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The ties that bind (2)

Transforming the nature of the India-UK relationship.

In my previous blogpost, I argued that for India and the U.K. to enter into what Prime Minister David Cameron calls an “enhanced partnership,” would require both countries to engage each other on issues impacting their strategic interests.  I had argued that security was one such area, and the extent to which the U.K. can play a meaningful role in addressing India’s security needs could go a long way in determining how successful this “enhanced partnership” will be.  Today’s TIME online has an interesting piece on the on-going battle between U.K.’s MoD and the Exchequer over replacement costs for the Royal Navy’s V-Class nuclear submarines (h/t @pragmatic_d):

As part of Britain’s austerity cuts, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) has been asked to find savings of between 10 and 20% by 2014, and then work off of steady-level funding until 2020. Britain’s V-class subs, known as Trident after the U.S.-made ballistic missiles they carry, are aging and need to be replaced by 2024. A replacement system as sophisticated as the V-class submarine will cost around $30 billion, with the first contracts to be inked by 2016.

Defense Secretary Liam Fox has said the MoD could not spend that much on nuclear subs while simultaneously cutting its budget without jeopardizing the purchasing of other big-ticket weapons such as armored vehicles, aircraft carriers, and fighter jets. He insisted the money should come not from the MoD but from the Treasury, which has traditionally paid for Britain’s subs. However, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, who heads the Treasury, said that wasn’t going to happen. “The [nuclear submarine] costs … are part of the defense budget. All budgets have pressure. I don’t think there’s anything particularly unique about the Ministry of Defense,” he said.

Malcolm Chalmers, a former nuclear adviser to two British foreign secretaries, says V-class submarines are relics of the Cold War. While Britain’s conventional forces are no longer organized to defend against a military attack from the Soviet Union, its nuclear policy has “remained largely unchanged since the 1960s, when a surprise attack on Western Europe was a central driver for U.K. force planning,” he wrote. The [RUSI] report concludes that the government should save money by either halving the number of new V-class-type boats it builds, building a new submarine fleet capable of both conventional and nuclear roles, or scrapping the submarine-based system altogether and maintaining a non-deployed arsenal to be delivered either by airplane or special forces. [TIME]

Some of this current monetary pressure can be alleviated by a U.K. offer to lease its V-class submarines to India on a short-term basis. This will be well received in New Delhi and will help in broadening the scope of bilateral engagement. India today is seeking to diversify its delivery systems — essential for maintaining a credible secondary-strike capability.  Its sea-based deterrence system, however, is nascent, with a small fleet of aging diesel-powered submarines. The induction of the nuclear-powered Arihant-class submarines — products of India’s indigenous Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) project — is still few years away.

U.K. has made significant contributions to the Indian Navy in the past — lest we forget, the only aircraft carriers India has had — Vikrant and Viraat — were both purchased from the Royal Navy; HMS Hermes (Viraat) played a pivotal role in the South Atlantic during the Falklands War.

Given the sensitivity of the technology, India and the U.K. will need to conclude a more over-arching dual-use agreement before any transfer takes place, which could pave the way for future high-technology trade.  And while the sale of Advanced Jet Trainers to  HAL is an important step, more potential on defense and security collaboration between India and the U.K. exists and can be realized.  This will require both India and the U.K. to determine commonalities in each others’ long-term strategic interests, re-visit mechanisms that can make such collaboration possible, and commit to exploring the full potential of an Indo-U.K. strategic partnership.

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