Boeing C-17s, Shashikant Sharma, & accountability

It is curious that the mainstream Indian press and media that raise hell when it comes to anything going wrong with ex-Russian military hardware are strangely silent and fail even to report the findings of the Comptroller and Accountant General regarding problems with Western and US-sourced equipment and platforms. The bulk of the $13+ billion defence purchases from the US over the past decade and more, have been made of high value transport aircraft — the C-17 Globemaster III long haul, heavy duty, planes, and the more versatile C-130J Hercules airlifters that can also double up for expeditionary missions. A govt-to-govt deal was signed in June 2011 for an initial order of 10 C-17s valued in excess of US$ 4.12 billion (Rs 18,645.85 crore).

It is a very good thing IAF finally prioritized distant logistics capability and acquired the C-17s able, in theory, to deliver 70 tonnes payload over 4,200 kms, or some 40 tonnne load to 9,000 kms. So far so good. Now here’s where the glitches begin. A number of precursor conditions needed to obtain for these aircraft to perform optimally in IAF service. A C-17 training simulator had to be set up in and activated PRIOR to the delivery of the planes, so that pilots of the IAF’s 81 Squadron based at Hindan AFB, would have acquired familiarity with on-board systems and operating procedures and protocols, and achieved a certain level of handling knowledge and proficiency before they took to the air. Indeed, it is mandatory that each air crew pull on the simulator 1,700 hours per year for initial qualification, quarterly certification, and “instructional and role clearance and special operations”.

The IAF, as the CAG report notes, wanted one simulator installed and functioning a minimum of THREE MONTHS months “before the delivery” of the first C-17. As per the offset contract (of June 2011), simulator services in India were to be made available by July 2013 for the planes inducted in the period June 2013-December 2014. Audit observed that Boeing “was yet to setup” the simulator through its Indian Offset partners — Mahindra Defence Systems and Tata Consultancy Services, with total value of offsets pertaining to equipment worth US$ 135.08 million (Rs 611.92 crores) for maintenance training simulator and flying training simulator. The lack of these facilities were being made up by 81 Squadron “routing pilots for simulator training” with US Air Force “as per slots given by the US Government”.

Nice. So, there’s actually an incentive for IAF not to make a fuss or the CO, 81 Sqdn, not to agitate for establishing simulators in-country, because air crews and maintenance personnel now get to do their training in America, if this could be for the lifetime of the aircraft, what better? Who can object to such a pleasing arrangement?? Certainly nobody in the IAF!!!

Likewise, the “specialist” ground infrastructure costing US$152.75 million (Rs 723.27 crore), had to be created by Boeing with the programme executed, for quality control purposes, by the US Army Corps of Engineers nominated by Washington (presumably, along with the Indian offset partner, L&T), BEFORE the arrival of the aircraft in June 2013. While as of September 2015, only 54% of the work had been completed, “the completion of the infrastructure” was, CAG says, expected by Dec 2015. Whether this work is finished, CAG Report doesn’t say. Perhaps, as part of the infrastructure, high quality runways with specified pavement classification number (PCN) of 75 are required for C-17s to fly their full load of 70 tonnes. Again, this needed to be in place PRIOR to the induction in IAF of this plane at all the bases planning to host this aircraft — besides Hindan, at Sirsa, Sarsawa, Jammu, Pathankot, Udhampur, with another four airfields Western Air Cmd decided in Dec 2013 would undergo evaluation for PCN upgrade — Awantipur, Chandigarh, and Thoise.

CAG faults IAF for not assessing “suitability of its runways before induction”. The result is sheer “underutilization of pay load capacity”, according to CAG, with C-17s carrying as little as 17 tonnes on sorties and averaging around 26-35 tonnes. “Thus, a costly national asset, procured for carrying heavy loads was not being used as per its capacity.” Vayu Bhavan’s criminally wasteful, kaam chalauu, attitude is reflected in its explanation in April 2016 to CAG: that the C-17 “is capable of operating from runways with lesser PCN value in case situation demands such operation.” And that this assessment “holds good partially in respect of 14 airfields” found “unsuitable for operation” because of “low PCN values and ground maneuvering requirements.” In other words, IAF was prepared, underutilized carrying capacity apart, for faster degrade of the C-17s themselves operating from sub-par runways.

Deficient infrastructure included, of course, absence of ground equipment such as ground handling equipment (forklifts) and for “palletization” and specially trained handlers for them that would have enabled “reduce(d) ground time of a strategic asset whose main aim was rapid deployment”. All there was to expedite loading/unloading is a 13-tonne forklifter occupying 35% of the available cargo space being carried onboard by all C-17s. This requires a couple of sorties to the same destination where just one would have sufficed. The cost penalties are huge considering the cost per flying hour is Rs 43. 19 lakh, which CAG deems “imprudent”.

So, how come IAF and its C-17s are in this mess? The CAG Report plainly blames the fact that “although schedule of quarterly payment to the US Government was defined in the LOA (Letter of Offer & Acceptance) but there was no condition stipulated for imposition of penalty for delay in supplies/delivery of infrastructure services.” In other words, there is an obligation for Boeing to be paid on time and the US Government to deliver, but no obligation for Boeing to deliver, other than the aircraft itself, on the contracted services and infrastructure related to efficient operations of this aircraft. Legally then, Boeing and USG need not deliver the infrastructure until near the end of the lifetime of the aircraft! Not that the IAF cares!

But here’s the nub of the whole issue. How did this substantively flawed and faulty contract pass muster with the Ministry of Defence, and who is responsible for it? Well, the Director-General, Acquisitions, in MOD in June 2013, when the LOA was signed was one Shashikant Sharma, IAS, and hence directly responsible for accepting this contract. Sharma demitted the office of DG, Acquisitions, the next month (in July 2013) but not before concluding the Augusta-Westland VVIP helicopter deal — remember that scam? — for which he was rewarded with posting as Defence Secretary, retiring from which capacity he was appointed CAG by the Manmohan Singh’s Congress party government. And it is as CAG that he now has the chutzpah to pronounce on the shortfalls of the C-17 contract, which he was originally responsible for in the first place. Very rich.

As stated in earlier blogs, Shashikant Sharma on his retirement as CAG in 2017, needs to be investigated for his hand in the Agusta scam, but also for the C-17 fiasco. A start has been made by the CBI fingering HC Gupta (Retd, IAS) former Coal Secretary for the scam in that Ministry during the Manmohan years. There are more important, national security, reasons for investigating Shashikant Sharma and jailing him with a stiff sentence. It will have a huge effect on bureaucrats. Unless accountability becomes the norm, the present phenomenally lax system, ultimately of financial resources mismanagement, will persist, and India willfully reduced, by its minders, to a pauper.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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11 Responses to Boeing C-17s, Shashikant Sharma, & accountability

  1. &^%$#@! says:

    Very fine article. BTW, wouldn’t LOA stand for Letter of Offer and Acceptance?

  2. SANKET says:

    Your obsession with China threat MR Karnad is clouding your judgement. China unlike Pakistan has never sent terrorists to kill innocent Indians nor have Chinese threatened India with nuclear attack. The sino Indian border has been very Peaceful for decades unlike the LOC where ceasefire violations take place daily. We have only fought one war with China as against 4 with Pakistan. While this does not mean that China is not a threat but to call it a primary threat is in my opinion not correct. Pakistan sponsored terrorism is a matter of life and death for us Indians making Pakistan a direct threat to lives of ordinary Indians. That is not the case with China. While China continues to block Indian entry in major International institutions like NSG or UNSC, this does not affect lives of ordinary Indians who struggles daily to run his family. His death or injuries from Pakistan sponsored terrorism will finish his family and livelihood of hundreds like him. That’s why Indian foreign policy has been rightly focused on Pakistan unlike what your latest book suggest. Your book is unnecessarily demonizing China and that is regrettable. We have no benefits from Pakistan but Chinese investment and tourism can benefit Indian economy more than anything else. So while we have confrontations with China we also have areas of mutual interests. That’s not the case with Pakistan whose army’s very survival depends upon India threat. Security experts like you who keep on demonizing China are in fact doing a great harm to Sino – Indian relations. .Having said this I fully agree with your suggestions that India needs to build a security perimeter from Suez to China seas. But that should be with focus on both China and Pakistan equally. Bases in Tajikistan and increased military/ intelligence presence in Afghanistan is important and should be aimed mainly at Pakistan and not China. Bases in Indian ocean and China seas will take care of China. India must have a foreign policy that contains,constrains and cripple Pakistan. As for China we should engage in tit for tat diplomacy that you mentioned in your latest book ” why India is not a great power yet”. But to think that Pakistan will fall in line through economic concessions or trade benefits is naïve thinking. I hope your next book will be more balanced in dealing with both, the direct threat with Pakistan and indirect one with China, and not just aimed at one threat obsessively. These are my views with which i know you will not agree. But after reading your thought provoking book I felt I needed to say this. Thanks

    • sanket@ — The whole point of all my books and writings is to try and instill a bit of perspective and proportion in the country’s threat perception. You are caught up, as is almost everybody in GOI and the Indian military, in the minor affrays which if you have read my books would have shown you are not “wars” as we know them; to repeat the pluperfect description of these conflicts, which I repeatedly use in my writings to emphasize their absurdity, by the late Major Gen DK Palit, commissioned in the Baloch Regiment, perhaps, the finest scholar-soldier produced by either of the major armies in South Asia, as “communal riots with tanks”. This about tells it all. I have time and again tried to point out that this fixating on immediate neighbours is an old strategic malady attributable to the “mandala” system of international relations Chanakya articulated with its concentric circles or layered cake conception of adversaries and friends — the main reason I have argued why India has been traditionally strategically shortsighted if not altogether blind. By militarily concentrating on Pakistan as the country is doing and you agree with, India will continue to be played by bigger powers, especially China. After all, what is easier for Beijing than to talk and further trade while helping Pakistan to keep India engaged and contained to the subcontinent? It is amazing how most Indians and their govt don’t get it, and how we have contrived to reduce our country so. In a nutshell, the problem is as I have said in ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’: India is a big power that thinks and acts small; China is a big power that thinks and acts as a great power; and Pakistan is a small state with a big power attitude. Hardly surprising then that Beijing thinks Pakistan by itself is enough to handle India. Welcome to the minor leagues.

    • S3 says:

      I appreciate Sanket’s taste for Chinese investment and tourism. But why doesn’t he have any taste for Chinese culture? This link will give you a taste of how China thinks, and why Mr. Karnad is correct in assessing it as the greater threat.

    • S3 says:

      Mr. Karnad

      There is an American analyst with persuasive arguments to the effect that India’s ability to stop the CPEC project is nil. What is your opinion?

      • Peter Lee is an acquaintance. He is an Australian (of Chinese extraction and married, incidentally, to an Australian of Indian-Fijian descent!). Peter may be right in that while New Delhi can derail CPEC by a host of covert means in Baltistan, it does not have the temerity to go up against China now that Beijing is formally committed to CPEC.

  3. raja says:

    Third rate bureaucrats and other SOBs doing acts endangering national security need to be removed instantly from their posts at the earliest. Otherwise they will use up valuable Supreme court’s time and eventually escape.

  4. raja says:

    bharat ji, edited my pungent comments. happily i accept the edits. sorry for such radical comments. keep continue posting.

  5. andy says:

    Well this Sharma guy seems to be very close to the former Congress dispensation and his posting as CAG could be because of his role in the Augusta Westland scam( we all know who the beneficiaries of that one were)The political masters could be tough to expose so Bharat is very correct in recommending this corrupt Sharma be investigated and jailed if warranted to make an example for the bureaucracy.

    Basically corruption is eating up the very innards of India and making it hollow.The British helped jump start this corruption by two things: First the bureaucracy they established in their system,using it to exploit the Indians. Most of this system was adopted by the Indians in 1947 now being used by the rulers of India to siphon off public funds like the erstwhile colonial masters.The loopholes and cracks in the system allow the continuation of so much corruption. Secondly, while under the British, Indians were forced to struggle so hard to exist that it forced them to think in terms of the survival of their own immediate family, while giving up consideration of the whole community. After a 100 years of that conditioning, this need for self-preservation and the desire to fulfill selfish concerns went from one generation to the next until it became a general trend.Get whatever you need/want regardless of the consequences or how it affects the Nation.

    The Indian constitution itself, under the guise of freedom and fairness for the minority religions, fuels corruption and inequality by favoring a few at the expense of the majority population. How can this inspire a united vision?To wit:reservation, haj subsidies,no uniform civil code,article 370 etc.

    The kind of corruption Bharat is pointing out goes on because of a lack of morals in the content of one’s character. This is what has to change. India is obviously progressing economically and technologically, but this corruption really slows down the amount and speed of the progress. Corruption slows down development that could be made for the benefit of everyone in the country at a much faster pace. Therefore, it hinders the well-being of everyone. Many foreign countries hesitate to put full confidence in their business dealings with India when this corruption is so obvious.

    India’s economy is “growing” at over 7%, yet every second child in India is malnourished. Less than one-fourth of the rural population has access to proper toilets. Eighty percent of India’s population lives on $2 a day or less. And what is most shameful is that only four of every 10 girls who enroll for schooling complete eight years of formal education. So, as anyone should question, is that real progress? Is that real growth?    

    The money looted by the rulers and bureaucracy of India becomes food that is snatched away from the mouth of the newborn and the hungry; or the death that is caused for want of care in a ramshackle hospital; or the unemployment for an adult. This should not be allowed. But the problem is that politics and bureaucracy have simply become a business, which means they use the perks that come with the position to look out for themselves and family and friends, and collect large amounts money by nefarious means at the expense of the Nation.

    If corruption increases, the general well-being of everyone will decline.The poor are the ones to feel the heat first, and also feel it the most. But from there, it trickles up and affects everyone. As the people suffer, with poor people becoming poorer, farmers committing suicide,slums mushrooming all over the cityscape etc,we see the politicians and bureaucrats continue to plunder and loot the country.If the existing state of severe corruption continues the way it is, then it will lead to greater national instability, economic failure and increased poverty.In other words, this is simply not sustainable.

    Things must change soon or a people’s revolution demanding the removal of all corrupt politicians and bureaucrats will/should take place.Sharma and his cohorts should be made an example to deter others of their ilk.

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