Overdue desserts

[Shashi Kant Sharma, IAS, ex-CAG, fmr Defence Secretary]

The more one interacts, the more one knows, and the more familiar one gets with the rot of corruption, loot and pelf on an industrial scale entrenched in the Indian system of government at the central, state and local levels, which is eating away at the entrails of the military as well. That “make as much as you can, while you can”-mentality and attitude long ago established a foothold in the military, is common knowledge.

Whatever else the BJP governments under Narendra Modi since 2014 have not done, they have succeeded — to an extent — in curbing the kind of often brazen siphoning off of national financial resources at the senior bureaucratic and ministerial levels that was the norm in the previous decades. At the highest political level, it is now a couple of “crony capitalists” who are rumoured to be subsidising BJP’s successful election campaigns that does away with collecting small time funds for the party coffers.

The easiest way politicians, bureaucrats and militarymen discovered to rake in the moolah was through multi-billion dollar defence deals where the foreign vendors were only too keen to payoff in millions of dollars those in the procurement loop in return for multi-billion dollar contracts. The bigtime moneymaking began in the 1980s with the Rajiv Gandhi government, when “sophisticated” Italian methods and schemes for indirect payments were imported whole and subsequently localised. Especially useful were the turnkey projects — such as for the Snam Progetti fertiliser plants, managed by the infamous Italian middleman, Quatrocchi, with reach into the then PM’s home — recall all that? In the defence sphere, the deals for the German HDW 201 diesel submarine and, most memorably, the 155mm howitzer whose name — ‘Bofors’ entered the political lexicon, and spawned controversies. The AugustaWestland deal for helicopters and for the Pilatus turboprop trainer aircraft during the Manmohan Singh period, was at the tailend of that series of Rajiv Gandhi-era scams (after all Manmohan Singh, an unprepossessing sarkari economist, was hoisted into the prime minister’s seat by Sonia Gandhi, becoming by his own account an “accidental prime minister” and effectively a figurehead for a government run by remote control).

An attempt to bring those involved in the Augusta boondoggle to book is finally underway. The Central Bureau of Investigation has chargesheeted Shashi Kant Sharma, ex-IAS, former Comptroller and Accountant General of India and ex-Defence Secretary, who as Joint Secretary (Air) approved the deal for Augusta helicopters for VVIP use. But why it took the Modi regime nearly a year and a half to allow CBI to charge Sharma and his four IAF co-conspirators — retired Air Vice Marshal Jasbir Singh Panesar, Air Commodores SA Kunte and N. Santosh, and Wing Commander Thomas Mathew, is a murky mystery.

Sharma, amongst the smoothest operators, spent 10 long years in the MoD in various capacities to rise to the top. What he, a generalist babu, learned about military affairs during his time in the ministry is not known. But that he specialised in facilitating all manner of suspect, scammy defence deals, there’s no doubt. On May 6, 2016, in a post on “bureaucratic facilitators of corruption” I had written this: “The point to make is that bureaucrats, as handmaidens of corruption, invariably get away with the vilest wrongdoing, assisting their political masters to milk the system while keeping a lot or little for themselves as nest egg, even as everybody else gets hauled up. This has to end. Consider just how crucial the IAS babus are in the procurement game. The military service’s role is limited primarily to the drawing of SRs and then technically and professionally justifying the hardware pre-selected by the political leaders, the rest of the shortlisting process being so much eyewash — this has been the Congress Party’s record anyway. The DG Acquisitions, MOD, is actually central to approving hardware purchases. And Price Negotiation Committee (PNC) headed by Add Sec, MOD, Joint Sec (concerned service) and Defence Finance officers, with a one-star rank military officer asked to fill space at the negotiating table and not actually participate, firming up the contract. And because IAS babus in MOD are generalists — whose knowledge of military matters even after serving many years in the Ministry ranges between iffy and nonexistent, the contracts that accrue almost w/o exception favour the foreign vendor (whose negotiators are all specialists in legal nuances and technical minutiae in their fields and who run circles around the noncomprehending dolts on the Indian side).

“If the BJP govt is serious about accountability and bringing all the culprits in the Agusta, Pilatus, and potentially Rafale boondoggles to book, it better not overlook their main bureaucrat facilitator(s). Seek the counsel of the attorney general about whether a serving CAG can be prosecuted, at a minimum, for his apparent malfeasance and fiduciary irresponsiblity. If as CAG he cannot be touched by law, then it is incumbent on the govt to prepare an airtight legal case against him, and to prosecute him the day he demits office as CAG, which is only a year away. If the Gandhis and ACM Tyagi & “Fratelli Tyagi” and ACM Browne (now ambassador to Norway) [for the Pilatus contract] are to be made examples of, so should the IAS officers involved in these three deals.” [ https://bharatkarnad.com/2016/05/06/bureaucrat-facilitators-of-corruption/ ]

A follow-up Aug 19, 2016 post by me concluded thus: “As stated in earlier blogs, Shashikant Sharma on his retirement as CAG in 2017, needs to be investigated for his hand in the Augusta 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.” [ https://bharatkarnad.com/2016/08/19/boeing-c-17s-shashikant-sharma-accountability/ ]

The latest developments far from being the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” as far as holding babus — the big time corruption enablers in government, accountable may actually point to why there’ll be no end to the ongoing gigantic level scamming, now manifested most conspicuously at the state and local levels. The scale of it may be guaged from the very visible fact of, say, the phantasmagoric 20,000 sq feet house of Jaipur pinkstone built for himself in a dry and barren sub-region of Maharashtra entirely free of any other signs of development, by a minor local government functionary — a mere zilla parishad chief in Beed, Marathawada, belonging to Sharad Pawar’s ruling Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra! (Hint to the Press — motor down to Beed over bad roads in Pawar’s bailiwick, to marvel at the palace this minor Kubla Khan has built in his Xanadu!!)

Such concerns arise because of the time it took the Modi government to permit the CBI to prosecute Messrs Shashi Kant Sharma & Co., and why to-date the retired Air Chief Marshal NK ‘Charlie’ Browne has been spared the “noose” for the Pilatus contract he pushed. Perhaps, people heading the present dispensation feared that should the BJP be voted out in 2024, they may face the same music on the Rafale fighter aircraft deal. Because, as a French press investigation has revealed, payments were made by Dassault Avions to Indians whether of the political class or those in the defence procurement decision chain is not clear, despite this being touted as a “commissions-free” government-to-government deal. The results of the recent elections in UP and elsewhere apparently put such fears to rest, emboldening the Modi government to finally act on the Sharma case.

But not going after Browne (for the Pilatus) and not making an example of him along with his predecessor, Air Chief Marshal Tyagi (for the Augusta helos), however, makes no sense unless it is that the government and CBI, startled by just how deep and widespread the tentacles of corruption have reached into the military, are being extra-cautious about hauling off scores of retired military brass to jail for other defence deals, lest this “demoralise” the armed services. This is to misread the sentiment among the rank and file of the military which’s clued in, with just about everbody in each service aware of the bad eggs in the officer corps; they would be happy and relieved to see the corrupt among them get, even if belatedly, their comeuppance.

However, the trend in babu circles in government in the last two decades is not to get caught with hands in the cookie jar. But, as I detailed in my 2015 book ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’, to ensure that prospective foreign arms/product vendors pay the fees and upkeep costs for their progeny in American/West European universities and/or guarantee them high-paying jobs after they graduate along with resident visas in the US, France, UK, Sweden, Italy, etc. It does away with signing potentially incriminating documents. And the placement of sons/daughters abroad is attributed by these babus naturally to their children being very bright! For companies that lose out on this or that deal, it is small price to pay for generating “institutional” goodwill this way. It is something they can cash in on in future Indian government deals and contracts, because babus down the line come to know of foreign companies (and their host countries) that happily pay in kind for services rendered.

Posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, corruption, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, Defence procurement, domestic politics, DRDO, Europe, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, Indian state/administration, Internal Security, Military Acquisitions, society, South Asia, United States, US., Weapons | 28 Comments

Russia-Ukraine Conflict: Three steps to break India’s arms-import shackles

[Indian army’s Brahmos missiles]

Whatever else the Russian armed intervention in Ukraine has done, it has hammered home to the Union government the perils of over-dependence on imported armaments. There are two aspects that are of special concern. First, is the danger of a military spares cut-off in case the Russian engagement in Ukraine extends into the future, highly unlikely though that is, because then the Kremlin will prioritise re-supplying its own troops.

Considering eastern Ladakh is a live border with China, as is the Arunachal Pradesh-front, the shutting down of the pipeline for spares owing to US sanctions on Russia, freezing of banking channels, etc., could mean a disaster for India should Beijing decide to renew hostilities. Summer — ideal campaign weather, is just round the corner, and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is apparently itching to hand the Indian Army a drubbing.

Second, is a problem of our creation. Some 90-plus percent of the hardware in the employ of the Indian armed services is of foreign origin, or relies on critical imported components, to upkeep which requires mammoth amounts of spares and servicing support. But capital is mostly expended by the military on new acquisitions under the rubric of ‘force modernisation’, and not in replenishing ‘voids’ — the shortfalls of as much as 60-70 percent with regard to spares which a singularly inefficient public sector defence industry cannot make up.

Hence, the Indian armed forces are restricted both in terms of how long they can fight wars, and with what intensity. India-Pakistan conflicts, for instance, are of short duration because the two similarly-tuned militaries quickly run out of ammo. But China, almost entirely self-sufficient in arms and with a comprehensively capable defence industry, can fight for as long as it takes the PLA to force a decision.

It is all very well in the circumstances for ministers to extol atmanirbharta, and the services’ chiefs to swear by it. But that’s a cover, once the crisis passes, for everybody to get back to doing things the old way because, per received wisdom, it will ‘take decades’ for the government, the military and the industry to get on the same page and up to speed.

There’s a three-pronged alternative, however, that can deliver results in a short time. First, formally terminate all arms imports. Two, ramp up the defence R&D, and production ecosystem by bringing in proven private sector companies as prime contractors in prestigious defence projects. Larsen & Toubro, which already produces the Arihant-class nuclear-powered submarines, for instance, should be given charge of the 75i diesel submarine programme; the DRDO should transfer to Tata Aerospace & Defence and to Mahindra Aerospace the source codes of the Tejas 1A fighter and of its successor, the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft; and Bharat Forge should be asked to improve the Arjun main battle tank, and design a light tank for use in Ladakh and Sikkim.

These programmes will establish widening tiers of associated specialist, high-technology MSMEs, with the additional production lines for the Tejas fighter plane, Arjun MBT, and the light tank augmenting the numbers of the same manufactured by the defence public sector units, for induction into the Indian armed forces, and for export.

Streamlined private sector industrial groups, moreover, will minimise waste, cut the fat, and add value. For instance, L&T needs only to buy a submarine design from a foreign vendor and a few select technologies, such as optronic masts, because it has learned to do everything else. This will pare the hard currency costs, estimated at $8-10 billion to just $1 billion!

On a war footing, these initiatives may take, say, five years to come to fruition. In the meantime, with imports halted, India’s conventional military muscle will suffer. But to ensure national security, India should do what China and North Korea did to offset their conventional military inferiority vis-a-vis the United States: They threatened first use of nuclear weapons. It deterred Washington from pushing US’ advantage.

This is the third prong of the alternative policy: India should announce a tweaked Indian nuclear doctrine and strategy permitting first use of nuclear weapons but only against China. Forward-deployed canisterised Agni missiles, capable of launch-on-launch and launch-on-warning, now entering India’s arsenal can act as nuclear tripwire — a short-fuse — to dissuade the PLA from breaching Indian defences.

Holding the wealth-producing coastal belt in China hostage to nuclear weapons is no bad way to check Beijing’s adventurism. It will require New Delhi to show iron will and to hold its nerve. Whether the Indian government can do that is the big question.


Published in Moneycontrol.com March 14, 2022, at https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/opinion/russia-ukraine-conflict-three-steps-to-break-indias-arms-import-shackles-8230601.html

Posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, Defence procurement, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indo-Pacific, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, russian military, sanctions, South Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with the US & West, technology, self-reliance, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries | 32 Comments

‘Even if authorised, missile firing makes no sense’

This cannot be credibly explained away by referring to a “technical glitch”.’

[The BrahMos in flight]

India on Friday said a missile that landed in Pakistan on March 9 was fired ‘accidentally’ due to a technical malfunction. The defence ministry ordered a court of inquiry into the incident a day after Pakistan said a high-speed projectile launched from India entered its airspace and fell near Mian Channu in Khanewal district.

Interview of Bharat Karnad, emeritus professor of national security studies at the Centre for Policy Research, the New Delhi think-tank, by Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal, Rediff.com 


While the defence ministry has explained that the missile fired into Pakistan was due to a ‘technical malfunction’, former naval chief Admiral Arun Prakash has tweeted that these missiles can never be launched accidentally but only when authorised.What does that indicate?

The Admiral is right. This seems like an unauthorised firing. Further, even if authorised, the firing makes no sense, because there was no active warhead. So, what was the aim?

This missile was accidentally fired on March 9, one day before the counting of votes of the assembly elections. Could there be a co-relation between these two events?

No. The co-relation is only in the minds of the conspiracy inclined, and there is no dearth of those in the country.

The missile mishap occurred on March 9, but the government came up with a clarification on March 11. Why this delay?

Well, the government was first waiting for a formal Pakistani protest. And it took another day to craft a diplomatic apology.

What does this say about their safety mechanisms and the technical prowess in the way these dangerous weapons are being maintained in India?

That’s precisely the worry attending on this misfiring.

Indeed, the Pakistani government was quick to capitalise on this incident of the Brahmos missile going astray.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s National Secrity Adviser Dr Moeed Yusuf publicly expressed concern and asked the international community to note the fairly casual manner in which missiles are operated.by the Indian armed forces.

He went on, understandably, to extend that concern to India’s handling of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.

Such criticism is bound to have an effect on international opinion and hurt India’s self-confessed status as a ‘responsible State’.

The defence ministry seems to have landed with egg on its face.

A whole barnyard full of eggs, in fact. This is quite shocking and simply cannot be credibly explained away by referring to a ‘technical glitch’.

The triggering mechanism is a hardy piece of work including a firing sequence and a final authorisation.

How this process was obviated is a mystery.

Pakistan’s foreign office summoned India’s charge d’affaires in Islamabad to lodge a warning that this unprovoked violation of its airspace could have endangered passenger flights and civilian lives.

Well, yeah, anything could have happened, including the missile, even with a dummy warhead, kinetically taking out a passenger aircraft.

In your view, could this have been a BrahMos cruise missile possessing nuclear capability?

The Brahmos missile has interchangeable warheads and can carry both conventional and nuclear weapons.

But most forward-deployed Indian cruise missiles are conventionally armed.

If it was a nuclear missile — albeit unarmed — is there a possibility in the future that the command and control system could fail again in the future which could have dangerous consequences for both nations?

Unless the government clarifies the nature of the ‘technical glitch’ everything is in the realm of speculation. That could include a faulty command and control system.

According to reports, Pakistani officials claim it was fired from Sirsa. How far is that assessment correct?

No reason to doubt the Pakistani claim because the Pakistani air defence complex at Sargodha, District Miani, is very advanced and capable of detecting cruise and ballistic missile firings and minutely tracking their trajectory.


Published in Rediff.com, March 13, at https://www.rediff.com/news/interview/dr-bharat-karnad-even-if-authorised-missile-firing-makes-no-sense/20220313.htm

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, corruption, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indo-Pacific, Intelligence, Internal Security, Islamic countries, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, society, South Asia, Weapons | 19 Comments

Criminal laxity or is it complicity in the “misfiring” of the Brahmos missile? Strategic dimensions (Augmented)

[A Brahmos triggered]

[This augmented post incorporates new info relating to the incident presented in in Sunday newspapers, without changing its original thrust and tenor.]

The supersonic Brahmos cruise missile reportedly misfired by an army’ s missile battery from Sirsa landed fairly deep — 124 km — inside Pakistani territory, near Mian Channu, Khanewal District. The Pakistani air defence complex at Sargodha, Miani District, tracked it precisely with the Pakistan army’s Inter-Services Public Relations chief, Major General Babar Iftikhar, helpfully informing the press that the missile, which had been fired March 9 at 1843 hours had diverted of its own volition midflight and crashlanded in northeastern Punjab seven minutes later, at 1850 hours. Pakistan did not react other than by wagging a finger at India.

Doubtless GHQ, Rawalpindi, could not be more gleeful at this technological windfall. It has been just handed a dummy warhead-carrying whole Brahmos missile. The fallen missile — the star in the Indian army’s weapons inventory, unless fully destroyed by impact and even if it is so wrecked, some of its more interesting parts would be recoverable, is a boon to the Pakistan and Chinese militaries. These will be carefully disassembled, technically scrutinised, and a whole team urgently constituted at the Aeronautical Complex at Kamra, to likely get down to the business of studying the missile threadbare with a view ultimately to reverse engineering it. Of special significance in the Brahmos system is its super secretive ramjet engine of Russian make and its guidance system of Indian design and manufacture.

After deciphering all it can about the Brahmos system, the Pakistan army will pass on the same to the Chinese PLA, which has the CX-1 — a copy of the Russian supersonic Yakhont (NATO-designation — “Sunburn”) cruise missile equipping its forces. PLA will be only too glad to get its hands on this more sophisticated variety of cruise missile and, perhaps, tease more design and performance secrets from the wreckage than the Pakistani engineers at Kamra can.

Pakistan has been very lucky in terms of accidentally obtaining such advanced technologies, and China, by default, benefitting from access to them. It may be recalled that an unexploded subsonic Tomahawk land attack cruise missile fired from a US submarine in the Arabian Sea and on its way to a target in Afghanistan dropped down instead southwest of Quetta in August 1998. It was quickly retrieved by the Pakistan army and, just as quickly, handed over to the Chinese to deconstruct and learn things to incorporate into their own long range CJ-10 cruise missile. What they must have prized in the Tomahawk were three things — the terrain following Digital Scene Matching Area Correlator (DSMAC) guidance unit, the jam-resistant GPS, and the compact WDU-36 warhead. Certain aspects of the jet engine would have elicited interest too.

The May 2011 nightime raid to capture and kill Osama bin Laden in his house nestled just outside the Pakistan Army Academy at Kirkul left behind another technology treasurehouse — the Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter with special stealth feaures carrying the US Special Forces. It crash landed in the bin Laden compound and had to be left behind by the Special Forces unit, though why the departing Americans could not have just lobbed a few grenades and decimated the crippled helicopter is not clear. May be the excitement got to them! In any case, the Pakistan army and the Chinese military were the beneficiaries, getting their hands on the stealth innovations of that helicopter. Such as its rivetless skin, the radar wave bouncing covering for the tail rotor gearbox, the tail-fin unit painted with “pearlescent” material, the tail-boom with retractable landing gear, a tail-rotor design with five or six blades for slower rotation and less noise and, particularly, the main counter-rotors system of short length and bevelled edges.

Now India has added to Pakistan and China’s luck by virtually handing over a Brahmos cruise missile to them! The adversary’s luck is India’s grave misfortune. Because the Pakistan army and the PLA will now be able to discern how exactly the missile works, especially in its guidance and targeting aspects and, more important, what counter-measures can defeat it in flight and at the terminal stage of its flight.

At a minimum, this incident suggests criminal laxity by the military personnel manning the concerned Brahmos missile battery. And at a maximum, that some of the Indian missileers were suborned by the Pakistanis. The Pakistani communications link and handlers stationed on the Indian side need to be hunted down. Because, surely, the Brahmos missile firing sequence and mechanism is not so simple as to have some person or persons accidentally trip a switch, and have a uh-ho! moment. It requires a deliberate set of steps quite deliberately taken by saboteurs in uniform. It is in Sargodha Central’s interest to claim that it saw the missile suddenly veer off mid-flight in a different direction than the one intended in order to shield the compromised/paid off Indians complicit in the act of getting a Brahmos to Pakistan-China. The first thing for the Court of Inquiry (CoI) that’s been set up to do is to disregard, with extreme prejudice, the Pakistan army’s account of it.

Actually, this episode hints at something lot more troubling — the “dheela-dhala” culture, the laxness that is a characteristic of the civilian parts of government, now seeping into the Indian military’s operational space that permits potentially easy penetration by enemy’s intelligence agencies. This trend if not arrested with ferocity could consume the armed services, and make nonsense of national security. It is also a matter for the counter-intelligence units in the Research & Analysis Wing and the Intelligence Bureau to get between their teeth.

If, on the other hand, a genuine technical quirk in the missile or in its triggering mechanism is detected, or a problematic part of the Brahmos firing drill is identified — these will be easier to correct, of course. Still, it is something of a revelation that the series of electronic interlocks built into the triggering system of the missile can be bypassed. In which case, what’s the point in having these locks if anyone can avoid/preempt them and initiate the firing sequence? This is a most significant weakness in the missile system. Would it be very wrong, in the event, to assume that the strategic nuclear warheaded Agni missiles are under a similar locking system with the final authority to fire being easily side-stepped by the unit in the field?

This is a situation perfectly setup — even an invitation — for some demented missile personnel to go rogue and start a nuclear affray. Little wonder the Pakistan National Security Adviser, Dr Moeed Yusuf has called attention to this incident claiming that India’s nuclear weapons are not in safe custody because the supposed custodians can independently trigger them. It will provide fuel for sections of the policy establishments in the West, which have always been apprehensive of nuclear weaponised Third World states, to claim that India has an unsafe nuclear arsenal and is a proto-rogue nuclear weapons state that enables its handlers of nuclear armaments to start a nuclear regional or even world war. To exacerbate the Indian government’s discomfiture, the Pakistan government has asked for a joint inquiry — which of course should not be acceded to. But it still leaves suspicions of an infirm command and control system very much in place.

Re-engineering the interlocks system in the missile triggering mechanism, one in which the option of manual over-ride at the local level is denied without an absolute final authorization, is an urgent necessity. These technical remedies will not, however, in any sense lessen the grievous damage done India’s cause with the most ballyhooed weapon in the Indian arsenal now cradled by Pakistan and China. India, alas, is not so bounteous that it can afford such lapses that gift military high-technology to its enemies.

Hope, however, that the usual path is not followed and things not hushed up. The air force officers and other ranks up and down the line and party in any way to this mishap will have to be held responsible. Those directly implicated will need to be drummed out of service and by way of exemplary, deterrent, punishment, put away for life in prison. In China, such “accident” would fetch some people the firing squad.


Posted in Afghanistan, arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, corruption, Culture, Decision-making, Defence procurement, DRDO, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indo-Pacific, Intelligence, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, society, South Asia, Special Forces, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries | 23 Comments

Why US, Russia Want India On Its Side

[Ukrainians hold weapons outside the regional administration building in central Kharkiv]

Rediff News Interview, at https://www.rediff.com/news/interview/why-us-russia-want-india-on-its-side/20220307.htm, published March7, 2022: Bharat Karnad explains some of the consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The world order seems to be changing dramatically following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
China seems to have emerged as the senior partner of Russia and both India and China seem to be on the same page vis a vis the Russian invasion.

Yes, the Volodymyr Zelenskyy regime is under siege, and has upset Putin’s plans for a quick operation by its refusal to be intimidated by Russian military power.

And the ‘correlation of forces’ has changed some, considering that NATO will now not be able to use the Ukrainian frontage on the Black Sea to attack Russia from the south.

China, for its part, is observing how the situation is developing, how Washington, in particular, is reacting and especially the step-up actions of the US and NATO.

These, sequentially, have progressed from initial verbal protests, airlift of a large volume of arms and ammo for tactical battle (by some press accounts totalling some $1.5 billion in the last three weeks or so), firming up of the NATO force posture, closing off of NATO air space to Russian aircraft, to announcing a slate of up-rampable economic and trade sanctions.

Beijing will know what to expect should it care to do an Ukraine in Taiwan in the future.

President Xi Jinping will, however, be reassured by the reluctance of the US to deploy its troops directly to fight the Russian forces in Ukraine.

But there are two changes of consequence in the pattern of big power conduct in international affairs.

The US trans-shipment of small value military equipment — the proverbial straw thrown to a drowning Ukraine, has only confirmed to Asian countries their apprehensions of the US as a fickle ally and unreliable security partner.

Equally, President Vladimir Putin has shown his determination to reclaim for Russia, at whatever cost, its Cold War-era buffer zone and sphere of influence.

Is this the beginning of another Cold War with China and Russia pitted together on one side and the US on the other? Can the US be a match against these two powerful nations?

Cold War 2.0, perhaps. Except it is now US versus China as the principals, and predates the Ukraine crisis.

If the US-NATO tandem are more advantageously placed economically and diplomatically, the Russia-China nexus is weightier in terms of will power.

India seems to be caught in between with both the US and Russia wanting our support. We have not condemned Russia outright because we need their support to provide us with military hardware as also repairs, etc.

Actually neither the US nor Russia really expected India to side with one or the other side on the Ukraine issue.

It is just that the Vladimir Putin government had expected, and was politically prepared for and reconciled to India’s neutral positioning far better than the Joe Biden Administration, which had hoped to convince New Delhi to join like-minded countries unitedly to pressure Russia.

[Ukrainian soldiers stop on the road on March 5, 2022 in Sytniaky, Ukraine]

But India also needs military equipment, etc from US and other QUAD nations. How will they achieve this balancing act?

Right now, the arms supply relationship is hugely skewed in favour of Russia — some 70+% of hardware used by the Indian armed services are of Russian origin.

So there’s no question of achieving a balance anytime soon.

However, it is also this level of dependence on Russia that makes Moscow accept India going in for the occasional major weapons buys from the US and the West.

Such as the Rafale combat aircraft from France, M-777 howitzer and the versatile C-130J and C-17 transport planes from the US.

If US sees Russia in the days to come as being its main adversary, it may then concede China’s domination in Asia. This could be a nightmarish scenario for us with India finding itself in a situation where it will have to single handedly face military action from both China and Pakistan.
Do we have the military capability of being able to cope with this double whammy?

In the circumstances you describe, the US and the West desperately need India to strategically and militarily stretch China westwards, even as the US and AUKUS plus Japanese forces try and distend the disposition of PLA (People’s Liberation Army) air, land and naval forces eastwards in the South China sea, East Sea, and the Indo-Pacific generally.

There is no ‘double whammy’! Pakistan is too puny a State to matter to anyone or be meaningfully useful to any side, especially because Islamabad’s concern with keeping its channels open to Washington will always over-ride its desire to get closer to China.

[A view of an area near the regional administration building in central Kharkiv, March 1, 2022]

What kind of maneuverability will India have given our present economic and political situation?

India enjoys the maneuverability of a coming big power.

With its resources, and especially potentially large purchases of high value capital technology goods and promise of access to its vast market, New Delhi can economically benefit one or the other side and, should it decide to use its many military assets, including its central location in the Indian Ocean basin, it can decisively tilt the local, tactical and strategic balance.

It is this possibility that has persuaded Moscow to humour India and stayed Washington from getting punitive about India’s neutrality on the Ukraine issue.

Emboldened by the current situation in Europe, is there a possibility of China attacking Taiwan in the near future as is being predicted by some analysts.

It depends on how Beijing assesses the US and West European response to Russian aggression against Ukraine, and the lessons it has learned.

Unlike Ukraine that’s caught between and betwixt formal membership in NATO, the US is committed — it says, to maintaining the status quo and doing everything possible to help Taiwan defend itself.

Taiwan, moreover, is militarily a porcupine that can seriously hurt China should it try to swallow this island-State.


Possibly also of interest to readers of this Blog:

  1. “India’s Foremost Strategist Decodes Russia Ukraine Conflict | Bharat Karnad | Exclusive Interview”, on the (UK-based) podcast forum — ‘Prode’, uploaded to the net March 7, 2022 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsOUsmyz5FY
  2. The 12th BG Deshmukh Annual Endowment Lecture (virtual) of the Asiatic Society, Mumbai, on “India’s Geopolitics: What should be done to strengthen it” delivered on Wednesday March 2, 2022, the event chaired, and introductory and conclusionary remarks, by the former NSA and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon, at
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Russian forces’ actions in Ukraine show a dilemma like Indian Army’s in 1948 Hyderabad ops

[An Ukrainian Molotov Cocktail spacialist]

The way the Russian forces are advancing in a halting fashion on the capital city of Kyiv and on Kharkiv — taking casualties and not always reacting harshly, suggests that this is not a war of the kind the Russian military is geared to fight. There is no semblance here to the victorious campaigns of Joseph Stalin’s Red Army against the German Wehrmacht in the Second World War or the sort of operations the Soviet military and its Warsaw Pact complement were prepared to unleash across the Fulda Gap during the Cold War.

This ruthless mode of warfare emphasizes a rolling barrage of ceaseless and devastating long range artillery fire in tandem with the equally relentless air-to-ground strikes by combat aircraft of the “frontal aviation” forces, which combined arms effort is meant, quite literally, to flatten the earth, and clear the path for the onrushing columns of armour and mechanized infantry. So, what explains the stumbling, bumbling, progress by Putin’s army in Ukraine?

Russia on Ukrainian soil

It is clear the Kremlin did not bargain for the inspiring leadership of the young Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, or for the resistance put up by the Kalashnikov-armed nationalists prosecuting holding actions alongside a competent military. These include strikes on Russian tanks and armoured personnel carriers by the TB-2 Bayraktar-armed drones purchased from Turkey, anti-tank guided munitions, sniper fire, and, at close quarters, expert attacks with Molotov Cocktails — the endless bottles of half-filled beer provided by a local brewery. Putin’s plans for intimidating Zelensky and Co. into submission has plainly failed.

But an agreement that retains for an Ukraine, minus the eastern “autonomous republics” of Luhansk and Donetsk in the Donbas region habited by Russian-speaking people, its freedom in return for not joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) may still be the compromise solution all parties will eventually agree to. Russia, moreover, is unlikely to restore to Ukraine parts of the Black Sea coast it captures, except on the condition that the naval infrastructure built on it, inclusive of the naval bases at Sevastopol and Odessa which, according to the 1997 partition agreement, is shared by the Russian and Ukrainian navies, is never allowed to be accessed by the United States and NATO navies. After all, Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 was supposed to address precisely Russia’s vulnerability from the Black Sea approaches.

These geostrategic aims aside, there is no apparent premium for the Kremlin to so embitter Ukraine and its people as to make permanent enemies of them. This is reflected in the relatively small size of the deployed Russian force — just 175,00 troops strong — which is inadequate to forcibly take over Ukraine (for perspective, the Indian Army has some 650,000 soldiers in place to keep the Srinagar Valley “quiet”). And in the extremely wary and careful movement, for instance, by the Russian armoured component from Crimea to capture the city of Kherson intact, and then to permit the local government there to fly the Ukrainian flag from government buildings.

Such military behaviour was undoubtedly part of Putin’s plan for “restrained action”, symbolised by the precision attack on the “training” hub of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear complex, rather than on the nuclear reactors, and the immediate dousing of the resulting fire. The Zaporizhzhia power plant supplies 20-25 per cent of the electricity consumed in Ukraine, and a hit on it was to send a message to Zelensky to not tarry at the negotiating table. 

The other reason for Moscow ordering peaceful capture of nuclear power stations may be to take control of stocks of spent uranium fuel to pre-empt a future Ukrainian government from using them to make nuclear bombs. In any case, the moderation in Russian military operations is to minimize the offence given to native Ukrainians and to wait out/wear out the armed nationalist elements among them, rather than go in for wholesale slaughter of the population and destruction of cities. In this context, the Ukrainian resistance, while brave, is ultimately hopeless and is potentially useful only as a bargaining card for the Zelensky regime to play in the ongoing negotiations with Russia in Belarus.

A tactical dilemma 

The Russian forces in Ukraine, have, from the beginning, faced a tactical dilemma that’s not unlike what the Indian Army units, perhaps, faced when advancing on the “princely kingdom” of Hyderabad with the intent to amalgamate it into the Indian Union. The Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, was determined on having a sovereign country right in the middle of peninsular India. His representative, the British barrister Walter Monckton, spent over a year negotiating with the home ministry under the no-nonsense Vallabhbhai Patel. ‘Operation Polo’ was launched on 13 September 1948, only after it became obvious to the Indian government that the Nizam was buying time and using the “standstill agreement” to equip his forces with weapons ferried from Karachi in old Dakota aircraft piloted by foreign mercenaries, with a view to resisting the unification. By 17 September it was all over.

Consider the situation confronting Major General JN Chaudhuri — the commander of the Indian force tasked with taking Hyderabad but with minimum fuss. Advancing mainly along the Vijayawada and Solapur-Secunderabad axes, the Commanding Officers of the lead elements from Poona Horse and 2/5 Gurkhas from the Vijayawada side with the 19th Field Battery and two squadrons of the Hawker Tempest fighter planes, ex-Pune, in support, and of the 9 Para, 3rd Cavalry, 13th Cavalry, 3/2 Punjab and 2/1 Gurkhas on the Solapur line, must have been terrified of getting into firefights with the Nizam’s forces, especially in the built-up urban areas as that would have resulted in unacceptably high civilian casualties. This is borne out by the tactics employed of not using strike aircraft or even mortars and engaging the Nizam’s soldiery, as much as possible, on the outskirts of towns and in the countryside. Fortunately, for the Indian Army, the commander of Osman Ali’s forces, General El Edroos, an Arab, had under him the Razakar rabble, not a professional army.

Imagine an alternative scenario and assume, for argument’s sake, that the Nizam’s 66,000-strong army — 55 per cent Muslim, was backed by the majority Hindu population in his quest for an independent Hyderabad. Now consider how much more difficult and delicate the Indian Army’s job would have been. Hyderabad would, of course, have been absorbed one way or the other into India. But the Indian military actions, in that case, would have had to have been that much more cautious, with each step tenuously taken for fear, say, of a rifle company of the Gurkhas taking the khukri to a terrified bunch of civilians caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, or of wayward artillery shells taking out cultural symbols and historical monuments — a Char Minar here, numerous palaces of the Nizam there, or even the Hyderabadi infrastructure the people couldn’t do without — the railways, the power station, communications systems, road transport, post, telegraph, etc.

Seen in this light, one gets an inkling of just how unmanageable the situation can get for an army working under such constraints, and understand the impossible circumstances of the Russian land forces in Ukraine. And why they are moving and fighting so gingerly in the worst kind of mission that a conventional military can be asked to undertake.

For Russia, Ukraine is a site for an onerous ‘police action’; it is not a battlefield where anything goes.


This article published in The Print, March 6, 2022 at https://theprint.in/opinion/russian-forces-actions-in-ukraine-show-a-dilemma-like-indian-armys-in-1948-hyderabad-ops/859724/

Posted in arms exports, Decision-making, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, Iran and West Asia, Islamic countries, nuclear power, Nuclear Weapons, Russia, russian military, Weapons | 29 Comments

Bharat Karnad delivers the BG Deshmukh Lecture at the Asiatic Society, Mumbai, March 2, at 6PM — Do log in!

Apologies for this belated notice, but if any readers of this Blog are interested in the subject of geopolitics and India’s options, have the time, and care to listen in and, perhaps, even participate in the Q & A session that will follow, please do log in at the appointed time on the Zoom link below.

This is an invitation to my lecture to be delivered (virtually) under The 12th B.G. Deshmukh Billimoria Endowment Lecture (Online) of the Asiatic Society, Mumbai, on “India’s Geopolitics:  What should be done to strengthen it?” on Wednesday 2nd March 2022 at 6.00 p.m. on Zoom.  Mr. Shivshankar Menon, Visiting Professor Ashoka University and Former National Security Advisor & Foreign Secretary, will preside at this online lecture.  The Zoom link for the lecture is given below:

Join Zoom Meeting at:


    Meeting ID: 867 8268 4225            Passcode: 362322

Posted in Afghanistan | 22 Comments

There will be no war over Ukraine, here’s why

[Russian armour on the Ukrainian front]

Taking a risk here of being very wrong. But I don’t think there’s going to be a WAR over Ukraine despite all the developments to-date that led US President Joe Biden yesterday to declare that it was “the beginning of the Russian invasion”. His follow-on statement — “Let me be clear…We have no intention of fighting Russia. We want to send an unmistakable message though — that the United States, together with our allies, will defend every inch of NATO territory and abide by the commitments we made to NATO” explained just why.

It was not as if Kremlin was unaware that the US did not want to gut it out — engage in actual land war with Russia or, short of NATO countries being directly threatened, get tripped into one. But Ukraine is not formally a NATO member; the preparatory measures it has undertaken to gain entry into the Atlantic Alliance still leaves a big hatch that Biden has now used to escape his military dilemma. It left him free, on technicalities of Article 5 of the NATO Charter, to resile from a hard security commitment to Ukraine’s territoriality. Ukraine, after all cannot legally boast of even an “inch of NATO territory”. It was the setting for Putin to activate his plan for the long game.

What was the game plan?

Its larger aim was, of course, to prevent the enlargement of NATO. A militarily weak Russia was in no position since the demise of the Soviet Union in 1992-1993 to halt former constitutent states of the erstwhile USSR — Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and of the Warsaw Pact — Albania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary from formally joining NATO, thereby denuding Russia of its tier of buffer states and its legitimate sphere of influence in Europe. Putin’s more specific aim was to ensure the independent-minded Ukraine — where are located some very important and advanced technology laboratories, R&D facilities and factories of former Communist Russia’s defence industry, is not the latest in the line of ex-“soviets” to fall into NATO’s lap. Ukraine is potentially an enormous value addition to NATO’s southern flank, because it offers, because of mild weather, direct maritime approaches the year round via the Mediterranean, the NATO member Turkey-controlled Dardenelles, and the Black Sea, to Russia’s underbelly.

The first part of the Putin solution was achieved in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea, which still left the possibility of a long Black Sea coast centered on the great ex-Soviet naval bases at Sevastopol (where the Indian Navy’s Kashin-class missile destroyers were worked up by Indian crews trained there) and Odessa opening up for NATO use. It necessitated the second part of the plan to shrink Ukraine landward and, if possible, seaward, to preempt NATO’s moving in on Russia from the Black Sea.

The success of the Putin plan was predicated on two things. There were popular movements of Russian-speaking populations around Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine clamouring to rejoin mother-Russia. These secessionist movements had kept Kiev from establishing Ukrainian writ over this, the Donbas region. Putin’s formal recognition of these areas as independent states, perhaps, as prelude to their amalgamation in Russia was, therefore, a foregone event. With Ukrainian sovereignty never physically established here, Russian forces being welcomed into these parts does not, in the event, constitute a violation of Ukrainian territory or a casus belli (cause for war). This is the extent to which Russia will deign militarily to intrude into “Ukrainian” space.

The other predicate was of a frightened, beleagured and overwhelmed government in Kiev acquiescing in Donbas’ secession and making other concessions on the Black Sea, for instance. This, however, has not happened. In the main because the young, nerveless Ukrainian President, Volodomyr Zelensky, has refused to be intimidated by Russia’s show of force. All that Putin’s huffing and puffing has done is burnished Zelensky’s ultracool image — a bold and courageous leader of the Ukrainian nation abandoned by craven allies, who is seen every day visiting the frontline, talking soberly to the soldiery, and infecting the Ukrainian people at-large with his calm until now when, in the face of Russian guns, they carry on as if it is just another dreary and cold winter they have to negotiate. This sort of chutzpah is plainly not what Putin expected. He had banked on a hysterical mob compelling Zelensky, scared witless, giving in, agreeing to concessions and peace on Russian terms. Because this hasn’t occurred, it has forced Kremlin to recognize the independent “republics” of Luhansk and Donetsk — possibly the first stage to their eventual absorption into Russia. This is all that Putin may have to settle for.

But how can Putin realize the cutting off of Black Sea access to NATO?

Russia, as per the 1997 partition agreement dividing the Soviet Black Sea Fleet, shares the Sevastopol naval base and its shore-based resources with the Ukrainian navy. That can prove icky for Putin in terms of an Ukrainian-NATO naval linkup. Some American analysts foresee Putin seizing Ukrainian territory up to the Dnepr River and an additional belt of land (to include Odessa) connecting Russian territory with the breakaway Transdniestria republic and thus separating Ukraine from the Black Sea and rendering what remains of Ukraine economically unviable. Or, avoiding military actions against the urban agglomerations of Kiev and Kharkive, Russia captures a belt of land between Russia and the Transdniestria republic (including the main cities of Mariupol, Kherson, and Odessa) to secure freshwater supplies for Crimea and block Ukraine’s reach to the sea. (Refer https://www.csis.org/analysis/russias-possible-invasion-ukraine)

The fact is neither Ukraine singly or together with NATO will be able to thwart such Russian designs. But these actions are substantive military actions, which will trigger, at a minimum, some blocking moves by US military forces deployed to Poland (including lead elements of the famed 82nd Airborne) inviting Moscow, in effect, to escalate. This Putin will be unwilling to do. Because it will mean full-fledged war with the massed artillery — the Russian “God of War”, opening up on three fronts, reducing Ukrainian cities to rubble. Just the optics of such action — recalling for the world the death and massive destruction visited upon Ukraine and the rest of Russia by Nazi Germany during the Second World War, which was paid back in trumps by Marshal Zhukov’s avenging armies crushing everything in their victorious path to Berlin — will be too daunting even for the hardened KGB agent in Putin to stomach.

But even limited objectives achieved in Ukraine will fatally hurt America’s credibility with its allies and strategic partners especially in the Indo-Pacific, credibility which is already shaken. Thankfully, the dangers of counting on the US when the chips are down, has finally dawned on the Narendra Modi regime, whence Jaishankar’s moves of late to keep Moscow humoured.

Posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Decision-making, Defence Industry, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indo-Pacific, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, russian military, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries | 33 Comments

Stop fooling around: Get going with the K21-105 light tank

[The South Korean K21-105 light tank]

The need for reintroducing light battle tank (LBT)-equipped mountain forces into the army’s order-of-battle was first recommended in a classified report I prepared for the (10th) Finance Commission and submitted to the PV Narasimha Rao government end-1995. That report, mindful of accommodating an LBT fleet within the then budgetary allocation for armoured-mech units, also proposed restructuring the armoured and mechanised formations in the three strike corps featuring heavier Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) along the lines I have been advocating ever since — of a single composite corps (i.e., corps plus several independent armoured brigades) for the western front with the bulk units of the remaining two strike corps converted for mountain use with LBTs.

But a Pakistan-fixated army did not then bite. And DRDO failed to commit fully to the LBT project of building on the Sarath (BMP-1) chassis, leave alone, developing a lighter, down-sized variant, of the Arjun MBT because right through the 1980s and 1990s the army officially deemed an LBT unnecessary! Apparently, the Rommels and the Guderians of the Indian armoured corps could not even imagine the possibility of the Tibetan Plateau extending into northern Sikkim and eastern Ladakh being tank-friendly terrain exploitable by LBTs despite, mind you, wallowing in the lore of Col. Rajinder Singh ‘Sparrow’-led 7th Cavalry with its (ex-US) Stuart light tanks clearing the Zoji La Pass (at nearly 12,000 feet altitude) of Pakistani troops in November 1948 during the first Kashmir war. This action recovered the road connecting Srinagar with Kargil and Leh.

Meanwhile, starting in the 1970s the army plonked successively for the T-72, the T-72S and, in the new Century, the T-90, from Russia. It may have gained Moscow’s goodwill no doubt but also stifled the production of locally designed and developed MBTs and LBTs. This love affair with Russian tanks persisted even when the Arjun tank pitted against the T-90 MBT in extensive field trials in the 2000s handily beat the Russian item in all aspects, including in the two most critical metrics of armoured warfare — mobility and accurate firepower. This was insufficient reason, however, for the import-besotted armoured warfare directorate in army HQ, which like most other combat arms in the Indian military prefer foreign hardware, to switch its custom to Indian-made military goods. It has consequented in the continuing drain of vital financial resources that succesive governments — influenced by the counsel of “professional”, “technically competent”, advisers in the defence procurement loop — namely, the army’s armour directorate, apparently failed to stop. It undermined the economic viability of the Arjun MBT, whose stated deficiencies — slightly excess weight and width, could have been easily resolved over the years if only the armoured corps had taken ownership of, and helmed, the programme.

It has eventuated in a fairly ridiculous state of affairs. There are some 52 frontline armoured regiments. Of these, 33 regiments feature T-72s, 17 regiments the T-90s, and only two regiments (43rd and 75th) boast of the Arjun MBT. In terms of acquisition costs, imagine the hard currency outflows! These less nimble tanks — T-72s and T-90s — deployed on the Himalayan heights, moreover, find it difficult to fire up their engines in the cold mornings and require special fuel and elaborate warm-up rituals just so the power surges at the first “kick”. Even so, on any given morning more than half the tanks refuse to start! These MBTs are now deployed on the Depsang Plain in eastern Ladakh and in northern Sikkim against the Chinese People’s Liberation Army stocked with the 25-tonne ZTQ-15 ‘Black Panther’, a third generation — please note — light tank, powered by an engine designed for high-altitude use. Guess which force is going to run circles around the other when Xi Jinping, wishing to do an Ukraine in Ladakh, ramps up hostilities in summer that’s round the corner?

Waking up, as if suddenly from a stupor, the army finally and formally evinced an interest in a light battle tank. And then, predictably, its armoured wing took an axe to its own feet. Colonel Ajai Shukla, ex-CO, Hodson’s Horse, and currently Military Editor, Business Standard, reported last year that “A major hurdle to the [LBT’s] design is that the army has not yet shared with the DRDO its notion of what design features and performance it would like. This is usually shared in a document called the ‘preliminary staff qualitative requirements’, or PSQR. Without this, the DRDO’s designers are groping in the dark.” And then to compound matters, the army, Shukla wrote, “is soft-pedalling the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) proposal to manufacture in L&T’s facilities a line of at least 500 light tanks, which will be powered by the same 28-tonne chassis, hull and engine that powers the K-9 Vajra.” The last of the K-9s — a 155mm, 52mm calibre long range gun mounted on tracks — a mobile artillery adjunct to the T-72s and T-90s, was delivered recently to the army by Larsen & Toubro under a contract that, unlike the Defence Public Sector Units-handled defence deals, came in under cost and right on time!

DRDO is making the best of an uncertain situation created by the army by mooting this proposal, which not only uses the L&T’s skilled manpower and production line, now lying fallow at its K-9 production plant in Hazira, to meet an urgent army need but, aware of the systemic problems of designing a new LBT to the army’s GSQRs and then producing it at the DPSU — the Heavy Vehicles factory in Avadi, is suggesting a shortcut. It proposes to get the South Korean firm, Hanwha Defence, to once again partner L&T to speedily produce its K-21 LBT with a rifled 105mm gun. The trouble is the armour directorate and the army are caught between realizing their desire and choosing the optimal course.

Ideally, the army would like to issue a global tender for an LBT in order ultimately to down select a lighter version of the T-14 48 tonne Armata tank with rapid fire capability because of an unmanned turret geared for automatic loading and firing, that the Russians are pitching as the perfect light tank for the Indian army. Global tendering means a long and laborious process that can go on, literally, forever until the army gets its way. As against this option, is the less cumbersome path offered by L&T-Hanwha. The K-21 at 25 tonnes is well within the army’s 30 tonne weight limit. More importantly, besides its ability to take out targets by direct fire, its turret is designed so the gun can elevate 42 degrees and fire as a howitzer, lob shells that is, at targets 10 kms away, over mountains. Even more significant, it will be built at the Hazira plant — in Gujarat, and how will this not please Prime Minister Narendra Modi?

But it all depends, as Jane’s reported on 9 February, on the category the Defence Ministry chooses to place the LBT production deal in. That will decide if and to what extent a foreign vendor can be involved. Of course, MOD, in turn, will be hugely influenced, by the army in case it backs DRDO’s Gujarat-friendly proposal. The good thing is it will incentivise other companies in the private sector defence industry to get more fully into designing and developing armoured vehicles generally, if included in the deal with L&T is permission for it to export a down-rated version of the K-21. An economical LBT, which has the Indian army as its chief customer, will instantly create a very large export market for it in the neighbourhood and, widely, in the ‘le tiers monde’.

Further, with an initial order of 500 LBTs, incorporating some very fine electronics, fire control system, etc. DRDO developed for the Arjun MBT, and the Indian light tank’s potentially big global market staring it in the face, Hanwha will be only too happy to hand over every thing, including its tank design cell, to India. With so many things going right for a change in this specific area, if the Indian Defence Ministry and army still foul up — God knows, they tend to do so oftener than not, then they should know that India is being set up for a shellacking by China.

Posted in Africa, arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Central Asia, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, Defence procurement, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indo-Pacific, Latin America, Maldives, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, Myanmar, Nepal, Northeast Asia, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, russian military, SAARC, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Sri Lanka, Technology transfer, technology, self-reliance, Tibet, United States, US., Weapons, West Asia | 11 Comments

Where are the wellsprings of new and novel foreign policy ideas? (Augmented)

393 S. Jaishankar Photos and Premium High Res Pictures - Getty Images
[Founts of ideas?]

Not too long ago in Islamabad, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s National Security Adviser, Dr Moeed Yusuf, did something unexpected. On the occasion of the Margalla Dialogue 21, he confessed that the Pakistan government lacked the capacity to digest all information and data and provide useful inputs to the making of national security policy. In the last couple of years in harness, having acquainted himself with the weaknesses of the policymaking process, he has sought to strengthen it. Yusuf’s solution: Attach the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) — a leading government-funded thinktank to the NSA ‘s office and then connect it on a secure and realtime comunications link with other select thinktanks in the country to ensure both the widest possible base of disparate expert views on a range of policy issues, and then to ensure the policy products that accrue are institutionally accessible to the NSA, and other decisionmakers in the various ministries and agencies of Pakistan government, presumably, including the Pakistan Army. IPRI and other orgs, in this scheme of things, appear most significantly to have available for their analyses classified material accessed by line officers in the Foreign Office and elsewhere in government.

Owning up to this institutional debility was the great hump Yusuf pushed the Pakistan government over. He was an outsider who had the PM’s confidence; he could do it. It could be the beginning of a continuous stream of research papers distilled into ‘executive summaries’ for dissemination within the concerned agencies and the Pakistan government at-large. Yusuf is trying to replicate in Islamabad the policy-wise live intellectual milieu of Washington, DC, of which he has vast experience. Before taking up his present post, he headed the South Asia programme at the US Congress-funded US Institute for Peace. (The mark against him is that as an American ‘Green card’-holder it was problematic for Imran to appoint him his NSA and, in any case, that his advice will always be suspect for leaning US-wards.) Except, Imran hoisted him on to the chair anyway, seemingly tired of the same old, same old, foreign and military policy line fed him by the entrenched policy elite.

That’s the hump India will make no effort to cross because Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a votary of the policy Establishment as-is, having moulded it into his handmaiden. So the country will continue to be handicapped by the manifest shortfalls in India’s foreign and military policy-making process, with his two prime advisers — the NSA Ajit Doval and external affairs minister S Jaishankar only too happy to do the PM’s bidding. The result over the last seven-odd years are policies dawdling in the ‘comme ci comme ca’ (French for neither good nor bad)-realm. This is fine by Modi. And also, for obvious reasons, by Messrs Doval and Jaishankar — because they don’t have to mentally exert themselves much, if at all.

An example: The only refreshing departure from the old foreign policy is the cultivation of the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia. It is fetching huge geostrategic gains — and was Modi’s idea. He instinctively understood that it is not the IT professionals pining for the US H1B visa who will produce recurring and longterm benefits for the country but the masses of carpenters, masons, plumbers, electricians, janitors and clerks in the UAE and elsewhere and, at a higher level, financial and business managers , engineers and and medical doctors and technicians running the Gulf economies and health and engineering systems who, clockwork-fashion, send back remittances and are the economic pillars requiring solidification. They keep homes and hearths in India warm, kitchen stoves, now gassified, lit up, and their children in “English-medium” schools — such and other activities collaterally pumping state and regional economies. Last year, the remittances were worth US$ 83 billion and this in a “flat year”, courtesy the vagaries of the COVID pandemic! Thanks to this Modi policy the majority Hindus in this expat workforce now even have their own temple in UAE to propitiate their Gods in. And there are yoga classes for those interested in attending them in Riyadh and other Saudi cities where, until the other year, women were not permitted to walk around/shop unescorted by men of the family and, horror of horrors, drive cars! The “feel good” sentiment of this Gulf diaspora translates into votes at home, positively affecting even Muslims in the Indian workforce in the Gulf and their dependents back home.

The assorted sheiks and emirs and the King-in-waiting of Saudi Arabia — MBS (Mohammed bin Salman) are no chumps. (The Saudi ambassador to the US in the 1980s with similar name triggered much mirth for South Asians — Bandar bin Sultan or, was it Sultan bin Bandar, in either case everyone asked about the monkey?!) Sharing native cunning with Modi, they are only too aware that the sandy parcels they lord over are living on borrowed time. Saudi Arabia with 17% of the world’s remaining oil reserves of some 260 billion barrels — second largest after Venezuela, pumps out 10.2 million barrels every day amounting to 3.7 billion barrels extracted annually. Meaning, these keffiyeh-sporting monarchs can expect to live high on the hog for as little as another 60 years but for no more than 70 years on the outside. Then what? A return to the Bedouin paradise in the desert, desultory grazing of camels, what?! Appalled at this prospect, they are weighing investment destinations to guarantee large incomes into the oil-less future and see the emerging economies, with India in the van, as their best bet. Hence, the Saudi ambassador in Delhi promised in December 2020 that $100 billion investment was “on track”, and the Gulf emirs are financing malls in Srinagar Valley (sending shivers in Islamabad which fears this will bury Articles 370 and 35A for good, formalising for the world Modi’s absorption of Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir into the Indian Union).

Could Jaishankar or Doval ever have summoned such bravura political instincts to suggest this turn in India’s policy? It is because the PM knows they are career babus incapable of any new policy ideas, but that’s why he hired them. They are there not to think but to implement whatever the boss comes up with. You still need the heavers of policy wood! It has reinforced Modi’s view of himself as his own best thinktank, even if there’s much less to show for it in other policy areas! And, zero movement on a critical strategic issue — resumption of thermonuclear testing to inject credibility into an Indian arsenal filled with unproven and, therefore, useless simulation-designed hydrogen weapons. And this despite being offered every possible provocation and justification for open-ended nuclear testing — the Chinese proxy North Korea’s relentless nuclear and missile testing regimes, and the unhindered transfer of the resulting technological advances to the third member of this rogue triad — Pakistan, and US’, Russia’s, and China’s ongoing nuclear modernization programmes to obtain, among other things, more usable low yield thermonuclear weapons by minimizing radio active fallout. But Delhi’s priority remains to keep Washington placated and pacified, its nonproliferation policy objectives of freezing India’s weapons technology at the 20KT threshold, safely achieved.

To return to Yusuf’s IPRI initiative, is there any possibility of a counterpart development here? Of course, not. Why not? Firstly, because of the secrecy phobia. In an age where there’s very little worth classifying — almost all of the material involved in crafting policy finds its way, one way or another, to the open global information commons, the Official Secrets Act, etc are an anomaly and are, perhaps, retained just so the top people in government feel important! Only 3%-5% of information coursing through Indian official channels deserve the “secret” or “top secret” label and less than 1% of it merits the highest classification status for extremely sensitive information. Secondly, because the IFS officers manning the MEA, like their fellow generalists in the other civil services, especially the shortsighted IAS honchos manning the Defence Ministry, and Departments of Space, Atomic Energy, et al, are loath to share any information with thinktankers — information being power, etc. This attitude in the information age is laughable. More perspicacious analysis can be penned by analysts sitting in Delhi, say, than by staffers in distant embassies churning out turgid despatches. Those habiting MEA are disadvantaged further by another fact once revealed to me by an ex-IFS appointed foreign minister, Natwar Singh, according to whom the last “book” most MEA officers are likely to have read was when cramming for the UPSC! So much for keeping professionally abreast of new thought currents and trends to inform Indian foreign policy-making!

The MEA-subsidised Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses now prefixed with the late defence minister’s moniker to become Manohar ParrikarIDSA, for its part is marking time, remaining right where it was at its founding in the mid-1960s — a bunch of academics with wings clipped. Denied access to any worthwhile technical or other policy-related information, the bulk of the faculty comprise researchers of JNU-type, making-do fulltime by embroidering the policies of the government of the day. There’s no published evidence of any original thinking being done. Whole lifetimes in MPIDSA are wasted by its staffers producing very little that’s new or novel. Further, to guarantee this remains so is installed a retired diplomat as “Director General”, whose brief seems to be to not let disruptive ideas-persons rile the Institute’s “unndata” — MEA/MOD.

Much of why IDSA is what it is can be laid at the door of the late K. Subrahmanyam — the Institute’s long-serving second Director (the first, it is usually forgotten, being retired Major General Som Dutt). KS made no effort to bring IDSA institutionally into the policymaking process in MEA and MOD, despite his unique standing, in the words of his son, external affairs minister, S Jaishankar, as the ultimate “insider-outsider”. He was centrally involved, not the IDSA he headed, in influencing policy. Many senior staffers in the Institute during his stewardship of it complained that Subrahmanyam was like “a Bunyan tree” — letting nothing grow underneath it. But KS’ was a wonderfully fertile intellect yoked, unfortunately, to policies hurtful of the national interest. He argued forcefully for India’s going weapons nuclear in the early 1970s but, post-1998, hurt the natural development of India’s nuclear deterrent by his advocacy of “minimum deterrence”. Likewise, his case for getting in thick with the US post-Soviet Union’s collapse in 1992 terminated in the 2008 US-India civilian nuclear deal, and the foundational accords (LEMOA, COMCASA, BECA), which other than restricting Indian nuclear weapons development, has curtailed India’s policy latitude and strategic choices, and shrunk India’s international profile to a Western dependency.

Jaishankar explained his father’s policy journey from steadfast friendship with Russia to wanting India to climb into America’s lap in the new Century, for instance, as adjusting to the changes in international reality. That’s one way of putting it. Jaishankar was speaking at the conclusion of IDSA’s virtual K Subrahmanyam Memorial Lecture on 3rd February. The eminence who delivered this year’s lecture was Edward Luttwak, a longtime fixture on the strategic policy scene in Washington, who in his talk on an intriguing subject — “Applying the K. Subrahmanyam method today”, rationalised KS’ counterproductive policy slants in terms of, what he called, “linear logic”. I failed to understand what Subrahmanyam’s logic that Luttwak was expounding on, was about. It seems to me that logic linearly applied better fits a simpler international system of the early Cold War era — a duopoly with defined blocs and lots of room for manuever by third parties. It is less pertinent, however, in a world in electric flux in the new millennium and why, in the event, riding US’ strategic coattails is a big mistake.

Luttwak said “Americans would be outmatched by the Chinese numbers”, whence his fairly banal “antidote” conforming to KS’ view, of India and the US needing to “align” to deal with China — the common threat. Luttwak thereafter recommended an “organic alliance” of India, Japan and the US, and argued, among other things, why aircraft carriers in the Indian Navy would be easily sunk, but nuclear attack submarines would lend an edge.

Listening to Luttwak, some of his ideas sounded familiar. It occurred to me that I had been propounding the notion of an “organic security” system in Asia in all my books starting with in my first one in 1994 –‘Future Imperilled: India’s Security in the 1990s and Beyond’. And I have been crying myself hoarse about carriers being a naval liability for India for as long (most recently in a detailed analysis in my 2015 book – ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’, pages 349-351!

But because, as Imran Khan said in his opening address at the Margalla Dialogue, Pakistanis (and Indians too) are partial to everything offered up by Westerners, may be the Indian government/MEA/MOD will now incorporate the “organic security” system notion in their policy rhetoric and considerations and the Indian Navy will begin stressing SSNs for its order-of-battle!!

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