What should defence expenditure priorities be?

Having wasted the first budget opportunity in 2014 after BJP assumed power by staying with what may be called a continuation budget, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley did a better job the second time around. He was particularly realistic in increasing the defence allocations so marginally to Rs 2,46,727 crores (from Rs 2,29,000 crores), i.e., by a mere 7-odd % as to barely take care of inflation. Indeed, going by past patterns — inflation plus 5%-7% is the norm. Indeed, Jaitley, pointedly increased the defence capital budget not at all — staying locked in virtually at last year’s level of Rs 94,588 crores (up by a measly Rs 0.5 crores to round out the figure!). In effect, it leaves little money for the kind of procurements programmes the military has lined up. In this situation there’s a critical necessity for a high-level mechanism to determine the armed forces acquisition priorities inter se, which need I first articulated in my classified report as adviser, defence expenditure, to the 10th Finance Commission in 1995 and have been publicly iterating for the last exactly 20 years, around budget time!! With each service believing it cannot do without every last item on its wish list and always holding out the dire consequences for national security if it is not realized in full, it ends up as an unending farce.

In the circumstances, what exactly should the defence spending inter se priorities be? The principle for service-wise allocation should be urgently to meet the requirements for the China front — (1) light, air transportable, howitzers for mountain use, (2) C3 and data fusion in a nationally networked grid for the army and air force entities — tactically-deployed forward units, brigade and Division HQrs, and theatre commands to plug into, (3) accelerated equipping and positioning of the mountain strike corps for offensive ops on the Tibetan plateau, (4) 192-strong force of light utility helicopters, (5) raising of two additional Brahmos-II land cruise missile regiments, and (6) speedy augmentation of the Su-30MKI force (by ditching the Rafale for once and for all) and its massed deployment for use on the elongated front from Aksai Chin to Arunachal. These priorities to proceed along with the build-up of the nuclear and conventional submarine strength, in the main. But if past is guide, these will not be the priorities and the defence rupee will be squandered.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Military Acquisitions, Missiles, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, South Asia, Tibet, Weapons | 2 Comments

24 Rafales, seriously?!

Times of India reported from Kolkatta (refer http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/India-inks-a-deal-for-supply-of-24-Rafale-aircrafts/articleshow/46364875.cms) per info from an MOD source, that a mini-deal for 24 Rafales has been signed with Dassault, described by the reporter as “testing waters…for a full-fledged tie-up”. If true, this is so atrocious a transaction that it will make quite a dent in Defence minister Manohar Parrikar’s reputation for common sense decisions. If Rafale isn’t good to fill the full complement of 126 MMRCA in IAF, 24 of these aircraft in Indian colours aren’t going to be any good either. In fact, this decision verges on the silly considering there are so many question marks hanging on this aircraft as combat aircraft that to buy squadron and half worth almost $2 plus billion makes as much sense as throwing away $30 billion for 126 of them. If the idea is to incentivise the French, get Dassault to take ownership of the planes rolling off HAL lines, the French company will, in fact, think of this toe-wetting by the GoI into the Rafale waters as a hook to pull IAF in (with the connivance of the IAF brass, of course). And this is supposed to be brilliant business strategy?? Conceived by whom — PNC members, MOD, MEA? What will these guys think up next to justify giving away the store? And why has Defence Minister Parrikar approved it and if he has not why has this piece of news not been authoritatively refuted?

Posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, Defence Industry, domestic politics, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian ecobomic situation, Military Acquisitions, russian assistance, russian military, South Asia, Technology transfer, Weapons | 3 Comments

Pakistan soon to commission a DARHT facility

A disturbing but not surprising piece of news was conveyed by a reliable non-Western, non-Indian government source. The Strategic Plans Division, Chaklala, Pakistan Army — that country’s nuclear secretariat responsible for strategic planning, and operational readiness of that country’s nuclear forces, has been preoccupied with building with China’s expert and material help and technical assistance a Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Testing facility. This DARHT installed in the underground nuclear complex at Golra, will soon be commissioned. In the absence of physical testing, the DARHT facility will help the Pakistani nuclear weaponeers improve their weapons designs and refine their yields. DARHT only provides more evidence for what I have always maintained that, unlike India, Pakistan is very serious about nuclear security, takes nothing for granted, and will not risk weapons that may work well on paper but not as well in reality. The DARHT will propel Pakistan past India in the quality of its nuclear arsenal. What to talk of China, Indian nuclear weaponry may not even stand up to Pakistan’s inventory. The fabled China-Pakistan nuclear nexus, in the event, would become well nigh insurmountable.

Meanwhile, the weapons directorate at BARC, Trombay — severely neglected by New Delhi, languishes — unable anymore to attract the best and the brightest from among the talent pool recruited by DAE because there are no technical challenges to overcome, no forward-looking agenda to realize. India, thus keeps sliding strategically on the nuclear military front and, with the Modi-Obama nuclear compromise, in the civilian nuclear energy sphere, as well. And, the most disastrous thing to happen to the country’s nuclear programme — Dr R Chidambaram continues as Science and technology adviser to PM Modi and, like Nero, fiddles as the Indian nuclear energy programme burns.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, disarmament, Geopolitics, India's strategic thinking and policy, nonproliferation, nuclear industry, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, nuclear power, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, society, South Asia, Strategic Forces Command, United States, US., Weapons | 5 Comments

Modi’s Action Deficits

The Delhi poll-quake produced an outcome almost everybody in the political firmament, including many within the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, it seems, craved for—the crashing of the Narendra Modi juggernaut. It has highlighted the shortfalls in Modi’s nine-month rule encapsulated in the opposition’s jibe that he is “All talk, no action”. Paperless cabinet meetings, ministers staying late in office, civil servants turning up in time for work do not, apparently, constitute the social and economic revolution the people expected. Arvind Kejriwal, in the event, has emerged, remarkably, as the rival the prime minister will be judged against.

Modi’s achievements to date amount, in substance, to an easy camaraderie with world leaders and exhortations to the people. In contrast, the 49 days of Kejriwal’s first tenure as chief minister had such impact it carried his Aam Aadmi Party to an overwhelming victory in the capital and, the day after the declaration of the poll results, for instant changes—government tankers appeared in water-starved parts of the capital, touts disappeared from the regional transport offices, and bribe-demanding police turned into paragons of propriety. While Modi’s “corruption-free India” remained a slogan, Kejriwal’s campaign motivated the citizens to use mobile telephony to trap wrongdoers, and become the agent of change they desired.

The irony is that as a former chaiwallah who made it to the top on his own, Modi has a better story to tell, but has failed so far to parlay it into policies that encourage and reward personal initiative and individual effort, reduce the profile of the government as employer of the first and last resort, and to embark schemes to grow jobs by growing the economy. Over the months the people found that Modi did not trim government waste, or reconfigure the system, or rectify its ways of doing business with the people, or ramp up the abysmal-quality services it delivered, or devise policies to encourage and incentivise private enterprise, or initiate training schemes to upskill the potential industrial workforce needed for the country’s industry to be at the cutting edge, or facilitate a take-off by the manufacturing sector by putting teeth into his “Make in India” policy, or attract the fabled foreign investment to get trillion dollars worth of infrastructure and connectivity projects going. More disheartening still, pronouncements aside, labour and judicial reforms, like their economic counterpart, have stayed stuck in the political and administrative quagmire.

By way of relief, Modi sought visibility on the international stage where “success” can be gleaned by managing the pomp and attendant pageantry and playing to the delirious non-resident Indian crowds from New York to Sydney. The trouble is the law of diminishing returns kicks in fast. While the occasional international summit and Madison Garden-do is fine, too many foreign jaunts and diplomatic jamborees quickly pall, giving the impression of a democratic leader seeking escape or diversion from his failures on the domestic front.

Problematically, Kejriwal has scored in the areas Modi appears deficient. The AAP supremo did what he promised—improve, even if slightly, the everyday life of the majority—the underclass surviving in miserable slums and shanty towns by ordering cut-rate electricity and water for it. Populist programmes cannot be long sustained because the policy of “robbing Peter to pay Paul” is guaranteed ultimately to alienate both but, in the interim, he can coast. Relying on his “brains trust”, Kejriwal has been inventive—like asking the Centre to allot Delhi a coal block as a captive source of energy for thermal power plants in the capital region. He has less in common with the lowliest in the land than does Modi but compensates with the kind of empathy, humility, and ability to connect with the common folk the PM seems unable to match. And, bad optics—the supposedly expensive suit he donned in his session with Barack Obama—hasn’t helped.

The Left liberals comprising the bulk of the country’s media, intelligentsia, and political parties, who have benefited from the quasi-socialist nanny state, see Modi’s failure as rooted in a faulty ideology symbolised by the carryings-on of the Hindu fringe. The miniscule minority forming the more responsible liberal Right in the country, among whom this analyst counts himself, on the other hand, is a frustrated lot. With the government identified by Modi as the mother of most ills afflicting the state and society, he was expected to slash government, rid the system of the careerist civil servant-dominated decision making, redefine the national interest along hard nationalist lines, and shape policies accordingly. Instead, Modi empowered the bureaucrats.

Meanwhile in the policy-making field, too, Kejriwal has taken the lead, appointing domain experts to advise him on innovative solutions and policy options. Other than in the economic field where outside experts have been installed in the NITI Aayog and as advisers, they are conspicuously absent in most of the rest of the Modi government. Thus, the technical ministries at the Centre continue to be run by generalist civil servants, foreign policy by the prime minister’s instincts (which has resulted in inadequate attention paid to neighbours—Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan, compounded by ill-thought out actions, such as the nuclear compromise with Obama, in violation of an Act of Parliament, that could make the indigenous nuclear energy programme extinct), and defence is constrained by the limited imagination of external affairs. Judged broadly, the current policies generally seem unchanged from Manmohan Singh’s days which, perhaps, explains the popular disillusionment with Modi.

For Modi to pull things back, which he can do in the remaining four odd years in office, it will require him to return to Deen Dayal Upadhyaya’s nationalist ideology and the BJP’s root social self-help principles. He will also have to bank on conservative strategists from outside, who helped Atal Bihari Vajpayee chart an expansive national security policy and set India on the great power course, to fill his strategic policies with meaningful content. Without the right intellectual heft and expertise in the Prime Minister’s Office and in government, Modi may end up winging it on his own without taking the country or even himself very far.

[Published in the New Indian Express, February 20, 2015, at http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/Modis-Action-Deficits/2015/02/20/article2676686.ece

Posted in Asian geopolitics, Defence Industry, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Iran and West Asia, nuclear industry, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, nuclear power, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US. | 6 Comments

N-compromise a liability, will kill local reactor programme

The nuclear compromise approved by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Barack Obama is as much a financial liability for the Indian people as the 2008 civilian nuclear cooperation deal with the United States is a strategic millstone round the country’s neck, and contravenes the Civilian Nuclear Damage Liability Act 2010. First the Congress Party-led coalition regime and now the Bharatiya Janata Party dispensation at the centre, busily explored every possible avenue to circumvent the 2010 Act. The proposed solution, however, seems only to be a means to get a troublesome issue gumming up the bilateral ties off the table, and induce wary American companies, uncertain about their financial obligations but drawn, like moths to a flame, by the prospects of lucrative sales to risk supplying nuclear reactor technology to India.

The compromise was reached by forcing the Indian liability law into the straitjacket of the Convention on Supplementary Compensation, which channels all liability to the operator. Also, an “insurance pool” has been contrived with contributions totaling Rs 1,500 crores from the public sector General Insurance Corporation and other insurance companies and the Indian Exchequer to cover liability obligations. In short, the Modi-Obama solution ensures miniscule compensation in case of nuclear disasters potentially affecting hundreds of thousands of people in densely populated areas and billions of dollars in property damage by dumping all liability into the laps of the Indian taxpayer while zeroing out the financial responsibility of supplier companies selling untested, unproven, and unsafe nuclear reactors. Because no nuclear reactor has been installed in the US since the 1979 Three Mile Island mishap, India will become the testing ground for new American reactor technology and leverage to revive the US nuclear industry.

The 2010 Act, voted with the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy in mind, was meant to prevent precisely such outcomes. But it has been undermined by creatively interpreting some of its provisions. Thus, Section 17(b) which talks of the operator’s “right of recourse” in case of “supply of equipment or material with patent or latent defects or sub-standard services”, which comprehensively shuts down all escape routes to technology suppliers, is viewed by MEA, as only another “normal element of a contract”. It further clarified that Section 17 renders the right of recourse a function of the operator’s whim in writing contracts with supplier firms and, if by some oversight it is included in the contract, leaves it to the operator to “exercise” it or not! Meaning, the sole Indian operator the public sector Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited can, on its own, decide to absolve foreign companies of any responsibility for supplying flawed reactor designs and technology that could lead to accidents while transferring all liability to the Indian state and taxpayer. Likewise, compensation claims on supplier companies by individuals dissatisfied with the pittance given by the government, are disallowed. Next MEA torpedoed Section 46 of the 2010 Act by impugning India’s sovereign right to legislate measures, including in the future to retroactively affect contracts NPCIL signs with supplier firms voiding the latters’ immunity from liability. This is particularly galling considering India was targeted by US Congress’ retroactive legislation post-1974 nuclear test that stopped fuel supply to Tarapur reactors.

Imported enriched uranium nuclear reactors are the worst possible option from every angle. It will create a nuclear spares and fuel dependency, starve the indigenous natural uranium reactor program and the development of the follow-on breeder and thorium reactors per Bhabha’s three-stage 1955 plan to achieve energy self-sufficiency of funds because the exorbitantly-priced foreign reactors (at $6-$9 billion per 1,000MW plant) will corner all the monies, negate the possibility of exporting Indian-designed reactors to developing countries and earning revenue and, with the promised entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, tighten the nonproliferation noose. Meanwhile, the impossible target of 63,000 MW of nuclear energy by 2032 will, like Manmohan Singh’s “20,000 MW by 2020”, remain a mere slogan.

[Published in the Economic Times, February 10, 2015, at http://blogs.economictimes.indiatimes.com/et-commentary/n-compromise-a-liability-will-kill-local-reactor-programme/

Posted in Asian geopolitics, disarmament, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, nonproliferation, nuclear industry, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, nuclear power, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer | 3 Comments

The best result in Delhi elections?

The best outcome — from the national interest perspective — of the Delhi elections being held today would be for the BJP to squeak in with a bare (one or two seat) majority and have Arvind Kejriwal for the next five years hound the ruling party at every turn, holding the feet of the Kiran Bedi dispensation directed by the Narendra Modi- Amit Shah duo to the fire. It will prevent the BJP govt in Delhi, and also at the centre, from going off the deep end because the rulers will be fearful that any false steps will fuel the Kejriwal-AAM Party engine, win it credibility on the national stage. Indeed, it may be ideal for AAM party to prepare itself for power by apprenticing itself as a dogged opposition. It will also spare Delhi the spectacle and the frustrating experience of Kejriwal & Co — highly motivated amateurs, unprepared and untutored in running the administrative apparatus of state, stumbling around trying to get things right. Better they learn from BJP’s mistakes than make these themselves if let loose prematurely on the Delhi scene (as happened the first time around).

Posted in domestic politics, Indian Politics, society, South Asia | Tagged | 3 Comments

Nuclear compromise or sellout?

It may be interesting to view TV panel discussions on the way out of the nuclear impasse with the mooting of an “insurance pool” just before and just after the Obama Visit carried by the Rajya Sabha TV and the Lok Sabha TV respectively. Except, while the Rajya Sabha TV has uploaded the program and it can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgReTFffIck, the Lok Sabha TV has not so far thought it fit to so upload it for a wider audience.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Politics, nonproliferation, nuclear industry, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, nuclear power, Nuclear Weapons, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Weapons | Leave a comment