Thursday, 14 June 2018

Policy viewpoint: Govt decision to give up on “Make 1” defence projects is flawed


By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard editorial
13th June 18

Private defence firms with ambitions to be platform developers, rather than mere manufacturers, are disappointed at the defence ministry’s decision to step away from reimbursing the cost of developing complex, high technology defence platforms. An existing “Make” procedure for developing such systems involves the ministry paying back 80 per cent of the development cost, but its unease with this category was already evident. After having hailed the “Make” procedure as a vital driver of indigenization, only three “Make” projects have been initiated over the preceding decade: the Tactical Communication System (TCS), the Battlefield Management System (BMS) and the Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV). In the first two projects, after lengthy tendering and evaluation, the winning “development agencies” (DAs) were announced, but no order was placed. The BMS is close to being scrapped, since the army has unwisely declared it does not want to spend the money on such a “futuristic system” and save it for rifles instead. The FICV makes for an even more depressing story: After issuing two abortive tenders, the defence ministry has failed to select the DAs. Instead, the ministry has now declared that “Make” projects would be progressed under the “Make 2” category, promulgated in 2016, in which industry itself pays the development cost. This saves the ministry money and also the fraught responsibility of selecting DAs.

To expect “Make 1” -- as the government renamed the “Make” procedure in 2016 -- to be subsumed by “Make 2” is unrealistic and self-defeating. “Make 1” requires government funding because it costs heavily to develop futuristic, cutting-edge defence platforms incorporating multiple technology domains. In contrast, “Make 2” has a smaller scope, primarily targeting “import substitution”, or indigenising systems or sub-systems already in service. Crucially, “Make 1” contracts demand that DAs import specified critical technologies from their foreign partners – something that is enforceable only in large, expensive projects. All this would hold back a “Make 2” FICV from being a next-generation platform that brings in critical technologies.

In this strange decision for defence indigenisation, none of the protagonists has covered itself with glory. Companies that were eliminated during FICV project evaluation approached the ministry, offering to develop this complex, multi-dimensional platform at their own cost. It is unlikely that any firm would take on the Rs 800-2,000 crore (Rs 8-20 billion) burden -- going by the bids submitted -- of developing an FICV prototype, especially since the “Make 2” procedure provides neither for assured orders, nor for reimbursement of full development costs if an order is not forthcoming. Rather, this was a “dog in the manger” tactic to scupper a tender from which they had been eliminated and hope they would fare better in whatever came in its place. None of these spoilers could have anticipated such fulsome success wherein the government would throw out not just the FICV project, but the “Make” procedure itself.


Private firms, in their fratricidal competitiveness, have been scuppering a vital defence project and providing ammunition to those who oppose a larger role in defence for private firms. Defence ministry decision-makers have proven yet again that confronted with a difficult decision, they will back away. The gainers from this will be the public sector, which has been granted a reprieve from private sector competition in developing new weaponry. 

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Industry responds to MoD’s draft policy on “defence testing infrastructure”


By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 13th June 18

Indigenous aerospace and defence manufacturers have responded to the defence ministry’s draft policy on establishing defence testing infrastructure (DTI). 

The ministry, which promulgated the draft policy last month, had sought feedback by June 8.

The new policy draft notes that “Defence Testing Infrastructure is often capital intensive, requiring continuous upgradation and it is not economically viable for individual defence industrial units to set up in-house testing facilities.” 

It proposes setting up DTI as a government-funded platform, especially in two “defence industrial corridors” already planned in Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. 

The scheme envisages six-to-eight DTI clusters, to be set up with an assistance grant of Rs 400 crore (Rs 4 billion). The defence ministry will fund 75 per cent of the project cost of each DTI unit.

The private sector has welcomed the DTI Scheme, given that even large defence firms cannot afford to set up testing infrastructure needed for validating their products. 

DTI includes properly instrumented firing ranges for missiles, artillery and small arms, and facilities to test “ruggedisation” of military equipment. It also includes laboratories for testing electro-magnetic interference/compatibility (EMI/EMC) of radar and telecommunications equipment, and facilities for testing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and building specialised test-driving tracks.

Tata Power (Strategic Engineering Division) spent over Rs 150 crore (Rs 1.5 billion) to create its own EMI/EMC laboratory to validate its telecommunications equipment. But many other firms cannot afford this, given the lack of assured orders from the services.

The defence ministry has proposed implementing the DTI Scheme either directly, or through a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) that would establish, operate and maintain testing infrastructure and collect user charges from the industry. 

The draft policy proposes that at least seven firms that are potential users of the proposed DTI must be part of each SPV. 

“The industry units benefitting from the SPV should hold at least 51% equity and no single unit shall hold more than 25% of the share capital of the SPV”, states the draft policy.

However, large private defence firms have proposed an alternative to the SPV route. They say that, with at least seven industries participating, and the participation of major industry restricted to 25 per cent, there would be too many decision-makers, resulting in poor execution.

“It would be better if major industries, whether public or private sector, located in the proximity of the DTI, act as ‘anchor units’, responsible for operations and maintenance. These ‘anchor units’, with tier-ised eco-systems build around them, can allow other firms, including micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to use the DTI”, says Jayant Patil, head of L&T’s defence and heavy engineering verticals.

“Funding for the DTI can be from the central/state government to the extent of 75 per cent, as the draft policy states. With capital costs funded, industry can avail of the facility for a nominal fee”, says Patil.

L&T proposes that the “user charges” collected by the anchor units be displayed on a government website. The anchor unit would submit a quarterly statement to the government on the testing carried out and the recoveries made.

However, MSMEs like Alpha Design Technologies say that government-funded DTI should be created “primarily for use by MSMEs and start-ups. “Only nominal charges should be levied for use of the testing infrastructure, says Colonel (Retd) HS Shankar, who heads Alpha.

The private sector, in its feedback to the defence ministry, pointed out that tens of EMI/EMC laboratories are needed in India, given the proliferation of electro-magnetic emitters in defence equipment. One company says that German communications giant Rhode & Schwarz has cheaply built dozens of such facilities for China’s defence industry, under pressure from Beijing.

Rahul Chaudhry, Chairman of Defence Innovators and Industry Association, points out that creating DTI is not enough. The defence ministry would simultaneously have also to create the standards and compliance infrastructure essential for using it optimally.

Puneet Kaura, who heads Samtel Defence Systems, calls the DTI Scheme a “good step”, but says: “The defence ministry needs to speed up implementation so that industry can reap its benefits quickly.”

Separately, the MoD intends to promote the creation of DTI through an amendment to its offsets policy, a draft of which was released for public comments in May. The draft amendment proposes permitting vendors to claim offset credits for setting up new DTI for Indian defence industry.

Multipliers between two-to-three have been proposed for DTI, with higher multipliers allocated to test infrastructure in the recently-announced defence industry corridors in Tamil Nadu or Uttar Pradesh. A multiplier of three means an investment of $100 million would gain offset credits of $300 million.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Meghalaya police DG resigns over appointment of BJP-linked “security advisor”

Meghalaya DGP Swaraj Bir Singh (right), receiving the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2016

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 12th June 18

Three months after the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) political coup in Meghalaya, when the party leadership – with just two representatives elected to the new assembly – cobbled together a government led by the National People’s Party (NPP), Chief Minister (CM) Conrad Sangma is discovering the costs of the BJP’s support.

On Monday morning, in Shillong, the state’s Director General of Police (DGP) Swaraj Bir Singh submitted his resignation to Sangma over the proposed appointment of BJP-linked former police officer, Kulbir Krishan as “security advisor” to the state government.

Singh, who the Sangma government gave an extension of service as DGP in April, is learnt to have refused to work with Krishan, and not even meet him.

Kulbir Krishan is regarded in police circles as “controversial”. In the early-2000s, then Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief, Shyamal Datta, posted him out of the bureau over allegations relating to his personal life. Later, abortive attempts to appoint Krishan IB chief foundered after resistance from the organization.

In 2013, when Krishan was DGP Meghalaya, the Election Commission ordered him moved out before elections.

In contrast Singh is well respected in the service and is regarded as having performed creditably as DGP since his appointment in December 2016. Sangma has not accepted his resignation and urged him to continue.

Contacted by Business Standard, Singh declined to comment on the issue.

“The post of “security advisor” to the government is a superfluous one that undermines the DGP, in order to accommodate political appointees”, says Patricia Mukhim, the well-respected editor of the Shillong Times.

It remains unclear why Meghalaya requires a “security advisor” at all. It has not had one since Rajiv Mehta left two years ago. Especially now since militancy has been officially declared as over.

Mehta was appointed at the time of growing militancy in Meghalaya’s Garo Hills region. However vigorous counter-insurgency operations, conducted by the state police under Singh, had practically quashed armed militancy by early-2018.

Further, Singh is regarded as having handled the confrontation in Shillong in May between Khasi tribal groups and the Sikh Mazhabiya settlers with tact and sensitivity. While the complex issue continues to simmer, locals appreciate the police for ensuring no lives were lost. 

Meghalaya is one of the most sensitive states of the north-east, with a complex tribal matrix and a sensitive border with Bangladesh. It includes three ethnicity-based regions: the Khasi Hills, Jaintia Hills and Garo Hills.

Meghalaya was a part of Assam until 1970, when it was designated an Autonomous State. It was upgraded to a full-fledged state in early 1972.

Meghalaya has enjoyed broad political stability since 2003, with the Congress forming the government throughout, except for a year in 2008. In March, after a close state election, in which the Congress emerged the largest party with 21 seats in the 60-seat assembly, the BJP brokered an alliance that brought together 34 legislators. 

On March 6, Conrad Sangma was invited to form the government.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Russian S-400 missile purchase is a “done deal”, US looks to calm waters


 By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 8th June 18

Senior defence ministry officials say India’s purchase of five units of Russia’s S-400 Triumf mobile surface to air missile system (M-SAM) is “a done deal”.

“All that remains is to decide whether the deal should be signed when Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets President Vladimir Putin later this year”, said one official who is closely involved in the negotiations.

On Tuesday, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was only marginally more circumspect when she said in a press conference in New Delhi: “It (the S-400) has been for a very long time in negotiations. We have reached a final stage in the S-400 negotiations.” 

With the time-consuming hurdle of cost negotiations crossed, only the Indian cabinet’s concurrence remains for the deal to be ready for signing. 

In 2015, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) had cleared the purchase of five S-400 units for an indicative price of about Rs 30,000 crore ($4.5 billion). However, the ministry is keeping a tight lid on the price finally agreed.

For President Donald Trump’s administration, New Delhi’s determination to buy the S-400 is a significant problem. A law passed by the US Congress last year – titled “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” (CAATSA) – binds the administration to impose sanctions against countries that engage in “significant transactions” with Russian, Iranian and North Korean defence and intelligence entities.

Given close US-India defence ties, and recognition by US officials that India’s predominantly Russian arsenal prevents New Delhi from abruptly severing ties, American officials are asking Congress for a waiver from CAATSA for key allies like India.

New Delhi has dug in its heels. “We have very clearly explained how India and Russia’s defence cooperation has been going on for a very long time. It is a time-tested relationship and India has got quite a lot of defence assets from Russia. [In] assets, spares and servicing, we have a continuous relationship with Russia [and that] has to be recalled. Therefore CAATSA cannot impact on us”, said Sitharaman on Tuesday.

Senior Indian government officials are reportedly upset at this “lack of American understanding”, after India last year scuttled the project to jointly develop a Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) with Russia.

Senior US officials complain that the US Congress displayed a “lack of nuance” in passing CAATSA. Intending primarily to tie down Trump to a hard line against Russia, Congress inadvertently placed the US administration at loggerheads with valued partners like India, Indonesia and Vietnam, who field large Russian-origin arsenals.

Behind the scenes, both governments are searching for a solution. Secretary for Defence James Mattis, who has argued before the US Congress for a CAATSA waiver for key allies, is working with New Delhi on the wording of an acceptable waiver. 

Defence ministry sources say New Delhi has rejected at least one draft, while also declaring that India has no obligation to respect CAATSA, which is an American law.

Separate from the CAATSA imbroglio is Washington’s concern over technology security. US officials say they will not allow the F-35 Lightning II – their latest, hugely expensive and secretive fighter aircraft – to operate alongside the S-400. 

Given the IAF’s growing interest in the F-35, this concern could significantly impact any such plans. 

Echoing technology security concerns, the US House Armed Services Committee chairman, Mac Thornberry, told Indian journalists that if India bought the S-400, inter-operability between the Indian and US militaries would be undermined.

Underlining US sensitivity over the S-400 – which China could well buy in the future – is Washington’s growing confrontation with Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally that is pushing to buy the S-400. Turkey is an F-35 partner country, but US officials say it could well be denied that fighter if it bought the S-400.

The S-400 Triumf (NATO designation: SA-21 Growler) can detect an incoming ballistic missile (perhaps carrying a nuclear payload) from 600 kilometres (km) and shoot it down when it is still 230 km away, and 185 km above the earth. It can shoot down fighter aircraft at ranges out to 400 km.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

In a blow to private defence firms, govt will not subsidise development of new weaponry



By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 6th June 18

The “Make” procedure, in which Indian defence firms design “high technology, complex systems”, with the defence ministry reimbursing their costs, has been officially declared dead.

At a press conference on Tuesday, ironically convened by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to highlight the achievements of her ministry, it was revealed that development projects being processed under the “Make” category would be moved to another category – “Make 2” – in which defence firms bear their own costs.

Affected immediately is the long-delayed project to develop a Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV), which has already been tendered twice in 2010 and 2015. With the lowest bid in the FICV tender understood to be about Rs 800 crore, this substantial costs would now have to be shouldered by private defence firms.

On Tuesday, the defence ministry’s Secretary (Defence Production) Ajay Kumar stated: “Several people (companies) who had earlier expressed interest in ‘Make 1’ projects are now coming forward and saying they would like to do these projects under ‘Make 2’.”

Based on multiple conversations with executives and officials involved in the FICV process, Business Standard has learned that the firms volunteering to do the FICV project at their own cost are primarily those who were eliminated during evaluation of the FICV bids.

In 2015, the ministry issued an Expression of Interest (EoI) to ten companies for developing the FICV under the “Make” procedure. Six firms/consortia responded, including: Larsen & Toubro, Tata Motors with Bharat Forge, Mahindra with BAE Systems, Tata Power (SED) with Titagarh Wagons, Reliance Defence and Rolta.

Reliance Defence and Rolta were eliminated, as they didn’t meet the qualifying gate. Tata Power (SED) was subsequently rejected, leaving only the first three firms on the shortlist, of which two were to be selected as “Development Agencies” for the FICV.

With competition tight, Mahindra complained to the ministry that Tata Motors was ineligible. If the profits earned by Jaguar Land Rover – a foreign company -- were discounted, Tata Motors had posted a net loss over the preceding three years, thus violating financial criteria. Furthermore, the chief executive of Tata Motors, Guenter Butschek, was a foreign national, said Mahindra.

With this complaint dogging the process, then acquisitions chief, Smita Nagaraj, endorsed comments on file that a view be taken on the financial criteria. Now, with officials reluctant to bell the cat, the easy solution is to transfer the project to the “Make 2” category – where there are no financial implications.

These difficulties in the FICV “Make” process were indirectly referred to by Kumar, who stated: “Some issues crept up… either in terms of significantly higher project costs or in terms of some difficulties which have led to progress not being made.”

“So now… we are taking steps to examine these [‘Make 1’] projects and process them under ‘Make 2’ as well”, he stated.

Asked if all on-going “Make” projects – which, besides FICV, include the Tactical Communications System and the Battlefield Management System – will go into the “Make 2” category, Kumar stated: “If there is interest, we can take ‘Make 2’ specifications and now any project under ‘Make 1’ can go into ‘Make 2’. In case there is industry interest, we can migrate there.”

Industry analysts, however, point out that companies have absolutely no interest in paying their own development costs. “This is simply a move by losing participants to scuttle the contract and start it afresh”, says one analyst.

Jayant Patil, who heads L&T’s defence and heavy engineering vertical, points to the loss of credibility of the ministry, and of Indian defence firms with their foreign partners, in changing track after having pursued ‘Make 1’ for over a decade.

“ ‘Make 1’ is a process for indigenous development of major platforms with multiple critical technologies being either developed or brought into the country for building self-reliance in the long term. ‘Make 2’ is for smaller, import substitution projects that involve far less cost. Moving projects from ‘Make 1’ to ‘Make 2’ would dilute these long-term aims”, says Patil.

‘Make 1’ also has clauses that require DAs to ensure specific critical technologies are brought into the country as part of the project. Shifting these projects to ‘Make 2’ would eliminate this benefit.

Industry analysts further point out that, unlike ‘Make 1’, the ‘Make 2’ category does not bind the defence ministry to buy a product on which the DA would have spent large amounts.

The “Make” procedure dates back to 2005-06, when the seminal Kelkar Committee first proposed it as a driver of strategic self-reliance in major platforms like tanks, warships or digital communication grids. The “Make” process involves selecting two Indian firms/consortia, as “development agencies” (DAs) to design and develop complex platforms, with the government reimbursing 80 per cent of their costs.

The latest Defence Procurement Procedure of 2016 (DPP-2016) expanded the “Make” category. The existing category was designated “Make 1” and the reimbursement was increased to 90 per cent of the DA’s costs. A second category, “Make 2”, has the DA funding its own projects, which are aimed at import substitution. A third category, “Make 3”, which involves projects under Rs 3 crore, is reserved for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). 

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Talk to the graziers. India's border policy lacks realism


By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 5th June 18

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech last Friday at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore was, for many, a damp squib. That annual event has traditionally provided a forum for the US-led camp in the Asia-Pacific to lambast growing Chinese aggression and expansionism, and for senior Chinese officials to blandly signal back that Beijing does not care what they feel. This was where, in 2010, Yang Jiechi – then China’s foreign minister and, until April, China’s Special Representative in border talks with India – famously brushed off Singapore's foreign minister with: “China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that's just a fact.” This year, there was high anticipation over Mr Modi’s participation as keynote speaker, given recent Sino-Indian tensions like last year’s confrontation between Indian and Chinese soldiers at Doklam, in Bhutan, where blood came close to being spilt.

Mr Modi, however, motivated apparently by agreements reached with China’s President Xi Jinping at their “informal summit” last April in Wuhan, passed up the opportunity to call out China’s worrying aggression. Instead, in a throwback to Jawaharlal Nehru at Bandung, he dwelt on India’s historical role as a bridge between the Indo- and the -Pacific and as a champion of the liberal, international order. While duly ticking the boxes of freedom of navigation, connectivity and rule of law, Mr Modi took an emphatic step back from maritime confrontation with China, stating that India wanted no “return to the age of great power rivalries” in the Indo-Pacific.

Again echoing Mr Nehru, who he has often reviled as a peacenik, Mr Modi stated: “No other relationship of India has as many layers as our relations with China. We are the world’s two most populous countries… Our cooperation is expanding. Trade is growing. And, we have displayed maturity and wisdom in managing issues and ensuring a peaceful border.”

This sensitivity towards China has become apparent this year. Assuaging Beijing’s concerns over India’s role in Tibet, the government has placed severe restrictions on the Dalai Lama and the 100,000-plus Tibetan refugees in India. An “inter-faith meeting” planned at Rajghat on March 31, to commemorate the 60thanniversary of the Dalai Lama’s escape from Lhasa to India, was cancelled on March 2. Another rally planned in New Delhi on April 1 was similarly cancelled. There are restrictions now on “security grounds” on meetings between Chinese (read Tibetan) monks and the Dalai Lama. This sidelining of the Dalai Lama contrasts sharply with his high profile visit to Arunachal Pradesh a year ago, when he was warmly received by chief minister, Pema Khandu, evoking strong protests from Beijing.

Separately, compared to last year, New Delhi has sharply scaled down participation in the trilateral, US-Japan-India naval exercise Malabar, which begins on Thursday. Unlike the US and Japan, which are fielding aircraft carriers and submarines, India is sending just three mid-sized surface warships. Beijing will be pleased with that.

While New Delhi has tamped down on activities that might upset Beijing in the belief that the proverbial “reset button” has been pressed between Messrs Modi and Xi, it is business as usual in Beijing, which recently served up a pointed reminder of its claim over Arunachal. This began with a news report on May 20, in the South China Morning Post(hereafter “the Post”), which is owned by Alibaba’s Jack Ma, and is Beijing’s favoured media outlet for capturing readers’ eyeballs outside China. The report, titled “How Chinese mining in the Himalayas may create a new military flashpoint with India”, described a $60 billion trove of precious metals” unearthed near Lhunze, close to the border with India, which would provide China with a powerful incentive to exercise its claim over “South Tibet” (as China calls Arunachal Pradesh). Predicting conflict, the report said this would create “another South China Sea rising out of the world’s highest mountain range”.

The next day, on May 21, communist party mouthpiece Global Timesrebutted the Post’sreport, declaring (somewhat obviously) that there was no similarity between the South China Sea and the Himalayan border. Global Timesquoted a Chinese expert who said the Post’s“groundless hype reflected the fact that some Western powers are constantly sowing discord between China and India, and using Delhi as a pawn on the frontline challenging Beijing.” 

This is typical of China’s clever, new propaganda, which keeps alive its claims over disputed areas even as its leaders vow tranquillity in “informal summits” with India. Beijing, knowing that reports of a high-value mine in Tibet near the Arunachal border would interest India, breaks the story through a planted report. Then it rebuts that with another (barely) deniable report that baldly stated: “Chinese mining in its own territory will not provoke conflict, unless India allows western powers to use it against China”. Thus Beijing shapes international perceptions, confuses and unnerves Indian policymakers and keeps the border issue on the boil.

Were China really interested, as Global Times claims, in “addressing disputes through direct negotiations and making sure such issues won't undermine normal ties”, would Beijing not be engaging New Delhi on contentious issues like water sharing and the downstream impacts of mining and industrialisation in places like Lhunze, which threaten damaging effects on the Subansiri river in Arunachal? Instead, China watchers note that Beijing is aggressively prioritising border infrastructure development and establishing “model border villages”. Chinese leaders in Tibet have visited 1962 war memorials, and held mobilisation drives near Lhunze, particularly in areas inhabited by Monpa tribals, who also populate Tawang. As Chinese state media widely reported last October, Xi Jinping wrote a personal letter to a family of Tibetan herders living in Yumai, a border village near Lhunze, thanking them for keeping China’s claim to that border area alive by inhabiting that inhospitable area. “Yumai would be occupied by India already if the family had decided to leave,” Chinese National Geography quoted the village’s headman as saying.

Beijing regards all the area it controls, whether disputed, loyal or not, as its own and develops it relentlessly. In contrast, New Delhi views its borders almost exclusively through the lens of defence, security and militarisation, evaluating even developmental infrastructure in that framework and often treating local inhabitants as potentially disloyal. Road development in Ladakh, Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh remains a sorry joke, tourism has never been promoted seriously; and healthcare, sanitation and education remains utterly neglected. With most northeastern states, the Centre’s compact boils down to: We’ll allow you the run of a few billions and station military troops; in return, you maintain the fiction of your state being a rose in the bouquet that is India. Unlike in authoritarian China, no prime minister since Nehru has harnessed local communities, including tribal leadership and graziers, to give them a major stake in their own security. New Delhi must realise that border security lies less in agreements with foreign leaders, and more in integrating and developing the territory it claims. It is in this important aspect that Mr Modi must borrow from Mr Nehru.

Monday, 4 June 2018

As China tensions abate, Indian navy reduces participation in US-Japan-India exercise Malabar

Three Indian Navy warships steam towards Guam for Exercise Malabar 2018

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 4th June 18

The Indian Navy is sending three surface warships and a surveillance aircraft to the annual US-Japan-India trilateral Exercise Malabar 2018, being held in Guam, in the Pacific Ocean. Last year, amidst tensions with China, it had sent thrice that number.

“The Indian Navy will be represented by two indigenously designed and built ships, the multi-purpose stealth frigate INS Sahyadri and anti-submarine warfare corvette, INS Kamorta, fleet tanker INS Shakti and a Long Range Maritime Patrol Aircraft P-8I”, said an official navy release on Monday.

In Malabar 2017, held in the Bay of Bengal, India had fielded aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya and a Kilo-class submarine, in addition to seven other major warships. Malabar 2018 feature no Indian aircraft carrier or submarine, and relatively smaller warships.

Malabar 2017 was held last July while Indian and Chinese troops were locked in a tense border stand-off in Doklam, at the India-China-Bhutan border tri-junction near Sikkim. This year’s reduced participation comes just six weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day “informal summit” meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Wuhan, China.

Naval sources dismiss the notion of a “reduced commitment to Malabar”. They say the navy is not sending an aircraft carrier or submarine simply because Guam is too far away – almost 10,000 kilometres by sea. A senior officer says it would be undesirable to leave no aircraft carrier for India’s defence.

The admirals say this year’s exercise will involve unprecedented complexity, featuring enemy threats in all three dimensions, but especially underwater threats from submarines – a key Chinese strength. 

They point out that, for the first time, officers from all three navies will function as “sea riders” – or posted on other navies’ warships. That means Indian navy officers will obtain the unprecedented benefits of operating on US Navy Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarines and the highly regarded Soryu-class submarines of the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF).

Also for the first time, the world’s best three long-range maritime reconnaissance (LRMR) aircraft – the Indian Navy’s Boeing P-8I, the US Navy’s Boeing P-8A and the JMSDF’s Kawasaki P-1 – will operate together.

Beijing regards Exercise Malabar as the military manifestation of a trilateral alignment between Washington, Tokyo and New Delhi, directed at containing China. Beijing has also opposed Australia’s frequent requests to participate in Exercise Malabar, regarding that as amounting to a “Quadrilateral Alliance” of Asia-Pacific democracies.

Chinese apprehensions about India joining a US-led, anti-China grouping have been inflamed by growing US-India naval cooperation, and by measures like the recent re-naming of the Hawaii-based United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) as the US Indo-Pacific Command.

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis explained that the renaming only took into account the actual geographical spread of USPACOM, “from Bollywood to Hollywood and from penguins to polar bears”. Beijing was not amused.

On Monday, the defence ministry stated that the US Navy would participate in Malabar 2018 with six major warships: “Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan with its air wing; two Ticonderoga class cruisers, USS Antietam and USS Chancellorsville; two Arleigh Burke class destroyers, USS Benfold and USS Mustin; a Los Angeles-class attack submarine and one Long Range Maritime Patrol Aircraft P-8A.” 

It said the JMSDF would be represented by Hyuga class helicopter carrier JS Ise with it integral helicopters; Takanami-class destroyer JS Suzunami; Akizuki-class destroyer JS Fuyuzuki, a P-1 LRMR aircraft and a submarine.

The participating Indian warships will reach Guam on June 7, for the Harbour Phase of the exercise, where the three navies will coordinate operating techniques and drills. The Sea Phase from June 11-16 will feature live aircraft carrier operations, air defence, anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare, visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS), joint manoeuvres and tactical procedures.



Malabar: Smallest Indian presence in five years

Year
India
US
Japan
Total
Aircraft carriers
Remarks







2014
3
5
2
10
Nil


2015
4
3
1
8
1


2016
4
5
1
10
1*
Japanese helicopter carrier, JS Hyuga, also participated
2017
9
6
2
17
2*
Japanese helicopter carrier, JS Izumo, also participated
2018
3
6
4
13
2*
Japanese helicopter carrier, JS Ise, will also participate

* Japan’s helicopter carriers embark helicopters and are being evaluated/modified to operate vertical take off/landing aircraft