India: Update. Last Friday, the Indian Navy's Russian-built and extensively refurbished aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya (trans. "brave as the sun"), commenced sea trials in the White Sea with a mixed crew of Indian and Russian sailors. Sea trials in Russian waters are to last for the next four months before the carrier formally is transferred to India.
Officials at the Sevmash shipyard said, "After initial trials in the White Sea, the carrier would move into the nearby Barents Sea for trials with naval fighters." Additional trials are likely in Indian waters after transfer.
Comment: The sea-trials and transfer are four years behind schedule. India and Russia signed the initial $947 million contract for the purchase and complete updating of the carrier, formerly the Admiral Gorshkov, in 2005. Delivery has been delayed twice because of cost overruns that increased the total price to $2.3 billion.
This is not a new ship. It was laid down in 1978 at the Nikolayev South shipyard in Ukraine, launched in 1982, and commissioned with the Soviet Navy in 1987. In 1994, the Admiral Gorshkov sat in dock for a year for repairs after a boiler room explosion. In 1995, it briefly returned to service, but finally was put up for sale in 1996.
The ship displaces 45,000 tons; has a maximum speed of 32 knots and an endurance of 13,500 nautical miles at a cruising speed of 18 knots. The Indians have insisted that Soviet-era cruise missiles and other deck weapons be removed in order to make the ship a true carrier, instead of a hybrid cruiser that can launch aircraft.
The Navy purchased a dozen MiG-29K naval fighters in 2010 and has an option for 14 more. Vikramaditya also will carry six helicopters. The MiG-29K was reportedly selected over the larger and more-capable Su-33 naval fighter because India also hopes to operate them from its smaller, indigenous "Project-71 Air Defense Ship" carriers, now being built in Indian shipyards.
When Vikramaditya arrives in India later this year, it is supposed to replace INS Viraat, but India is likely to operate two carriers for as long as Viraat lasts. Ultimately, it will have at least two carriers, one each for the West and East Fleets.
India has been sailing and fighting carriers since 1961 when it acquired its first carrier, INS Vikrant. India has five decades of experience with light carriers and carrier air groups. This is tonight's good news.
Afghanistan-France: A Taliban suicide bomber dressed in a woman's burqa killed four French troops in a 9 June attack on a market in the main market area of Kapisa Province's Nijrab district.
Comment: France has 3,300 soldiers in Afghanistan, making it the fifth largest NATO contingent after the US, the UK, Germany and Italy. France has lost 87 soldiers killed.
The weekend losses apparently have reinforced President Hollande's determination to withdraw all French forces this year, beginning in July and ending in December 2012.
Egypt: Update. Parliament members are to meet this week to elect a 100-member panel to draft a new constitution, parliamentary speaker Saad el-Katatni said on 9 June. The previous assembly was dissolved for failing to represent all interests.
Comment: The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces issued an ultimatum last week for the parliament to select or appoint a constitutional drafting committee before the second-round Egyptian presidential election next weekend. The Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament is at least going through the motions to prevent the Army from appointing a panel on its own.
France: During this Watch, news services reported that Hollande's Socialists and the leftists who support them will control 289 of the 577 seats in the French National Assembly. That is just enough to give them an outright majority.
Comment: A simple majority signifies that the presidential election was not just about the personalities of the candidates, but about policies as well. A majority of the 21% of those who voted support Hollande's pro-growth, anti-austerity agenda.
Thus, about 12% of the adult French population have determined the direction of French fiscal and social policy and strongly influenced the survival of the eurozone. This is the power of a small minority in a democracy with a complacent electorate.
Spain: Comment: The European loan of about $125 billion to Spain should help the banking system survive. Bankers and Finance ministers continue to use debt in the form of liquidity loans to prevent the collapse of the European banking system in each state.
Over the weekend two well-informed commentaries, one in the Financial Times, pointed out that the underlying problem is the solvency of the Spanish government. Saving the banking system is still no guarantee that Spain will not default.
It is a short term guarantee that Spanish depositors will get their money and can transfer it to Dutch or French banks. It is essential that the run of Spanish banks stops, but the move uses liquidity and more external debt to shore up confidence in the financial system when the economy itself cannot guarantee future paychecks for anyone. The banks look like they will not fail, but the counttry remains insolvent. This measure buys time in hopes that economic conditions will improve.
The European and other bankers apparently have no strategy other than keeping the banks afloat for two more months while hoping economic conditions get better and exerting pressure on European leaders to agree to give the bankers control of all of Europe's state budgets and banking systems. The bankers apparently have concluded that political solutions will solve economic problems. That is an incongruity.
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