Navy Adrift

Admiral D K Joshi’s resigning and the succession crisis it triggered are ultimately minor issues. More basic problems afflict the navy.

For instance, the Indian Navy’s high reputation for seamanship and ship-handling has been sullied somewhat by the spate of accidents involving frigates and destroyers ramming into docks and passing vessels. In a recent conversation with this analyst, Joshi dismissed these mishaps as “tire punctures”. At a minimum, it indicates a decline in ship-handling skills.

I recall, in this respect, the late Admiral S M Nanda, the country’s eighth Naval Chief, telling me of an incident from the 1950s when the navy annually exercised with the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet. In one such exercise, as commander of the cruiser, Mysore, he was asked by the host, who was testing his mettle, to squeeze his large ship into a tight berth alongside British warships in the harbour in Malta. It required intricate docking manoeuvres the British fleet commander was certain Nanda could not pull off and, in trying to bring his ship in unaided crash it into the jetty. But Nanda deftly slid Mysore into the slot without a hitch. The surprised Briton didn’t know, the Admiral told me with a chuckle, that he had captained pilot boats in Karachi harbour in the pre-Second World War days.

The point is that ship-handling skills are learned and the “sea eye” acquired hands-on by subaltern officers (in the rank of sub-Lieutenant and Lieutenant) steering small craft on coastal security duties and skimming in and about crowded harbours, something naval stalwarts will vouch for. It is a hard job, they say, to bring in a 6,000 ton-plus missile destroyer coasting in at 4-6 knots to the quay, and ship commanders lacking sufficient small boat-derived experience often flub this test. Lack of such skills is also reflected in ships running aground, which too has happened lately. Diffident captains opting to have tug-boats escort their vessels in and out of harbours will lack the experience in crisis when ships have to get out to sea in a hurry under their own power.

The trouble is small ship command billets are in short supply because the navy has no more than 20 offshore patrol craft and coastal combatants in its inventory, smaller vessels being monopolised by the Coast Guard (CG) tasked with the coastal security mission. In this respect, the navy has failed to respond to a 10-year-old offer by the CG director-general to sequester six of his vessels exclusively for junior naval officers to command. The skills differential is thus set to widen considering the CG is growing faster with induction of new patrol boats every two-three weeks and, in time, its officers could potentially be better in handling bigger ships than their naval counterparts.

Familiarisation with ships comes, moreover, from pulling time in them. More and more naval officers, however, have ever shorter tenures in rotational posts at sea, affording them insufficient time to familiarise themselves with the ships. It has resulted in an echelon of mid-level officers not quite capable, when commanding ships, of manoeuvring them well or tackling on-board crises and contingencies involving machinery and equipment.

Huge bunches of the navy’s 10,000-strong officer cadre, the smallest of any armed service, moreover, are sucked up for duty in large ships. The first fleet aircraft carrier, Vikramaditya, has 200 officers assigned to it. Because the ministry of defence (MoD) sanctions crew strength virtually at the point of commissioning ships, increases in personnel cannot be schemed too much in advance, making nonsense of manpower planning and compounding the problem of inexperienced officers assuming command of battleships.

The depletion of the submarine arm is especially alarming. In the wake of the Sindhuratna accident, the turgid pace of decision-making in the ministry of defence (MoD) will quicken for a while and bureaucrats, who often wilfully retard military procurement and indigenous production programmes, will frantically clear everything to avoid blame. It is an opportune time for the naval brass to take the seriously big step of embarking on an all-nuclear submarine arm as advocated by the veteran submariner, retired Rear Admiral Raja Menon, and secure two additional Russian Akula nuclear hunter-killer submersibles (SSNs) on lease, including the Iribis already offered to India, to fill the immediate void in sea denial capability. The lesser option is to build a conventional hunter-killer submarine (SSK) from scratch.

To achieve this grand aim, Project 75i, a programme to buy yet another foreign conventional sub at a mind-boggling `55,000 crore, should be altered to obtain an SSK, or SSN, with a production line to complement the one manufacturing the Arihant-class nuclear-powered nuclear missile firing submarines (SSBNs). In either case, it will be a daunting project considering the navy’s design directorate still lacks basic competence. It hasn’t developed the tools and the metrics to validate its own designs. But rather than be deterred by the enormity of this enterprise, the government should sanction this SSK/SSN project in mission-mode, affording it priority and autonomy as was done in the case of the Agni missile and Arihant projects. After all, the country had no experience in producing missiles and SSBNs either.

The navy’s submarine design group has enough insights from the German HDW and French Scorpene projects and long acquaintance with the Russian design philosophy to shake off self-doubt. It is imperative the navy goes all out on this option, seeding a comprehensive submarine and ship-building industry in the process. To ensure its success, it should insist on a private sector combine of majors, such as Larsen & Toubro and Pipavav Shipyard involved in making the Arihant, as prime contractor. This being no time for ethical niceties, the combine should be incentivised to reverse-engineer to the maximum, to rely on indigenous sources and resources, and to obtain the really critical technology and technical assistance from wherever and however it can get it. Commercial-minded corporates, espying nationalism-laced profit, will find a way.

Committed to shrinking the government and the public sector, the likely new prime minister Narendra Modi will welcome such an ambitious and freewheeling initiative to render the country genuinely self-reliant in armaments.

[Published as "Indian Navy Cast Adrift" in New Indian Express, Friday, March 7, 2014; at ]

Posted in Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Defence Industry, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Indian para-military forces, Internal Security, Military Acquisitions, Missiles, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Russia, russian assistance, South Asia, Technology transfer, Weapons, Western militaries | Leave a comment

Weak advocacy by BJP rep

Have just come off watching a shockingly poor show earlier this evening put up, unfortunately, by the BJP foreign policy rep, Harinder Puri, in the ‘Foreign Policy Debate’ on Times TV featuring Puri, Pavan Verma of JD(U), and Manish Tiwari of Congress.

Asked about whether a Narinder Modi-led BJP government would, after a Pakistan-supported terrorist attack such as 26/11, retaliate with a military strike on cross border terrorist camps, Puri hemmed and hawed — still too much the Indian Permanent Representative at the UN in New York (from which post he retired) to call a spade a shovel,stating weakly that he couldn’t speak about what such a govt would do, that it would depend on the prevailing “context”, but that such a strike “would be on the table”. Seeing an opportunity to show up his erstwhile ex-IFS colleague for his pusillanimity, Verma, now with Nitesh Kumar, stated forcefully that “appeasement” was intolerable and that while there’s every reason to “engage” with an adversary, the process of engagement “should not leave India defenceless”. It was a mightily clever interjection. It showed muscularity and made sense sans any element of Puri’s waffling and, more importantly, without in any way committing himself or his party to any specific course of action. Verma also deftly placed a (Hindu) cherry atop this cake by reminding Puri and the audience of “sama, dhan, bhed, dand” as the four essentials of Indian statecraft! Tiwari, on his part, stuck a knife into BJP and twisted it saying before coming into power in 1998 Advani had promised “hot pursuit” of the terrorists across the LoC in Kashmir, but as Home Minister failed to order such action. Verma and Tiwari went unchallenged.

On another occasion, Verma airily dismissed Puri’s reactions as “college [level] debating” techniques, even as the latter looked appropriately sheepish.

Puri also seemed unsure about how to respond when, apropos continuity in foreign policy, Tiwari pointed out that Congress had picked up where the Vajpayee govt had left off as regards relations with the United States in terms of fleshing out the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership and the framework of defence cooperation and following up with the nuclear deal the BJP was keen on. Again Puri fluffed it,spluttering about how while he supported the deal and the military links, the Congress had failed to “implement” the nuclear deal (by buying nuclear reactors from the West!!!). It left a disturbing thought in my mind. Has the Narinder Modi team settled on following through on the N-deal any which way, the 2010 Nuclear Liability Act passed by Parliament notwithstanding — the position the Manmohan Singh regime has been inclined towards? If no such Party line has been put down, shouldn’t Puri be asked to be less voluble along the lines he was and to back up a bit, lest he begin sounding like one of those who actually pushed this wretched, one-sided, hurtful to India’s nuclear weapons program and status-deal?

True, television is a strange thing with the digital speed being the medium. The pace is so fast there’s not a moment for honest reflection. All the things you really wanted to say, all the witty remarks you’d have liked to make, simply don’t come to the tongue with the TV cameras on your face, recording every twitch and bead of sweat. Like most people, Puri doesn’t look as if he is naturally made for TV. All the more reason then that he better pick up his game fast, lest he lose the foreign policy end of it to better prepared political opponents who can think well and speak better on their feet.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian Politics, Internal Security, nonproliferation, nuclear industry, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Terrorism, United States, US. | 2 Comments

Fire Up Defence Industry

The recent Singapore Air Show opened a week after the Indian Defence Expo (Defexpo 2014) ended in Delhi. What evoked interest in Singapore was the CN-235 turboprop maritime patrol aircraft that Indonesia displayed there. Considering the Indonesian defence industry was revived only in 1976 with the establishment of Indonesian Aerospace (IA), this is quite an accomplishment. With IA contemplating manufacture of the South Korean T-50i light fighter, Indonesia may soon have a cheap supersonic combat aircraft to sell to developing states hard up for cash.

Put this development in perspective. The prototype of the indigenous multi-role Marut HF-24 supersonic combat aircraft, the first ever produced outside the United States and Europe, took to the skies over Bangalore in 1961. That project should have led to the emergence of a comprehensively-capable Indian defence industry supplying the Indian military and the rest of the Third World, and as generator of high-technologies to drive the economy. Instead, between a foreign aircraft-fixated Indian Air Force and short-sighted Indian politicians (to wit, defence minister Krishna Menon who decided against sanctioning `5 crore for rejigging the Orpheus-12R engine with reheat the British firm Bristol-Siddeley had produced as power plant for a NATO fighter to fit the HF-24) the Marut was eliminated on the excuse of being “under-powered”. It aborted growth of the defence industry in general, habituated the Defence Public Sector Units (DPSUs) to an endless cycle of licensed manufacture, and turned the country into an arms dependency that can be jerked around at will by foreign suppliers.

Understandably, at the DefExpo the mood was morose in the stalls of the private sector majors, among them L&T, Tata, Pipapav, and Bharat Forge, as well as smaller private firms, all venturing into the high-value military market. The private sector defence industry has, time and again, proved itself in the most prestigious and sensitive indigenous high-technology projects, such as Agni missiles and Arihant-class ballistic missile firing nuclear-powered submarine. They have shown particular appetite for ingesting and innovating transferred technology and for complex designing and production engineering. It is talent the DPSUs seem bereft of in the main because profit-linked survivability is not their concern, even less motive. No matter how incompetent and wasteful, they keep getting showered with mega contracts by the Indian government, forcing the more productive, technologically capable, and cost-efficient private sector firms to make to do with meagre sub-contracts.

The representatives at the Indian DPSU stalls at the DefExpo were, however, all jaunt and puffed-up chests, because continued government patronage has resulted in over-full order-books they are in no position to deliver on. After some 60-odd years one thing is clear: DPSUs simply cannot absorb military technology, leave alone develop new products, and are content with their limited skill-sets of reproducing military hardware by screwing plate A onto plate B as per detailed design instruction sheets provided them. This is the stuff of Meccano sets, which in a bygone era helped young kids put together toy cranes and trucks—the very essence of licensed manufacture. The DPSUs have even ignored the transferred technology available in massive documentation with the ordnance factories (OFs) which, as in the case of the 155mm Bofors howitzer field gun, was collecting dust for 30 years.

Take the case of the follow-on to the Bofors gun. As the preferred option of buying a foreign 155mm/52 calibre towed artillery gun system was not materialising the army is considering a desi alternative. The OFs working with the transferred Bofors technologies have struggled to produce a gun which, alas, has featured many failures, including repeated barrel bursts in test firings, showing up the DPSU capability deficiencies. In the meantime, Bharat Forge bought technology from Elbit, an Israeli Company, fully digested it, introduced its own innovations into the design, and now has a ready artillery piece which it is willing to enter into competition against rival systems produced anywhere, including by the OFs and L&T. L&T, contrarily, decided against full transfer of technology from the French Company, Nester, on the ground that buying expensive foreign technology without a fair chance of selling it to the army makes no commercial sense. India would have long ago rolled out an advanced successor gun system had the Bofors technology been passed on to the private sector even as the OFs assembled this gun from completely knocked-down kits.

The department of defence production (DDP) in the ministry of defence (MoD) is the chief culprit. The DDP sees its remit as protecting the DPSUs, not as growing a national defence industry, which last requires acknowledging the private sector defence industrial assets as national resource. This means that a howitzer gun will not be purchased from the private sector, no matter how desperate the army’s need for it.

How hurtful to the national interest is the official procurement policy may be gauged from the fact that despite the entire fleet of some 1,000 Russian T-72S tanks being currently immobilised owing to suspect gun barrels that have burst with disturbing regularity, the DDP has not entertained an offer (made directly to defence minister A K Antony in 2013) by a big private company to fit the rifled gun barrels it has produced on two tanks on a “no cost, no commitment” basis for rigorous testing. A year later, the DDP is still dithering, willing to risk an army with defanged strike forces than approve testing of tank gun barrels sourced to this private firm lest successful tests lead to pressures to buy them, thereby setting a precedent.

Then again the entire government and military system tilts against the private sector defence industry. The Defence Procurement Procedure the MoD has laboured over is a joke. It is big on extolling “Make and Buy Indian” but in practice provides it cover for doing nothing, least of all actively encourage and incentivise the private sector companies, or enable fair competition between them and DPSUs that the department of defence production and the MoD know the latter will lose. The problem is too many politicians, bureaucrats, military officers, and DPSU personnel are milking this system to accept its radical overhaul.

[Published in New Indian Express, Friday, 21 February 2014 and available at ]

Posted in Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Defence Industry, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Military Acquisitions, Northeast Asia, South Asia, South East Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons | 3 Comments

“Erstwhile foe”

The main presentation of interest on the first day of the 16th Asian Security Conference hosted by IDSA (Feb 19-21) was by Beijing’s designated hardline pitchman — Yan Xuetong of Tsinghua University. Yan made clear that the “new model for major power relations” that President Xi Jinping has articulated, tends in fact towards “competition” not “cooperation” as many in the West and the usual docile lot of China-pleasers in the Indian foreign policy establishment believe is the case. He, moreover, stressed that the world was moving towards bipolarity owing to the increase in China’s “material power” which, he claimed, is the sole reason for the “inevitable” rivalry with the United States. And, as regards Japan, Yan was almost vituperative. But he got as good as he gave from Vice Admiral (ret) Fuma Ota, former head of Japanese Military Intelligence, who responded with zest to Yan’s provocations — and on a projected map highlighted the growing incidents at sea and in the air, any of which could have escalated into military crisis. When asked how long the Chinese Navy would take to integrate their recently inducted aircraft carrier, Liaoning, into fleet operations — the litmus test of a carrier-centered navy, Ota estimated 20 years, and Andrew Scobell of RAND ventured that this eventuality “is long way off”.

In the first event of the morning, MK Narayanan, Governor of West Bengal, in his keynote address proved what I have publicly written and stated that he was, perhaps, the worst National Security Adviser India has had to-date. In the main because of his singularly risk-averse attitude and thinking. For instance, he went on and on about “the risk of unintended consequences” of the India-China naval race, and why “deft management” is necessary to avoid conflict — something, no doubt, he feels he provided as NSA. Worse, he yoked the country’s nuclear arsenal and policy not to its own national security interests or the emerging geostrategic situation in Asia and the world, but exclusively to Chinese aggressiveness and also to whether and how much America retrenched. It emphasized his way of thinking that had confirmed India’s status as a free-rider on security and is the sort of approach that helped Narayanan deliver the inequitable nuclear deal that enormously hurt India’s nuclear weapons program and strategic interests, to Condoleeza Rice in July 2005. He also confessed that in his time “We never worked very hard on an Asian security architecture” because of the divisions and differences between Asian states. He ended with a gratuitous dig at me saying MEA stalwarts such as — and he named — Rakesh Sood, who was in the audience, had stalled “our erstwhile foe, Bharat Karnad” in the foreign and security policy realms. While this mention was flattering, wonder what Yan Xuetong thought about it considering China is the foe Narayanan ought to have worked aggressively against as NSA, but did not.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Politics, Japan, nonproliferation, Northeast Asia, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, South Asia, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Weapons | 1 Comment

Lively encounters

The India Today-hosted “Panchayat”-sort of events (held all day Feb 13) with politicians debating, discussing, publicly quarreling with each other have three aspects. There is the plain entertainment value, say, of the recent entrant to Mulayam’s party, the commedian Raju Srivastav having a blast with AAP’s Kumar Vishwas and the more sober Bhojpuri film hero Manoj Tiwari displaying earthy cow-belt lingo and humour in skewering each other and the unfortunate Congress MP aspirant, the actress Nagma, who seemed like the proverbial witless ingenue winning a beauty title and claiming her aim in life is to work for “world peace”! There’s the high-octane verbal kinetics, with the Congress minister of state Manish Tiwari losing his cool when verbally prodded and deliberately provoked by the AAP member and fellow lawyer, Mehra (?) even as the former deputy chief minister of Bihar Modi on the panel enjoyed the show. And then there’s the seriously political. In the exchange featuring Amit Shah, Narendra Modi’s canny chief campaign strategist, and Jairam Ramesh, the resident intellectual in the Congress Party ranks, the latter was clearly bested with Shah being relentlessly on the offensive charging the Congress with politics of polarization and vigorously defending the Gujarat model of economic growth, which RFamesh had hard time refuting. What was more revealing than what was said and how it was said was the body language. The impression was conveyed by all Congress reps throughout the day that the party sees the writing on the wall, is reconciled to defeat in the coming general elections, and is already looking ahead to the 2019 polls, with Ramesh painting Rahul Gandhi as a political “marathoner”, not a 100 metre “sprinter”.

P.S. — The real stinger, I forgot to mention, was the quicksilver reaction by AAP’s Mehra to Manish Tiwari. The latter was reminded about Kapil Sibal’s comment that there was “zero loss” on the coalgate and 2-G issues in the context of the GOI yesterday realizing some Rs 61K crores for the spectrum recently in a transparently-conducted auction, which’d indicate the extent of loss to the public exchequer when the 2-G bandwidth was allotted to his cronies by the DMK minister K. Raju w/o any openness. Mehra’s stinger was that of course, the Congress “felt insulted” considering it was such a small amount compared to Rs 1 lakh74K crores the CAG said Congress had “eaten up” in the 2G scam!

Posted in Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, Internal Security, society, South Asia | Leave a comment

S Menon to leave NSA post

The annual brunch held over the weekend at his residence for those involved in, and dealing with, foreign and defence policies — with DRDO and all armed Services (except the CAS, ACM Raha) and Intel chiefs in attendance, and all concerned Department secretaries too present, was as usual otherwise also well populated. It allowed talking of “business” with persons in the loop. The curtest of the lot was R Chidambaram who, understandably didn’t want to speak to me considering I have called him the greatest disaster to befall the Indian nuclear weapons program, of course, but more generally the nuclear energy programme as well.

Shivshankar Menon told me that he had informed the PM that he’d be leaving his post come May whatever the results of the forthcoming general elections and even if the UPA-III manages to materialize. I instinctively felt that underlying this decision of the NSA was a sentiment best expressed by Richard Nixon in a press interaction after losing the presidential elections in 1960 to John F Kennedy: “You won’t have me to kick around anymore”(!), which would more reasonably accord with Manmohan Singh’s relieved feelings, no doubt!

Posted in DRDO, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian Navy, Indian Politics, society, South Asia, United States, US. | 1 Comment

Strategic Bomber for IAF

A trick question: What was the most decisive weapon of the Second World War? If your answer, as expected, is the atom bomb, you are wrong. It was the B-29 Superfortress bomber that delivered it. Without the plane, the A-Bomb would have been only a novelty. The flip side of this question is: What was the most egregious policy failure of Imperial Japan (besides the surprise raid on Pearl Harbour)? It was the delay in developing its Nakajima G10N Fugaku strategic bomber with the range to hit American island bases in the western Pacific and the US west coast early enough in the war to make some difference. Often, the means of delivery are as important as what’s delivered.

These historical thoughts were prompted by the statement of the new Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, who talked of his service achieving a “strategic” profile in terms of its ability to pull “expeditionary” missions. While the growing numbers in the inventory of C-17 and C-130J transport planes, and of aerial tankers able to extend the range of combat aircraft, make expeditionary actions easier to mount, such tasks in the past (Operation Cactus in the Maldives, Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka) were adequately managed with the old An-32s. The Raha statement revealed an eagerness to sidestep the traditional criterion — a fleet of bombers capable of long range attack — that distinguishes a strategic air force from a theatre-oriented one, such as the IAF.

How and why did the IAF, despite a palpable need, not become strategic? The fault lies in the natural shrivelling of missions beginning in the 1950s that accompanied the dimming of the strategic vision and the narrowing of the military focus, laughably, to Pakistan as main threat, and the quality of leaders helming the air force. The 1947 era of service brass, mostly Group Captain-Air Commodore rank officers fast-forwarded to the top, having loyally served the Raj and imbibed British ways of thinking, configured the service in the manner their old bosses had planned. It resulted in the IAF emerging as a creditable tactical force.

Short-legged fighter aircraft with a leavening of fighter-bombers became its calling card with the UK-built Lysanders, Tempests, and Spitfires of the 1940s replaced by the French Dassault Ouragans and Mystere-IVs, and the Hawker-Siddeley Hunters which, in turn, were succeeded by the Russian Mig-21s, MiG-23s, MiG-27s, MiG-29s, and the Su-30MKIs. The odd Western import during this latter phase — the Jaguar and Mirage 2000, were also only short to medium range aircraft. The only dedicated bomber the IAF ever acquired was the medium-range Canberra in the Sixties. But highlighting its limited operational mindset was the air force’s choice of the Folland Gnat, a local area air defence aircraft, for licence-production in the country.

It was different early on. When Jawaharlal Nehru’s government first approached the United States for arms aid in 1948, it was the war-tested B-25 Mitchell bomber which topped the procurement list. During the Second World War the Walchandnagar aircraft company (precursor to the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd), among other planes, built the B-24 Liberator bombers in Bangalore. Most of these aircraft were shipped back to Britain. But a significant number, which could have constituted an embryonic bomber component of the IAF, was deemed “surplus to the need” and deliberately destroyed by the departing British at the Maintenance Command in Kanpur by hoisting these aircraft, one by one, up by their tails to considerable height and dropping them nose down on the hard ground.

The IAF brass at the time — Subroto Mukherjee, M.M. Engineer, Arjan Singh, et al — did not protest against this dastardly deed by the British, apprise Nehru and the Indian government of the strategic cost of the loss of long range air power, and otherwise failed to prevent these wanton acts of sabotage. True to form, after the 1962 Himalayan military fiasco, the IAF sought not bombers able to reach distant Chinese targets as deterrent but the US F-104 for air defence, before settling on the MiG-21.

What showcased the IAF’s apparent institutional reluctance against transforming itself into a strategic force, however, was the decision by the Air Chief Marshal P.C. Lal-led regime to reject in mid-1971 the Soviet offer of the Tu-22 Backfire strategic bomber. The reasons trotted out verged on the farcical.

As Wing Commander (later Air Marshal) C. V. Gole, member of the Air Marshal Sheodeo Singh Mission to Moscow and test pilot, who flew the Tu-22 informed me, he was appalled by the fact that he had to be winched up into the cockpit, and that the plane would have to takeoff from as far east as Bareilly to reach cruising altitude over Pakistan! (This and other episodes are detailed in my book ‘Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security’.) Evidently China didn’t figure in the threat perceptions of the Air Headquarters at the time, nor has it done so since then.

IAF’s doggedly defensive-tactical thinking married to theatre-level capabilities have ensured its minimal usefulness in crises and conflicts.

Forty years on, while China is bolstering its already strong strategic bomber fleet (of Xian H-6K aircraft) by buying off the production line of the most advanced Backfire, the Tu-22 M3, and prioritising the indigenous development of the four-engined, wing-shaped, H-18 strategic stealth bomber, IAF hopes its Su-30s assisted by aerial tankers will be a credible deterrent and counter against the Chinese bomber armada.

It will be prudent for the IAF, even at this late stage, to constitute a Bomber Command and cadre, lease ten or so Tu-160 Blackjacks from Moscow and, rather than the fifth-generation fighter, invest the Rs 35,000 crores in a programme jointly to design and produce with Russia the successor aircraft to the Blackjack — the PAK DA, which is expected to fly by 2025. I have long advocated acquisition of a bomber because, compared to strike fighters and ballistic and cruise missiles it has far more strategic utility, including in nuclear signalling, crisis stability, and escalation control. It is a conclusion also reached by a recent RAND report extolling the virtues of a new “penetrative bomber”.

[Published,7th February 2014 in New Indian Express, at

Posted in Asian geopolitics, Bangladesh, China military, Defence Industry, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Ocean, Japan, Maldives, Military Acquisitions, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, russian military, South Asia, Special Forces, Sri Lanka, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries | 15 Comments