Pungyye-ri blast — Time India resumed thermonuclear testing (re-titled)

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North Korea did it. Exploded at the Punggye mountain site a genuinely full-bore thermonuclear weapon. The Richter scale registering 6.3 level seismic shock wave followed by a 4.1 level quake and huge rockslides, translatable to around 250 KT yield, though Western sources who have always underestimated North Korean nuclear prowess, claim these seismic reading denote yield in the 50-120 KT class. It  leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind that Kim Jun-Un now possesses the mighty Hydrogen Bomb. That should quiet the “fire and fury” talk by Trump and still the doubts Western strategic circles have to-date feasted on about Pyongyang still lacking the critical staged weapon threshold tech.

Indian government/Indian Ministry of Defence  have finally taken note, evident from some newspapers who get their regular feed on security matters from MOD reporting the disquiet especially about the North Korea- Pakistan angle, and how this would result in Pakistan soon being in possession of the essential two-stage fusion weapon design. “Der se ayai, per durust ayai”. Welcome to the real world, babu-log. Something this analyst has been belabouring in my books ‘India’s Nuclear Policy’ [2008] and ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’ [2015].

But the real culprit are not the nuclear tutpunjias — Pakistan and North Korea, but their nuclear master China which has continuously been disseminating nuclear expertise for over 30 years and thermonuclear material and design assistance over the last 15 years to Pakistan, which has been the remote channel helping North Korea become a thermonuclear weapons power. In fact, the boosted fission design the North Koreans last tested was one Pakistani scientists designed with Chinese help as, perhaps, is the hydrogen bomb. Pakistan has always been the route and instrumentality  that China used to nuclear arm North Korea.  I elaborated and updated all these various streams of evidence and material on this “rogue nuclear triad” in a piece “Countering the Rogue Nuclear Triad of China, Pakistan, North Korea” published July 25, 2016 by The Wire (https://thewire.in/53338/countering-the-rogue-nuclear-triad-of-china-pakistan-north-korea/ ). This was a piece Ryan Evans, chief editor of the Washington-based blog — ‘War on the Rocks’, highly popular with the US strategic Beltway community, had expressly solicited from me but refused to publish because of my solution it carried about how to deal with this triad — a solution I have been touting to GOI and in my writings since my time on the First National Security Advisory Board in 1998 — TRANSFER NUCLEAR-TIPPED MISSILES TO STATES ON CHINA’S PERIPHERY — Vietnam, for a start, followed by the Philippines, and any other country that lines up to oppose China.

After all, that was the metric Beijing used to arm Pakistan to contain India, and North Korea to contain Japan, thereby neutralizing its two main Asian rivals —  India and Japan. It was a reckless strategy China adopted, but it opened the door for a strong, expansively nationalist-minded government in Delhi to return the compliment in kind, considering Japan is still too colonized by the US to consider the option of, if not proliferating to 3rd countries, than to arming itself with H-Bombs to keep off China. The basic weakness in the extended deterrence notion is this: The US will be damned if it is going to come to Japan’s or South Korea’s or any other country’s rescue if that risks an annihilating North Korean atomic/hydrogen bomb strike on Guam or even Hawaii, what to speak of Los Angeles/San Francisco. The reason why I argued in the 2008 book that sooner rather than later, Japan. South Korea and Taiwan will serially/near simultaneously go weapons nuclear. I called them the “nuclear dominoes”.

Time is long past, I have been arguing, to begin paying back China in its own coin. But, here’s the problem. Rather than using North Korea’s thermonuclear blast to tell the world that all restraints are off, and India will resume fullscale open-ended testing of hydrogen weapons, MEA was fast and nearly the first off the block to excoriate North Korea for the H-test. (The S-1 test in the 1998 Shakti series of underground tests to reiterate again was a fizzle and unless we test again at full yield or, at a minimum, the certifiable and scalable 250 KT level, India cannot credibly claim ownership of thermonuclear weapons status.)  Can anything more retrograde for India’s nuclear security be imagined? This sort of reaction is not a surprise from an MEA with FS, K. Jaishankar, the lead negotiator of the nuclear deal with the US and therefore the prime official prop for it. He’d be most keen for India never to test again and thus imperil the N-deal, his handiwork,  from which India has got little it couldn’t have got without it, but has surrendered much. The larger question though is — Does the Modi government’s desire to please the US trump India’s national security interests???

And the still more pressing question is — why has Delhi not publicly decried the China-Pakistan-North Korea nuclear connection, and squarely blamed Beijing for the proliferation nightmares the world is in for? Why is China the beneficiary of the Indian government’s inability to perceive the primary threat to the country’s existence even as no opportunity is lost to rail against the minor, pipsqueak of a neighbour to India’s west? Oh, I know, I know. GOI is waiting for the US to do so first, whereupon the brave and bold in Delhi will suddenly wake up to the peril that’s always been posed by China, and only China.  Pakistan is a small sideshow that — if Delhi has the slightest strategic sense it will try its utmost to dissuade from climbing into Beijing’s pocket, which it almost has done  by signing on to CPEC. A whole slate of economic and other inducements as I have long argued is what Islamabad would find irresistible. Because let’s be absolutely plain about this: India finds itself unable to handle Pakistan very well, and it has in mind to tackle a Pakistan- fully allied with China?

But what about the nuisances — the LeT, JeM leaders prancing about Muridke and elsewhere — what stops the Indian military from deploying their Special Forces on strategic missions for a change to take them out? Or, RAW from arranging what needs to be done? Surely, these are options, the NSA, Ajit Doval, with his career in covert ops, is well suited to conceive and order. Then again, perhaps, the Modi govt thinks thundering on about “surgical Strikes” will do the trick.

But our “strategic” brains so stop working as soon as Pakistan heaves into view, it is pathetic, of course, but also so ridiculous — there’s nothing left to say. Moreover, with the BJP going deeper into the Hindutva mode and GOI and Indian military continuing to fixate on the so-called ‘Pakistan threat’, India is as likely as not to slip from the marginal position it now occupies in world affairs — truth be told —  to the sub-marginal state category Pakistan currently occupies. If Pakistan has China to lean on, we have Umrika bahadur. Right?

Posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Decision-making, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Japan, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, North Korea, Northeast Asia, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, SAARC, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Special Forces, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Taiwan, Terrorism, United States, US., Vietnam, Weapons, Western militaries | 21 Comments

The Priority List For Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman

Published in Bloomberg Quint 5 September 2017, at  https://www.bloombergquint.com/opinion/2017/09/05/cabinet-reshuffle-the-priority-list-for-defence-minister-nirmala-sitharaman

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Nirmala Sitharaman’s elevation as the Union Minister of Defence was met with deserved applause for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and, more predictably, a spate of news stories highlighting the “gimme” attitude of the military, with each armed service pitching its set of wants. Television channels meanwhile indulged in symbolism, portraying her – as a strappy, no-nonsense, ‘Durga’, presumably, ready to lay waste adversaries. There are the Mahishasuras to slay, many of them, she’ll find lurking in her own ministry and in the military. That should keep her busy for a long time. But, hopefully, Sitharaman will bring to her job the attributes that high-achievers of her gender are justly appreciated for – practical good sense, capacity for multi-tasking, and natural tact to make the demons smile even as she plunges the Trishul into them.


Firstly, the new defence minister has to inoculate herself against being overwhelmed and beguiled by technical jargon and minutiae and military pressure – all of which can get brains to freeze, as has regularly happened with her predecessors.


Secondly, she needs to set her goal. Does she mean to be transformational, or merely fill a South Block ministerial chair?

If transformation is what she has in her mind then it will require her to radically change the way the Ministry of Defence and the Indian military think, prioritise, and make decisions.

She’ll be upending a hoary system that, astonishingly, has been persisted with despite routinely making the wrong choices, misusing scarce national resources, and digging the country ever deeper into a strategic hole. It will require her to stomp and repeatedly on a whole bunch of very big toes. But the rewards of doing so for national security in the medium and long term will be immense.


Thirdly, Sitharaman needs to rejig the policy-making scheme to reform the functioning of the senior bureaucrats in her ministry as well as senior armed services officers she will be dealing with. The Government of India, as she’s well aware, follows a quaint tradition of civil servants making policy by defining the policy choices for the minister, thereby reducing their political bosses to ciphers.

Articulating policy is solely the minister’s task, and she will have to assert this prerogative, see to it that it is implemented within the time-frame that she sets.

She will have to hold the civilian officials and uniformed officers up and down the implementation loop, starting with the Defence Secretary, accountable for failure to achieve targets, shortfalls, and lapses. She would benefit from specialist advice and consider for this purpose having outside experts – not retired babus and the like – whose expertise she can tap. The premise here is the Ministry of Defence civil servants are mostly generalists, lack the technical expertise to render any counsel, leave alone write up policy choices. And, in this respect, to rely on technically competent military men may be to risk getting advice that is influenced by parochial service and combat arm biases.

Fourthly, this necessitates the Minister getting two policy fundamentals right.

Should China or Pakistan be the main threat to orient the military?

If she believes the latter poses the greater peril, she can save herself a lot of bother and carry on with the system in place. Additionally, if she believes that arms self-sufficiency-wise the country is doing fine by importing capital weapons platforms where it can and, where it must, cutting deals for assembling foreign weapons systems or manufacturing them under license, albeit mouthing ‘Make in India’ rhetoric, then the Minister needs to do nothing at all; the existing defence public sector units-dominated defence industry specialising in screwdriver technology can keep chugging.

If on the other hand, Sitharaman views China as the primary threat and feels that the wasteful habit of importing armaments is not the answer, not even in the short term, then the following are the priorities for her to consider.


1. Three Offensive Mountain Corps

The Doklam episode ended well this time around. But to deter China from using massive blunt force in the future, the desperate need is for three offensive mountain corps, each with an armoured division. The resources can be obtained by rationalising the present three strike corps into a single, large, composite corps for any Pakistan contingency because ‘Cold Start’ realistically is a No Start strategy, and shifting the freed up human and materiel resources to speedily raise two additional offensive mountain corps, to enable taking the fight to the People’s Liberation Army on the Tibetan plateau.

2. Indigenous Submarines

Project 75i to build yet another foreign diesel submarine from imported design makes no sense when a basic design by the submarine design directorate in the Indian Navy is available to work on, and an Indian company, Larsen & Toubro, has successfully constructed the far more technically demanding titanium-hulled Arihant-class nuclear-powered submarine.

The contract with the selected foreign ‘strategic partner’ could then be restricted to jointly translating the Indian navy design into engineering drawings and to fill other specific design and technology deficiencies.

3. Bigger Role For The Tejas

The Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) has progressed sufficiently to now outfit squadrons of the Indian Air Force. Except that HAL capacity is not enough for rapid augmentation of the Tejas aircraft in the fleet. The Defence Research and Development Organisation or the Aeronautical Development Agency should be instructed to fully transfer light combat aircraft technologies, including source codes, to two select private sector companies, with HAL retaining production rights as well. It will increase competition, labour productivity all round, and guarantee quality control. Also, The Indian Air Force should be made fully responsible for the LCA project and the follow-on advanced multi-role combat aircraft program. The defence minister should also order the IAF order-of-battle to comprise three types of aircraft — LCA/AMCA, Su-30, and FGFA (with Russia only because no other country will collaborate on such a venture).

The Navy’s Request for Information for carrier aircraft should be terminated, and the naval variant of Tejas fast-tracked for carrier operations under the Navy’s direct supervision.

4. Indigenous Hardware

Hereafter, all major hardware should be indigenously designed, developed and produced in “mission mode” without debilitating requirements of L-1 “lowest tender”, etc. which have to-date undermined plans to make the nation self-sufficient in arms. “Mission mode” is the principal reason, Sitharaman may recall, for the success garnered by all the indigenous strategic military programmes – nuclear weapons, the Agni series of ballistic missiles, and the nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine. Further, all arms production should be shared with the private sector companies who, like the defence PSUs, should be free to export derated versions of all the products they make to generate revenue and amortize investment.

5. New Generation Brahmos

The Brahmos supersonic cruise missile is the weapon China fears most. The New Generation (NG) smaller, lighter, Brahmos has been designed by the Russians. This should now be produced, like the LCA, by farming out its manufacture to several private sector firms, besides the Brahmos Aerospace defence PSU, so that large numbers of this newer, more lethal, missile in all its variants including the air-launched new generation version, is available more quickly to outfit Indian forces and for accelerated exports to countries on China’s periphery to keep Beijing quiet.


Finally, in league with Sushma Swaraj in the Ministry of External Affairs, Sitharaman should push in the Cabinet Committee on Security for establishing and operationalising full-fledged military bases – with the cost shared between the two ministries — in our own Andaman territories in Campbell Bay and Komorta, in North and South Agalega Islands in Mauritius, in the Seychelles, Na Thrang on the central Vietnamese coast, and on the northern Mozambique coast, as a means of enhancing the country’s diplomatic reach and political clout. The capability for distant military operations will ensure that at a minimum the extended Indian Ocean is India’s lake.

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Carrier aircraft muddle (augmented post)

(Navalised Rafale)

[This blog post re-published by BloombergQuint Sept 18, 2017 as “Personal Feud or Technical Flaw, why was Tejas rejected?” at https://www.bloombergquint.com/opinion/2017/09/18/personal-feud-or-technical-flaw-why-was-tejas-rejected


Trust the Indian armed services to make it difficult for themselves and the country at every turn. There’s a big muddle ahead, this time because the Indian Navy decided to issue an RFI (Request for Information) from suppliers for 57 twin-engined aircraft for its indigenous carriers, thereby shunting out, and deprioritizing in its plans, the naval Tejas. This because the naval brass decided that the weight problem — some two ton over mark — couldn’t be solved in time for it to grace the deck of  the IAC-1 Vikrant by when it is commissioned in 2021-22, and that this requirement has, therefore, to be met by imports.

The two aircraft in the fray are the Boeing F-/A-18 E/F Super Hornet — the main carrier plane with foldable wings of the US Navy until it is progressively replaced by the F-35C, and the Maritime Rafale Dassalt has been pitching for with SAAB’s Sea Gripen as a distant third, and not in the reckoning for reasons adduced below. SAAB’s offer to jointly develop with India was made in December 2015 at a time when the Navy was committed to the Tejas. Two years later the Rafale and F-18 are being pushed hard, the navalized Gripen prototype is ready, and the Indian Navy has soured on the home-grown LCA.

If there’s a problem with a new aircraft what do more advanced, strategic-minded, navies not habituated to the easy import option do? Well, take the F-35C. After repeated take-offs, the US Navy discovered a serious design flaw that made the catapult-assisted takeoffs so rough, and so disoriented the pilots just when the aircraft is getting airborne as to potentially prove fatal. The redesign, it is estimated will take several years, and the rectified plane won’t be available until 2020 or later. The US Navy tasked its ‘Red Team’ to work on the design modification and get the improved aircraft for trials fastest. Couldn’t the Indian Navy have constituted its own Red Team to work intensively with the LCA design team to trim its weight?

This was not feasible for many reasons, among them : (1) A personal mountain of a reason — bad blood between the lead test pilot in the naval LCA program, Cmde Jaydeep Maolankar, and Rear Admiral Surendra Ahuja, Assistant Controller Carrier Project and Assistant Controller Warship Production and Acquisition at NHQ. By all accounts, Maolankar is a top rated flier dedicated to the Tejas but Ahuja, with no flying experience, is nearer the seat of power and who, perhaps, to spite Maolankar, a batch mate, whose failure to make it to the next rank — however that was managed — was the talk in naval circles, convinced the naval brass that the LCA was no-go, and that its prospects are bleak.

[ ERRATA — My Wrong. Rear Admiral Ahuja is a certified test pilot, cleared for catobar flying from carrier deck, and among the first to operate the MiG-29Ks, as well as a number of other combat aircraft and even transport planes. This was a grievous error on my part of not researching more fully into RADM Ahuja’s career. Apologies.]

Many senior Admirals claim such skulduggery in promotions is not possible because there’s an Appraisals Board, etc. to prevent abuse at the level of promotion boards. In that case, how to explain the Armed Forces Tribunal in July this year holding Vice Admiral PK Chatterjee guilty of passing over many officers with excellent career records — all from the nuclear submarine arm, including Cmdr SS Luthra who had approached the Tribunal, to clear the upward path of his son-in-law Captain A V Agashe? (See http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/tribunal-slams-nepotism-in-navy-imposes-rs-5-lakh-as-fine-on-vice-admiral/articleshow/59851886.cms ). Whence the Navy’s formal rejection of the Tejas. On such personal rivalries hang the fate of nations striving to be self-sufficient in armaments! And (2) It would mean giving up on a chance to import another foreign aircraft and forego all the goodies in train. Easier then for the Indian Navy to give up on the Tejas.

Having desperately hunted for excuses to reject it, Ahuja, possibly driven as much by institutional impulse as personal animus, finally found it in the aircraft’s excess weight and, rather than proposing remedial measures and doubling on the navy’s commitment and investment in an Indian designed and developed carrier aircraft, recommended ditching the naval LCA. Should the Modi government and MOD, assuming Arun Jaitley tomorrow takes over fully as Defence Minister, not instruct the Navy to rethink the import decision? Nah.  Jaitley doesn’t know the business end of an aircraft if it bumped him, even less the business end of aircraft development or the value of fostering indigenous aircraft design and development capability. Then again, when have the military services caviled from tilting always and every time toward expensive foreign imports and pushing the nation deeper into the military hardware import hole?

Why expensive? Because 57 is not a large enough number of aircraft to interest profit-driven foreign suppliers, and certainly not Boeing, especially not if in trying to service PM Modi’s flagship ‘Make in India’ program it is also required to make it in India which, in terms of economies of scale makes no sense to anybody. And buying this small lot of aircraft will mean the country paying through its nose for them.

The reason the Swedish SAAB Company will be happy to produce the Sea Gripen in India is because it is also very confident about selling some 200 of its air  force variant in competition with the F-16 in the new single-engined aircraft sweepstakes to equip the IAF, with attractive talk of fully transferring to India “all source codes” — the design-wise know-why element. But there’s yet another problem. Assuming the Sea Gripen is generally of the same size as the air force variant, then this aircraft, as stalwart naval persons will tell you, will barely fit on the lifts in the IACs that carry the planes on to the deck. Except, Sea Gripen is single-engined, doesn’t fit the 2-engined NSQR, and is not acceptable to the Navy. Boeing would be interested too if the IAF picked the F-18 for its fleet, except Boeing is unlikely to onpass source codes and other ‘black box’ technologies to any Indian private sector company or public sector firm, like HAL. Besides, it will be the 2-engined oddity in a single-engined aircraft buy by the IAF. But this plane too suffers from structural features that make it unfit for the Indian carriers — the wings of the F-18 do fold but at the wingtips when, to be accommodated in the elevator, the fold would have to be at the fuselage end.

The joker in the pack is Dassault, which’s hell-bent on selling its ‘Maritime’ version to the Navy to complement the initial sale of Rafale to IAF as a means of beefing up its wedge in the door strategy to sell in piecemeal lots at progressively higher prices more and more Rafales to the Navy and air force without having to go through the rigmarole of transfer of technology under ‘Make in India’ obligations. Senior naval persons inform that teams from Dassault and Boeing have visited Vikrant, taken measurements, and may come up with some solutions. Such as tilting the aircraft just a bit to get them onto the elevator and the hangar below-deck, for which purpose some re-engineering of the hydraulics in the elevators may be needed. So Rafale will be configured, equipped  with foldable wings if Dassault espies any chance of selling its naval variant.

All said and done, the fact of the matter is the entire race is going to be reduced to a two horse field. Here’s how. Washington will turn the tourniquet to prevent the Swedes from bagging the IAF deal. Ashley Tellis, of Carnegie Washington, the prime mover of American aircraft to the Indian armed services, Indian MOD and the only foreigner (albeit of Mumbai origin) — as I revealed in a piece I wrote last year and on this blog (look it up!)  to have the readiest access imaginable to Prime Minister Modi, has made this plain. In a recent article, he mentioned the fact that between 40% and 60% of the Gripen is composed of components, sub-assemblies and assemblies, including the power plant, sourced from America, that will need US government clearance! Does anybody in Stockholm or in Delhi really believe Gripen has an easy run into the IAF fleet, leave alone the run of the Vikrant deck?  But bring the canny French in with their Rafale and the competition becomes more interesting, less predictable.

But the Modi govt, having taken flak for the 36 aircraft Rafale buy and with the 2019 elections looming, will not allow the sourcing of the F-18s without the “make in India” component. This option could become available if India is willing to pay a horrendous price for it. So, it’s ruled out. The one and only solution then would be the default option of buying more improved MiG-29Ks for IACs 1 through 3 at enhanced cost — improvements in the aircraft, as Admirals reveal, that have been made at India’s expense, on the basis of enormous and invaluable 4 years’ test flying data accessible to the Russians.

But why blame the Russians, the Americans, the Swedes, the French and anybody else selling military equipment for taking advantage of India? That’s the logic of the armaments business. What is hurtful though is how the military services do next to nothing to correct the situation other than justify “immediate”/”urgent” need to line up the next series of imports and, absolutely incomprehensible why the Govt of India — whatever the party in power — is loath to implement drastic measures to end such abject dependency. Such as laying down a ‘No Imports’ Iron Rule which alone will compel the armed services seriously to turn to making indigenous projects successful because they’ll be bereft of other options. To make such decisions will take quite stupendous political will, but that’s what Narendra Modi was supposed to muster. No?

Posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, corruption, Decision-making, Defence Industry, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries | 26 Comments

Losing the perception war at Dok La

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(Indian and Chinese soldiers milling around on the Doklam plateau)

At around a quarter-to-two in the afternoon today (Aug 28), a joint statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi and the Zhongnanhai in Beijing announced the “expeditious disengagement” by troops eyeballing each other on the disputed Bhutanese border with China on the Doklam plateau that India is treaty-bound to protect. So far so good. Except, the Chinese spokesperson Hua Chunying also said Chinese troops would continue to patrol the Doklam region, thereby giving the impression that while the Indians had withdrawn, the PLA unit hadn’t. She then gave the rhetorical middle finger to India by adding that “China will continue to exercise sovereignty rights to protect territorial sovereignty in accordance with the rules of the historical boundary” and, by way of turning the knife, gratuitously declared that “China hopes India respects the historical boundary and works with China to protect peace along the border on the basis of mutual respect of each other’s sovereignty.” ( http://in.reuters.com/article/india-china-doklam-idINKCN1B80IC )

Did PMO/MEA/South Block not have the faintest expectation that having painted itself into a corner Beijing would like to end up scoring rhetorical points to save face? If not, then it reflects poorly on MEA and Indian diplomats that some 70 years of dealing with  China hasn’t taught them a thing. Whence, the PMO did not not think it necessary to instruct the MEA to make public the agreement, which was in the works for the last several weeks that refers to the SIMULTANEOUS withdrawal from Dok La, so as to leave no wiggle room for Beijing? Far from gaining Modi traction at the BRICS summit in China next month by allowing President Xi Jinping to “save face”,  it will only shore up the resolve of the Chinese to keep pushing the Indian govt.  This is so because Beijing is aware that whatever the reality on the ground and whether or not any of their threats and arm-twisting tactics ever work, they are assured of success — at least in the war of perceptions because Delhi simply lacks the savvy. So now MEA will be on the defensive, and involved in a cycle of claims and counter-claims that it cannot win of who withdrew first, and which side is still “patrolling” the heights.

It was a very big thing for the Indian army to reduce the “mighty” PLA — or that’s the self-pumped up image Beijing likes to project to the world — to school-boyish pushing and shoving and throwing stones, and fulminating in the media, which about is the most the PLA could do in the circumstances it found itself in. MEA/Delhi have lost in the perceptions realm what a resolute army won in Dok La.

After all, the huge emanations of hot air and gas — from Beijing and its Global Times mouthpiece did spook a lot of people in the Indian government. It convinced mostly the innocent, naive and the nervy — the bulk of them in the PMO and MEA, alas, that hostilities were only a matter of the local PLA commander choosing his time to kick the intruding Indians out. This notwithstanding the assurances by the army that it was, in fact, well positioned to weather any PLA action and give back some, which is what the army chief Gen Bipin Rawat, in effect, said to the media yesterday when he talked of the army not letting down its guard because it expects the Dok la-type of incidents to be the new normal on LAC.

So, to get back to the question — why was there such urgency on the part of the Indian government to reach an agreement when, plainly, the forward PLA unit’s situation at the trijunction would very soon, weather permitting, have become unsustainable? Was Modi’s attendance at the BRICS meet all that important? Wouldn’t it have been better for India to show displeasure at China’s aggressiveness by sending a minister of state, or someone of even lower stature instead to Beijing? Xi is keen to forge BRICS solidarity now that things are hotting up with the Trump helmed-US, and Modi’s absenting himself would have sent a powerful message that this dual policy of Beijing’s of turning up the heat on the disputed border and turning it down at will, has its costs. But will the PM’s keenness on logging more frequent flier miles — this time east to Beijing, beget India much of anything? Let’s wait and see but it is highly unlikely Modi will return with anything at all.

When will Modi/Delhi/MEA ever learn that being nice to China when Beijing is hostile and determined on showing India down, hurts the national interest?

Posted in Asian geopolitics, Bhutan, China, China military, Decision-making, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, South Asia, United States, US. | 45 Comments

10 days to fueling the Aridhaman

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(Arihant, underway)

The second indigenous Arihant-class SSBN, INS Aridhaman, is completely outfitted and ready — the production time of some 10 years from the time when the special steel was first cut at the Vizag special projects facility. It doesn’t quite match the time needed to produce the Ohio-class SSBN rolling out of the General Dynamics Electric Boat facility at Quonset Point, Rhode Island, and Groton, MA, which complex has by now manufactured over a hundred SSBNs and SSNs for the US Navy. But  India is well embarked on the SSBN manufacturing front.

Aridhaman will be fueled up ten days from today, i.e., around September 5, and the more powerful nuclear reactor in it (than in the Arihant) will be fired up soon thereafter. The vessel will then be ready to undergo harbour trials and conduct shallow dives before the trials take to the open sea.

Not too long ago, the Chinese Navy launched its Liaoning-class aircraft carrier with much fanfare. It will take PLAN 15-20 years to integrate the carrier into fleet ops. India’s more strategic riposte with the Aridhaman, especially with the continuing eyeballing situation in the Doklam area of the trijunction, is a perfect reminder to the Central Military Commission headed by the recently anointed “Supreme commander of the  people’s army”, Xi Jinping, that it won’t do his regime any good exercising the intimidation techniques of threatening, huffing and puffing, feints, etc. recommended by the ancient Confucian strategist Suntze in lieu of actual action. If the hope is that a sufficiently cowed adversary will back down, India’s posture to-date will have belied it.  India is not backing down. So Beijing has a choice of withdrawing as gracefully as it possibly can, and lose face partially. Or, stick on and lose face totally.

The Aridhaman, moreover, has 8 tubes to launch the K-4 2,500 km SLBMs — twice the number of tubes as the Arihant, and can carry some 24 land-attack K-15 missiles as well. The twin SSBN set will by end-2018 be able to drop a whopping nuclear load on Shanghai and the coast line to the east and west of that metropolis — the main wealth-generating region of China. Not a bad thing for the 2nd Artillery Strategic Forces to keep in mind. Meanwhile, with the second Akula-II SSN — the agreement for its lease from Russia is at the stage of crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s — entering IN service, the Liaoning will be well advised  to stay clear east of the Malacca Strait.

There’s general relief in the ASEAN states and the now Brahmos-armed  Vietnam as also in the Far East, particularly Japan, with the recent developments in South Asia. India’s firm handling of the Doklam issue, which together with the second Indian SSBN soon showily taking to the waters, will increase manifold the confidence of the states on the Chinese periphery in India, and help douse the dragon’s fire. And its ‘tianxia’ ambition.

Posted in Bhutan, China, China military, Decision-making, Defence Industry, DRDO, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Japan, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, Northeast Asia, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, South Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Vietnam, Weapons | 44 Comments

Indo-US 2×2, etc.

The Rajya Sabha television panel discussion on the “2×2” forum (involving the Indian defence and external affairs minister and the US Secretaries of Defence and of State) as a new vehicle to advance Indo-US relations below.

Posted in Afghanistan, arms exports, Asian geopolitics, Australia, China, China military, Decision-making, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, 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, United States, US., Vietnam, Weapons | 1 Comment

Jihad to the finish in Afghanistan?

Image result for pics of Trump giving afghan speech


The US will hereafter forego foreign adventurism and wars to “rebuild countries in our own image”. But in Afghanistan, American forces, the US President Donald Trump announced, will fight on and finish the job of eliminating the terrorists. He would not make the mistake he said of his predecessor Obama’s of withdrawing the American military prematurely because that will lead to the al-Qaeda and ISIS filling the vacuum as happened in Iraq. Moreover, his strategy he said will be dictated by “the conditions on the ground” not “arbitrary timetables”. This could mean interminable war except, Trump contrarily asserted, that “our commitment [to Afghanistan] is not unlimited, and our support is not a blank check.” The conclusion then is that the US commitment to the Abdul Ghani regime in Kabul is in fact limited.

In the event, should the Taliban be prepared for rapid attrition of its leadership ranks with precision US kills, and manage to wage a sustained drag out fight to wear down the US fighting capabilities, deplete the US Treasury of its wealth, and test Washington’s patience and increase its frustrations with “a war without victory”, they may still end up winning against America as they had done against the Soviet Union in the early 1980s. This is enough of an incentive for the Taliban and assorted Islamic terrorist groups that will now be attracted to its standard, one would assume, to engage in a jihad to the finish against America. Trump has indicated that because “Micromanagement from Washington, DC, does not win [faraway] battles”, the US military commanders will be given a free hand to devise battlefield strategies, hunt down and kill the Taliban, and to call in more forces if necessary to bring the fight to a conclusion. So Afghanistan may soon witness a dizzying pace of US military operations once the build-up is completed and, as reaction, heightened terrorist activity inside Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In the mean time, Pakistan will get it in the neck. As part of his multi-pillared strategy, Trump means “to change the approach and how to deal with Pakistan”. “We can no longer”, he declared, “be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond”. While acknowledging Pakistan’s role in the past as “a valued partner”, he accused Pakistan of “housing the very terrorists that we are fighting”,  and warned that Pakistan “will have to change, and that will change immediately”. Trump also hinted at the possibility of Pakistani “nuclear weapons and materials…coming into the hands of terrorists and being used against us, or anywhere in the world for that matter.” And then came the implied threat: “No partnership”, Trump averred, ” can survive a country’s harboring of militants and terrorists who target US service members and officials. It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, order, and to peace.” Or else.

Modi’s hugs apparently paid off. The US President referred to “another critical part of the South Asia strategy for America is to further develop its strategic partnership with India…a key security and economic partner”, appreciating its “important contributions to to stability in Afghanistan” especially in the economic and development fields, and reiterated his commitment to pursue “our shared objectives” in the subcontinent and “the broader Indo-Pacific region”. But amidst expressions of goodwill, Trump couldn’t resist holding out a veiled threat to Delhi. “India makes billions of dollars in trade” with the US, and “we want them,” he affirmed, “to help us more with Afghanistan” with regard to economic and development assistance. [I thought I heard him say “help us war with Afghanistan”!! and checked the print text to be reassured.]

More economic aid and programmatic assistance is manageable. But, what happens to the Taliban factions  cultivated by RAW that have so far helped keep the Pakistan-supported Taliban of the Haqqani Network and ISI off-balance and about whom GHQ Rawalpindi keeps complaining incessantly to Washington about? There’s also the likelihood, if the fighting gets difficult, for Washington to request a more direct Indian military role. The Modi government better begin strategizing and preparing for this eventuality and on how to say NO to Trump without getting him all worked up. And finally, does Trump’s anti-terrorist stance include the India-targeting terrorist outfits patronized by the ISI — LeT, JeM, and that lot of scruffians? I doubt it.

Posted in Afghanistan, Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Intelligence, Iran and West Asia, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, SAARC, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Terrorism, United States, US., Weapons, West Asia, Western militaries | 11 Comments