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 http://www.newindianexpress.com/opinion/Fire-Up-Defence-Industry/2014/02/21/article2068288.ece#.UwahkmKSw7s ]

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!

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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 http://www.newindianexpress.com/opinion/Strategic-Bomber-for-IAF/2014/02/07/article2042008.ece#.UvQulWKSw7s

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“Can India be Cunning”

The above was the title of a talk at the Subbu Forum, at IDSA, this evening by the West’s go-to Asian savant, Kishore Mahbubani, former Foreign Secretary of Singapore and currently Dean of the Lew Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. There was a big audience because everybody expected something novel, but they’d have been disappointed. “Cunning”, a word Mahbubani conceded in the Indian context is “by definition evil”, in his telling, turns out to be an inapt word to describe what in essence and substance is nothing more than hard-headed realpolitik that a few of us have been advocating for well nigh two decades now. His choice of the word cunning apparently serving his purpose of being “provocative” rather than being otherwise useful. His thesis that India needs to wisely use the geopolitical space that’s opened up with the international system poised between the ending of the 200-year old era of Western dominance and the emergence of an Asia-on-top world order by befriending China and not getting in too thick with the declining West is an unoriginal take on the unfolding global drama and the historical power shift to the East. His example of cunning: China’s supporting the US invasion of Iraq, winning President Bush’s gratitude enough for Washington to put the clamps on Taiwan’s move to declare itself a sovereign state while Beijing opened up access of the Taiwanese people to mainland China, thus solidifying China’s position on Taiwan and affording Beijing ten years of “peaceful rise” even as the US was got more and deeply embroiled militarily in the worsening Iraqi mess of its own creation. He suggested India adopt a similar strategy with Pakistan — open up people-to-people relations, and separating this from the govt-to-govt ties. Yes, fine, but will Islamabad allow this? A 2nd example of “cunning” — Japan’s nonproliferation rhetoric combined with the acquisition of capability that can beget Tokyo nuclear weapons in a few weeks. But this is well known.

His main theme was that New Delhi should cultivate both China and the US & the West, and play them off against each other using “cunning” (the word he repeated relentlessly until grated on the ear!) and that this would fetch India geopolitical “dividends”, But such policy is what the Manmohan Singh government and the NSA Shivshankar Menon helming its foreign policy can reasonably claim they have been pursuing in the past decade!

A more practical recommendation by him published in today’s Indian Express, which he repeated, is for India to jettison its efforts to gain membership to the UN Security Council as member of the Group of Four (India, Germany, Japan, and Brazil) for the obvious reasons that China’d veto Japan and the UN General Assembly would consider Germany’s inclusion (in addition to UK and France) excessive representation for Europe — precisely the reason, he said, why London and Paris are pushing for it, guaranteeing the failure of any such attempt to enlarge the SecC. Anecdote-wise, he recalled from his time as the Singaporean Permanent Representative at the UN HQrs in New York, how his Italian counterpart, Paolo Pucci (?) exasperatedly shouted in the meeting of the Open-ended Committee for Restructuring the Security Council, in the context of Japan’s and Germany’s membership membership case gaining some traction in the mid-1980s, that Italy too deserved a permanent Council seat because “ït too lost the War”!

Mabhbubani felt that India stands the best chance if it campaigned for a reconstitution of the council with 7 members — US, Russia, China, European Union (UK and French seats being merged), India (to join China as a second Asia rep), Brazil to represent Latin America, and Nigeria the continent of Africa. And another 15 states — such as Pakistan, Argentina, South Korea, Germany, Japan, South Africa, Egypt, etc accorded the status of semi-permanent members (chosen by population, GDP, etc), each of whom will thus be assured a Council seat every eight years, giving them a stake in this new UN system and making them more agreeable to supporting such structural changes.

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