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UK Warships Set For Early Retirement Could Serve Other Commonwealth Navies

by John Brian Shannon

UK Ministry of Defence bosses have announced their intention to retire seven ships and reduce the Royal Marines by 1000 personnel in a cost-saving effort necessitated by the acquisition of two world-class aircraft carriers, the HMS Queen Elizabeth and the HMS Prince of Wales.

It’s brilliant that the Royal Navy is stepping boldly into the 21st-century with two state-of-the-art aircraft carriers, yet many sailors will miss the still great but aging ships, which have a decade or two of service life left in them.

In fact, two of the soon-to-be retired vessels, the HMS Albion and the HMS Bulwark aren’t even halfway through their expected life-cycle but are excellent ships that could be sold to any Commonwealth nation.

UK Royal Navy ship HMS Albion was launched by Princess Anne on March 9, 2001

UK Royal Navy ship HMS Albion was launched by Princess Anne on March 9, 2001. Image credit: Richard English

As an island nation and as the world’s oldest sea power, Britain should always command a first-rate navy, and good policy would dictate the sale of RN ships halfway through their normal life-cycle to help defer the costs of maintaining that world-class navy.

The helicopter carrier HMS Ocean was also marked out for retirement in an earlier press release along with four smaller Royal Navy ships, but they too could serve out the rest of their expected life in any Commonwealth nation.


Commonwealth Partner Canada – Needs Those Ships!

The Royal Canadian Navy depends heavily on its 12 naval frigate fleet and is desperately lacking in rescue capability (helicopter carrier) and littoral combat (close-to-shore) vessels — which gaps could be filled by the soon-to-be-retired HMS Ocean, HMS Albion, and HMS Bulwark, while saving the Canadian navy billions of dollars — and more importantly, the several years required for Canada to build new ships.

Although Canada has a great navy with proud tradition there are major credibility gaps in Canada’s fleet and purchasing these Royal Navy ships could partially alleviate that gap, thereby propelling the RCN forward by at least five years and at very reasonable cost compared to building new ships.

Canada should constantly drop hints to the Royal Navy to allow them be first to bid on ships and helicopters set for early retirement.


Commonwealth Partner India – Needs Those Ships!

The Indian Navy has a vast area to patrol in one of the busiest shipping regions of the world and it can’t get enough ships. Ever!

Modern naval vessels are very expensive to build, but expensive new ships don’t always suit the needs of the Indian Navy — a navy that requires huge numbers of vessels to patrol all those millions of square miles. Not all of them need to be world-class combat ships.

With thousands of cargo ships and cruise ships travelling through the region every day, and with piracy at an all-time high in the Indian Ocean having enough ships available to maintain a presence is far more important than how shiny the paint is on inspection day.

The level of shipping activity in the Indian Ocean region can only be described as frenetic and piracy is a common problem in the adjacent Arabian Sea and off the east coast of Africa where many Indian registered ships carry trillions of dollars of raw materials and manufactured goods every year.


Commonwealth Partner Australia

Australia fields a modern navy and (thankfully) it enjoys the strong support of the Australian government.

The country purchases build-to-suit ships and submarines from various countries and it occasionally sells its used ships to New Zealand — a good arrangement for both countries.

However, some early retirement Royal Navy ships could be valuable to the Royal Australian Navy in the future. Their navy is heavy with helicopter frigates and minesweepers and has a respectable number of submarines — yet there may be occasion when Britain’s navy could decide to part with ships that meet the needs of the Australian fleet.

The only thing lacking in the RAN fleet are destroyers. They could make-do with 6 as we are presently in peacetime; At the moment, the Royal Australian Navy has 1 destroyer.


Other Commonwealth Partner Navies

Many Commonwealth nations are maritime countries with various naval capabilities, yet purchasing new ships is an expensive proposition for rapidly developing nations.

For them, it’s difficult to justify a billion dollar warship when they need crucial infrastructure (yesterday!) to serve the needs of their citizens. Yet, having an effective naval presence to deter piracy and to protect national sovereignty becomes increasingly important as their GDP rises.

One way for them to accomplish two goals at once is to purchase used RN vessels that match their needs. Indeed, for the cost of one new frigate a small nation may be able to purchase five used, but still effective, former Royal Navy frigates or smaller coastal defence craft to provide security in nearby shipping lanes.


Summary

Until now it has been normal for navies to max-out the life of their ships and to pay massive sums to refit their navy ships at mid-point in their life-cycle (some refits cost more than the original ship!) and that’s an expensive way to outfit a navy when there is a better alternative.

In the 21st-century there are so many rapidly developing Commonwealth nations, UK shipyards could have a continuous frigate assembly line, a continuous destroyer assembly line and a continuous coastal patrol craft assembly line to keep up with total demand from a world-class Royal Navy that retires its ships early and sells them to allied nations.

But that’s only if the Royal Navy makes the historic decision to sell its ships at the 12-year mark, while they still have at least 18-years of life left in them.

It would be wise to continue to operate them as usual — but simply make it known to Commonwealth partners that any Royal Navy vessel over 6-years of age is automatically available for purchase to Commonwealth members.

As the Commonwealth’s rapidly developing nations continue to increase their wealth, they’ll have evermore reason to protect what’s theirs and to surveil and protect foreign ships travelling through their waters.

Instead of keeping ships for decades and running them into the ground along with one or two costly refits over the years, in the 21st-century the better way is to sell them to Commonwealth nations at the 6-12 year mark while the vessels still have plenty of useful service life remaining. And in that way, create a healthy UK shipbuilding industry geared towards Royal Navy needs, but also to the needs of Britain’s allies.

That’s how you build a better Royal Navy and help your Commonwealth partners at the same time!


Related Articles:

  • Two Barrow-built warships to be scrapped under government plans (The Mail)
  • Incredible moment Britain’s new £3bn Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier sailed alongside America’s fiercest warships in North Sea (The Sun)

This Week in Brexit: Trump Promises a Trade Deal

by John Brian Shannon

On the sidelines of the G20 Hamburg summit, U.S. President Trump found time to meet with UK Prime Minister May and to offer welcome words that the United States will sign a bilateral trade deal with the UK as soon as Brexit is complete.

It’s very good news for the UK and also for PM Theresa May (who has had a rough time in domestic politics of late) and it was obvious that the U.S. president went out of his way to assure Ms. May that a reciprocal trade agreement — one that works for both America and for Britain — is one of his administration priorities.

So much of the UK’s post-Brexit success will hinge on bilateral trade accords because no matter how good the final Brexit agreement, there will be some amount of economic adjustment for Britain in the months following Brexit. A quick trade agreement with the United States will not only ease the Brexit transition, but also  improve the UK (and America’s) economy indefinitely.

It was a classy thing for Mr. Trump to do for Theresa May knowing that her domestic political fortunes have taken a hit. Let’s hope the Prime Minister is able to return the favour at some point during the Trump administration. That sort of respect makes for strong allies.

During WWI, but especially during WWII the relationship between America and Britain was raised to a very high level by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Harry S. Truman, and in the postwar era during a time of unprecedented economic growth, President Ike Eisenhower continued the wise course set by his predecessor.

However, it could’ve so easily gone the other way if the leaders hadn’t gotten along.

Both sides would’ve missed geopolitical opportunities of huge importance such as the formation of NATO, the establishment of the Nuremberg trials and the creation of other institutions and agreements such as Bretton Woods and the IMF. Without the ambition of the UK and the power of the United States those things simply wouldn’t have occurred.

Millions of Americans and Britons prospered over the past 72 years because their postwar political leaders *didn’t drop the ball* and made a conscious decision to *make the best of the postwar relationship* for their respective people.


What Kind of Free Trade Agreement Should Prime Minister May and President Trump pursue?

Present-day Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau was still in school when Canada first approached the European Union to ask about a bilateral trade deal, and that many years later it still hasn’t come into effect. (It’s about to, they say)

It will have taken eight years to hammer out and begin to abide by, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) which arrives so late in the game and market conditions do change over time (remember way back to the 2008/09 financial crisis when the CETA agreement was first floated?) that some of the hard-won negotiating points are no longer relevant and may never be finalized.

Canada, EU to provisionally apply CETA in September (CBC)

I’m sure it’s a fine agreement and congratulations are due. However, with America and Britain at the controls of a mutually beneficial trade agreement between two friendly Anglophone nations, it should take less than a year from first discussion to signed agreement.

Though we don’t know what shape an Anglo-American trade agreement might look like from our vantage point in July of 2017, probably the best idea would be for both sides to embrace reciprocity and fair dealing in all trade matters as a way to enhance both economies, and as a way to later attract other Anglophone nations such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand to sign on to such an agreement.

Hitting the Right Note with Commonwealth of Nations member India

What a great thing it would be if all Commonwealth nations eventually agreed to sign on to a U.S. / UK trade agreement. Commonwealth of Nations member India has 1.5 billion consumers alone!

Both America and Britain could add 5% to their respective GDP just on the improved trade flows of doing business in the booming Indian economy.

“Although India’s rapid population growth is part of what accounts for the forecasted jump […] that is only part of the story. Drastic improvement in terms of per-person productivity due to capital investments and better technology will play an even more important role.

“PwC predicts that India’s economy will grow by about 4.9% per year from 2016 to 2050, with only 0.7% of that growth caused by population growth.

“India’s economy is currently the third-largest in the world, and is expanding at an estimated annual growth rate of 7.1% for the 2016-17 financial year. —  India’s economy is forecast to surpass that of the US by 2040 (Quartz)

Both America and Britain just need to hit the right note with India — a respectful note — in order to profit from the massive growth that is available in that burgeoning country.

Working out an Anglo-American trade agreement with a view to adding all Commonwealth member nations within 24 months, guarantees that other powerful trade blocs don’t beat the Anglo-American alliance to supply the rocketing Indian economy with much-needed goods and services.

Projected growth for selected countries – As measured by Purchasing Power Parity (PPP)

Projected GDP growth UK 2016-2050 PwC

Projected GDP growth UK and other countries 2016-2050. Image courtesy of Quartz.com


It’s so obvious but still worth repeating; ‘Hitch your wagon to the fastest horses if you want to place well in the race.’

Britain has the Commonwealth of Nations connections, Britain needs a trade agreement with NATO ally America and with Commonwealth partner India, and the United States wants to increase mutually beneficial trade with Britain and its 2-billion-strong Commonwealth partners.

In all of human history, rarely has such a synergistic match-up suddenly appeared where different but extremely valuable benefits are available to all three parties.

Just as nobody predicted the massive Japanese economic boom which began to form the day after WWII ended, an Anglo-American trade agreement, followed by a Commonwealth trade agreement (before other trade blocs grab the low-hanging fruit!) could match or exceed the massive performance statistics of the postwar Japanese economy.

Dear United States and Commonwealth of Nations, Let’s not miss this rather obvious ‘Win-Win-Win’ opportunity!

Money… Money Changes Everything!

by John Brian Shannon

At this moment in UK history, more money is needed to fund the NHS, schools, roads, railways, airports and other national infrastructure, Trident, foreign aid — and to fund 500 million sterling worth of renovations to the House of Commons.

Money is certainly the problem, as more money would solve all of those issues and many more.

Unfortunately, some governments ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’ but with little change in the total amount of revenue actually collected by the government.

  • In some cases, a socialist (Labour) government will raise more revenue by raising taxes. Let the wailing begin!
  • In other cases, a conservative (Conservative and Unionist) government will cut expenditures via fiscal and budgetary belt-tightening. Groan!

Which is why governments everywhere are always on the hunt for more money.

But are they? Are they really on the hunt for money? Are they really trying to increase revenue? Or do they automatically hit their default mode every time a budget crisis looms?

Some observers think that governments dismiss attempts to increase revenue via increased trade with other nations too quickly and move to their particular default mode.


Where Could the UK Find 1.3 Billion Consumers Wanting to Buy British Goods?

Well, India, for one. And they’re a Commonwealth nation. Ta-Da! See? It’s sooo simple.

All the UK government must do is to reach out to India’s leaders (especially post-Brexit, but nothing stopping them from getting started now!) in the interests of ramping-up trade by at least one order of magnitude.

Why should India purchase trillions of rupees worth of goods from non-Commonwealth nations when they could purchase them from the UK?

Why does India purchase their aircraft carriers from Russia, their fighter-bombers from Russia, other significant navy ships from Russia, and billions worth of goods from China, the southeast Asian nations, and the United States?

A century ago, Great Britain’s trade relations with India were booming. Shipyards couldn’t build ships fast enough to keep up with the annual increase in trade.

Who dropped the ball?

Heads should roll for allowing that relationship to falter — a relationship of prime importance to both the UK and to India!


Never Mind Playing the ‘Blame Game’ There’s No Time!

UK Trade With India

Instead of UK government departments fighting each other for funding, the government should work to ramp-up trade with India to increase Britain’s GDP by 5 per cent.

We need to get a piece of that rapidly growing and rapidly modernizing economy, and thereby add five per cent to Britain’s annual GDP.

Yes! More money will solve all of Britain’s spending problems… but it isn’t going to fall out of the sky and land in the Treasury building by itself!

Someone! Anyone! Perhaps the Prime Minister or the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary (or both) along with the Queen should invite Prime Minister Modi of India and his high officials to London, for an unprecedented and long overdue re-look at the macro relationship between the two countries to see how increased trade could improve the economies of both nations, and how each nation can play to their own strengths and work to offset each other’s weaknesses.


Instead of UK Government Departments Fighting Each Other for Funding – Increase the Available Revenue Pool for All Departments

Companies fight over ‘market share’ because that’s what companies do. And it is often a vicious competition.

However, governments have an unparalleled advantage here because they can increase the overall size of the market — which, using this metaphor, relates to UK GDP.

By dramatically ramping-up trade with India the government could increase GDP by five per cent, easily meet the spending requirements of all departments and still have the economic clout to run balanced budgets indefinitely.

This so badly needs to be done that Brexit is a side-show by comparison, although without Brexit it would be difficult to enter into new trade arrangements with any non-EU country.

In summary, Brexit is merely the means to an end — an end with a much stronger economy for both Britain and India, and a stronger Commonwealth partnership.