Mattis’ agenda

Image result for pics of Gen Mattis

(US Secretary of Defence)

The US Secretary of Defence retired General James Mattis has a two point-agenda for his trip  starting September 25 – get New Delhi to commit to purchasing the Lockheed Martin  F-16 Block 70 combat aircraft along with its assembly line under the aegis of the bilateral Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), and to give assurances that India’s Afghanistan policy will not undercut the American strategy to prevent the restoration of Taliban rule in Kabul. The F-16, a 1970s-era aircraft with zero potential for further development, is a hard sell. The Afghanistan issue will be just as tricky because, from the Indian perspective, the Pakistan angle skews what’s asked of India.

The F-16 was the first to be dropped by the Indian Air Force when short-listing aircraft for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) acquisition. Lockheed Martin has not had much success pushing this aircraft as a single engine aircraft buy for IAF through the political channels either. It had hoped President Donald Trump would induce Prime Minister Narendra Modi to do a ‘Rafale’ – i.e., peremptorily announce a deal for the F-16 as he had for 36 of the French fighter aircraft when he was in Paris in April 2015. But that didn’t happen. Dassault Avions, the maker of Rafale, was advantaged because the IAF backed the deal, hoping to use the initial transaction to leverage the procurement of 100 more of this aircraft. But the F-16 is not favoured by the IAF over the newer Swedish JAS-39 Gripen E.

This is so for two reasons. The F-16 is obsolete and has exhausted its potential for further development. Upgraded avionics cannot make the F-16 fly and manoeuvre better than the version of the aircraft with the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), which last is its other negative. PAF long ago passed on an F-16 to China for its aircraft designers to study and to reverse engineer many of its technologies. So this plane is an open book for India’s two adversaries – bad situation for any “frontline” IAF aircraft to be in.

Ashley Tellis of Carnegie Washington has argued for the F-16 as a flagship DTTI initiative less in terms of its flying and fighting qualities or its survival prospects in the lethal air warfare environment of the 21st Century than in terms of India joining the defence industrial “global supply chain”. However, as a US-India Business Council report makes clear Lockheed Martin will not transfer proprietory technologies nor guarantee the performance of any Indian-made F-16. What will therefore eventuate is the chosen “strategic partner” – Tata Advanced Systems (TAS) getting locked into the same mode of assembling aircraft from imported kits involving screwdriver technology that has stunted the Hindustan Aerospace Ltd. How TAS’ doing what HAL has done for the last 60 years will advance India’s indigenous combat aircraft design, development, and manufacturing capability is a mystery, and makes a mockery of the  ‘Make in India’ policy.

Moreover, depending on how keen the Trump Administration is to close US’ $24.3 billion 2016 trade deficit with India, Washington could veto Sweden’s sale of Gripen aircraft and technologies as 35%-40% of the components of this aircraft are sourced from the US. This is how an India relying on imported armaments gets shafted.

On the other issue, as a former head of the US Central Command Mattis appreciates Pakistan’s indispensability as base for military operations to bring the Taliban in Afghanistan to their knees. But Islamabad has insisted that India’s role in Afghanistan be restricted and complained about the Indian support for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) accused by Islamabad of terrorism in Pakistan. The RAW-TTP link was publicly revealed in April this year by its former commander, Ehsanullah Ehsan.

Mattis’ request that India moderate its support for TTP will put Delhi in a fix because  TTP  is useful as an Indian counterpart of the Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, and Jaish-e-Mohammad deployed by the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence in Jammu & Kashmir. Severing relations with TTP will mean India surrendering an active card in Pakistan and a role in Afghanistan as TTP additionally provides access to certain Afghan Taliban factions. This, together with the Abdul Ghani regime’s desire for India’s presence and the tested friendship with Abdul Rashid Dostum and his Tajik-dominated ‘Northern Alliance’, ensures that no solution for peace in Afghanistan can be cobbled together without India’s help.

Mattis’ returning home empty-handed will not hurt relations with the US at all because there’s China and the US needs India to strategically hinder it.


Published in the Hindustan Times, 22 September 2017 with title “Mattis will hardsell outdated F-16s”, at




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Will India Ever Be A Great Power? Swarajya — extended interview

Will India Ever Be A Great Power? Here’s What Bharat Karnad Has To Say About It


Excerpts from Swarajya’s interview with Bharat Karnad, in which he speaks at length about India’s equations with China and Pakistan; Jawaharlal Nehru; Narendra Modi, and why India is not a great power. Political discourse in India has become highly polarised. The sharp division of ideas in the country has caused a radical reduction in nuanced thought.

This is where Bharat Karnad stands out. He is a research professor at the Centre for Policy Research and a national security expert. He was a member of the first National Security Advisory Board of the National Security Council. He had also served as an adviser on defence expenditure for the tenth Finance Commission, and has authored many books on national security.

This combination of a true-blue researcher with a strategic mindset and forthright demeanour led to one of Swarajya’s contributing editors dubbing him “21st Century India’s Kautilya”.

Swarajya sat down with Karnad to get his take on India’s strategic resolve, the “great power” status, the civil services, arms manufacturing, Nehru, China, Prime Minister Modi and, of course, Pakistan to get a nuanced understanding of India’s potential, its weaknesses and the methods the country can take to correct its course as it embarks on the path to becoming a “great power”.

Here are edited excerpts from the interview:

In your book, Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet), you’ve lamented the lack of a strategic vision, ambition and resolve shown by the Indian state throughout its independent history. Why do you think we should be a great power in the first place? How do we benefit? How does the world benefit from having India as a great power? Aren’t there more important issues to solve first?

I think we tend to usually confuse the more important issues with the issues of security. The first task of any government, in any system or polity, is to secure the polity. If you do not make that polity or country secure, nothing else matters. And therefore, when you talk about these “other things”, by which I presume you mean development and social welfare of the people and so on and so forth, the question is, is that relevant? It’s very important. But how does this impact our quest for security? We should be clear about our priorities.

When you ask, what does the world get from India becoming a great power, it’s the wrong question to ask. What does the world get from any country’s assertion of their “great power” status? If they have the attributes (for said status), they should assert it. The Maldives, Pakistan, Belgium cannot expect to become great powers no matter what they do. India, China, America and Russia – they’re the only ones in the running.

One needs certain attributes (to even aspire to that status). One needs the territorial size, the economic vibrancy and size, the population. One should have resources of other kinds – material, human and natural. Thus, this status is not available to any country. Therefore, because there are so few countries, the more the powers, the more stable it is in the international system. That way, the international order is not pivoted to one or two powers dictating things or becoming adjudicators of developments anywhere in the world.

Many of our governments, in the past and present, have talked about “great power” as if it’s an entitlement. No one is going to give us great power. We must take it. It is not a concept generally understood in India. Those who have it are not going to willingly surrender the power. We need to take it from them, and that won’t happen if we are not militarily strong. That won’t happen if we are not diplomatically assertive and expansive.

We do not necessarily need to stomp on other people’s toes, but what we need to do is assert ourselves and set up an ecosystem for us to exercise our power for our good, principally, as a start. If it benefits the neighbours, good. If it benefits countries in a larger context, even better. If we can ensure the larger global order, that doesn’t hurt our interest, best of all.

That’s how I assume we are progressing to where India will go. Perhaps, not anytime soon by my reckoning, because of our failures, our flaws and our weaknesses, but this is where India will eventually get to if we have a strong-minded government that can see things clearly. If we have the leadership that can envision India’s place in the world, not in other people’s terms, but in our own terms – that is very important.

Since you’ve established that India does lack that strategic vision, is that more to do with our inflated bureaucracy and structure that the civil services come in with, or is it more to do with the political unwillingness to go too far from Nehru’s non-alignment?

Again, I think you have framed the question slightly narrowly. But, let’s go with your own parameters. The fact of the matter is that the administrative system, the system of the Government of India, is a colonial legacy. It hasn’t changed.

People don’t recognise it, but it was Vallabhbhai Patel who retained the system. He was primarily responsible. Nehru was for throwing everybody out. He said that the ICS (Indian Civil Service) are imperial stooges. They are the handmaidens of the imperialists. They help the British overlords rule India and Indians. They should be thrown out. Nehru was for that. Vallabhbhai Patel, a more practical man, realised if you throw all these people out, how can we maintain order? Thus, we retained the system as it was then. Unfortunately, no government thereafter has changed the system for it to become more receptive and sensitive to the people.

So, we have a system that genuinely does not mesh with the country’s aspiration to become a great power. Why? Because this is a colonial system of governors. The colonial overloads, when the British were here, were not interested in making India great except in so far as they ruled it. We were the diadem, the jewel in their crown. By ourselves, we were slaves, we were a slave nation. The administrative system that the British put in place was mainly to ensure law and order. It was not for development. It was not for social welfare of the Indian people. It was to impose their authority.

So, with that very limited agenda, they (ICS) did very well. But it doesn’t do anything else by way of development. That’s why we have what we have. No real development at the grassroots, bad systems of health, education. It is dismal. The privileged can afford anything and they can get it. For the elite, everything is entitlement. Democracy is subverted with politicians becoming part of the elite and laying claim to the entitlement regime – free houses in Lutyens’ Delhi, free cars, free servants and peons and chaukidars and everybody running in attendance of them.

So what have we got? The same old colonial system with some slight tweaking here and there to accommodate the new rulers. Sure, the scheduled tribes, the scheduled castes, the untouchables and everybody have got the power to vote and they are vociferous. But, what do their representatives do when they come to Delhi? How many of them work for the people who elected them? They work for the families or their biradari at most. Who works for the country? These are questions that have not been answered honestly by politicians and the parties. The government is not interested in changing it. The government is manned by the same people. Why would they want to change anything when it benefits them?

You have spoken at various times about the need for India to have an innate arms manufacturing industry, and how that would translate into great power status. Given the global paradigm as it exists today, won’t India be playing catch-up, especially to countries like China? And in doing so, isn’t there a worry that we would get pulled into an arms race that we are not entirely ready for?

Look, I said to you that the first task and brief of government is to secure the nation. How does one secure the nation? With imported arms? An anachronism, is it not? It’s an anomaly. It doesn’t happen in any place else, except in underdeveloped countries and third- and fourth-world countries like India. In 60 years, we are still a third-world country if we are honest with ourselves.

The point about the arms is very simple. We started out in the right way. This is not something usually acknowledged because of the anti-Nehruvianism of today. Nehru was a visionary. He set the foundation for a great republic. The unfortunate thing was, he was also politically a hamlet. He was indecisive. A great visionary. He did all the right things, but when it came to crunch time, he wouldn’t make decisions.

For instance, of the two major things he set in motion, one was the nuclear weapons programme. He had said that India had missed out on the gunpowder revolution and was therefore enslaved. He had said that no matter what happens we were not going to miss out on the nuclear revolution. This is what is so brilliant about his disarmament cry, which is what Mani Shankar Aiyar and all these people don’t realise. They swear by Nehru without understanding him. It’s not acknowledged now by Modi and the BJP. They should acknowledge it. Because they would realise where they are going wrong, perhaps, but this man (Nehru) had vision. He may have talked disarmament, but all the time as the minister for atomic energy, he encouraged, financed and ensured that Homi Bhabha set in motion what he called the Janus-faced nuclear energy programme.

Do you know who Janus is? It’s the god in the Greek pantheon with two faces looking in opposite directions. Janus. Civilian-military. Remarkable! When India didn’t have money in the 1950s, he took money from the military and the Ministry of Defense, which is why in the 1950s the defence budget went down, just to fund the nuclear programme. He said if you have nuclear weapons, you have security. That was the point he was making. And we had reached our nuclear weapons threshold before China in March of 1964. He died in May 1964.

Moreover, the nuclear programme was a secret, the weapons part of it. It was a two-person loop that Bhabha himself had set up because he was afraid of intelligence penetration and Western countries coming to know of the programme and forcibly ending it, which is what has happened since, hasn’t it? The nuclear deal. What’s happened with the nuclear deal? The Americans have come in and we have been hurt.

The point was to insulate the nuclear weapons programme from any external pressures. Do you know that the department of atomic energy is the only department of government that is paperless? There is no paper because Bhabha set it up that way. So far-thinking, so incredibly strategic. He did it so because everything government does is in duplicate and quadruplicate. This could easily have been sold to the Americans, who could have pressurised us to adjourn our nuclear weapons ambitions.

In 1962, when we were being beaten by the Chinese in the Himalayas, Bhabha went to Nehru and pleaded with him to test it. He said it will lift the morale of a people that have been defeated and humiliated. Nehru, being indecisive, didn’t say no, nor did he say yes. He kept telling people in the nuclear weapons programme, “Not now, but be ready. Not now, be ready.” And we lost out. By the time we cranked up the machine again for the test in 1974, it was too late. By 1968, the Americans had put up the NPT, Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, meant expressly to prevent India from weaponising. See how things work. Power has to be taken. We never go the full distance. We just do things symbolically. Had we weaponised in March 1964, we would have been the fifth world power, not China. China would have been the sixth in October 1964.

The other thing that Nehru did, where arms was concerned, was instead of importing combat aircraft, which is what we have been doing, he imported the best combat aircraft designer in the world at that time in the 1950s. He got Dr Kurt Tank, who designed the Focke-Wulf war planes for Nazi Germany. Can you imagine this? He imported the greatest designer of aircraft. He was commissioned to design the aircraft in 1957. By 1961, the first prototype was flying in the Bangalore skies. The first supersonic jet aircraft to be made outside of Europe and the United States in the world flew over Bangalore. In 1961. What does this say to you about the subsequent prime ministers? Not being strategic-minded, not being visionary. Dr Tank had designed the HF-24 Marut. That was the great combat aircraft that flew to Bangalore. It is parked in the HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) museum. It was then said to be the finest aeroplane in the world.

During the Second World War, India was called the Arsenal of the East. The entire allied armies’ Middle East command under Montgomery and the Southeast Asian command under Mountbatten were provisioned by India. It was not Europe. Europe was fighting its own battle. It didn’t have the resources. We were doing it. We made everything from guns to lorries to aircraft. We put together Lancaster bombers in Bangalore. So, where have we come from that? We’ve plummeted down to this, to become the largest importer of arms in the world. Look at what we started out with and how we have methodically crippled ourselves over the years. That’s the great tragedy. That’s what I mean when I say, think of Nehru anew. Yes, he was indecisive. Yes. Every great man has a flaw. This was a grievous flaw, but look at what he did.

We have the base. We destroyed it because we didn’t use it. Because we keep importing aircraft, our own base is destroyed. This is what I call mechanical screwdriver technology. Just import it and license production. Modi doesn’t seem to understand. ‘Make in India’ is great, but it is not the main thing. Design in India, develop in India and then make in India. When you design your own combat aircraft, you don’t owe the world anything. You can always buy the components from here and there, but the design is yours. That’s the most important thing. If you can’t design it, then you are at the mercy of whoever sells you whatever he wants to sell you.

A contributing editor to Swarajya magazine on reviewing your book said that if there ever was a Kautilya in twenty-first-century India, it would be you. Going on from there, I would just like to get a sense of Doklam and what’s been happening there and your perspective on it.

On Doklam, the fact of the matter is that the Chinese have been nibbling away at the Bhutanese territory in dispute with China. They know Bhutan can’t do anything. There’s the concept of the creeping tri-junction. The tri-junction is where the three countries meet, but the Chinese have been pushing it methodically and systematically in the southern direction. From the first time, in 2003, they moved the Batangla line – the original tri-junction – south to Doklam, and they have been pushing slowly. Now the thing is that in 1998 and 1999, Bhutan and China signed agreements for maintaining the status quo.

The special representatives of both China and Bhutan, in an agreement in 2015, also said that for anything regarding the tri-junction, India had to be consulted since it is an interested party. And because of our traditional relations with Bhutan, Bhutan’s security is India’s concern mainly because Bhutan is in no position to enforce its will on the Chinese.

So, first, they move the tri-junction from Batangla line at Gyemochen to the Doklam plateau, and they are doing that because then they have a line of sight on the Siliguri Corridor, which means there would be no obstructions in the form of mountains in front of them. When they send off a missile, it’ll go straight on to the target. That’s what Doklam plateau does. If the Chinese come and take it, they will have a line of sight on the Siliguri Corridor, which we cannot allow. No matter what, we will not allow it.

In the Doklam plateau, what has happened is that the Chinese did not expect Indians to come in with such speed and stealth. This has happened for the first time since 1987, during the Sumdorong Chu incident, where we came in heavily and said, “If you want to fight, lets have it.” And we brought in artillery and the Chinese didn’t believe what was happening. They thought of 1962 and felt that we were people that could be intimidated. That didn’t happen. The Chinese have not learned the lesson of 1987. They keep harping back to 1962.

We also have IMTRAT, the Indian military training mission in Bhutan. We have an infantry brigade there. So, when the Bhutanese complained in writing to India, the infantry brigade immediately moved and came into Doklam plateau and said, “No, you can’t construct, end of story.” The Chinese didn’t know what to do. So, they thought that by issuing more threats and fulminating, they can pressurise an Indian withdrawal.

The more they talked, the more they threatened, the more India played cool. We didn’t respond in the same way. No to and fro, no nothing. Just keep talking, we will not allow you, simple. So, they were getting more and more worked up. Now the situation is such that they have pushed themselves into a corner. Now Xi Jinping has a real problem backing down. What is he going to do? Say we’ll back down to the Indians? Sushma Swaraj said it in Parliament. She said, no preconditions. They said, no precondition is the first withdrawal. There are no preconditions. And they must withdraw. We will also withdraw simultaneously when they withdraw, so I think this is ultimately the solution.

I think what’s really bugging the Chinese is that they are losing face. For the Chinese, that’s very important. For us also, it’s important. But, we have lost face so many times that we apparently don’t care that much now. So, when we have occasion to regain our face, we are doing a pretty good job. They are playing it really cool. This is high-class diplomacy, and for the first time in a very long time.

Nothing is going to happen as far as the military is concerned. But China’s pretensions to enforce its will on its periphery are gone. Everybody in Southeast Asia is watching, the Americans are watching. We now have a psychological edge over the Chinese. They thought they had it. They have lost it now.

The One Belt, One Road project is China’s attempt to re-stake it’s self-perceived hegemony over Eurasia. It’s essentially Silk Road 2.0. Given that Medieval India benefited a lot from the Grand Trunk Road, which connected to the Silk Road, should India not leverage the economic potential? I mean, rather than finding ways to oppose it. I can understand the opposition the military side of things, but there is an economic potential in being linked to Central Asia and Europe through the One Belt, One Road initiative.

Okay, but the thing is, again, if OBOR (One Belt, One Road) is ultimately going to be militarily disadvantageous to you because it creates infrastructure for easy Chinese ingress into the subcontinent and into our part of the world, then should you not oppose it? Because what is the overarching thrust of our concerns? Is it to have economic benefit, or is it to secure ourselves against China? And they are a marauding power now. Why? Just look at the Chinese name for their country. It is Zhongguou, the Central Kingdom. That’s what they call themselves.

So, the point to make about OBOR is that we have been mindful because of the military implications of its infrastructure; that is, infrastructure that will be militarily useful for the Chinese to encircle. This brings you to the Chinese notion of geo-strategic spaces. What is the game that most illustrates our classical history and culture? Chess, right? Shatranj. It’s a two-person game. But, what is the Chinese game? It’s something called “Weiqi”. What is Weiqi? Think of the same chess board with all the squares. While Shatranj or chess says go for the king piece and the game is over, Weiqi says occupy as many squares as possible. What is the idea? We don’t need to rule for the adversary to move and occupy all the space.

This is exactly what the Chinese are doing in the Indian Ocean, Hambantota, Myanmar, Djibouti, Africa and Gwadar, right? Central Asia, OBOR, CPEC. This is Weiqi! This is the problem and we don’t even seem to realise it. We should go to Africa, to Oman. Place an army in Oman. Place a navy in Chabahar. We have all the opportunities. The Mozambican government in the year 2000 asked the Indian Navy to found their navy, the Mozambican navy. They said, “You found it, and you lead it,” officered by the Indian Navy. We said no. When such opportunities are let up, we can’t blame the Chinese or anybody else for disadvantaging us because we don’t have the strategic sense or overarching strategic vision for our country.

What is the United Kingdom? A small country. You can travel all over, even walk the damn thing virtually. They conquered the whole world. And Indians never felt shame about it. Humiliation is something that Chinese have used to build up their nation and national identity. Even now the Communist regime in China uses what they call the “Century of Humiliation”. Have we ever felt humiliated enough to say, “No, it will never happen again?” Everything we do is to ensure that something will happen again.

All these things come together when you say OBOR. Yes, there might be some economic benefits to it, but you can also argue that the British Empire in India was good for us economically because they built the railways and the telegraph. There is something radically wrong here, in such thinking.

You mentioned CPEC briefly. India’s opposition, at least the stated opposition, primarily rests on the premise that Gilgit-Baltistan is North Kashmir and we have claims to that land. First, do you believe that stated position has any merit in today’s day and age, and second, isn’t this conflict vis-à-vis Pakistan regarding Kashmir holding India back? Most of our troops are still deployed across the LOC (Line of Control). We’re still not playing the Chinese game. We are still focused a lot more on Pakistan.

Absolutely. I’m turning into a one-tune canary on this because I have been saying Pakistan is a nuisance. It is a pest. It is not a threat. Please understand the difference. Pakistan is a small, little country on our flank. Its greatest success has been to reduce the very big India on its side to its level. Everybody in India is jumping around Pakistan whether it’s to taunt them or complain about them. What is the point? [The GDP of] Pakistan is one-eighth of our GDP. In relative terms, it’s one quarter of the market cap of the Mumbai stock exchange.

I say it to my military audiences that when we talk of Pakistan as a threat, we should be ashamed of ourselves. We misread the threat. China is manifestly the threat. Three times our size and how far has it progressed and how quickly. In 1979, when Deng Xiaoping, the great helmsman took over China, do you know that economically we were slightly ahead? And within 30 years, they are almost four times our size. So, understand the threat. Pakistan is not a threat. So, what do we do? How do we deal with Pakistan? We have to co-opt them.

Can we, though? Now that the Chinese have already co-opted them?

We can co-opt them even now. You talk to Pakistanis. When I go there and talk with their general staff, they say, “Yeh saazish hai, Hindu-Brahmin saazish hai (This is a conspiracy, a Hindu-Brahmin conspiracy.)”. I say no. If you want coal, you are importing it from Australia, paying a fanciful price for each tonne of coal to run their thermal power plants and their factories when you can run a freight train from India, from the Jharia Coal Fields in Bihar all the way straight into the Karachi factory yard at a fraction of the cost. Do you think the Pakistanis won’t jump at it? Please ask the Karachi Chamber of Commerce & Industry what they would say.

But would the military in Pakistan jump at it as well?

This is the point. Give the military a role. We have demonised the Pakistani military. Look, let me just say it clearly – they are a very professional military. It may help us to say they are warmongers. They are doing what they have to do as they see it, to ensure their security.

Once we denature the Pakistani threat, we need to unilaterally win Pakistan’s trust. It’s the most difficult thing between nations. We need to unilaterally withdraw all nuclear-armed, war-headed missiles from our western border. I say this to our military audiences; if I was a Pakistani military strategist and I saw what India was doing and its force structure, I would do exactly what Pakistan is doing.

Okay. Could you elaborate?

Yes, because we have a three-strike corps – 1, 2 and 21. We have something called the “Cold Start” doctrine, and none of it is practical. It’s a nice phrase, “Cold Start”, but it’s a no start. But try telling it to the Pakistanis. They won’t believe you, and why should they believe you? We have 3,500 tanks there. I see their point. Most of the tanks are mothballed.

So, I’ve stated, rationalise the three-strike corps into one composite corp. One composite corps is more than enough. With independent armour brigades, it’ll be more than enough to deal with any Pakistan contingency. If the Chinese are not going to take you on, do you think the Pakistanis are going to take you on? Please. We have to have some sense of perspective in all of this.

What do we do with the material and human assets? When we de-mob such a big formation, what happens then? What do you do with the people? What do you do with the material? We need to create offensive mountain corps. With them, we can take the fight to the Chinese on the Tibetan plateau. It’s a flat high-altitude desert. Perfect terrain for tank warfare. But not the tanks we have. Our tanks are optimised for plain warfare, desert warfare. For high-altitude warfare, we have to redesign our tanks. That’s what we should have done all this while. We should have lighter tanks, high-velocity guns, etc. The idea is to have more appropriate tanks for high-altitude warfare. When you have a three-strike corps, you can take the fight to the Chinese and look what happens. Even when we don’t have them, the Chinese are apprehensive. A three-strike corps can offer remarkable offensive power. We have to reorder our military priorities and reorient our military from the West to East and the North East.

I’ve argued that, sure look, if there is a gnat buzzing around, and it comes and bites you, you can do two things – one, you can take an elephant gun and try to kill that gnat. If you fire the elephant gun, there’ll be collateral damage on yourself. What is the better way to do it? Roll up a newspaper and slam the damn thing. So how do you deal with Pakistan? The idea is not to destabilize Pakistan. Ultimately, the overarching aim is co-option.

I believe that if there were no Pakistan, we would have to invent it. Because see what it does geopolitically. What is Pakistan for us? It’s a buffer state. It’s always good to have a buffer. What’s the buffer against Islamic extremism? See, what’s happening, Pakistan is suffering from Islamic extremism. You can see it. It’s a buffer state. When we had Tibet as a buffer, there was peace between India and China. We didn’t do anything when the Chinese took over Tibet. The Indian agent in Lhasa pleaded with us to bring in our army. But Nehru said no. We are the two great Asian giants. We are going to rule Asia cooperatively. That didn’t happen. We have to be more strategic-minded in our approach to security. Once you come to that, you will see that China is the real problem, not Pakistan. Ultimately, what is the solution with Pakistan? It is the 2007 Musharraf resolution that he brought forth but Manmohan Singh didn’t take.

Why do you think he didn’t take it?

Because he was afraid the BJP will jump up and down and then attack him from the right. Very simple. Short reason why. It’s important to understand what Musharraf offered us. First, he was the army chief. When you have the Pakistan army on board a solution like that, then it’s the end of the story. The idea is to deal with the military. A fig leaf for him was a mechanism to oversee the affairs of Kashmir. No big deal. The mechanism would have been like the Indus River Commission, where we would meet and exchange data and the like. Musharraf would have had that story to tell which he would have got from India on involvement in our part of Kashmir. That’s fine, but in real terms, he got nothing. Even in that document, what was envisaged was that any Kashmiri going from here to that side of Kashmir would have to still produce documents. Once you have documents, what does that mean? You’ve formalised the border.

Economic intimation can be the easiest thing in the world because you talk to the Pakistani and they cannot empathise with the Chinese. They are very different people. How many Pakistanis can speak Mandarin? How many Indians can speak Mandarin? The proportion is relatively the same. They don’t understand the Chinese. The Chinese are as inscrutable to them as they are to us. So, would they rather not deal with us? You go to Pakistan, it’s virtually India there. For God’s sake, all their shelves are full of Dabur hair oil, aata and Palmolive oil, all from India. Why? How do they come to India? Not smuggling but via the switch trade. So, the ships leaving India to, say Dubai, anchor at Karachi and smaller boats come in from the Karachi port, unload the consumer items and take them into the city and distribute them all across Pakistan.

This is how the Pakistani consumer economy works. The trade is going on. The government has not been able to stop it. Do you think the Pakistan army is going to stop this trade? They all use the same Palmolive oil and Colgate and all of that comes from these boats. It’s a sham. Sometimes when you look at the whole thing, it seems silly.

We need to approach Pakistan with the attitude that they’re a small country. Let’s be generous. This is the whole point of Arthashastra also. You should not rile a small country that is critically placed vis-à-vis you. This is what is said by Chanakya and we have completely violated the basic axiom of great power, which is a pacified neighbourhood. If you have a pacified neighborhood, that’s the foundation of a great power. If in your own neighborhood everybody is jumping up and down and no one likes you, then most of your energies will be taken up just to deal with the neighbours, and there will be no effort and energy left to deal with the outside world. This is our real problem. And we don’t seem to realise it. We are quite happy beating Pakistan in wars and cricket.

On this note, the last question. India has been demanding a UN Security Council (UNSC) seat for some time now. Arguments usually range from India is a responsible power to how can you neglect one-sixth of the world’s population. Does India, which rarely takes any position externally, even deserve a seat at the UNSC given that it has one of the highest rates of abstention as a non-permanent member?

Short answer. India doesn’t deserve it. We have done nothing to deserve it. We are not a great power. We have not made ourselves responsible for anything in the world. We just ride everybody’s coattails and we think United Nations Security Council is an entitlement. Why? Because, as you say, we are one-sixth of the world’s population. That doesn’t mean anything. I told you at the very beginning, great power must be taken from somebody who has the power. Do you think someone is going to just give it to you on a silver platter and tell you to come and take the security council seat? No, it doesn’t happen. It is not a charity business. Strategic affairs of the world, of different countries, they are not indulging in charity. It’s hard business. What did Bismarck say? He said that to make a great Germanic state, we will have to expend blood and steel.

What was the great thing about Elizabethan England? Elizabeth I of England had a choice between social welfare and funding the Royal Navy. All her ministers asked her to focus on the discontent at home, with the poverty and hunger prevalent then. She said no, fund the navy. Once we fund the navy, we secure our approaches to our island, then we can get out and seek our fortunes in Europe. In 1812, Battle of Copenhagen, it was the first time the British ventured out. The continental strategy had begun. The British became the adjudicators, the balancers of the European balance of power system. Why? Because it ruled the seas, it became the basis of their Pax Britannica.

India, for its part, can afford to do both social welfare and security. But we cannot afford to misuse our resources, which is what we have been doing, even in military terms. Because we have a military force that is completely inappropriate for the twenty-first century. Our military is in the 1940s. We still have cavalry. Our military doesn’t keep up. Our government doesn’t keep up. The government is what it is, a colonial system. We have not rechecked it. It’s not efficient. It’s not effective. Resources are routinely misused in the military as well. When the resources are misused for this kind of buildup, for the upkeep of this kind of a force structure, then the real threats don’t get addressed naturally.

And in economic terms, had we followed Rajaji, progenitor of your Swarajya, and his suggestion to free the entrepreneurial genius of the people, it might have been different. Precisely what Modi had once promised. The government has no business in business. I’m a right-winger. I believe I’m an Edward Burkian conservative. I believe in ‘lesser the government, the better’. The government is the great obstacle to everything, not just to individual aspirations but even to the nation’s growth and aspirations. So, I said the smaller it is, the better it is for everybody. This is what Modi promised.

So, as a right-winger, how would you judge Modi’s three years in office?

He has persisted with the old system. The administrative system, the system of Government in India is a real liability for the people because it is old and rickety. It is not competent with its generalist civil servants. But nowadays everything is specialist in nature. The level of sophistication and specialisation required today is immense, and we have generalised civil servants instead. We have a rural electrification secretary the one day, and the same fellow is later drafted to become the defence secretary the other. What would he do? I know defence secretaries who have been honest and said Bharat when I was there for two years, I didn’t know what was happening. They are honest enough to admit it. This is something where our government, our rulers, our elected rulers seem not to understand. The other thing is, it’s left to the bureaucracy to come up with policy options. As I have argued in my book, that’s not the brief of the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy is an implementer.

You have to take the decision. You have to tell the bureaucracy this is what I want. Do it, but no. So, you have the old system of government. And they’ll therefore function at the old pace. How do we expect the old system to produce different results? What is the definition of madness? The definition of madness is you keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different outcomes. So, we are in difficult straits and we think we are okay, which is even worse, when you don’t even recognise your problem but everybody knows there is a problem.

Is this the Lutyens’ effect? That once you come down to Lutyens’ Delhi, you get used to the lovely roads that the Brits made?

Of course! Yes, I call this Disneyland. I have told foreigners not to be taken in by Delhi’s Disneyland. The Disneyland isn’t the reality of the world. It would be lovely if every village were like this, but it isn’t. But those who enter Disneyland don’t want to leave it. It’s so nice. Everything is catered for. Nice green lawns, lovely parks. It’s the entitlement syndrome.

In a column that received a lot of heat, I argued against giving Bharat Ratna to Sachin Tendulkar. You give him the Bharat Ratna, but a nuclear scientist who began the thermonuclear weapons project, Dr P K Iyengar, just gets a Padma Bhushan. When the country is so wrong in estimating who its heroes are, what do you expect of such a society? I am sorry. But these are just illustrative examples of why India is not a great power and will never be.

This is an abridged version of the interview. You can listen to the entire interview on our podcast, Swarajya In-depth.

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Commissioning Aridhaman & Carriers

Image result for pics of Indian K-15 or K-4 missile

(Underwater pontoon launch of K-15)

Around a  fortnight from today, the fueled up INS Aridhaman, the second nuclear-powered ballistic missile-firing submarine will be officially commissioned into the Indian Navy. It will be the pleasant duty of the new Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to actually break a coconut — not a champagne bottle — on the hull of the SSBN.

The Aridhaman too is an Arihant-class boat but with more onboard firepower — 8 vertical launch tubes for the 1,500 km range K-15 and 2,500km range K-4 Mk-1 (seaborne Agni-III) missiles  — with the 5,000km range K-5 Mk-II (seaborne Agni-V) missile under development but coming up fast. The weapon mix will of course be determined by the aim of the nuclear counter-strike mission. In comparison, Arihant carries, besides the K-15, also the K-4 — but has available only 4 missile silos aft of the conning tower.

In fact, the Indian Arihant-class SSBN seems far larger and more powerful than advertised by the government or the navy. It looks like the Arihant displaces some 8,000 tonnes as against its publicized tonnage of 6,000 tonnes. The follow-on sub — Aridhaman and the two other SSBNs in this class are larger still.

Naturally, this sort of tonnage cannot be pushed by a relatively  puny 90MW miniaturized light water reactor. Matching the displacement with the power plant would put the latter at anywhere between 120MW-150MW for the Arihant, and nearer to 200MW for the Aridhaman.

The SSBN would not have been possible — it must be gratefully admitted, without seminal help and assistance from Russia, which has been surprisingly forthcoming in parting with strategic technologies. Those in the Indian military enamoured of Western tech and imports, should sit down and enumerate what technologies the three armed services have actually received from the US and France before they begin yapping incessantly about the so-called mil high-tech Western countries supply and are prepared to part with in the future. If anybody in the GOI/MOD/armed services are even a little honest they will realize that the sole aim of Western govts and arms industries is to sell gullible 2nd rate states 2nd rate equipment dressed up with lots of bells and whistles to impress the yokels. And then the most critical tech will NOT be offered other than as “black box” technologies (even for the antiquated F-16!) . If it is anywhere near cutting edge hardware, such as the electro-magnetic aircraft launch system for carriers, it is made accessible to India only because their own services are finding it hard to absorb, cost-wise, and the govts and companies need a foreign buyer to amortize their R&D investments and to reduce the unit cost for their own militaries.

The EMALS on the USS Gerald Ford nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, for instance, costs the American Navy $3 billion. General Dynamics wants upwards of $5-$6 billion for each EMALS unit sold to, yea, the sucker primero — India. This while Washington has made it plain that the deal for it will not come with the nuclear reactor (required to generate the enormous power to needed to drive the EMALS) the Indian naval brass desperately desired. The alternative — EMALS with several GE LM 2500 gas turbine power packs, makes little sense.

As it is, aircraft carriers are dead in the water with supersonic cruise missiles such as the Brahmos. With hypersonic weapons coming soon large ships will become all the more vulnerable and, by and by, extinct. Not that any of this will deter the naval aviation types — most of them not surprisingly graduates of the US Naval War College. Except the US Navy with a ship strength of 370 bottoms and rising deploys as escort flotilla a minimum of 5-7 frigates/missile destroyers and 1-2 submarines pulling picket duty for each of its 11 carriers. Translate that into IN terms, and most of the capital ships will be not out there asserting presence, showing flag, doing sea control but protecting the carriers. Should MOD/GOI approve 3 aircraft carriers, it will mean 15-21 surface combatants and 3 or more subs pulling police duty for the carriers out of a strength of some 50 odd fighting ships and 20 submersibles (by 2025). It will be a bit like the hordes of police and NSG protecting our VVIP netas even as there are no police to spare for their main role — of keeping criminals off our streets and our throats. Moreover, carriers are impressive in peace time; in war they are, what, sitting ducks?

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Takeaways from Abe’s Visit

Rajya Sabha TV program — The Big Picture, broadcast September 14, 2017

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Pungyye-ri blast — Time India resumed thermonuclear testing (re-titled)

Image result for pics of north korean hydrogen bomb

North Korea did it. Exploded at the Punggye mountain site a genuinely full-bore thermonuclear weapon. The Richter scale registering 6.3 level seismic shock wave followed by a 4.1 level quake and huge rockslides, translatable to around 250 KT yield, though Western sources who have always underestimated North Korean nuclear prowess, claim these seismic reading denote yield in the 50-120 KT class. It  leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind that Kim Jun-Un now possesses the mighty Hydrogen Bomb. That should quiet the “fire and fury” talk by Trump and still the doubts Western strategic circles have to-date feasted on about Pyongyang still lacking the critical staged weapon threshold tech.

Indian government/Indian Ministry of Defence  have finally taken note, evident from some newspapers who get their regular feed on security matters from MOD reporting the disquiet especially about the North Korea- Pakistan angle, and how this would result in Pakistan soon being in possession of the essential two-stage fusion weapon design. “Der se ayai, per durust ayai”. Welcome to the real world, babu-log. Something this analyst has been belabouring in my books ‘India’s Nuclear Policy’ [2008] and ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’ [2015].

But the real culprit are not the nuclear tutpunjias — Pakistan and North Korea, but their nuclear master China which has continuously been disseminating nuclear expertise for over 30 years and thermonuclear material and design assistance over the last 15 years to Pakistan, which has been the remote channel helping North Korea become a thermonuclear weapons power. In fact, the boosted fission design the North Koreans last tested was one Pakistani scientists designed with Chinese help as, perhaps, is the hydrogen bomb. Pakistan has always been the route and instrumentality  that China used to nuclear arm North Korea.  I elaborated and updated all these various streams of evidence and material on this “rogue nuclear triad” in a piece “Countering the Rogue Nuclear Triad of China, Pakistan, North Korea” published July 25, 2016 by The Wire ( ). This was a piece Ryan Evans, chief editor of the Washington-based blog — ‘War on the Rocks’, highly popular with the US strategic Beltway community, had expressly solicited from me but refused to publish because of my solution it carried about how to deal with this triad — a solution I have been touting to GOI and in my writings since my time on the First National Security Advisory Board in 1998 — TRANSFER NUCLEAR-TIPPED MISSILES TO STATES ON CHINA’S PERIPHERY — Vietnam, for a start, followed by the Philippines, and any other country that lines up to oppose China.

After all, that was the metric Beijing used to arm Pakistan to contain India, and North Korea to contain Japan, thereby neutralizing its two main Asian rivals —  India and Japan. It was a reckless strategy China adopted, but it opened the door for a strong, expansively nationalist-minded government in Delhi to return the compliment in kind, considering Japan is still too colonized by the US to consider the option of, if not proliferating to 3rd countries, than to arming itself with H-Bombs to keep off China. The basic weakness in the extended deterrence notion is this: The US will be damned if it is going to come to Japan’s or South Korea’s or any other country’s rescue if that risks an annihilating North Korean atomic/hydrogen bomb strike on Guam or even Hawaii, what to speak of Los Angeles/San Francisco. The reason why I argued in the 2008 book that sooner rather than later, Japan. South Korea and Taiwan will serially/near simultaneously go weapons nuclear. I called them the “nuclear dominoes”.

Time is long past, I have been arguing, to begin paying back China in its own coin. But, here’s the problem. Rather than using North Korea’s thermonuclear blast to tell the world that all restraints are off, and India will resume fullscale open-ended testing of hydrogen weapons, MEA was fast and nearly the first off the block to excoriate North Korea for the H-test. (The S-1 test in the 1998 Shakti series of underground tests to reiterate again was a fizzle and unless we test again at full yield or, at a minimum, the certifiable and scalable 250 KT level, India cannot credibly claim ownership of thermonuclear weapons status.)  Can anything more retrograde for India’s nuclear security be imagined? This sort of reaction is not a surprise from an MEA with FS, K. Jaishankar, the lead negotiator of the nuclear deal with the US and therefore the prime official prop for it. He’d be most keen for India never to test again and thus imperil the N-deal, his handiwork,  from which India has got little it couldn’t have got without it, but has surrendered much. The larger question though is — Does the Modi government’s desire to please the US trump India’s national security interests???

And the still more pressing question is — why has Delhi not publicly decried the China-Pakistan-North Korea nuclear connection, and squarely blamed Beijing for the proliferation nightmares the world is in for? Why is China the beneficiary of the Indian government’s inability to perceive the primary threat to the country’s existence even as no opportunity is lost to rail against the minor, pipsqueak of a neighbour to India’s west? Oh, I know, I know. GOI is waiting for the US to do so first, whereupon the brave and bold in Delhi will suddenly wake up to the peril that’s always been posed by China, and only China.  Pakistan is a small sideshow that — if Delhi has the slightest strategic sense it will try its utmost to dissuade from climbing into Beijing’s pocket, which it almost has done  by signing on to CPEC. A whole slate of economic and other inducements as I have long argued is what Islamabad would find irresistible. Because let’s be absolutely plain about this: India finds itself unable to handle Pakistan very well, and it has in mind to tackle a Pakistan- fully allied with China?

But what about the nuisances — the LeT, JeM leaders prancing about Muridke and elsewhere — what stops the Indian military from deploying their Special Forces on strategic missions for a change to take them out? Or, RAW from arranging what needs to be done? Surely, these are options, the NSA, Ajit Doval, with his career in covert ops, is well suited to conceive and order. Then again, perhaps, the Modi govt thinks thundering on about “surgical Strikes” will do the trick.

But our “strategic” brains so stop working as soon as Pakistan heaves into view, it is pathetic, of course, but also so ridiculous — there’s nothing left to say. Moreover, with the BJP going deeper into the Hindutva mode and GOI and Indian military continuing to fixate on the so-called ‘Pakistan threat’, India is as likely as not to slip from the marginal position it now occupies in world affairs — truth be told —  to the sub-marginal state category Pakistan currently occupies. If Pakistan has China to lean on, we have Umrika bahadur. Right?

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The Priority List For Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman

Published in Bloomberg Quint 5 September 2017, at

Related image

Nirmala Sitharaman’s elevation as the Union Minister of Defence was met with deserved applause for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and, more predictably, a spate of news stories highlighting the “gimme” attitude of the military, with each armed service pitching its set of wants. Television channels meanwhile indulged in symbolism, portraying her – as a strappy, no-nonsense, ‘Durga’, presumably, ready to lay waste adversaries. There are the Mahishasuras to slay, many of them, she’ll find lurking in her own ministry and in the military. That should keep her busy for a long time. But, hopefully, Sitharaman will bring to her job the attributes that high-achievers of her gender are justly appreciated for – practical good sense, capacity for multi-tasking, and natural tact to make the demons smile even as she plunges the Trishul into them.


Firstly, the new defence minister has to inoculate herself against being overwhelmed and beguiled by technical jargon and minutiae and military pressure – all of which can get brains to freeze, as has regularly happened with her predecessors.


Secondly, she needs to set her goal. Does she mean to be transformational, or merely fill a South Block ministerial chair?

If transformation is what she has in her mind then it will require her to radically change the way the Ministry of Defence and the Indian military think, prioritise, and make decisions.

She’ll be upending a hoary system that, astonishingly, has been persisted with despite routinely making the wrong choices, misusing scarce national resources, and digging the country ever deeper into a strategic hole. It will require her to stomp and repeatedly on a whole bunch of very big toes. But the rewards of doing so for national security in the medium and long term will be immense.


Thirdly, Sitharaman needs to rejig the policy-making scheme to reform the functioning of the senior bureaucrats in her ministry as well as senior armed services officers she will be dealing with. The Government of India, as she’s well aware, follows a quaint tradition of civil servants making policy by defining the policy choices for the minister, thereby reducing their political bosses to ciphers.

Articulating policy is solely the minister’s task, and she will have to assert this prerogative, see to it that it is implemented within the time-frame that she sets.

She will have to hold the civilian officials and uniformed officers up and down the implementation loop, starting with the Defence Secretary, accountable for failure to achieve targets, shortfalls, and lapses. She would benefit from specialist advice and consider for this purpose having outside experts – not retired babus and the like – whose expertise she can tap. The premise here is the Ministry of Defence civil servants are mostly generalists, lack the technical expertise to render any counsel, leave alone write up policy choices. And, in this respect, to rely on technically competent military men may be to risk getting advice that is influenced by parochial service and combat arm biases.

Fourthly, this necessitates the Minister getting two policy fundamentals right.

Should China or Pakistan be the main threat to orient the military?

If she believes the latter poses the greater peril, she can save herself a lot of bother and carry on with the system in place. Additionally, if she believes that arms self-sufficiency-wise the country is doing fine by importing capital weapons platforms where it can and, where it must, cutting deals for assembling foreign weapons systems or manufacturing them under license, albeit mouthing ‘Make in India’ rhetoric, then the Minister needs to do nothing at all; the existing defence public sector units-dominated defence industry specialising in screwdriver technology can keep chugging.

If on the other hand, Sitharaman views China as the primary threat and feels that the wasteful habit of importing armaments is not the answer, not even in the short term, then the following are the priorities for her to consider.


1. Three Offensive Mountain Corps

The Doklam episode ended well this time around. But to deter China from using massive blunt force in the future, the desperate need is for three offensive mountain corps, each with an armoured division. The resources can be obtained by rationalising the present three strike corps into a single, large, composite corps for any Pakistan contingency because ‘Cold Start’ realistically is a No Start strategy, and shifting the freed up human and materiel resources to speedily raise two additional offensive mountain corps, to enable taking the fight to the People’s Liberation Army on the Tibetan plateau.

2. Indigenous Submarines

Project 75i to build yet another foreign diesel submarine from imported design makes no sense when a basic design by the submarine design directorate in the Indian Navy is available to work on, and an Indian company, Larsen & Toubro, has successfully constructed the far more technically demanding titanium-hulled Arihant-class nuclear-powered submarine.

The contract with the selected foreign ‘strategic partner’ could then be restricted to jointly translating the Indian navy design into engineering drawings and to fill other specific design and technology deficiencies.

3. Bigger Role For The Tejas

The Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) has progressed sufficiently to now outfit squadrons of the Indian Air Force. Except that HAL capacity is not enough for rapid augmentation of the Tejas aircraft in the fleet. The Defence Research and Development Organisation or the Aeronautical Development Agency should be instructed to fully transfer light combat aircraft technologies, including source codes, to two select private sector companies, with HAL retaining production rights as well. It will increase competition, labour productivity all round, and guarantee quality control. Also, The Indian Air Force should be made fully responsible for the LCA project and the follow-on advanced multi-role combat aircraft program. The defence minister should also order the IAF order-of-battle to comprise three types of aircraft — LCA/AMCA, Su-30, and FGFA (with Russia only because no other country will collaborate on such a venture).

The Navy’s Request for Information for carrier aircraft should be terminated, and the naval variant of Tejas fast-tracked for carrier operations under the Navy’s direct supervision.

4. Indigenous Hardware

Hereafter, all major hardware should be indigenously designed, developed and produced in “mission mode” without debilitating requirements of L-1 “lowest tender”, etc. which have to-date undermined plans to make the nation self-sufficient in arms. “Mission mode” is the principal reason, Sitharaman may recall, for the success garnered by all the indigenous strategic military programmes – nuclear weapons, the Agni series of ballistic missiles, and the nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine. Further, all arms production should be shared with the private sector companies who, like the defence PSUs, should be free to export derated versions of all the products they make to generate revenue and amortize investment.

5. New Generation Brahmos

The Brahmos supersonic cruise missile is the weapon China fears most. The New Generation (NG) smaller, lighter, Brahmos has been designed by the Russians. This should now be produced, like the LCA, by farming out its manufacture to several private sector firms, besides the Brahmos Aerospace defence PSU, so that large numbers of this newer, more lethal, missile in all its variants including the air-launched new generation version, is available more quickly to outfit Indian forces and for accelerated exports to countries on China’s periphery to keep Beijing quiet.


Finally, in league with Sushma Swaraj in the Ministry of External Affairs, Sitharaman should push in the Cabinet Committee on Security for establishing and operationalising full-fledged military bases – with the cost shared between the two ministries — in our own Andaman territories in Campbell Bay and Komorta, in North and South Agalega Islands in Mauritius, in the Seychelles, Na Thrang on the central Vietnamese coast, and on the northern Mozambique coast, as a means of enhancing the country’s diplomatic reach and political clout. The capability for distant military operations will ensure that at a minimum the extended Indian Ocean is India’s lake.

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Carrier aircraft muddle (augmented post)

(Navalised Rafale)

[This blog post re-published by BloombergQuint Sept 18, 2017 as “Personal Feud or Technical Flaw, why was Tejas rejected?” at


Trust the Indian armed services to make it difficult for themselves and the country at every turn. There’s a big muddle ahead, this time because the Indian Navy decided to issue an RFI (Request for Information) from suppliers for 57 twin-engined aircraft for its indigenous carriers, thereby shunting out, and deprioritizing in its plans, the naval Tejas. This because the naval brass decided that the weight problem — some two ton over mark — couldn’t be solved in time for it to grace the deck of  the IAC-1 Vikrant by when it is commissioned in 2021-22, and that this requirement has, therefore, to be met by imports.

The two aircraft in the fray are the Boeing F-/A-18 E/F Super Hornet — the main carrier plane with foldable wings of the US Navy until it is progressively replaced by the F-35C, and the Maritime Rafale Dassalt has been pitching for with SAAB’s Sea Gripen as a distant third, and not in the reckoning for reasons adduced below. SAAB’s offer to jointly develop with India was made in December 2015 at a time when the Navy was committed to the Tejas. Two years later the Rafale and F-18 are being pushed hard, the navalized Gripen prototype is ready, and the Indian Navy has soured on the home-grown LCA.

If there’s a problem with a new aircraft what do more advanced, strategic-minded, navies not habituated to the easy import option do? Well, take the F-35C. After repeated take-offs, the US Navy discovered a serious design flaw that made the catapult-assisted takeoffs so rough, and so disoriented the pilots just when the aircraft is getting airborne as to potentially prove fatal. The redesign, it is estimated will take several years, and the rectified plane won’t be available until 2020 or later. The US Navy tasked its ‘Red Team’ to work on the design modification and get the improved aircraft for trials fastest. Couldn’t the Indian Navy have constituted its own Red Team to work intensively with the LCA design team to trim its weight?

This was not feasible for many reasons, among them : (1) A personal mountain of a reason — bad blood between the lead test pilot in the naval LCA program, Cmde Jaydeep Maolankar, and Rear Admiral Surendra Ahuja, Assistant Controller Carrier Project and Assistant Controller Warship Production and Acquisition at NHQ. By all accounts, Maolankar is a top rated flier dedicated to the Tejas but Ahuja, with no flying experience, is nearer the seat of power and who, perhaps, to spite Maolankar, a batch mate, whose failure to make it to the next rank — however that was managed — was the talk in naval circles, convinced the naval brass that the LCA was no-go, and that its prospects are bleak.

[ ERRATA — My Wrong. Rear Admiral Ahuja is a certified test pilot, cleared for catobar flying from carrier deck, and among the first to operate the MiG-29Ks, as well as a number of other combat aircraft and even transport planes. This was a grievous error on my part of not researching more fully into RADM Ahuja’s career. Apologies.]

Many senior Admirals claim such skulduggery in promotions is not possible because there’s an Appraisals Board, etc. to prevent abuse at the level of promotion boards. In that case, how to explain the Armed Forces Tribunal in July this year holding Vice Admiral PK Chatterjee guilty of passing over many officers with excellent career records — all from the nuclear submarine arm, including Cmdr SS Luthra who had approached the Tribunal, to clear the upward path of his son-in-law Captain A V Agashe? (See ). Whence the Navy’s formal rejection of the Tejas. On such personal rivalries hang the fate of nations striving to be self-sufficient in armaments! And (2) It would mean giving up on a chance to import another foreign aircraft and forego all the goodies in train. Easier then for the Indian Navy to give up on the Tejas.

Having desperately hunted for excuses to reject it, Ahuja, possibly driven as much by institutional impulse as personal animus, finally found it in the aircraft’s excess weight and, rather than proposing remedial measures and doubling on the navy’s commitment and investment in an Indian designed and developed carrier aircraft, recommended ditching the naval LCA. Should the Modi government and MOD, assuming Arun Jaitley tomorrow takes over fully as Defence Minister, not instruct the Navy to rethink the import decision? Nah.  Jaitley doesn’t know the business end of an aircraft if it bumped him, even less the business end of aircraft development or the value of fostering indigenous aircraft design and development capability. Then again, when have the military services caviled from tilting always and every time toward expensive foreign imports and pushing the nation deeper into the military hardware import hole?

Why expensive? Because 57 is not a large enough number of aircraft to interest profit-driven foreign suppliers, and certainly not Boeing, especially not if in trying to service PM Modi’s flagship ‘Make in India’ program it is also required to make it in India which, in terms of economies of scale makes no sense to anybody. And buying this small lot of aircraft will mean the country paying through its nose for them.

The reason the Swedish SAAB Company will be happy to produce the Sea Gripen in India is because it is also very confident about selling some 200 of its air  force variant in competition with the F-16 in the new single-engined aircraft sweepstakes to equip the IAF, with attractive talk of fully transferring to India “all source codes” — the design-wise know-why element. But there’s yet another problem. Assuming the Sea Gripen is generally of the same size as the air force variant, then this aircraft, as stalwart naval persons will tell you, will barely fit on the lifts in the IACs that carry the planes on to the deck. Except, Sea Gripen is single-engined, doesn’t fit the 2-engined NSQR, and is not acceptable to the Navy. Boeing would be interested too if the IAF picked the F-18 for its fleet, except Boeing is unlikely to onpass source codes and other ‘black box’ technologies to any Indian private sector company or public sector firm, like HAL. Besides, it will be the 2-engined oddity in a single-engined aircraft buy by the IAF. But this plane too suffers from structural features that make it unfit for the Indian carriers — the wings of the F-18 do fold but at the wingtips when, to be accommodated in the elevator, the fold would have to be at the fuselage end.

The joker in the pack is Dassault, which’s hell-bent on selling its ‘Maritime’ version to the Navy to complement the initial sale of Rafale to IAF as a means of beefing up its wedge in the door strategy to sell in piecemeal lots at progressively higher prices more and more Rafales to the Navy and air force without having to go through the rigmarole of transfer of technology under ‘Make in India’ obligations. Senior naval persons inform that teams from Dassault and Boeing have visited Vikrant, taken measurements, and may come up with some solutions. Such as tilting the aircraft just a bit to get them onto the elevator and the hangar below-deck, for which purpose some re-engineering of the hydraulics in the elevators may be needed. So Rafale will be configured, equipped  with foldable wings if Dassault espies any chance of selling its naval variant.

All said and done, the fact of the matter is the entire race is going to be reduced to a two horse field. Here’s how. Washington will turn the tourniquet to prevent the Swedes from bagging the IAF deal. Ashley Tellis, of Carnegie Washington, the prime mover of American aircraft to the Indian armed services, Indian MOD and the only foreigner (albeit of Mumbai origin) — as I revealed in a piece I wrote last year and on this blog (look it up!)  to have the readiest access imaginable to Prime Minister Modi, has made this plain. In a recent article, he mentioned the fact that between 40% and 60% of the Gripen is composed of components, sub-assemblies and assemblies, including the power plant, sourced from America, that will need US government clearance! Does anybody in Stockholm or in Delhi really believe Gripen has an easy run into the IAF fleet, leave alone the run of the Vikrant deck?  But bring the canny French in with their Rafale and the competition becomes more interesting, less predictable.

But the Modi govt, having taken flak for the 36 aircraft Rafale buy and with the 2019 elections looming, will not allow the sourcing of the F-18s without the “make in India” component. This option could become available if India is willing to pay a horrendous price for it. So, it’s ruled out. The one and only solution then would be the default option of buying more improved MiG-29Ks for IACs 1 through 3 at enhanced cost — improvements in the aircraft, as Admirals reveal, that have been made at India’s expense, on the basis of enormous and invaluable 4 years’ test flying data accessible to the Russians.

But why blame the Russians, the Americans, the Swedes, the French and anybody else selling military equipment for taking advantage of India? That’s the logic of the armaments business. What is hurtful though is how the military services do next to nothing to correct the situation other than justify “immediate”/”urgent” need to line up the next series of imports and, absolutely incomprehensible why the Govt of India — whatever the party in power — is loath to implement drastic measures to end such abject dependency. Such as laying down a ‘No Imports’ Iron Rule which alone will compel the armed services seriously to turn to making indigenous projects successful because they’ll be bereft of other options. To make such decisions will take quite stupendous political will, but that’s what Narendra Modi was supposed to muster. No?

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