denying visa to a top army official and sending its troops to Gilgit-Baltistan.  New Delhi would view with consternation the possibility of Chinese troops being stationed on both the eastern and western borders of Kashmir, they said.  "China already maintains a robust defense relationship with Pakistan, and the China-Pakistan partnership serves both Chinese and Pakistani interests by presenting India with a potential" they wrote.  Noting that China may be returning to a position of reflexively supporting Pakistan on Kashmir, they noted since the 1999 Kargil border conflict between India and Pakistan, Beijing's position on Kashmir seemed to be evolving toward a more neutral position.  During that conflict, Beijing helped convince Pakistan to withdraw forces from the Indian side of the Line of Control following its incursion into the Kargil region of Jammu and Kashmir.  Beijing made clear its position that the two sides should resolve the Kashmir conflict through bilateral negotiations, not military force.  "Any Chinese backtracking from this neutral position on Kashmir would likely be met with subtle moves by India that increasingly question Chinese sovereignty over Tibet," they said.  China's growing assertiveness is supported by a range of increasingly sophisticated military capabilities, they noted.  A concrete example of this growing set of capabilities was displayed in August, when China held its first major parachute exercise in the Tibetan plateau.  "This involved a paratroop drop of 600 troops, clearly establishing a rapid force insertion capability on the part of the People's Liberation Army (PLA).  As a Chinese officer observed, this exercise showed that, in the event of a crisis, Chinese paratroopers could rapidly deploy at any time," the two scholars wrote.  Curtis and Cheng urged the Obama Administration to cooperate with India in matching increased Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean region.  "Given the substantial Indian naval capabilities, US naval forces should increase their interaction with their Indian counterparts, both to improve Indian naval capabilities and to signal Beijing that its moves will be matched jointly by New Delhi and Washington," they said.










Into the storm
The government’s strategic defence review—and impending cuts to the defence budget—will define Britain’s approach to security for a decade and beyond  Sep 9th 2010  ON SEPTEMBER 17th the newly formed National Security Council (NSC), chaired by the prime minister, David Cameron, will begin discussing how to cut Britain’s defence budget. The conversation will be informed by the Strategic Defence and Security Review, which the coalition government embarked upon within weeks of taking office. Whereas the last such exercise, completed by the Labour government in 1998, took over a year to conclude, this one must be finished by October 20th, when the coalition will announce the results of its overall review of public spending. The outcome of these deliberations will define not just the shape of Britain’s armed forces, but also its role in the world and sense of itself as a nation.  It is not just the rush that is making this such a difficult and painful process. Britain’s annual defence budget is around £40 billion ($62 billion), including the extra cash (£4.6 billion this year) that the Treasury provides for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is munificent by international standards—Britain ranks third in global defence spending, behind America and China. But defence benefited much less than other departments from the largesse of the boom years (see chart). The Labour government was ignobly reluctant to meet the costs of its lengthy military engagements.  It also abjectly failed to reform the wasteful procurement regime at the Ministry of Defence (MoD). As Liam Fox, the Conservative defence secretary, has argued, even by Labour’s profligate standards, the financial situation he inherited is unique. In a speech last month, Dr Fox identified “an unfunded liability in defence of around £37 billion over the next ten years.” Under Labour, the MoD ordered equipment costing over £20 billion, “without ever having an idea whether the budget would be able to afford it”.  All that created a chasm between Britain’s military ambitions and its capacity (or willingness) to pay for them. Now an overstretched defence budget faces a massive cut: as part of the bid to address Britain’s fiscal deficit, defence faces a cumulative squeeze of between 10% and 20% over five years. The result is some very hard and worryingly hurried choices. Since Britain is America’s most important military ally, they will be keenly awaited in the Pentagon, as well as Whitehall.  Were Britain prepared to sacrifice some of its global influence and prestige, those choices would be easier. Some argue that the real threats to Britain’s security—invasion or attack by a powerful state—have rarely been smaller, and that defence spending should decline accordingly. Many, including quite a few Liberal Democrats, the Tories’ coalition partners, would like Britain to get out of the business of projecting large-scale military force overseas. Instead, they argue, Britain should humbly focus on meeting the collective security obligations imposed by NATO membership, limiting its expeditionary goals to humanitarian interventions approved by the United Nations, rather like Canada and some of the Scandinavian countries.  There is not the slightest sign, however, that the government intends to reappraise Britain’s traditional ability to “punch above its weight” militarily and diplomatically. In another recent speech Dr Fox said that the country needed “robust and well-equipped armed forces, capable of intervening abroad whenever necessary.” But whether Dr Fox, a right-winger with neoconservative leanings, can reconcile that aim with the demands of an impatient Treasury is questionable. His strained relationships with the three most powerful members of the NSC—Mr Cameron, George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer, and William Hague, the foreign secretary—may also affect the wrangling.   Fighting the next war  Dr Fox and the NSC must begin by balancing Britain’s current obligations in Afghanistan with the challenges of the future. According to Malcolm Chalmers of RUSI, a think-tank, even though continuing operations in Afghanistan are notionally funded by the Treasury, the campaign is still absorbing about 30% of the MoD’s budget. That is because sustaining roughly 10,000 troops in Afghanistan ties up many times that number in training and support. That means the army will perforce be largely protected from the immediate savings the government is looking for—increasing pressure on the other services.  Yet the fact that Britain has recently been involved in two troop-heavy counter-insurgency campaigns does not mean that all or even most future conflicts will be similar. In ten or 20 years the threat from jihadi terrorists operating from failed states may have receded. Iran could trigger a nuclear-arms race in the Middle East. Violent competition over scarce resources may erupt with or between emerging superpowers, such as China and India. And so on into the unknown unknowns.  One obvious approach would be to inflict equal pain on each of the services. But Dr Fox has described that method as “intellectually indefensible and strategically dangerous”. He also rejects the idea of simply trying to do what Britain does now, but with less money, since that would mean neglecting investment in new fields such as cyber-warfare. Dr Fox is sounding radical—perhaps too radical, given the uncertainty about future threats.  Up to 40 separate studies of defence expenditure are close to completion, which will be submitted to the NSC’s small secretariat, led by the new national security adviser, Sir Peter Ricketts, a former head of the Foreign Office. The indications are that the individual services are reluctant to compromise. The army is arguing that big reductions in its size would lead to a collapse in morale, particularly among officers who would see their career prospects diminished. The navy insists that it is already at or near the minimum needed to be a coherent maritime force (it already has less than a tenth of the number of ships it boasted in 1945). As for the Royal Air Force (RAF), it stubbornly clings to a view of itself as a miniature version of the American Air Force.  One of the gravest problems is the way a number of very large procurement programmes are bunched together over the next few years. They include the purchase of 40 more Typhoon aeroplanes for the RAF for around £2.8 billion; two new 65,000-tonne aircraft carriers that are due to come into service in 2016 and 2018, at a cost of £5.2 billion; the 138 F-35 strike fighters that go with the carriers (about £10 billion); seven Astute-class attack submarines, the first three of which cost £4 billion; and the £20 billion programme to replace the Trident nuclear deterrent.  The RAF looks certain to be hit hard. Douglas Barrie, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, reckons that the air force will shrink dramatically, losing perhaps 200 jets through the early retirement of Tornadoes and Harriers and a scaling back of the plan for a 160-strong Typhoon fleet. Attack helicopters and unmanned drones will increasingly be used to support ground operations instead. The order for F-35 jets, which are to be shared between the navy and the air force, looks certain to be more than halved to around 60, saving more than £5 billion in purchase costs and at least as much in maintenance.  Theoretically, one or both of the navy’s aircraft carriers could be cancelled. That would drastically reduce Britain’s expeditionary capability; but the advanced state of construction, the amount of money already spent and the 10,000 or so jobs at stake make it unlikely. Ditching just one of them is impractical, since two are needed if one is to be continuously available for operations. Despite some excitable recent talk of sharing a carrier with France, the difficulty of agreeing what to do with such a shared vessel make that idea unworkable. Dr Fox has ruled it out, though he is exploring other areas of co-operation.   The conspiracy of optimism  The most controversial programme of all is the replacement of Britain’s Trident nuclear submarines (Dr Fox has wasted political capital in a fruitless row with the Treasury about who should pay for the renewal). The coalition is committed to keeping the deterrent, albeit with the reluctant support of the Lib Dems. But it may be possible to delay ordering the new boats by several years, and to make do with three submarines rather than the current four. That would put back the costs and save several billion pounds. Alternatives to Trident, such as converting an attack submarine to do the job, seem likely to be dismissed on grounds of cost and effectiveness.  And despite Afghanistan, the army will not escape entirely. A growing emphasis on special forces in ground warfare, combined with rising scepticism about the future utility of heavy armour should allow two or three battalions of infantry to be eliminated, the mothballing of most of the army’s main battle tanks and thus big savings in manpower and logistical support. A smaller army—comprising perhaps 95,000 soldiers rather than the current 107,000—would also make it possible to repatriate most of the roughly 19,000 British troops still stationed in Germany without building new bases or housing.  Less sexy than those headline cuts, but just as important, are the savings to be made in the way the MoD itself operates. Above all, it needs a rational procurement policy. An independent report it commissioned last year described a “conspiracy of optimism” between the services, the defence establishment and industry. Knowing that major programmes are rarely cancelled outright, each of the armed forces has a systematic incentive both to underestimate the likely cost of equipment and to aim for the highest possible specification regardless of risk. The results are routine delays and vast cost overruns.  So there is a pressing need to bring order and sanity to Britain’s overstretched defence budget. But that cannot be achieved overnight. Given the ten-year time horizon that defence planning requires, attempting severe cuts too quickly may be risky militarily and financially, since it might prove costlier to revive needed capabilities in the future than to preserve them now. That will be the message that Dr Fox will take to his colleagues on the NSC. It may well fall on deaf ears. The government’s priority is the deficit, not a sensible defence review.








Now Indian Army to take on mosquitoes
Thursday - Sep 09, 2010, 12:45pm (GMT+5.5) [+] Text [-]  New Delhi (IANS) - The mighty Indian Army is all set to battle a new enemy -- mosquitoes.  With the capital seeing an alarming rise in the number of dengue cases ahead of the Oct 3-14 Commonwealth Games, the Delhi government has sought the army's assistance to kill the disease-spreading insects.  The army will fight the mosquito menace near the Commonwealth Games Village on the banks of the rain-swollen Yamuna. Athletes and delegates will stay in the Village during the mega event, an official said.  The number of dengue patients in Delhi has crossed the 1,400 mark, and the figure is rising.  The decision to deploy the army was taken at a meeting of officials held by Delhi Health Minister Kiran Walia, said Municipal Corporation of Delhi official V.K. Monga.  A formal letter will soon go to the army authorities, and its personnel will start working with MCD employees who are finding it difficult to drain out water from areas near the Games Village.  The army is expected to lend its experienced engineers for the task, officials said.  Monga told IANS that the soldiers will drain out the water and spray anti-larval chemicals. "They have all the equipment needed for the work."  At least 24 Commonwealth countries have inquired about the status of dengue in the capital.




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