Getting it consistently wrong in the ‘Red Corridor’


There are two narratives regarding the Naxals. One, that the Maoist rebels are on the run, their ranks decimated by desertion and paramilitary actions, and that the entire fighting element among them has shrunk to a small “hard core” group of experienced fighters. The other is a more skeptical take on the situation, that that this is so much brave talk to prop up the spirits because in reality ground is being steadily lost despite more roads being constructed and communications links established in the hinterland areas where hitherto government writ didn’t prevail because the apparatus of government — police and administration was absent. That the the truth lies somewhere in between can be taken for granted in view of the huge number of violent incidents that have been recorded and the ability of the armed “revolutionaries” to strike counter-insurgency troop concentrations, either in their bases, encampments in the field, and on the outskirts of big towns, such as Sukna where, in the most recent such incident 25 paralmils were slain.

The problem is this if 118 battalions of mainly CRPF, but also of ITBP, or some 120,000 troopers in all cannot make much of a headway, what are the prospects of improvements in the situation?

Home Minister Rajnath Singh apparently believes two things that (1) injecting the more effective and disciplined army and its counterinsurgency arm — the Rashtriya Rifles, and the Indian Air Force with air support, would begin to tilt the balance of power against the Maoists, and (2) high-technology paraphernalia, such as drones, remote sensors, etc., will compensate for the manifest lack of spirit shown by the paramils, who are thus dragging down the effort.

Moreover, in this sort of operational scenario IAF helicopters are a big No-No. These whirly-birds clattering down in forest clearings to lift and offload CI troops are about as useful as deploying tanks would be. In fact, all that the rebels would then have to do is wait for the helos to unload a fighting contingent for them to know their targets and the drop zones. Regularly using combat aircraft or attack helicopters in ground attack mode, as the estimable former air chief heading for the hoosegaw, SP Tyagi, had suggested in trumpeting the supposed COIN attributes of the British Hawk aircraft, would be even more disastrous, because the cumulative costs of such missions (including protection of nearby satellite air fields where they’ll be based) in terms of kill-rate or interdiction success will be minimal. Despite the US Air Force dropping more bombs on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam than were dropped on the Axis Powers by the Allies in WW2, the North Vietnamese logistics system was only minimally disrupted during the Vietnam War, 1965-72.

Such thinking, loved by the political pooh-bahs and service brass, gives me the shivers. For God’s sake what specific training would the army or even its RR elements be able to impart to the paramils? The army operates withing the context of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, a very different, less onerous milieu than the one the anti-Naxal cops face.

Time and again I have iterated in my writings that history shows that only small groups of committed, and materially well rewarded, commandos, who live off the land, spend long time in the field in hunter-killer groups of two or three personnel, work in complete radio silence over a vast area, and are left free to use their best judgement to do what to whom and when,  track and spy on Maoist groups, identify the leaders, and otherwise hunt down their prey without observing any Marquess of Queensberry rules, can rid the landscape of this kind of scourge.

Again, as I am fond of recounting, the only American fighting group the outrageously brave Viet Cong feared were the very Special Forces in the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs) who moved silently on foot, were lightly armed, unencumbered by communications equipment, or any tell-tale camping wherewithal. These were the ghosts who killed without making a sound, highly individualistic men not given to following orders but determined on achieving results. They’d be gone in the jungles for 6 months at a time, never to touch base except when they trickled in singly (so as not to draw attention).

So, why can’t a Special Commando Force for internal missions to quell insurgencies be formed outside the usual orgs, unstymied by any police protocol, and able to operate outside the rule of law but with full government sanction? Oh, sure, there are a whole bunch of paramil “commando” groups with fearsome names — Cobras, Greyhounds, etc. But these are neither by training nor disposition the genuine article, too heavily armed to be very foot-mobile, and mostly because they are tied to the road-borne logistics umbilical of rear area bases.

The true jungle commando should never be seen, or heard, never publicized, never in uniform, their presence never acknowledged, with their recruitment and remuneration channels managed separately by restricted personnel within PMO sworn to secrecy,  but whose success can be gauged by the areas sanitized, and the degree of sanitization achieved.

But why is such a solution unlikely? Because the exclusiveness of such an outfit is precisely why the IPS which is expert in mucking up things and should be kept as far away as possible — would oppose it. And because the bureaucratized Indian state won’t allow such units to function freely.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, China, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian para-military forces, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Military/military advice, society, South Asia, Terrorism, United States, US., Vietnam, Western militaries | 7 Comments

India unprepared for Erdogan’s unsolicited offer to play peacemaker on Kashmir

India’s President Pranab Mukherjee looks on as Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a Rashtrapati Bhavan banquet in New Delhi on May 1, 2017. (Photographer: Subhav Shukla/PTI)


Before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policy of cultivating Turkey as an important pillar in his ambitious policy for the Islamic world and West Asia generally could materialize, the visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threw a spanner into the works. As a curtain raiser, he surprised the Indian government not only by bringing up the ticklish issue of Kashmir and the need for “a multilateral dialogue” to resolve the long standing dispute, but personally expressed a desire to broker a deal between Modi and his “dear Friend” Nawaz Sharif. Erdogan’s tactless, “in-your-face”, shocker reduced the extended conversation the Indian Prime Minister had planned to have with the visitor, to a strained iteration by the former of the Indian position that Kashmir was a domestic matter not open to outside mediation.

This episode raises the troubling matter about the preparations for Erdogan’s trip. Why was it so badly managed by Foreign Secretary K. Jaishankar and the Ministry of External Affairs that the Indian government had not an inkling of what was in the Turkish leader’s mind regarding Kashmir and how he would publicly express his views? This development was all the more galling because state visits are minutely scripted affairs in which nothing is left to chance and very little said by the principals that is unexpected. If the Foreign Office had no clue about what was in the offing, naturally there was nothing the MEA could have done diplomatically to preempt and divert the Turk from having his say and roiling the situation.

Perhaps, the Turkish Embassy in Delhi failed to alert their President to India’s sensitivities on the Kashmir issue, or Ankara decided to go ahead and be disruptive anyway, and risk the fallout. In the event, it duly turned into a diplomatic disaster. Erdogan’s getting back on script — extolling the similarities in Indian and Turkish cultures and restating Ankara’s support for India’s permanent membership to the UN Security Council — did not, however, retrieve the situation. In his “one on one” with the visitor, an apparently unsettled Modi, confused about whether to push his agenda at all, sputtered on about the enormous potential for Indo-Turkish trade and economic intercourse, after he had, one assumes, desultorily, stated India’s policy of resolving the Kashmir dispute bilaterally with Pakistan.

Had he the presence of mind, and proper briefing by MEA for just such contingency (which should have been anticipated; after all Turkey has regularly voted in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation against India on the Kashmir issue) Modi could have stopped Erdogan in full flow by not so delicately raising the issue of “independent” Kurdistan carved from the Kurdish majority areas across three countries – Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, and flummoxed the Turkish President in return. Ankara, after all, has always dealt savagely with the freedom-seeking Kurds, refusing in recent times to fall in with Washington and treat the Kurdish militia, the peshmerga, as the most effective force in the field against the Bashir al-Assad regime in Syria, which Turkey opposes.

Erdogan’s motivation to be peace-maker in the subcontinent was possibly sparked by the US Ambassador to the United Nations, the Indian origin Nikky Haley. In trying to make an international splash as the new chairman of the Security Council, the newly appointed Haley stressed America’s right as global do-gooder to intervene in far-off disputes. “It’s absolutely right that this administration is concerned about the relationship between India and Pakistan and very much wants to see how we de-escalate any sort of conflict going forward,” Haley said on April 5. “So I would expect that the administration is going to be in talks and try and find its place to be a part of that and we don’t think we should wait till something happens.” It was a fairly straight forward way of prospectively legitimating any intervention the US President Donald J Trump may undertake.

Hard to see though why Erdogan believed he had a chance at getting into the Kashmir peacemaking business when the US, with much greater leverage and reach in both India and Pakistan, has repeatedly failed. Whatever he thought were his chances, what is certain from the run of events is that Erdogan was determined to bring Kashmir into play. And, to evince at least some positive reaction in the region to his proposal, it is likely Ankara, while keeping the enunciation by Erdogan of a possible Turkish role secret from Indian government interlocuters in the run-up to the visit, had informed Pakistan Prime Minister Sharif about it. It is revealing that Sartaj Aziz, the foreign affairs adviser to Nawaz Sharif, rather than the usual Pakistani spiel, welcomed the Turkish leader’s initiative by picking up on the concern Erdogan voiced for human rights violations and mounting casualties in Kashmir to justify a multilateral approach that Islamabad has always sought even as India’s call for bilateral dialogue was slammed by him as “no longer credible”.

The still larger question that that has loomed over the Kashmir dispute for a long time is why even states friendly to India, rather than taking Delhi’s protestations seriously, assume the dispute is ripe for their beneficial intervention? Because of two reasons: Delhi’s inability by whatever means to contain the unrest in the Srinagar Valley and the spiraling of violence, which makes India vulnerable to international pressure. And, secondly, the fear that ultimately this local turmoil, if unchecked, could in slow stages graduate to cross-border hostilities with Pakistan and – this is the “Flashpoint” thesis that is the favourite of Western thinktanks and governments alike – escalate into nuclear war.

Published in, May 3, 2017, at


Posted in Asian geopolitics, Culture, Decision-making, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Iran and West Asia, MEA/foreign policy, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, society, South Asia, UN, United States, US., West Asia | 21 Comments

One-off action or sustained punishment by FIRE?

Image result for pics of armies on the ceasefire line in kashmir

It is incomprehensible that the Pakistan Army, that branched off from the parent Indian Army at Partition, which in its pre-1947 avatar was celebrated for its sense of “Honour”, has taken to doing what it has done by way of killing Indian soldiers and then mutilating their bodies . Of course, honour was a conveniently imperial notion the British cleverly used to control the native sepoys by reinforcing their traditional fidelity to personal izzat. It helped the colonial overlords ensure that a mercenary force retained its loyalty to the British crown to the very last and kept the subcontinent in chains. So ‘honour’ is not a concept that can be lightly dismissed as irrelevant, even as legacy — even if this legacy led shamefully to a few thousand Britons at the height of the Raj cowing down a half-billion Indians with a native army. (Just how this was managed  in Philip Mason’s 1974 paean “A Matter of Honour: An Account of the Indian Army, its Officers and Men”).

It is hard to believe that, unlike the Indian Army which has retained that standard, the Pakistan Army has, in a matter of a few decades, been reduced to a horde of punch-drunk medieval barbarians. It is one thing for Pakistani soldiers to engage in cross-LOC operations or in Special Forces actions in Indian Kashmir, quite another, however, for them to disembowel, behead, gouge out eyes, and otherwise carve up the bodies of Indian counterparts they have killed on the ceasefire line.

There have been too many such atrocities in the last few years (three so far, including the latest one) — succeeding similar acts of savagery displayed by the Pakistanis in the 1999 Kargil border war (while the Indian army, in contrast, returned the properly-draped  bodies of Northern Light Infantry-men killed in Indian offensive actions, with respect), for these to be passed off as stray acts of needless brutality.  If this leads to the obvious conclusion that such atrocities are actually sanctioned and authorized by GHQ, Rawalpindi, as a legitimate ‘ruse de guerre’, then that puts a different spin on these developments and needs to be responded to in kind.

Just may be, the Indian Army is behind the times and needs to be less “propah” and more wild and atavistic. Here I am reminded of veterans of the 1965 War recalling the fact that the capture of large numbers of Pakistan Patton tanks at Assal Uttar and elsewhere owed not little to the Pakistani tankman’s fear of being burned alive with direct Indian shots. Many Indian officers witnessed Pakistani cavalrymen jumping out of tanks and running for their lives, rather than staying in their armoured vehicles, fighting to the last shell (a ‘la Lt Arun Khetrapal, PVC, 17 Horse) and get roasted.

With superstitious Pakistani peasant soldiery convinced that they have to avoid getting burnt alive at all cost, lest they miss out on the good afterlife offered by shahadat in battle, in mind, shouldn’t a series of sustained retributive actiona across the LoC be planned involving uniform and extensive use of flame throwers? Because quite literally  fire is what terrorizes the Pakistani soldiers out of their fighting wits, it is time to deploy it against them. A spate of sustained actions by regular front line units and Para-commando units held as Northern Army reserve wielding bazookas, will have more than a mass deterrent effect on the Pakistani army on the LoC, it may psychologically cripple the Pakistani jawans on the Kashmir front and, once the word spreads, the Pakistan Army.

Unfortunately, such fiery retribution seems unlikely. Because the only retaliatory measure the Indian Army could immediately think up was to lose off a barrage of small arms and mortar fire — the expected response the Pakistanis are  always prepared to absorb. The Indian Army may as well do nothing for all the impact it will have. It is all very well for the part-time defence minister Arun Jaitley to promise that the mutilation of the bodies of the Sikh regiment JCO and a BSF trooper will be avenged.  Quite another thing for Delhi to do the right thing and make it clear to Gen Qamar Bajwa and his cohort that India means business by executing some seriously disruptive actions.

The need is for a sustained programme extended over months, possibly a year or two, to terrorize the fighting man in the Pak Army with the prospect of an end he mortally dreads — death by burning. The prelude to such a programme should be the raining down of leaflets in Urdu threatening just such retributive justice for the excesses committed against Indian soldiers. It will unhinge the forward-placed Paki units, soften them up for the kill, so to say. by keeping them on tenterhooks.

But can the Modi-Doval duo that talks big — with only a single so-called “surgical strike” to boast of so far — act meaningfully for a change in the military arena? I doubt it, what with the Indian PM’s Washington trip slated for sometime in June and hence his felt need to not get Trump all riled up by getting their “partner in crimes” in Afghanistan — the Pakistan Army, loved by the US Defence Secretary General James Mattis and Trump’s NSA Lt Gen HR McMaster, on the hop.

Posted in Afghanistan, Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian para-military forces, Indian Politics, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Special Forces, Terrorism, United States, US., Weapons | 8 Comments

Joint Forces Doctrine — passive, defensive inward-turned, and disappointing

Image result for pics of indian strike corps in action

This was not unexpected, but still it is surprising just how unventuresome, diffident, hesitant and, therefore, thoroughly fainthearted the ‘Joint Doctrine Indian Armed Forces’ really is. Issued by Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), Ministry of Defence, this document supposedly outlines the jointness mission for the military. As such, it is a fairly innocuous bit of paper indulging in banality-mongering to the max, taking extreme care to not touch on the practical aspects of integrating authority, military resources, and effort. It is a document that at best reflects an intent to realize jointness in the indeterminate future.  Because, on the ground, the individual services still reign supreme and who regard IDS more as encumbrance than help.

However, IDS and its work is played up by the military brass whenever they sense movement by government to restructure the higher defence organization by replacing the existing order with a Chief of Defence Staff-system. When Manohar Parrikar was around there was real fear that one fine day he’d take it into his head to get on with the long pending job of major organizational reform and restructuring. Whence, this document was conceived as a way to postponing even an interim solution of a permanent 4-star post as Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, recommended by the Committee headed by the arch bureaucrat, Naresh Chandra. Known to his 1956 IAS batchmates as “ustaad” for his ability to size up a situation, manage it, run circles around politicians and the lesser civil services, and generally maintain the status quo in which babus are top-dogs (especially in MOD), Chandra was not about to suggest anything radical. Sequentially chief secretary, Rajasthan, and at the centre, defence secretary, home secretary, and finally, cabinet secretary before beginning his unending post-retirement tenures in government, including being retained by Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Indian  Ambassador to the United States, Chandra was one of the charter members of the bureaucratic clique that has pushed and pulled Indian policy towards close India-US ties at the expense of every thing else. He sided as cabsec, it may be recalled, with those in Delhi (K. Subrahmanyam, Air Cmde Jasjit Singh, et al) and keeping up the drumbeat from Washington where he was appointed ambassador in 1996 for India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.  With Finance Minister Arun Jaitley back as part time defence minister, everybody who counts in the military hierarchy seems reassured that the pressure is off, and the incumbent raksha mantri  does not have the time or inclination to do anything substantive. In that sense, this “doctrine’ is the military brass’ collective sigh of relief!

There’s much to question in this paper, but here’s my reaction to certain aspects of it (in no particular order of importance)  that stuck me as problematic.

1)  In the sub-sections (pp 1-2) on “National Aim” and “National Interests”, for instance, there’s no mention anywhere about extending India’s influence in South Asia, Asia, and the world. In other words, the Indian armed forces are happy where they are and with the country where it is, namely, sidelined even in the extended region.

In this circumscribed sphere, the armed forces, described as the “Military Instrument of National Power” (p. 6), have their utility limited to being “a means of deterrence and conflict resolution”. While acknowledging their “coercive nature” the paper stresses the armed forces being “gainfully employed” in “non-conflict situations and natural disasters”, in short a uniformed version of, what, Oxfam or similar social service agency?!

2) Have railed in all my writings for some 30 years now about the wrong threat perceptions animating the Indian military. When one gets so basic a thing wrong, what can the armed forces get right? Anyway, here’s proof, albeit indirect, about just which threat our military is preoccupied with — Pakistan. In a section entitled “Strategic environment scan”, the document speaks (p. 7)  of “the requirement to safeguard our territorial integrity” owing to the “disputed borders” and lists the Line of Control in the west first, not the Line of Actual Control where the threat is scarier.

A related section (pp. 8-9)  on “Security Threats and Challenges” rather than speaking straightforwardly about China, Pakistan, etc., talks obliquely about competition for resources, of “inherited faultlines” and “increasing blurring lines of traditional and nontraditional challenges”.

3) In pondering the “Nature War (sic) and character of conflict/war” (p. 10), the attributes of future wars are listed as “ambiguous, uncertain, short, swift, lethal, intense, precise, non-linear, unrestricted, unpredictable and hybrid”. Whew! Scrounging together all these adjectives, leaves the big Question open — so what threats is India to prepare for? Because the forces required to fight short, swift, lethal, intense, precise counter-force wars are surely quite distinct and different from those needed to engage in necessarily long duration conflicts that are ambiguous, uncertain, non-linear, unrestricted, unpredictable, and hybrid.  When minds are not applied, vapid statements like this result.

It reminds me of Reagan’s jibe against Walter Mondale when the latter advanced a fairly inane proposal in the 1984 US presidential elections – “where’s the beef?”

4) Part of the problem — other than passing off the banal as profound — is with the language. In getting inventive in using the English language, the result is sometimes at once grating and incomprehensible, to wit, (p. 12) — “There are four levels of of War; Political/Grand strategic , Military strategic, Operational and Tactical; each level being twisted to the other.” In this construction, “each level being twisted to the other” appears in italics — meaning what? That the authors themselves know that this phrase makes zero sense, or that there’s a meaning the reader is not supposed easily to divine?

Further in a slightly confused discussion on “Generations of War” (p. 13) — again the language and content problem emerges — there is a statement of war transiting quickly from 1st generation to 5th gen hybrid warfare of today which ends with this — “Simply put, it is a war in which one of the major participants is not a State but rather a violent non-state actor or non-state actor sponsored by a State”, thereby synthetically separating non-state actors from the patronage of the adversary state, which division carries little weight in the practical world.

In the section following, on “India in Conflict/War” (p. 14), the paper refers  to an “operationally adaptable force” almost as an imperative without anywhere explaining how the country is to obtain it. This harks back to my #3 above. Is such a force to be the all-purpose military capable of short intense wars as also long duration attrition conflicts? If so, it was all the more necessary IDS had at least sketched out how this is to be achieved and at what cost, or whether such a force is to be cobbled together without disturbing the current force structure, in which case, the still more germane question: how?

5) In the chapter on “Military — An Instrument of National Power” and section therein concerning “Functions of Military Power” that dilates on conventional offensive and defensive operations (p. 19), we have such gems as “offensive operations” are to address “The adversary’s centre of gravity” by “attacking enemy’s criticalities….” etc. If this is a primer on the military, what is such stuff doing in a doctrine? This is succeeded by a para on offensive ops wherein is semi-detailed “A philosophy of pro-active defence” that the document claims is “most suited for India”. This reveals the Indian military’s eagerness to, perhaps, conform to NSA Ajit Doval’s fairly elementary (some would say, even simplistic) rendition of “offensive defence”. This explains the document’s emphasis on “defensive operations” by “ensuring security of own forces, secur[ing] bases for launching forces and creat[ing] favourable conditions for offensive operations” without even hinting at how this is to be achieved.

In line with such thinking is the section on “International Defence Cooperation” (p.22) which talks of this pol-mil-diplomatic  activity without once mentioning the absolute predicate for such military outreach and presence, namely, military bases in the Indian Ocean Region and in the states on the landward periphery  (such as in Central Asia). Staying and operating from homeland bases, the country is expected to “leverage” the achievement of “National Security Objectives”. This is like proposing to lift a tub while standing inside it. Hard, in the event, to take much of this document seriously.

6) This unsophisticated, college sophomore-level paper rounds out by analyzing Jointness, observing correctly, for a change, that military integration is mandated by resource constraints and will make possible “centralized planning” and appropriate allocation of resources to obtain “the right mix [of forces] at the right time and place” and “a high level of cross-domain synergy”. (p. 39) But after saying all this about the urgent need for integrating the military but realizing that they had gone out on a limb with their masters, IDS quickly backtracks, reiterating on the very next page (p. 40) that all the preceding material notwithstanding, “It does not imply physical integration” of the three armed services.

7) This is almost a throwaway line, but on page 50, the document asserts, in the context of establishing a joint “Special Operations Division” the fact that “the possibility of a conventional war under a nuclear overhang recedes with attendant political and international compulsions”  but stops short of saying that this is just the reason for a major overhaul of the extant military force structure, especially the rationalization of the three strike corps for exclusive use on the Pakistan front into a single composite corps that I have been advocating for nearly 25 years now, and transferring the materiel and human resources to form additional two offensive mountain corps for use against the Chinese PLA in Tibet.  This would be the sort of force rejig that cries out to be implemented. Except the existing armed services are inclined to preserve and protect at all cost the present system in which each service is virtually sovereign and acts autonomously, and even if such a military hurt the national interest.

8) More disarmingly, this IDS paper is upfront about needing to strike “a balance between indigenisation and foreign purchase essential to India’s military independence and modernization” (p. 54). This translates into continued reliance on imported armaments especially because, like a drug to an addict, even a small amount of the opiate can worsen the addiction. Going cold turkey, as I have argued, is the only way out, as any level of foreign purchases is inimical to the country’s “military independence”. The prerequisite here is for an iron political will, which is missing.

9) And absent is any nod to the nuclear deterrent other than a wary affirmation of credible but minimum deterrence that reflects IDS’ lack of appreciation of the fast worsening nuclear correlation of forces and of  any insights or knowledge of the field. The doctrine refers to the need to shift conventional force structuring from a threat-based template to a capability-based one. The Indian strategic deterrent too could do with a similar change in its fundamentals, which is what the document should have said.

10) And, finally, there’s a pointed last page (61) reference to the perennial military-bureaucrat tension, saying “The functionaries in the MoD ought to be enablers” and facilitators of “free flowing communication” between the political class and the armed services, to make possible “critical and timely decision making”. To expect the babus to be honest brokers, so to say,  rather than another variety of vested interests gumming up the works in the national security field, is to expect too much. Here again the absence of a strong political vision and hand on the MOD tiller is to blame, but remains unmentioned.


Taken in toto though, this paper is a lot of thin air masquerading as Joint Doctrine. Pity about this. Because serious thought is warranted regarding all aspects of the Indian military. Alas, this paper contains little of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, Australia, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Russia, russian assistance, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, Tibet, UN, United States, US., Weapons | 48 Comments

McMastering Islamabad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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