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.
Published in Business Standard on Friday, July 31, 2015; at

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

Brain-dead Bozos

Am I the only one who has noticed the usual major foul-up — par for the course for such incidents in India — at the Dinanagar police station, in Gurdaspur district in the terrorist attack Monday? Every police agency in sight — and the nearby army units included rushed like mad and acted like the perfect brainless dolts. If the three attackers — fidayeen fashion — were intent on killing as many people as possible and dying in the process, then obviously they succeeded. But was the gunning down of the terrorists necessary considering they were holed up in a police station, were surrounded, and had no means or avenue of escape? Wouldn’t it have been advisable, with the idea of establishing the Pakistan hand in this latest atrocity, to wait it out, engage the three killers just enough to have them expend their ammunition and whatever other ordnance (grenades) they came loaded with, and then apprehended them for interrogation to generate irrefutable evidence??? The fact that even if one member of the strike team — Kasab — was caught alive in the 26/11 Mumbai attack provided clinching proof of Pak ISI’s complicity, making it hard for Islamabad to wriggle out of the corner. With the Gurdaspur intruder-killers killed, however, no amount of GPS tracking record will do other than buttress Islamabad’s argument that this was another inside job by a homegrown team of malcontents. Once the ammo kits were exhausted it is possible the three would have killed themselves with cyanide pills, assuming they carried them to terminate a botched up operation as this certainly was, and as a last bit of suicidal action. But this would have been preferable to their being killed and the Punjab Police SWAT unit tasked with the job thereafter jumping up and down and hollering like a bunch of overgrown school boys with an adrenaline rush! It was all so laughably unprofessional! On Monday even as the action was unfolding Rajasthan Patrika asked me about it, and I said that the first order of business was to catch them alive by any and all means. That, of course, didn’t happen. After all these years of precisely this kind of mindless actions by the police and army, it is time GOI drafted Standard Operating Procedures for such situations. Every last policeman down to the local thana level in every damned locality of the country ought to be drilled in following some the simple rules of conduct and engagement aimed, in the main, at catching and preserving the perpetrators of such attacks for interrogation and generation of incriminating evidence. Boy, the Indian Police, the State Police, and the State and Central Govts seem like such a bunch of bozos who learn nothing, and never will. The subsequent piece of news from the Punjab authorities that none of the men killed were Sikhs was a little too pat for comfort. The Akali govt’s attempts to curry favour with the diehard miniscule minority of Khalistan supporters and sympathizers in order to win over their wealthy supporters safely away in California, Canada, and elsewhere in the West is reprehensible. This element too has gone uncommented upon and, so far, unprobed.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, domestic politics, guerilla warfare, Indian Army, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Terrorism, US. | 9 Comments

Prime integrator

APJ Abdul Kalam was a good man, a surprisingly soft man but with a core as hard as Damascene steel. On the several occasions I met and talked to him he reinforced this impression without revealing that kernel. He came to prominence for heading the Space Launch Vehicle (SLV) project, which he successfully developed because he did such a good systems integrating job. The SLV ever since has been the mainstay as the first stage of the Agni missiles and ISRO rockets. It brought him to the notice of Indira Gandhi who appointed him to lead the Integrated Guided Missile Development Project (IGMDP) — which, with the Agni-5 in the van, has saved this country’s strategic goose. Because as I have maintained — for good reasons that nuclear stalwarts like the late PK Iyengar and other renowned stalwarts of the N-programme too believed — ever since the truncated Shakti series of tests in 1998 however much anybody tries to talk up the N-part of the deterrent, the 20KT atop our missiles are just “firecrackers” impressing nobody. But we’ll learn this lesson yet, God forbid! This bit of bitterness because for me Kalam stood out for his attitude when he helmed IGMDP in the face of the strictly enforced US-headed technology denial regime. The standout “take you on” attitude of Kalam’s was encompassed in his fighting words from that time: “If some one tells us not to do it, we will do it”!!! It is precisely the “in your face” attitude and approach GOI should have always displayed but has failed to muster. The stirring words denote readiness to take on any challenge and the resolve of not being dictated to by anyone. No one before or since showed such fortitude. GOI led by the habitually obsequious, such as Manmohan Singh, used to genuflecting before all and sundry — Indira Gandhi and subsequent party bosses, found little wrong bowing and scraping before the US and the West or anybody else giving orders. Kalam’s disruptive attitude is what GOI needs desperately to imbibe. Every time I contemplate him, these words and the stance it represented is what comes rushing to my mind.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, Culture, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Politics, Military Acquisitions, Missiles, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, society, South Asia, Weapons | 1 Comment

Paki DARHT up

What’s a country to do if the international milieu, or one’s own self-constrained nature, prevents physical explosive tests. You do the next best thing to actual testing. Like, get yourself a Dual Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test (DARHT) facility. Such a unit uses X-ray cameras to see just how a hydrodynamic shock to simulate implosion works — the process in effect of a fission bomb blowing, and study the integrity of this process in a fission bomb, or in the fission trigger of a fusion weapon. Technically this takes some doing. But, not if an all weather friend is supplying designs, expertise, and materials. As is the case with the DARHT unit the Pakistanis have succeeded in engineering and installing with, of course, China’s help and assistance, at Chaklala — headquarters, Strategic Plans Division — the Pakistani counterpart of the Indian Strategic Forces Command, the weapons directorate at BARC, and the nuclear cell in PMO rolled into one. It is expected to become operational by September-October this year. Boy, does that advantage Pakistan! And it shows just how serious the Pak Army is about that country’s nuclear security. Now turn your gaze homewards and what do we find? India has no DARHT, no inertial confinement fusion chamber, no nothing — not even computing speeds, but GOI still finds the situation hunky-dory! That same old — no need to test — canary continues to hold fort as S&T adviser to the PM — R Chidambaram, erstwhile chmn, AEC, the man singularly responsible for keeping the Indian boosted-fission and thermonuclear weapons sub-par, when he should have been the first person Modi ought to have unceremoniously dumped! This state of affairs about sums up the situation India is in today. India is forced to rely over much on Agni-5 (and technologies), a damned accurate missile at extreme range. The case made in govt circles no doubt prompted by this same Chidambaram is that, high accuracy means India can field just this one low yield but only proven warhead/weapon in our arsenal — the 20KT fission, and that this is more than adequate for the country’s strategic deterrence purposes! And to think the incoming Chinese DF-21mod2s will have a one megaton warhead, and nothing less than a fully performing 500 KT warhead. One is compelled to bury one’s head in a pillow, and moan. In the past, I called India’s approach “nuclear amateurism”. It is actually much worse, it is “nuclear fatalism”.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Missiles, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, South Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Technology transfer, Weapons | 4 Comments

India-US N-Deal: Was a Deep N-Game at Play in India’s Containment?

At the controversial core of the India-US nuclear deal is the intent. The context was the emerging geopolitics of China’s “peaceful rise” and the need to stop it from dominating Asia.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s BJP government sought technology and American capital.
There was no need for India to negotiate in the nuclear realm at all.
The US counter-bait was to supposedly build India as a balancer to China.
The secret aim was to divert India from the plutonium path and into energy dependency.

The Atal Bihari Vajpayee BJP government wanted to seek technology and American capital. The bait was the “voluntary (testing) moratorium”, announced after the May 1998 Shakti tests, notwithstanding a fizzled thermonuclear device that cried out for more testing.

The US government rose to it in the belief that more could be extracted from New Delhi in furtherance of Washington’s long-held non-proliferation objective – the great constant of American foreign policy since the 1974 test – of “capping, freezing, and rolling back” the Indian nuclear weapons capability.

So with the rapprochement rooted in geopolitics and realpolitik, and not in any sentimental nonsense about shared democratic values, there was no need for India to negotiate in the nuclear realm at all, leave alone make concessions and compromises.

But the Jaswant Singh-Strobe Talbott “strategic dialogue” set the ball rolling. However, it took the agency of the “Accidental Prime Minister” – Manmohan Singh, to put wheels under Washington’s multi-pronged policy to contain India’s nuclear weapons programme but also – and this was the counter-bait New Delhi jumped at – to supposedly build India as a balancer to China.

The sale of reactors – run on imported highly-enriched uranium – to India to revive a comatose US nuclear industry was a bonus, but its secret aim was to divert India from the plutonium path and into energy dependency. This was a deep game that entirely escaped the strategically challenged Manmohan Singh regime, uplifted by the prospects of US’s help to make India a “major power” and by “20,000 MW by 2020” to spur economic growth.

But back up a bit.

Why was diverting India from the plutonium route critical? Based on India’s easily accessible reserves of thorium – the world’s largest – the nuclear visionary Homi J Bhabha articulated a three-stage interlocking plan in 1955 for energy self-sufficiency. The first stage had natural uranium fuelled reactors to provide the feedstock for the second-stage breeder reactors to, in turn, have its output fire up thorium reactors in the final stage.

The beauty of the Bhabha Plan is that the first and second stages yield weapons-grade plutonium (WgPu). It was an unnerving prospect for the US to imagine an India with limitless energy and weapons material! Bhabha acquired the NRX (so-called CANDU) reactor from Canada. New Delhi thereafter only needed to have its eye on the ball, keep investing in the development of the breeder and thorium reactors, in order to now have neared the desired end-state.

Alas, no Indian PM had the requisite vision and the will, and the nuclear energy programme floundered. The momentum from Bhabha’s time carried the country to where the 500 MW breeder reactor is ready for commissioning in Kalpakkam.

But New Delhi has not found the money to upscale the 40MW experimental thorium reactor “Kamini” or to otherwise implement the Bhabha-Plan on a war-footing, but has tens of billions of dollars to spare for wasteful spends, such as on a 4-plus generation Rafale combat aircraft.

And no Indian PM has had the “long view” and guts to try and bring down the oppressive non-proliferation treaty system targeting India by selling the 220 MW CANDU-derivative, the INDU workhorse reactor, to any country with the cash, and to secure the necessary natural uranium from strip-mining reserves in Manipur mountains (and arresting foreign-funded eco-NGO protestors) and from Niger and Gabon.

Besides, creating its own nuclear market in the Third World – India didn’t have to be a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to sell indigenously produced nuclear goods – New Delhi would have had the West, espying a non-proliferation system breakdown, pleading for mercy. That’s how a country gains respect and leverage. Ask China!

Except in Manmohan Singh, India found a sap and Washington a sucker. For a pat on the back for leading a “responsible” state – whatever that is – he shifted most of the CANDU reactors into the international safeguards net, thereby stuffing the country’s capacity for surge WgPu production, and decommissioned the 40 MW Cirus reactor before the second military-dedicated 100MW plutonium producer came on stream.

All those who were excited about the nuclear deal — the government, the Indian policy establishment and the media — never wondered why, despite having met all conditions, India has not been conferred “the rights and privileges” of a nuclear weapons state and membership of the NSG as was promised in the July 2005 joint statement between Manmohan Singh and George W Bush.

Would an India armed with proven thermonuclear weapons be more credibly balanced than China?
Published in ‘The Quint’, July 20, 2015; at

Posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Culture, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, nuclear power, Nuclear Weapons, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Weapons | 3 Comments

Hypersonic on hold?

DRDO has been working on a hypersonic missile for some years now. It has reached testing stage. But a test of the Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle — HSTDV-2, scheduled at TsAGI (Central Thermal Hydrodynamics Institute) in the Moscow metropolitan region in December 2014 was abruptly cancelled. The rumour is Finance Ministry did not sanction the few crore rupees worth of funds required for trans-shipping the item, testing it in Moscow, etc. This happened, it is said by those in the know, because of pressure from certain Western quarters rattled by the prospect of India’s acquiring such a potent weapon. A supersonic missile is bad enough. But a hypersonic missile with a scramjet engine (where the through passing air is combusted at supersonic speeds unlike in ramjet engines where the air is slowed down to subsonic speeds before combustion) at Mach 20 plus is so indefensible you might as well give up the ghost. And its has tremendous range extension utility. For instance an Agni-5 with a hypersonic last stage will extend its range well beyond intercontinental distances. The Indian HSTDV-2 with a platypus nose, a titanium underside and an aluminum-niodium topside, could be a strategic killer. Instead of the technology being prioritised for accelerated development the government seems to be holding back. We may be repeating the mistake of not moving quickly and naturally with indigenously developed technology, tarrying, until the big powers wanting to limit the number of those with this lethal technology, slam shut the gates. This happened with nuclear weapons. Nehru and Indira Gandhi tarried, did not quickly weaponise once the threshold was reached in March 1964 and the country paid the price with the 1968 nonproliferation treaty shutting India out. Meanwhile China first tested a fission device in 1964 and by 1969 had gone thermonuclear and weaponised, and look where that got the Chinese! The gates will be shut on this lethal technology to limit the numbers securing it. Delhi better remove the brakes lest India again suffer grievously. Get the HSTDV out to TsAGI Arun Jaitley. The govt is wasting enough time and resources on nearly worthless military acquisitions. It better invest in a technology genuinely of the future. By the way only Russia, US, China and India are working on hypersonics. Russia is the most advanced in the scramjet technology. The US’ Waverider is having problems. The Chinese item — it is difficult to say.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, China military, DRDO, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, Military Acquisitions, Missiles, Russia, russian assistance, South Asia, Weapons | 5 Comments

N-Iran only postponed

The deal with Iran announced with great fanfare by Obama hides something critical and obvious under a heap of hope. Iran’s nuclear weapons capability has merely been put on hold, not done away with. All the mechanisms described at length in the bulky annexures — the technical fixes to ensure Iran does not cheat — the basis for the US claim that it is verification not trust that’s the foundation of this deal, seems no more than a political device for the Obama Adminstration not to have nuclear weaponized Iran emerge in its time in office — the classic political instinct to put off facing, what the West considers, a bad situation! This was pretty much confirmed in Secretary of State John Kerry’s CNN interview where he stated baldly that not having a NW-armed Iran if for another 10 years was better than having one now!

Some years back a few Indian visitors were taken around an Iranian n-facility. Talking to those in-charge convinced me that Tehran is on the brink having all but achieved weapons status. So, why did Rouhani not go ahead, cross the threshold? Undoubtedly, then the sanctions which are already fairly oppressive would have been ratcheted up a notch or two, making the lives of the people that much more difficult. But, why do the masses matter to the Ayatollahs? For one thing, the central pillar of the theocratic order in Iran are the well-networked baazaris of Tehran and other cities and towns, who are socially conservative but have the fingers on the pulse of the people. The popular sentiment they would have tapped into is that the people are fed up with being cut away from the world, and that this popular resentment would come to a boil sooner rather than later and hurt the foundations of the Islamic Republic. And, in this context it is better to ease up a bit by concerting with the US — villified as the “great satan”. Give the US a bit, but take a mile (the good old baazari tactic but give the impression of making big concessions). In the next 10 years Iran will stock up every which way and especially in the conventional military realm and with freer commerce and trade, permit the pressure cooker situation at home to vent steam. Not bad thinking from the point of view conserving the present mullah-order. But give up on NWS? Nah — these people are the legatees of Persepolis and the empires of Darius and Xerxes, and a civilizational power in its own right, not one to be denied.

From India’s perspective, we had a winning hand all these years but lost an opportunity to forge a strong relationship. Had India been there to give a helping hand — rather than joining the Western bandwagon — this country would have earned enormous political capital with mounting interest with Tehran. We’d have had a mountain of IOUs. Tehran would have remembered that India was with it when it was down, and we’d have benefited from it all along, and especially now. Iranians are good at paying off their debts. In the past decade and more Delhi sought US approval when what India should have done was invest in Chahbahar and get going on the connectivity rail-road grid radiating outwards from that Gulf base northwards and via the Zaranj-Delaram highway connect to Afghanistan and Central Asia to the East and to Russia;s northern transportation network. Instead, Delhi twiddled its thumbs and did Tehran no favours, worrying only of how to pay for imported Iranian oil with the banking channels closed. We are no mean baazaris ourselves, and we could have settled on a barter system or some other means of putting our trade and commercial relations on a firm footing. Iran is central to India’s strategic outreach and consolidation in the Gulf-Caspian region — helping us bypass the Pakistan transit option. GOI acted as if entirely innocent of the geostrategic imperatives, perhaps, because it indeed knows little and cares even less about missed geopolitical opportunities.

Posted in Afghanistan, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, Culture, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian ecobomic situation, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Iran and West Asia, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Russia, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Weapons, West Asia | 2 Comments