IAF control of combat aircraft development at HAL: Is that a good thing?

 

Image result for pics of HAL production line of Tejas

[HAL Marut HF-24 production line]

The Rafale deal has gone into a death spiral. With BJP stalwart leaders Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie making a cogent case about things going awry with the purchase of 36 Rafale combat aircraft from France and fueling charges of corruption and crony capitalism (re: the choice of Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence as offsets partner chosen by Dassault Avions), and with Rahul Gandhi piling on with accusations along the same lines, especially overjoyed that his Congress Party has finally ‘Rafale’ to tar Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party with. This means that in popular discourse, Rafale will soon resonate in the same negative way with voters as ‘Bofors’ did, and still does. These developments have followed the script I had outlined  soon after the PM announced the Rafale buy in Paris in April 2015. [Look up my posts on Rafale from that time.]

The Indian Air Force brass and the Nirmala Sitharaman-headed MOD realize they are in a mess not of their immediate making. Sitharaman’s brandishing of supposed contract papers in Parliament sidestepped the fact that these documents do indeed provide for secrecy but only related to the “commercial” terms of the deal, not for what it will all cost — a sum that will have to be intimated one way or the other to Parliament, CAG, etc and will come into the public domain. In any case, Vayu Bhavan, should be aware, as Dassault and the French government of Emmanuel Macron , perhaps, are that the slight chance of the 36 Rafales being the proverbial “wedge in the door” that will open to a still richer contract for 100 additional Rafales with the full complement of the exorbitantly priced A2A Meteor and A2G Scalp missiles and spares holdings for 72% serviceability, etc., has evaporated.

Worse, no one hereafter in the political class or MOD will for a long time touch Dassult-related goods with a barge pole anymore than they will agree, for instance, to the HDW 214 conventional diesel submarine offered by the Marine Division of Thyssen-Krupp Company of Germany for the Indian Navy for its Project 75i. This is because of the payoffs & commissions scandal that accompanied the contract for six HDW 209 submarines (which along with deal for the Bofors gun) marked the tenure of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the 1980s. That’s the inevitable fate of any high value defence contract skirting procedures in any way, or otherwise failing to “manage” the perceptions of the reality of “corruption”.

The Modi government may be trying to divert attention from the political kerfuffle over Rafale by its decision to hand over control of HAL, B’lore, to the Indian Air Force. It is reported, that this been done to minimize the time and cost overruns on the Tejas light combat aircraft production programme, particularly its upgraded Mk-2 variant.

Indian newspapers seems to be willing carriers of a lot of defence-related “fake news” — fake, in the sense, that their reporters are rarely knowledgeable enough to separate the chaff from the grain and usually regurgitate whatever is told them by MOD, and the PR offices of Armed Services HQrs without ever cross-checking for the truth. Thus, in an early Aug story, one particular daily repeated the stuff about huge delays in the LCA programme initiated in 1983, and in securing the Final Operational Clearance for the aircraft, without mentioning that the real funding of the project began only in 1999 and the fact that ADA had a prototype flying by 2006 was a commendable achievement, and that the FOC problems are as much a function, as stated repeatedly in my posts on this blog, of the IAF insisting on a battle-ready fighter plane with fully integrated weapons and the avionics suite working tickety-boo even as every other major air force, including the US Air Force, allows for the operational fine tuning of a new combat aircraft in parallel with its induction.  So FOC follows induction, not the other way around  as per IAF’s modus operandi. Moreover,  the Indian press  do not report the fact that on a comparable basis the Rs 8,000 odd-crores invested in the LCA so far and the 18-odd years it has taken for the Tejas betters the record of Lockheed Martin and the US govt which have spent in excess of ONE TRILLION US Dollars and taken over 20 years to field the latest combat aircraft for use by the three US military Services — the F-35, which has turned out to be such a bad aircraft and so ineffective as to be a laughing stock of the aviation world! And to think that F-35 is parented by Lockheed, which over the last 100 years has designed literally hundreds of combat aircraft.

Now juxtapose the F-35 development by Lockheed with the extraordinary performance of the LCA project, and what do you get — a consistent display of bad faith by IAF’s not believing in Indian talent and not trusting indigenous combat aircraft. And, despite the heinous history of the IAF deliberately and in cold blood, as I have written, killing off the indigenous multi-role HF-73 designed by the gifted designer Dr. Raj Mahindra, the successor to Dr. Kurt Tank’s Marut HF-24 (which decades after its killing and because it is safe to do so, is now praised by IAF chiefs such as ACM Krishnaswamy in my new book — ‘Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition’ to be released in market Aug 15, as an extraordinary  low level strike aircraft in its time that was also able to achieve super-cruise without afterburners), in favour of the British Jaguar in the mid-1970s that could do neither! The IAF’s preferring the Jaguar wiped out the painstakingly built-up Marut technological and R&D base and, more significantly, two entire generations of Indian aircraft designers and developers at HAL, forcing the ADA and the LCA project in 1983 to start out anew, from zero technology and design and development base.

Which last brings us to the core of this post: the IAF’s control of HAL and combat aircraft programme in the country. What motivated the Modi regime to do this is not known because the country has experience of long years of the IAF brass running the HAL, an experience that should have been salutary and warned against letting foxes guard the hen house! Consider the disastrous record of HAL under several IAF officers, including a couple of CASs and senior Air Marshals, to get an idea of what may be in store.

Air Chief Marshals PC Lal, OP Mehra and LM Katre were chairman, HAL, in 1966-69, 1971-73 and in the early Eighties respectively. In between the tenures of Mehra and Katre, the post was occupied by Group Captain Baljit K. Kapur (whose claim to fame is that he seeded a milieu of corruption in HAL, spawning the most notorious arms agent, Sudhir Choudhrie — his nephew, that the country has known, who acquired deep pockets and exploited his even deeper connections in the military, the political class, and the bureaucracy, to forge multi-billion dollar defence deals and then escaped trouble by bribing his way out of two CBI investigations. See https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Sudhir-Choudhrie-High-flying-arms-dealer-may-finally-be-grounded/articleshow/31300678.cms )

Lal and Mehra were centrally at HAL controls when the HF-24 was being produced, and which aircraft was so callously treated by the air force that brand new Maruts were actually flown out of HAL assembly line and straight into junk yards! Messrs Lal, Mehra, Kapur and Katre were all aware of Dr Mahindra designing the HF-73 and did less than nothing to promote it with the Service that the three (minus Kapur) went on to head or had led as CAS. Air Marshal SJ Dastur was chairman and known for decisiveness but, like his fellow GDPs, did little to push indigenous effort, or to create a sustainable aviation industry in India but like all these characters was content to have HAL screwdrivering imported aircraft under license manufacture schemes.  Indeed, these airmen may be seen to have been complicit, even guilty owing to their acts of omission and commission, to do away with the indigenous capability altogether over time in conspiracy with the Vayu Bhavan.

Had any Indian PM after Jawaharlal Nehru, who nursed the Marut programme and imported Kurt Tank of Focke-Wulfe fame for the purpose, been strategic visioned and utterly nationalist, or had there been a nationalist-minded IAF chief or a self-sufficiency driven chairman in HAL cockpit, and taken on himself the onus of building on the base that  Tank had erected in Bangalore, Indian combat aviation industry would have been two decades ahead of China today. Think of it. And then think of all the excuses a succession of Indian prime ministers, Chiefs of Air Staff, and chairmen of HAL have since given to explain why the country is in the pits, and one begins to understand the problem that is at hand, but one that is amenable to a solution by strong-willed leadership.

A nationalist-minded air chief determined to see India become self-sufficient in combat aircraft would have ensured — that with or without the Indian government’s help —  the IAF prioritised fighter aircraft design and development in-country and, as a self-respecting chairman, HAL, accelerated their production. Then again, IAF has never had a true nationalist at its apex. It has thus transpired that India, which started out with a bang by designing, developing, manufacturing and flying the HF-24 — the first supersonic aircraft fully crafted nose to tail outside of Europe and North America, was reduced in slow stages to a country that meets all its aircraft needs from abroad, and the IAF to a minor, tactical- level force without the professional nous to even appreciate the need for a strategic bomber in the fleet and, therefore, without one, and also without a genuine strategic capability and, worse, hardware requirements-wise, a full-blown foreign dependency!

So, what gives Prime Minister Modi the confidence that an HAL with an IAF officer in-charge will fare any better than with a DRDO/HAL time-server in the chair? Because theatre commands are prized as are the top posts in the air hierarchy in Delhi, some sodden fool of an Air Marshal will be hoist with the charge of HAL where he will do Vayu Bhavan’s bidding — which is to pave the way for buying more aircraft from the West!!  To suggest as some have done that all aspects of combat aircraft production, including design and development, be brought under the IAF would be to risk the Tejas Mk-2 and the successor Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft programme being run into the ground, the better for Air HQrs to then make the case to the government in the future that IAF needs to import more aircraft!

The answer is to de-bureaucratize the aerospace sector, compel ADA to transfer Tejas technologies with source codes — the know why and know how — to the private sector so that credible, hard driving, profit-generating, private sector aircraft producers that get into foreign sales from get-go, can emerge from the present morass to offer competition to the DPSUs. This will do HAL a lot of good in making it sharper, more efficient, and help India to rise as a consequential all round air power that doesn’t have an air force operating at the sufferance of numerous vendor states.

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Will Modi buckle under Trump’s pressure on Iran?

Image result for pics of Modi and Iranian leader rouhani

[Modi & Rouhani in Tehran)

US President Donald Trump did what is by now the new normal, tweeted a pixilated policy — this time regarding the reimposition of sanctions on Iran. He twittered thus:  “The Iran sanctions have officially been cast. These are the most biting sanctions ever imposed, and in November they ratchet up to yet another level. Anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States. I am asking for WORLD PEACE, nothing less!” An official statement that followed, saying “We urge all nations to take such steps to make clear that the Iranian regime faces a choice: either change its threatening, destabilising behaviour and reintegrate with the global economy, or continue down a path of economic isolation”, further confused and roiled the situation.

What “WORLD PEACE” has to do with pressuring Tehran to agree to rescind and re-negotiate the nuclear deal is anyone’s guess. Except throwing “world peace” into this mix Trump thinks will elevate his pressure tactic into a moral action. And what has the Hassan Rouhani regime done that is so “threatening” and  “destabilizing” other than maintaining the Hezbollah in the field against Israel and in Syria — which last is supported by Moscow? In fact, the liberally inclined Rouhani went out on a limb to strike the N-deal, in the face of virulent opposition from the more belligerently nationalist elements in Iranian society headed by the Pasdaran (the Revolutionary Guard) and including the more conservative sections of the Shia clergy and the “bazaari” (the powerful small trader class) support base. Now he is being asked to eat crow by Trump.

An exasperated Western Europe — its good faith, traditional friendliness, and patience taxed beyond limits by Trump’s talking down NATO and arm-twisting member states into spending 4% of their GDP on defence and security, have given up on the USA. America, they say, can go it alone, particularly because China and Russia, signatories to the Iran nuclear deal, too have joined the West European countries in firmly declaring that they will  not tolerate Trump’s policy waywardness.  European governments have already instructed their private sector corporations and companies to ignore US sanctions, and are  proceeding to provide them legal cover with appropriate legislation.

Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s (EU) High Representative for Foreign Affairs,  declared in no uncertain terms that “We are doing our best to keep Iran in the deal, to keep Iran benefiting from the economic benefits that the agreement brings to the people of Iran, because we believe this is in the security interests of not only our region but also of the world. If there is one piece of international agreements on nuclear non-proliferation that is delivering, it has to be maintained. We are encouraging small and medium enterprises in particular to increase business with and in Iran as part of something [that] for us is a security priority.” She added that it is a “fundamental aspect of the Iranian right to have an economic advantage in exchange for what they have done so far, which is being compliant with all their nuclear-related commitments”.  This EU position directly clashes with Trump’s view of the Iran deal as “a horrible one-sided deal that should never, ever have been made”. ( https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/07/eu-foreign-policy-chief-calls-on-firms-to-defy-trump-over-iran ) This when Tehran agreed to stop enriching uranium to bomb-grade, switch off its centrifuge cascades, and ship out 95% of its fissile material stock!

Sure, Western Europe is trying to keep two policy balls in play. Around the same time that Trump twittered, European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker,  visited Washington and, to get around recent disagreements, decided with Trump to increase tariff-free trade. Except with the EU firming up on the Mogherini line, it is Trump — mark my words — who will blink first. So, who exactly is going to fall behind Trump? Which countries will back him?

Plainly, the Trump Administration expects that by the time the heavier tranche of sanctions comes on stream by November and dollar transactions for Iranian oil begin  attracting sanctions, governments that have shown jelly-like stomach for  a fight, will succumb. Xi Jinping’s China and Erdogan’s Turkey — amongst the largest buyers, have indicated they are prepared to carry on buying Iranian oil regardless. Modi’s India, however, has not revealed its cards yet. It has set up banking channels to avoid payment tangles, etc. But with 2×2 Talks coming up, and US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and defence secretary James Mattis flying into Delhi September 5, consultations in PMO and MEA are veering to an indecision on Iran.

As revealed in the last several years, Modi is an instinctive accommodationist where America is concerned. But the political costs of being seen as buckling under US pressure and to come out as more loyal to Trump than the EU, are too high — with general elections in sight — for Modi to risk going over fully to the US side. Besides, if the American advice is followed and ties with Tehran thinned out, there are valid fears that India’s strategic stake in Chabahar will be endangered. But that will be the least of India’s troubles. It may be wise to reflect on what Guy Verhofstadt, a former prime minister of Belgium, said about the dilemma Trump has compelled its friends to face. US’s Iran stance “shows yet again”, he said, “why we as Europeans must strengthen our foreign policy to be able to shape relations with the greater Middle East independently from the US.” Then there’s the fact that US sanctions violate, as the Russian Foreign Ministry has pointed out,  UN resolution 2231 [on the Iran deal] and international law.

India then will be arrayed more fully against Russia and China, both of whom have strongly reaffirmed their links to Iran. Further, exploiting the absence of economic and trade competitors — the US and EU (assuming that after all the bellicose noises it subsides to a pussycat and purrs along with Trump as could happen) — from the Iranian market place, Beijing is quickly deploying its trademark devices — large investments, big infrastructure projects, a deluge of consumer goods to drag an Iran, bereft of alternatives, into its fold. That will be a disaster for India.

The Speaker of the Iranian legislature, Ali Larijani, has suggested using the certain economic isolation of his country, consequent to the sanctions. Tehran, he said, should focus “on the domestic economy, reform its structure and facilitate investment, and …increase Iran’s resilience [all of which] offers a good prospect for the country.” It is precisely the opening that Delhi should have used to prise open the Iranian market and economy still wider for the Indian private and public sector companies to rush in with manifold increases in trade and commerce. China has espied the chance and is racing to capitalize on it.

It is India’s greatest misfortune  that there has been no Indian government in the new Century (or, in the old one for that matter) with like expansive national strategic vision to be able to see  such opportunities and grasp them, or the  iron will to stand its ground and stare down big power bullies, and to do what’s in the country’s national interest.

It is manifestly in India’s interest to be close friends of Iran and Russia, to follow tit-for-tat policies with China, to be less gullible and more wary of the US, and to be guided by its track record, rather than by the smarmy talk emanating from Washington and Trump of the ‘Indo-Pacific’, etc. The reality is India’s and US’ interests converge but only and exclusively as regards China. Iran is not in this cone of convergence. So, sure, by all means cooperate with the US to confuse, contain, and corral China. But this should under no circumstances result in India’s turning into a camp follower or, worse, a lap dog. This last, however, is precisely what seems to be happening with Modi’s government and, sorry to say this, the higher echelons of the Indian military (reflected in such decisions as the Navy’s — slammed by the CAG — to go in for 8 more P-8I MR aircraft equipped with the faulty Harpoon-II anti-ship missiles. See  https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/cag-raises-stink-over-2009-p8i-naval-aircraft-deal-says-upa-bought-costly-plane/articleshow/65306934.cms . This when, as is known in naval circles, the hypersonic Russian Kaliber missiles were available for the asking.)

Well, how Delhi proceeds on Iran in the face of American dictation, will be a good measure to judge the country’s independence. No bad metric to keep in mind with the 71st Independence Day round the corner.

 

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The subterranean objectives of STA-1

James Mattis and Wilbur Ross Photos - 3 of 4

[Trump, to his left, General James Mattis, and Commerce Secretary William Ross]

The September 6 timeline for the 2×2 talks between the Indian and US foreign and defence ministers was approaching fast. This is a postponement of the July 6 meeting. Because of preoccupations of Washington at the time, the US secretary of state Mike Pompeo in particular — whose agency conducts America’s foreign affairs — found on the eve of the visit by Messrs Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman to Washington in July that the Trump administration had not addressed the growing doubts and skepticism in Delhi, occasioned by possible CAATSA sanctions, about the advisability and benefits of getting close to the US which the American ambassador Kenneth Juster in Delhi had warned could become a stumbling block in 2×2 forum. So the two month period was sought by Pompeo to try and see what could be done to retrieve the situation by giving evidence of US good faith. With the 2012 Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) having produced nothing in the last six years but hot air, and with Mattis’ and Juster’s concerted pushing, Pompeo got the Trump White House to approve the Strategic Trade Authorization (STA)-1 status for India, because Washington has long been aware that Delhi can be pacified with symbolic gestures. There’s much glee hereabouts that Pakistan and China are no part of the STA-schemata. Such are the small things Indians are happy with.

STA-1 is just a symbolic gesture because all it does is merely enlarge a little the list of technologies India can access — NOT open America’s advanced technology shop for the Indian MOD and military to raid as uninformed Indian press and media elatedly implied. The MEA pitched in, with the idea of providing a fig leaf, saying it would help promote defence technology cooperation under the aegis of the so far barren DTTI when the real US purpose behind according India STA-1 standing is to prompt the sale of more high value military goods to this country. In theory STA-1 will allow India the same access as NATO allies, Japan and South Korea. In practice, no cutting edge stuff will be made available. Just to prove what I am saying the Indian government should try asking for the Globohawk — the long duration flying armed drone. As technologies go, it isn’t at all cutting edge — but Delhi will discover it can’t get it. Why, because that will loosen the already tenuous bonds with Pakistan, which Washington cannot afford, not if it is serious about persisting with its hopeless strategy of militarily defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan.  Nor will  the US countenance the transfer the “know why” for combat aircraft design — the source codes and operational algorithms, etc. or for designing and producing combat aircraft jet engines. Or, the silencing technologies for submarines. Or,….

But the Indian ambassador Navtej Sarna piped up to extol this development as “a sign of trust not only in the relationship but also on India’s capabilities as an economy and as a security partner, because it also presupposes that India has the multilateral export control regime in place.” Mind you, the export regimes Sarna is referring to are the missile technology control regime, the 2008 civilian nuclear deal, and the Wassenar Agreement, that Delhi has signed, even when aware that this put legal clamps on India exporting even indigenously designed and developed sensitive goods and technologies to countries that the US feels shouldn’t have them. India is thus compelled to conform to Washington’s threat perceptions and to follow its policy dictates at the expense of its own national interest, technology leverage and foreign policy options which India could otherwise have exercised.

US’ still more salient and significant strategic objective is to ensure that STA-1 incentivizes the already American hardware-besotted Indian armed services to source more and more of their requirements from US companies — a trend greenlighted by defence minister Sitharaman, a former employee of both BBC and PriceWaterhouse Cooper who, it may be recalled, some months backs blithely announced that the Indian military is free to procure its needs from anywhere and are not restricted in any way. But, let’s also be clear that it is the PMO passing this policy line for Sitharaman to pursue.  [There was reason for installing Sitharaman, a fairly undistinguished junior minister and political ingenue in MoD — susceptibility to accepting directions from PMO without hesitation.] Most US military high-tech, like any other technology, is routed in Washington through the Commerce Department headed by secretary  William Ross, whose brief is to promote the interests of US industry. Giving the game away,  Ross explained that STA-1 means that “US companies will be able to more efficiently export a much wider range of products to Indian high technology and military customers. India’s new status will benefit US manufacturers while continuing to protect our national security.”

What is the flip side of more monies to fund the larger volume of imports of military armaments and technologies? Yes, you guessed it — something I have been hammering away at in this blog —  the throttling of funds for indigenous R&D projects and programmes, turning a potentially vibrant defence industry in the private sector into another link in the global supply chain — and all to make financial room for more extensive arms imports. This is how the killing of the national effort at  arms indigenization and achieving self-sufficiency in weaponry will be furthered. And the twin meta-strategic goals of crowding Russia out of the Indian arms market and replacing it with America as India’s main military supplier, and keeping this country forever an arms dependency, accomplished.

Strange to think that Modi was voted to power as a nationalist!

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What ails India’s defence forces

Image result for pics of Indian tanks on maneuver

Size and brass buckle traditions are what the Indian military is known for internationally — third-largest army, fourth-largest air force, seventh-largest navy — and not for its quality, operational dexterity, or innovative use of technology.

Worse, it is growingly tainted by ‘big’ corruption — with uniformed officers in the defence ministry’s procurement loops partaking, along with their civilian counterparts, of the usual goodies on offer — ‘commissions’ channelled into secret offshore accounts, or bribery in kind such as foreign trips, shopping sprees in Paris, London, Stockholm, and ‘scholarships’ and ‘green card’/resident and work visas for progeny, etc. for facilitating deals for foreign armaments and hardware.

Very occasionally, due to sheer bad luck senior officers get caught with their hands in the till, as Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi was. The former air force chief was indicted by the CBI for taking a bribe from Italy’s AgustaWestland Company in a 2010 deal worth Rs 3,600 crore for 12 of its AW101 helicopters to outfit the Indian government’s VVIP fleet.

More advanced militaries periodically transform themselves to conform to evolving technology and best management principles. So, post-World War II vintage forces emphasising mobility and firepower acquired proficiency in network-centric warfare and are now sharpening their fighting capabilities in the cyber warfare realm. The Indian armed services, however, have been slow and often tardy.

The problem, in a nutshell, is this: After 20 years of discussion, the armed services are yet to agree on a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) system of centralised command and control — indispensable for the conduct of modern war. In the realm of digital communications and data fusion where owing to a multitude of land-, air- and space-based sensors, the unfolding battlefield is clearer in real time to a CDS sitting in Delhi than it will be to the frontline unit commander, and will permit him to take decisions to fortify the defensive posture here, switch the axis of attack there, insert special forces in a third place.

Just in Asia, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) fully transformed itself thus in less than a decade. The Japanese military accomplished it inside of two years, inclusive of a radical operational reorientation away from the Russian-occupied Kurile Islands and the Kamchatka Peninsula southwest-wards to the Senkaku Islands and the East Sea, and the setting up of seven theatre commands, to confront China. Not surprisingly, even when it comes to cyber warfare, these two militaries are top-rated.

Unfortunately, the Indian military resembles the turgid Indian bureaucracy. Set in their old ways, the armed services flub the basic test: instead of the main security challenge —  China — they key on Pakistan, which is more nuisance than threat. So the country pays through its nose to sustain an entirely inappropriate force structure featuring three armoured strike corps boasting thousands of useless tanks that are only good for the Rajasthan desert, because the Punjab plains on the Pakistan side are crisscrossed by an impassable grid of ditch-cum-bunds.

On the other hand, the army lacks offensive corps for mountain warfare capable of debouching on to the Tibetan Plateau and taking the fight to the PLA. Without three such offensive mountain corps, the PLA will always have the initiative — it can choose the time, place, and scale of engagement, leaving the defensively-arrayed Indian land forces to always scramble to respond. As happened in the 2017 summer at Doklam.

The Indian Air Force, likewise, is geared principally to take on Pakistan. In theory, aircraft can fly and fight anywhere unless they are so short-legged they cannot optimally be used other than on the western border. In fact, the bulk of the IAF inventory is filled with short to medium range aircraft that will be of limited utility against China. So tactical and myopic is the IAF’s thinking, it refused a genuine strategic bomber — the Tu-22 Backfire offered by Russia as far back as 1971. In similar vein, the Indian Navy is fixated on building aircraft carriers, which look obsolete in the face of supersonic and hypersonic missiles.

This highlights the other big problem. There is no mechanism in the Ministry of Defence for inter se prioritisation of defence expenditure programmes. Absent such means, procurement funding is haphazard with funds allocated to acquire this or that weapons system on a purely arbitrary basis, or as per political whim and fancy (such as the decision to buy 36 Rafale combat aircraft from France). The real scandal is this: There is no real dearth of financial resources, but there is a pronounced tendency to buy the wrong armament for the wrong reasons and, mostly, for the wrong front.

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[Published in MoneyControl.com, July 26, 2018,  https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/india/opinion-what-ails-indias-defence-forces-2761471.html

 

 

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Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, corruption, Culture, Decision-making, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Japan, Military/military advice, Northeast Asia, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Russia, South Asia, Tibet, Weapons | 23 Comments

If Imran Khan is PM, it will be hard line against India

Image result for pics of shireen mazari and imran khan together

(Shireen Mazari on the right)

A leader is known by his/her advisers. The policies the leader is likely to pursue are telegraphed by what  these advisers may have said and written. Should the Pakistan Tehreeq-i-Insaaf (PTI) party win the general elections on Wednesday, July 26, Imran Khan will be installed as Prime Minister. Every one expects this will happen, considering he is the Pakistan Army’s candidate, as Nawaz Sharif once was, and that the ISI will ‘work’ the levers to obtain the desired result. In which case, the person to look out for is the irascible Shireen Mazari, a Pathan, who once threatened to take another female PTI party-mate to a tribal jirga for purveying falsehoods about her.

Mazari was Director-General of the Pakistan government funded thinktank, Institute of Strategic Studies, in Islamabad, in 2000-2008, and is PTI’s ‘Information secretary’ and advises Imran on foreign and defence affairs.  She may well be his choice as NSA or Pakistan’s Foreign Minister to pit against Sushma Swaraj or, alternatively, even defence minister. In either case, Delhi should be prepared for the hard line.

The Imran Khan attending conclaves held by media houses in Delhi in the past is not the Imran Khan who will become PM. He will mirror the Pakistan Army’s views and act as the guardian of its interests. He is likely to toe a very tough line that Mazari and Army propound generally and vis a vis India.

Mazari has led the campaign waged by Imran since 2013 to end all US drone strikes in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. She was very vocal on this issue,  charging the CIA director John Brennan with “committing murder and waging war against Pakistan” and demanding the interrogation of the then CIA station chief in Islamabad to ascertain the identities of the pilots controlling the drones that eliminated Hakimullah Mehsud and struck a seminary in Hangu Dist in KP, killing a spiritual leader of the Haqqani network. Indeed, Mazari publicly criticized the Pakistan Army for not shooting down American drones. It is certain, a PTI government will seek an end to all US drone strikes inside Pakistan, while countenancing such hits on Taliban targets within Afghanistan.

On nuclear matters, Mazari is an out and out hawk, lauding the Pakistan Strategic Plans Division (SPD) for its India-centered approach. In a compendium of research writings on ‘Arms Race and Nuclear Developments in South Asia’ published in 2004 by the Islamabad Policy Research Institute, in a  companion piece to my research paper deconstructing the Indian nuclear doctrine, Mazari had revealed SPD’s thinking and the likely nature of the build-up of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. She made clear — and this was the most important revelation, particularly in hindsight that “If India seeks to opt for an even-spread amongst its nuclear triad of forces,  then Pakistan needs to  have an edge on land-based developments in terms of numbers.” Except,  the Indian nuclear weapons mix, evenly spread or not,  triggered the rapid enlargement of Pakistan’s stock of short-range tactical missiles in the last 15 years — with the supposedly nuclear-tipped  Nasr 40mm rocket inducted in large numbers as that country’s calling card. This development of Pakistan seeking a missile edge over India has validated Mazari.

I am personally acquainted with Shireen Mazari owing to the seminar circuit I was active in, in the last decade. As a realist she seemed motivated by notions of hard national interest, and always interpreted Indian actions and moves in the most negative way. It strikes me that for these very reasons, the PTI regime would happily negotiate — as she has advocated — conventional military draw-downs with India. This may be no bad thing for the Modi government to try and negotiate in good faith as a means of stabilizing the border, the subcontinent’s security situation, and finally reorienting the Indian armed services to the only credible threat and military challenge India faces — China. Such a modus vivendi will lead naturally to the two sides accepting the solution for the Kashmir dispute offered in 2007 by Gen. Musharraf — Mazari’s one time chief patron.

This will necessarily require something I have long advocated — collapsing the three strike corps into a single composite armoured corps with several independent armoured brigades, and otherwise shifting the manpower and usable materiel assets to forming three offensive mountain corps for the China front. In practical terms, this could mean ‘compositing’ II Corps and converting the Strike Corps  — I and XXI into offensive mountain warfare formations. There’s no more sensible option for effectively using the Indian defence rupee which otherwise is annually squandered in upkeeping the army’s cash-guzzling 3-strike corps complement.

But will the BJP government negotiate such draw-downs? Apparently not, And for all the obvious reasons of retaining Pakistan as a convenient foe to beat up on for domestic political benefits.

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Army will be without arms…if it doesn’t revert to Five-year colour service

Indian Army Photo Uniform Editor - Army Suit maker

Figures don’t lie. The payroll expenses and the pensions and the post-retirement sustenance costs (besides pensions, access to canteen and health services for life) are barreling out of control, taking an ever bigger chunk of the exchequer. Based on the truncated one rank, one pension (OROP) accepted by the BJP government with equalization every five years (instead of every two years as suggested by the ex-servicemen’s organizations), the financial subvention for the human resources (HR) category (roughly the defence budget on revenue account + the pensions budget (with 2013 used as base year for one rank, one pension calculations) will hit the country . The scale of outgo on this account will become apparent in its totality when the 2019-20 budget is presented. But even without accounting for the OROP tsunami, the numbers are absolutely stunning. Consider the budgetary figures:

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2017-18                              2018-19

Defence Budget

 

Rs 2,59,262 crores Rs 2,79,305 crores

 

Growth of Def Budget (%)  16.5 7.7
Rev Expenditure

 

 Rs 1,72,774 crores Rs 1,85,323 crores
Growth of Rev expend (%) 20 7
Share Rev Exp in Defbud(%) 67 66
Capital Expend Rs 86,488 crores Rs 93,982 crores-
Growth of Capital expend(%) 10 9
Share of Capital Expend (%) 33 34
Cap Acquisition (Rs In Crore) Rs 69,473 crores Rs 74,224 crores (approx)
Growth Cap Acquisition (%) -0.6 6.8 (approx)
Share of Def Budg in GDP (%) 1.54 1.49
Share of Def Bud GOIExp(%) 12.1 11.4
Defence Pension Rs 85,740 crores Rs 1,08,853 crores
Growth of Def Pension (%) 4 27

(Source: Laxman Behera, “”Defence Expenditure 2018-19”,  https://idsa.in/issuebrief/defence-budget-2018-19-controlling-manpower-cost-lkbehera-020218  )

The HR outgo for the army in 2018-19 of Rs 2,94,176 crores almost equals the total defence budget and, at the present rate of growth will, by next year, exceed it by a furlong. (For simplification of analysis purposes, the military’s pensions and revenue budgets are not here disaggregated but lumped in with the navy’s and air force’s, also because the manpower of the smaller services are dwarfed by the army’s; compared to ‘army’s strength of 1.3 million, the air force is 140,000-strong, and navy 100,000-strong.)

With the 5-yearly automatic escalator plugged in, the defence budget will, quite literally be uncontrolled or uncontrollable by the Finance Ministry (as evidenced in the 23% growth on the pensions spend in just one year), even as capital/force modernization plans will have to be sporadically funded — as is already the case now but for reasons principally of absence of inter se prioritisation — or shelved altogether because there will not be enough resources available for them. But the separation of pensions and defence budgets is a bare-faced device to divert attention and soften — on paper — the fiscal impact, because the source of the funding of all these streams is the same — the tax payer’s pocket. If one were to include the 7 paramilitary organizations in totaling the cost in terms of maintenance and pensions, the figure will be altogether humungous. As it is HR upkeep costs are crowding out the outlays for hardware procurement.

The burgeoning problem has finally attracted the government’s attention. Except, the Modi regime has resorted to controversial steps by the Ministry of Defence — covered under the rubric of the civilianization of some 752 cantonment territorial parcels and military lands all over the country –as a means of drastically cutting the expenditure in upkeeping these vast tracts of land and landed-property owned by by the MOD and hitherto set aside for exclusive armed services’ use. This solution has already riled the military and increased the sources of tension between the military and civilian sections of society, and doesn’t address the fundamental problem of the government’s financial support for the military being skewed by the mounting HR expenses. The army has also proposed other means, such as eliminating the one-star Brigadier rank and equivalent from the military. Yes, but the savings will be minimal in payroll and pension costs in any case, but will sow a lot of confusion in the interface between time-grade promoted officers (to the Lieutenant Colonel rank) and colonels destined for higher ranks by selection. And, in any case, how will this new system jell considering a brigade is the army’s fighting unit of choice? Anything smaller being sub-optimal and anything bigger unwieldy.

Oh, sure, there are other decisions the Modi government can take expeditiously to streamline, rationalize, and drastically reduce defence expenditure by, for instance, integrating the training and logistics components of the army, air force and navy into joint Training and Logistics Commands under MOD (to avoid triplication of these capabilities and of funding at each unit level), which will save  a whole lot of money. But anything integrated is shunned by the military and however desirable will not be obtained –witness the state of the realization of Chief of Defence Staff system. It has been provisionally vetoed by IAF. So the economies available by these means won’t happen, especially as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while happily seeking votes from the large, country-wide, military Family for his OROP decision, has shown he lacks  the political will to impose structurally and organizationally re-engineered systems for the bureaucracy and armed services to operate in.

So the only way out seems to be to rejig the manpower-heavy army’s strength without hurting its war-fighting capability.  An obvious solution comes to mind that older generation officers may be partial to: Why not revert to the old five year colour (frontline regimental) service standard for the army? It will have cascading benefits for the country, besides relieving the stress on the state treasury.

India’s  population is some 1,281,935,911; of the available youthful manpower of 616 million, 489.6 million are “fit for service” with 22.9 million annually reaching military service age of 18 years. The entrant-level jawan will have to be unmarried and with a high school-leaving certificate. The five year colour service norm will mean a year for training and battle inoculation and four years of active service, at the end of which an unmarried jawan cohort will pass out of service, still young but now experienced — some of them armed with marketable technical skills in telecommunications, machinery servicing and maintenance, etc. , and each equipped also with a fat remuneration package of couple of crores of rupees paid up-front, lump-sum, to ease their passage back into civilian life and with the financial wherewithal to find their way in the world in second careers lasting a lifetime.

The gains will be numerous, among them (1) a growingly disciplined citizenry, with the ex-armymen in the van, (2) a younger, physically stronger, more lithe and agile army,  that will more readily be deployable in challenging tasks and expeditionary missions, etc. (3) a younger armed forces reserve for call-up in national emergencies, and (4) drastic reductions in the spend on pensions and post-retirement services.

At present  the army is in the worst possible situation in every respect. With the 17-year colour service norm, the average trooper is in his 30s by the time of his release — too young to live a pensioned life, but too old to start out on a new career and to lift himself further. The country has then to sustain him for the rest of his life — for the next some 40 years or more, and his survivors for the rest of their lives, completely skewing the defence budget. Worse, it radically limits the resources the nation can make available for national security generally, but more importantly, for keeping the army and the other armed forces continually modernized and technologically updated.

The country, moreover, will not have to “double dip” by having government-owned banks give loans to the young for their entreprenurial ventures — as Modi boasted in Parliament in last Friday’s vote of no confidence. The jawan graduating with 5-year’s military service behind him will be well-equipped financially and age-wise  to make it on his own.

If the paramilitary organizations were subjected to similar five or seven year frontline service norms, more Indian youth — short of compulsory national service — will be recycled and a huge dent made as regards unemployed or under-employed youth currently clogging up the economy. The demographic bomb, and not demographic dividend, is the country’s most severe existential threat.

 

 

 

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian para-military forces, Indian Politics, Military/military advice, SAARC, society, South Asia | 7 Comments

New Delhi must reset its overt tilt to the US

Image result for pics of Trump and Modi

(Friendship in fine fettle?)

Conflicting signals are emanating from Delhi. Washington cancelled the 2+2 talks scheduled for July 6 involving the foreign and defence ministers because it believed the BJP government was going off script. India indicated it would not compromise its ties with Russia and with Iran, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin elevating the bilateral relations at their May 21 “informal summit in Sochi to privileged special strategic partnership, several rungs above the plain strategic partnership with the US, and by the readying of alternative banking channels to pay for Iranian oil. But Delhi is also seeking waivers from CAATSA sanctions.

The sealing of the deal for the S-400 air defence system, the shortlisting of the St Petersburg-based Rubin submarine design bureau as foreign partner for the Navy’s Project 75i conventional submarine project, and reiterating Chabahar port as the linchpin of India’s geopolitical strategy for Afghanistan and Central Asia combined with India’s swift retaliatory tariffs on imports from the US after Indian steel, aluminium, and light manufactures were targeted by Washington reinforced the view that Delhi was doing a policy rethink. If this is indeed the case, then it is to be welcomed.

The standout feature of Prime Minister Modi’s foreign policy so far has, however, been its overt tilt to America. It undermined 70 years of India’s approach to the world of maintaining a distance from great powers, which enhanced India’s diplomatic leverage, its freedom of policy manoeuvre, and status as the arch balancer in the international system. The country’s traditional non-alignment policy was given the new raiment of “strategic autonomy” in the last decade but the central principle of balancing power did not change. Far from being outdated, this concept has attracted new adherents in the age of Donald J Trump, when the US seems to treat friendly states (in Europe and Northeast Asia) worse than it does its supposed adversaries. Contrast the rough treatment meted out to its historic allies with the soft-glove-handling of Russia, China and North Korea. It motivated the European Union last month to form a “joint interventionary military force” independent of NATO for reasons, according to an official statement, of “strategic autonomy”.

In 2016 Modi signed the Logistics Support Agreement permitting the US to stage air, naval and land forces operations out of India in the arc Perth-Simonstown. It encouraged Washington to push the two other “foundational accords” — COMCASA and BECA advertised as increasing “interoperability”. What COMCASA will also do is facilitate vertical and horizontal penetration by the US of India’s most sensitive government and military communications grids, including the nuclear Strategic Forces Command – the reason why the armed services are against signing it. The Indian government is nevertheless inclined, it is said, to sign COMCASA based on iron-clad assurances that the information gleaned from accessing Indian official communications won’t be divulged to third countries. Is the BJP government really so naïve and gullible as to deem such assurances credible considering America’s track record of untrustworthiness and duplicitous behaviour?

Washington in 1982 forewarned Pakistan about the underway joint Indo-Israeli aerial strike mission to pre-empt the threat from Pakistani nuclear weapons by bombing the uranium centrifuges complex in Kahuta resulting in the scrapping of that mission. In 1998, it revealed to Beijing the contents of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s secret note to President Bill Clinton justifying the nuclear tests because of the Chinese threat and, in 2008, it failed to convey to Delhi the definite information it had about the preparations underfoot for the Pakistan Army’s ISI-organised seaborne terrorist attack on Mumbai.

COMCASA, moreover, will enhance Russia’s fears of compromising its high-value platforms, such as the leased Akula-class nuclear-powered attack submarine and the Su-30MKI combat aircraft in India’s employ. Such agreements, besides turning India into a crypto ally, pose a danger to national security and can cause serious misunderstanding with Moscow that India can ill-afford. They are being justified on trivial grounds, that the armed maritime Guardian drone, not used by the US military, needs COMCASA uplinks.

Modi’s tilt is undergirded by his personal regard and admiration for America shored up during his travels in that country in the 1980s on his own, as a BJP functionary, and as part of the US State Department hosted tours for “young leaders”. Modi promised to raise India’s stock in the world. This won’t happen if India becomes a camp-follower.

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[Published in the Hindustan Times, July 17, 2018 https://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/new-delhi-must-reset-its-overt-tilt-to-the-us/story-T0Tc65MTTtLY4dVoOLrkqI.html

 

 

 

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