The Correct Geostrategics

Now that the media hoopla and hyperbole attending on US president Barack Obama’s visit is mercifully over, we can exhale, begin dispassionately to evaluate it. One was bemused and appalled by what was projected in the media as the things America will supposedly to do for India, ranging from coaxing the Indian economy on to a higher and faster growth trajectory, facilitating bigger investment inflows, livening up the manufacturing sector, triggering a surge in the indigenous defence industry, to improving our educational system and enabling our cities become smarter. It is as if Delhi had outsourced India’s problems to Washington.

On the “centerpiece” and politically combustible nuclear issue, prime minister Narendra Modi shoved it onto the plate of American companies, Westinghouse and General Electric, and the Indian companies seeking to manufacture components, but also made the Indian taxpayer stand guarantee, as indicated in my last column, for the quality of imported nuclear reactor technology. The US and Indian companies will have to assess the risk of nuclear mishaps and weigh the costs of inevitably being dragged to the court. Modi’s is a problematic solution considering that capping of liability payouts and making the Indian people responsible for them, prima facie, violate the spirit and letter of the 2010 Indian nuclear liability law legislated with the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy in mind when the culprit US firm, Union Carbide, got away with mass murder.

A more satisfactory result of the Obama trip was China’s being lined up as India’s natural adversary. The “US-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean” by flagging maritime security, and freedom of navigation and of overflight in the South China Sea area as international rights in the global commons, emphasised the strategic stakes of the two countries in preventing China from obtaining a “closed sea” off Southeast Asia. And by hinting at a “road map leveraging” the effort of all states in the extended region to beef up collective security arrangements, indicated the means of holding Chinese ambition and aggression in check.

As follow-up to Modi’s reference when in Japan about an “expansionist” power, it showed clear-headed threat perception that no amount of diplomatic niceties by visits such as by foreign minister Sushma Swaraj to Beijing can mask. The nature of inter-state affairs has evolved such that drawing clear red lines by removing uncertainty may actually facilitate a more stable and equitable economic and trade relationship. For this newfound common sense-driven attitude to have meaning will necessitate a series of logical actions. Such as amending the Operational Directive from the defence minister to the armed services requiring the military to orient itself north and northeast-wards and, maritime-wise, towards the Indian Ocean. In its wake should be schemes to restructure the Indian combat forces optimised for limited war with Pakistan to take on the greater challenge posed by China. Further, the “Joint Vision” by stating that “Regional prosperity depends on security”, finally settled the longstanding argument about national priorities by implying that without the latter the former is impossible.

The only thing wrong with the otherwise correct geostrategics undergirding the Modi-Obama talks is the impression of India seeking to ride America’s coattails. Delhi did not sufficiently stress India’s commitment principally to a security architecture organic to Asia involving Asian states that relies only minimally on the US. As analysed in my previous writings, the United States is an unreliable strategic partner. Determined to avoid military confrontation or conflict with China at all cost, Washington is exploring a modus vivendi with Beijing to protect American interests in Asia, and will prefer in most situations to concert with China. Many Asian states, including the nationalist regime of Shinzo Abe in Japan, perceive America as too thin a reed to lean on. India and like-minded countries in Southeast Asia and East Asia directly confronting China will, in the event, have to handle the security dilemmas facing them by themselves.

In this context, the politico-military value of Russia to India grows. This was squarely acknowledged in the far more comprehensive “Druzhba-Dosti Vision” statement issued at the end of president Vladimir Putin’s December 2014 visit, which garnered little media attention. It referred to India “deeply (valuing) the monumental contributions made by Russia to (its) developmental and defence needs” and elaborated on the “economic engagement” and collaborative activity in the energy, technology and innovation sectors, including space, “futuristic technologies” and “joint design and development of defence systems”. But unlike the generalised view in the ‘Joint Vision’ of “closer partnership …promoting peace, prosperity and security” animating ties with the US, the “Druzhba-Dosti” document refers specifically to “a strong…strategic partnership” advancing “the national interests” of both India and Russia.

It is obvious that Delhi’s wanting closeness with America is aspirational; Indo-Russian relations, however, reflect hard reality. This is because, while the two Visions apprehend China as the destabilising factor, Russia fronts on China even as the US is separated from it by a vast ocean and has more intimate economic and trade interlinks with it. Hence, India’s fears cannot but resonate more with Moscow’s than with Washington’s.

Economic and military heft is not available by association. Rather, India will have to get serious about a geostrategic edifice primarily serving its core interests. As articulated repeatedly in my writings and in this column, an Indian Monroe Doctrine system is what needs to be put in place as does a tiered defence with Japan and Taiwan constituting the outer defensive perimeter, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Singapore the middle tier, and the Integrated Andaman Command connected to the mainland, anchoring this system and India’s policy of “acting East”, the innermost tier. With its episodic presence, the US Navy can play the part in the Indian Ocean the Royal Navy did in enforcing the original Monroe Doctrine strictures in the southern Atlantic in the mid-19th century.

Countries do not put out for other countries unless they have lots more to gain than lose from doing so. The US has calculated what serves its purposes. Delhi, as in the past, seems swept away by American promises.

[Published in the New Indian Exp-ress, February 6, 2015, at http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/The-Correct-Geostrategics/2015/02/06/article2654073.ece

Posted in Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, China military, Defence Industry, DRDO, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Japan, Northeast Asia, nuclear industry, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, nuclear power, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, russian military, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons | 2 Comments

Interpreting risk

Have barely survived hours of being before Times Now television cameras (at home) and for an hour at their studio where the relentless drive to be upbeat about PM Modi’s supposed success in persuading Obama to accept an ambiguous interpretation of the full liability provisions — sections 17(b) and 46 — in the 2010 Civilian Nuclear Damage Liability Act with promise of the GIC insurance pool, succeeded in pushing credible doubts about this solution into the background. Among the main points made in my last blog and NIE op/ed “Bending over backwards” published Jan 23 of the Indian taxpayer thereby bearing the full risk was repeated by Chellaney, a co-panelist, in the channel’s 7PM show. Hopefully, more analysts will pick up on this aspect subversive of the 2010 Act, and it will gain political traction, enough to convince the US companies who are suspicious of this as Delhi’s way out of a dilemma, to keep out. Besides, won’t this issue become justiciable? And can US companies risk Indian courts ruling against them and derailing bilateral relations in the process?

Posted in Asian geopolitics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian democracy, nuclear industry, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, nuclear power, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, US. | 2 Comments

Bending over Backwards

In his pronouncements, US president Barack Obama has indicated that American companies will be actively discouraged from investing in production plants abroad, offshoring operations, and exporting jobs; Indian pharmaceutical industries would come under the intellectual property rights hammer, and the H1B visa regime will not be loosened. Taken cumulatively, they pretty much muck up prime minister Narendra Modi’s plans for productively courting America.

The serious clash of economic interests only highlights the even more severe collision of strategic interests which, despite the good intentions of both sides, will ensure that, as in the past, only a limited India-US partnership will accrue. This reality, not fully grasped by Delhi, is compounded by the fact that the Indian government operates without any definite ideas about what the national interest is or where it lies on particular issues, whence a lot is negotiated away in return for nothing.

One expected Modi to not turn national interest into a fungible commodity as his predecessor, Manmohan Singh, had done and, as a canny insider in the evolving global politics in which India’s centrality in an Asian security scheme to contain China is readily conceded, that he would extract maximum concessions from the US while surrendering little. This hope is belied by the list of giveaways in the offing.

On climate, Modi has apparently agreed to 20% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, bringing India in line with the Western consensus at the upcoming Paris summit. This presumes India can skip the smokestack industrial stage and absorb the inordinately high cost of going in massively for clean energy. It begs the question: Where are the resources for such rapid switching to come from?

Modi’s eagerness to buy enriched uranium-fuelled American reactors of untested design that the US is unwilling to risk installing on its own territory is equally puzzling. Especially because the contemplated executive action to get around provisions in the Civilian Nuclear Damage Liability Act 2010 imposing “unlimited” liability on nuclear technology suppliers is subversive of this Act, which the BJP voted for in Parliament and, which in fact represented a congealing of the opposition to the 2008 civilian nuclear cooperation deal with the US. But consider the proposed solution: An insurance pool is to be created by the public sector General Insurance Corporation (GIC), meaning that the Indian people will be the guarantors of untested foreign nuclear technology and in case it proves faulty and leads to an accident, will have to pay up for the thermal and radiation deaths in the hundreds of thousands and for damage to public and private property running into billions of rupees in case of a nuclear accident traced to faulty foreign nuclear technology beyond the measly $300 million the supplier company coughs up per the Convention on Supplemental Compensation Manmohan Singh hurriedly signed. With the perpetrators thus going scot-free, it could be the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy plus all over again.

For surrendering so much India gets the promise of entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Though why Modi is keen on joining these groups, considering they are means to drag India into the 1968 non-proliferation treaty net, is a mystery. Indeed, by not buying foreign reactors or joining NSG India can at any time resume testing to obtain a credible thermonuclear deterrent, export without any restraint its highly evolved natural uranium reactors and technology under the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, and the billions of dollars saved from not buying the inordinately expensive foreign reactors, could be invested in realising the three-stage 1955 Homi Bhabha plan for energy self-sufficiency, by developing on a war-footing the indigenous advanced pressurised heavy water, breeder, and thorium reactors. Indeed, the GIC “insurance pool” could be more imaginatively deployed to insure Indian companies producing indigenous nuclear reactors and ancillary hardware and erect any number of power stations in the country and to export to friendly states in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. This will spur Indian industry, generate more industrial employment, increase the value of India’s share of global trade, and more vigorously push the “Make in India” policy than putting Indian money in American pockets.

Modi buying into the MTCR is still more troubling. It will mean abandoning the option of paying back China for nuclear missile arming Pakistan by transferring nuclear missile and related technologies to countries on its periphery and compelling Beijing to share in our “nuclear nightmare”. But if pleasing Washington is priority then the rumour doing the rounds gains substance that Avinash Chander was kicked out of DRDO because he was pushing for the 12,000km intercontinental ballistic missile frowned upon by Washington to complement its disapproval of India’s acquiring high-yield thermonuclear warheads/weapons.

The one bright spot is the military-to-military links the 2005 defence cooperation framework has delivered with joint exercises. Its extension to 2025 will mean more of the same laced with billion-dollar buys of US hardware (such as C-17 and C-130J airlifters), a transactional slant Washington is satisfied with. As regards, military technology transfer, Delhi seems reconciled to the US policy of starting low, going slow—hand-launched drones and surveillance modules—as the way to go!

Acknowledging the global power shift, America has been inclined to pass the baton of the predominant power to China in the manner the “weary Titan” Great Britain did to the US during the turn of the previous century. Such a policy was proposed by Obama’s deputy secretary of state James Steinberg and enunciated in 2008-2009 as the doctrine of “strategic reassurance”. It led to the “G-2” concept and president Xi Jinping’s conceiving of “core relations” to, in effect, run the international system. This is the strategic disjunction keeping India-US ties from becoming intimate. Because to brighten the prospects of a possible US-China condominium, Washington since the 1990s has been systematically hindering India strategically, hugely complicating the Indian national security calculus. In the circumstances, bending over backwards to please the US will only invite derision, not win India respect, even less international standing. It is a lesson that remains unlearned.

[Published in the New Indian Express January 23, 2015, at http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/Bending-over-Backwards/2015/01/23/article2631850.ece

Posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Defence Industry, disarmament, DRDO, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Military Acquisitions, Missiles, nonproliferation, nuclear industry, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, nuclear power, Nuclear Weapons, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries | 16 Comments

Ousting Chander

The termination of Avinash Chander’s tenure as Science Adviser to the Defence Minister and head of DRDO was too sudden and created shock waves. The sotto voce explanation that Dr. Chander was a little tardy in following up on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s advice to speed up ongoing projects, streamline the internal processes, and reward younger scientists with bigger responsibilities, and Mr. Parrikar’s statement that DRDO needed a younger helmsman, is all very well. But, it is also a misplaced punitive initiative because it presumes that radical changes can be readily and speedily affected, and that the working ethos transformation can happen overnight by diktat from DRDO HQ. And, ironically, it involves a man who unlike most of his predecessors in the post, was elevated to the position on the basis of a stellar record of success. Chander was previously Director-General of the Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL), Hyderabad, the one stop design and development bureau for the Agni family of missiles — perhaps the most outstanding success story, other than the ATV programme to produce the Arihant-class SSBN, that DRDO can boast of.

ASL and ATV projects are fairly unique in their dogged pursuit of obtaining for the country deterrent reach and punch, ASL’s advanced Agni-5 IRBM/ICBM being among the most sophisticated delivery systems available anywhere with any country. ASL is also an organization fortunate enough to have enjoyed fine leadership starting with RN Agarwal, Chander, and the current DG, VG Sekharan.

DRDO is by and large a useless organization, like all the defence public sector units, it is true, and I have so slammed them all in my writings (see my blogs in the defence industry category) for being involved in jobbery. Many DRDO heads need to roll, and the bulk of DRDO programmes can be safely shut down to save the tax payer’s money and the rest handed over to private sector companies to prosecute more effectively and efficiently. But to tar a proven performer, such as Chander, as a laggard is to dump on an individual the ills of a system, and to do him grave injustice.

In the event, the Chander case should be the metric to judge all leadership in the government sector, by which standard the horde of senior IAS, IPS and other civil services officers as well as much of the armed forces brass — all of them perpetually gumming up the works — should likewise be summarily ejected, replaced by younger. more energetic, officers. In that event, the Chander dismissal, even if unfair, will be seen to have some merit. But because this last won’t happen, kicking out Chander will be seen especially by many in the defence science and technology sphere as a one-off whimsical move of the scapegoating kind. It will grow puzzlement and discontent in DRDO and destroy what go-go spirit prevails there, and thus do more harm than good.

Posted in civil-military relations, Defence Industry, DRDO, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Navy, Indian Politics, Missiles, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, society, South Asia, Weapons | 7 Comments

Ditching Rafale

Like an able pilot with his wits about him in an out-of-control warplane, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar may be preparing to ditch Rafale touted as the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) answer, which the Indian Air Force has set its heart on procuring at any cost, and going for the more economical and sensible Su-30 option instead.

It has been repeatedly emphasised by this analyst that the IAF misconceived the MMRCA requirement, disregarded the uncommonly high costs involved in procuring the chosen Rafale and France’s past record of unmet transfer of technology promises, and the Su-30s/MiG-29M2s as sustainable alternative. I also warned that the massive expenditure on the Rafale would starve the indigenous programmes (Tejas and the advanced medium combat aircraft — AMCA) of funds, and stifle the Indian aviation industry trying to get back on its feet.

The reasons for the nose-diving deal are many, and they are serious. The unwillingness of Dassault Avions, the Rafale manufacturer, to guarantee the performance of this aircraft produced under licence at Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd despite the original RFP (Request for Proposal) requiring bidders to transfer technology, including production wherewithal, procedures and protocols, to this public sector unit for the aircraft’s local assembly, has been reported. There’s, however, an untold back-story revealing France’s intended duplicity.

Perceiving India as the perennial sucker, Dassault chose Reliance Aerospace Technologies Pvt Ltd (RATPL) as partner in the hope that the fabled Ambani reach and influence in Delhi would help it get around the HAL production obligation. Problems were not anticipated as evidenced by RATPL approaching the Andhra Pradesh government in 2013 for land around Hyderabad to set up a factory. But because RATPL has zero experience in producing anything remotely related to aviation, Dassault saw it as an opportunity to “double dip”, meaning arrange it so India would pay it twice for the same aircraft! This was to be managed thus: Dassault would set up a production line under RATPL aegis importing every last screw and production jig and collect the money for the 108 Rafales it puts together here at the cost-plus-profit price HAL would charge IAF. In other words, Dassault would export the Rafale assembly kits and wherewithal virtually to itself and pocket the proceeds while paying a premium to RATPL.

But this double dipping ruse in the works merely whetted France’s appetite for more. Capitalising on the IAF brass’ penchant for newer French aircraft and the Indian government’s tendency eventually to cave into the military’s demands, Dassault proposed an enlarged Rafale deal with the cost revised upwards from the $30 billion level to a $45-$50 billion contract. For such enhanced sums, Dassault sought to replace the Rafale originally offered with the slightly better “F-3R” version, promised a mid-life upgrade involving retrofitment of the Thales RBE2 AESA (active electronically scanned array) radar, and suggested India’s future fifth and sixth generation combat aircraft needs be met by the “F-4R” and “F-5R” configurations (or whatever designations they are given) now on the drawing board featuring crystal blade for jet turbines, “fly-by-light” technology, etc. Such contract extension suits the IAF fine because it plays on Vayu Bhavan’s antipathy for Russian hardware (expressed in terms of “diversity of suppliers”) as well as indigenous aircraft, and undermines both the multi-billion dollar project jointly to develop the fifth generation fighter aircraft, Su-50 PAK/FA with Russia and the Indian AMCA with its design finalised.

But for Parrikar’s welcome show of common sense this French plan would have rolled out nicely. Inconveniently for Dassault, he publicly disclosed that the far deadlier and more versatile Su-30 MKI costs Rs 358 crores (roughly $60 million) each compared to the Rs 700 crore price tag for the Rafale, meaning two Su-30s could be secured for the price of a single Rafale. Implicit is the reasonable conclusion that it made more sense to buy a much larger fleet of 4.5-plus generation Su-30s than to get stuck with a 4.5-minus generation Rafale sporting 5.5 generation aircraft prices. The cost comparison remains skewed even when the “super Sukhoi-30”, costing Rs 70 crores, is considered, when the added advantage of the plunging Russian ruble kicks in, allowing India to extract far more bang for the buck from Moscow.

Looked at another way, the original allocation of $12 billion for the MMRCA could fetch IAF at current prices a whole new, augmented, and more capable fighter/bomber armada and raise the force strength to 50 frontline combat squadrons. This because the $12 billion can buy 20 Tejas Mk-Is (in addition to the 40 already ordered), 150 Tejas Mk-IIs, some 35 super Sukhoi-30s, and around 50 MiG-29Ks/M2s (with the M-2s nearly equal of the MiG-35 the Strategic Forces Command wanted for delivering nuclear bombs, but were denied). In short, a composite additional fleet of 255 aircraft can be acquired for the initial price of 126 Rafales, with “incalculable” savings in streamlined logistics, training, and maintenance but absent the cost-hikes, delays, and aggravation of setting up a new production line (as HAL already produces Su-30 MKIs).

Besides, France’s extortionist attitude is offputting. In response to the IAF’s request not too long ago for an immediate transfer of two Rafale squadrons from the French Air Force as a quick-fix, Paris agreed but demanded these would have to be paid for at the same rate as new aircraft and that these planes could carry only French sourced weapons. Worse still, France’s reputation for fulfilling technology transfer provisions too is suspect as past experience reveals.

The IAF trusts Paris not to cutoff the supply of spares if India follows a foreign policy not to France’s or even America’s liking. Except, heeding Washington’s directive, France recently stopped the delivery of two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships Russia has paid for. What’s the guarantee Paris won’t sever supply links and leave HAL stranded mid-production and IAF frontline squadrons grounded in case India resumes nuclear testing, say?

The larger question is: How come France’s record of defaulting on technology-related parts of contracts combined with the unaffordability of French aircraft generally using any metric, were not factored by IAF and Ministry of Defence when shortlisting Rafale?

[Published in New Indian Express January 8, 2015 http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/Ditching-Rafale/2015/01/09/article2609959.ece

Posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Defence Industry, DRDO, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian ecobomic situation, Military Acquisitions, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, russian military, South Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries | 14 Comments

diesel smugglers?

Over the weekend several military commentators, among them surprisingly RADM K.R. “Raja” Menon (Retd), were featured on TV news shows. If I heard them right, they ventured that the boat ex-Pakistani port that had been tracked from the start and nearly intercepted by the Coast Guard some 350 kms plus off Porbandar before the intruding vessel blew itself up, was seeking to smuggle contraband diesel into India. This is a most remarkable conclusion and stands the smuggler’s logic on its head! The highest consumption is of light speed diesel. It is available in Karachi @ Pak Rs 67.5/litre, and in Porbandar/Rajkot at Rs 61.31/litre. The price differential is even more pronounced in the case of other more costly diesel derivatives (high-octane blending compound. premium, and high-speed diesel). The conclusion is stranger still because diesel, in any case, is hardly the sort of goods smugglers fearing apprehension seek to destroy. Weapons and other support paraphernalia for seaborne attack, however, is something they wouldn’t want to be caught dead with!

Posted in Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, India's Pakistan Policy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Internal Security, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Terrorism | 3 Comments

Arihant, bigger, more powerful

Compare photographs/videos of a Kilo-class SSK steaming out of harbour and the Arihant SSBN getting out of Vizag base and what do experts notice? In the main that the Arihant-class boat, not surprisingly, is a third longer and bulkier — it is, after all, a “boomer”for god’s sake! — more in the 9,000 tonne plus size than the 6,000 tonne plus, class. Derived from this observation is the logical conclusion that it would have to be driven by a bigger N-power plant than the 80MW-90 MW it’s been credited with. The HEU fueled Arihant reactor seems able to produce around 110 plus Megawatts of power. The bigger size and volume of the hybrid design vessel also means it can carry a larger reload of missiles and other on-board weapons. As to why the navy and GOI have consistently understated these various attributes of a strategic deterrent isn’t at all clear, except that this is the exact opposite tack to the one taken by Beijing and the Chinese Navy, which ballyhoo an armament in their employ even when it has proved all but useless, such as the Xia-class SSBNs that stayed in protected port conditions for most of their life until their decommisioning, now underway.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Defence Industry, DRDO, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Military Acquisitions, Missiles, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, nuclear power, Nuclear Weapons, South Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Weapons | 6 Comments