Finally, Vietnam has the Brahmos

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The Vietnamese Government today confirmed that it is in possession of the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile armed with conventional warheads that the Indian government has taken an age to transfer to Hanoi. Vietnam is the one country China fears most — because invading Chinese PLA units got badly mauled in northern Vietnam in 1979. It is a hiding Beijing won’t easily forget, more so because it was given, not by the regular Vietnamese Army, but by the force of irregulars then guarding the border!

For the last 15-odd years, Delhi has pussyfooted around giving the Brahmos to Vietnam, limiting security cooperation to Kilo sub crew training, maintenance of Vietnamese MiG-27s/29s, and recently even offer of  the Akash SRAMs, etc., when what the Vietnamese really wanted was the Brahmos. They apparently appreciated better than Delhi/PMO/MEA  the strategic value of this missile in their armoury.

This for me is a particularly satisfying development because I first began advocating arming Vietnam with the Brahmos since before joining the first National Security Advisory Board in 1998 and then when I was there. When I originally officially made this pitch it ran smack into the then Foreign Secretary K. Raghunath’s rather dismissive response in his meeting with NSAB that this was “not practicable” thing to do — a phrase that has ever since remained etched in my mind and reflects the MEA’s strategic myopia!! In other words, China could arm Pakistan with nuclear missiles but for India to return the favour by equipping states on the Chinese periphery was not right. When Delhi fears even to do a strategic tit-for-tat, small wonder India has counted for so little for so long. The Brahmos-to-Vietnam move instantly changes the Asian geostrategical situation that one only hopes the Indian government understands. But it will need other follow-on measures spelled out below to derive the fullest advantage.

Hopefully, the Vietnamese will use the Indian Brahmos as shore battery to protect their offshore oil rigs and other infrastructural energy assets in the South China Sea, prevent the relentless Chinese bullying in the waters off its coastline, and to contain the Chinese Navy’s powerful South Sea Fleet out of the Sanya base on Hainan Island. This last is a particularly hard-hitting aim because once the maritime threat from that PLAN Fleet is denatured, there’s not much left for China to wag in anger in Hanoi’s face. Consider this: A broadside of two Brahmos can sink the Laoning-class aircraft carrier with China, and a single missile striking smaller vessels — missile destroyers and frigates and the like, will sink them.

One really hopes that after holding one’s ground in Doklam and onpassing the Brahmos missile to Hanoi, the Modi government will now be motivated to shove China even more onto the strategic back foot by transferring on a priority basis this same cruise missile to the Philippines and Indonesia, which last long ago expressed a serious interest in having the Brahmos in its naval arsenal. Duterte is a prickly character — who routinely cocks a snook at Trump and the US — and has had to make peace with Beijing because he does not have the wherewithal to fend off the Chinese. Manila would like to have more options and latitude in tackling Beijing. And Duterte will jump at the chance to pump up his own image at home and abroad by getting the Brahmos to hold off China.

This will mandate a much larger and continuing demand for the Brahmos missiles. The Brahmos Aerospace  (BA) DPSU simply doesn’t have the capacity to ramp up its production by a factor. Time the government immediately ordered the BA to transfer technology to the private sector for opening of two or more additional Brahmos production lines.  Larsen & Toubro is presently the only private sector firm with the capability to begin producing Brahmos on a war footing. No time should be wasted in moving the supersonic cruise missile technology to the private sector companies, and doing India’s strategic interests some real good for a change.

 

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DARIN – AESA coupling, and Brahmos ALCM

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Informed that the entirely indigenous DARIN-III navattack system is now integrated with an AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar with the Israeli 2052 computer, on a Jaguar. This is great news. The slight uncertainty about the AESA radar is whether this is a product of the DRDO-Israeli collaboration, or purely Israeli equipment. The Indo-Israeli AESAR item was built around the 2032 computer, because our good friend, the US, wouldn’t clear the 2052 for Indian use. In any case, 2052 is more powerful, can track more targets and make for better target definition. Hope the 2052 is driving the indigenous effort and the Indian competence built up in this project in terms of learning the placement of TR (transmitter-receiver) nodes for optimal performance, etc hasn’t ben wasted.

Incidentally, the DARIN system was conceived and put together by the technical/engineering officers of the Indian Air Force. But neither IAF, and even less the MOD, had the wit, when drafting the original contract for the Jaguar DPSA to ensure that any improvements in the original French nav-attack system would be Indian IPR. So the French company has used the Indian reconfiguration without any payment but, mercifully, did not charge the IAF for IAF’s own tech innovation! But then not retaining IPR on technologies suggests IAF and MOD are simply not sensitized to the IPR imperatives. To drive home the point, I’d bring up two other instances of India/IAF/ MOD not benefiting monetarily from IPR from IAF derived technical solutions to difficult problems, both relating to the Jaguars. (1) The Jaguars in Indian employ were detected early on as suffering from the problem of a fuel cutoff in flight. This was rectified by IAF engineers, but this rectification was not patented and brought within IPR ambit. So when the RAF, the supplier company British Aerospace’s host air force, also complained about the same cutoff problem the BAE was unable to solve, the IAF just handed over the solution to the British without any financial recompense! (2) The innovation of the 2 above-wing tip weapon stations is also an IAF technical innovation, which the RAF also adopted.

The larger more emphatic point to make is that the IAF has enormous engineering/technical talent that it has so far used sparingly, and then only in improving its imported aircraft. It is time the IAF marshaled its talented manpower to propel the home-designed and developed Tejas Mk 1A, Mk-2,and AMCA off the ground and flying as service’c commitment to finally and decisively go desi. That, perhaps, will be the finest, most significant thing the IAF could do to raise its own stature and that of the country.

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Errata: Informed that the correction of the faulty design was due to the solution provided by an HAL expert for a Jag in flight who, working in tandem with the pilot, safely landed the plane, albeit with the nose wheel not fully extended and locked in place. The more permanent remedy too was owed to HAL experts rectifying the design mistake which, as the following youtube video on this subject  indicates BAE would not own up to but incorporated in the British Jags, of course w/o any Indian IPR recognition.

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The weapon with the forwardly deployed Indian forces on LAC the PLA is most apprehensive about is the Indo-Russian Brahmos cruise missile, especially the Block-II & Block-III variants capable of near 90-degree dives to targets with the two artillery regiments armed with the Brahmos now on the eastern front. It is an uninterdictable missile homing in at supersonic speeds. If tasked to take out forward and rear area communications and logistics hubs, it can make a mess of the PLA’s best laid offensive plans, including anything they may have in mind to do on the Doklam plateau.

One so wishes the Modi PMO had shown the foresight and the initiative to start  2 or 3 additional production lines — all in the private sector, with only L&T presently having the capability to get the entire production off  and running very fast, and to ramp up for exports — because this the one thing every friendly state on China’s periphery is asking for. Leaving it to the Brahmos Aerospace is to, well, consign the Brahmos option to the leisurely, laggardly production pace of a DPSU, and when has that really worked?

Incidentally, the combination of the Brahmos Mk II & Mk IIIs and the air-launched variant fired from the Su-30 would be a one-two punch any prospective PLA onslaught will reel back from. Except the Brahmos ALCM project is limping on — no urgency evident  here! It has so far completed two separation tests (the process of the fired missile separating very fast from the Su-30 carrier).

 

 

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The Realpolitik Thrust of Nehru’s Foreign Policy

Below is the videographed lecture of mine on this topic on Augst 8, 2017 at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, uploaded to youtube.com.

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Time of the greatest danger is now!

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Acting defence minister Arun Jaitley said yesterday in Parliament that the country had learned the 1962 lessons well and the Indian armed services were well prepared for a border war. That may be so, but the capability to fight is also dictated by when China will take the initiative to open the first round, and where.

Not sure if the Modi Government is primed to the fact that the 1962 hostilities were started by China just as the October missile crisis got underway and the US was preoccupied by the Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba in that near end-of-the-world crisis. It was evidence of “strategic boldness and tactical caution” that Shivshankar Menon  claims, ironically, as the leitmotif of Indian foreign policy! In any case, a ’62 type of international situation is again in the offing — a nuclear crisis now involving the US and North Korea. With an unrestrained Trump warning of “fire and fury of a kind the world has never seen” should Pyongyang again issue a threat to the US — very Chinese Global Times-speak! — to which Kim Jon-Un replied almost instantly with tripling down on another graver threat, this time directly against the US island of Guam, major military station mid-Pacific — boy, this guy is ballsy!! — Northeast Asia is set for a strategic humdinger. It will be interesting to watch how this pans out, but I am happy to predict and prophecy that it will be Washington that blinks first. The in your face attitude and policy carried out with panache always wins in international affairs, something the Indian government and MEA in particular have been too timid to even contemplate.

Xi Jinping is desperate to save face in whatever small way he can, and considering how far out on the rhetorical limb his regime has gone in incessantly beating the war drum, there WILL be action. Beijing has mentioned armed intrusion into “Kashmir”, which has enough Indian forces in situ,  but it may be a way to divert the Indian military’s attention from the LAC. In any case, a North Korea-US fracas will provide Beijing with just the cover to precipitate an incident, use it to escalate to big unit action and then blame the forward Indian units and India for starting the war, forcing the PLA to react. This is what China did in 1962. And then, after some level of hostilities is attained, announce a ceasefire, claim due punishment has been meted out and that a sobered up India has been “taught a lesson”. Except, this time whatever territory the PLA captures they will keep. This is standard Chinese modus operandi, which MEA and the govt’s main China policy advisory arm — the China Study Circle, I am sure, has not warned Modi about.

If the above scenario holds and Chinese initiatory action is imminent, it is “all hands on deck”-moment, but this time the Indian armed forces have to ensure that should PLA start an affray anywhere, the Indian Army will not just fight back at that geographical location but retaliate by opening up fronts in other sectors for operations where PLA is disadvantageously placed with the idea of keeping the captured territory on the LAC for good. Once the army goes into action, the IAF should join right away, and plan on taking out forward Chinese assets as  preliminary action, leaving it to PLAAF to escalate if it chooses to. It’d be fun to see the IAF Su-30s slaughter the high-altitude constrained PLAAF fighters taking off from Tibetan bases. The Navy should likewise get right into it and, may be, sink a smaller warship — there are some dozen-odd Chinese navy ships in the Indian Ocean right now. That will draw PLAN subs affording the Indian Akula the opportunity to tail them for a shoot. It is only such disproportionate response that will prove to Beijing that it is not 1962, not all the speechifying by Jaitley, et al.

So far, Modi has done well to talk little, hold firm on the ground. But I sense complacency creeping in with things having gone well, so far. Hope he pulls the govt out of any such stupor and musters the confidence and the guts to expressly task the Indian armed forces for rapid and intense counteraction across the LAC, in the air, and the Indian Ocean. Passive defensive-mindedness has been the bane of the Indian govt and military to-date. Time to correct this impression, hence also time that Gen Bipin Rawat, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, and Admiral Sunil Lanba put their respective forces on high alert, because something is going to happen. If Beijing behaves the way it has always done, hostilities are round the corner, and they better be absolutely ready to respond aggressively. The Prime Minister will be well advised to, perhaps, hint at another Himalayan rumble in the offing in his Independence Day speech if not earlier , and thus prepare the people and the apparatus of state for the “war” coming down the pike.

Simply put, China should NOT be permitted under any circumstances to save face and get away with claiming it has taught India a lesson. Because that will mean Modi having egg on his face. The Indian government and military should ensure that it is Beijing that takes home the lesson that this is, in fact, the “New India” they are now dealing with, not the same old, same old.

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Oust Yameen from Male before it is too late

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(Yameen with Modi in April 2016)

President Abdulla Yameen of Maldives is in political trouble, having lost his majority in parliament. He is however preventing the elected reps who have abandoned him from joining up with the opposition party MPs in parliament. He has utilized the Maldivan National Defence Force (MNDF) to physically prevent the opposition from convening for a  ‘no confidence’ vote against him, and there’s now a standoff in Male.

Yameen has skillfully navigated three separate sets of policy imperatives. He has to have Delhi on his side because losing its favour would result in his displacement, especially if India supports his political opponent, the former President Mohammad Nasheed of the Maldivan Democratic Party (MDP). Nasheed had been imprisoned by Yameen, was released on Indian government’s pressure, spent a while in exile in London, and is back, dogging Yameen and the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM).

China has been eager to have a Maldives gateway for its Indian Ocean plans and Yameen is playing ball. Keen to have China play a role both as counterweight to India and because it has the money to invest and to build infrastructure, Yameen has been tempting Beijing with offers of whole atolls in return. And then there’s Saudi Arabia, the fount as I have long maintained of the monies lubricating the spread world-wide of the hard salafi brand of Sunni wahabbi Islam of the desert, but is given a free pass. Yameen has permitted the wahabbis to flourish under cover of charitable Saudi funds until now when Maldivans comprise a conspicuous part of the foreigners’ s contingent fighting with the Islamic State which, with the fall of Mosul, is being run out of Iraq. So there’s a radicalized Islamic element in Maldivan society that’s inimical to India’s interests but whom Yameen has nursed as fall-back muscle in case MNDF deserts him. Riyadh is being paid back by, yea, you guessed it, with offer of an atoll to set up God knows what — a wahabbi nursery, perhaps?

Yameen dutifully entertained two visits by MEA minister Sushma Swaraj in Oct 2014 and again the following year, and made his pilgrimage to Delhi in April 2016 where PM Narendra Modi feted him. “The Maldives is among India’s closest partners,” Modi said after the bilateral delegation-level talks. “The stability and security of the Maldives are in the interest of India. He added that “India understands its role as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean and is ready to protect its strategic interests in this region.” There was a hint of the mailed fist that the Indian government would not tolerate any deviant behaviour by Yameen or any attempt by him to pull Maldives away from India. Modi virtually demanded “The prompt implementation of a concrete action plan in the defence sector [to] strengthen our security cooperation” to involve “Information exchange between security agencies and training and capacity building of Maldives Police and security forces [as] an important part of our security cooperation.” So, what’s the problem?

In a nutshell, Yameen is playing Delhi, even as the India-friendly Nasheed has been crying himself hoarse, warning about the perfidious Yameen and his design to perpetuate his rule by ridding the country of any and all opposition. The surest sign of this was Yameen’s decision in October 2016 to quit the Commonwealth because it hauled up his regime for its undemocratic practices. Nasheed has been in India trying to drum up support but apparently without much success.

The Indian government believes that whether it is Yameen or Nasheed, Male cannot afford to alienate India. Except, over the past several years Yameen has let the Chinese and Saudis strengthen their presence in his country. Rather than nipping this threat in the bud, Delhi is letting it grow, and it will, even as it remains blissfully inattentive.

It is time India acted. There are contingency plans for armed intervention, which will need activation. The last time India nearly intervened was in 2012 when Nasheed’s removal by Mohammad Waheed Hassan precipitated a crisis. But Waheed was quickly replaced by Yameen and turmoil abated, until now when the Maldives is once again on the boil. But some years back, it may be recalled, that in response to Yameen’s moves to lease out islands to China just 19 kms from the Indian Lakshadweep chain, Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, then FOCINC, Western Naval Command, Mumbai, deployed a warship to the Maldivan waters. Yameen got the message and that initiative with a Chinese group fronting for Beijing, was dropped.

It is time for Modi to order a variant of “Cactus” and have an SF unit first expeditiously secure the Male airport, have a warship with MARCOS embarked as backup, and then clear the Parliament gate off the complicit MNDF members, arrange for a free and fair vote of ‘no confidence’ to proceed against Yameen without hindrance from any quarter, and thereafter keep Yameen out of the Male scene.

If Modi continues to trust Yameen despite every evidence to merit extreme distrust of this slippery character, and doesn’t act very soon, we’ll see the Saudis with the extremist Islamic threat, and the Chinese — the source of the more conventional naval danger not just to mainland India but to India’s access to the East Africa coast, and the embryonic India-Japan maritime corridor to Africa, ensconced off India’s southern tip. The question will then be asked when it is too late to do anything: “Who lost the Maldives?”

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IAF going for more Jaguars?

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The other day a reporter for a foreign journal said he was checking out a story. It is a fantastic story not because it is improbable but because it would show up the Indian Air Force in very bad light. I do not believe the CAS, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, would make so inapt a purchase. But here it is: Dhanoa was at the main Dassault facility in France last week, flew the Rafale, or was flown in it. On the side, the story goes, he was told by the French of a whole bunch of mothballed Sepecat Jaguars that were up for sale. He was taken to the base where they were all parked, having apparently been in storage there since 1982 or thereabouts. The CAS was supposedly asked if IAF wanted any of these planes.

Billed at the time in the late 1970s when it was being sold to India as a Deep Penetration & Strike Aircraft (DPSA), the Jaguar proved in service to be able, as I had written at the time of its selection by way of an assessment, to either penetrate deep or to strike hard, but not do both at the same time. The Jaguar buy killed off the indigenous HF-24 Mk-II, an upgraded and advanced version of the Kurt Tank-designed Marut, whose termination also killed off the infant Indian aerospace industry lovingly nursed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

Given its limitations, the Jaguar DPSA saw service, exclusively deployed on the western front against Pakistan.  Dhanoa, it is said, showed interest in buying the whole lot of some 71-odd of these aircraft plus all spares stocks. Even if sold at metal junk value, it will fetch the French a pretty euro. As an actual combat equipment buy and at clearance value, its price will be in thousands of crores, even though the Jags are long past their sell-by date and obsolete to the core.

IAF already has 120 Jaguars, all equipped with the superb indigenously designed and developed DARIN navigation-attack system. The plan is for 60 of these to retain the DARIN -II, and an equal number upgraded to the DARIN-III standard and with a new engine, among other things. This is more than sufficient force to tackle Pakistan and for the low-level flight ops. It is likely the DARIN-III armed Jags are optimised for nuclear ordnance delivery over short distances in the plains/desert. In any case, why would IAF be in interested in acquiring another 70 of this aircraft from French storage that will have remained unchanged, technology-wise, from the time they were mothballed? Even if these are refurbished, what good will they do in the Indian air order-of-battle beyond their current usage plans?

It is not widely known just how seriously the Indian military is constrained by the extant scarcity of funds. To divert a huge big tranche of monies in this situation to bolster a capability that doesn’t need to be, especially not when there are other more serious competing demands on the air force rupee, is to be seriously spendthrift.

I trust that this is a wrong story, a bit of fluff, and there’s nothing to it.  Dhanoa seems too grounded a chief to allow his force to become a flying museum of antique aircraft.

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Handling China with calculated cool but get a light tank

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( Xinqingtan tank)

Thank God, the NSA Ajit Doval didn’t crumble under the weight of the occasion and give away the store on the Doklam confrontation to Messrs Xi, Wang, & Yang. Then again having been apparently instructed by the PM to under no conditions back down, this was expected. Delhi in the past has been hurried into inadvisable, symbolically pregnant, and wholly unnecessary compromises starting with the 1996 agreement during Narasimha Rao’s reign to maintain peace and tranquility on the border. The Modi policy of being strong without making a huge fuss about the developments on the border is the right tack to take in dealing with China. If Beijing thinks it has time on its side, time is even more India’s ally, hence, it will help if GOI shows less interest in border resolution, except as a comprehensive solution for the entire length of the border from the Aksai Chin to the eastern-most point of Arunachal Pradesh fronting on China. To merely sit down to negotiate a settlement for Doklam would be to waste the advantageous position India has achieved not just on the ground there but psychologically. For the first time Beijing really is at sixes and sevens.

But even as things were proceeding satisfactorily with Doval in Beijing, Arun Shourie an otherwise well informed and well-meaning public intellectual of great integrity, on the “Off the Cuff” forum broadcast by NDTV earlier this evening, proffered the wrongest possible advice on dealing with China. I am not sure where he picked up what he relayed as a lot of gung-ho posturing by India. Where, what, when? I haven’t seen any such thing other than realistic renderings of the situation that the Indian army is far better placed on the Doklam plateau than the PLA in that sub-sector, and that all the big threats and noises of war made by Beijing has not had even a bit of impact — the reason why I have said in past posts, the Chinese have gotten progressively hotter under the collar. Acting hard, fast and true — military actions-wise, but keeping cooler than cool — calculated cool — is how China needs to be handled. It’s the template for the future now that the army has put it in place. This requires, of course, that the level of the prepositioned stores is maintained at a high level. All else then falls into place, including faster induction in the two regiments of the more advanced Brahmos Block II supersonic cruise missiles with a steep (90 degree) dive capability. It is the sort of thing the PLA will be extremely wary of. It is a very good thing that the CAS ACM BS Dhanoa indicated that his Su-30MKIs on that front were prepared to enter the fray if PLA escalated and push & shove came to stomp & shoot.

Now that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has released the funds so that the acting defence minister Jaitley can get on with raising the second mountain division for the offensive  mountain warfare 17 Corps, the troubling issue of mobility remains.

In line with the other services that do not espy the need until it hits them in the face, the army finally managed to get on track with an offensive mountain corps and then did the wrong thing by deploying the T-72/90s with the prospect of these debouching from the Demchok area and the northern Sikkim plains  on to the Tibet plateau. Except these heavy tanks meant for plains/desert warfare are inappropriate for the high altitude desert of Tibet.

The PLA, which reads its needs and technology trends better, has developed, tested , and inducted into its forward forces some 300 of the 35 tonne light tank Xinqingtan with a 105mm main gun and a 1,000 hp power plant optimised for the rarefied air milieu of Tibet. For the last 20-odd years I have been championing the cause of a specialised light tank for mountain warfare duty. The last light tank the army operated was the French AMX-13. There’s enough technological capacity in the private and public sector to mount a joint development project for a light mountain tank to be produced in double-quick time with a special engine able to “catch” the air.  But the army has to produce QRs, which its armour directorate at the army HQrs hasn’t gotten round to doing. Yet.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, Bhutan, China, China military, civil-military relations, Decision-making, Defence Industry, domestic politics, DRDO, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, society, South Asia, Weapons | 26 Comments