Reasons for not inviting Trump to India


Image result for pics of trump and modi

(Two strongman buddies)

Returned from a summer holiday to read that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is contemplating inviting US President Donald J Trump as the chief guest for the 2019 Republic Day celebrations in the expectation that this will brighten his own and the ruling BJP’s prospects in the general elections to be held no later than May next year. Well, good luck! (Though what one hears everywhere in Delhi is that Modi will hold the national elections at the same time as the Rajasthan state polls in November this year to prevent the bad effects of the anticipated rout for the Raje regime there from cascading into disastrous general election results.)

Not sure who is advising Modi about inviting Trump. May be such thinking is the result of his own instincts, and the slight acquaintanceship he established with Trump in the two meets the two strongman leaders have had to-date. Or, may be it is Ram Madhav — the PM’s RSS-affiliated adviser on foreign affairs, whose exposure to America and knowledge about Washington and generally about foreign affairs seems as thin as that of the Prime Minister, whispering into his ears. In any case, should an invite actually be sent to the White House, Modi must be prepared to see Trump end up spoiling what chances he has for re-election.

The reason is simple. Modi may think he is inviting a friend, a fellow alpha-male leader, with whom he can break bread and talk business. Except Trump is not the nice, effete, Obama of the 2016 Republic Day dais, who sat gamely through the unending parade down Rajpath. Trump will have none of it. With an extraordinarily small attention span and mercurial nature Trump is as likely as not to stalk off the VVIP reviewing platform  just as the little girls begin performing their set piece dances, etc — he has little patience for cultural things. He will reduce Modi, scampering after him, to a public joke televised to all the world to chortle over.

The fact is Trump takes special joy in mangling the agreed upon protocol and to embarrass his hosts. Ask the German chancellor Angela Merkel at the recent G-7 Meet, the French President Emmanuel Macron with his white-knuckled handshake with Trump, or better still a fellow Commonwealth leader, the British PM Theresa May who this past week discovered Trump’s disruptive attitude to every thing. To her chagrin and that of her government, the bumptious New York realty magnate thought literally nothing about bumping the British monarch, the 92-year old, Elizabeth-II, off her stride, walking ahead of her as they reviewed the House Guard troops in their bearskin hats.  It was comical to see the poor doddering old queen trying to squeeze in ahead of Trump, and still later at the state dinner, kept waiting, fidgeting, looking lost and upset, for a goodly amount of time — in real time 12 minutes, in protocol time, an age —  as she awaited the US President. But that was not all. On the eve of his departure for London, in an interview to a tabloid — which by the way is the max level of seriousness he can muster at his best, Trump blasted May for seeking a soft Brexit  that retains some economic and other linkages with the European Union, and stoked the embers of Conservative Party revolt against May, and the next day when he met with the British PM at Checquers — the British PM’s country residence, walked back his criticism and suggested that nothing was amiss in the bilateral relations — as if all the ruckus he had created hadn’t happened. He had planned to meet with arch Brexiteers — Nigel Farage and May’s cabinet colleague Jacob Rees-Mogg with a view to giving May the shove over the edge but Whitehall put its foot down, said he couldn’t meet with them on this official visit.

Trump has made no bones about the fact that he loves dealing with “strongman” leaders, such as the Russian and North Korean Presidents Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un, whom he respected, he has said, because they had played their cards strongly,  calling them not rivals or adversaries but “competitors”. (See the report in the Guardian, Putin and Kim are leaders Trump likes because they deal with him as an equal, each of them capable and quite ready to do Trump and the US harm if they are pushed to do so.

Modi is not in this category of strongmen that Trump likes, because the hugs and the bonhomie when they meet  apart, the Indian PM greets Trump with the perennial begging bowl — pleading for something or the other — concessions on H1B visas, lately waivers from CAATSA sanctions on Russian arms and Iranian oil, trade concessions, etc. A supplicant can be coerced and manipulated, his country’s interests can be disregarded. Hence Modi and India do not command Trump’s respect or his regard and attention. The Indian leader can thus be trifled with. Had Modi from the beginning assumed the attitude of he and India wanting nothing from Trump and the US, but making it plain his government would wield access to the second largest market in the world as leverage, and that India would be the international system balancer as between US and China, China and Russia, and Russia and the US, and no nonsense about it, he’d have telegraphed the right message to the White House.

I had written in July 2016 — some 4 months before Trump’s election in November that year, that Trump would be “good for India” because he will treat it as a 2nd-rate country, leaving Delhi  “with no alternative than to fend for itself and safeguard its extended interests. It will be a signal departure in that India will, per force, have to discard the habit of leaning on foreign countries for anything, ruthlessly pare the government and the public sector, task the private sector with the bulk of economic effort, including achieving self-sufficiency in armaments, and, with regard to foreign and military policies, insert steel in them, make them disruptive, reorient Indian diplomacy towards realpolitik, and enable India to emerge as an independent power that friends and foes alike fear and respect as much for its clout as its unpredictability.” [See and re-published in this blog of July 29. 2016] Such was not the sort of thinking that informed Modi’s government or the Indian media, for that matter, whence the hole India is in vis a vis the US.

What’s the best way to deal with Trump? At the underway Helsinki summit, Putin means “to take advantage” of Trump being “a moron…, a novice to be played” [See the story in the UK paper The Independent, July  15, ]

Trouble is Modi can’t play Trump for a moron because the Indian PM lacks Putin’s strategic vision, and nerve, verve and the skill-set to play hardball with any country other than the piddling Pakistan. So should Modi indeed decide to invite Trump — it will be Trump’s show — not Modi’s, at India’s Republic Day 2019, and the Indian PM will stand belittled, gutting what hope he now nurses of continuing to reside at 7, Race Course Road for another 5 years.

So, if there is any residual sense left in the Indian government then DON’T INVITE TRUMP to anything. Get India’s game up and going, introduce steel in the country’s foreign and military policies, don’t snivel before China,  seek no considerations from the US on any issue, and ditch the “foundational accords”.  The H1B visa types and the Indian IT industry will take care of themselves. If they fail to take this advice Modi and his crew will have to look back ruefully at this post for the warning that went unheeded.

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Why the Tejas cost is high

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(Tejas — up and away)

There has been some public handwringing over the unit cost of the Tejas LCA.  Most of it motivated, from the same quarters that had repeatedly doubted whether the aircraft would be other than a paper plane and, as the project progressed and began passing technical milestones, whether it would ever match up to specs and, when it began proving its druthers as a fighting platform, whether it would ever be an operationally fit aircraft — recall the then  CAS ACM PV Naik’s contemptuous dismissal of this home-grown fighter not that many years ago as “a three-legged cheetah”? — to now when there’s little doubt about the warplane’s bonafides — as it is a damn good combat aircraft that can give any import a run for India’s money. So these import-lovers and skeptics are toggling at the  comparative cost angle, per chance, to derail any which way  the LCA-variants-AMCA procurement programme, and get the IAF back to the good old way of doing business — buying aircraft abroad.

A recent Indian Express story (June 27) on the topic revealed that HAL charges Rs 463 crore for the Tejas Mk-1A  versus Rs 363 crore for the original LCA, and  Rs 415 crore for the Su-30MKI built at Nashik (compared to Rs 330 crore if sourced from Russia). The figures for foreign aircraft on offer are Rs 544 crore for the Swedish Gripen, and Rs 380 crore for the US’ F-16 Block 70. And one can be certain that once the race hots up the Sukhoi Bureau will bring the costs of the Su-35 also in the race, below that of any of these aircraft. So, where’s this cost-based argument headed? You guessed it — right up Saab’s, Lockheed Martin’s, Sukhoi’s and, now that the race has been thrown open to all comers and not restricted to single engine aircraft, Dassault’s,  doors (for additional French Rafale).

Rs 463 figure seems inflated, but won’t quibble over the numbers in this post. This is high. But why?

Ever since erstwhile defence minister Manohar Parrikar rightly decreed that HAL would, like Boeing, Lockheed, EADS, Saab, and Dassault, be the prime integrator for the Tejas and not its manufacturer, the work along with the production modules were transferred  to various private sector entities. Thus, the LCA’s composite wing structure and assembly is done by L&T at its plant in Coimbatore, VEM Hyderabad, outputs the fuselage, Tata Advanced Materials  is responsible for the fin and rudder assembly, and so on. This is a wonderful production schemata and the reason why I have been advocating that ADA also transfer the know-why — the source codes of the Tejas, the operational algorithms et al to competent  private sector companies so that they can begin designing combat and other aircraft, and right now open whole new Tejas production lines — in addition to the two at HAL, so the LCA can be mass produced for accelerated induction into the IAF. The fact that Tejas are not coming out fast enough out of the factories is used  to argue for importing planes to meet “urgent” needs. With many companies producing the Tejas and its follow-on variants and the successor 5th gen fighter plane, AMCA,  for the IAF and for exports, it will ensure economies of scale, bring down the unit price, and send the Indian defence industry as a whole rocketing.

But what is at issue presently  is the price that HAL charges the IAF for each Tejas. Here HAL resorts to its standard pricing trick to ensure that it makes “profit” and maintains a healthy financial bottom line, and keeps in check those in and out of government baying for privatizing loss-making DPSUs. Like the other ‘nav ratna’ DPSUs, HAL adds 30% to the price charged by the private company for the out-sourced work.  To the cost and profit charged by each of the firms with the Tejas production modules, HAL adds 30%. So the price escalates.

MOD can challenge this rentier attitude of the HAL and cap HAL’s margins at 5%-10% on the total cost of the Tejas and bar this DPSU from marking-up the cost by 30% for each of the aircraft’s major assemblies — the reason why HAL is staying financially afloat considering it is not cost-competitive with the private sector defence industrial firms. If this is done — and HAL’s margin thus contained then, voila!, you have a price that no imported aircraft can ever match, and why the Tejas can be a runaway bestseller in the developing world that desires an economical but advanced fighter plane, and which is being taken to the cleaners as India has been and still is, by foreign aviation companies.

What chance that the 5%-10% recommendation as maximum overall HAL margin is accepted by the MOD  committee that’s been set up to scrutinize the Tejas price line and suggest ways of paring it? Zero.

Because such extortionist costing schemes are at the heart of the effort to keep alive the DPSU sector and is supported by the department of defence production in MOD — the guardian of the DPSU interests. This department doesn’t care what’s good for the country, it cares only about its remit which is to ensure, by any and all means,  that the DPSUs and OFB keep their heads above water, to the detriment of economic good sense and the national interest.

So, now you know why the price tag for the Tejas is Rs 463 crore.

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What use is the Rafale and the French connection?


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(Rafale being put together at the Dassault plant in Merignac)

Senior Air staff officers have, of late, been talking confidently of the combo of the 6,000 air defence missiles ordered as part of the S-400 system that India is buying from Russia and the Su-30MKI (hopefully upgraded to “super Sukhoi” configuration that will convert IAF’s Su-30 squadrons into a fleet of near FGFAs) as being more than sufficient to handle PLA Air Force (PLAAF) on the Tibet-Arunachal front. The front line role of the Sukhois against the stronger, more comprehensively capable adversary, China, raises the question of what good exactly the Rafale combat aircraft  in the force  will do.

It is the warplane the service hankered for and, with the BJP Govt acceding mindlessly to its demand, the country is finding that the deal comes with a bagful of troubles for the country, and for Modi. Have always maintained that the 36 Rafales in the fleet will be mainly for showboating purposes — too valuable to send into battle against the swarming PAF’s JF-17s and too few to overwhelm anybody but easy to be overwhelmed. If the IAF brass believed that 36 Rafales were merely the proverbial foot in the door to compel the govt to let more of these aircraft enter the fleet later on, then they misread the political situation. The additional Rafale option is a non-starter for two reasons: Paucity of funds and the fact that the Rafale has drawn corruption charges from Rahul Gandhi.

An empty treasury is a fact. The only major defence deal that Modi plonked for unbidden, now looks like a millstone round his neck. Not just in terms of the Rs 70,000 crores-odd crores thus committed that could have been better spent elsewhere, but in terms of the controversy attending on it. The opposition parties will go to town about Modi govt’s corruption and about Reliance Defence chosen by Dassault Avions as its Indian partner. Recall, that Dassault said it could not work with HAL or guarantee the performance of the Rafale outputted by it because of  the DPSU’s lax work floor habits and bad quality control mechanisms, but ended up choosing Reliance Defence, with zero aircraft production experience or facility, as its partner. One can be certain that to buttress its case the opposition will allude to PM’s “crony capitalists “, especially as Dassault will use the 50% offset clause to build up Reliance Defence to a basic, aircraft assembly, level, rather than raise India’s competence in the field, by investing in the augmentation of HAL’s capability.

There are the first intimations of chill coursing down Modi regime’s spine — the fear of being a one-termer. The bureaucracy being the bellwether for such transitions, things are beginning to slow down. It is the situation going awry at home and the America-tilted policy not panning out — with Trump actively targeting India and Indian industry on H1B, WTO, Indian exports of steel, aluminum and light manufactures, that forced the PM and his PMO to do a rethink, which has been happening for a while now. PM dialed up Moscow for succour, the recent summit in Sochi followed, and ties with Russia were  elevated to “special privileged partnership”. Modi and Putin agreed to set up a special rupee-rouble payment scheme to avoid getting caught in America’s CAATSA trap. While this will not pull India and Russia back to the easy credit-friendship prices Soviet era, it does reaffirm Russia as the default option for military procurement.

So, what’s all this got to do with Rafale? With Russia’s position strengthening relative to other foreign arms suppliers, IAF saw the writing on the wall and sought to make the best of a bad situation that the brass had begun to apprehend. It hoped to marry the prohibitively expensive Meteor air-to-air missile that came as part of the Rafale weapons suite along with the Scalp A2G missile, with the best aircraft in its inventory the Su-30, except the missile maker –the French-led European missile consortium — MBDA refused to integrate the Meteor with the Su-30 and, to salt the wound, refused to do it for the indigenous Tejas LCA as well.  A preliminary agreement has been signed for the Rafale but not a detailed  contract.

India can decide that because of MBDA’s pigheadedness, it will nullify the Rafale contract. Indeed, any self-respecting country would do that — the French are not handing over the Rafale as act of charity but taking home billions of euros for it. The buyer is king in the arms business. But the Indian government acts as if Dassault is sovereign and France cannot be denied. IAF and GOI are so used to thus being  jerked around by foreign countries, they think this is the normal.

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India is courting peril by aligning militarily with the United States

Image result for pics of trump and Modi


The nixing of the Iran nuclear deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Paris Agreement are only some of the many ways that the United States has alienated its closest allies.1 President Donald Trump has already roiled the milieu by demanding that allies do more for themselves and rely less on his country.2 The United States, an inconsistent and unreliable friend even under prior US administrations, has increasingly become a feeble and feckless ally. Increasing military alignment, let alone a strategic partnership, with the United States would be a liability for India.

The dangers of partnering with the United States have only grown during the Trump administration. Trump’s decision-making method is, according to one former US intelligence official, based “less on fact and evidence and more on feeling, preference, emotion, grievance, tribe, loyalty”.3 Trump’s belief system sees the United States being “ripped off” in multilateral forums and that better terms are only obtainable on a bilateral basis. His world view is that of an economically-strapped and exploited America, its wealth decanted through unfair trade transactions and military pacts requiring the United States to expend its resources while allies strengthen their economies and free-ride on security. How can India expect to benefit from aligning itself with such a destabilising commander-in-chief?

India is no exception to Trump’s wrath

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been no exception to Trump’s scant respect for allied leaders, negligible interest in addressing what allied leaders want, and unreasonable expectations of loyalty.4 While Trump reciprocated the Indian leader’s trademark public hugs during Modi’s June 2017 Washington visit and made the usual noises about shared democratic values, Trump soon thereafter stuck it to India.5 Despite Modi’s fervent appeals, the Trump administration weakened India’s flagship US$167 billion information technology industry by all but killing off H1B visas — a generally tech-focused visa, of which some 70 per cent go to Indians.6 Furthermore, the United States has imposed tariffs on Indian steel, aluminium and engineering goods, accused India’s cost-competitive pharmaceutical industry of price-fixing, and challenged the Indian government’s agricultural subsidy scheme at the World Trade Organization.7 These measures reflect an attitude that is not just unsympathetic to Indian concerns but inimical to India’s national interest.

The Debate Papers

Weak on China and indifferent to Indian security

The basic geostrategic reason for India and the United States getting together is ostensibly to balance China’s power in Asia. As a candidate, Trump promised that he’d label China a “currency manipulator”, put Beijing under economic pressure, and join Asian states and Australia in arresting the spread of Chinese power and influence in the Indo-Pacific region. As president, however, he seems eager to humour Chinese President Xi Jinping and, far from penalising China, has reversed the technology ban on the Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE, tweeting that this would have cost “too many jobs in China” — the sort of solicitousness not shown towards India.8

With Washington spurning the hard line with China, it will likely flinch in military crises involving its Asian partners and the People’s Liberation Army.9 In this regard, Trump virtually urged Japan to get its own nuclear weapons.10 He has not, however, encouraged India to resume nuclear testing (barred by the 2008 Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation deal) and secure for itself a proven thermonuclear arsenal (because the fusion device tested in 1998 had fizzled) even though it would be an Asian deterrent to China’s aggression, and lessen the military dilemma for the United States.11

Indeed, the nuclear deal is only the latest diplomatic contrivance in a series of US nonproliferation policies and actions from the early 1960s when the Indian nuclear energy program reached the weapons threshold. The US aim thereafter was to prevent India from obtaining nuclear weapons and, post-1998, proven thermonuclear armaments and intercontinental ballistic missiles.12 Given that its extended deterrence policy lacks credibility, Washington’s continued antipathy to India emerging as a thermonuclear weapons-armed Asian military counterweight suggests an absence of trust and Washington’s desire to keep India from becoming an independent power.

Few dividends for India from US alignment

Trust is the glue binding strategic partnerships. Its absence ensures that geopolitical plans remain only intentions. A trust deficit has always marred Indo-US relations, with Washington continually disregarding contractual obligations, retroactively changing agreements, and imposing economic and technology sanctions that have hurt India’s growth prospects and disabled its fighting capabilities.13

Post-nuclear deal, the United States has not walked the talk, even denying India high technology already accessed by China.14 The US-Indian Defence Technology and Trade Initiative, created in 2012 to help increase defence ties between the two nations, has yet to produce any collaborative projects in advanced military technology. Yet India is nonetheless still asked to seed trust by buying more high-cost, non-lethal goods (transport and P-8I maritime surveillance aircraft) and obsolete weapons systems — F-16 combat aircraft, M-777 howitzers, etc.15

Finding support outside of the United States

Juxtaposed with Moscow’s supply of frontline weapons systems (Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter planes, T-90 tanks, and leasing of the nuclear-powered Akula-II-class SSNs) and assistance to sensitive indigenous projects like the nuclear-powered ballistic missile-firing Arihant-class submarine, and America ends up looking less like a friend than a proto-adversary intent on keeping India down.

It is an impression reinforced by the US Congress denying India the waiver from sanctions under Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) targeting Russia and sought by Defense Secretary James Mattis.16 CAATSA will seriously hurt the Indian military considering 70 per cent of its equipment is of Russian origin. The twist here lies in the hint by some in US policy circles that CAATSA’s impact would be especially mitigated if India followed up the Logistics Support Agreement by signing the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA).17 But COMCASA, the Indian armed forces fear, will permit the United States to penetrate – vertically and horizontally – the official communications network, including the country’s strategic forces’ command and control links, which is an unacceptable outcome.18

Far from getting Delhi to thin its ties with Russia, CAATSA led Modi to a mini-summit with President Vladimir Putin on 21 May 2018. There, Indo-Russian ties were upgraded to, in Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s words, a “special privileged strategic partnership”.19 Maybe the Indian government is waking up to the unpleasant reality that it is more onerous to have America as a friend than foe, because an adversary at least knows where it stands with Washington.


  1. Ken Thomas, “US will need to give Kim Jong Un security assurances: Pompeo”, AP, ABC, May 13, 2018,
  2. Jon Henley, “Angela Merkel: EU cannot completely rely on US and Britain anymore”, The Guardian, 28 May 2017, 
  3. This according to General Michael V. Hayden former director, CIA. See Fareed Zakaria GPS, CNN Live Today, May 13, 2018,
  4. Matthew Karnitschnig, “Analysis: Trump nukes Europe’s Iranian dreams”,, May 9, 2018,; Rebecca Morin, “Trump team sends mixed signals to Europe”,, May 13, 2018, 
  5. “Trump: Relations with India better than ever” – White House speech welcoming Modi, June 26, 2017, CNN 
  6. “Why the American dream just got tougher”, Times of India, April 2, 2018, “H-1B visa approvals for Indian companies drop sharply: Report”, NDTV Profit, April 25, 2018,; “India’s IT, ITeS exports clocked $111 billion in 2016-17: ESC data”, Business Standard, January 25, 2018,; “IT and ITeS industry in India”, India Brand Equity Foundation, April 2018, 
  7. Kirtika Suneja, “India to check if US’ move to hike duties on steel, aluminum follows global norms”, Economic Times, March 5, 2018,; E Kumar Sharma, “Price fixing allegations, a new worry to deal with for some leading Indian pharma companies in the US”, Business Today, November 3, 2017,; Jayshree Sengupta, “A toothless and weak WTO”, The Tribune, March 27, 2018, 
  8. Ana Swanson, Mark Landler & Keith Bradsher, “Trump shifts from trade war to concessions in rebuff to hardliners”, New York Times, May 14, 2018,–zte.html. And, recall that Trump billed himself (during the 2016 presidential campaign) as India’s “true friend in the White House”. For this Trump quote refer footnote # 6.
  9. “US, China drop tariffs, put trade war on hold”, Reuters, Times of India, May 21, 2018
  10. Jesse Johnson, “Trump warns China it could face ‘big problem’ with ‘warrior nation” Japan over North Korea”, Japan Times, Nov 4, 2017, 
  11. Bharat Karnad, Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy, Second edition [New Delhi: Macmillan India, 2005, 2002], 607-647. 
  12. Ibid, 179-196, 
  13. Bharat Karnad, Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet) [New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2015], 187-219.
  14. Thus, the US approved the Israeli use of the Elta 2032 computer, and not the more powerful Elta 2052 computer, in the Indian AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar project for the indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft while allowing the transfer of the Elta 2052 computer technology to China. See Karnad, Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet), 186.
  15. See fn #13.
  16. Yashwant Raj, “US defence secretary James Mattis seeks waiver for India from sanctions on Russia”, Hindustan Times, April 27, 2018, 
  17. Indian official sources; unattributable.
  18. Karnad, Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet), 201-207.
  19. Jayanth Jacob, “Defence buys won’t be dictated by US: India on Russia sanctions”, Hindustan Times, May 18, 2018; “PM-Putin meet elevates ties to ‘spl privileged strategic partnership’”, Times of India, May 22, 2018.

[Published as a ‘Debate Paper’ on the subject “Should India Increase Military alignment with the United States?”, The United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney, Australia, 21 June 2018, ]

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US arm-twisting India to buy Patriot-3 systems instead of Russian S-400

Image result for pics of the Pac-3 INTERCEPTOR


Late last year, the Iran-supported Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a Burqan-2 missile (a Scud variant) aimed at the international airport in Riyadh some 600 miles  to the northeast. The missile got to its target alright but due to the strains in the metal canister induced by the flight, blew apart with the debris  littering parts of the runway and the  road outside the airport. The Saudis, however, claimed that they had fired five Patriot advanced capability (PAC-3) interceptor at the intruder and had destroyed the Houthi Burqan.

US President Donald Trump visiting Saudi Arabia not long after that event crowed that  “Our system knocked the missile out of the air. That’s how good we are. Nobody makes what we make, and now we’re selling it all over the world.” Trump is a loud, less than, credible snake oil salesman at the best of times. As promoter of the PAC-3 he is eminently ignorable, as is any US official urging friendly countries to buy this air defence system whose worldwide publicity is far better than its performance.

Except, and this is a kicker, an analysis by air defence experts of the debris distribution and of the parts of the Burqan system that the Saudis proudly displayed days after the attack, came to the conclusion, as reported in the American press, that the incoming missile had come apart by itself at the end of its trajectory and, more shocking still to Trump Admin officials, the Pentagon, and Raytheon — the maker of the Patriot, that all the five PAC-3 interceptors the Saudis fired had missed the target!

Last month  Tina Kaidanow, principal deputy assistant secretary of the US State Department’s Political-Military Affairs Bureau, came to Delhi on a triple-pronged mission — to press Delhi to sign the remaining two “foundational” agreements —  COMCASA and BECA as follow up to the LSA, and to prevent India signing up to buy the Russian counterpart of the PAC-3, the S-400, for $5 billion, and to persuade the Modi government to buy instead the American product, PAC-3, that doesn’t work. While Kaidanow’s visit wasn’t reported by the Indian media, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s statement that India would go in for the Russian item even if it attracted US sanctions under the 2018 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, was.

Apparently, the US State Dept official’s muffled threat of CAATSA did not work, nor did it “engender a willingness” on the part of the Indian government to think about the US PAC-3 system as replacement. And as regards COMCASA and BECA she was told nothing she could be reassured by.

As a function of trying to move the defense relationship forward — and certainly the defense trade relationship — it is important that those foundational agreements are considered by the Indian government, they are acted on hopefully as expeditiously as possible,” Kaidanow told the Washington defence media. “Of course it is their sovereign right to decide on these things, but our hope is that we have presented to them some good options and some ways forward. Hopefully we can make some progress in that relatively soon.”

And pertaining to the F-16 and perhaps also the PAC-3, she said “American defense product is great product — it is the best in the world. It’s central that countries really think about when they acquire these things — and particularly when we’re talking about important systems … — that they think about the quality and the interoperability piece and all of the things that we know come with the acquisition of American products.”

Kaidanow is right. Buying military goods from the US comes with lot of attached baggage and just too many do’s and don’t’s, inclusive of the uncertainty attending on the spares supply, which can be stopped at any time on Congressional whim and an Administration’s fancy. And worst of all, the PAC-3 does not work as advertised. Whether Prime Minister Narendra  Modi is convinced about the cons outweighing the pros or not, the political scene at home tilting against him suggests his government is unlikely during the remainder of its first term at least to sign any accords, or buy anything big from America, let alone nix the S-400 deal, go in for the PAC-3, and permanently turn Russia into an enemy.

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India needs a reasonable small arms policy


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Army marches on its stomach, but needs an uninterrupted supply of small arms and ammunition to fight. Besides the army, seven para-military organizations, and innumerable state police forces, as also military Special Forces and in the states, have to be equipped. Some two million pieces, ranging from 5.56mm to 12mm, and hundreds of thousands of tons of matching ammunition, are required every year by all armed forces in the country. The Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) seems incapable of meeting this demand or satisfying its customers in terms of product quality (INSAS 5.56mm rifle) or quantity.

Frustrated armed services, paramilitary units, and Special Forces have learned to buy weapons of their choice to supposedly meet time-critical needs by importing them in small enough tranches at high prices to avoid censure. It has multiplied hard currency expenditures and logistics headaches owing to the sheer diversity of weapons, and highlighted the absence of a reasonable national small arms policy.

The defence public sector (DPS)is beyond repair. According to a Niti Ayog study, the value produced per worker in ordnance factories is a meagre Rs. 6 lakhs versus the minimum of Rs. 40-50 lakhs in value that is required to be produced per employee to make even a micro, small, and medium enterprise financially viable. A far reaching solution has been bruited about within the Ministry of Defence (MOD) ever since the previous defence minister Manohar Parrikar was briefed about a unique ‘strategic partner’ model stressing economies of scale to drive the flagship‘Make in India’ programme and to generate millions of jobs.

Per this model, the partner-company is selected on the basis of its versatile portfolio to manufacture not just one kind of weapon, hardware, or piece of military equipment but the entire family of weaponry and systems. Such schemes would cover the gamut of military use items, where the country is deficient. The selected foreign company would be helped to secure land and the basics (power, water, etc.), but would be free to choose its Indian collaborator– a private company or DPS unit –and to run its business as it sees fit without any Indian government interference, and to export what it produces after meeting the country’s requirements; in other words, to make India a global manufacturing hub.

In the small arms field India’s estimated demand in the next five years will be for eight million assault rifles worth a billion dollars with the strategic partner expected to manufacture the full panoply of automatic and semi-automatic assault rifles, sniper rifles, pistols, carbines, sub-machine guns, and light machine guns. The 2016 Arms Act now permits Indian private sector involvement. There are four principal non-US sources – the German company Heckler and Koch (HK), the Belgian corporation Fabrique Nationale Herstal (FN), the Israeli Weapons Industries (IWI) and Rosoboronexport representing the Russian Kalashnikov systems.

HK has decided not to sell its wares to corrupt, undemocratic, non-NATO countries, including India (with a recent order by the Border Security Force being turned down). FN is ruled out because it owns the American arms-making companies, Browning and the firm that once produced Winchester repeater rifles and,inthe context of the 2018 Countering Adversaries of America Through Sanctions Act, is susceptible to American pressure. IWI got a drop on the competition by first tying up with OFB to produce the ‘Zittara’ assault rifle, which was rejected by the army. Having learned its lesson, it next tied up with Punj-Lloyd to locally produce its X-95 Tavor family of weapons and has fared better.

But because the requirements for small arms and ammo are large and recurring, the country should ensure competition by also selecting, if belatedly, the Kalashnikov Concern as a second strategic partner to produce its range of weapons based on the ‘Avtomatni Kalashnikova’ (AK) series of weapons, famed for their ruggedness, ease of operation, and low cost of production,for local use and for exports. This strategic partner model can be applied to the production of ammunition too. Commonality in arms and ammo should lead to shared armouries and logistics system for all forces –military, paramilitary, and police, and to the more economical use of the Indian national security rupee.

This solution has not found traction because the government is keen on diversifying sources of arms supply. The real reason is that procurement is zealously protected turf for all organizations and ministries. More frequent tenders and acquisitions deals mean greater opportunity for more people in the decision loops to make money. Fully indigenizing supply sources will end this nefarious business. Who wants that?


[A version of this piece published in the Hindustan Times, June 14, 2018, also reproduced with the title “India needs to find a solution for its arms and ammo shortages” in the net version of the paper at



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Satisfied with small concessions

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[Still no doubts, Mr Modi?]

One cannot but admire how smoothly and with what relish the supremo-for-life, Xi Jinping, and his Zhongnanhai are playing Modi, aided and abetted by the Çhina-wallahs — the Mandarin-speaking section of the country’s diplomatic corps headed by foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale. This mini-summit on the sidelines of the SCO meet in Chingdao was supposedly to further the “Wuhan” agenda. Chingdao confirmed what was evident after Wuhan — the last one-on-one meet by the East Lake-side — that Delhi is being taken for a ride.

At Wuhan, so at Chingdao, if Prime Minister Modi raised any troubling issues — unbalanced and unequal trade, and the matter of the de facto Chinese recognition of Pakistan’s claims on Gilgit-Baltistan and, by extension, on all of Jammu & Kashmir in contravention of Beijing’s commitment vide the 1963 Ayub Khan-Zhouenlai agreement. The territorial compromise Pakistan made was to  cede certain parts of the Aksai Chin under Islamabad’s control to China pending formal and final solution for the dispute over the erstwhile “princely kingdom” of Kashmir. So,  no final Kashmir solution in sight, and, legally, there should be no Chinese projects, such as the Belt Road Initiative-China-Pakistan Corridor and a Division strong PLA force present in Baltistan  ostensibly to safeguard the CPEC construction. The final Chingdao statement says nothing about any of these issues other than the stock, tiresome, reference to continuing with the Special Representative-level talks to resolve the border dispute which has not moved an inch at any level over the last 70 years. The Baltistan-BRI issue, for example, was raised by MEA in talks leading up to Chingdao but was contemptuously swatted away by Beijing. The important thing to note is Modi  did not raise hell about the lack of movement on ANY of these issues of concern to India.

So, what has the Prime Minister come away with? Well, if truth be told, with crumbs. Consider the Chinese giveaways — permission for India to sell short-grained “sticky rice” grown in Assam and the Indian northeast, a promise to release hydrographic data for Yarlung-Tsangpo River that becomes the Brahmaputra at the great bend before entering Arunachal Pradesh — part of which China claims as “southern Tibet” — this data becoming necessary because of the mighty civil works China has already built and is continuing to build to divert this river northwards to supply its water-starved provinces, all the while assuring Delhi — starting from when there were no dams and hydroelectric projects whatsoever — that it would act as a responsible upper riparian state mindful of the lower riparian countries — India and Bangladesh. And, mind you, this promise of hydrographic data  is as per a previous accord Beijing did not respect and according to which it had to periodically pass on this data, but did not. The water flow in the Brahmaputra has reduced and will reduce once the Chinese network of dams and civil works is fully realized by more than 30%, endangering downstream riverine Indian and Bangladeshi economies. Incidentally, an upper riparian state hindering the flow of life-giving water can, under international law, be a cause for war. The reason Delhi is letting Beijing have its ways is, presumably, to not weaken its case in the west. India’s constructions on the upper western rivers passing through Indian Kashmir but allotted Pakistan per the Indus Water Treaty are a point of contention, and if Delhi protests Chinese constructions upstream of Brahmaputra then it’d weaken the Indian case regarding the dams/hydroelectric plants (Baglihar, Kishanganga, etc.)  built in Kashmir on the Jhelum. The difference between the eastern and western scenarios that Delhi has insufficiently emphasized is the fact that China makes no bones about their constructions stopping and diverting the Brahmaputra water even as Delhi claims its dams in Kashmir in no way obstruct  the flow in the Jhelum  or deplete the water available to Pakistan. So, where was the need for Modi not to  talk to Xi in terms of cease and desist?

The main political concession the PM has been able to extract from Xi — and it is no big deal really but important for Modi — who finds the political ground slipping from underneath him and needs this visit no doubt conveniently scheduled in the month or so before the May 2019 general elections are due, so the latter can crow about his successful diplomacy. That’s how desperate Modi seems now that he espies his chances for a second term dimming.

If Modi wanted to really impress the Indian people and show them that he’d take no guff from China or anybody else, he could have begun by doing several things this analyst has long been  recommending: (1) stop talking about it and start delivering strategically empowering Brahmos cruise missiles to any and all Southeast Asian countries that evince an interest in it, especially Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and anybody else. It will bottle up the Chinese South Sea Fleet faster, and more effectively, than almost any other single action this country can take, and  crank up the production of the Brahmos by transferring its production technology to several private sector companies, (2) launch regular FONOPs (freedom of navigation patrols by strong Indian navy flotillas through the “narrow seas” deliberately created by the synthetic islands that China has built on a central verge in the South China Sea, (3) join the littoral and island states in this region to construct air and naval bases that the IAF and IN assets can use to mark an Indian presence in China’s backyard to counter the Chinese military presence west of the Malacca Strait in the Indian Ocean.

Except, Modi has shown no stomach for such hard measures but rather a penchant for talking incessantly about “peaceful” ventures WITH China! In the PM’s mind positioning India as a vishwa guru” and being fobbed off by China with small, piddling, concessions, and relying on the infirm US, which is too frightened of an affray with China to credibly fight India’s fight with the same entity, serves India’s interest. How this is so should be explained by Modi and his PMO — Doval and this lot of “national security advisers”.

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