Distinctive attributes of the 1965 War

Beyond the plans and the preparations, Wars by their very nature are hit and miss affairs. The hits are mainly attributable to acts of incomparable bravery, of determined and resolute action by a few to turn events around. These are the singular events which when aggregated over time and over the expanse of the battlefield constitute victory; their absence, defeat.

With the GOI, for the first time, celebrating the 1965 India-Pakistan conflict — albeit its “Golden Jubilee” — in a big way, it is time to tot up the distinctive attributes, persons and events that stand out from a medley of incidents and extraordinarily brave individuals, whose reputation is burnished, many of whom won no recognition at the time or since.

In bullet points:

1) the two formations that the rival armies considered elite, their spearheads — the very best, curiously, the 1st Armoured Divisions of both the armies flopped! The Indian 1st Armrd Div deployed in the Sialkot sector went up against the Pak 6th Armrd Div — a unit without history and cobbled together literally on the run! The Indian Div was virtually decimated at Phillorah and Chawinda. Its Pak counterpart featuring the most modern tank then in existence — the M48 Patton, didn’t fare much better. Tasked ambitiously not just to lead the charge on Amritsar, but cross the Beas River, take Jallandhar on the way to making a run to Delhi. Really! It, however, faltered at the very first step in the Khemkaran area, held off for the crucial first 3-4 days of the war by only four antiquated Sherman tanks of the Deccan Horse led by the indomitable Colonel Fahad Bhatti, who won no recognition, other than a measly VSM. As Colonel AR Khan then a junior officer with the 4 Grenadiers in that action recalls, Bhatti had no godfathers, no recommenders. But he was a karm yogi. The other tank unit that was supposed to assist Bhatti — the 2nd Independent Armoured Brigade was described by Khan as neither independent, nor armoured, nor even a brigade (which description is along the lines of that of the Grand Trunk Express — not grand, trunk, or express). Bhatti afforded the rest of the units of the 4th Mountain Division under Maj Gen Gurbaksh Singh time to firm up, eventuating in the justly famous battle of Assal Uttar that broke the back of the Pak advance and its armoured strength in the Khemkaran area. The Patton was brought down mostly by the light field gun — the 105mm recoilless outfitting a unit that just prior to Sept ’65 was honing its skills in mountain fighting. That the small force of Deccan Horse stopped the Pak 1st Armrd Div in its tracks was fortuitous, because there was nothing behind it. It highlights the inglorious fact of frontline units just melting away — units, which as Col Khan said, shall remain unnamed!

This episode suggests that the fame and reputation of fighting units matter very little in hostile engagements. It is the grit and the stomach for a fight that matters more.

2) Assal Uttar was won also because the Pattons couldn’t move rapidly through the slush and the mud created by the deliberate breaching of the Roha Nala, and were often stuck — sitting ducks, their tracks running in place, and picked off by Indian gunners at will. (This tactic of flooding the battlefield, was used by the Iranian forces but ended up bogging down both Iranian and Iraqi tanks in the Susangerd sector in 1981 in the largest tank battle of that war, when the west bank of the Karun River was breached).

3) Talking of grit — no finer illustration of it than the 3 Jat of the 15th Infantry Division under the luckless Maj Gen Niranjan Prasad (who had previously made a hash of things in the 1962 War leading the 4th Division, and somehow survived that fiasco without being cashiered). Led by the iron-willed Lt Col Desmond Hayde, the 3 Jat crossed the Ichhigoil Canal and took Dograi and secured a lodgement in Batapore on the outskirts of Lahore not once (the first time on Sept 6) but twice — the second time on Sept 21 after the Pakistanis had strengthened that position with tanks and artillery. The 3 Jat were asked to withdraw the first time around owing to relentless aerial attacks by Pak F-86 Sabres, which is when the Pakistanis came back. Even so Hayde’s unit succeeded again.

I remember two things about this set of actions: in 1982 the then retired Brigadier Hayde — a Britisher who “stayed on” (in a letter to me, memorably described his son “as first generation Indian” and who, like his MVC-decorated father, joined the latter’s paltan and went on also to command it) wondered why there was no countervailing response and protection offered by the IAF over Dograi. The absence of Indian counter-air was something the Western Army commander during this war, the redoubtable Lt Gen Harbhaksh Singh too was livid about (when I met him in his Vasant Vihar home in the early Nineties). He hinted at dark happenings in Delhi, besides of course, cursing Niranjan Prasad in the most violently abusive language!

The explanation for the absent IAF, per my lights, and which I have dilated on elsewhere in my writings, is political. The unexpected breakthrough over a supposedly Pak-fortified Lahore front, confronted PM Lal Bahadur Shastri with a politically pregant option of allowing Harbhaksh, who immensely desired it, to take Lahore. I suspect though that Shastri and his advisers must have considered the ramifications of such capture, and thought better than to green signal such a move. I have speculated that this was because at that time Lahore was the socio-cultural centre of gravity of Pakistan. Had it been captured, rather than merely being invested — capturing that city would have required 4-5 Divisions — could have led to the unraveling of Pakistan, with what consequences for the subcontinent can only be imagined. This thesis of mine is also borne out by the express instructions from MOD to the Navy under Soman to keep out of any action, not even to react to the provocation of the Pakistani naval shelling of Dwarka.

3) And, of course, we are absolutely hideous at winning the peace, after finishing the hard work of winning wars. Indira Gandhi did not impose a victor’s peace that international laws of war permitted India after its resounding victory in 1971 — when the minimum that could have been insisted upon was the formalisation of the ceasefire line — LOC — in Jammu and Kashmir as the international border, and thereby settling that dispute for once and for all. Instead she succumbed to Bhutto’s oily theatrics and his pleadings asking for time to garner support for this with his people, when the correct stance would have been to tell the slippery Zulfikar Ali B that how he managed to get support from his people was his problem, and that he’d have to sign an ag to make LOC international border if he wanted the return of the 93,000 Pak POWs. Then again, there was precedent. Six years earlier, Shastri at Taskent, likewise, accepted a grovelling Ayub’s plea to let him return with some respect, whence the Haji Pir salient captured by 1 Para was restored to Pakistan.

It points to the lack of any real understanding of anything remotely military by the political class, leave alone appreciation of, and sensitivity to, strategic geography. That is to say our political leaders have always lacked, and still do, what Halford Mackinder called “the map reading habit of mind” and the country has paid a heavy price, and continues to do so.

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NSAs will talk

Writing early morning with all kinds of trend-stories carried by Indian media with newspapers hinting at breakdown before the talks get underway. The fact is the Modi regime will ensure the Sartaj Aziz-Ajit Doval talks will happen tomorrow — how the conversation ends and with what results is more difficult to predict considering there’s a basic disagreement even about what was agreed upon at Ufa by way of an agenda for the NSAs’meet — because the Indian PM has invested far too much in initiating a thaw as building block for his ambitious “Look West, Act West” policy. He apparently understands more than most people that while Pakistan is not indispensable to gaining access to Central Asia with Iranian port of Chahbahar in sight, it will help to bring Pakistan into the mix for two important reasons: (1) to address the sentiment of the Obama Admin that India’s not doing enough to normalise relations with Pakistan, thus keeping the security situation in the subcontinent on the boil, and (2) moderate to the extent possible the effects of a too close China-Pakistan nexus by offering the Nawaz Sharif govt an Indian channel for trade and commerce as path for economic prosperity.

I am also not convinced General Raheel Sharif and the Pakistan Army is the problem. The Pak COAS has time and again talked of the greater threat to his country from the extremist Islamic quarter and the Taliban in its two avatars — Afghan and Pakistani, not to mention the looming possibility of the dreaded IS putting down roots, and the need to concentrate Pak military resources in defeating this menace. For this. Raheel needs the eastern border with India to be quiet. Rather, I think it is elements in the Nawaz Sharif coterie who may be advising against de-prioritising the Kashmir issue, for fear of its domestic fallout.

Instead of making such big noise about Aziz meeting the Hurriyat leaders, wouldn’t it have been easier to simply put them under house arrest as soon as they landed in Delhi, and release them as soon as the Pakistani departed? There may be a negative effect but the onus would be on Pakistan to cancel the talks or sabotage them. Very different thing to happen than for GOI to gather opprobrium for ditching the talks.

Posted in India's Pakistan Policy, Indian Politics, Internal Security, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, civil-military relations, Terrorism, Asian geopolitics, Afghanistan, United States, US., South Asia, Central Asia, society, domestic politics | 2 Comments

Nonexistent cyberdefence

Aug 20 Washington Post carried a story by its Beijing correspondent Simon Denyer saying Indian government and its myriad agencies have been under attack for four years, have had sensitive information extracted from its data banks, and are vulnerable in the future because of secret electronic pathways being emplaced by the Chinese hacker permitting it future easy access. The Chinese are targeting other South and Southeast Asian states, and the Tibetan activist circles wherever they may reside.

More damningly, the WP report said the Indian government knew nothing about this high-value cyber operation until, it is implied, the information about the successful phising attacks was conveyed to it by an American cybersecurity company, Fireye, via the Obama Administration. So, what’s new?

If you look up my past writings on this blog, I have commented on how the National Technology Research Organization tasked with installing and operating cyberdefences and prosecuting offensive operations has become another heavily bureaucratised govt agency with minimal competence in cyber matters, and which has been used by its managers to siphon off funds by, for instance, hiring young talent on freelance basis, paying them little, but showing inflated bills and outgo’s on this account, with the balance being pocketed by the NTRO officials. A neat scamming channel, what?!

This mind you is the state of affairs in a country that’s supposedly rich in precisely the sort of hacking talent the cyberworld values highly. The trouble is no one really bright wants to join the govt payrolls because of low remuneration, low satisfaction — which is true across the board, including the civil services. So the nerdy dregs join NTRO and once in, do little except fall into the organization’s bad ways. And the bright ones who join initially for the challenge, leave soon enough.

Apparently, the Modi govt has recognized that the problem is beyond its capability to resolve. Whence as Denyer reports it has agreed on a joint Indo-US cooperation to thwart what’s called “cyber crime”. Considering, official India will bring very little to the table, this is a means to virtually outsource cybersecurity to the US/US Companies. This makes India doubly vulnerable in that the Chinese attacks won’t cease but the Indian system will be opened up to US companies ostensibly to help them defend the Indian official networks, an opportunity that will be used to implant remotely-controlled cyber-bugs that will send out sensitive information but now in the other direction!

Meanwhile, GOI and NTRO are content with small “victories” in our little backyard sandlot, whooping it up because Indian hackers penetrated/downed Pakistani websites and info networks!!!

Posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Cyber & Space, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Pakistan, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Tibet | Leave a comment

NSAs should meet with the ‘beyond’ in mind

Pakistan agreed to the Indian proposal for an NSA Meet because it sees it as an ice-breaker. New Delhi is not looking beyond it. This difference in perception could make or mar what transpires when Ajit Doval and Sartaj Aziz get together Aug 23. The other great difference is that while the Pakistani interlocuter is a seasoned politician and diplomat and a veteran of such jaw-jaws, his Indian opposite number is an intel stalwart with no record of diplomatic hirewire trapeze acts other than what PM Modi may have tasked him with by way of nursing a parallel track to MEA on foreign policy. It is likely Doval will play it by the ear, taking his cues from how Aziz presents issues and defines problems, and how unbending or otherwise the Pakistani is.

Obviously Islamabad puts greater store by these talks than does Delhi because, in the meeting to strategize and shape instructions to Aziz that involved the Pak COAS General Raheel Sharif, interior minister Nisar Ali, and Finance minister Ishaq Dar, Nawaz Sharif placed the NSAs’ meeting in the context of making the 2016 SAARC Summit in Islamabad a success, which it will be only if Modi comes through on his promise to attend it. But Modi may find an excuse to recuse himself from the summit and Sharif believes he should be given no readymade pretext to do so. This is a very fine line Aziz will try and walk, without however any show of backing down, whence the intent to have Aziz meet with Hurriyat leaders. As reported in the Pak press, Aziz is likely to mention Swami Aseemanand who has got bail in the Samjauta Express blast-case should Doval bring up the freedom enjoyed by Lakhvi and the 26/11 episode, and parry with the mention of supposed RAW activity in Balochistan when Doval thrusts with talk of terrorists infiltrated by Pak Army/ISI across the LOC. Aziz is also likely to bring up India’s role in Afghanistan — but that’s easily turned aside — Afghanistan is not some province of Pakistan and Islamabad has no business putting on proprietorial airs when it comes to discussing that country. India will do in Afghanistan what its national interests dictate, as will Pakistan, and if the interests and activities clash, so be it, and let’s see where the geostrategic chips ultimately fall.

It is important though for Doval to note the changed circumstances. MQM and India’s alleged help in propping up Altaf Hussain will not be a peeve Aziz will bring up because the Pakistan Army’s V Corps and the commando unit SSG (Special Service Group) has all but corralled and disarmed the MQM fighters to a point when they no more pose a danger to peace in the Karachi metropolitan area, leave alone the Pakistani state. Recall that Altaf Hussain’s call to India several week back for help went unanswered, whether because India couldn’t render any help or because the Modi govt decided not to, isn’t clear. In any case, it may have convinced Gen. Raheel that talking with India is better for his army than doing otherwise. But Balochistan remains a live card India can play as long as Pak chooses to fool around in Kashmir.

There are, however, some positive developments which if followed up correctly promise good things. Aziz has been asked by his prime minister to adopt a “give and take” attitude to not just the minor territorial disputes, namely Sir Creek and Siachen, but also Kashmir. What could this possibly mean? Would Pakistan trade some Indian give on Sir Creek for a reduced Indian military presence on the Siachen Glacier? And what of Jammu & Kashmir. Would Pakistan agree to the 2007 compromise solution worked out with Musharraf as a final solution? Of course, Doval, so instructed, could choose to neither “give” nor “take” and use the meeting to merely trade charges. And India and Pakistan will remain where they have always been — frozen in time. On the other hand, if Modi means to obtain the kind of thaw in relations he has done in the east with Bangladesh, he would order Doval to push the 2007 solution for Kashmir, throw in a lot of economic goodies, and promise to make the Islamabad SAARC summit the grandest in history by promising to sign a such peace pact based on the Manmohan Singh-Musharraf template. That’s not unrealistic.

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New low on OROP

Even if Prime Minister Narendra Modi announces the immediate implementation of the one rank-one pension policy from the ramparts of the Red Fort tomorrow during his 2nd Independence Day address, he would have lost the basic trust and confidence of stalwart militarymen retired from service and now reduced to dharna at Jantar Mantar and insisting the state deliver on its obligation to them, and to uniformed personnel generally. In a fundamental sort of way, maybe the Modi regime has also lost the confidence of the people that this govt is much different than the one it replaced in May 2014.

It has come as a surprise to many that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has such a tin ear for an issue that cries out for decisive intervention by PM. To every issue there are pros and cons. This is one issue where there are no cons, except the barefaced ones pulled by a succession of Indian governments who have fobbed off the military community with promises for so many decades it seems like a reflex action of politicians. It is not at all the additional Rs 10,000 crore OROP will cost the Exchequer. There’s money enough to cover this expenditure. The problem lies elsewhere.

What’s the “technical” aspects of this issue and their sorting out that defmin Parrikar and the finmin Jaitley have been saying the govt is preoccupied with and which they claim is delaying OROP? Truth be told, its locus genesis is in the differentiated pay scales the British Army imposed with the “Indianization” of the British Indian Army. The principle was established with the KCIOs (King’s Commissioned Indian Officers) who were Sandhurst-trained drawing a bigger pay-packet, with their salaries being indexed even after independence to the British sterling than,beginning in 1932, the IMA-raised officers. There’s also the unresolved matter from that time of the “colour service” — can a youngster who joins the army ranks at 18, retire after the original 7 years in the regiment with full pension? If not, then what can he expect?

In the Fifties, moreover, this matter of earned pensions also segued into the then underway process of deliberate downgrading of the military from the colonial-era “warrant of precedence”. This happened because of Jawaharlal Nehru’s express desire to rid the Indian Army of what he feared was the coup d ├ętat virus then eating into the entrails of the army’s partitioned part in Pakistan with General Ayub Khan steadily gaining domination of the Pakistani govt, culminating in the full-fledged martial law admin in 1958.

If Indian militarymen lost, some one had to gain, and it was the civil servants who did — even though Nehru trusted them even less and was contemptuous of the Indian members of the Indian Civil Service — the precursor to IAS. But, unlike Cariappa and that straitlaced uniformed gang who made virtue out of staying aloof, the ICS-wallahs, adept in the art of pleasing whatever masters strode on to the stage, actively stoked the paranoia of Nehru and his sidekick VK Krishna Menon who, by the late 1950s, was also the defmin. The ICS-IAS have ever since happily kept the balance skewed and the military a supplicant by ensuring successive Pay Commissions, while strengthening the superior status of their own lot, widened the disparities both within the military and between the armed forces and the civilian services by turning the differentiated legacy payscales into a “one rank, many pensions”-bhool-bhoolaiyya. Trust the babus to do that.

The political class is complicit in that it never paid attention to the OROP demand, expecting that the soldiers would by habit go home when asked to do so and, in any case, not create trouble. The wonder is that a Narendra Modi, a man of the people (something the Rahul-Sonia Gandhi combo can only dream of), has allowed the situation to get to such a pass that he countenanced a silent and disciplined 60-day agitation by ex-servicmen to be disrupted by the lumpen Delhi Police directly run by his own Home Ministry!!! This is the unkindest cut, I believe, the bemedalled veterans did not expect. It was a tawdry act of a government that seems to be slipping fast into confused inaction and ennui a’la Manmohan Singh’s little lamented dispensation. The Modi govt can only hope that the televised mayhem the police perpetrated on the military elders will not adversely or permanently affect the attitude of the serving armed forces personnel towards the government.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Culture, domestic politics, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia | 37 Comments

Su-30 “hammered” Eurofighter

A squadron-minus of IAF Su-30MKIs (No. 2 Squadron, ex-Kalaikunda) are currently in a war-exercise with RAF Eurofighters in England. The predictable happened — the Eurofighters apparently got a “hammering” from the highly agile Indian Su-30s. Assuming IAF and RAF fielded their best, most experienced, pilots — this flight of Su-30s being led by Group Captain Srivastava — the combat aircraft was the difference, and resulted in many RAF Eurofighter “kills”. This is bad advertisement for the Eurofighter that UK and Germany so desperately tried to pitch to Delhi after the Rafale deal hit the skids. By the same token, the Su-30 once again proved it is non pareil — the best aerial fighter around, confirming DefMin Parrikar’s preference for an augmented fleet of this plane rather than buying Rafale. Unfortunately, he seems not to have displayed the strength of his convictions to fight for this option once PM Modi made the ridiculous Rafale deal on the run in Paris, which deal is still going nowhere.

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Not in the spirit of indigenisation

The stellar achievement of the late APJ Abdul Kalam in the national security sphere was the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) responsible for the Prithvi and especially, the very advanced, highly accurate and lethal Agni series of ballistic missiles. Along with nuclear warheads/bombs designed and produced in Trombay, and the Advanced Technology Vehicle project that begot the Arihant-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile-firing submarine (SSBN), the IGMDP has created a paradox: India is self-sufficient in strategic armaments and long-range delivery systems but is an abject dependency with regard to conventional weaponry.

The thing about strategic armaments is that no country would sell India nuclear weapons, SSBNs, or long-range missiles. This restricted options and narrowed the government’s focus. India could either design, develop, and manufacture these systems on its own through whatever means, however long it took, and at any cost or, decide to do without them and relegate quietly to the ranks of fringe players in international affairs.

Having chosen the difficult path to indigenously secure the delivery systems to complement the nuclear weapons capability Jawaharlal Nehru had nursed with care and strategic foresight, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the late 1970s and early 1980s followed it up by removing all procedural and bureaucratic hurdles to locally designing, developing, and manufacturing these high-value systems. The projects in “mission mode” functioned autonomously, freed from the defence ministry’s rules and procedures. There were no unrealistic staff requirements as compendiums of cutting-edge features culled from glossy Western brochures, no requests for proposal, and no “L1” lowest tendering process and its attendant absurdities. Moreover, as outcomes-oriented projects every encouragement was given to the stewards, such as Kalam, of these sensitive strategic programmes to tap in-country resources wherever these might be found, with none of the oppressive financial oversight fixated on saving the country a few rupees while losing India its strategic independence.

Thus was created India’s own mittelstand – small and medium scale enterprises that produce everything from highly efficient fuels with specific burn characteristics for missiles and Isro rockets, high-tech components, to anechoic tiles as outer skin for nuclear submarines to avoid detection by sonar – all achieving of the highest quality by means of experimentation and trial and error. It is an astonishing story of local ingenuity flowering due to the freedom, trust and financial support to create, reverse-engineer, and innovate top-order technologies. These are also the programmes wherein versatile private sector firms proved their druthers by, for example, learning flawlessly to handle titanium metal using plasma welding techniques to engineer the SSBN’s double hull.

In contrast are the conventional armaments projects bedevilled by every systemic ill imaginable, including legacy mindsets of the Indian military. In the 1950s, with the indigenous Marut HF-24 supersonic fighter programme, the armed forces reconciled themselves to “going native”.

However, the shock of the 1962 war defeat unhinged Nehru and his arms self-sufficiency drive. The imperative to quickly meet the immediate needs of the military with imports became the procurement norm. With the purchase in the 1980s of the Jaguar low-level strike aircraft, HDW 209 submarine, the Bofors howitzer gun politicians, and progressively, civil servants and military brass in the loop, discovered defence deals as sources of personal enrichment. Meanwhile, licensed production of imported weapons platforms became the speciality of the defence public sector units (DPSU). Except, the low-productivity DPSUs never progressed beyond the screwdriver/Meccano-level technology and came to be feared by the armed forces for purveying shoddy goods. DPSUs nevertheless flourished because the sole remit of the defence production bureaucrats in the defence ministry is to ensure their economic health. Hence, all production deals are funnelled to them, their already bulging order books notwithstanding; their “cost plus” calculus robbing the DPSUs of any incentive to bring production runs in on time and within cost.

The slothful DPSUs with unionised labour – the acme of socialist defence economics – geared only to assembling weapons platforms from imported parts without ingesting or improving the transferred technology the country has dearly paid for is mislabelled “indigenisation”. Consider just one statistic: Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, after 50 years of cobbling together over 800 aircraft, including variants of MiG-21, MiG-27, Hawk, Jaguar, and Su-30 combat aircraft and thousands of jet engines, revealed that 70 per cent of its production by value in 2014 constituted imports (three per cent more than in the previous year).

This imports-dependent, DPSU-dominated, defence industry is maintained by an atrocious ecosystem favouring foreign vendors. For instance, unlike Indian private sector firms, foreign companies are not compelled to factor currency fluctuations into their bids, and hence are incentivised to quote ridiculously low prices and win contracts, and which prices are subsequently permitted to be jacked up at will. Foreign companies also do not incur punitive charges and penalties for time and cost overruns of projects owing to delays in trans-shipping materials, tooling and expertise to DPSUs.

A multi-pronged solution is obvious enough: (1) Develop all armaments indigenously with dedicated mixed private and public sector teams in “mission mode”; (2) Concerning the minuscule list of urgently needed armaments, prevent foreign vendors from getting any advantage; (3) Let DPSUs and private sector firms with sophisticated designing and production wherewithal compete fairly for all manufacture contracts and transfer-of-technology benefits.

India has to stop mollycodding DPSUs, wasting the sophisticated built-up capacities in the private sector, and sustaining the defence industries in the US, Russia, Western Europe, and Israel by reflexively buying armaments abroad.
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Published in Business Standard on Friday, July 31, 2015; at http://www.business-standard.com/article/opinion/bharat-karnad-not-in-the-spirit-of-indigenisation-115073001742_1.html

Posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Culture, Defence Industry, domestic politics, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indian Politics, Israel, Military Acquisitions, Missiles, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Russia, russian assistance, society, South Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons | 1 Comment