Russian offer of MiG LMFS, F-16, etc. as India faces a troubled world

Persons in the know say Russia is offering India the co-development of the MiG 1.44 in the updated LMFS configuration with a conformal bomb bay. Some years back, as noted in this blog, IAF then in the throes of the MMRCA decision had rejected the 1.44.  The Russian Air Force is streamlining its inventory to two types of combat aircraft — the “super” Su-30 and the MiG LMFS, Su plus a new generation strategic bomber to replace the Tu-160 Blackjack. The US Air Force is likewise restricting itself to the one type, all-purpose fighter plane — F-35 and its service variants.

If IAF is planning on a similar exercise as it should be doing then, as yet, there’s no hint of it. In any case, for the combat complement one type of aircraft, if anybody has any sense, has to be the indigenous Tejas LCA and its future variants, like the AMCA. It is the other type that will prove to be headache for the country. Just too many aircraft manufacturers are chasing down that slot, and have selected their Indian commercial partners in this venture with an eye firmly on the proximity of these partners to prime minister Modi. Dassault has tied up for its Rafale with Anil Ambani’s Reliance Aerospace and the Sweden’s SAAB for its Gripen E with the other A in the business world — the Adani’s. Neither Ambani nor Adani have done any aircraft production and have no production wherewithal ecen of a rudimentary kind set up by Mahindra. The only industrial engineering firm that has the resources, if not the actual experience, is L&T which, incidentally, dithered when asked in late 2014 to set up a Tejas production line to compete with HAL. This to say the country faces a nearly bare cupboard where the private sector manufacture of complex fighter aircraft is concerned.

The situation is actually a lot worse. With Trump in the White House, Modi’s earlier plan (hatched during the Obama Administration) of siddling up to the United States seems to have been upended. Not only has Washington not given a fig about Delhi’s concerns on the H1B visa issue but has gone ahead and issued an executive order to tighten up the Indian techie entry channel. It was just the prompting that other countries needed to put in place their own systems of minimizing the entry of Indian IT  and other qualified personnel. So Australia followed up by amending its 457 programme, notwithstanding Ausi PM Turnbull’s selfie taking with Modi on the Delhi metro, and Singapore clamped down as well. So all the channels are shutting down in Delhi’s face.

And, far from rearing up against China, Trump turned into a pussycat after hosting the Chinese President Xi Jinping at his resort White House in Florida, Mar-e-Lago, purring about how well the two had got along and why every thing is hunky-dory where US relations with Beijing are concerned. Meanwhile, Beijing jumped up and down and renamed certain parts of Arunachal Pradesh as a first step to claiming them outright, even as a confused and inactive Delhi has done little but mumble in its cups, when the right cartographic response should have been, as I have long suggested, for a start showing  Tibet in a colour other than the Chinese red in all Indian maps, to denote its questionable status as per the December 21, 1961 UN General Assembly Resolution seeking self-determination for Tibet. (India’s Kashmir will not be any more jeopardized because China, as it is, has by its actions supported Pakistan’s case.)  This in the context of the Dalai Lama finally showing grit to declare that he may in fact discover his reincarnation here (perhaps, to preempt Beijing’s announcing its own Dalai Lama as it has threatened to do).  Instead, MEA and PMO are most exercised about Cmdr Yadav in Pakistani captivity when Pakistan’s intent is plain — to use him as pawn to trade for ISI’s own Lt Col Mohammad Habib Zair, first lured to Lumbini in Nepal by RAW and then, if Pakistani sources are to be believed, shanghaied into India. In other words, with most of Modi’s foreign policy world collapsing around him, his government, typical of GOI, is preoccupied with the least important issue at hand!

Meanwhile — to return to the subject of aircraft! —  Lockheed is marshaling its considerable resources in Washington to pressure Modi when he visits Trump in June, into buying the museum-ready F-16, to add to the M-777 howitzer. If Modi could be cajoled into impulse purchasing the Rafale, there’s no guarantee he won’t succumb to Trump’s hectoring, lose his nerve and forget the leverage India has always had but which Delhi has never exercised — its vast, still quite open, market of a billion+ people, or succumb to the canny US President massaging the PM’s ego by various contrivances while dipping into Modi’s pockets for oodles of money he may be willing to shell out on India’s behalf for little in return.

Minister Nirmala Seetharaman has not so gently hinted that an obstreperous Trump will have to deal with the operations of US companies being hampered in India if the US does not ease up and here, again, she stressed the wrong issue — the H1B visas, when there are other graver concerns that should be agitating the government. But whether Modi will be clear in communicating Seetharaman’s intent and sticking by it once Trump rolls out the big guns, meaning the big Indian business houses that usually push the Washington line on everything, is another matter.

As suggested in a previous post, Arun Jaitley is not, unlike his predecessor Parrikar, the man to show at least some resistance against Modi. He’s there precisely to stand beside the PM with the national purse open and his mouth closed. The Finance minister has little instinctive interest or understanding of defence and national security matters except in the perfunctory sense. There’s every reason to believe, for instance, that as defence minister he has not so far studied the IAF’s requirements list and the best way to meet it, and understood the techno-economic sense of making Tejas the main combat aircraft for air force and navy, come what may, or considered just how to deal with the Navy’s expenditure plan amounting to Rs 123 Lakh crores in the foreseeable future. Because every rupee expended in extraneous spending such as on F-16 is a rupee denied the armed services to spend more wisely in the nation’s interest.

Posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, Australia, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, DRDO, 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 ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Russia, russian assistance, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, Tibet, UN, United States, US., Weapons | 44 Comments

McMastering Islamabad

Not a fortnight back India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval betook himself to Washington and there in his meeting with his US counterpart he squawked and he complained against, what else, Pakistani-sponsored terrorism in India. Yesterday, Lt Gen HR McMaster, Trump’s NSA made an unannounced trip to Islamabad. So it was the case in the one instance of Muhammad going to the Mountain and, in the other, of the Mountain coming to Muhammad!

Did McMaster at all talk sense to the Pakistani COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa or  Prime Minister Nawaz on the Kashmir-directed terrorism emanating from ISI quarters, or alert them to Delhi’s long standing grievance? It’d appear not, because all McMaster said was that he “had hoped for many, many years that the Pakistani leaders will understand that it is in their interest to go after these groups less selectively than they have in the past and the best way to pursue their interest in Afghanistan and elsewhere is through diplomacy not through the use of proxies that engage in violence.”

Had this statement been confined to the first part of it, namely,  “that the Pakistani leaders will understand that it is in their interest to go after these groups less selectively than they have in the past”, then Narendra Modi’s BJP regime, which seems to have made leaning on the US its foreign and security policy calling card, could have taken heart. After all McMaster would have been seen as buying into Delhi’s argument about Pakistan’s complicity. Instead, as the US NSA and his team made clear, Washington is desperately keen that the Pakistan Army not roil the Afghan scene by silk-gloving the terrorist  Haqqani Network elements who enjoy safe haven on the Pak side of the Durand Line, and by implication, that it doesn’t give a damn whether GHQ, Rawalpindi, reins in terrorist gangs such as the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad active in J&K, or not.

McMaster’s lightning visit also suggests that the Trump Administration understands well that the use of massive fuel air explosives to decimate Daesh (Islamic State) concentrations, will not do the trick. And hence that the frontline role of Pakistan is critical to a defeated US doing the obvious thing — declaring victory and getting the hell out!

In the event, there seems to be no end to lesson that Delhi is simply unwilling to learn! So, the class of Modi, Doval, Sushma Swaraj, Foreign Office, et al, sit you down, and repeat after me:

NO, the US is NOT in South Asia to support and advance India’s national interest.

NO, NO, the US is NOT in the least keen about stamping out terrorism at-large, leave alone terrorists discomfiting India, only terrorists directly threatening the US and its interests.

NO, NO,NO you can’t cut a mutually beneficial deal with President Donald J Trump — as the Indian PM expects to when he visits the US this year, unless the benefit tilts overly to the American side.

And NO, NO, NO, NO, umrika bahadur will NOT save India’s goose in any circumstances, and CANNOT be relied on to do anything other than work to bolster its own national interest at all times.

And, YES, India will have to further its own interests by itself, by whatever means and whatever it takes.

When the diplomatic geography is so little appreciated and basic precepts of international relations are ill-understood by the Indian leadership and, institutionally, by the Government of India, it is hardly to be wondered that India gets it in the neck all the time.

Posted in Afghanistan, Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian Politics, Internal Security, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Terrorism, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries | 22 Comments

Cmde Balaji’s detailed response to ADM Prakash’s critque of naval LCA

Cmde CD Balaji (Retd), who was, until March 31, 2017, Director, Aeronautical Development Agency, and head of the naval LCA programme since its inception in 2003, has responded strongly, substantively, and in considerable detail in an article reproduced below to former CNS ADM Arun Prakash’s attack on the naval Tejas.
It is of the utmost importance because it marks a heartening trend within the armed services of military men growingly backing the effort to indigenize armaments design, development and production and challenging the easy option adopted by the Services’ brass of favouring, in one way or another, hardware imports.
This piece originally was published in the Indian Defence Review, April 14, 2017, and is at


 Why Navy’s rejection of Naval LCA is wrong
 By Cmde CD Balaji (Retd)

Former Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Arun Prakash recently published an article severely critical of the Naval Light Combat Aircraft program (“Navy’s rejection is a lesson, failure of DRDO”, Economic Times, 8 February 2017). He attributed Navy’s exercising the foreclosure option to, what he calls, the programme’s “lethargic and inept performance” and indicated that the need for 57 deck based aircraft is to meet the requirements of the second Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-2).

He also alleged that the IAF has accepted the Mk-1 and Mark 1A variants of this aircraft into service with reservations, and concluded by saying that “A little introspection by those at the helm of this organisation would reveal to them three reasons for its abysmal performance despite a wealth of talent and a network of sophisticated laboratories — an exaggerated opinion of their capabilities; a lack of intellectual honesty in denying obvious failures and an unwillingness to seek external help when required”

Admiral Prakash may, perhaps, change his mind were he to be familiarized with the successes the Naval LCA Programme has notched up in the face of scepticism, institutional resistance, and reluctance to give the programme the benefit of doubt.

The LCA Navy team from the beginning was aware that it would be a challenging task to develop a deck based aircraft that very few countries have successfully negotiated, and which was being attempted for the first time in the country. At initiation, it was anticipated that the conversion of an Air Force version to a Naval version with specific attributes would entail about 15% change. However, as the detail design and development process unfolded, the teams involved realized that the changes were almost to the extent of 40% to 45%.

Notwithstanding this, the maiden flight of the first Naval Prototype (NP1) took place within nine years of government approval, which meets worldwide standards. What this effort has also done is generate a considerable knowledge base in the country in understanding the nuances of carrier borne aircraft design.

The areas of emphasis, as correctly brought out in Admiral Prakash’s article, are strong landing gear and the associated structural changes, such as increased nose droop to provide better over-the-nose vision, arrester hook integration, and a dedicated control law for ski jump take-off. However, the extent of thrust shortfall became evident only 4 to 5 years into the Programme, i.e., by 2007-08.

Naval specific features as envisaged in 2003 were taken into account and, not ignored, as charged in the article. The entire front fuselage was a new design, including a 4-degree additional nose droop, a new landing gear system that is longer and much stronger, and an arrester hook system.

In addition, a new leading edge control surface, viz., LEVCON was introduced to facilitate reduction in approach speeds for deck recovery. Due to this being a first-time effort to design and develop a carrier borne fighter aircraft, there was conservatism in the plan-form leading to a mass increase by about 400 to 500 kg. This is why the thrust available for deck take-off fell short of mission objectives. It was thus decided that the LCA Navy Mk1 would be only a ‘Technology Demonstrator’ and utilized to conduct carrier suitability tests and demonstration.

The statement made by the CNS Admiral Sunil Lanba on 03 December 2016 of the aircraft being overweight pertains to the LCA Navy Mk1, and not the redesigned and optimised LCA Navy Mk2.

It is apparent from Admiral Prakash’s article that the Navy has raised its Request For Information (RFI) for the procurement of 57 aircraft for the second Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-2), that the IAC-2 is intended to be a CATOBAR carrier (Catapult Take-off But Arrested Recovery) and is to be available in a decade’s time. However, a reading of the Navy’s RFI indicates that these aircraft are intended for the present STOBAR (Ski-jump Take-off But Arrested Recovery) carrier(s), viz., Vikramaditya and Vikrant and possibly for the IAC-2 (CATOBAR) as well. This does not mesh with Admiral Prakash’s statement about the 57 aircraft being specifically selected for IAC-2.

It is noteworthy that the conditions of operations in the Navy RFI in terms of Wind on Deck (WoD) and take-off run parameters are more favourable than those afforded the naval LCA programme.

It is also stated that IAF accepted Tejas into service in July 2016 with much reluctance because it fell short of many IAF qualitative requirements and had not secured Full Operational Clearance. This is an unfair and incorrect characterization given the public acceptance by the air force and current performance of the aircraft that meets the operational requirements of the IAF. Indeed, IAF is in the process of ordering 83 aircraft in addition to the 40 Tejas already ordered.

The LCA teams, the article claims, had an exaggerated opinion of their own abilities. Actually, the programme and people in it put in their best effort in realising a carrier borne aircraft with the available in-house knowledge base and also with inputs taken from external sources when required. All design solutions for the naval LCA were obtained after a great deal of brain storming. However, solutions were difficult to find within the existing boundaries of an already existing Air Force aircraft configuration. Even so, challenges were overcome and the LCA Navy Mk1 is currently in flight test.

More serious and personal was the charge that the ADA teams lack intellectual honesty. This is strange take on reality considering the teams have been absolutely transparent, especially about the project shortfalls. There were major setbacks due to failures during tests of nose wheel steering, of arrester hook jack damper, etc., which were well reported, recorded and new design solutions secured. Due to the introduction of a new structure, LEVCON, a dedicated test rig was built and tested to assess failure. There was a failure at 135% loading, and the aircraft structure was duly strengthened. Further, when the thrust shortfall was encountered, ADA went back to the Cabinet Committee on Security in Dec 2009, with Navy in the loop, to seek a configuration with a higher thrust engine. This was the genesis of the LCA Navy Mk2.

Nor was there any hesitation in seeking external help when required. For instance, ADA has signed a Foreign Military Sale (FMS) case with the US Navy for Carrier Suitability test inputs. It resulted in valuable inputs and extensive auditing of the test plans. This contract made available Pilot and LSO training in the US to the ADA flight test crew. In 2005, there was an engagement with RAC MiG to audit the landing gear and arrester hook design. Notwithstanding such consultancies, there were design failures as earlier mentioned, which needed rectification. The LCA Navy Mk2 is evolving with the participation of Airbus Defence & Space as consultants.

Whilst the operational requirements of the Navy and their immediate need to get suitable deck based aircraft are understandable, the rejection of the Navy LCA Programme, while Navy’s prerogative, may not be in the national interest as it undermines the underway indigenisation effort in the country. The failures of LCA Navy Mk-1 should not, however, be projected on to the LCA Navy Mk2, which is progressing well at ADA – a development effort supported by CNS.

Briefly, let me outline the current progress of the LCA Navy Programme. The primary focus of the LCA Navy Mk1 Technology Demonstrator has been towards Carrier Compatibility Tests (CCT), inclusive of ski jump take-off and arrested recovery. Significant progress has been made in the ski jump launch, and lead-up activities for arrested recovery.

Dedicated Control Laws have been established for the Naval version of Tejas to meet the challenging objectives. Thirteen Ski-jump launches have so far been done at Shore Based Test Facility (SBTF) in Goa. The Simulation Model has been validated and there is sufficient confidence in it for predicting performance of the aircraft when getting airborne from the carrier. The capability to carry out a hands-free take-off has been one of the highlights of the Programme.

Further, Hot Refueling has been demonstrated, which is a significant capability enhancer and has facilitated coverage of higher number of test points in a sortie. Towards arrested recovery, over 100 Field Carried Landing Practice (FCLP) sorties have been carried out, including High Sink Rate Landings. The other achievements are that both LCA Navy Mk1 prototypes have, among other things, flown supersonic, gone to high angles of attack of as much as 23 degrees, and carried out in-fight fuel jettisoning.

As part of overall design and development, a dedicated Structural Test Specimen of LCA Navy (STS-N) has been developed and integrated with the Main Airframe Static Test (MAST) Rig. This in fact is a full aircraft structure which is extensively instrumented. The structure is loaded in the MAST with the loads that the aircraft is likely to face in actual service usage (limit load) and the integrity is monitored. The structure is then loaded to 1.5 times (ultimate load) the load to check the reserve margin available. For example, for clearing 8 ‘g’ envelope, the structure is loaded to 12’g’ in the MAST. This provides ample confidence as regards the structural integrity of the aircraft to operate in a Carrier Borne scenario.

A carrier borne Naval aircraft needs extensive testing at the SBTF prior to its actual test and deployment on an aircraft carrier. After a worldwide search, it was found that the US Navy has shore facilities for catapult take-off and arrested recovery, but lacks a ski-jump facility. The other facility is in Crimea and features ski-jump for launch and arrested recovery, except it is in a state of disrepair and has no Restraining Gear System (RGS) as on the aircraft carrier to hold back the aircraft during take-off.

Considering these factors, it was decided to build our own test facility, as a part of the LCA Navy Programme, to replicate an aircraft carrier, to the extent feasible, with a ski-jump for take-off and arrested landing facility. Accordingly, the SBTF was constructed. Further, in the national interest, it was decided that its specifications cater for heavy aircraft (MiG-29K) and lighter planes (LCA Navy). If Return on Investment is a criterion, Navy’s financial contribution to the Naval LCA Programme is being more than paid back by the SBTF, which is being used extensively for its MiG 29K requirement.

As is evident, no effort has been spared by the teams in progressing various activities of design and development of the Naval version of LCA. In addition to the development of the aircraft itself, significant test facilities and activities have been advanced in parallel with regard to the LCA Navy Programme. Despite the rejection by the Navy the LCA Navy team is committed to developing a viable deck based fighter aircraft in the country.

Posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Decision-making, Defence Industry, domestic politics, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Russia, russian assistance, russian military, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Weapons | 6 Comments

Why Arun Jaitley As Defence Minister Ought To Be An Interim Arrangement

As far as Manohar Parrikar is concerned, it was a perfect storm. The Goa political scene was on the boil. The odd-makers who had favoured the Congress party to get more seats than the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state elections and to form a government by itself or in coalition with smaller pesky provincial outfits were all but proved right. The dissent in BJP seemed by and large immune to Parrikar’s remote management by telephone and weekly trips. Add to this mix Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party boss Amit Shah’s determination to not let this coastal state slip out of BJP’s grasp and, in parallel, Parrikar’s growing discomfiture with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) looking over his shoulder and subtly and not so subtly influencing his Ministry of Defence decisions, and you had a defence minister primed to leave at a moment’s notice. Once the election results were announced, and Shah suggested that Parrikar pack up and save the day for the BJP in Goa, he did just that, deftly maneuvering the power right out of the clueless and complacent Congress party’s state in-charge, Digvijaya Singh’s hands.


The trouble though is that instead of selecting a defence specialist – such as, say, VK Saraswat, the former head of the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) and Science Adviser to Defence Minister now being wasted in the NITI Ayog – the Prime Minister plonked, even if as an interim measure, for Arun Jaitley. Happy in the Finance Ministry, Jaitley is once again saddled with overseeing the military for which he had shown little interest in his earlier concurrent stint as defence minister.


 Jaitley has been a member of the policy establishment for many decades and, as such, tilts towards the status quo, accepting the conventional wisdom on almost every issue of public import. Thus, whatever Modi’s agenda, Jaitley’s ‘don’t rock the boat’ attitude has translated into policy incrementalism and economic reforms carried out at a deliberate pace. Where defence is concerned, this tendency would only be heightened, strengthening, in turn, the military’s institutional conservatism. Between the armed services’ inertia and Jaitley’s ‘do as little differently as possible’ outlook, the Indian military’s organization and its mindset, will remain industrial age even as the Chinese and other more advanced counterpart forces will transition to fifth generation ‘hybrid’ warfare featurng space-based weapons and robotic systems.

Jaitley and Parrrikar’s record at South Block

As Finance Minister, Jaitley stopped the raising of the first offensive mountain corps in its tracks, saying the country could not afford the costs involved of Rs 64,000 crore. As concurrently Defence Minister, he stuck by that decision, resulting in the Panagarh-based 17 Corps being only half-raised with only the 59 Mountain Division under command; and the second such unit, the 72 Mountain Division still to see the light of day. But here Jaitley took his cue from the Prime Minister.

At the December 2015 Combined Commanders’ Conference, Modi had declared, somewhat cryptically, that “[Military] modernisation and expansion of forces, both at the same time, is a difficult and unnecessary goal”. In practical terms this meant, for instance, that the government would somehow come up with the Rs 84,000 crore ($12 billion) as payment to “modernise” the Indian Air Force with the April 2015 impulse-buy by Modi in Paris of 36 Rafale combat aircraft, but defund 17 Corps, that would enable the Indian Army for the first time to take the fight to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army on the Tibetan Plateau.

In contrast, the Rafale decision was resisted by Parrikar. An IIT Bombay graduate he approached the problem as an engineer would, to conclude correctly that it made no sense to purchase the Rafale and that too in such small numbers. The ready solution is for the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft and the Sukhoi Su-30MKI to afford the country a formidable one-two punch at a fraction of the cost. The Tejas and its variants can be developed and inducted on a war-footing as the bulk air defence aircraft. The Su-30MKI, regarded as the best multi-role warplane in the world, and assembled by Hindustan Aeronautics in Nasik, can perform the strike and air superiority missions. Also in the inventory are upgraded MiG-29s and Mirage 2000s secondarily to rely on.


Because Jaitley may not have specialist outside counselors to guide him, he is likely to, when not doing what PMO asks him to do, simply follow the advice given by generalist civil servants in Ministry of Defence and/or the uniformed brass. Jaitley may not study the complex issues and do what Parrikar did in mid-2016 when, despite great pressure from the Navy, he ruled out a heavy 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier.


Later in the year, Parrikar proved that arms self-sufficiency was more than a political slogan for him. In a meeting in South Block in September last year, Parrikar first heard out the case for sustaining the naval LCA programme and then the arguments by Rear Admiral Surendra Ahuja – who is Assistant Controller of Carrier Project and Assistant Controller of Warship Production & Acquisition – for terminating this home-grown fighter plane. Parrikar, while approving a Request for Information (RFI) for carrier aircraft, which the navy was desperately seeking, ordered that there would be no let-up in the LCA programme, and the realisation of the Tejas Mk-1A, Mk-2, the naval LCA and the follow-on Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft would proceed full steam. The beauty of this decision is that by the time the RFI process is completed in 2022 or so, the naval Tejas will be ready for carrier deployment, and the RFI becomes defunct.


Jaitley is unlikely to be as sagacious a defence minister as Parrikar. What then explains the Prime Minister’s installing him in the Ministry of Defence? It could be that he wants Jaitley helming both the defence and finance ministries just so tens of billions of dollars can be rifled up for military hardware acquisition deals, including for the antique F-16 fighter aircraft – good only for museum display – to please the President of the United States Donald J Trump. Modi is set to visit Washington D.C. in May.

Posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Decision-making, Defence Industry, domestic politics, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Russia, russian assistance, russian military, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons | 8 Comments

A Trump-Putin deal on S-400 not firing in Syria?

After President Donald Trump ordered an  air strike on the Syrian Shayrat Air Force Base in retaliation for the Syrian chemical weapons attack on the town of Khan Shiekhoun, one of the biggest concerns for the USAF ops planners was the presence in the area of the deadly Russian S-400 air defence system.  Well, the slow-moving, low flying Tomahawk cruise missiles could have been shot out of the sky by the S-400. the question is why weren’t they fired?

One can speculate that there was a deal struck between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that permitted the US to carry out the strikes by 59 Tomahawks unmolested by the S-400 anti-aircraft missiles so long as the cruise missiles did not target the tarmac nor overly inconvenience the Syrian Air Force. Sure enough, as the Independent newspaper of London reports, Syrian attack aircraft, parked in hardened shelters dotting the air field, or flown out for the duration of the US attack, began staging out of this base the day after the cruise strikes. (

In fact Trump lamely explained that other than the runways were targeted because modern technology facilitated very fast repairs and recovery and, implicitly, that the cruise missiles would be wasted. This raises the question: What exactly did the Tomahawks take out?

Apparently not the runways, nor the ATC paraphernalia. That leaves only the radar and communications systems. Perhaps, these were was knocked off but without destroying them fully. Otherwise, the air activity out of Shayrat couldn’t have resumed so quickly and without a decent interval for capability restoration.

Something smells here! And the odour is of a Trump-Putin deal — the US cries retribution and is allowed by Russia a minor score against Shayrat even as the Trump-Putin communications line is not endangered, kept open for future mutually beneficial transactions.  There’s no other explanation that so many cruise missile with great terminal accuracy do so little damage.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, Decision-making, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, Iran and West Asia, Missiles, Russia, russian military, United States, US., Weapons, West Asia, Western militaries | 24 Comments

A Disruptive Nuclear China and India’s Imperatives

Published as “In a Nuclear Imbroglio, a Disruptive China and India’s Imperatives are Stark Realities” in Global Dialogue Review , Volume 5, Number 1, January/February/March 2017


The United States policies and nuclear security literature have been the model and set the precedent for other countries to follow in the nuclear realm. Washington has striven to delegitimize the possession of nuclear weapons by less developed countries, to sustain a global nuclear order based on the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and to control nuclear developments especially in the subcontinent. By using different metrics of security the concerns and motivations of the five NPT-recognized nuclear weapon states (NWS) – US, Russia, United Kingdom, France, and China, the so-called P-5, have been de-linked from those of the non-NWS and the NPT non-signatories, such as India and Pakistan. This unhelpful tendency is beginning to be mended. A recent ‘Threat Assessment Brief’ by the influential Arms Control Association in Washington, DC, the leading non-proliferation lobby, for the first time expressly concedes the connection between what the US does as the leading nuclear weapons power, and how – by way of response calculi — it shapes the thinking of the Chinese, Indian, and Pakistani governments and determines the quality, quantity, posture, deployment patterns, and growth of their nuclear assets.[1]

This admission of the action-reaction effects of US nuclear policies on other nuclear weapon states is a good start. But there’s another, more important, reality that remains in the shadows — the collusive arrangements among the P-5 to not just overlook but actually condone each other’s past and continuing policies of deliberate nuclear proliferation. It served their respective national interests while imperilling the disarmament goal the P-5 publicly swear by.

The Obama Administration, contrary to its “weapons free world” rhetoric, earmarked one trillion dollars over the next 30 years to modernize and upgrade the US strategic triad, with a new strategic bomber, a more silent and lethal nuclear-powered ballistic nuclear missile firing submarine (SSBN) and a land-based advanced inter-continental range ballistic missile (ICBM).[2] Indeed, the US has spent some $8.25 billion in just improving one B61-12 atomic bomb.[3] To neutralize US and NATO conventional military superiority, Russia has emphasized a beefed up strategic muscle with induction of technologically impressive weapons and delivery platforms, including the new Topol-M ICBM, the Yassen-class SSBN, and the refurbished Tu-180 ‘Blackjack strategic bomber.[4] China’s strategic arsenal is, likewise, undergoing rapid growth and technological updating,  inclusive of the DF-41 ICBM with multiple warheads, the Jin-class SSBN, and the H-6K bomber.[5] The British and French nuclear forces are alike in that, while smaller in size than during the Cold War years, feature advanced platforms and thermonuclear warheads for their attack systems (such as the British Trident SSBN).[6] This short summary of the state of the modernization of the P-5 strategic forces is to suggest that the Bomb will remain, for a very long time, the final arbiter of international relations. This is the context in which China’s unbridled nuclear proliferation policy abetted by Washington’s power politics considerations will be examined and India’s strategic imperatives located.

Washington looked on as China clandestinely dealt nuclear weapons and missile technologies to Pakistan, sanctioning Islamabad only after that country had served its purpose as a frontline state needed to militarily unsettle the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and Beijing had achieved its realpolitik aim of containing India to South Asia.[7] Seeing it as a virtual cost-free exercise, Beijing proceeded some two decades later to just as brazenly nuclear missile arm North Korea.[8] In both these instances, Washington did nothing, especially with regard to Pakistan and showed its disapproval after the nuclear genii had been uncorked. It crystallized, what I have called, the “rogue nuclear triad” comprising China and its nuclear clients – Pakistan and North Korea, helped along by a complicit US.[9]

If Washington turned a Nelson’s Eye to China’s transgressions, the rest of the international security and strategic enclaves had their attention on the wrong ball while this nefarious activity was progressing. Like a deft magician, China moved the worries about possible nuclear catastrophes involving Pakistan in South Asia and North Korea in Northeast Asia to centre stage while diverting the world from its own principal role as a proliferant and sustainer of these two countries as unpredictable outlier and outlaw states which could, at any moment in time, do the unthinkable – initiate a nuclear exchange and, depending on how, when, and where other countries are drawn into the vortex, even a “catalytic” nuclear war engulfing the whole world.[10]

China – chief nuclear proliferator

China has been the assiduous spider proactively spinning an intricate nuclear web in which over the years it has been able to ensnare most of its adversary states, in the main, India, Japan, and the United States. Beijing very early reasoned that keeping its enemies in check required it to transfer nuclear weapons and delivery system technologies to their regional competitors. So, with great strategic forethought, the relevant materials and expertise were covertly onpassed to Pakistan in the late 1970s and to North Korea in the 1990s. It achieved its primary purpose of keeping India and Japan preoccupied with the nuclear danger at their respective doorsteps. Specifically, China helped Pakistan to not just assemble an implosion device according to a Chinese blueprint but conducted a test explosion of the assembled Pakistani device at its nuclear underground testing site in Lop Nor in 1990 to prove it works.[11] As Gary Milhollin, a stalwart proliferation researcher at the University of Wisconsin observed “If you subtract Chinese help from Pakistan’s nuclear programme, there is no Pakistan’s nuclear programme.”[12]

China is thus at the heart of the global proliferation problem, encouraging an enabled Islamabad and Pyongyang to cooperate with each other, to enhance each other’s nuclear weapons and missile capabilities under its discreet technical guidance and political-military protection, and prompting them to go rogue on their own to further roil the regional and international security situations by proliferating their nuclear wares to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Gaddafi’s Libya, Iran and whosoever else is willing to pay a lot of money in hard cash.[13] This quite extraordinary phenomenon of a proliferation cabal headed by China is not reported by the international media, nor analyzed in policy circles in terms of how it affects regional security scenarios. And there’s no talk of punishing China because it has, in the meantime, built up huge trade, economic, and investment interlinks with the US and the West, and has become an important prop for the existing world order. It is this Chinese involvement in, and the stability of, the international system that Washington does not want to put at risk by prosecuting punitive policies against China, whatever the stake. And Pakistan is still a “frontline” state with continued utility to the US where Afghanistan is concerned, and in any case has crossed the nuclear weapons Rubicon, just as North Korea has.

The US, the self-designated globocop, having refrained from policing China has concerned itself with preventing the India-Pakistan “nuclear flashpoint” from sparking at one end of Asia and, at the other end, Japan and South Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons of their own owing to the latters’ concerns  about the “extended deterrence” afforded by US, an unreliable ally.[14] Even though victimised, India and Japan have chosen not to impose serious costs on China and, together with the US, actually helped Beijing legitimate itself as mediator and an indispensable part of any arms control solution (on the Korean peninsula).

China, the nuclear Dr. Frankenstein, swearing by the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty that it has fatally weakened, continues to enhance the capabilities of the twin monsters it has created. Beijing has financed the construction of four 50MW natural uranium-fuelled nuclear power plants in Khushab to enable Pakistan to produce weapon-grade plutonium for more effective armaments, and assisted it in designing and developing low yield, possibly miniaturised tactical nuclear warheads to fit the 44 mm diameter size of the Nasr 60 km rocket. More recently, it has guided Pakistan and North Korea jointly to design, develop, and to test a fusion-boosted fission (FBF) weapon – Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear test, without Pakistan facing sanctions for resuming nuclear testing.[15] For Beijing to so bald-facedly spread nuclear weapons of mass destruction technologies and, far from suffering any ill-effects, actually have more diplomatic and political leverage accrue to it, indicates a foreign policy of a very high order. When confronted, Beijing refers to the “the root causes of proliferation” and the need for “international cooperative efforts to mitigate” the risk.[16] Small wonder that with such dextrous policy China is elbowing out the US from its pivotal position in Asian and the world stage, and fast reducing India and Japan to countries of at most sub-regional consequence.[17] But assisting Pakistan become an NWS doesn’t mean Islamabad can expect any active Chinese help in case of a nuclear war with India, because that would expose China to Indian retaliatory strikes.

What India must do

The Indian government has not had the will and the hard-nosed attitude to payback Beijing in the same coin by nuclear missile arming weak states with territorial disputes with China and keen to obtain the wherewithal to deter and dissuade Chinese aggression, such as Vietnam and the Philippines. Such counter-proliferation would bring about parity in the security situations facing China and India, and is an eminently doable policy foresworn by New Delhi owing to its moral and other inhibitions against acting forcefully vis a vis China. Indeed, India’s supposed moral standing was used by the West for decades after it reached the weapons threshold in early 1964 against its becoming a full-fledged NWS, and positively reinforced its non-proliferation policy tilt by trumpeting India as a “responsible” state. So what would be most effective in defanging China strategically remains unimplemented even as India suffers from a Chinese fuelled nuclear security situation turning against it. Even the “nationalist” Bharatiya Janata Party government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has agreed only to transfer the conventional warheaded Brahmos supersonic cruise missiles to Hanoi, and even these are yet to be shipped. The Brahmos missiles, effectively employed by Vietnam, has the potential to bottle up the powerful Chinese South Sea Fleet and the secret “Fourth Fleet” tasked for the Indian Ocean in the Sanya naval base on Hainan Island. A string of Brahmos missile equipped states on China’s periphery would dampen Beijing’s instincts to throw its weight about in Asia. Should India decide at any time to up the game and arm these Brahmos systems with nuclear weapons it will finish once and for all Chinese adventurism in Southeast Asia and extended region. Alas, no Indian government has had the strategic vision and the political determination to pursue such policies of retribution.

There’s a fundamental problem facing India that the Indian government has done nothing to correct. The 1998 test of the weaponizable fusion device was a “fizzle” and, absent a new series of open-ended tests of high-yield thermonuclear or hydrogen weapons, the Indian fusion armaments in the armoury pack little credibility and inspire no confidence. But the Indian government has been reluctant to resume nuclear testing, which may be sourced to the Indian government’s unwillingness to imperil the 2008 nuclear deal with the United States predicated on India’s sticking with its “voluntary test moratorium”. Thus, in any conceivable future strategic face-off with China, India will be psychologically crippled in responding to Chinese megaton nuclear weapons. [18] In comparison to the only proven Indian warhead of  20 kiloton(KT) yield, the standard issue weapon carried by the Chinese Dong Feng (East Wind) series of missiles — DF-3, DF-4, DF-5, DF-21, and DF-41, have yields ranging from a minimum of one megaton to 3.3 megatons, i.e., with destructive power 50 to 150 times that of their Indian counterpart. Facing such yield differential will impose a “brain freeze” in New Delhi, which has time and again showed it loses its nerve in crises of far lesser import.

China’s nuclear forces – the Second Artillery Strategic Forces (SASF), have a complicating configuration. Under its command and control are both nuclear tipped and conventional missiles. There is no extant technology to distinguish a nuclear warhead from a conventional (chemical) high explosives warhead of a missile in flight. Thus, any missile fired by China from anywhere will have to be assumed to be nuclear and a nuclear retaliation would have to get underway even before the Chinese weapon impacts its target. The SASF and Chinese logic behind mixing up conventional and nuclear missiles under a single controlling structure, in the event, is obscure. The only way to make sense of it is to see it as a means to make the Chinese deterrent more opaque, offer forward forces more strategic flexibility, stretch the deterrent effects of SASF units in the field, and otherwise to induce extreme caution in adversaries. The enemy state will have to assume the worst that because any missile fired by China could be nuclear, it will have to take care to not let hostilities begin, or do anything Beijing may consider provocative enough to merit launching its missiles.

In practical terms though, the firing of any missile from the vast Chinese holdings (some 200) of the short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) and medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) on the Tibetan plateau will require the Indian Strategic Forces Command (SFC) to plan on the basis that any incoming missile fired from Tibet in a southerly direction and detected by Indian radars will necessarily trigger a nuclear counter strike. With the road-mobile canisterized Agni-5 ready-to-fire missiles, India presently has a Launch-on Warning capability.[19] It is necessary therefore that the Indian government make it plain to Beijing that it is the SASF that will have to be very careful not to start a nuclear affray. The shorter the time lag between the detection of a Chinese missile launch and the firing of Indian missiles in retaliation, and the more automatic this process of Indian reaction, the greater will be the hair-trigger situation that will be created and, hence, the greater the credibility of the Indian deterrent posture, even if hobbled in a more massive exchange by the lack of proven thermonuclear weapons in its arsenal. The problem is the rapid augmentation of missile numbers and weapons quality requires open-ended testing of both the fusion warheads and missiles, which neither the Manmohan Singh’s Congress Party government in the period 2004-2014 nor the successor Modi regime have permitted. This is having the effect of blunting the slight advantage the Indian strategic forces initially enjoyed with respect to the lesser foe, Pakistan.

The Agni-5 (or A-5) intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) has advanced technologies, such as an all-composite rocket motor, guidance on chip, and a nosecone geometry that, depending on the extent of warhead miniaturisation, can also accommodate from three to eight weapons in MIRV (multiple independently targetable vehicles) mode, i.e, a single missile can take out three to eight different targets. These and other technological advances will be retrofitted on existing 700 km range A-1 SRBM, the 1500 km range A-2 and 2000 km range A-3/A-4 MRBMs. But the A-5/A-6 intercontinental range ballistic missiles in the development stage, and the  3500 km range K-4 IRBM and the K-5/6 intercontinental range submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) carried by the Arihant and the successor class of SSBNs in the Indian strategic triad are oriented specifically for China. Having undergone harbour trials and sea trials, including trials of submerged firing of the K-4 missile, Arihant will by late 2016 or early 2017 enter fleet service. It is a more silent boat than the second generation Chinese Jin-class SSBN, and leagues better than the first lot of Chinese submersibles, the Xia-class SSBN, which were so noisy they rarely put out to sea and, on the rare occasions when they did, could be heard all the way to Guam! The lack of blue water experience of the Chinese Navy will likely result in the Jin-class SSBNs being deployed not far from home shores. While its onboard Julong Jl-2 SLBM will be unable to hit the US, it can reach the Indian homeland. Such strikes by China’s SLBMs will be most effectively deterred, I have argued, by forward basing the Arihant SSBNs in northern Australia to increase their loiter times off the South and East China coasts. At a minimum, it will hold hostage the wealth-producing areas around Chinese coastal metropolises, such as Shanghai and the short impact times of Indian SLBMs will match those of the Chinese SRBMs and MRBMs emplaced in Tibet.[20]

Most of China’s intermediate and intercontinental range ballistic missiles are held in secure and invulnerable horizontal tunnels excavated in the mountains in the Chengdu and Qinghai regions. Indian long range missiles – those not canisterised and road/rail mobile — too will be increasingly deployed in similar tunnels in the Himalayas, with the launchers mounted on railway wagons which will be hauled out, to be free of the mountain overhang, for firing.[21] The Arihant has so far launched a K-4 IRBM but in a depressed trajectory; it will have to be test-fired from submerged positions to extreme ranges to validate it and the onboard vertical launch system. Under development is the longer range K-5/6 SLBM that constitutes India’s survivable second strike capability – the core of the Indian nuclear deterrent. When fully deployed, the Indian sea-based deterrent will be potent enough to threaten unacceptable damage and wide area destruction and dissuade Beijing from testing New Delhi’s strategic restraint. [22] The airborne part of the Indian triad is filled by the medium range Su-30 MKI fighter-bomber aircraft pending the acquisition of a genuine strategic bomber. There’s talk of the Indian government approving the purchase of four Tu-22M3 ‘Backfire’ bombers, which will transpire in only one aircraft being on station at any given time. Moscow has proposed that India buy/lease 20 Backfire bombers (a squadron plus reserve) to enable half of them to be on deterrence duty, and are superior to the Chinese H-6K bomber.[23] A more potent recallable and flexible aerial deterrent solution, I have contended, is the Russian Tu-160 strategic bomber, which has been available for India to lease for some time now but which option the Indian Air Force has not so far favoured.[24]

China claims to have no more than 250-odd nuclear weapons. The US and Russian military intelligence agencies estimate the Chinese force strength at upwards of 800 nuclear weapons. Given the discrepancy in numbers I have suggested that the average of the estimates at the lower and higher ends should be the number for India to shape its strategic forces around. This number for the Chinese force strength is around 500-525 nuclear weapons. For India’s deterrence strategy to be viable would require a build-up to the 500 plus nuclear weapons level, and thereafter for the Indian forces to remain in lockstep with the Chinese counterpart forces in size and quality to ensure Beijing never has an edge.[25] Constant force augmentation is, in fact, permitted by the inherently “elastic” concept of “credible minimum deterrence” at the heart of the Indian nuclear doctrine.[26]

Nuclear deterrence is ultimately a mind game and China has the upper hand because its rulers have cultivated a reputation over the past 70 years of not taking guff from any country, not backing down in the face of military disadvantage, and of reacting forcefully and unpredictably to even the remotest provocation. It has always acted as a great power should and is now reaping the benefit of not being taken lightly by anyone. India’s record, on the other hand, is of New Delhi habitually accommodating and appeasing bigger powers, and backing down when pressed. In a nuclear contingency, therefore, the Chinese pronouncements will always carry more weight. Even so, conflict between India and China is unlikely to ever become nuclear sphere because both the countries believe in deterrence, not nuclear warfighting, and both adhere to the No First Use principle.[27] It won’t happen also because the A-5 and the Arihant can wreck prohibitive damage.

India and Pakistan

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists sizes the Indian inventory at around 110 nuclear weapons.[28] However, a report by the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad, suggests India possesses fissile material to make as many as 356 to 492 nuclear weapons.[29] But in terms of actual weapons fielded by Pakistan’s fast growing weapons inventory, currently standing at 130 plus weapons, eclipses India’s.[30] So, why unlike everybody in the Indian strategic community and every agency of the India government, including the Indian armed services, do I discount and, over the years have consistently underplayed, any real threat of nuclear war with Pakistan?

Nuclear weapons have their political uses (to increase the status and prestige of a country) and are critical to deterring an otherwise heftier enemy from militarily reducing a country. But inherent in the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons as between nuclear weapon states is the likelihood of a war of annihilation. Cut from the same social and cultural fabric, India and Pakistan have not waged and cannot in the future wage a war of annihilation owing to their organic links — “partitioned” families and communities, ongoing kith and kinship relations, and shared religion, social values, norms, cuisine, language, and ethos, which act as tremendous political constraints on the governments in the two states.[31] In the event, what has obtained in the subcontinent are limited “wars of manoeuvre” that fit the description of them by the late Major General D.K. Palit, Director, Military Operations during the 1962 War with China, as “communal riots with tanks”. This is because Indo-Pakistan military hostilities are time, space, and intensity constrained and fit the metrics of riots.[32] This does not preclude tough talk and nuclear bluff and bluster, which is the warp and woof of nuclear deterrence. Nor does it prevent India and Pakistan from taking precautionary measures, such as putting nuclear forces on alert in case of incidence of conflict — reasonable actions that are invariably misinterpreted by the West and feed its alarm about the “nuclear flashpoint”.[33] It is a line that Islamabad understandably propagates because it legitimates its nuclear deterrent[34] and, more importantly, guarantees US intervention in case of hostilities endangering Pakistan.

This does not rule out the use of nuclear weapons by Islamabad or any other country, as the UK government policy paper says, “to deter the most extreme threats to [its] national security and way of life, now and in the future.”[35] But such a threat has never been posed by India in the conflicts so far (1947-48, 1965, and 1999). The 1971 War was an exception to this rule, but only because the hideous political mismanagement of East Pakistan by the martial law regime in Islamabad compounded an even worse military strategy of stretching the defensive forces thin around the then East Pakistan border, which allowed small breaches in defence to widen, with the help of the rear area operations by the Bangaldeshi Mukti Bahini guerillas, into pathways for the Indian forces to race to Dhaka. In this respect, it may be recalled that the original directive by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to the army was to occupy a thin sliver of East Pakistan territory on which to install a “government in exile”, which was then expected to negotiate with General Yahya Khan in Pakistan.[36]

The public announcements by Pakistani officials during crisis, notwithstanding, the Pakistan army cannot, realistically speaking, afford  initiating use of nuclear weapons because of the sheer disparity of resources and a very adverse “exchange ratio” – the ratio of the destruction absorbed to the destruction imposed on the enemy. The certain extinction of Pakistan as a state and social organism in return for the destruction of at most two Indian cities is not a prospect even the most callous Pakistan army leadership can stomach. If, as it is said, most countries have armies but the Pakistan Army has a state, losing Pakistan is therefore absolutely unacceptable to its army. As a professionally run force it understands only too well the dangers of fighting itself into a corner, or pushing India into unleashing a war to the finish that Pakistan cannot win. This last could happen if it follows through on its threat and attacks Indian armoured and mechanized army units with tacnuckes even if on its own territory. Doctrinally, India is geared to respond with “massive retaliation”. Excessive or not, credible or not, this is how India officially says it will respond in that situation. Will the Pakistan army leadership see this as an Indian bluff and risk the consequences? It is the uncertainty attending on the Indian response and its outcome that will stay Pakistan from breaking the seven decade-old “nuclear taboo” and chancing escalation by tripping the nuclear wire.[37] The Pakistan Army leadership has always been prudent and pragmatic, and sued for peace when the hostilities have gone badly on the battlefield. It is unlikely to venture recklessly into a nuclear exchange that could spell Pakistan’s doom.

That said, the predominance of tacnukes in Pakistan’s arsenal does give credence to its India-centric deterrence and raison d’etre of providing the Indian government with pause for thought before ordering an armoured offensive. Moreover, to the extent nuclear sabre-rattling unnerves New Delhi and keeps it from retaliating with military penetration and strikes in depth to Pakistan’s asymmetric use of terrorists across the Line of Control in Jammu & Kashmir, its tacnuke-heavy nuclear arsenal, from the Pakistani perspective, serves a purpose. But it is limited purpose considering that India holds the upper hand in the asymmetric/covert warfare sphere as well. Compared to India Pakistan has more numerous social, ethnic and political faultiness for New Delhi to exploit. This is a fact of life the Pakistan army can ignore at its own peril.[38] Nuclear weapons are supposed to confer a sense of unshakeable security and equanimity on countries possessing them. Should this happen to Pakistan, it will usher in durable nuclear peace on the subcontinent.

The negative fallout of the Pakistani tacnukes is that the Indian government and military can readily rationalize their inappropriate threat focus on a measly Pakistan and justify an otherwise obsolete Indian conventional force structure featuring excessively large armoured forces meant, it seems, to keep an influential combat arm in good humour.[39] No one seems to care that this keeps a predominantly industrial age Indian armed services from transforming themselves for fifth generation warfare centered on robotic systems and network-enabled armaments, and the defence budget from being more effectively utilized to meet the primary challenge posed by China.[40]


[1] Greg Theilmmann and David Logan, “The Complex and Increasingly Dangerous Nuclear Weapons Geometry of Asia”, Threat Assessment Brief, Arms Control Association, July 27, 2016 at ,

[2] “US Nuclear Modernization Programs”, Arms Control Association, Washington, DC, October 2016 at

[3] Aaron Mehta, “Updated B-61 Nuclear Bomb to Cost $8.25 billion”, Defense News, Oct 19, 2016 at

[4] Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “Russian nuclear forces, 2016”, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Vol. 72, No. 3, 2016 at

[5] Tomaz Strojnik, “Fact Sheet: Chinese Nuclear Modernization”, American Security Project, August 2016, at

[6] UK nuclear deterrence: what you need to know, Policy Paper, UK Government, Ministry of Defence, updated March 24, 2016, at Claire Mills, The French Nuclear Deterrent, Briefing Paper No. 4079, House of Commons Library, 29 June 2016 at

[7] William Burr, ed., China, Pakistan and the Bomb: The Declassified File on U.S. Policy, 1977-1997, National Security Archive, March 5, 2004 at

[8] Joseph A. Bosco, “China’s Complicity in North Korea’s Nuclear program: Henry Kissinger for the Defense”, Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs, Vol. 15, Fall 2015, at’sComplicityInNorthKorea.pdf

[9] Bharat Karnad, “Countering the Rogue Nuclear Triad of China, Pakistan, North Korea”, The Wire, 25 July, 2016 at

[10] Henry S. Rowen first conceptualized such a war. See his “Catalytic Nuclear War” in Graham T. Allison, et al, eds., Hawks, Doves and Owls [New York: Norton, 1985], 148-163.

[11] Thomas Reed and Danny Stillman, The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and its Proliferation [Minneapolis: Zenith Press, reprint edition, 2009], 241-242.

[12] Quote in G. Parthasarathy, “Dealing with China’s military might”, Business  Line, August 5, 2010

[13] Karnad, “Countering the Rogue Nuclear Triad”.

[14] “Nuclear dominoes” I have argued will fall in Asia, starting with Japan and North Korea going nuclear as soon these two states are persuaded about the essential unreliability of the US as an ally. See Bharat Karnad, India’s Nuclear Policy [Westport, CN, and London: Praeger Security International, 2008], ch. 1.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Li Bin, Tong Zhao, Understanding Chinese Nuclear Thinking, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Oct 28, 2016 at

[17] Ibid.

[18] Bharat Karnad, Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy, Second edition ]New Delhi: Macmillan India, 2005, 2002], 397-438.

[19] Bharat Karnad, Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet) [New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2015], 371-372.

[20] Ibid, 119-122.

[21] Bharat Karnad, India’s Nuclear Policy [Westport, CN, London: Praeger Security International, 2008], 63-106.

[22] On India’s missile power, see Karnad, Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet), 374-378.

[23] Bharat Karnad, “Mindless military procurement – S-400”, Security Wise blog, Oct 15, 2016 at

[24] Karnad, Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet), 335-336.

[25] In 2002 and again in 2005, I had recommended India build up its strategic forces to nearly 450 nuclear weapons level. See my Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security, 612-645

[26] Ibid.

[27] Re: Chinese thinking, see Li and Tong, Understanding Chinese Nuclear Thinking.

[28] Hans M Kristensen, Robert S. Norris, Indian nuclear forces, 2015, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 1 September 2015 at

[29] “India’s growing N-arsenal threat to regional peace: FO”, Express Tribune (Islamabad), Oct 30, 2016 at

[30] Paul K. Kerr and Mary Beth Nikitin, Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons, Congressional Research Service, Washington, DC, 1 August 2016 at

[31] The organic ties are illustrated by the strong existing relationship and the troubles faced by members of the Muslim Nayawati community with regard to marriage, domicile and residence because of this community being divided between the coastal Karnataka town of Bhatkal and Karachi. See Mohit M. Rao, “The marriage vows between Bhatkal and Karachi”, The Hindu, October 30, 2016 at

[32] This thesis is explicated in all my books, most recently, Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet), 279-281.

[33] See the editorial “The Kashmir flashpoint”, New York Times, January 17, 2002 at

[34] Sadia Kazmi, “Kashmir: A nuclear flashpoint”, Foreign Policy News, July 31, 2016, at

[35] See UK nuclear deterrence.

[36] Refer Lt. Gen. T.F.R. Jacob (Retd.), Surrender at Dhaka: Birth of a Nation [New Delhi: Manohar Publishers, 1997].

[37] On the effects of breaking the nuclear first use taboo, see George Quester, Nuclear First Strike: Consequences of a Broken Taboo [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005, paperback].

[38] Prime Minister Modi in his 2016 Independence Day address hinted at India’s support for freedom fighters in Balochistan, enthusing the Baluchis. See Prasun Sonwalkar, “India can do a lot, Modi will be remembered: Balochistan leader in self-exile”, Hindustan Times, August 31, 2106. There are other sub-nationalist movements in Sindh, Gilgit-Baltistan, and even the MQM headed by Altaf Hussain in Karachi that India can stoke

[39] The costs of militarily fixating on Pakistan detailed in Karnad, Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet), 278-289.

[40] On the Indian military’s grave transformative deficiency, Ibid, ch. 5.

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India Doesn’t Require F-16s When it Has Tejas

PRIME MINISTER Narendra Modi’s visit to the US to meet President Donald J Trump is now on the front burner, with an emphasis on ‘deliverables’. If Delhi is keen on easing the H1B visa regime for Indian techies, Washington is eager that Modi sign up for the fourth generation F-16, a deal seen as ‘open sesame’ for endless future transactions on military hardware, and implement the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement. If the fourth generation F-16 is the key, what does it say about India that the BJP Government is interested in an antique American combat aircraft, optimised for air warfare of the 1970s, as a frontline fighter for the Indian Air Force well into the 21st century?

The Lockheed F-16 and the Swedish SAAB (Svenska Aeroplan Aktie Bolag) JAS 39 Gripen are competing for the single-engined fighter slot in the IAF, a requirement casually conceived to fill the gap the indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), earmarked to replace the large numbers of the Russian MiG-21 as the bulk combat aircraft in the Air Force, has failed to meet. It is another matter that the delays suffered by the Tejas programme can be traced mainly to machinations to derail it, including frequent changes in specifications, and the ordering of the LCA in small batches to curtail economies of scale and deter HAL and private companies from investing in multiple LCA production lines. (See my ‘The Tragedy of Tejas’, February 17th, 2017). Despite starting with negligible technology and industrial capability, the LCA is operational, has impressed as a compact, multi-role, highly agile, fly-by-wire, 4.5 generation warplane, and can even become an export revenue earner for the country.
So, why isn’t Modi publicly hailing Tejas as a remarkable story of Indian grit, talent and technological innovation, and as a showcase for his ‘Make in India’ policy and the country’s capacity to design complex weapons systems? He should be ensuring that the IAF is invested fully in the aircraft, and that it is a runaway military and commercial success at home and abroad. Except, it turns out that, as Baba Kalyani of Bharat Forge observed at Aerospace India 2017, by ‘Make in India’ Modi probably means ‘Assemble in India’, and that too, any old piece of foreign equipment. The Prime Minister’s aim apparently is to draw American defence manufacturing companies to set up shop here, solidify India’s status as ‘major defence partner’ of the US, and use the F-16 (and possibly the Boeing F-18) to extract more ‘give’ from Trump on issues dear to him. The collateral benefits Modi espies are the firming up of the ruling party’s financial support base among NRIs in America (and the West generally), and enhancing his electoral appeal among the Indian middle-class.
It also suggests that Modi is reconciled to America not delivering on cutting-edge technologies, or committing itself to jointly designing and developing advanced armaments, a reluctance evidenced in the US Congress rejecting NATO-partner status for India and the India-US Defence Technology & Trade Initiative being a non-starter, with only technologically obsolete weaponry phased out by the US military—the M-777 ultra-light howitzer, the aged F-16 and F-18, etcetera—being offered for licensed manufacture.
The IAF has always liked the Gripen, the reason why Sweden jumped in with the E variant in the race against the F-16 Block 70. But both Gripen E, almost the same as the NG (New Generation) and Block 70, only another name for the ‘IN Super Viper’, had entered the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) sweepstakes, which Modi settled with his impulse purchase in April 2015 of 36 Rafales from France.
On a comparative basis though, which of these aircraft is superior? S Paul Kapur and Sumit Ganguly, in a piece, ‘F-16s, Made in India: Second Best may be Best’ in Foreign Affairs, while acknowledging that set alongside Gripen, the F-16 is ‘second best’, nevertheless argue that the American aircraft is the better buy because the benefits to India from dealing with the US, a great power, outweigh the gains from dealing with Sweden, a fairly marginal European state. Moreover, they claim, it’s a selection that will build ‘trust’ and ‘bind the two countries together’ in the larger geopolitical contest afoot against China. Allowing the assembly of F-16s in India is not the preferred option for America either, they maintain, as Lockheed would rather have India as a ‘customer’. And, after rubbishing the Tejas as under-powered, under-performing and not induction- ready aircraft, they aver that the F-16 or even the Gripen will reverse the trend of the Air Force’s supposed depleting squadron strength. But a ‘second best’ fighter plane for India in the context of the top- of-the-line Su-30s for strike missions and MiG-29s for distant air defence in the IAF inventory makes no sense unless Delhi agrees with Washington’s assessment of the Indian military as second rate and India as Third World.An economic case for the F-16 was reportedly made by Ashley Tellis of Carnegie Endowment directly to Modi. Predictably, he greatly under- estimates the F-16 unit cost and lifetime costs, and exaggerates the size of the supposedly uptapped global market for 500 F-16s, and for spares for more than 3,500 of this aircraft operating worldwide. Also, his contention that the production monopoly of this aircraft immunises India against a US cutoff of critical items for the F-16, is iffy at best. But the knowledgeable Tellis can be convincing especially to an Indian audience predisposed to believe him.

The fact though is that with the up-front payment for the transfer of the F-16 assembly line to India and for the full complement of SKD and CKD kits for aircraft assembly, there’s no incentive for Washington not to shut down the F-16 or any other supply line at will should Delhi not conform to the contingent US policy interests. In light of Trump’s ‘America First’ outlook, there’s already some backsliding with Lockheed saying that 25 per cent of the production of F-16 spares and critical assemblies would be retained at its Fort Worth plant in Texas, which could be a precursor to its deciding that continued production of this aircraft in small numbers in the US serves its interests, just so workers don’t lose jobs and Trump is kept happy. In the event, paying an awful lot of money for a vintage aircraft and, instead of facilitating the country’s entry into the global supply chain, seeing the F-16 become an albatross around India’s neck, is a real prospect.

Then again, how does the Tejas compare with the other planes? According to the just retired LCA project chief, Commodore CD Balaji in an interview to Aeromag Asia, the LCA “is far superior to the MiG-21 in all aspects”, and “far ahead in terms of technologies and performance …to the Chinese JF-17 [flown by the Pakistan Air Force], and [is] at par with Gripen.” But which aircraft has the operational edge? In aerial warfare with Beyond Visual Range weapons, the ability to locate an adversary aircraft is of paramount importance, and here a fully loaded LCA has a lethal edge in terms of its very small radar cross section of 0.5 sq m. Relative to Gripen’s RCS of 0.7 sq m plus, and of between 3 sq m and 6 sq m for the F-16 and Rafale, the Tejas, is virtually invisible. Making the LCA stealthier still is the fact that 40 per cent of its body is made of radar-absorbing carbon composites versus 25 per cent for Gripen, and 10 per cent for F-16.

Moreover, armed with an entirely tested and proven all-Indian designed and developed ordnance suite of the Surdarshan laser- guided bomb, Astra air-to-air radar-homing missile, and outfitted with the Uttam Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, the Tejas weapons system is powerful. The weapons (like the French Meteor missile at $5 million each) carried by Gripen and Rafale, on the other hand, are all inordinately expensive and will incur very high expenditure to obtain and periodically to replenish the weapons stocks for the lifetime of the aircraft. Further, unlike Gripen E, which has yet to pull speed taxi trials, will enter Swedish service in 2020, and whose AESA radar has tested ‘unstable’, the Tejas has logged over 3,000 flying hours, successfully negotiated the most onerous flight regimes, and proven itself in war exercises in the air defence and ground attack roles.

Notwithstanding everything in its favour, including national pride, should the Tejas be sidelined, it will perpetuate India’s status as an arms dependency and mock the country’s technological ambition. If the F-16 is chosen, it will end up reducing India to a spear-carrier for the US. Were Gripen to get the nod, then as the long-time DRDO’s resident wit, the now retired rocket engineer, V Siddhartha punned, it will be because Modi believes in ‘SAAB ke saath, SAAB ka vikaas’

Published in the Open Magazine dated March 32, 2017 at

World Action and Reaction News (WARN) has the above piece in video-audio at

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