Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Brahmos with Sukhoi-30 fighters to improve India’s strike options

The space between the Su-30MKI's engines where the Brahmos will be fitted

By Ajai Shukla
HAL, Nashik
Business Standard, 23rd Apr 14

There will soon be a more practical way of retaliating against a foreign-backed terror attack on Indian soil than mobilizing our 16 lakh-strong military for a war that might trigger a nuclear conflagration. Instead, New Delhi will soon be able to punish terrorists harbouring across the border with surgical strikes from Brahmos cruise missile, fitted on Sukhoi-30MKI fighters.

The supersonic Brahmos, jointly developed by India and Russia, already equips Indian warships and artillery units. Yet its limited range of 295 kilometres means that targets far across the border are out of reach. That will change once Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), Nashik, fits the Brahmos onto the Sukhoi-30MKI fighter, allowing the missile to be carried for over a thousand kilometres and then launched at a target another 295 kilometres away.

Parked in a hangar in HAL’s Nashik facility is the first Su-30MKI that is being modified to carry the Brahmos in the cavity between the aircraft’s giant engines. Later this year, ground tests will begin at Nashik. If successful, the aircraft will be ferried to Rajasthan to actually test-fire the missile in Pokhran. If all goes well, the air-launched Brahmos would enter operational service next year.

While HAL modifies the aircraft, the Indo-Russian joint venture that has developed the Brahmos is finalising and certifying an air-launched version of the missile.

Developing an air-launched Brahmos has not been easy, given its weight (2.5 tonnes) and size (8 metres long, 0.7 metres in diameter). The Indian Air Force (IAF) challenged both Sukhoi and HAL to propose competing solutions for integrating missile with aircraft. The Indian solution won out handily, and a contract was signed with HAL in January. Already the Brahmos has been mounted under the Su-30MKI’s belly, secured on two mounting stations that replace hard points that were designed to carry ten 250-kilogramme bombs.

“The Russians are most interested in how HAL is integrating the Brahmos. We beat them out in the contract and now they want to know what we’re doing,” says RP Khapli, who is leading HAL’s design team in the project.

Nobody will acknowledge this, but modifying a Su-30MKI to carry a 2,500 kg missile is a big step towards rendering it capable of carrying and delivering a thermonuclear bomb.

A Brahmos air launch is a relatively straightforward affair. Before take-off, the target coordinates are fed into the missile. When the Su-30MKI reaches the designated launch point, probably just short of the border to maximise range, the pilot releases the Brahmos. The missile drops clear of the aircraft before its booster ignites; then, powered by a ramjet, it quickly accelerates to more than twice the speed of sound providing little reaction time to enemy air defence fighters and missiles. Guided by navigation satellites, its inertial navigation system takes it precisely to its target.

Besides punitive strikes on terrorist targets, an air-launched Brahmos would also be the weapon of choice for striking heavily defended targets --- such as enemy air bases or headquarters --- without risking a manned aircraft. The Su-30MKI would release the Brahmos from a safe distance of 295 kilometres and then head back to base even as the missile heads for the target.

Integrating the Brahmos with the Su-30MKI encountered several technical challenges. IIT Mumbai assisted with studies in “computational fluid dynamics” to ascertain that the giant missile did not create disruptive airflow that would destabilise the fighter or starve its two engines of air.

HAL had already experienced such difficulties whilst upgrading the MiG-21BIS with four new missiles. That fighter’s engine had to be modified with an anti-surge system to avoid shut off. This experience, say HAL designers, came in handy.

Besides the Brahmos project, HAL’s Aircraft Upgrade R&D Centre (AURDC) has developed over 40 modifications to enhance the performance of the Su-30MKI. It has also developed almost 400 types of ground equipment, such as oxygen chargers, nitrogen chargers, mobile air charging trolleys and cooling trolleys.

“We are not just building aircraft for the IAF, but are also a knowledge partner for indigenization,” says Khapli. 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Air force to get full Sukhoi-30MKI fleet by 2019

The Sukhoi-30MKI production line at Nashik which rolled out 15 fighters in 2013-14

By Ajai Shukla
MiG Complex, HAL, Nashik
Business Standard, 22nd April 14

Walking along the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) production line at its Nashik plant is a good way to realize how gargantuan the Sukhoi-30MKI fighter is. Yet, its sheer size, the sleekness of its lines and the menacing “bird-of-prey” droop of its nose are not why this fighter is the backbone of the Indian Air Force (IAF). The Su-30MKI is pure performance --- it is astonishingly agile, a favourite in aerobatics displays; and its 8-tonne armament payload makes it a formidable multi-role aircraft. It has the missiles to protect itself while flying on a mission, the bombs and rockets to comprehensively pulverize a target, the electronics to deceive enemy radars, and can return home while warding off enemy fighters.

The IAF is keen to quickly induct the 272 Su-30MKI fighters it has on order, especially since the Rafale contract remains uncertain. But HAL --- which delivered an impressive 15 fighters last year --- says completion would be possible only by about 2019, a two-and-a-half-year delay from the 2016-17 target that was set when the contract was signed with Russia in 2000.

A total of 222 Su-30MKIs are to be built in Nashik. Till date, 149 have been delivered to the IAF. HAL will have to continue building 15 fighters per year to deliver the remaining 73 aircraft in 5 years.

The delay stems from the IAF’s wish to make the Su-30MKI the high-performance fighter that it eventually turned out to be. Unsatisfied with the Su-30 initially supplied by Russia, the IAF demanded improved aerodynamic performance. Russia added canards and a thrust-vectoring engine, the AL-31FP, which could push the fighter in multiple directions, adding agility. All this took time and Sukhoi transferred the technology two-and-a-half years late.

Business Standard was granted access to HAL’s Nashik division, the birthplace of multiple Russian fighters that have given teeth to the Indian Air Force (IAF) since the 1970s. This factory was set up in 1964 to build the MiG-21 E7FL, now retired, followed by another variant, the MiG-21M, then the MiG-21BIS. Later, HAL Nashik built the MiG-27, and then upgraded 123 MiG-21BIS fighters into the BISON, which is still in service. Finally, it upgraded 40 MiG-27s, an entirely indigenous upgrade that has kept the aging fighter in service till today.

HAL’s Nashik unit is still called the MiG Complex --- ironic, given that it builds a Sukhoi fighter, the greatest rival of Mikoyan, builder of the legendary MiGs. The Su-30 variants, Russia’s most successful recent design, have wiped out Mikoyan from the global marketplace. Compared to some 800 Sukhoi-27 and Sukhoi-30 variants bought by the air forces of Russia, China, India, Ukraine, Malaysia, Algeria, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam, only a handful of MiG fighters find customers today.

Yet India remains a Mikoyan loyalist --- of sorts. The Indian Air Force (IAF) is upgrading its fleet of 60-odd MiG-29S fighters; while the Indian Navy has bought 45 MiG-29K/KUB fighters for its aircraft carriers, a $2 billion purchase that has breathed life into the fading Russian company.

Yet this is small change compared to the massive order of 272 Su-30MKIs, which started out as a bargain at $30 million apiece, but which are now priced at $75 million each.

Business Standard spoke to HAL officials to find out why prices have risen despite an ongoing indigenisation programme that has met all its targets. The reason, it emerges, lies in the nature of the manufacturing contract signed with Sukhoi, which was to see a progressive enhancement of Indian content through four phases. Yet, even though Phase IV has recently been achieved, this provides for only limited indigenization. While Sukhoi was bound to transfer technology for building the fighter, the contract mandates that all raw materials --- including titanium blocks and forgings, aluminium and steel plates, etc --- must be sourced from Russia.

This means that, of the 43,000 items that go into the Sukhoi-30MKI, some 5,800 consist of large metal plates, castings and forgings that must contractually be provided by Russia. HAL then transforms the raw material into aircraft components, using the manufacturing technology transferred by Sukhoi.

That results in massive wastage of metal. For example, a 486 kilogramme titanium bar supplied by Russia is whittled down to a 15.9 kg tail component. The titanium shaved off is wasted. Similarly a wing bracket that weighs just 3.1 kg has to be fashioned from a titanium forging that weighs 27 kg.

Furthermore, the contract stipulates that standard components like nuts, bolts, screws and rivets --- a total of 7,146 items --- must all be sourced from Russia.

The reason for this, explain HAL officials, is that manufacturing sophisticated raw materials like titanium extrusions in India is not economically viable for the tiny quantities needed for Su-30MKI fighters.

“For raw materials production to be commercially viable, India’s aerospace companies would need to produce in larger volumes. That means they must become global suppliers, as a part of a major aerospace company’s global supply chain. Licensed manufacture for our own needs does not create adequate demand,” says Daljeet Singh, HAL Nashik’s manufacturing head.

Still, HAL builds about 10,000 of the 30,000 fabricated components in each fighter. A significant percentage of this is outsourced to private sector vendors in aerospace hubs like Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Pune and Coimbatore.

Once the last of the 222 Su-30MKIs to be built in Nashik roll off the lines, this facility will build the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), which HAL and Sukhoi will jointly develop. An estimated 214 FGFAs are planned to be built here. 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Opaque MoD promotion policy creates legal challenge for next army chief

Lt Gen Ravi Dastane is the latest in a seemingly unending line of senior officers  going to court over promotions denied

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th Apr 14

With India on track to get a new government next month, the army --- arguably the country’s most admired institution --- is mired in embarrassing uncertainty about who will succeed General Bikram Singh as army chief on July 31, 2014.

The last succession, when Gen VK Singh handed over command to Gen Bikram Singh on May 31, 2012, was mired in controversy and lawsuits. This time again the Supreme Court is hearing a petition by a senior officer, Lieutenant General Ravi Dastane, who cites an array of policy violations to allege that the army and ministry of defence (MoD) have denied him the right to be an army commander. If the apex court rules in his favour, Dastane will be in consideration to be the next army chief. He will be the senior-most army commander, although Lt Gen Dalbir Singh will still be the senior-most lieutenant general.
At fault is the army’s and MoD’s failure to create transparent promotion policies for its top-most appointments. The Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) --- the MoD’s departmental judicial tribunal --- in rejecting Dastane’s petition last September, embarrassingly noted that the absence of a clear promotion policy was repeatedly bringing aggrieved officers to court.

Dastane has pleaded before the Supreme Court that the army and MoD have reduced the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) --- the final authority on appointing top commanders --- to a rubber stamp, by placing before it a single name for each appointment. This violates an earlier Supreme Court judgment which had ruled in 2000 (Union of India versus Lt Gen Rajendra Singh Kadyan) that appointments should be on merit as well as eligibility, with the ACC choosing between at least two candidates for each appointment, rather than merely rubber-stamping the appointment of the senior-most eligible candidate.

The army and MoD told the AFT that they internally evaluated seven eligible officers who senior enough to be considered. The AFT judgment notes that “there was no Selection Committee constituted”, but the army chief and the MoD zeroed in on two candidates for two posts and sent the names to the ACC. The AFT concludes that the principle of merit was thus kept in mind.

Dastane is challenging this conclusion. In addition, he contends that the army illegally undermined the “discipline and vigilance ban” (DV ban) policy. His petition argues that, on May 31, 2012 --- the day army chief, General VK Singh, and western army commander, Lt Gen Shankar Ghosh, retired --- Lt Gen Sanjiv Chachra and Dastane himself, the two senior-most lieutenant generals eligible to become army commanders, should have been recommended to fill their vacancies the same day. Lt Gen Dalbir Singh, while senior to both, was ineligible, having received a “show cause notice” from the army chief, General VK Singh, for a rogue intelligence operation. Dalbir, therefore, was under a DV Ban.

Inexplicably, the MoD moved to elevate only Chachra to army commander. It left the second vacancy unfilled, pending a decision on Dalbir’s DV Ban. The new chief, General Bikram Singh, quickly lifted the ban on June 8 and Dalbir was appointed army commander on June 15.

Dastane contends that this effectively “reserved” a vacancy for Dalbir Singh for 15 days, until his DV ban could be lifted. The AFT has rejected that contention, but the Supreme Court will examine it afresh.

The backdrop to this was bitter internal feuding between Gen VK Singh on the one hand; and his successor, Gen Bikram Singh and Lt Gen Dalbir Singh on the other. With Gen VK Singh trying to amend his date of birth and gain an additional year in office, he was targeting Bikram and Dalbir as beneficiaries of his early departure.

An army commander is a senior lieutenant general, appointed to head one of the army’s six geographical commands --- the western, northern, central, eastern, southern and southwestern commands. A seventh “functional command” is the Shimla-based Army Training Command (ARTRAC). In addition, army generals take turns, alternating with their navy and air force counterparts, to command the tri-service Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC) in Port Blair.

To be appointed army commander, a lieutenant general should have successfully commanded one of the army’s fourteen corps, and also have two years of service left before retirement at the age of 60. The ACC selects army commanders from a list of eligible names forwarded by army headquarters (AHQ), through the MoD. 

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Come out of the nuclear closet

Scrap "no first use". Scrap "automatic massive retaliation". Create realistic options for handling nuclear crises (photo: Agni-4 missile)

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 15th Apr 14

The BJP, many presumed, would reverse India’s pledge of “No First Use” (NFU) of nuclear weapons, which allows nukes to be used only against entities that have struck Indian targets with weapons of mass destruction. This assumption was based on the BJP’s April 7 election manifesto, which undertook to “Study in detail India’s nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it, to make it relevant to challenges of current times.” This boilerplate formulation, which says absolutely nothing about reversing NFU, was inserted into the manifesto without any serious discussion within the BJP on nuclear policy. Yet party spokespersons like Seshadri Chari, Nirmala Sitharaman and Ravi Shankar Prasad, all unschooled in nuclear policy, responded in gung-ho fashion to media questions about an NFU review. The clarification on Monday by BJP president, Rajnath Singh, that no review of NFU was planned is a disappointment to many who touted the muscularity of the BJP’s security policy.

Yet India’s nuclear doctrine badly needs a review. While the NFU pledge must quickly be scrapped, the ill-conceived commitment to “massive retaliation” is even more damaging to our nuclear credibility. Fifteen years ago, facing tight international sanctions, we needed a restrained doctrine. Today, with the security environment more challenging than ever, India’s nuclear doctrine must complicate the calculus of opponents, not simplify it as the single-minded focus on massive retaliation does.

The existing nuclear doctrine --- initially issued as a “draft nuclear doctrine” in August 1999, and solidified (in slightly changed form) through a gazette notification on January 4, 2003 --- pledges that India “will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with massive retaliation should deterrence fail. India will not resort to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against states which do not possess nuclear weapons, or are not aligned with nuclear weapons powers.”

In simple terms this means that India will wait to get nuked before it fires nukes. Once nuked --- even by a small, tactical nuclear weapon fired by, say, Pakistan on its own soil against an Indian armoured offensive, that destroys one squadron of 14 tanks and kills 45 Indian soldiers --- New Delhi’s response will be automatic. India’s massive retaliation will unleash most of its 80-100 nuclear weapons against Pakistani towns and cities, that are termed “counter-value targets.”

Since Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is currently larger than India’s, and is dispersed and sheltered across that country, New Delhi will be visited by retaliation from the smoking ruins of Pakistan. In what is termed a “second strike”, that country’s nuclear command authority, safe in underground command posts, will fire its surviving nukes --- and there will be many --- at New Delhi, Mumbai and other Indian cities within the 2500-kilometre range of Pakistan’s Shaheen-II ballistic missiles. In this chain of events, most of Pakistan and large swathes of India will be transformed into radioactive wastelands and hundreds of millions of people killed. Remember, this level of destruction follows from a single tactical nuclear weapon, fired by Pakistan at its own territory. Most rational people would find this scenario incredible.

Indeed, New Delhi’s massive retaliation strategy rests on the belief that Pakistani policymakers are rational actors, who will avoid this cataclysm. Yet even rational actors behave irrationally when under enormous stress, such as an existential threat to one’s country. While New Delhi’s nuclear theologians bet our lives on the rationality of Pakistani generals, is that generous assessment corroborated by Pakistan’s heedless plunge into the abyss of radicalism and jihad?

Should India’s leaders have no choice but “suicide or surrender”? Remember that New Delhi, under BJP rule in 1999 (Kargil) and 2001-02 (Parliament attack), and under Congress rule in 2008 (Mumbai attack) shrank from employing even conventional military force against Pakistan. Will New Delhi sanction massive nuclear retaliation that could lead to the aptly-termed MAD ---mutual assured destruction? Probably not, which is why the misconceived massive retaliation strategy must be revisited even before NFU.

There are lessons here from the United States’ experience in the 1950s. President Dwight D Eisenhower, who was elected in 1953, and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles adopted a “massive retaliation” strategy against the Soviet Union, based on clear US nuclear superiority in an era when Russian delivery systems could not cross the Atlantic. In October 1953, the seminal National Security Council Paper 162/2 first used the term “massive retaliation.” In January 1954, Dulles threatened that America would “depend primarily upon a great capacity to retaliate, instantly, by means and at places of our own choosing.”

Yet Dulles could see that massive retaliation was not a credible threat, especially as Soviet retaliatory power grew. Writing in Foreign Affairs in April 1954, Dulles shifted towards a so-called “flexible response.” Suggesting that massive retaliation was one of many options, Dulles wrote, “It should not be stated in advance precisely what would be the scope of military action if new aggression occurred… That is a matter as to which the aggressor had best remain ignorant. But he can know… that the choice in this respect is ours and not his.”

In the early 1960s, President John F Kennedy’s no-nonsense secretary of defence, Robert McNamara, could see that Kennedy needed usable options. Threatening the deaths of 360-450 million people in the Sino-Soviet block might deter a Soviet nuclear strike, but was hardly executable if deterrence failed. That led to a formal “flexible response” doctrine, in which assured destruction was only the apex of a long escalation ladder.

India’s doctrine must create similar options, allowing policymakers every possibility in a crisis --- pre-emptive strike, counter-force and counter-value targeting, even assured destruction through massive retaliation. Furthermore, the exclusive focus on massive retaliation has entirely demilitarised nuclear planning, with the agents who must deliver nuclear weapons --- the missile forces, the air force and submarines --- playing little or no role in planning and rehearsing. This must change.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

BJP promises defence reform, but does not say how

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 8th Apr 14

The BJP’s unusually detailed defence manifesto, which forms part of the “BJP Election Manifesto 2014” that was released in New Delhi on Monday, appears to be a mix of polemic, populism, plagiarism and pragmatic planning.

Significantly for a party that is often accused of pursuing a divisive, majoritarian agenda, the BJP has defined security in comprehensive terms --- specifically mentioning “social cohesion and harmony” as a component of national security along with “military security; economic security; cyber security; energy, food and water and health security.”

Predictably attacking the UPA’s custodianship of security, the BJP holds it responsible for border intrusions by China, the shortage of combat aircraft in the air force, multiple accidents involving naval vessels, Maoist attacks, a growing presence of “Pakistan backed terror groups” and illegal immigration from Bangladesh. While these issues are mostly real, many go back decades and were grappled with by the NDA government from 1998-2004.

Like the BJP’s 1998 manifesto, which made substantive promises, e.g. to test nuclear weapons, the current manifesto makes important commitments on crucial issues. It pledges to “Study in detail India's nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it, to make it relevant to challenges of current times.” This has set off speculation that a BJP government would reconsider, if not abandon, the “No First Use” policy that New Delhi has so far held. The manifesto also pledges to “Maintain a credible minimum deterrent that is in tune with changing geostatic realities.” It is unclear whether this means a larger nuclear arsenal, or the creation of an arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) to counter Pakistan’s much-hyped TNW weapons.

Promising to restructure higher defence management --- a measure that the NDA shied away from whilst in power --- the BJP has promised to “ensure greater participation of Armed Forces in the decision-making process of the Ministry of Defence.” This would involve integrating the MoD with the service headquarters, and creating structures where uniformed soldiers worked alongside bureaucrats, even as their bosses. After a Group of Ministers proposed this measure in 2001, the BJP encountered strong opposition from bureaucrats, eventually leading to the creation of a halfway house --- the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), where the three services work together but the MoD remains aloof. Like the BJP, the UPA has gone along with this tokenism for the last decade.

The BJP manifesto promises to make up officer shortages within the three services, which currently function with just 75 per cent of their authorised officers. In February, Defence Minister AK Antony told the Lok Sabha that the services were short of 12,372 officers.

A serving general who deals with manpower says this would involve serious difficulties. These include motivating large numbers of high calibre youths to join the military, and expanding training facilities to handle more trainees. The manifesto is silent on how this would be handled.

The BJP says it will “Modernize armed forces, and increase the R&D in defence, with a goal of developing indigenous defence technologies and fast tracking of defence purchases.” There is no elaboration of how this would be done, how much additional funding would be allotted to R&D, or what the BJP would do differently from its earlier tenure, when defence minister George Fernandes lamented that equipment modernisation had been stalled by “the three Cs” --- the CBI, CVC and CAG.

The BJP manifesto carefully woos servicemen and their families. It promises to build a national war memorial, an emotive and longstanding demand from ex-servicemen lobbies that point to the incongruity of honouring Indian martyrs at India Gate in New Delhi --- a monument built by colonial power to commemorate Indians who died for the British Empire. The BJP’s promise to fulfil this demand does not mention where it would be built.

The growing political clout of ex-servicemen is also evident in the BJP promise to appoint a “Veterans Commission” for addressing problems of retired soldiers, sailors and airmen. This borrows from the Congress Party’s manifesto promise of a “National Commission for Ex-Servicemen.” The Congress claims credit for setting up the “Department of Ex-Servicemen’s Welfare” in the MoD. However, veterans complain about the insensitivity of this department, which has done much to push many ex-servicemen into the BJP fold.

The BJP manifesto attempts to benefit from measures already announced by the UPA. It promises to implement “one rank, one pension”, a measure already announced in the UPA’s last budget. It also promises to digitise all defence land records, something that Antony has told parliament is complete.

Significantly, the BJP’s new manifesto is silent on defence spending, even though the UPA has brought down spending to a 52-year low of 1.74 per cent of GDP.

In 1998, the BJP manifesto had noted “the country's defence budget has been declining in real terms… from 3.4 per cent of the GDP in 1989-90 to a mere 2.2 per cent this year (i.e. 1998-99). After six years in power, the BJP managed to raise defence spending to just 2.4 per cent of GDP in 2004-05.

Promising to boost defence production, the BJP says it will “encourage private sector participation and investment, including FDI in selected defence industries.” This seems no different from the current regime, where 26 per cent FDI is permitted, with higher foreign holding permissible on a case-by-case basis.

The BJP says “Technology transfer in defence manufacturing will be encouraged to the maximum.” (emphasis in original). 

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Henderson Brooks: too many questions

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 1st April 14

Were this a straightforward world, the recent unveiling of the Henderson Brooks report would have conclusively bared the secrets of 1962, answering the burning question: was the army’s shameful rout at the hands of China due to political mismanagement or was military incompetence largely to blame? Instead the Henderson Brooks report itself appears to be, at least partly, a cover up. The controversy has only become murkier.

Australian journalist and writer Neville Maxwell earlier this month posted on the Internet a hitherto “top secret” report on the military debacle of 1962, authored by Lieutenant General TB Henderson Brooks, a senior Indian Army officer. The so-called Henderson Brooks Report (HBR), which New Delhi has suppressed since 1963, had always been rumoured to contain the real answers. Critics of Jawaharlal Nehru, then prime minister, have alleged for half a century that the report was buried because it highlighted his political ineptitude. It was never explained why the BJP-led government failed to declassify the report whilst it governed from 1998 to 2004, or why the military itself has consistently opposed its release.

Like in many murder mysteries, the corpse turns up on Page 1 of the HBR, with the author making the startling revelation that his hands were tied from the start by the army chief --- General JN Chaudhuri, who was appointed after General PN Thapar resigned in the wake of defeat.  Henderson Brooks reveals that Chaudhuri had issued him “advice” not to review the functioning of Army Headquarters (hereafter AHQ) in his inquiry. In the army, a senior commander’s “advice” constitutes an order that is not given in writing. Significantly, the written orders for the inquiry mention no such restriction.

The author clearly felt that this restriction subverted his inquiry. He notes that it would “have been convenient and logical to trace the events from Army Headquarters and then move down to Commands (the headquarters under AHQ) for more details, and, finally, ending up with field formations for the battle itself.”

A frustrated Henderson Brooks rued that “a number of loose ends concerning Army Headquarters could not be verified and have been left unanswered. The relationship between Defence Ministry (hereafter MoD) and Army and the directions given by the former to the latter could, therefore, also not be examined.”

Why might General Chaudhuri have steered Henderson Brooks clear of AHQ and, by extension, of orders passed by Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon and his MoD officials? We must fish for that answer in the swirling political-military crosscurrents of that period, with army generals carefully disassociating themselves from the discredited General BM Kaul and those close to him --- the so-called “Kaul boys”. Kaul had leveraged his proximity to Nehru and VK Krishna Menon to bypass regular command channels (which were supine in any case) in establishing posts on disputed territory based on a political-intelligence assessment that the Chinese might bark but they would not bite. Chaudhuri knew that an inquiry that examined all the written orders, minutes of meetings in AHQ and MoD, and recorded personal statements from key protagonists might establish the damning truth --- that there were no “good guys” in 1962. If political direction was deeply flawed, General Kaul’s self-serving support for the political-intelligence assumption of Chinese docility led to national humiliation and 3250 soldiers dead. What better way for a new and ambitious chief to forge ties with the political leadership than to confine the inevitable enquiry to tactical issues?

In reflecting upon the possibility of a motivated cover-up, one must consider the personalities involved. General Chaudhuri was an articulate, intelligent cavalry officer about whom contemporaries say; “He was held in high esteem, especially by himself”. Chaudhuri and his wife were active socialites and would today be described as Page 3 people. Contemporaries recall their fondness for Balkan Sobranie cigarettes in stylish holders. Chaudhuri fancied himself one of the intellectual elite; in violation of norms he wrote a newspaper column for a national daily, under a pseudonym, even as army chief. His professional acumen was not impressive; faced with a Pakistani advance in Khemkaran in 1965, he ordered a retreat that would have handed a large chunk of Punjab to Pakistan. Fortunately, Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh, his subordinate commander refused to retreat. This was the chief who whispered to Henderson Brooks not to wield the broom too vigorously.

Then there was Henderson Brooks himself, anglicised in accent, habits and outlook, a general who eventually migrated to Australia --- Neville Maxwell’s country. A competent, if plodding, officer Henderson Brooks lacked the flair and assertiveness of contemporaries like Sam Manekshaw. In “outing” Chaudhuri’s apparently confidential verbal directive to scale down his inquiry, Henderson Brooks must have surprised his chief.

There must also have been discomfiture over the HBR’s criticism of the higher military and political leadership. It pointed out that Krishna Menon’s orders not to keep records of his meetings absolved everyone of responsibility; termed “militarily unsound” the assessments of Nehru favourite, Intelligence Bureau chief BN Mullick; and expressed incredulity at tactical interference by Foreign Secretary MJ Desai. Was the decision to expand their mandate taken by Henderson Brooks himself, or by his co-author, the iconic, Victoria Cross winning Brigadier PS Bhagat?

Yet Henderson Brooks’ ire was directed mainly at the army’s failure. It is hard to argue with Srinath Raghavan who says, “(T)he army also bore an institutional responsibility — one that cannot be attributed merely to a few bad generals. The simple fact is that, from 1959 to 1962, the Indian army’s professional capacities at all levels were put to the test — and found badly wanting.”

Of course this conclusion is incomplete and one-dimensional; the muzzled HBR is as critical of the political direction of that conflict. Ultimately, the HBR’s even-handedness may have caused its suppression. With everyone --- the politicians, the MoD, the AHQ, General Kaul and the field command --- all heavily criticised, everyone has good reason to suppress the report.