Maritime relations between India and the Netherlands have existed since the Dutch East India Company (VOC) was allowed to set up a fort and trading post – Fort Geldria – on India’s east coast in 1608. At that time trade in clothes, as well as the establishment of a gun powder factory made the so-called Dutch Coromandel an essential link in the VOC trade routes.
Four hundred years later, Dutch trade relations with India still focus on the maritime sector, including a lot of work for India’s military sector: both the Indian Navy and naval shipyards. Dutch companies are involved in the supply of radar and fire control systems for many Indian warships (Thales Nederland), as well as in the overhaul of shipbuilding companies and the construction of naval infrastructure in India (Ballast Nedam, Van Oord and Royal Haskoning DHV).
This month Royal Haskoning DHV completes the first part of a major new construction site at Mazagon Dockyard in Mumbai, India’s largest warship builder. As prime consultant it has prepared the design and supervised the modernisation of the yard since 2003. In 2013 the whole project should be completed, promising “a new era in warship building in India”. Time required to build new ships should be reduced significantly through a ‘Lego’ approach, building separate 300-ton blocks into one vessel.
Seven ‘Project 17A’ frigates will be the first to be built according to this new principle, with assistance from Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri.
Haskoning has been active in India for over fifty years. One of its largest projects was the development of a huge naval base at Karwar, on India’s west coast, between 1989 ad 2005.
Project Seabird, a.k.a. Greenfield Naval Base is still expanding and meant to become India’s largest base, home to nuclear attack submarines and the mammoth aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya.
Royal Haskoning DHV is one of Europe’s largest engineering companies and the result of a merger between Royal Haskoning and DHV earlier this year.
India specifically is designated as a “growth opportunity” for the company.
On its website it also boasts that the biggest challenge of today’s society is the “transition to a sustainable society. […] Continuation with ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option.”
The company does not elaborate how this relates to the development of major military infrastructure in a country that maintains a sensitive relation with its main neighbours, Pakistan and China.
Neither does it reflect on the threats of high military spending to development. Especially India faces huge challenges in areas such as education and health. Despite sustained high economic growth over the past decade it still has the world’s largest number of highly impoverished people.
At the same India has dramatically increased military spending: it has grown 66% in real dollar value between 2002 and 2011, and is heavily investing in everything from fighter aircraft to tanks and submarines – an estimated 150 billion dollar for the coming ten years.
[FS, 6 Sept 2012]