Trump drives a stake through the Indian tech-settlers’ mindset and Modi’s

Just returned from an extended session this morning on News X TV channel covering Donald Trump’s 1st State of the Union address to the US Congress. Firstly, not sure why the Indian media is stuck on covering purely internal American events with often embarrassing interest, unless, of course, they mean to cater  to the aspirational middle class in small and big Indian towns and cities who hope, somehow, to secure a ticket to the land of their dreams. That ticket, in recent times has been provided by the H1B or L-1 visa, which immigration channel; has buttressed the traditional longstanding route into the US — the I-20 student visa.

What few Indian commentators understand  and have, therefore, not noted is that the chief attraction for these would-be Indian “economic refugees” to America of once settling down there is the “family reunification” provision open to any legal migrant. This has been used by several generations of Indians to cart not just their spouses but the extended family into the US, namely,   parents, parents-in-law, siblings of either or both sides. On average, a single Indian immigrant can thus take an additional 10-12 persons with him. That door is now getting shut.

Trump has declared in his address that his immigration policy will allow persons with merit to legally come into America but not immigrants who can’t fend for themselves economically or are otherwise unable to contribute in a substantive way to the US. AS he said, he will especially bar the group of people seeking to migrate to the US who will end up being  a burden on the social and public services of that country.

Foreign Secretary Jaishankar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will try and modify that stance by emphasizing, as newspaper reports suggest, the wealth the HiB/L1 visa holders create and their contribution to the US economy and hence the advisability of retaining, if not enlarging, these entry channels. This will not cut mustard with the Trump Administration.

But let’s assume for argument’s sake that Washington stays its hand on closing down the H1B/L1 route, how motivated will potential Indian immigrants to America be once they discover they can’t import a whole bunch of their family members into the US? I suspect there will be a definite falloff of interest.

That said, this is a great opportunity for the Modi government to reverse its fairly foolish  policy of encouraging an ever bigger Indian brain drain to the US and the West in the hope of using the thus expanding Indian population in the US, in particular, as political and diplomatic leverage, and as external support base able to support the Bharat Janata Party monetarily. But Trump’s rejection of free trade and the notion of competitive advantage of countries as driver of international commerce means he will be more than happy to see still larger quantities of the sorts of things the Modi government seems keen on acquiring — old weapons (M-777 ULH) and platforms (F-16), but not let up or give even an inch to other countries. As he pointedly reminded his audience worldwide — “I have been elected to be President of America”, not president of the world.

And India can expect no real help or assistance to counter China or contain terrorism emanating from Pakistan or elsewhere beyond Trump’s interpretation of US interests, and he will expect India to pay for every little bit of security it gains therefrom! The US president had made plain that Asian partners, allies, friends will all have to ante up monies, there being no such thing as free security, any more than there’s “free lunch”.

If Modi and his PMO, and  Jaishankar and Co. at MEA haven’t grasped this essential, fundamentally changed, reality, then there’s lots more New Delhi is going to keep getting wrong to the nation’s detriment. To repeat what I have said in previous posts, PM Modi, adapting himself to the new conditions, should prepare for hard, and possibly futile, negotiation in which because Trump will not concede even a sliver of advantage. The question is will, can, Modi rein in his fascination with America, and his apparently natural inclination to please Westerners, long enough to prevent Trump having his way with India?

Trump’s “Make in America, Buy American” call is clear indication of his intent. The trouble is Modi’s “Make in India”, whatever its intent, for all practical purposes, translates into “Buy American” and assemble the product in India! GOI better get into its head that hereafter the only way the national interest will be served is to match the Trump Administration and be severely transactional which, realistically, may be beyond Modi to manage.

Posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, China military, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, domestic politics, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, NRIs, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Weapons | 2 Comments

State Elections – Tidbits

Just some state elections tidbits I picked after interacting with some MPs. Conversing with knowledgeable politicians is always a treat and the ongoing elections in various states was one of the issues I informally plumbed in discussions on the topic of the underway  popularity contests. Two in particular may be of interest.

The Badals and the SAD/BJP combine are unlikely to be returned to power in Punjab, I was told, because of the scale of corruption the ruling Family indulged in in their ten years in the saddle. Consider one metric and a comparison with Tamil Nadu at the other end of the country. Punjab and Tamil Nadu have about equal number of liqour vends, around 1,600 in each state. However, the liqour consumption in Punjab is several multiples of the level of the hard stuff imbibed by the people of Tamil Nadu. But, and here’s the clincher,  the Punjab exchequer last year reported only some Rs. 6,000 crores as revenue from liqour sales while the Tamil Nadu government in its budget showed liqour sales revenue in excess of Rs 28,000 crores!

Uttar Pradesh:  BJP, I was informed,  was  in even play in the first three rounds of the ongoing elections in that state meaning, perhaps, a sub-par performance. But its game apparently picked up in subsequent rounds, and it expects much from eastern UP  in the next few days. An awful lot of money has been spent by BJP to ensure there are adequate returns on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s extensive touring of the state combined with some very intensive canvassing.  Nothing less could have been expected with Modi’s reputation on the line, and his chief lieutenant, Amit Shah, pulling out all the stops.

The country awaits, no doubt with bated breath, the results on March 11. Of equal interest , to me at least, are the above two professional polictical assessments. If Badals somehow  pull it off and Modi’s remorseless, often heated, campaigning pays dividend then the PM will get the majority he needs in the Rajya Sabha to ram through his pet programmes in the nick of time and will, almost certainly, be assured another 5 years at 7, Race Course Road, come 2019.

 

 

Posted in civil-military relations, corruption, Culture, Defence Industry, domestic politics, Indian democracy, Indian Politics, Internal Security, society, South Asia | 9 Comments

Missing pitchmen in Moscow, and price India will pay

The foreign and military establishments in major countries are vast bureaucracies where policies get made by the outcome of clashing interpretations of the national interest, of course, but also by the influentials with access to the powers that be who shape and tilt policies one way or the other. Until some time back India had a very strong lobby in Moscow. As a small number of the well informed in New Delhi who are Russian-speaking and try to keep up with developments in Moscow attest, the one time large crew of well-placed officials — old India hands — who understood and empathized with India, and backed its initiatives, is fast disappearing as much because of natural attrition as the Indian government’s approach that is increasingly tilting US-wards and alienating well-wishers in the Kremlin. Soon New Delhi will find there is no one to pitch India’s case there.

Perhaps, this doesn’t matter much to the bulk of the MEA and GOI establishment who feel little need to have a close relationship with Russia to counterbalance the United States and cultivate leverage in both Washington and Moscow as a means of enlarging India’s policy choices and options, and the freedom to maneuver for best results. This was, until not too long ago, one of the drivers of Indian foreign and defence policies, and made for certain stability and equipoise.

With the death of the Hindustani-speaking Russian Ambassador Alexander Kadakin, ironically, on 26th January, India has lost the most powerful voice on its behalf, a man who was carefully listened to in Moscow and who, for years, sculpted the Russian government’s attitude toward this country. This is a big void that will be hard to fill.

As important, two other influentials who pleaded India’s case are turning away. Consider the other regional specialist Zumair Kabulov, an Uzbek, who until 2009 was the Russian Ambassador in Afghanistan and since has been President Vladimir Putin’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan. While earlier he was understood to have wanted an Indian role in that country, now doesn’t even mention India when Afghanistan comes up. (Refer his December 2016 interview at http://aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/exclusive-interview-with-russian-diplomat-zamir-kabulov/717573) Why is this important? Because this means Moscow has written off India as an independent actor even within the region with the standing and  ability to play a larger role in Asia, seeing it, rather, as essentially an American hanger-on. This was reflected in the original Russia-China-Pakistan conclave called to discuss Afghanistan that did not envisage Indian participation. New Delhi was finally accommodated but found itself isolated on this forum.

But when troubles come, as Shakespeare ventured, they come in battalions, another high Russian official, retired Major General Vladimir Dvorkin, possibly the most experienced of the strategic forces adviser to Putin, too has become less sympathetic to India’s fairly precarious position where its nuclear forces are concerned. Dvorkin, who in times past, argued for Russian support for a credible Indian thermonuclear arsenal and, by inference, for resumed testing if an Indian government got up the guts to initiate this time open-ended series of underground fusion weapons test explosions, too has cooled. With Kadakin gone, Kabulov and Dvorkin caring less, Kremlin will be left to make its decisions without the benefit of advice from the once India-friendlies.  This will mean that that little bit of extra consideration and warmth Moscow traditionally showed New Delhi will be missing.

In fact, there is evidence already of the hardening of the Russian position. The Indian government, one is given to understand, has already been told that Moscow will feel free to craft its Pakistan policy as it sees fit, including the sale to Pakistan Air Force of the MiG-35. The transfer of a few Mi-35 attack helicopters was to only whet the appetite. Russia’s pulling away will begin affecting strategically sensitive programs as well, starting with the Aridhaman — the second Arihant-class SSBN in the final stages of production in Vizag. Especially because Russia’s technologically far-reaching offers in the military technology sphere have met with tepid response. (More on this in a future post.)

Given the Indian government’s fairly pronounced West-ward slant, Russia has few takers in New Delhi, even fewer in the MEA which, top to bottom, functions like all but an arm of the US government. Indeed, President Donald Trump and America will lose nothing from closing down the US Embassy in New Delhi, and saving lots of money. Between Carnegie’s and Brookings’ active presence in Delhi, their ranks filled with former NSA and the like, and pliant media, commentariat, and MEA-MOD officialdom, it is virtually Washington on the Jamuna anyway.

What this means for India’s prospects is becoming clearer. With Delhi formally sliding over to America’s side in global power politics, it was only a matter of time before the effects became evident. One of Washington’s India policy weather vanes, Ashley Tellis, of Carnegie Washington, for example, has downgraded India from  an “indispensable” power to the US in Asia, to now, a merely “leading power” in the region. India will soon become, and be treated as, a client state — a lowly and contemptible status, sourcing for the US an endless stream of low-cost IT and other tech coolies. A client state is what Pakistan was. Except with some characteristically deft diplomacy, Islamabad has become fairly central to Chinese and Russian calculations in extended Central and southern Asia, even as it has held on to its prime slot as a”front line” state in US’s reckoning. Meanwhile, Indian emissaries, beginning with Foreign Secretary K Jaishankar in  the next week, followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his Washington visit scheduled for May, will beg for more H1B visas to “drain” India’s “brain” bank. Great going.

Posted in Afghanistan, Central Asia, China, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, South Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Weapons | 15 Comments

Mystery behind repeated C-130 mishaps cleared

February 21st saw a C-130J Super Hercules while taxi-ing for a night sortie at the Thoisie ALG in Ladakh instead of taking-off, run smack into a solid structure, nearly shearing off part of a wing and an outer turboprop engine requiring major expenditure to make the plane fit again. That this plane had the CO of the Hindon-based 77 Squadron, a presumably experienced transport pilot, one Grp Cpt Jasveen Singh Chathrath, at the controls only makes it worse. Three years back on March 28, 2014, another of this type of airlifter on a low level Special Forces’ drop training sortie proved that in IAF hands, it is neither super nor Hercules, leave alone ‘super Hercules’, when it dove into the ground killing the entire crew. [Originally in this post written last night, I said that a C-17 had gone down. Not so, My wrong!]

After the 2014 C-130 accident,  the statement by the air chief at the time Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha said the service had picked the best pilots to take charge of these American planes. If this is the level of aircraft handling ability of the best IAF transport pilots, then speculating about the averagely competent pilot’s ability (or lack of it) beggars the imagination.

But let’s tally the cost of the mishaps. The first lot of six C-130s were bought from Lockheed for Rs 6,000 crores, or a cool Rs 1,000 crore per plane. With one of these aircraft already lost, IAF has already had to write off Rs 1,000 crores. Not to be deterred, IAF means to buy a second lot of eight Super Hercules and, after a decent interval to give the Exchequer time to recover, a third lot of 6 aircraft for a fleet strength, minus the lost C-130, of 19 aircraft in all.

Ten C-17s were purchased for Rs 18,645 crores from Boeing, the unit price of some Rs. 1,865 crores. Fortunately, Boeing has closed down the C-17 production line. So IAF-cum-Govt of India’s apparent default option of buying C-17s and C-130Js more to keep Washington pleased  and the two US aviation  majors in a happy state of anticipating richer deals in the offing, than because acquiring more and more of such aircraft makes any military, economic, or even political sense — is a line I have taken in previous writings. Especially, as the IAF chiefs have time and again disavowed any expeditionary role for the Indian military, which is what these planes do best. In the event, if all that was required of these aircraft was to lift troops from one sector to another, the IAF could, surely, have made do with the more economical workhorses to-date, the An-12s and An-32s.

The CAG in its 2014 Report was harsh on the parties involved, slamming Boeing for not fulfilling its offsets commitments — no simulators and ground equipment, such as fork lifts, were set up on Indian air bases, the IAF for not preparing the Hindon tarmac and the potential landing grounds elsewhere to the level of the required Pavement Classification Number, and implicitly both the GOI and IAF for not making any fuss whatsoever about the US Company not delivering on its contract obligations. The CAG also pointed out that owing to the absence of special forklifts on all the potential bases and LGs, the Super Hercules was compelled to carry one in its belly wherever it landed or took off from, but it took so much internal aircraft space — fully 35% of the cargo hold, that instead of just one sortie to carry a full load, two sorties were needed to do the job. And that cost money. The CAG calculated that it costs India Rs 43.19 lakh for every hour a C-130 is in the air.  Post-CAG Report, whatever else was done or not done, Lockheed hurriedly setup a C-130 simulator near Delhi. It is not known if just one simulator is all that has been paid for, and whether the C-17 buy too mandated a Globemaster simulator in India which, perhaps, is not considering there are only 10 C-17s, a number that does not justify a simulator.

Like in the adventure — “Silver Blaze”, where Sherlock Holmes solved the mystery of the missing horse by referring to the fact of the non-barking dog in the stable (who recognized the miscreant as his master and didn’t raise hell), the mystery about why the Indian government did not cry foul and penalize Lockheed, is also easily solved. New Delhi (previously run by Manmohan Singh and now by Narendra Modi) as mentioned  wants to be on the right side  of the US because America is viewed as the vehicle for India to ride to economic prosperity and technological Valhalla! Remember too that the Lockheed F-16 and Boeing F-18 are on the short list of the proposed buy of 200 single-engined combat aircraft.

But the matter of the unfulfilled offsets is of the gravest concern particularly because foreign suppliers, while ready to pocket the money,  are aware that GOI will do nothing if they fail to follow-through on their obligations. In previous posts the fact of all kinds of extraneous expenditures being counted as offsets has been mentioned, such as seminars and conferences hosted by the supplier Companies, etc. And it is very likely that Boeing and Lockheed charged the offsets account for the use of their simulators in the US to train IAF’s C-17 and C-130 pilots, even though the main purpose of the offsets is to help build up an industrial-technological base in India. Then again, why should foreign companies deliver when there’s not a squeal out of the govt if they don’t?

The IAF, on its part, would have been pleased to carry on doing what it had done prior to the installation of the simulator here post-CAG Report : Send pilot crews in relays to train on Boeing simulators in Seattle an Lockheed simulators some place else in the US at additional expense (if nothing else in terms of extra pilot hard currency allowances and stipends for stays abroad). Why is lacing the selected transport pilots’ careers with nice little holidays in the American Northwest to uplift their spirits, not a good thing, is IAF’s thinking, given that the poor chaps cannot strut around back home like the fighter-jocks, who also hog all the plum posts in the service.

Posted in Afghanistan, arms exports, Asian geopolitics, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Russia, russian assistance, South Asia, Special Forces, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries | 33 Comments

The Tragedy of Tejas

The Government doesn’t see that the commercial bonanza for foreign countries is choking off funds for home-grown aircraft

——-DEPENDING ON WHAT’S involved, legacy can be a good thing or a bad thing. In the case of the Indian state, bureaucracy, and especially the military, legacy has proved a liability. The colonial system and approach were retained in every aspect of government for want of ready alternatives and the fear of disruption. It has particularly hurt the armed services because they have stayed stuck in time. Thus, the Army’s main force is arrayed northwestward, the Air Force thinks as a tactical regional adjunct of another out-of-area air force (with the Royal Air Force missing), and the Navy imitates the attitude and outlook of the US Navy, which replaced its British counterpart, replete with a tilt towards big ships at a time when supersonic and hypersonic cruise missiles and remote-controlled mini-submarines and attack boats are making them obsolete.

The three services also have in common the acute institutional hankering for Western military hardware, which was thwarted for 30 odd years (the mid-60s to mid-90s) by Cold War politics and the availability of Russian equipment in the Soviet era at ‘friendship prices’. Now that that constraint is lifted, they are reverting wherever possible to buying cost-prohibitive Western armaments with a vengeance, often at the expense of indigenously designed and developed weapon systems, such as the Arjun Main Battle Tank and Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), that have proved as good, when not better, than foreign items.

No, a kill order by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for the LCA programme is not in the offing because it is advisable for the politician and the military brass to talk desi and not openly prefer firang (refer the glossy AeroIndia pullouts in newspapers). A high technology ‘prestige’ project capable of seeding a burgeoning aerospace sector in the country and imperilling imports will, however, be undermined on the sly, by restricting funds and the offtake of the indigenous on the plea that the monies are needed to finance imports of combat aircraft to meet immediate requirements, and by simultaneously diverting the attention, effort and resources of the LCA programme into the Mk-II version and the more ‘futuristic’, ‘super-stealthy’, Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft project. By insisting on stiff specifications and delivery deadlines, these programmes will be set up for eventual rejection. Meanwhile, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA)— the progenitors of the Tejas—will be thus kept occupied and out of the IAF’s hair, which will shield the service from unwanted political pressure to ‘buy Indian’ or to invest in the LCA. But we are getting ahead of the story.

The AeroIndia 2017 Air Show, that opened in Bengaluru on Valentine’s Day and ends on February 18th, features the foreign accomplices—the Swedish Saab Gripen E, the Super Hawk optimised for short-range air defence and touted in some quarters as the UK’s answer to the LCA, the French Rafale, and the American fighter planes, the Lockheed Martin ‘Block 70’ F-16 and the Boeing F-18E/F with the prospective payoffs overcoming the initial resistance from President Donald Trump. Except for the Super Hawk, these are all aircraft that had been entered in IAF’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft competition, won in 2012 by the Rafale. Except, new-generation warfare featuring drone-swarms and advanced air defence systems are expected to make manned fighter planes extinct.

But why the immense foreign interest? Firstly, because India is expected to buy 200-250 of the chosen plane with a full weapons suite and costing $250-$300 million each, for a total contract with only limited holdings of spares and service support of around $7.5 billion to $9 billion. Every supplier also promises to set up a modern global manufacturing and servicing hub for his aircraft and a technology innovation and industrial eco-system of small and medium scale enterprises (SMSEs) to generate employment, and, with full transfer of technology, a capacity locally to design and develop follow-on fighter aircraft. This will take many years to realise. So add another $3-4 billion to the bill for hub-development. After factoring in inflation and currency fluctuations, over the 30-40 year lifetime of the aircraft, the total take from this deal for a single-engined fighter for the winning foreign firm could be as much as $50 billion. To get perspective, this sum equals the cost of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor with networks of roads and power plants stretching from Baltistan to Gwadar, which will be that state’s infrastructure and economic backbone.

Secondly, India’s track record of squandering high-cost transferred technology by the Defence Public Sector Units (DPSUs) and ordnance factories, and their never venturing beyond licence manufacture (LM) entailing Meccano-level screwdriver technology, is well known. Thus, no technologies were ingested from the MiG-21, Jaguar, and Su-30MKI LM contracts nor any design bureaus for technology innovation created. The international arms peddlers are only too aware of this situation and of the likelihood that LM agreements will inevitably lead to cascading sales of tech upgrade packages and CKD (completely knocked down) and SKD (semi-knocked down) kits to assemble the aircraft with. For the foreign supplier, it is an endlessly profitable cycle ensuring that, in real terms, at least 80 per cent of the monetary value of the contract is returned to the home country, and the remaining treated as ‘offsets’ mandated by the Indian Government that have so far produced few real benefits.

Thirdly, just as India’s buy of the Hawk trainer rescued British Aerospace, and that of 36 Rafales—with possibly another 80-100 of these planes in the pipeline—has put the French Company Dassault in the clover, New Delhi’s purchase of the Gripen will throw a lifeline to the combat aviation industry in Sweden, and Lockheed’s worn-out F-16 assembly line in Fort Worth, Texas, instead of being discarded, will be sold to India to earn revenue. Too much is at stake for the foreign companies in the race not to over-promise and under-bid. The extent of under-bidding is evidenced in Dassault’s original price for 126 Rafales of around $12 billion that actually ended up fetching the IAF a mere 36 planes. The larger pattern that has emerged over the past many decades is for an apparently ‘very rich’ India to subsidise and sustain defence industries in seemingly ‘poor’ states—namely, the United States, Russia, France, United Kingdom, France, and Israel.

The Indian defence industry has ‘largely failed to produce competitive indigenously-designed weapons’, a view the Indian military endorses. But why is this so? Principally because the armed services obstruct indigenous arms projects from succeeding

US defence sources estimate India’s military procurement outlays in the next few decades to be of the order of $250 billion. If roughly 10 per cent of any contracted deal is the usual down payment—in the Rafale case, for instance, it amounts to Rs 9,700 crore—a staggering $25 billion will have to be shelled out before a single item turns up on Indian shores. One can see why India is the consumer of choice in the international arms market.

IT IS WORRISOME that the Government, trapped in its ‘Make in India’ rhetoric, doesn’t see that the commercial bonanza for foreign countries will choke off the funds necessary for the home-grown, and for investment to build a comprehensively capable defence industry in the country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar appear not to have caught on to the fact that foreign arms suppliers are not in the business of making customers independent of them, but of bolting them down as dependents. Making the country a minor partner in the global supply chains of major transnational defence industrial corporations—the best that the present tilt of ‘Make in India’ policy can achieve—begs the question if this is all India should aspire to. And more, importantly, whether India will ever have the kind of financial cushion needed for $250 billion worth of military wherewithal, even as the tradeoffs between social welfare and developmental needs on the one hand and nation security demands on the other hand get starker. If such massive defence capital expenditure is somehow managed, whether frittering away the country’s wealth when it perpetuates only a hollow national security, is politically prudent. But there’s no gainsaying that it will firm up the country’s reputation as the largest arms importer in the world. India accounts for 14 per cent of the world’s arms imports, followed by China at 4.7 per cent (except China has compensated by increasing its arms exports 143 per cent in 2010-2015 to reach $1.6 billion). Put another way, over 2000-2015, India bought weapons valued at $120 billion: money that could have obtained for the country sizeable defence industrial infrastructure and skilled manpower instead of military hardware that can be ground to a stop anytime any of a host of suppliers decide for whatever reasons to withhold spares. So, not only is India’s security hostage to the interests of external players, but the country is paying exorbitantly for it too.

The reason adduced for this sorry state of affairs by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute is that the Indian defence industry has ‘largely failed to produce competitive indigenously- designed weapons’—a view the Indian military heartily endorses. But why is this so? Principally because the armed services obstruct indigenous arms projects from succeeding. The Tejas programme has progressed in fits and starts, and been delayed interminably, in the main, for two reasons. One, the Air Staff Requirements were changed numerous times on the plea of the IAF wanting an up-to-date plane. Thus, re-design and structural alterations became necessary, for example, when the IAF demanded installation of a refuelling probe after prototypes had already been built. It imposed significant time and cost penalties and hurt the delivery deadline. Two, the IAF insisted on a ‘finished product’ with all weapons trials and fitments completed and Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) and Final Operational Clearance (FOC) secured, before accepting it.

This is contrary to the procedure followed by all other major air forces. In the US, its newest joint strike fighter, the F-35, first entered squadron service with the US Air Force and the US Marines with technical refinements, structural modifications, and proper weapons and avionics integration being carried out on the basis of continuous feedback from frontline pilots after the plane’s induction. Some serious problems with the F-35, such as with the zero- zero ejection seat system, helmet-mounted sensors, avionics, and the F-135 power plant, are all being corrected even as the aircraft is flying around. This rigmarole is called ‘concurrency’, meaning induction and capability improvements happening simultaneously after the user-service has taken charge of the combat plane. In the case of the Tejas though, the onus is entirely on the development/ production unit to put in IAF’s hands a battle-ready fighter aircraft, inclusive of the promised weapons load. It reflects IAF’s reluctance to take ownership of the Tejas even after it has proved its druthers. The truly dastardly aspect is that the standard applied by the IAF to the LCA does not apply to imported aircraft. Thus, the Mirage 2000 inducted in 1985 flew unarmed for the next three years because the contracted weapons had not been delivered. It was political prompting alone that hastened the formation of the so-far-only-Tejas unit in the Air Force, the 45 Squadron with only a handful of LCAs, based in Sulur, Andhra Pradesh.

The other means adopted by IAF to undercut the Tejas programme is to order only a few aircraft at a time to deny the production units economies of scale. Thus, the official indent is just for 20 LCAs after IOC, and another 20 for post-FOC, with the possibility held out for 43 planes for a total strength of only 83 Tejas, when the actual requirement is for 200-250 single-engined combat aircraft of this type, which IAF proposes to meet by buying one of the foreign aircraft displayed at AeroIndia. This is because IAF doesn’t take pride in the LCA, or care to have it in its fleet, and also perhaps, because the Tejas programme offers no material inducements for persons in the procurement loop, such as endless trips to Paris, Stockholm, etcetera, what is risibly called ‘pocket money’, and so on. With the IAF variant of Tejas so stymied, its navalised version too will be emasculated, with the Indian Navy now joining the Air Force in opting for imported aircraft for its carriers—the navalised Rafale, Gripen, F-18, and the MiG-29K all seen at the Air Show.

Settling on licence manufacture of foreign planes serves yet another purpose. It preserves the monopoly of aircraft production for the highly inefficient DPSUs, like Hindustan Aerospace Ltd. DPSUs are controlled by the Department of Defence Production (DPP) in the MoD and is valuable turf that its bureaucrats are loath to lose, which can happen if, despite every obstacle, a project reaches the cusp of commercial success.

Tejas is a success if only it is given a chance. A 4.5-generation aircraft, like the Rafale, the LCA is far stealthier, more agile, and with a far bigger potential for growth as a versatile fighting platform. Significantly, it has clocked in excess of 3,000 flying hours without a single incident—a record unsurpassed by any combat aircraft under development anywhere, at any time. Its sleek looks and ease of handling, evident in the demonstration flights at the Bahrain Air Show last year, evinced praise from experts and enormous interest world-wide, with many countries inquiring about its availability. Naturally, fear has arisen in HAL and DPP/MoD circles that the Tejas may elicit commercial interest in the private sector, and private sector proposals for producing this aircraft for the IAF and for profit from exports, may follow. This would set a precedent of a DPSU being bypassed, of the technologies required to be transferred to a private sector consortium by the Aeronautical Development Agency and DRDO, and the diminishing of the stake and role of the public sector and DPP/MoD in the budding Indian defence industry of the future.

It is an end-state the IAF-DPP/MoD-DPSU complex will not abide, and what it doesn’t want, it will do away with. It has a stellar record of success in eliminating inconvenient indigenous conventional armaments projects that threaten its vested interests, usually by ‘throttling them in the cradle’. In the late-70s, the Mk-II version of the Marut HF-24 multi-role fighter was terminated by the Indira Gandhi regime siding with the IAF to buy the Jaguar low level strike aircraft. The original Marut was designed by one of the greatest designers of the World War II-era, Dr Kurt Tank of Focke-Wulfe fame, who was imaginatively brought in by Jawaharlal Nehru to design and produce the first supersonic fighter outside of the US and Europe. Tank had a prototype flying by 1961, inside of six years of his getting the commission.

Tank’s most gifted Indian protégé, Raj Mahindra, designed the Mk-II, which was eliminated by the Jaguar buy, whence began India’s rapid slide towards an all imported Air Force. If Mahindra’s Marut successor aircraft was killed by jhatka, the Tejas will be bled slowly, killed by the halaal method.


 

Published in Open Magazine, dated Feb 17, 2017, at   http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/national-security/the-tragedy-of-tejas

 

 

 

 

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Defence budget: The central government has talked smart, not acted smart

The unambitious and low-key budget is emblematic of the Narendra Modi government’s approach of trusting in only small, cautious, steps. So nobody expected that the defence allocations would be used to reorient an Indian military that’s been long in the rut. This would have been a disruptive thing to do to shake up the armed services which, owing to weak political direction and oversight have compelled governments to rubber-stamp whatever they decide is in the national interest.

Predictably, defence allocations of Rs 2.74 trillion falling to 1.63% of GDP has sparked concern, while ignoring the fact that an enlarged budget would have led to the squandering of the taxpayer’s money anyway. The problem at heart is this: The Indian military weighs its self-worth purely in terms of in-date weapons. Absent contrary political instructions as corrective, the preoccupation is with importing hardware, whether or not this is cost-effective, or even appropriate. The result is a mangled decision matrix in which instead of threats and grand strategy defining strategy, force structure, and weapons requirements, in that order, the existing force composition dictates the threat and the choice of armaments and strategy. Whence, the army’s money-guzzling three strike corps, that are way in excess of need, have monopolised the army’s modernisation and maintenance budgets, even though this capability is usable only in the desert and the plains, justified only by the “Pakistan threat”, and driven by a largely unimplementable ‘Cold Start’ strategy.

The Modi government has talked smart, not acted smart. It has failed to channel efforts and resources to secure military capabilities principally to deter China, which would, naturally, also take care of any contingency involving Pakistan, and fetch a larger strategic and international political dividend besides. Indeed, the raising of the only mountain strike corps (17 Corps) is languishing for want of funds. A desperately needed reorientation of the armed services will have to be rammed down resisting throats. Left to itself, the Indian military, which seems incapable of transformative change, will stick to its outdated outlook, operational bearing and plans.

The Modi regime can use the fact of scarce financial resources as lever to change the military mindset as is routinely done in the more mature democracies. Selective approval of expenditure schemes can re-shape and redirect the armed services. A start along these lines can, perhaps, be made to prepare for next year’s budget. The defence capital (or procurement) budget — the nub of the issue — is, in any case, declining. It was Rs 945.88 billion in 2015-16, decreased by 8.7% to Rs 863.4 billion last year, plateauing at Rs 864.88 billion in this fiscal, except only two-thirds of this sum will be actually available for purchases. It is a trend that’s likely to continue.

Considering that in excess of Rs. 3.71 lakh crore (or, roughly $55 billion) are already committed to purchasing weapons systems from abroad, and 10% as first payments in hard currency amounting to some $5 billion on the numerous contracts already made, the only option is to shrink the numbers of units contracted for, and to adjust the payments already made against the reduced outgo.

If the idea is to channel monies to realise more rational forces and capabilities, the signal has to be sent to the armed services that the government will not tolerate business-as-usual. Certain programmes are ripe for down-scaling and would set a precedent. Thus, the Field Artillery Rationalization Plan estimated to cost $12 billion can be shaved to $4 billion by reducing the demand for 1,580 towed 155mm/52mm caliber howitzers, 100 tracked self-propelled (SP) guns, 180 wheeled SP artillery, and 814 mounted gun systems by two-thirds, leaving enough hardware to meet the requirements of a single, compact, consolidated, corps-strength mobile warfare capability on the western border.

The deal for 464 Russian T-90MS tanks costing $4.3 million each in a contract worth nearly $10 billion, requires termination, not least because it is a buy at the expense of the indigenous Arjun Main Battle Tank that comprehensively out-performed the T-90 in test trials in all aspects in all terrains but was rejected as “over-weight”. This is an outrage requiring speedy rethink, if defence minister Manohar Parrikar is serious about not cutting the “indigenous” out of the government’s ‘Make in India’ policy. The plan for new generation infantry combat vehicle numbers too will require pruning to around 730 units costing Rs 52.5 billion, instead of 2,200 new ICVs for Rs 157.5 billion.

 

A similarly ruthless attitude should lead to the nixing of the 36 Rafale aircraft deal for $12 billion — engagement of Modi’s ego to this transaction notwithstanding, especially as the air force sees it as a means of pushing the government into buying 90 more of this supposedly “medium” multi-role fighter — a category of aircraft known to no other major air force. It will save India the down payment of Rs 97 billion. The navy, likewise, should be strongly dissuaded from accepting the American EMALS (electro-magnetic aircraft launch system) costing $533 million each for the second and third Kochi-built aircraft carriers.

Savings from such hard-headed procurement decisions will make available funds for appropriate capabilities, and indigenous design and technology projects, such as the Tejas 1A and Mk-II, and the navalised LCA, ordered to proceed on the concurrency principle of induction along with capability refinement, with senior air force and navy brass made accountable for their success, a procedure followed by all major militaries.

As this can happen within the time-frames for induction of imported aircraft, imports are pre-empted. The freed-up funds should also be invested in designing, developing, and producing a small 25 ton tank with an engine optimised for high-altitude operations to equip three mountain strike corps.


Published in the Hindustan Times Feb 14, 2017 at http://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/defence-budget-the-central-government-has-talked-smart-not-acted-smart/story-mveFLDo9SYdPKAs5cH6XLO.html;  and in the print (Delhi) edition under the title “Reorient focus, cut the flab”.

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Single-engined ruse

AeroIndia 2017 opens in Bangalore Feb 14-18. It is restricted, apparently by design, to fighter aircraft that are only single-engined with special exception being made for the  two-engined Boeing F-18.  This order is  hard to make sense of except as a ruse to keep the Russian combat aircraft out of the fray altogether possibly for fear that the Su-35 or the MiG-35 even would outshine the Western jets over Yerlenka AFB. Sure, other than the Su-30MKIs doing their flights, Russian planes will not be present, not even on static display at the premier Indian air show. So, we will see the ‘Super Hawk’ supposedly jointly developed by HAL and British Aerospace, the French Rafale, the Swedish Grippen E, and the American items —  the less stealthy Lockheed Martin F-16 C variant without the conformal fuel tanks (in the variant E/SE sold to Qatar) being peddled to India, and the F-18.

The Bharatiya Janata Party government of Narendra Modi has decided on a decisive military turn Westward, finally and formally reducing its flagship ‘Make in India’ policy to the same old manufacture-under-license (MUL) of totally  foreign imported combat aircraft. It is an outcome the Indian Air Force seemingly desperately desired, fearing that the combine of Modi and defence minister Manohar Parrikar would impose a future force inventory of the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft backed by the Russian staples — Su-30, MiG-29, and the upgraded Jaguars and Mirage 2000s. To keep Moscow from being miffed,  the fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) Sukhoi T-50 entering Russian service by next year, is in the reckoning but just. Considering the desultory pace of negotiations and the tilt away from equipoise, there’s good chance this FGFA may not enter IAF after all.

While the Swedes are hopeful, the Americans confident that in the final analysis a Trumpian twist of Modi’s arm would fetch it a fortune for an assembly line that Lockheed Martin would otherwise have to tear up and throw away as the space  in the Fort Worth, Texas, plant is needed for putting in place modern, up to-date production wherewithal for the F-35, and the French are delirious with the possibility not only of adding to the number of Rafales India has generously bought from Dassault that will keep that aerospace major from sinking, by selling 200 more off the same aircraft, off the shelf, if at all possible but, and this is a new avenue that’s suddenly opened up with the Indian Navy appallingly joining the IAF in ditching the navalized variant of the LCA under development — of fobbing off to India its ‘novi avion’ (naval) version as well.

The Modi regime’s somewhat skewed reason for opting for the MUL route for its Make in India programme is the belief that producing any of these aircraft — from the fairly new (Gripen) to the really old (F-16/F-18) in India, will turn this country into a global hub for sales and service worldwide for this warplane. It is a line all the suppliers have succeeded in selling to the GOI. The surprise is New Delhi has swallowed it hook, line, and sinker without so  much as a show of discomfort!  Then again, the armed services and MOD are habituated to decades of milking the armaments imports cow for the collateral gains, personalized goodies — long good time in Paris, Stockholm, …(fill in the blanks), personal “fund augmentation” and similar considerations that keeps everyone up and down the decision loop happy and lubricating and hurrahing the final deal along.

But, who’s to say India cannot afford its follies? It will be the third largest, multi-trillion dollar economy by 2030 don’t you know? But, in the here and now, there’s no money to buy these cost-benefit-wise wonky aircraft that will, for one reason or another, fail to come up to their billing. However, one thing is certain. In the context of severe resource crunch, this deal — a carryover from the half-baked MMRCA requirement conjured up by Air Hqrs, will be at the expense of the poor, expendable, home-made, Tejas LCA — lovingly designed into a beautiful aircraft that’s now orphaned, its future put in doubt despite  having the real potential as huge revenue earner in the global arms market,  by a government that talks desi but acts firang. And this is happening even as we hear not a squeak out of the ruling party’s minders in Nagpur.

But Group Captain Madhav Rangachari, CO, “Flying Daggers” 45 Squadron, the only Tejas unit in AF,  based in Sulur, Andhra Pradesh will, as a consolation, be allowed to take up his locally designed and developed air defence aircraft to show the crowds below just what the country will miss seeing in the Indian Air Force — an LCA  armada with the capacity to take out more exalted fighters in combat.

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