Thursday, 18 September 2014

China’s border guards target population along LAC

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Sept 14

Current reports from the border about Chinese incursions into Indian territory at Chumar and Demchok have renewed speculation that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) steps up border tensions on the eve of important visits, such as the on-going state visit of China’s president, Xi Jinping.

In fact, the PLA has simply shifted strategy; say multiple army and civilian sources that closely monitor border dynamics along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China. Chinese authorities now routinely use inhabitants of the border region to establish fresh claims, even as the PLA and border guards patrol up to their traditional claim lines.

China’s shock troops in this strategy are the Changpas --- the local name for residents of Changthang, the high Tibetan plateau. Chinese authorities exhort these nomadic graziers to move with their herds of yaks and ponies and encroach upon grazing grounds on the Indian side of the LAC.

According to ancient tradition, each grazier village enjoys territorial rights over certain grazing grounds, which are asserted each year by moving their herd to that pasture. By encroaching and using Indian grazing grounds, graziers from across the LAC create a plausible claim to that pasture. Gradually, China would claim that pasture; citing usage to claim that it belongs to a village on the Tibetan side. Over time, the PLA can be expected to extend patrolling to those areas.

According to numerous local accounts, Chinese troops are providing money, provisions, moral support and even troop escorts to help graziers and settled villagers to encroach on the Indian side of the undemarcated LAC.

Meanwhile Indian authorities have largely left their border people to their fate, reluctant to get involved even when local graziers report being beaten up by Chinese border guards.

“In disputed areas like around Demchok, Chinese soldiers have threatened our locals, ordered them to leave the area and have even inflicted violence short of opening fire,” says Siddiq Wahid, a Ladakhi himself, and a former Harvard University professor who is now an activist in J&K.

Wahid rightly points out that both sides have long used border villagers and nomads to buttress their claims, but says the Chinese have now implemented this as policy in Ladakh, as well as vulnerable areas of Arunachal Pradesh. With Indian’s border inhabitants increasingly opting to shift away from the LAC, China is systematically weakening India’s territorial claims.

The chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Nabam Tuki, has described the gradual depopulation of border areas as a “strategic problem”. Last year he warned that border populations must be supported “to establish our territorial sovereignty”.

China’s aggressive strategy is having a two-fold effect: besides weakening India’s territorial claim, it is insidiously alienating Ladakhi and Arunachali locals, who are wondering ever more loudly whether the government has the appetite to support them, or has it left them at China’s mercy.

Tellingly, there are no Sino-Indian agreements that cover border populations. In contrast, military issues like patrolling and border violations are governed by a raft of agreements --- starting from a 1993 Agreement on Peace and Tranquillity on the LAC; through further agreements in 1996, 2005, 2012; to the most recent Border Defence and Cooperation Agreement of 2013 --- which have succeeded in maintaining relative peace on the LAC.

“New Delhi seems to have little appetite for confronting Beijing on these matters. We have even diluted the terminology for Chinese incursions; we now refer to them as transgressions”, points out Wahid.

Asked whether New Delhi would raise border issues like the ongoing LAC confrontation during talks on Thursday with President Xi, India’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Syed Akbaruddin responded, “Our brave sentinels on the border will address any issue that happens on the border.” 

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

“Delay is the price for high-tech systems”, says Vice Admiral Satish Soni, who heads Eastern Naval Command

 Vice Admiral Satish Soni, Eastern Naval Command chief, talks to Business Standard’s Ajai Shukla in Visakhapatnam.

Q.         There is growing concern about the induction of warships without essential equipment like the Advanced Towed Array Sonar (ATAS), or the Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LR-SAM), which are delayed in development.

I wouldn’t say there is serious cause for concern. If you are developing a new weapon system (like ATAS, or LR-SAM), you cannot expect it to come exactly on time. What do you do? Do you not commission the ship, or do you commission the ship and wait for (the weapon system) to materialise?

A warship has many roles (such as anti-submarine, anti-air, anti-surface). One such role may not be met to a hundred per cent satisfaction. This happens all over the world, and it is happening here. I think we should be happy that we are getting new, state-of-the-art weapon systems for the first time. To get them exactly on time, you’ve got to be very lucky.

Q.         You are saying we should accept capability gaps when warships are inducted, so that we have a cutting edge system later?

It is not a capability gap. It is a dilution of a particular capability, in a particular ship, in a particular sphere. If, for example, INS Kolkata is not commissioned with an (LR-SAM), there are many other such systems in the fleet. So the Kolkata can be used for anti-submarine warfare. It is a multi-role ship. The Kolkata can still be operationally exploited. This (kind of delay) is the price that you pay when you go in for high-tech, state-of-the-art systems.

Q.         What happens if the ship is called into operational use before its weapons are developed and fitted?

Even if it is called into operational use, the fleet operates together and it is the fleet’s capability that matters, not individual ships’. For example (the anti-submarine corvette) INS Kamorta does not have surface-to-surface missiles. That doesn’t mean there is a capability gap. That (land attack) role will be fulfilled by other vessels in the fleet, which have that capability.

Q.         What is alarming is the delay in fitting weaponry that a warship is designed to have. On another note, has the navy’s new Rukmini satellite created a digitally networked navy?

Our navy has made a huge jump with the launch and operation of Rukmini. Networking various units (warships) is important for quick reactions in action. It is important for units to know where other units are, (and to) interact with other units, and for specialists on one ship to interact with specialists on another ship to coordinate attacks, and bear weapons on a particular target.

In Feb 2014, we had our annual exercise, TROPEX (Theatre Level Operational Readiness Exercise). This is the ultimate test of networking, of the ability of units to participate in a 10-day or 15-day war, dispersed over different parts of the sea. We operated (widely dispersed). It was possible because we were able to network and for fleet commanders to pass orders, and for ships to interact with each other and know where they are and to coordinate plans.

Q.         Can you explain with a practical example?

In an anti-submarine operation, if two ships are hunting for a submarine, they can coordinate duties. If you are networked well, you can just punch in a digital message (from one ship to another), “I am altering course to starboard, or to port”. If you are not networked, you pass messages (more unreliably) by voice.

Alternatively, if a warship contacts an enemy vessel but does not have weapons with the range to strike, it can digitally hand over that target to another warship that is within range.

Q.         You are saying one ship can designate a target, which will be engaged by weapons from another ship?

That is very much possible, but you can only do that if you are networked. Every ship in the fleet with a Rukmini antenna on board can talk to another.

Q.         Is China emerging as a key adversary for the eastern naval command?

We don’t have any maritime disputes with China. We look upon China as a partner in ensuring peace and stability in the maritime element. China is now operating in our waters and we sometimes go to the South China Sea, but essentially we operate in different waters. There is no acrimony between the two services.

As a navy grows in power and responsibility, it should provide some kind of (security) umbrella to the smaller navies to try and build them up. That is what we are doing. Today, Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar --- all these navies are training with us. We are giving material support to them. There is frequent exchange of delegations. We are trying to build around us some kind of cohesion in the Indian Ocean. We expect China to do the same.

Q.         Given the security situation in the Indo-Pacific, and India’s Look East policy, is your fleet adequate?

In the longer term we have a Maritime Capability Perspective Plan, which is formulated by navy headquarters. While we would like more assets that are being given, we have enough surface ships to meet our responsibilities. We are short of submarines now… we have only six, including (the nuclear powered) INS Chakra. We would want more submarines definitely.

But you know the Scorpene class is going to be commissioned only in 2016-17 and we are going to have one every year, six of them. So 2016 to 2022, that is going to be the only accretion to our submarine fleet. There is no point in saying, “I want 30”, because you know that till 2022, you are not reaching anywhere.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Taken at the flood --- Army gains where media fails

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th Sept 14

If perspectives of this month’s flood disaster in Jammu & Kashmir, especially the New Orleans-like inundation of Srinagar, were shaped only by national television, this would be a simple story of how the Indian Army again pulled the chestnuts out of the fire. Day after day, this monochromatic narrative played out with minor variations, like the suggestion that Kashmiris should thank the army for saving their undeserving hides.

The insensitivity even took the form of taunting questions to Kashmiris about whether they should now learn to love the army that they criticised so much. Had TV channel editors warned off their half-baked correspondents, the army might have benefited enormously from public gratitude for its selfless work. Instead, there was seething anger on the streets of Srinagar at this crass and tactless milking of nationalism.

The stage on which this disaster played out is littered with protagonists, most of who did not receive the attention they deserve. First amongst them is the Aam Kashmiri. The national media failed dismally in highlighting the local response, and the rescue effort that locals mounted when their government proved unable to. While the state government has been rightly castigated for evaporating when it was most required, there has been insufficient examination of the pretenders --- the separatist leaders who usually waste no time shoving their way into the limelight. The central government has reaped the benefits of the army’s good work, but has questions to answer about why its other agencies failed to function, such as the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA).

Let us publicly acknowledge the common Kashmiri --- an inappropriate term because Srinagar’s inhabitants demonstrated in the face of calamity that they are uncommon folk. From Day One of the crisis, even before the army could swing into action, students, mohalla leaders and common folk began moving the marooned to safer locations, using makeshift methods. Initial army efforts benefited from these splendid youngsters, since government servants had simply abandoned their responsibilities. Then, with families separated and people missing, these techno-savvy youngsters used social media to bridge the communication gap. Others established relief camps to receive emergency supplies that began flowing into the valley as the country rallied behind Kashmir.

The local media, even with its publication equipment knocked out by the flood, comprehensively outdid the national media. Taking quickly to social media, local reports provided the first insights into the bravery of locals.

Notwithstanding this grassroots solidarity, the disaster revealed a traumatised, fractured and leaderless society. Of Kashmir’s many internal fault lines, none has emerged as starkly as the abyss between the people and their leaders. This mirrors the street violence of 2008, 2009 and 2010, when leadership slipped into the hands of the people and previously unknown luminaries like Masarat Alam. This month, again, the Kashmiri leadership --- both elected and separatist --- vanished, reappearing much later as a speck in the rear view mirror, scrambling to invent a rationale for itself.

Not even a disaster so immense should sweep away an entire government structure. If, as Chief Minister Omar Abdullah dramatically declares, Kashmir’s police, civil servants and even ministers were themselves struggling to survive, why did they not reappear later, in whatever battered form, for rescue work? When students and local community members could organise rescue work, what reason was there for governance to evaporate? The bleak conclusion is that the J&K government has become a securitised structure, focused only on the physical protection of its leaders and functionaries. Will the J&K government call its absconding functionaries to account? Unlikely, given that the absentees include top bureaucrats and ministers.

In another environment, fundamentalist, even jihadi, elements might have garnered credibility by coming forward when government leadership collapses. This happened during the 2010 floods in Pakistan, when Jamaat-ud-Dawa (the Lashkar-e-Toiba front) was prominent in organising rescue and relief, just as it had done after the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir. Fortunately, the separatist leadership in Kashmir is less dynamic. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who could have opportunistically gained brownie points, only discredited himself by accusing the army of “staging rescues” for TV cameras. Geelani grossly underestimates the Kashmiri people.

It is hard to dispute that the army has emerged from this disaster with its image enhanced. Yet, it is the nature of day-to-day politics in Kashmir that this is only a transient gain. A single fake encounter, a single allegation of rape or molestation, and the public dialogue will revert to the injustice of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the alleged brutality of “India’s army of occupation”. New Delhi must realise that the military’s good work in the floods is a mere opportunity for a political outreach to Kashmir. If the moment is not grasped, it will quickly pass.

The most impressive dimension of the army’s rescue work was not the 2,26,000 people rescued; the infant handed out swaddled in a blanket; the grandmother hauled out of swirling waters; or the chopper landing on the roof of a house to convey the frantic inhabitants to safety. The army does those things all year round. Instead, an unusually impressive performance has come from the army’s media organisation, the army liaison cell (ALC). Under an imaginative commander, Lieutenant General Shokin Chauhan, the ALC transformed its FaceBook page and Twitter feed into an information exchange, in which distressed enquiries from across the country were forwarded through a closed WhatsApp group to Srinagar, providing inputs into decisions about where to send rescue parties. Similarly, details of people rescued flowed back from Srinagar, with the ALC disseminating the good news to the world. The army’s longstanding weakness has been its public interface. This could be changing.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Did Russia delay submarine overhaul to undermine Indian shipyard?

Russian experts delay INS Sindhukirti refit by years, but Kilo-class submarine to re-enter fleet by March 2015

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 3rd Sept 14

For over eight years, as Hindustan Shipyard Ltd, Visakhapatnam (HSL) has struggled to overhaul one of the navy’s Kilo-class submarines --- INS Sindhukirti --- critics have flayed the shipyard for depriving the navy of a critical warship. HSL has never publicly explained the delay.

Yet, Business Standard found, during a detailed tour of HSL, that the delay has little to do with inefficiency or incompetence. Instead, much of the blame rests with a loosely framed contract with Moscow that has allowed Russian “experts” to incrementally extend the work to be done on the Sindhukirti, in one case to 13 times what was required for overhauling an Indian submarine in Russia.

The Russians who have worked at HSL since 2006, overseeing Sindhukirti’s “modernisation-cum-refit” knew they were assisting a competitor. HSL’s success would disrupt the lucrative flow of Indian submarines to Zvezdochka shipyard in Russia, which had long overhauled them for hundreds of crore rupees each.

“INS Sindhukirti will complete its refit by Mar 31, when it will rejoin the navy fleet. But the experience of overhauling this submarine holds major lessons for Indian shipyards,” says HSL chairman, Rear Admiral NK Mishra (Retired).

An overhaul, or refit, conducted every 10 to 15 years, extends a submarine’s life by repairing its hull and modernising its combat capability. It involves examining, repairing and even replacing parts of the hull (two hulls in the Kilo-class, an inner “pressure hull” and an outer hull); replacing worn out cabling; and replacing or upgrading major weapons, sensors and communication systems.

Business Standard has compared the work that Russian “experts” at HSL ordered on the Sindhukirti, with that done on two submarines earlier -- INS Sindhughosh, refitted in Russia; and INS Sindhudhvaj, refitted in the Naval Dockyard, Visakhapatnam (see chart). In each work category, the Sindhukirti has required several times the work done on the Sindhughosh and Sindhudhvaj.

Tellingly, this was not anticipated in the preliminary work estimation, which was in line with earlier refit experiences. Shipyard workers recount (and the figures endorse) that the work only ballooned after it began, with Russian overseers repeatedly ordering work extensions.

The “pressure hull build up” --- in which pits on the hull surface are filled with metal --- doubled (See chart below). So did the “frame renewal”, or replacement of the metal framework that supports the hull. The grinding work expanded almost three-fold. The time-consuming and costly work of replacing entire hull plates went up 13-fold from what the Sindhughosh required in Russia. The conning tower, which was only repaired in earlier refits, had to be entirely rebuilt.

There are only two possible explanations: either INS Sindhukirti, which the navy operated exactly like its other Kilo-class submarines, inexplicably underwent exceptional wear and tear; or else Russian experts ordered needless work extensions, for their own reasons. Senior navy officials say the former is unlikely.

Contacted for comments, the defence section of the Russian Embassy in Delhi has not responded.

Furthermore, INS Sindhukirti’s refit involved extensive modernisation. Like the Sindhughosh and Sindhudvaj, its torpedo tubes were modified to fire Klub missiles against surface targets. Unlike them, it also got a new MCA inertial navigation suite, a Palady nerve system, and a Pirit ship control console. Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) installed indigenous Ushus sonar and upgraded communications. As the submarine was being reassembled, Russian overseers ordered a time-consuming replacement of all the main line cabling.

“When Russia overhauls a submarine, the work package is frozen at the time the contract is signed. But we had no experience of framing a contract. We allowed the Russians to indefinitely increase the work required, which kept expanding,” recounts Commodore Ashok Bhal (Retired), director of the Sindhukirti refit.

Russia has historically taken two and a half years or more to refit a Kilo-class submarine. The Sindhukirti will have taken three-and-a-half times longer, with its expanded work package and a series of major modifications and upgrades. Time has also been expended in developing worker skills. It is today the only Indian shipyard that has actually refitted a Kilo-class submarine.

Even so, the shipyard has been denied any role in overhauling six Indian Navy submarines, a Rs 4,800 crore project that the defence ministry cleared on Friday. Two of these will go to Russia, while four are overhauled in India --- two in Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL), and two at Naval Dockyard, Mumbai.

HSL has been left out even though the shipyard was transferred in 2010 from the ministry of shipping to the MoD, on the grounds that it would be central to the construction and overhaul of submarines.

Senior admirals lament such wastage of skills and experience. Former navy chief, Admiral Sureesh Mehta points to how MDL developed submarines skills while building two vessels under licence from HDW of Germany. After allegations of bribery surfaced, HDW was blacklisted and construction of submarines in MDL halted. With the gradual dissipation of worker skills, the Scorpene construction project required skills to be developed afresh.

“The skills we have developed cannot be allowed to waste away”, says Mishra, the HSL chief.


Sindhukirti’s expanding workline

Work description
Sindhughosh (Russia)
Sindhudhvaj (Vizag)
Sindhukirti (HSL)

Pressure hull build up (square metres)
Pressure hull frame renewal (metres)
Pressure hull grinding (square metres)
Outer hull lining (square metres)
Secondary structure renewal (tonnes)
Pressure hull plate renewal (metres)
Conning tower
Build up
Build up
Build up