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Latest Navy carrier madness: 'Sell 'em to India'

Grauniad has lunch with BAE

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It seems India must have written to BAE. Well, fair enough, BAE does run UK foreign policy

Just to finish up on the Guardian story, we checked with the MoD today and they said that "we have had no written expression of interest from India" in buying one of the carriers. If the request had been "lodged" with another government department, one would expect the MoD to have been kept informed, so it seems that India didn't write to anyone in Whitehall.

"BAE do a lot of business with India, maybe someone's said something to them," added an MoD spokesman. "I can't say what might have been said at a defence expo or wherever, but we've had nothing formal."

Perhaps India "lodged" their expression of interest with BAE, understandably thinking that the company actually runs British foreign policy. No matter.

Moving on, there are a couple of things to add on the matter of the current obsessive public debate over the new carriers. One thing the Graun got right on this - though as ever with an interesting use of grammar - was that the carrier project has "become a totemic in the issue" of the upcoming defence cuts.

Everyone in the media, and also disappointingly in the army (one would expect this of the air force) is baying for the carriers' blood, usually on the grounds that a) they are frightfully expensive, and b) they - and indeed perhaps the whole navy - are useless for modern wars such as Afghanistan.

The first thing to note here is that the carrier project itself is quite small beer as MoD kit purchases go. At £4bn estimated - say £5bn worst case - it is dwarfed by many other ongoing efforts.

Nobody, strangely, is pointing the finger at the outrageously expensive and pointless Nimrod MRA4 subhunters, whose support and maintenance bills in the next couple of decades are set to cost enough to buy four carriers. Perhaps this is due to the very successful pretence mounted by the RAF that subhunting Nimrods have some kind of useful role to play in Afghanistan.

Still, though, there are many other plans more worthy of public scorn than the carriers. The RAF would also like to spend as much as the entire carrier project merely on upgrades to its fleet of Eurofighters, so as to transform them from marginally-useful landbased air-to-air fighters with "austere" strike abilities into almost completely useless deep-penetration bombers.

The Army also has something on the order of £14bn budgeted for what it calls Future Rapid Effects System (FRES), the replacement of the UK's existing heavy armoured formations. It is absolutely the case that large parts of the British tank juggernaut are getting very old; it is far less clear that the whole thing should be replaced with something very similar. And yet the three main bits of FRES - Heavy, Scout and Utility - have a suspicious resemblance to the present array of Challenger tanks, Scimitar recce and Warrior armoured-infantry vehicles.

Nobody's saying that the army doesn't need some new vehicles; but it's quite possible to question the need for a new and even more expensive tank army in these post-Cold-war days. There may be no need to spend £14bn - enough for about six aircraft carriers - on FRES or whatever.

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