Tuesday, 30 September 2014

India’s navy: strong on aircraft carriers, short of submarines. A two-part analysis of naval strategy


Fleet support ship, INS Jyoti (centre) replenishes two warships in the Tropex exercise earlier this year

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 30th Sept 14

Over the last six weeks, the Indian Navy commissioned three frontline warships, boosting its fleet to 140 vessels. Another 41 warships are being built in the country, including the 40,000-tonne aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant. All these will join a “blue water” navy that will radiate influence across the Indian Ocean.

This navy’s strike power will centre on at least two carrier battle groups (CBGs), self-sufficient flotillas built around a floating air base --- the aircraft carrier. Each carrier will be escorted by multi-role corvettes, frigates and destroyers, which together handle threats from all three dimensions --- underwater, surface and air. With its arsenal of weapons and sensors, the CBG dominates a huge chunk of ocean, establishing “sea control” wherever it moves.

Sea control is central to the outlook of the Indian Navy, which draws inspiration from Alfred Thayer Mahan, the 19th century US strategist. Mahan argued that a navy’s primary task is to locate and destroy the enemy fleet, thereby dominating the sea and controlling commercial shipping. Essential for this is the powerful surface fleet that India is building.

Naval guru Julian Corbett presented an alternative philosophy, placing naval warfare in a larger political-economic-strategic context. More defence-minded than Mahan, Corbett emphasised the importance of sea lines of communications (SLOCs), essential for the movement of warships and merchant fleets. Corbett’s outlook shapes the “sea denial” strategy of weaker navies like Pakistan. Their smaller fleets --- inadequate for sea control --- instead deny the enemy unfettered use of the sea by using platforms like submarines to interdict SLOCs, ambush his shipping and laying mines at straits, narrows and outside his harbours, or by using missile boats for swarm attacks on large warships.

Given its Mahanian outlook and superior surface fleet, the Indian Navy would, in any future war with Pakistan, seek sea control over the northern Arabian Sea by sending one, or even two, CBGs to destroy or degrade Pakistan’s surface fleet. With that done, the attack would shift to coastal installations and to supporting the land battle through amphibious landings.

“Indian sea control would complicate Pakistan’s defence dilemma. In addition to defending 2,900-odd kilometres of land border, Pakistan would then have to defend an additional 1,046 kilometres of coastal boundary”, points out Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan (Retired), a highly regarded naval strategist who has commanded the aircraft carrier, INS Viraat.

Yet, sea control must go hand-in-hand with sea denial. While CBGs seek battle with Pakistan’s navy, Indian submarines would cut oil supplies and war material from Pakistan’s West Asian allies; and bottle up shipping in Karachi, Gwadar and the new naval base at Ormara. For this, Indian submarines would lurk outside this ports, while also deploying in the Gulf of Aden and the Strait of Hormuz.

This combination of sea control and sea denial would also play out in a war with China. Sea control would be quickly imposed over China’s SLOCs through the Indian Ocean, since our CBGs would enjoy proximity to bases; and to shore-based air support from the “unsinkable aircraft carrier” that is the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Even as China’s oil supplies and trade are strangled, Indian submarines would block the People’s Liberation Army (Navy) from the Indian Ocean, at the straits of Malacca, Sunda, Lombok and Ombai Wetar. It would be vital to hold the PLA(N)’s 77 major surface warships, 60 submarines, 55 amphibious ships, and 85 missile boats, at bay.

Here lies India’s Achilles’ heel. With just 14 submarines in its fleet, the navy’s sea denial capacity is less convincing than its ability for sea control --- which stems from a far-sighted decision in the 1950s to include aircraft carriers in the fleet. (Part II of this article tomorrow will deal with sea denial).

Sea control against Pakistan

In establishing sea control across the northern Arabian Sea, the Indian Navy would fight a tricky battle in coastal waters against the Pakistan Navy. The latter, outnumbered and outgunned, knows it would get quickly wiped out on the open seas. It is likely, therefore, to withdraw close to the Pakistan coast where the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) would provide it air cover.

To close in with this fleet, India’s CBGs must have the air defence capability to beat off the PAF. Key to this would be the MiG-29K fighter, flying from aircraft carriers; and air defence systems like the Barak, and the much-awaited new Long Range Surface to Air Missile. The LR-SAM, which the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) is developing with Israel, will be deployed on warships by end-2015. These missiles would also protect the CBG against anti-ship missiles --- like the Harpoon and Exocet --- fired from Pakistani submarines, warships and aircraft.

“The Israeli Barak missile, which was bought in 2001, for the first time provided the Indian Navy with genuine air defence capability. The LR-SAM will make air defence even more reliable,” asserts Chauhan.

Until the LR-SAM is operational, Indian warships remain critically vulnerable to air and missile attack, but the navy believes it will be worth the wait. “This (delay) is the price that you pay when you go in for high-tech, state-of-the-art systems”, says Vice Admiral Satish Soni, who heads Eastern Naval Command.

The LR-SAM will also defend Indian warships against a feared ocean predator --- long-range maritime patrol (LRMP) aircraft like Pakistan’s P3C Orion, which will fly 12-hour missions from Karachi to scour the seas, locate Indian warships, and launch anti-ship missiles from 50 kilometres away.

The LR-SAM’s 70-kilometre range will let it engage the LRMP aircraft even before it launches its anti-ship missile. If the aircraft manages to launch, the LR-SAM is designed to shoot down the missile before it strikes a warship. For the LRMP aircraft, an attack on a CBG would be suicidal. Its presence betrayed by the launch of a missile, MiG-29Ks fighters scrambled from an aircraft carrier would quickly overtake it and shoot it down.

After coming within range of Pakistan’s surface fleet, Indian warships would launch an air-sea attack --- striking Pakistani warships with anti-ship missiles like the Brahmos, from ranges of up to 300 kilometres; and with fighter aircraft launched from the aircraft carrier.

Detracting from India’s convincing naval superiority in the Indian Ocean region is only its vulnerability to enemy submarines. This stems not just from a depleted submarines force, but also neglect of the capability to detect and destroy enemy submarines.

(This is the first of a two-part series on naval strategy. In Part II tomorrow: In submarine operations, the Indian Navy’s Achilles’ heel)

Pakistan’s new spymaster

Is the new ISI chief as rational as his US Army War College paper might suggest?

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 30th Sept 14

On September 22, Pakistan’s military nominated Lieutenant General Rizwan Akhtar to replace Lt Gen Zahir-ul-Islam as chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) on October 8. It is important to know what makes him tick, given his organisation’s continued reliance on “sub-conventional assets” --- referred to in more sensible circles as jihad-fuelled crazies.

The announcement was notable for two reasons First; it was made by the military, not the civilian government, indicating that the army, not Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, controls the appointments of generals. Second, this was the first time Pakistan’s military made such a key announcement on Twitter and Facebook, proving itself a hip, trendy, forward looking bunch of really cool dudes. No, not really! Like most armies, it remains an insular, inward-looking, self-perpetuating bureaucracy. Unlike most armies, it also radicalises and trains killers to use against India, which is so, so uncool.

Most ISI chiefs are anonymous folks, since militaries value officers who remain in the background. Yet, in 2008, when Akhtar was a brigadier attending a one-year course at the US Army War College, he wrote a 6,313-word paper entitled: “US-Pakistan trust deficit and the war on terror”. This spelt out his views on America; militant Islam; the roiling Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where Pakistan’s army is currently fighting; and on Pakistan’s relations with India.

A caveat: a paper written by a sub-continental military officer on a course in America, or in a military publication in his own country, is seldom an outpouring of deeply held beliefs. Instead, most such writing is an image building exercise. On an American course, a Pakistani brigadier would want to be seen as rational and accommodative. While writing in a Pakistani publication, he would portray himself as a staunch upholder of military and national ideology.

Even so, Akhtar’s dissertation is worth reading, if only because of a paragraph that goes: “Pakistan needs to enhance its credibility by publicly identifying some of its critical strategic challenges. It must reform its governance, improve the economy, confront and eliminate Islamic extremism, and create a more tolerant society. Most important, it must aggressively pursue rapprochement with India.”

Encouraging, but a full reading of Akhtar’s paper suggests that his proposed outreach to India, like that of many Pakistanis, can be summed up as: We must have peace, and we must have Kashmir, and Washington must deliver it. Akhtar writes, “(T)he threat posed by India has served as a primary enabler for US-Pakistani relations as US involvement and support can help mediate and ensure an equitable settlement of the Kashmir issue as well as help represent Pakistani interests within the United Nations.” Akhtar acknowledges Washington’s role in preventing the Kargil conflict (1999) and Operation Parakram (2001-02) from triggering a full-scale conflagration.

Yet, Akhtar recognises that US-Pakistan ties are transactional, an on-off relationship based on transient convenience. He writes: “The US and Pakistan have been drawn together by coincident interests on three separate occasions. The first occurred during the height of the Cold War (from the mid-1950s to mid-1960s); the second was during the Afghan Jihad in the 1980s (again lasting about a decade); and the third engagement dates to September 11, 2001, and the subsequent war on terrorism. Since the event of 9/11, Pakistan has been a key ally in the Global War on Terrorism.”

In this cynical alliance, friction is inevitable. Yet, Akhtar wants differences to remain unseen, especially those that make Pakistan seem mercenary. He writes: “(I)t is routinely reported in the news media that the US has given Pakistan more than $10 billion in assistance, channeled primarily through the Pakistani military, and these reports add that Pakistan is not doing enough to control Taliban/Al Qaeda elements in FATA. The general impression it gives to the Pakistani people and many international actors is that this is some sort of business transaction where Pakistan was hired to perform a job and is being paid.”

Akhtar’s paper reflects his army’s increasing tolerance for the rhetoric and trappings of democracy, providing the generals retain control over key security policies. In an unusually forthright endorsement of democracy he writes: “The mechanism for establishing the rule of law begins with a free political process but also extends to an effective and independent judicial system and a modern, well equipped professional police force. The role of the military should be limited to ensuring the Nation’s security from external threats and in waging the war against terrorists and only be utilized for internal security as a last resort.”

On the issue of the moment --- military operations in FATA --- Akhtar laments America’s “short-term perspective”. He says US operations (presumably drone strikes) “alienate the tribals and result in increased tribal support for the Taliban/Al Qaeda.” In contrast, “The Pakistani government understands the importance of building close ties with the tribal chiefs (Maliks) for the long-term strategic success against the Al Qaeda/Taliban radicals.”

Numerous independent commentators have said this is rubbish. They say Pakistan triggered the radicalisation of FATA in the 1980s, during the anti-Soviet jihad, when the army preferred radical Islam, rather than Afghan nationalism, as the driving ideology of the Afghan resistance. None but the ISI engineered the passage of tribal leadership from the Maliks to a crop of radical clerics, many closely linked to Islamist institutions in Saudi Arabia. In this the ISI dealt directly with jihadi leaders, marginalising America so that Pakistan’s agenda could prevail.

Akhtar indirectly admits this modus operandi was used again in FATA, noting “Pakistan has repeatedly rejected requests by the US to allow its combat troops to operate in the tribal areas inside Pakistan or to allow US personnel to deal directly with local tribal leaders.”

All told, Pakistan’s new spymaster comes off as a rational, intelligent officer who can see the shortcomings within his establishment but is unwilling to challenge core beliefs. For now, Rizwan Akhtar must dance to the tune of his boss, Raheel Sharif, which has so far resonated as a distinctly anti-Indian melody.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Changing the "Make" procedure: Foreign arms vendors eye windfall gains



By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 29th Sept 14

Indian private companies that aspire to design and develop indigenous defence equipment are worried. The ministry of defence (MoD) is poised to clear a new policy that will let foreign defence companies enjoy Indian subsidies for developing equipment for the military.

The policy in question --- the “Make” category of procurement --- was included in the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) of 2006 to foster Indian research & design (R&D) capability; to retain control of technology; and to ensure that defence equipment is supported through its service life. In “Make” category projects, the MoD pays the vendor 80 per cent of the development cost.

This was to enable Indian companies to compete with global defence giants that had established themselves over decades, mostly with enormous subsidies from their respective governments.

Strict conditions exist for a company to be eligible for a “Make” project and, therefore, for MoD funding. The company should have been in operation for at least 10 years; have a minimum annual turnover of Rs 1,000 crore; have been profitable for at least three of the last five years; and have a defence licence.

The new policy that will come up before the MoD’s apex Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) seriously dilutes these conditions, opening the door for foreign vendors to enter as joint venture companies (JVs) and claim “Make” funding.

The new policy reduces the operating period from 10 years to just 5; the asset base is no longer Rs 1,000 crore, but linked with the size of the “Make” project in question; and a defence licence is no longer essential; it is enough to have applied for a licence.

An Indian CEO points out that the proposed changes would permit an Indian business house that has had a non-operating (sleeping) company for 5 years to form a JV with 49 per cent FDI, apply for a defence licence, and be eligible for “Make” category projects.

As worrying, says an MoD official who opposed the new “Make” procedure, is the fact that foreign holding would subject the JV to export control laws and technology restrictions of the country to which the foreign vendor belongs. The US Code of Federal Regulation mandates that a foreign JV, in which an American company owns more than 20 per cent, is subject to US technology control laws.

That would seriously violate the basic aim of the “Make” procedure --- which is to create an Indian product that is not subject to foreign control or licensing. Ensuring that key intellectual property (IP) remains in India would ensure life cycle support and subsequent upgrades of the equipment in question.

In discussions with the MoD from June-Oct 2013, Ficci had strongly opposed diluting the eligibility conditions for “Make” projects. The MoD then engaged private management consultants, PricewaterhouseCoopers, or PwC, to develop the proposed “friendly” policy.

Dhiraj Mathur, Executive Director of PwC, argues that the existing policy does not exclude foreign participation. The truth is, however, that the existing eligibility conditions rule out foreign bidders from “Make” procurements.

This was illustrated in the eventually abortive “Make” project to build a Future Infantry Combat Vehicle. The MoD invited four companies, including Mahindra, to submit proposals. Since Mahindra wanted to partner global major, BAE Systems, they established a JV called Defence Land Systems India (DLSI), in which BAE Systems owned 26 per cent. With DLSI ineligible to bid, it remained a vendor to the principal bidder, Mahindra.

Consequently, Mahindra would have remained in control of the IP, which would not be the case had DLSI been the primary vendor.

The raising of FDI limits in defence, on August 6, from 26 to 49 per cent, allows foreign vendors to have a larger stake in the JV. Anticipating this, Ficci had stated at the time that, “such (JV) companies can be permitted to participate in Buy (Indian) and Buy & Make (Indian) categories of procurement.”

Notably, Ficci did not welcome JV participation in “Make” category procurement. Yet, if the MoD sanctions the proposed new policy this week, the very foundation of the “Make” procedure would have been shifted.

Contacted for comments, the MoD has not replied. 

Friday, 26 September 2014

Beyond the Hype: Belying optimism, US-India defence cooperation struggles


By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Sept 14

The US-India defence relationship has been talked up as one of the highlights of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US from Sept 26-30. Yet, with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government having spent just four months in office, there has been little time to reverse the “arms-length” policies of Mr AK Antony’s 8-year custodianship of the defence ministry (MoD) that ended in May.

Mr Modi’s visit, therefore, is unlikely to achieve the “deliverables” and “outcomes” in defence cooperation that are used to measure a visit’s success.

Aware of the embarrassing absence of substance and big-ticket signings, New Delhi last month initiated the draft of a fresh agreement to renew the defence framework agreement that expires in June. The “New Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship”, signed on June 28, 2005, was valid for ten years.

The proposed agreement is referred to --- tongue-in-cheek --- as the “New New Defence Framework”. With Washington and New Delhi still negotiating drafts, there is little prospect of the agreement being signed during Mr Modi’s visit.

Nor is there any big-ticket defence contract to sign. Defence Minister Arun Jaitley told parliament in July that India’s proposed purchase of M777 ultralight howitzers from BAE Systems is mired in disagreement over the price.

The two big contracts that the MoD recently cleared --- for 22 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters; and 15 Chinook heavy lift helicopters, together worth about Rs 15,000 crore --- have not been cleared by the union cabinet. There could be an announcement that India has selected the two Boeing helicopters, but a contract signature is unlikely.

Boeing CEO, James McNerney, will have a one-on-one meeting with Mr Modi in New York on Sept 29. Company sources suggest that Boeing will outline its plans to design and manufacture defence equipment in India.

Another CEO with interests in defence who will meet Mr Modi that morning is Jeffrey Immelt of General Electric.

“India and US are strategic partners and cooperating across a wide canvas…. We cooperate from issues relating to the atom to issues relating to outer space,” said India’s foreign office spokesperson, Syed Akbaruddin, on September 23.

Yet, US officials complain that the empty agenda reflects the Indian MoD’s reluctance to respond to repeated US defence cooperation proposals.

To be sure, much of that stonewalling took place under Antony. After US Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, visited Delhi last month, American officials said they encountered a far more engaged and receptive Indian MoD.

Even so, progress seems unlikely before Jaitley travels to Washington next month for a meeting of the Defence Policy Group (DPG) --- the apex US-India defence cooperation forum, co-chaired by India’s defence minister and the US secretary of defence.

It is a measure of how moribund the defence partnership had become under the United Progressive Alliance that the DPG, which is supposed to meet every year, has not met since Feb 2012.

As their best hope in resuscitating the defence relationship, New Delhi and Washington are looking to the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI). Proposed by US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in 2012, the DTTI’s role has never been formally spelt out. Even so, both sides informally agree that its basic role should be to overcome bureaucratic hurdles that arise due to the different working styles of the two defence establishments.

Under the DTTI, the Pentagon made a dozen proposals to the MoD during Chuck Hagel’s visit last month. He said these would “transfer significant qualitative capability, technology, and production know-how” to India.

Of these, the one that might come up during Mr Modi’s visit is a first-ever US offer to co-produce the FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile in India; and to co-develop a “next-generation Javelin” with Indian defence R&D agencies. The Indian Army was poised to buy the Spike anti-tank missile from Israel, but the Javelin offer has caused New Delhi to reconsider.

India’s secretary for defence production, G Mohan Kumar, was in Washington on Sept 23, apparently discussing the Javelin proposal. It remains unclear, however, whether any announcement will be made during Mr Modi’s visit.

In talking up the DTTI, Washington will cite Secretary Hagel’s invitation to Mr Jaitley to a summit level inter-agency meeting in October, where Secretary of State, John Kerry; and Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker, would join them. This high-power forum could discuss every dimension of the US technology control regime, which has been a major bugbear in US-India relations. 

119 warships built, naval design celebrates golden jubilee

The Time magazine cover of April 3rd, 1989, featuring INS Godavari

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Sept 14

A day after the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) highlighted India’s scientific capability by placing the spaceship, Mangalyaan, in orbit around Mars, another milestone in indigenous design was celebrated in New Delhi on September 25: The 50th anniversary of the Directorate of Naval Design (DND).

Even as the air force and army import the bulk of their equipment requirements, the DND has spearheaded the navy’s striking success in “making in India”. Over the last half century, it has produced 19 separate designs --- from small coastal vessels in the 1960s; through increasingly sophisticated frigates and destroyers, to India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, which Cochin Shipyard is currently building.

“Over the years our naval ship designers have designed, and our shipyards have constructed, 119 warships,” said navy chief, Admiral Robin Dhowan, while felicitating the DND today.

Interestingly, India was building world-class warships two centuries ago. In 1817, Mumbai Docks (today the Naval Dockyard) built HMS (Her Majesty’s Ship) Trincomalee, the oldest warship afloat, which is currently berthed in Hartlepool, UK. Mumbai Docks also built HMS Minden, on which Francis Scott Key composed America’s national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner” in Baltimore. Also built in Mumbai was the HMS Cornwallis, on which China signed the Treaty of Nanking, ceding Hong Kong to the British in 1842.

After independence, when the navy took the far-reaching strategic decision to build, rather than buy, its warships, a Corps of Naval Constructors was set up in 1956. In 1964, this evolved into the Central Design Office, the forerunner of today’s Directorate of Naval Design.

Tellingly, neither the army nor the air force have their own design agency --- and they have achieved little success in indigenisation. Analysts are unanimous that the DND, with its present corps of 350 uniformed warship designers, has been instrumental in the navy’s successful indigenisation.

Its first major success came in the late 1970s, when it designed the Godavari class frigate. For a decade before that, the DND had cut its teeth on the British-designed Leander-class frigates, which were being built in India. The last two Leanders featured modifications by the DND, especially to their helicopter deck.

Even so, experts were taken aback by INS Godavari. A heavily armed frigate that weighed 1,000 tonnes more than the Leanders, the 3,600-tonne Godavari could actually sail faster than the highly regarded British warship.

On 3rd April 1989, the cover of Time magazine featured INS Godavari, with a cover story entitled, “Super India: The Next Military Power.”

Buoyed by the Godavari, the DND began developing the ambitious 6,200-tonne Delhi-class guided missile destroyer in the late 1980s. The three warships of this class --- INS Delhi, Mumbai and Mysore --- are acknowledged as exceptionally handsome warships. Their sturdy design and sea-keeping ability was also acknowledged when INS Delhi spent two days in a cyclone in the South China Sea, en route to China. Following that came the 6,200-tonne Shivalik class multi-role frigates, which saw increasing levels of indigenization. 

“I have had the privilege of serving on each of these classes of ships… As a user I can vouch (for the fact) that these are some very fine ships, very potent ships. I would like to salute the professionalism of our naval designers”, declared Admiral Dhowan.

The DND’s golden jubilee year has seen the commissioning of three DND-designed warships --- the new guided missile destroyer, INS Kolkata; the first anti-submarine corvette, INS Kamorta; and an offshore patrol vessel, INS Sumitra. Another 41 indigenously designed warships are currently being built in Indian shipyards.

While lauding the DND, the navy chief pointed out that more should be done to indigenize weapons and sensors --- the so-called “fight capability” of a warship. India has indigenized 90 per cent of its warships’ “float capability”, or its hull structure; and 60 per cent of their “move capability”, or engines, transmission and propellers. However, only INS Kamorta has fitted a range of indigenous sensors and weapons to emerge 90 per cent indigenous. 

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Chumar stand-off: China asks for border meeting; army plays it cool


Xi’s mention to PLA of “regional war” only affirms official doctrine

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th Sept 14

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has requested a flag meeting to resolve the border confrontation at Chumar, in southern Ladakh. The contest, which has been running for a week, now has over a thousand armed troops facing off at three separate spots, with neither side willing to allow the other to move deeper into territory that each claims as its own.

Top army generals say they are in no hurry to accede to the Chinese request. They say they are “evaluating the agenda” and will respond in due course.

Chumar has emerged as a hotly disputed segment of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China. Here, both sides perceive the LAC differently, with a difference of 3-4 kilometres between the two claims. India has a road almost up to its claim line while, until this year, Chinese troops had to walk several kilometres to reach the LAC. That allowed Indian patrols to dominate the LAC, while the Chinese patrolled less frequently and aggressively.

Over the last two years, however, China too has connected up a new road to the LAC, leading to more vigorous patrolling. A face-off like the current one, say local Indian commanders, was inevitable.

Chumar is one of 14 identified hot spots, where India and China perceive the LAC differently. The other locations that have seen trouble in the past include the Thagla Ridge/Namka Chu Valley (where the 1962 war began), the Thangdrong Ridgeline (which saw a major Chinese incursion in 1986), and Daulet Beg Oldi, where the Chinese set up camp last April.

Indian commanders in the Leh-headquartered 14 Corps, however, are sanguine that this confrontation, like every other in the last four decades, will be resolved through discussions. “The Chinese are making the point that this area remains disputed”, says one general. “They absolutely don’t want a shooting war.”

Yet, Indian analysts have made much of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s exhortation to PLA commanders, at a meeting in Beijing on Sept 22, to be ready “to win a regional war in the age of information technology.” Commentators have interpreted Xi’s mention of “a regional war” as a direct threat to India.

In fact, Xi is articulating a two-decade-old PLA strategic doctrine that, at the end of the Cold War, jettisoned the threat of the “early, major and nuclear war”, that Mao had foreseen. In 1985, China’s Central Military Commission (then led by Deng Xiao-ping and today by Xi Jinping) declared that the PLA’s most likely threat was “local, limited war”.  This allowed Deng to dramatically downsize the bloated, 4 million-strong PLA.

In January 1993, after the globally televised US military wizardry of the First Gulf War, Jiang Zemin issued a new set of “Military Strategic Guidelines”, which shifted focus to fighting “local wars under modern high-technology conditions”.

The “local war” that Jiang explicitly defined was to “prevent Taiwan from fomenting any great ‘Taiwan independence’ incidents.” This came to be known as the PLA’s “main strategic direction”.

A decade ago, in the early 2000s, a technologically evolving PLA modified its strategy further to “local war under conditions of informatization.” Here again, Taiwan remained the likely objective, with India barely mentioned in PLA literature.

On Sunday, Xi also urged the PLA to show “absolute loyalty and firm faith in the Communist Party of China… (to) make sure all decisions from the central leadership are fully implemented,” says the official website of China’s Ministry of National Defence.

This may have been a mere affirmation of the Communist Party of China’s bedrock principle of tight control over the military. In Yan’an in 1938, Mao had written, “The party commands the gun, and the gun must never be allowed to command the party.” Every top Chinese leader since Mao has reaffirmed this principle periodically; Xi might have been doing the same.

However, the Chumar face-off at a politically sensitive time might also reflect the PLA’s growing autonomy and clout in Xinjiang and Tibet, which includes the management of the LAC. China watchers are closely observing the relationship for signs that Xi’s iron grip over China might not include the security establishment in its roiling western provinces. 

Postscript: China's foreign ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, on Tuesday denied that Xi's remarks about "regional war" were aimed at India. Replying to a question about whether his remarks were related to the border standoff, Hua said, "I believe that this may be a wild guess... (that was) completely off the mark."

Monday, 22 September 2014

Close shave for Kashmir flood Samaritans in IAF crash



By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 22nd Sept 14

Eleven persons on board an Indian Air Force (IAF) AN-32 aircraft that crashed and caught fire while landing in Chandigarh on Saturday evening are fortunate to be alive, say sources close to the accident investigation.

The aircraft, which was returning from Srinagar, via Bhatinda, after delivering flood relief supplies, had five IAF crewmembers and six passengers from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) on board.

Had all of them not escaped through an emergency hatch, this accident could have paralleled the Uttarakhand helicopter crash, in which five IAF crewmembers, six Indo-Tibet Border Police troopers, and nine NDRF personnel were killed in an IAF helicopter crash during a flood relief mission on June 25, 2013.

The AN-32 aircraft, while landing, appears to have dropped too quickly, bounced off the runway, and hit one wing against the ground. Since an AN-32’s wing also serves as the fuel tank, the aviation turbine fuel spraying around at high temperature set the wing alight --- forcing the passengers into an emergency evacuation while airport tenders fought the blaze. Some of the injuries caused by the crash are believed to be serious.

The AN-32 transport aircraft is one of the IAF’s most reliable workhorses, capable of landing on short strips at high altitudes. The fleet of more than 100 aircraft is being refurbished to extend its service life. The aircraft that crashed on Saturday had been upgraded in Ukraine recently. 

Saturday, 20 September 2014

As Ladakh border standoff continues, questions over timing



By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th Sept 14

A day before President Xi Jinping of China travelled to India for a state visit from Sept 17-19, China’s foreign ministry in Beijing termed the visit “a new historical starting point… of great significance”.

Yet, on Thursday, when Xi echoed that sentiment in New Delhi after talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, describing his visit as “a historic opportunity to renew ties”, that prospect had already been scuttled by a brewing confrontation on the de facto Sino-Indian border in Ladakh.

Even as the leaders talked, some 500 armed Indian soldiers stood eyeball-to-eyeball with as many Chinese border guards, a paramilitary setup that works under the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). In the run up to Xi’s visit, the Chinese had intruded 3-4 kilometres across what India perceives as the Line of Actual Control (LAC), travelling in vehicles along a road the PLA had earlier built.

That face-off near Chumar Post is continuing, with tensions rising as neither side is backing off. This 14,000-feet-high enclave is a known hotspot, where the LAC is disputed. Chinese troops claim they are on their side of the LAC, while the Indians are intruding.

There is no way to know whether President Xi knew about the Chinese intrusion ahead of his visit, or whether it had his tacit or explicit sanction. Indian analysts say there are three possible explanations, and none of them make Xi look good.

The first option is that Xi was taken by surprise by the intrusions. If this is correct, the PLA, long thought to be firmly under Xi’s control, is pursuing its own agenda boldly enough to undermine a presidential visit to India.

That would seriously question Xi’s reputation as China’s paramount leader. Many have argued that the quickness with which Xi consolidated power --- assuming three key posts of president of the People Republic of China; general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party; and chairman of the Central Military Commission --- makes him China’s most powerful leader since Deng Xiao-ping.

This, say Indian policymakers, would complicate New Delhi’s calculations by having to factor the PLA as an independent, or at least semi-autonomous, actor.

A second possibility is that Xi knowingly permitted the intrusion to coincide with his visit, to put brakes on the strategic and security relationship even while dangling the bait of $20 billion in Chinese investment to boost the economic relationship with India. By this logic, Xi wants access to India’s markets without having to service a real strategic partnership with Delhi, which Beijing views as inherently adversarial.

New Delhi has not missed that Xi travelled to Delhi via the Maldives and Sri Lanka, where he splashed out cash for various projects --- an inter-island “China bridge” in the Maldives, and $1.4 billion in financing to Sri Lanka to build a new port outside Colombo. India regards this as a part of China’s “string of pearls” strategy, which involves creating a network of allies to undermine India’s predominance in the Indian Ocean.

Over the preceding year, Beijing has energetically pursued the reactivation of the ancient “maritime silk route”; a trade corridor linking the Maldives and Sri Lanka with India, Myanmar and south-east Asia. Maritime specialists in New Delhi say this proposal has the same objective as the string of pearls strategy --- to expand Chinese influence along India’s maritime periphery.

A third possible reason for the intrusion could be Xi’s belief that China’s border management should not be constrained by an improving relationship with India. In this view, the PLA is allowed to run an aggressive border policy, while relying on the network of confidence building agreements --- the 1993 Peace and Tranquillity Agreement; further agreements in 1996, 2005 and 2012; and the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement of 2013 --- to prevent escalation.

This pro-active border management would ensure that, when maps are exchanged or a border delineated, China is well poised to claim as much territory as possible.

This explains the PLA’s use of civilian border populations to establish fresh territorial claims, as reported in this newspaper (“China’s border guards target populations along LAC”, Sept 17).

Even so, the intrusion has undermined the prospect of Sino-Indian strategic convergence. It has taken some of the focus off trade and commerce and retrained the spotlight on the need for an early border settlement. Government sources say Modi twice raised this requirement with Xi.

Addressing the media with Xi standing by his side, Modi expressed his unhappiness with Chinese transgressions; said peace on the border is “an essential foundation” for the relationship; urged a resumption of the process to clarify the LAC (i.e. exchange maps); and “seek an early settlement of the boundary question”.

In his speech to a New Delhi audience later that day, Xi declared his willingness to “settle the boundary question at an early date”.

New Delhi has still to announce a successor to Shivshankar Menon as the PM’s special representative on the border dialogue, which began in 2003. So far, 17 rounds of talks have been held. 

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.