Thursday, 20 September 2012

Roads to readiness: defending the China border

India's border roads programme is mired in bullshit!

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th Sept 12

Fifty years ago, on September 20, 1962, the first shots were fired at Thag La. Yesterday, the army chief, General Bikram Singh, vowed that there would never be a replay of 1962, when an ill-prepared Indian Army was militarily humiliated in a carefully choreographed offensive by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Those brave words need to be backed by preparation. In terms of military build-up along the McMahon Line, the Indian army, despite recent efforts, is far from matching its opponent.

China’s biggest advantage is that of the aggressor: since it can decide when to strike and where, it could quickly concentrate some 10-12 divisions, about 200,000 combat soldiers, on a narrow front defended by just a couple of Indian brigades, moving swiftly over a handsome new transport network. This includes the 1,956-km Qinghai-Tibet railway, inaugurated in 2006, which allows troops to be moved swiftly from China into Tibet, and another five rail lines being built from Lhasa to the border. These are backed up with superb four-lane highways. The Indian Army has as many men in the sector, but they are strung out along a frontline hundreds of kilometres long, with forward positions many days’ walk from the road heads. Even if India learns about an ongoing Chinese build-up, say from improved satellite surveillance or from its sources in Tibet, it would take so long – three weeks – to reposition its troops at the threatened point that the battle would be over by then.

India’s poor border infrastructure also limits the utility of the formations that New Delhi is raising — a mountain strike corps of 40,000 soldiers and an armoured brigade with about 200 tanks. Until India can build better roads and railways that would allow the army to reposition and concentrate more quickly, its generals have little choice but to continue deploying increasing numbers of troops in inhospitable, high-altitude, forward pickets, hoping that they can block a PLA offensive till reinforcements are moved up. This is hardly a happy situation.

The obvious solution is to quickly build better roads and railways that could allow the Indian army to match the PLA’s deployment timings (one week). Far-sighted policy planners, such as former foreign secretary Shyam Saran, pushed a range of schemes to build strategic roads in border areas through agencies like the Border Roads Organisation (BRO). Implementation, however, has been slow. Problems with land acquisition and clearances; the rugged terrain and harsh climate; and the need for more helicopters to move men and material are the government’s stated reasons for the slow progress. It is time the Centre and states co-ordinated their efforts to create a suitable road network. This is not just a military imperative, but it would also do much to bring economic development and jobs to the people of India’s far-flung border regions.

Indian Army will hold on to Siachen, says Gen Singh

No change to Siachen policy, says the army chief

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th Sep 12

Chief of the Army Staff, General Bikram Singh, today issued a reality check to those who argued that he would be more receptive than his predecessors to a settlement on Siachen with Pakistan. In New Delhi today, the army chief flatly declared that the Indian Army should continue to hold on to that strategically valuable area.

“The army’s view (that Siachen holds strategic value) has not changed at all. It is very important and we must continue to hold that area. That is what we have maintained always,” said General Bikram Singh.

Early this year, during the deeply divided last months of former army chief General VK Singh’s tenure, sections of the Indian media had reported that General Bikram Singh would support the prime minister’s wish for an early Siachen settlement. An English language daily had reported that Gen Bikram Singh would “lead the reversal of the Army's position in order to help Dr (Manmohan) Singh achieve his dream of leaving a ‘peace mark’ on Indo-Pak relations.”

But, today, Gen Bikram Singh stated: “We have lost a lot of lives in those areas (Siachen). A lot of blood has been shed to occupy those positions (on the Saltoro Ridge). Those positions are of strategic importance to us and we have given our concerns to the government. Now it is for the govt to decide.”

Since April, when an avalanche buried alive some 130 Pakistani soldiers in Gyari, in the Siachen sector, Islamabad has pleaded for an early demilitarisation of the entire Siachen sector. But New Delhi’s position remains consistent. Through 13 rounds of Siachen talks led by the two countries’ defence secretaries, India has demanded the authentication of ground positions and their delineation and demarcation, as a pre-condition for negotiating a mutual withdrawal. This would constitute documentary insurance against Pakistan sending up troops after a mutual withdrawal, to occupy the dominating heights on the Saltoro Ridge that are currently held by India.

Pakistan has resisted this sequencing, including at the recent 13th Defence Secretary dialogue in Islamabad. Islamabad has indicated its willing to authenticate ground positions, but not to include those in the main body of a Siachen Agreement.

The army chief made it clear that, while the final decision would be the government’s, the army would not be a silent party to an unfavourable settlement. “Negotiations are done at the government-to-government level…. We have given our concerns to the government,” he said.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Agni IV successfully launched. Here is the official DRDO press release...

DRDO developed, 4000 kms range Nuclear Capable Ballistic Missile AGNI-IV, was successfully flight tested from Wheeler’s Island around 1135hrs on 19 Sep 2012. This long range missile propelled by composite rocket motor technology, was tested for its full capability. The AGNI-IV missile launched from the road mobile launcher, reached the pre-defined target in about 20 minutes.  The missile equipped with state of the art Avionics, 5th generation On Board Computer and with distributed architecture has the latest features to correct and guide for inflight disturbances. The most accurate Ring Laser Gyro based Inertial Navigation System (RINS) and supported by highly reliable redundant Micro Navigation System (MINGS), ensured the vehicle reach the target within two digit accuracy. The re-entry heat shield withstood temperatures of more than 3000 degree centigrade and made sure the avionics function normally with inside temperature less than 50 degree centigrade.

All Electro-Optical Tracking systems (EOTS), Radars located all along the coast have tracked and monitored all the parameters throughout the flight.  Two ships located near the target point tracked the vehicle and witnessed the final event.

Dr. Vijay Kumar Saraswat, SA to RM, Secretary Dept of Defence R&D and DG DRDO, Shri Avinash Chander, Programme Director AGNI, DS & CC R&D (MSS) reviewed the total launch activities and guided the team.  Smt Tessy Thomas, Project Director AGNI-IV led the team of scientists during the operation.
Dr S.K. Chaudhuri, Director RCI, Shri A.K. Chakrabarti, Director DRDL, Dr V.G. Sekaran, Director ASL, Shri MVKV Prasad, Director ITR witnessed the launch.

Defence Minister Shri AK Antony congratulated all scientists of DRDO for the successful flight test of AGNI-IV.     

The LAC is not the LoC

The LAC, while unquestionably disputed is far more stable and cooperative than the LoC 

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Sept 12

Is the growing militarization of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the border between China and India, an invitation to open confrontation between the Asian giants? Could the Sino-Indian border become like the Indo-Pakistan border, a flashpoint where daily jostling between bitter enemies carries the danger of armed clashes, even outright war?

This is an important question. India is adding four new divisions, with some 80,000 soldiers, to reinforce the seven divisions that already defend the north-eastern states of Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. Simultaneously, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has beefed up the Tezpur and Chhabua air bases with capable Sukhoi-30MKI fighters. The IAF is upgrading five more air bases and a string of advanced landing grounds (called ALGs) that will allow big helicopters, light fixed wing aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or drones) to operate along the border. Six squadrons of the indigenous Akash anti-aircraft missile system will soon guard India’s vulnerable air space along the Eastern Himalayas. Ground troops remain short of artillery fire support but batteries of the indigenous Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launcher have been sent to the northeast. And now comes the news (reported in this newspaper yesterday) that two armoured brigades, with more than 500 T-90 tanks and BMP-IIs will be deployed to the LAC for the first time. One of these will be stationed in Ladakh, while the other will operate in the north-east.

India’s boundaries, it would appear, is drawn in abbreviations. The LAC is the 3,488-kilometre long, de facto border with China. The LoC, or Line of Control, is the unsettled, 776-kilometre de facto border with Pakistan (distinct from the settled 2,308-kilometre border from Gujarat to Jammu). Then there is the AGPL, or Actual Ground Position Line, which is the 110-kilometre long de facto border between India and Pakistan in the Siachen sector. The LAC has three sectors: the “western sector” between Ladakh and the Aksai Chin; the “central sector” between Uttarakhand and Tibet; and the “eastern sector” that divides Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh from Tibet.

Regardless of the force levels that India deploys, the LAC will never become an unstable border like the LoC. The simple reason: China is very unlike Pakistan. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), for all its ideological rhetoric, has inherited and absorbed the millennia-old Beijing tradition of handling power and inter-state relationships. In contrast, Islamabad and its alter ego, Rawalpindi, are self-perceived underdogs, beset by a sense of siege.

It is notable that the LAC has not seen a single casualty due to enemy action, since China and India stabilized their borders with two ground-breaking treaties: the 1993 “Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control”, and the 1996 “Agreement on Confidence-Building Measures in the Military Field along the Line of Actual Control.” Chinese and Indian patrols routinely travel to their respective claim lines, log pro forma complaints accusing each other of border violations, and life goes on quite peacefully.

This is not to suggest there is complacence on the LAC. Besides regular patrolling, both sides dutifully monitor each other’s force levels, capabilities, exercises, training and morale. But that is very different from the Indo-Pak LoC where, despite a cease-fire agreement in 2003, soldiers continue to die in cross-border firing and militants continue to infiltrate into Jammu & Kashmir, supported by the Pakistan Army. In 1972, senior Indian and Pakistani commanders exchanged maps jointly marked with the exact alignment of the LoC. But the Pakistan Army thought nothing of violating the LoC with the Kargil intrusions of 1999. China is a study in contrast: while resolutely stonewalling the exchange of signed maps (and, therefore, leaving the door open for expanding its holdings) the PLA has never militarily violated the status quo.

This is not to suggest that the CCP is an honourable organisation, or that China’s leaders are men of their word. The CCP has consistently proved itself to be a brutal, heartless tyrant, whose leaders, especially Mao Ze-dong, presided over the deaths of tens of millions of Chinese citizens, some forty million in the self-created famine of 1958-62 alone. Repression continues unabated in Tibet and Xinjiang, even today. But the Party and its leaders have always demonstrated an exceptional understanding of the dynamics of power. They calculate coldly and reach rational decisions that minimise risk, unlike the bullying bluster of Pakistan’s mainly Punjabi generals and leaders.

Because of these differences, Beijing is unlikely to over-react to India’s enhanced force levels. Given China’s massive military deployment in Tibet and Xinjiang, and its expanding road and rail infrastructure that already allows it to concentrate 7-9 divisions within a fortnight for an offensive against a chosen point in India’s defences, the Indian army’s four divisions and two armoured brigades are mere pinpricks to the balance of power. What will certainly change is the impression of Indian military weakness. And, given that weakness breeds instability by inviting a strike from a militarily superior enemy, India’s build up would go a long way towards stabilizing the “eastern sector”. Were India not so poorly prepared in 1962, China might not have waged war so confidently.

Finally, unlike with Pakistan, there are engagement mechanisms with China that stabilize the relationship. The two navies cooperate daily in anti-piracy patrolling off the Gulf of Aden. There is a military-to-military dialogue that, notwithstanding recent hiccups, organises joint training, exchanges and visits. New Delhi and Beijing increasingly collaborate in international negotiations, most recently taking closely aligned positions in the climate change negotiations. Trade relations are growing exponentially. Most importantly, India and China simply do not share the same levels of animosity as India and Pakistan.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

“Gorshkov curse” continues; Russian aircraft carrier fails trials

Navy technicians had earlier raised questions over Gorshkov's high pressure boilers. Those anxieties have now been validated

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Sept 12

The Indian Navy’s plan to always have two functional aircraft carriers has just received a second body blow. Already hit by a two-year delay in the indigenous aircraft carrier being built by Cochin Shipyard, now the Russian media has reported that the INS Vikramaditya (formerly the Admiral Gorshkov) has spectacularly failed its ongoing user trials in the Barents Sea.

According to the widely read Russian language daily, Kommersant, seven of the Vikramaditya’s eight boilers broke down, with their firebrick insulation failing due to the high temperatures generated. The press reports stated that the ship would have to be cut open to replace the boilers, a lengthy exercise that can start only next spring.

Consequently the Vikramaditya, which was to originally be delivered to India in 2008, will come only in October 2013 “at the earliest”, says Izvestia daily.

Earlier, Russia had raised the cost of the Vikramaditya three-fold. Along with that, the latest delay makes the aircraft carrier a totem of Russian unreliability as a weapons supplier. From the originally contracted $947 million in the 2004 contract with India, Russia has raised the price to $2.3 billion. Now Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation will decide whether the latest debacle will lead to another price hike.

The Indian Navy faces major delays also with the INS Vikrant, which was to enter service in 2015, but which Cochin Shipyard will now deliver only in 2017. Former navy chief, Admiral Nirmal Verma, a press conference in New Delhi on Aug 7th , ascribed the delay to problems with the vessel’s engines and gears, and to an accident in which trucks that were transporting the ships generators from Pune to Kochi overturned en route, damaging the equipment.

The official establishment is remaining silent in the face of this embarrassment. The Russian Embassy in New Delhi told Business Standard said that they had no information beyond what was in the newspapers.

The Indian Navy PRO stated that there was no information yet from the Russian government about the nature and extent of the problem.

However, first reports might have exaggerated the failure on the Vikramditya. Driblets of information are coming in now from some 500 Indian sailors that are on the Gorshkov, observing the trials being conducted by the Russian Navy and by technicians from Sevmash, the shipyard that built the Gorshkov. This information suggests that the Vikramaditya is still moving under its own power, and that the problem with the boilers exists only at high power.

Sources in naval headquarters in New Delhi say that the Vikramaditya is continuing with its aviation trials, in which MiG-29K fighters are still flying from the carrier, testing aviation related systems.

High placed navy sources say they are unsurprised by the failure of the Vikramditya’s boilers. Russia put up the Gorshkov for sale in 1994 after a boiler room explosion incapacitated the vessel. Finding no buyers, Russia offered to give it “free” to the Indian Navy, provided New Delhi paid for its renovation and also bought 16 MiG-29 fighters for $1 billion.

Reporting on the deal in 2004, NDTV, an Indian television news channel, called it “the most expensive freebie in history.”

Navy technicians say that, while evaluating the Gorshkov, they expressed their reservations over its unusual boilers, which generate much higher pressures than conventional warship boilers. Those reservations were dropped after assurances from the Russians.

This ripples from this incident will be felt during next month’s visit of Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to New Delhi. In April, while inducting the Russian-built nuclear-powered submarine INS Chakra, into the Indian Navy, Defence Minister AK Antony had taken a crack at Russian ambassador to India, Alexander Kadakin, who was also present.

“I will remind the Honourable Russian ambassador about his promise to deliver the INS Vikramaditya this year,” said Antony. The navy’s wait seems likely to continue.

Monday, 17 September 2012

In a first, India tank brigades to defend China border

Border areas like this one, the North Sikkim plateau, will now be guarded by Indian tank formations

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 17th Sept 12

The army’s defences on the China border will get a major offensive boost with the impending deployment of two tank brigades, one each in Ladakh and north-east India. This is the first time that Indian will deploy armoured formations on the China border. Such formations, equipped with main battle tanks and BMP-II infantry combat vehicles, are traditionally used for striking into enemy territory.

Authoritative MoD sources tell Business Standard that the plan, which has been cleared by the MoD, involves raising six new armoured regiments, equipped with 348 tanks (58 tanks per regiment, including reserves). In addition, three mechanized infantry battalions will be raised, amounting to about 180 BMP-IIs.

The decision to deploy tanks to beef up India’s light, mountain infantry divisions was taken due to doctrinal changes in China’s People’s Liberation Army. The PLA has deployed armoured and motorised formations in both their military regions across the Line of Actual Control (LAC), as the de facto Sino-Indian border is called. According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), Lanzhou Military Region, which faces Ladakh, has 220,000 PLA troops, including an armoured division and two motorised infantry divisions (a division has three brigades). The Chengdu Military Region, opposite India’s north-eastern states, has some 180,000 PLA troops, including two armoured brigades and four motorised infantry divisions.

Now the Ladakh-based 14 Corps will be allocated an armoured brigade to cover the flat approaches from Tibet towards India’s crucial defences at Chushul. In the Sino-Indian war of 1962, six vintage AMX-13 tanks that the Indian Army had airlifted to Chushul inflicted serious losses and delay on the advancing Chinese.

The second armoured brigade will be located in the Siliguri corridor in Bengal, covering the approaches from Sikkim to the plains. One regiment will be located on the flat, 17,000-feet-high North Sikkim plateau, on which border areas are hotly disputed between China and India.

According to MoD sources, the army has demanded the purchase of additional T-90 tanks for these six armoured regiments. India has already bought 657 T-90S tanks from Russia and obtained a licence to build another 1000. Now, in addition to these purchases, the army wants the latest version of this tank, called the T-90MS.

Contacted for comments, the army has not responded.

As first reported in Business Standard, India is also raising a mountain strike corps in the northeast, consisting of two mountain divisions with about 40,000 soldiers. The addition of an armoured brigade would add real teeth to the strike corps.

The army demanded such a capability because China’s infrastructure build-up in Tibet allows it to rapidly concentrate forces in a sector, overwhelming the Indian defenders there. If China manages to capture a chunk of territory, India will no longer be forced into bloody, Kargil-style, counter-attacks to recapture it. Instead, an Indian strike corps could launch an offensive in an area of its choosing, capturing Chinese territory.

The north-east has already seen a vastly strengthened Indian Air Force. Sukhoi-30MKI fighters are already flying from new IAF air bases in Tezpur and Chhabua, with additional air bases coming up in Jorhat, Guwahati, Mohanbari, Bagdogra and Hashimara. Six squadrons of the indigenous anti-aircraft Akash missile will soon defend north-eastern airspace. And the IAF is modernising eight Advanced Landing Grounds (ALGs), which would support offensive operations in the sector.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Antony cements Maldives relationship: MoD press release

New Delhi: Sunday, September 16, 2012
India and Maldives today agreed on a slew of measures to step up their cooperation in defence and security related issues. The two sides also agreed to work closely towards stability in the region and ensure maritime security in the Indian Ocean. At a high level meeting between the Defence Minister Mr AK Antony and his Maldivian counterpart, Col (Retd) Mohamed Nazim in Male’, the two sides decided to ‘maintain close cooperation in unitedly fighting against challenges of terrorists and non- state actors.

“The Maldives will stand side - by- side with India to ensure that maritime security of Indian Ocean is ensured; that the stability in the region is maintained; and above all, that the threats that our two countries face, particularly from terrorist groups and other non-state actors are eliminated”, said Mohamed Nazim. He also said the change of governments will not affect the traditional friendship between the two countries. “Governments will change both in the Maldives and India. Yet, the enduring friendship that exists between the two countries will only improve and expand.”

Shri Antony is accompanied by a high level delegation, comprising the Defence Secretary Shri Shashi Kant Sharma, Flag Officer Commanding in Chief Western Naval Cammand Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha , Director General Military Training Lt Gen SP Tanwar and DG AFMS Air Marshal DP Joshi.

Mr Antony conveyed the government’s decision to position the ALH Dhruv helicopter, handed over by India in  2010, for a further period of two years beyond April 2012. He also informed that the helicopter had been upgraded with night flying capabilities during the recent overhaul at HAL Bangalore. It may be recalled that the handing over of the helicopter to the Maldives in April 2010, was a major milestone in the defence cooperation between the two countries. Mr Antony said that a team of Qualified Flying Instructors will now  be deputed to train Maldivian Air Wing personnel. In addition, India will also provide simulator training to Maldivian helicopter pilots at HAL, Bangalore. To a request from Mr Nazim for an additional ALH for deployment in the Northern Province for Medical evacuation purposes, Mr Antony assured him that he would try to fulfill this request at the earliest.

Marking a new high in the defence cooperation between the two countries, New Delhi has decided to station a Defence Attache at Male’. The gesture was appreciated by Mr Nazim who said that the move will help in enhancing and streamlining the dialogue process. Mr Antony also conveyed India’s support for the construction of the Maldivian National Defence Force Building.

The two sides appreciated the current efforts of the Indian Navy ships and aircraft in providing surveillance of the EEZ, on a monthly basis, in view of the incidents of piracy occurring close to Maldives and Lakshadweep and Minicoy islands. Apart from the mutually agreed schedule, India is also providing EEZ surveillance assistance on  specific requests from the Maldives national Defence Force (MNDF) in case of special incidents like piracy attacks, threat to coastal security etc. Mr Antony assured his Maldivian counterpart of India’s continued support for these operations.

Moreover, on a request from the Male’, India has decided to position an Indian Navy Afloat Support Team at Maldives for a period of one year to help in smooth functioning and operations of the latter’s fleet and help in training their personnel for future maintenance operations.

Mr Antony said the joint exercises between our Armed Forces are also contributing to better understanding and cooperation. He said, the next Joint Army Exercise, Ekuverin, is planned for November 2012.

Referring to the maintenance of peace and security in the Indian Ocean Region, Mr Antony said the maritime forces of both countries should work together not only for the sake of safety for maritime trade but also to prevent disruptive forces from engaging in activities which may threaten peace in our countries.

Military Hospital Opened

Earlier in the morning Mr Antony and  Mr Nazim inaugurated a military hospital ‘Senahiya’ in Male. Describing it as a ‘shining model of how two friendly neighbouring countries can collaborate and cooperate to create facilities aimed at benefitting their people, Mr Antony said it’s another milestone symbolizing the bonds of the close friendship between both our nations and in particular, between the Armed Forces of both countries.

He said a team of two medical officers and four para medical staff from the Indian Armed Forces Medical Services will be stationed at the hospital to work with the Maldivian authorities in setting up the services. He assured of India’s continuing support and partnership in this project.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Broadsword quiz: what is that?

Here's something to occupy yourselves with this weekend! What is this structure? Where is it? What does it do?

I never said this would be easy!

Best answer wins. If the factual route doesn't work, you're welcome to try the wisecrack route... but the track record of wisecrackers has not been good on Broadsword quizes!!

Friday, 7 September 2012

DRDO: Intercontinental ballistic missiles well within reach

An Agni missile being assembled at the Advanced Systems Laboratory, Hyderabad (Photo copyright: Ajai Shukla)

by Ajai Shukla
Missile Complex, Hyderabad

Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL) is the deceptively bland name that obscures from public view the Defence R&D Organisation’s (DRDO’s) most glamorous laboratory. At the DRDO missile complex here in Hyderabad, ASL develops the ballistic missiles that, in the ultimate nuclear nightmare, will carry Indian nuclear weapons to targets thousands of kilometres away. Foreign collaboration is seeping into many areas of R&D, but ASL’s technological domain --- the realm of strategic ballistic missiles --- is something that no country parts with, for love or for money. No foreigner would ever set foot in ASL.

But Business Standard has been allowed an exclusive visit. The erudite, soft-spoken director of ASL, Dr VG Sekharan, describes the technologies that were developed for the DRDO’s new, 5,000-kilometre range Agni-5 missile, which was tested flawlessly in April. He reveals that nothing except restraint stood between India and an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could strike a target anywhere on the globe.

ICBMs have ranges above 5,500 kilometres, a threshold that the Agni-5 already sits on. For India, a more strategically relevant range would be about 7,500 kilometres, which would cover the world except for the Americas.

“Going up from 5,000 kilometres to, let us say, 7,500 kilometres requires only incremental changes, which we have already assessed. We would need a more powerful booster, which we could make ourselves at ASL; and we would need to strengthen some of the systems, such as heat shielding, that are already flying on the Agni-5,” says Sekharan.

For now, however, ASL is not developing an ICBM. Instead, its focus is on “operationalising” the Agni-5, which involves putting it into a canister and conducting 3-4 test-launches from the canister. When the Agni-5 enters service with the Strategic Forces Command (SFC), which operates India’s nuclear deterrent, it will be delivered in hermetically sealed canisters that safeguard the road-mobile missiles for over a decade, while they are transported and handled.

Launching a ballistic missile from a canister is a technological feat that ASL has perfected with smaller missiles, and will now modify for the bigger Agni-5. Since the missile’s giant rocket motors cannot be fired while it is inside the canister, a gas-generation unit at the bottom of the canister, below the missile, generates a massive boost of gas that ejects the missile from the canister.

“The gas pushes the Agni-5 out, like a bullet from the barrel of a gun. In less than half a second, the 50-tonne missile clears the canister by 15 metres, and that is when the rocket motor can safely ignite. In 30 seconds, the Agni-5 breaks the sound barrier and, in 90 seconds, it has left the atmosphere,” explains Sekharan.

The DRDO has promised the armed forces that the Agni-5 will be test-fired from a canister in early 2013. ASL is on track to achieve that target, says Sekharan. Within a couple of months, a “pop-up test” will be conducted with a canister, in which the gas generator ejects a dummy missile. Meanwhile, the actual missile is being integrated with the canister.

The Agni-5 project funding has already been cleared by the Political Council of the union cabinet, a fast-track procedure for strategic projects that eliminates cumbersome MoD sanctions. This allows ASL to place orders for the materials and sub-systems that will go into the first few Agni-5 missiles, taking care of production lead times. ASL scientists recount that “maraging steel” for the canister takes two years to be delivered by specialist defence PSU, Midhani. The rocket motor casings take another one year.

On the question that exercises strategic analysts the world over --- is ASL developing “multi independently-targetable re-entry vehicles”, or MIRVs --- Sekharan remains ambiguous: “I can say that we are working on MIRV technologies. The key challenge --- the “post-boost vehicle”, which carries the multiple warheads --- is not a technology challenge, merely an engineering one. DRDO will acquire and demonstrate the capability for MIRVs by 2014-15. But the decision to deploy MIRVs would be a political one.”

MIRVs are multiple warheads, up to ten, which would be fitted atop a single Agni-5. These would be a mix of nuclear bombs and dummy warheads to confuse enemy air defences. Each warhead can be programmed to hit a different target; or multiple warheads can be directed at a single target, but with different trajectories.

Interestingly, Sekharan reveals that the DRDO does not need sanction to begin work on such technologies. “The decision-making works like this: we demonstrate the technology and the capability. Then the government decides, keeping in mind the big picture.”

“In the Agni-5, the government didn’t say, ‘we have a threat perception… I need a long-range missile.’ It was the DRDO that said that we now have the capability to enhance the Agni-3 to 5,000 kilometres, and so the government sanctioned the project.”

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

DRDO takes up Defence Ministry's role for next-gen missiles

A line drawing of the proposed LR-SAM (courtesy LiveFist blog)

By Ajai Shukla
Missile Complex, Hyderabad

When the Akash surface-to-air missile (SAM) enters service with the Indian Air Force (IAF) this month, it will have taken 30 years for the missile to have been developed and built. Shaken by this delay the navy and the IAF have sponsored a new development model for their next-generation missiles, which will see the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) moving away from indigenous technology development, and operating instead as a project manager. Effectively, the DRDO has been handed the coordination role that was traditionally played by the defence ministry (MoD)

Senior DRDO managers who briefed Business Standard during an exclusive visit to its missile laboratories in Hyderabad said that that DRDO has been handed control of the budget for the IAF’s futuristic Medium Range Surface to Air Missile (MR-SAM); and the navy’s advanced Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LR-SAM). This amounts to Rs 10,075 crore for the MR-SAM, and Rs 2,606 crore for the LR-SAM.

From this budget, DRDO has signed technology development contracts with Israeli companies, especially Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), for many of the new systems that will power these SAMs. The DRDO, too, will develop certain sub-systems, but its key responsibilities are: technology coordination; involving manufacturing partners from Indian industry so that manufacture can begin without delay; putting in place key infrastructure; and working out the users’ requirements of spares and logistics systems so that manufacturing orders can be place holistically.

The DRDO has often complained that excellent systems built by it have been devalued by poor production, notably the Arjun tank, which is built by the Ordnance Factory Board at Avadi, Chennai.

“For the first time in a major programme, the DRDO will be involved in production of newly-developed systems. We will factor in the production phase right from the beginning, looking at the facilities required on the IAF bases where the missiles will be deployed, the maintenance requirement, the spares management, etc. We will calculate the entire life-time requirement right from the beginning, so that we can take consolidated figures to the sub-contractors, who can then gear up for the production,” says Subir Kumar Chaudhary, who is managing the MR-SAM programme.

This model was proposed by the military, especially the navy, which wants the LR-SAM for its four new Kolkata-class destroyers, seven proposed Project 17A frigates, and the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC), which is being built in Cochin Shipyard. Many current warships are protected by the Israeli Barak missile, which has a range of just 10-15 kilometres and can shoot down only the current generation of anti-ship missiles, like the Harpoon and the Exocet. The LR-SAM has a range of 70 kilometres, according to scientists from the Defence R&D Laboratory (DRDL), who are developing the missile, and will be manoeuvrable enough to shoot down the next generation of anti-ship missiles.

Senior naval officers told Business Standard anonymously that, rather than risk lengthy developmental delays by going it alone, as the DRDO did in the Akash project, it was prudent to back a joint developmental project with Israel, cutting down developmental risk. Such a joint model was not possible when the Akash was being developed, because of tight international sanctions.

Like the navy with the LR-SAM project, the IAF backed the MR-SAM project with funding. “The IAF has funded 90 per cent of the project, while 10 per cent is funded by the DRDO for the development phase of the MR-SAM,” says Chaudhary.

Ironically, joint development with Israeli companies has not eliminated delay. The LR-SAM, which began development in Jan 2006, was to be delivered to the navy in Oct 2012. But the first LR-SAMs will not be delivered before early 2014. Meanwhile, three Kolkata-class warships that were to be fitted with them are held up, incomplete in Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL). The shipyard is hoping for launchers (without missiles) to be delivered soon, so that construction can continue. The missiles could be delivered subsequently, even after the Kolkata-class destroyers enter service with the navy.

The IAF is funding a far more expansive contract for the MR-SAM. Signed in March 2009, the contract is for 18 fire units (each equipped with 24 missiles) that must be delivered by October 2016. Each fire unit comes with a radar, three missile launchers, and a sophisticated Combat Management System. Since a missile has a limited shelf life, additional orders for missiles will continue to be placed as they are consumed.

The MR-SAM uses the same missile as the LR-SAM, with a range of 70 kilometres, to protect its air bases. The ground infrastructure, however, is far more complex. The Akash missile, which is currently entering service to protect IAF bases, has a range of 25-30 kilometres.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Military to buy DRDO missiles worth Rs 1,00,000 cr over next 10 yrs

The Akash missile being launched at firing trials in May-June 12

(Part 1 of a series in Business Standard on India's missile progme)

by Ajai Shukla
Missile Complex, Hyderabad
Business Standard, 4th Sept 12

At the tightly guarded “Missile Complex” outside Hyderabad, three Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) laboratories will, for the first time, provide the military with a range of indigenous tactical missiles. With India’s air defence network in tatters and its warships desperately needing protection from incoming anti-ship missiles, the defence ministry blocked foreign purchases to give the DRDO time to develop indigenous missiles. Now, over the coming decade, the military is poised to buy about Rs 1,00,000 crore worth of DRDO-developed missiles. Top DRDO scientists say indigenous missiles would cost barely half as much as a foreign alternative.

The director of the pivotal Defence R&D Laboratory (DRDL), AK Chakrabarti, confirmed to Business Standard during an exclusive visit to the Missile Complex that the Indian Air Force (IAF) and army had already placed orders worth Rs 24,000 crore for Akash surface-to-air missiles. He said the navy had ordered Long Range-Surface to Air Missiles (LR-SAMs) worth more than Rs 2,600 crore for the navy’s destroyers and frigates that were under construction. And Subir Kumar Chaudhary, the director of DRDL’s sister laboratory, Research Centre Imarat (RCI), revealed that the air force had ordered Rs 8,600 crore worth of Medium Range-Surface to Air Missiles (MR-SAMs).

Dr VG Sekharan, director of the Advance Systems Laboratory (ASL), which developed the Prithvi and Agni ballistic missiles, declined to quantify the values or numbers of ballistic missiles ordered by the Strategic Forces Command, which operates India’s nuclear deterrent. Informed MoD sources estimate that more than Rs 10,000 crore worth of missile systems have been delivered, or are on order for, the five missile groups already in service: two holding Prithvi missiles; a third holding Agni-I missiles; a fourth holding Agni-II missiles; and a fifth now being raised with Agni-III missiles.

In addition, a DRDO joint venture with Russia is producing and delivering Brahmos supersonic cruise missiles for the army and navy. Besides this, DRDL scientists claim they are close to success on the Nag anti-tank guided missile (ATGM); and some way from success on the air-to-air missile, Astra. The Nag and Astra could yield large orders when they meet user requirements in testing.

The DRDO has a monopoly on strategic ballistic missiles like the Prithvi and Agni series, since the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) prohibits signatories from exporting missiles with ranges above 300 kilometres. Now there is relief within the DRDO that the military is ordering even tactical missile systems like the Akash, which face international competition.

“The strategic missile programme has no competitors. But the tactical missile programmes are always under threat from foreign alternatives. If you don’t deliver (the missile systems) in time, or with the required quality, the users will buy from abroad,” says Chaudhary, the RCI director.

Leading the charge of successful tactical missiles is the Akash, which the army and air force steadfastly rejected for two decades, leaving army strike corps and IAF bases woefully unprotected as their vintage Russian missile systems became obsolescent, and then obsolete. But the MoD repeatedly turned down army and IAF demands to import foreign missile systems, backing the indigenous Akash. In 2008-09 the air force reluctantly ordered two squadrons of Akash for protecting the key air bases of Pune and Gwalior. Being assembled by Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) in Bangalore, the first of these will enter service this month, followed by the second in June 2013.

After that initial order, the IAF lost no time in embracing the Akash. In 2010, it ordered another six squadrons of the Akash, for protecting its bases in the north-east, on the Sino-Indian border. In March 2011 the army placed a whopping order for two Akash regiments. Bharat Dynamics Ltd (BDL) will build the army version, mounted on the infamous Kolos Tatra. Trials of the first Tatra-mounted Akash system are scheduled for June 2013.

The DRDO says it conducts regular test firing, along with the military. “The IAF was pleased with its Akash firing tests, most recently in May-June 2012, when it fired five missiles at difficult incoming targets, which were flying just 30 metres high at almost the speed of sound. Four out of those five missiles destroyed their targets,” says Chakrabarti.

The Akash system’s Rohini radar picks up enemy fighters out to 120 kilometres, shooting them down at ranges of 25-30 kilometres, and altitudes of up to 18,000 metres (60,000 feet). Ongoing R&D has also given the Akash “low-altitude interception” capability, enabling it to shoot down aircraft that are just three kilometres away.

Hekmatyar’s windfall

Hizb-e-Islami leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is emerging as a new power broker in Afghanistan and a counter to the Taliban

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 4th Sept 12

The international media is glossing over a potentially far-reaching development in Afghanistan. There have been a handful of sketchy reports about “armed, popular local uprisings” that have “expelled the Taliban” from several districts in eastern Afghanistan, but there has been little follow-up investigation or writing about these militias. Nobody has asked the difficult questions: how have these militias managed to bloodlessly evict the Taliban, an organisation that holds its own even against US forces? Where have these mysterious militias obtained the rifles, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and even radio sets that they reportedly carry? Village militias, as one Afghanistan watcher who lives in that country pointed out to me, communicate over cell phones, not radios.

Old timers in Afghanistan, including one Parliament member, point out the striking similarities between the current reports about “popular uprisings” and the glowing reports in 1994 that accompanied the emergence of the Taliban. The media of that time had painted the Taliban as a vehicle of popular resistance to a corrupt and brutal established order that set up random checkpoints to extort money; rape womenfolk; and abduct young boys for “bacha baazi”, the chilling Afghan phrase for the systemic sexual exploitation of young boys. Given the similar tone of the current reports (except that the Taliban is now in the role of brutal status quo), it is important to ask: what is this new militia? Is another Frankenstein’s monster being spawned?

Many people with their ears close to the ground in Afghanistan are certain that the US is creating and financing these “popular uprisings”. According to these observers, the US establishment has realised – especially after the wave of “green-on-blue” fratricidal killings, in which 40 Nato soldiers have been shot this year by their Afghan counterparts – that the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) remains untrained, unmotivated and infiltrated by the Taliban; it cannot establish security all across Afghanistan. And so the CIA and the US military command in Afghanistan, with the blessings of President Hamid Karzai, have embraced a simple logic: create more power centres that can be controlled; that will leave less space for the recalcitrant Taliban.

The US-backed “popular militia” behind the anti-Taliban uprisings appears to be structured around the Hezb-e-Islami, the mujahideen faction led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a Pashtun warlord who was, for many years, Pakistan’s poodle in Afghanistan. Over this last year, Mr Hekmatyar reportedly made several trips to Kabul to negotiate with Mr Karzai. Now he has hitched his wagon to the US and to Mr Karzai, in contrast to the two Taliban factions – Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shoora, and the Haqqani network – which have scornfully rejected talks. Mr Hekmatyar’s party, the Hezb-e-Islami, has the advantage of an overground presence as well. It contested the last elections and has a significant presence in Parliament and in Mr Karzai’s Cabinet. Mr Hekmatyar denies any links with the overground Hezb-e-Islami, but most insiders take that with a pinch of salt.

The National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s premier intelligence agency that co-operates closely with the CIA (and, incidentally, with Indian intelligence as well), now controls Mr Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami, say many informed Afghans. Making the linkages clearer, Assadullah Khalid, the NDS chief, has claimed credit for five of the recent “popular uprisings” in which local people drove out the Taliban. It seems evident that the Hezb-e-Islami has struck a bargain with the NDS, gaining the space and CIA-Pentagon resources to establish control over Mr Hekmatyar’s traditional domain: the eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Ghazni, Nooristan, Laghman, Badghis and Logar. While Mr Hekmatyar is nobody’s favourite friend, handing him the areas around Kabul would create a buffer against the Taliban, preventing that group from becoming strong enough to sweep into the capital like it did in 1996.

This project to weaken the Taliban is also evident in the emergence of a new militia, the Arbakai, that is challenging the Taliban around Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan. It is hardly a coincidence that this is Mr Hekmatyar’s home province. The Arbakai, most locals around Kunduz agree, obtains arms and funding from the US forces.

If fragmenting control of Afghanistan is the new US game plan, what could the post-2014 landscape look like in that country? Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shoora cannot be blocked from establishing control over southern Afghanistan: the provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul, Farah, Nimroz and Uruzgan. Meanwhile, the Afghan grapevine is abuzz with the news that Mr Karzai has struck a deal with the Haqqani network, ceded the three eastern border provinces of Khost, Paktia and Paktika, in exchange for a Haqqani undertaking to co-exist with Kabul (The genesis of this deal, masterminded by the Pakistan Army, was described in Broadsword, August 21, 2012, “General Kayani’s dilemma”).

Simultaneously, a pro-Karzai, pro-US, Mr Hekmatyar-controlled militia would establish control over the eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Logar, Ghazni, Wardak, Parwan, Kapisa, Laghman and Kunar; and selected areas in the north around Kunduz. The rest of Afghanistan would be controlled by former Northern Alliance leaders, acting in concert or individually. At the centre of this web would be Hamid Karzai, in Kabul, balancing power and playing one off against the other.

For all those (like this columnist) who have argued for recreating in Afghanistan its historically federalised structure, such an arrangement would seem more workable than the western daydream of a highly centralised liberal democracy, held together by a national army. But this delicately balanced house of cards would have many jokers — none more dangerous then Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. In recent Afghan history nobody, with the possible exception of Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, has stabbed more contemporaries in the back. Indian analysts reflexively regard any development that hurts the Taliban as a positive one. Mr Hekmatyar could be the exception.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Satellite navigation breakthrough for aircraft and weapons

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 2nd Sept 12

A crucial breakthrough by a small high-technology company drew a personal salute from the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) chief, Dr VK Saraswat, in Bangalore today. The SME, Accord Software & Systems, handed over to the DRDO chief a high tech satellite navigation system --- a tiny box, two inches across and a quarter inch high --- that will go into aircraft and tanks, telling them exactly where they are, accurate to 3 metres.

Satellite navigation has been around since the 1990s. The US Pentagon’s Global Positioning System (GPS) is a constellation of some 30 satellites, which tell users their location, altitude and time. The GPS has a commercial signal that is accurate to about 30 metres, which is available to anyone with a GPS receiver. It also has a military signal, accessible only through a secure “precision code,” that is accurate to just one metre. That signal navigates high-precision US weaponry, like the Tomahawk cruise missile, which finds its way across hundreds of kilometers to a particular room in a specified house, flying in through a designated window.

Since the closely guarded GPS “precision code” is available only to the US military, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has found a way to improve the commercial signal. Called GAGAN, the acronym for “GPS And Geo-Augmented Navigation”, this uses ISRO satellites to augment the GPS commercial signal, allowing users to determine their position with an accuracy of 3 metres.

Now Accord Software has packed the power of GAGAN into the pint-sized chip that it handed over to the DRDO today. This will power into the navigation systems of indigenous military systems --- including tanks, infantry combat vehicles, aircraft, helicopters, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) --- that India is developing.

The G3OM, as Accord Software calls its tiny 17-gram module, also harnesses the power of GLONASS, a Russian version of the GPS. The G3OM picks up signals from GPS, GLONASS and GAGAN satellites, integrating all three into an accurate readout. It is built with two antennae so that even when a tank or a UAV is moving, at least one antenna is receiving satellite signals, allowing unbroken navigation signals.

“The G3OM module that Accord developed meets all the specifications that we laid out. It is small, light, rugged enough for military use, and consumes barely any power. Accord has made it to DRDO requirements, but the core technologies are Accord’s,” says Satheesh Reddy, the DRDO scientist who heads its navigation division.

Reddy is confident the G3OM will also be snapped up by ISRO, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), the three services, and will break into selected export markets. He believes private sector companies that are developing systems like the Future Infantry Combat Vehicle, will find the G3OM crucial while developing its land navigation system.

When GAGAN becomes fully operational next year, it will be a boon for civilian airliners over the Indian landmass. Other Space Based Augmentation Systems (SBAS) like GAGAN are functional elsewhere. Over the United States, commercial airliners navigate with the help of a Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), developed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which provides an accuracy of 3 metres. Similar augmentation systems are operational over Europe and Japan. When GAGAN is fully operational it will provide an equivalent system over India.

India has been involved in extended negotiations with Russia for obtaining the “precision code” for its GLONASS system, an alternative to GPS. This would provide Indian weapon systems with the navigational accuracy that US and Russian systems enjoy. But the Russian system has been mired in delay. Russia’s economic crisis in the 1990s prevented that country from launching enough satellites needed for the GLONASS constellation. Only last year, after Prime Minister Putin’s personal push, was the full constellation established.

But Russia remains unwilling to provide India with the “precision code”, although the two countries have signed joint statements about working together on GLONASS. MoD sources tell Business Standard that the matter remains “under discussion”.