Su-30 — back in favour?

(Sitharaman at Air HQrs with CAS Dhanoa and senior commanders of IAF)

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is, at her instance, going to fly in a Su-30 MKI tomorrow. Whether it is just a joy-ride, or an indication of the govt going with this plane as an answer to the urgent need to augment fighter squadrons, is not known. But there are signs that the Modi regime is finally reconciling to reality and the extreme scarcity of financial resources, especially in the period leading up to the 2019 general elections, when the state treasury is sought to be properly husbanded and marshaled for domestic social welfare programmes to maximally impress the electorate.  So, acquisition of the Swedish Gripen E, as also consideration of the Sixties’ vintage Lockheed F-16 Blk 70, has been pushed out of the picture (for now at least). And the finalization of the Rafale deal is also being put off.

It just so happens, as I have been advocating — look up all the posts over the years on this topic — that the Su-30 is at once the best fighter aircraft anywhere and the most cost-effective solution considering India has a 272-strong fleet already and produces it under license. One assumes the GOI will scrape up the monies to upgrade this entire fleet to the “Super Sukhoi” configuration with a new, more powerful, engine, better, more advanced, avionics, and an AESA radar to switch missions mid-sortie, from A2G to A2A and back. And the upgrade project will be for about a third of the cost of the Mirage 2000 upgrade programme. The bulk of the Sukhois will be upgraded at HAL, Nasik

IAF may consider the Su-30 a make-do solution. Were it not for its institutional tilt favouring Western combat aircraft, Vayu Bhavan would have long ago realized and appreciated the Super Sukhoi as an excellent solution to fill up the air orbat with a really superb aircraft.

This decision was also probably prompted by signals from Moscow that the relations were in difficult straits and hurting and a deal like this was needed to affect a recovery.


Posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Decision-making, Defence Industry, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian ecobomic situation, Military Acquisitions, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries | 8 Comments

What’s the problem with Indo-Israeli relations?


Image result for pics of netanyahu and modi

Many moons ago — in 1994 in fact, in my first book  — ‘Future Imperilled: India’s Security in the 1990s and Beyond’ (Viking-Penguin), in the lead chapter,  I had detailed a geopolitically ambitious security architecture for India anchored at the two ends of Asia, in the “tech savvy” Israel and the economically-muscular Japan, with India as the natural pivot able to switch forces and resources east and west, with the Southeast Asian littoral on the South China Sea that I had identified as China’s “soft underbelly” and the front where India needed to begin its pushback against China. 24 years later, that scheme is being realized, albeit fitfully. The blame for the tardiness in obtaining this geostrategic design is, however, entirely Delhi’s owing to the Indian government’s default option — which tendency first became apparent during Narasimha Rao’s tenure — of looking to America for solutions, rather than getting on with the strategic business of the country and furthering one’s interests in the most aggressive way possible by itself.

Around 2000, I had written  a paper for presentation at a Conference at the University of the Negev, which event was cancelled owing to the initiation of the 2nd Palestinian intifada (2000-2005) virtually on the eve of the conference. This paper advocated a meshing of Indian and Israeli defence industries with, in broad terms, India providing the main market and part of the investment for development of high-tech armaments and miltech, and Israel its design and development skills and competencies and a transfer of its production wherewithal to manufacture conventional military bulk goods — infantry weapons, artillery, tanks etc. fully to India to meet the needs of the two countries, and for export to states in Africa, Asia and Latin America. I had argued that such a combination would result in the emergence of one of the most formidable integrated military-industrial complexes in the world, besides serving the strategic purposes of the two countries.

My advocacy of such a Combine led, around 2002 or so, to the Israeli Home Minister Uzi Landau, and the head of Mossad on a Delhi trip, visiting with me. Intrigued by my concept, Landau promised to give it serious consideration. A year later and during the trip to Delhi by Israeli PM Ariel Sharon I asked about this proposal but it hadn’t progressed much in Israeli policy circles. Fast forward another 2 decades and there’s finally the first small move in this direction with the Indian govt now insisting that Israeli companies manufacture in India 60% of what they sell to the Indian armed forces. There’s a bit of coercion here. But one would have thought Tel Aviv would have long ago  recognized the merits of transitioning from a seller-buyer relationship to strategic co-production ere the Modi regime forced its hand.

What got the BJP govt to act was the dissatisfaction with a growingly transactional relationship — that I have pointed out in my previous posts — where the benefits were mostly one-way, with Delhi mainly forking out the funds and even in collaborative projects DRDO left with missile back end work, not the high-value stuff at the front end concerning the target seeker and propulsion tech on MRSAM and LRSAM projects, for instance. It is the sort of thing that I had warned wouldn’t last long.

It is in this context that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu touches down in Delhi with Modi at Palam to receive him. Hugs and genuine warmth between the two principals will make for a feel-good occasion and trip by the Israeli leader, whose delegation also packs movers and shakers of that country’s corporate world who have turned Israel into the “start-up nation” of lore, and who will be urged by their government to strike deals with their Indian counterparts and otherwise begin establishing Israeli presence on the Indian high-tech scene.   This is all fine.

Except, one of the basic hurdles — other than the problems mentioned above — is the reluctance of Israeli (and other foreign) techno-entrepreneurs and investors from setting up shop in India, owing to the obstacle course of laws, rules and regulations they have still to run, and which the Modi regime has not smoothed out, including the little matter of foreign investment restrictions of 49% equity holding. Without controlling interest, no foreign company will want to have to do much with India, especially if it also involves bringing in cutting-edge technologies, Netanyahu’s and Modi’s rhetoric notwithstanding.

Military R&D is capital intensive business, India is solvent, boasts of  a large market for Israeli products — but the Indian government doesn’t follow-up on commitments and promises it makes to foreign leaders. This will likely again derail whatever Modi and Netanyahu may formally decide to achieve.

Posted in Africa, arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Decision-making, Defence Industry, DRDO, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian para-military forces, indian policy -- Israel, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, society, South Asia, Technology transfer, Terrorism, United States, US., Weapons | 8 Comments

India-Israel Relations

A panel discussion aired January 11, 2018 on the Rajya Sabha TV programme — ‘The Big Picture’ with former diplomats Virendra Gupta & Ashok Sajjanhar. KV Prasad of the Tribune (Chandigarh) and myself.

Posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Decision-making, Defence Industry, DRDO, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, indian policy -- Israel, Intelligence, Internal Security, Israel, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Missiles, society, South Asia, Technology transfer, Terrorism, United States, US., Weapons, West Asia | 3 Comments

Challenges for Defence Forces

Panel discussion on “Challenges för Defence Forces” on the Rajya Sabha TV programme — ‘Security Scan’ broadcast December 28, 2017, featuring retired VCAS, Lt Gen Philip Campose, Saikat Datta of Asia Times and myself.



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Tough US Stand on Pak: Implications

Panel discussion aired January 8, 2018 on Rajya Sabha TV programme ‘India’s World’, with former Foreign Secretary Shashank, ex-High Commissioner to Pakistan TCA Raghavan, and yours truly.

Posted in Afghanistan, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Internal Security, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Special Forces, Terrorism, United States, US. | 9 Comments

Quo vadis CDS?


Image result for modi reviewing troops

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has righted a wrong and done her bit to restore to the military some equity and sense of pride. Referring here to the October 2016 note issued by MOD that equated the status of a 2-star rank officer of the armed services to that of Principal Director in MOD, with repercussions down the line. That this decision to thus downgrade Major Generals/Air Vice Marshals/Rear Admirals was taken by Manohar Parrikar well into his tenure as defence minister suggests he was not paying attention. Or, alternatively, that he was happy to be led by the nose by the ICS/IAS-wallahs who ever since 1947, after getting a reprieve from prime minister Nehru who once seriously considered dismantling the colonial-era ICS and starting anew,  have relentlessly upped their relative status and benefits at the expense not just of the military services but also other, even technical, All India Services.

It is a good thing that this Parrikar decision has been reversed. But it only highlights what the Modi government has failed to do — install the Chief of Defence Staff system that all major, more advanced, militaries long ago adopted. Parrikar, soon after assuming office, had assured the public that a decision would be made soon on CDS and that it was a priority. Time passed, and there was no CDS. But a committee under retired Lieutenant General DB Shekatkar was set up by Parrikar to look into this and other matters relating to defence and national security. It, in effect, endorsed the recommendation of the Naresh Chandra Committee on national security set up by the previous Congress Party dispensation. Considering it was headed by a bureaucratic “ustad” — Chandra, a former, defence, home, and cabinet secretary (!) whose ability to run circles around politicians to the benefit of the IAS had attained legendary status in babu circles, this committee produced a classic non-decision — appointment of a 4-star officer as CDS without changing the extant system. In practice this would have meant the Integrated Defence Staff HQrs changing nomenclature-wise into CDS but everything else remaining the same. It was a clever, very clever, ruse — worthy of Chandra’s ustad status, to keep both the IAS and the current armed services chiefs happy, and the situation unchanged. The civil servants’ headlock of  the military was retained. And, as far as the armed services were concerned, so was the supremacy of the chiefs of staff. In the existing system, the chief of staff  is both the administrative and operational head of his armed service — whence his enormous power — power and authority that no service chief would voluntarily surrender to a genuine, full fledged, CDS. Consequently, the 4th 4 star would be the junior most minus any power, authority or standing, able to do nothing and, for all intents and purposes, will be only a figurehead, not the single point adviser to government on all matters relating to defence and the armed services as the post signifies. Unfortunately, the Shekatkar Committee did not articulate its CDS recommendation in any way different than the Chandra Committee.

This is the reason why deposing before the Committee on Higher Defence Organization chaired by Rajiv Gandhi’s Defence Minister, (now late) KC Pant, (with also now late Air Cmde Jasjit Singh as Member-Secretary) set up during Vajpayee’s time (in the very early 2000s), I had pleaded for the imposition of the CDS system on the military along the lines the original “unification” of the US armed services (with the much later Goldwater-Nicolls Act “plugging the loopholes”) was imposed by the strong willed President Harry S Truman. Truman, incidentally, dismissed several carrier admirals who dared to oppose his political decision. US Navy was the senior service and resented allowing army, army air force  (later the separate US Air Force) parity– no small show of political grit in the wake of the successes of the US aircraft  carriers in the Pacific War against the great Imperial Japanese Navy.

I had warned the Committee formally, and Mr Pant privately, that if the CDS was not imposed and the services chiefs were approached for their opinions, this reform would sink without trace   — and I had specifically mentioned the Indian Air Force in this regard. The army is for it because as the senior service it expects to monopolize the CDS post. The navy is too small to matter and on paper has no strong views on it. It is the IAF which is convinced that with army in the fray it will always lose out to the army candidate and will have the mortification of a landlubber deciding the fate of the air force. All the Armed Services, however, are loud in proclaiming their support for CDS! The Pant Committee chose to ignore my counsel, and as I had forewarned, the whole thing panned out exactly as I had foreseen, as also the way the institutional resistance to the concept stacked up. CDS is still no-go for IAF, and will remain so unless a strong leader thrusts the CDS down the entire MOD caboodle, including and especially the IAS manning its top echelons, even if this means sacking any civil servant and chief off staff opposing the development. Because, necessarily, a CDS would end the anomaly — a completely idiotic one that, under business rules of the government, Defence Secretary is responsible for the defence and security of the country!!!

Alas, Modi is not that leader in the main because, his public stance apart, he is contemptuous of military officers generally because of such trivial issues as their anglicised ways, including having a drink or two in the evenings in the Mess. Senior officers who dealt with him when he was Gujarat CM tell stories about his dismissive attitude towards them, and his snarky comments to the effect that they are unavailable for dialogue and discussion after eight, etc. Assuming the PM can spare some time from his preoccupation with winning the 2019 general elections, Modi would be well advised to get over his unwarranted prejudice against the officer cadre of the armed forces, dispassionately study the issue, and use his common sense to alight on the CDS system to replace the mess that the country has in the present structure of the 3 Services and their fraught relationship with MOD. He can then instruct Sitharaman to green signal CDS for a system transformation — because independently the defence minister is too much a political light weight to do anything this substantial on her own.

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Japan, Military/military advice, society, South Asia, United States, US. | 1 Comment

Pivoting against China?

Image result for pics of indian troops on LAC


The Indian government and its agencies, including the armed services, have been so infected by myopia and the supposed Pakistan threat that, as I have argued for some 40 years now, no one in an official post in Delhi seems to have even a semblance of military, leave alone strategic, common sense about him. Thousands of crores of rupees are wasted every year in modernizing and maintaining an antique order-of-battle replete with 2nd World War genus of armaments ranging from tanks to combat aircraft that are short-legged to boot and useless for sustained warfighting outside of an operating radius beyond Pakistan. And yet no effort has ever been mounted to adjust to reality of China — the menace it poses growing literally by the day even as India’s actual fighting capability to take on the PLA diminishes. This is because the bureaucratic interests of the various combat arms supercedes the national interest, and the armoured/mech Generals in the Indian Army simply won’t allow a more rational redistribution of resources from the three strike Corps for the plains/desert to raise a total of three new offensive mountain corps (or six new mountain Divisions), even though this is the only way the country can obtain a sizable force capable of fighting on the high-altitude desert of the Tibetan plateau, and prevent the PLA from its one-point plan of rolling downhill and around built-up areas to as far into Indian territory as their integral logistics can carry them.  The critical thing here is the redeployment of resources — the offensive mountain corps cannot be an additionality to the present orbat, which is what turf-extending, empire-building, generals would like to see happen, but replacement for the three strike corps reconfigured into a single composite armoured/mechanized corps with a number of independent armoured brigades as the switchable element will be more than adequate for any Pakistani contingency, assuming there’ll ever be another running war on the western front. That provocations such as the 2001 attack on Parliament and the 2008 Mumbai strike went unanswered suggests that once nuclear weapons swing into view the option for a measured and deliberate response goes out the window.

[On each of these two occasions, the Indian Air Force had the wherewithal for sharp, instantaneous, surgical retaliation in the punitive mould — which would have been the correct response — but professed its inability to launch one.  It encouraged GHQ Rawalpindi to believe, it can get away with such pinpricks. Has this situation changed in the era of “surgical strikes”? Not really. It is one thing to react to some terrorist action with a Special Forces op 1-2 kms inside PoK. Quite another thing for a large formation to venture across to register a telling level of destruction and damage. So instant aerial retaliation is still the only counter and one to be prosecuted with urgency and dispatch literally moments after a major terrorist provocation accompanied by Delhi announcing to the world the fact of the underway/ongoing air strikes and the incident/event that triggered it to make clear India’s punitive intent. But for this there has to be ready continually updated strike plans and target coordinates and a designated unit practising such attack sorties and ready to scramble and be airborne within moments of the incidence of the terrorist act. There’s no such preparation afoot, as far as I’m aware. This means that there’s no automaticity of response, and the wheels start churning only after the terrorists have had their say, and by the time the retaliation sortie is ready enough time will have elapsed for the usual sections in govt to have second thoughts, and for Washington to insert itself to save Pakistan by advising India to be the “responsible state” that it is!!]

This is generally what my classified report to the 10th Finance Commission, India, recommended, and which along with other recommendations were accepted in toto by the PV Narasimha Rao’s Congress Party government in 1995. When General VK Singh was COAS he had called the GOCs of Indian Mountain Divisions deployed on the LAC for a symposium in Nainital where again I made the above case in extenso — something I have been doing over the last 30 years at every army-military forum that has afforded me the opportunity.

Finally, the Army under General Bipin Rawat has decided to concentrate on the China front by investing in the building of the logistics infrastructure along the LAC complete with shunts, etc. to enable massive mobilization of the necessary forces quickly on any point along the front. This has been long overdue. Can he possibly get the cavalry generals to agree to pruning their beloved fleets of tanks and APCs during his remaining years in office? That will be absolutely great. It would be a truly stupendous achievement if he were to get the Modi government to stamp his 13th Capital Acquisition Plan as the sole and unalterable template for the short and medium-term future at a minimum. The prompt for this refocussing is reportedly the Doklam crisis, which proved a few of us who have long maintained that China is the proverbial paper dragon right, even as the MEA has long been convinced the Indian army is a paper tiger.

But this would only be a partial solution. The real farsighted action would be for Rawat to begin reordering the force structure in line with the focus on the China threat; free up the requisite resources by demobilizing 2 strike corps and reassigning the resources to raising two additional mountain corps. That’s the sort of realignment that should have been done soon after the 1971 War when what miniscule threat there was from Pakistan had evaporated. But better late than never. It is unlikely though the Modi regime will be happy with such orientation away from Pakistan which, for domestic political reasons, is a electorally expedient foe because it segues in nicely with the Hinduist agenda of the Indian Muslim as the other and internal security suspect of choice.

The fly in the ointment may be the new Foreign Secretary-designate, the Mandarin-speaking  Vijay K Gokhale — another of the China Study Group-wallahs, always ready to back down ere China sneezes. Hopefully, his new more assertive avatar will take over as FS come end-January.

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Decision-making, domestic politics, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, Internal Security, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Special Forces, Terrorism, Tibet, Weapons | 16 Comments