Monday, 27 January 2020

Republic Day parade underlines India’s shift From Russian to US weaponry

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 27th Jan 20

The all-time high participation of American-origin aircraft in Sunday’s Republic Day parade, alongside a noticeably reduced Russian presence, underlines the growing shift in India’s weapons procurement priorities.

While the Indian arsenal continues to field large number of legacy Russian weapons platforms, the new weaponry being inducted is mainly of US or Indian origin.

The American aircraft in the parade included the newly arrived CH-47F Chinook heavy-lift helicopter, the AH-64E Apache attack helicopter, C-130J Super Hercules special operations aircraft and the C-17 Globemaster III strategic airlifter. In addition, the navy’s tableau featured the P-8I Poseidon multi-mission maritime aircraft.

In contrast, the parade featured only three Russian aircraft – the Sukhoi-30MKI and MiG-29UPG fighters and the Mi-17V5 medium-lift helicopter. Russian Ilyushin-76 and Antonov-32 transport aircraft also remain in the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) fleet, but were absent, with the more contemporary American C-130J and C-17s being preferred for the parade.

There was also significant participation by Indian-built aircraft, including the Dhruv advanced light helicopter (ALH), its weaponised version called the Rudra, Dornier light transport aircraft, and Jaguar fighter-bombers – all built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). The Netra airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft, developed by the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) on a Brazilian Embraer business jet was also showcased in the parade. 

Meanwhile, the IAF tableau featured the indigenous light combat aircraft. The IAF has finalised, and is shortly slated to sign with HAL, an approximately Rs 26,000 crore order for 83 Tejas Mark 1A fighters.

Similarly, ground systems participation, which has traditionally featured a large number of Russian weapons platforms, was noticeably biased towards indigenous and non-Russian weaponry. The only Russian ground systems featured were the T-90S Bhishma tank and BMP-2 infantry combat vehicle – which both continue to form the backbone of India’s armoured forces. 

Meanwhile, Indian systems included the new K-9 Vajra-T self-propelled medium artillery gun (designed by South Korea and built by Larsen & Toubro in India), the Ordnance Factory’s Dhanush medium artillery gun and the DRDO’s Sarvatra assault bridge and eponymous Short Span Bridging System. The DRDO’s promising Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS), which participated last year, was conspicuous by its absence.

There was a strong Indian flavour to missile and air defence systems as well. There was a debut appearance for the DRDO-developed Anti-Satellite Weapon (ASAT), which was ostentatiously tested last March in the so-called Mission Shakti – arousing international criticism, albeit shortlived, for allegedly creating space debris. 

In the air defence arena, which was dominated by a range of Russian missiles for half a century, this year’s parade featured only DRDO’s Akash missile system, which is being deployed in numbers on the China border, even as an upgraded version is developed. Also on display was the DRDO’s eponymous Air Defence Tactical Control Radar (ADTCR), which will control the air defence campaign, being used for surveillance, detection, tracking, identifying and engaging enemy aerial targets from multiple command posts and missile launchers.

However, a new Russian air defence system could well occupy centre stage in next year’s parade, with delivery of the first Russian S-400 Triumf missile units slated for late-2020. India has defied strong pressure from Washington in going ahead with the purchase of five S-400 units from Russia for $5.43 billion. 

In addition to the large number of weapons systems that debuted in this years parade – including the Chinook and Apache helicopters, the K-9 Vajra-T and the DRDO’s promising Astra missile (in the DRDO’s tableau) – the military scored two other significant firsts on Sunday.

For the first time, the prime minister paid homage to soldiers, sailors and airmen who had laid down their lives for the country at a new location – the National War Memorial that was inaugurated last February. Until now, prime ministers have paid homage at the Amar Jawan Jyothi (eternal flame) memorial at India Gate.

Also unprecedented was the presence of a tri-service chief – the newly created appointement of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), to which former army chief, General Bipin Rawat, was appointed on the new year. The prime minister and president were, for the first time, received by four general rank officers – the CDS and the three service chiefs.

Monday, 20 January 2020

From current low of 28 squadron, IAF strength is set to rise hereafter

The induction of the Tejas fighter in numbers will raise the IAF's squadron strength hereafter

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 19th Jan 20

There is finally light at the end of the tunnel for the Indian Air Force (IAF), which is at its lowest point since the 1970s, with just 28 fighter squadrons operational against its authorized 42 squadrons.

A senior IAF planner has told Business Standard that the squadron strength will not fall any lower. Starting from 2020, numbers will gradually rise. Three squadrons will be inducted this year, while only two squadrons would be withdrawn from operational service.

One new squadron, which will be raised in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu in the coming months, will be equipped with new Sukhoi-30MKI fighters, built by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) in Nashik. These fighters will mount the air-launched version of the BrahMos cruise missile, and will be earmarked to carry out maritime strikes against enemy warships in the Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean.

The squadron will be Number 222 Squadron (called Tigersharks), which was initially equipped with the Sukhoi-7 fighter in the 1960s. It then converted to MiG-27 and was retired (or “numberplated”) in 2011, when the MiG-27 fleet was being retired.

In addition, the second squadron of Tejas Mark 1 light combat aircraft (LCA) will be raised in April. The first squadron of Tejas Mark 1 – Number 45 Squadron, called the Flying Daggers – is already operational in Sulur, Tamil Nadu. Now the second will begin receiving its fighters from HAL.

The third squadron to be raised this year will be equipped with the Rafale. Slated to be based in Ambala, Number 17 squadron (called Golden Arrows) will received its first batch of fighters in India by May and is likely to achieve full strength by March 2021.

Meanwhile, on the negative side, the IAF’s last MiG-27 squadron was phased out of service in December; and another MiG-21 squadron is currently being retired.

With HAL Nashik likely to complete delivery in the coming year of all 222 Sukhoi-30MKI contracted by the IAF, the IAF is processing an additional order for 12 more fighters, to replace the fighters lost over the years in accidents. In addition, a significant number of Sukhoi-30MKIs have begun coming up for overhaul each year, in HAL Nashik. The additional fighters now being ordered will function as “replacement fighters” for the ones being overhauled.

Also in the pipeline is a squadron of MiG-29 fighters that Russia has offered India. The IAF is going ahead with the procurement, but officials say the fighters would first have to be fitted out with new avionics and weaponry. This is likely to take 2-3 years.

There is also a global procurement under way for 114 medium fighters. However, this is at a preliminary stage and, given the budgetary constraints, the IAF is not banking on these aircraft joining the fleet any time soon.

In the medium term, the IAF is looking to the Tejas Mark 1A to stabilise, and then raise its squadron numbers. A contract for 83 Tejas Mark 1A will be signed by April, which will add up to four squadrons. The senior official says the IAF has stressed to HAL that it must reach its planned production level of 16 fighters per year. An investment of Rs 1,200 crore has been made to expand HAL’s production capacity.

At present, the IAF’s fleet includes 12 Sukhoi-30MKI squadrons, three MiG-29UPG squadrons, six Jaguar squadrons, three Mirage 2000 squadrons, one Tejas squadron and the last three MiG-21 squadrons.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Book review: Humanising the villain of 1962

A Chequered Brilliance: The Many Lives of VK Krishna Menon
Author: Jairam Ramesh
Publisher: Penguin Random House
725 pages
Price: Rs 999/-

VK Krishna Menon, one of modern India’s most cerebral, sardonic and acerbic political leaders, was described tellingly after his death in 1974, in an obituary sentence in the London Times: “[A] remarkable, yet unlikable man who worked untiringly all his life for his country, yet never received a nation’s gratitude, or even acceptance.” Even within the Congress Party, which he served selflessly despite his markedly left wing personal convictions, he was regarded as an outsider and relentlessly undermined by mainstream leaders, lasting as long as he did only because of Jawaharlal Nehru’s unwavering support.

Much has already been written about Menon, mostly criticism of his role as defence minister in the lead-up to the 1962 war, in which the Indian Army was comprehensively drubbed by China. At least two generations of Indians after 1962 see Krishna Menon as the political villain who sent primitively armed, poorly clad and barely trained Indian soldiers to senseless deaths at the hands of a rampaging Chinese army. Now Jairam Ramesh, in this extraordinary tour de force, offers a more balanced and wide-ranging account of an outspoken freedom fighter, skilful diplomat, take-no-prisoners negotiator and visionary who has been unfairly denied the credit he deserves. 

It would be easy – and mistaken – to dismiss the author’s sympathy for his subject as stemming from their common identity as Congress Party members. In fact, most Congressmen of the freedom struggle era considered Menon more a communist than a Congressman. His most committed detractors were Congress Party members, most notably Nehru’s sister, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit and powerful, right-wingers like Rajendra Prasad and Govind Ballabh Pant. Following the 1962 debacle, it was infuriated Congressmen who arm-twisted Nehru into dropping Menon from his cabinet and casting him into the political wilderness. Many of the Congress’s stalwarts, having spent decades confronting the British in India, lacked an understanding of the crucial role that Menon played during those years, living hand-to-mouth in London to canvass and mobilise British left-of-centre opinion to create sympathy for Indian self-rule. 

Menon picked relentlessly at an uncomfortable fault line in the British conscience: that the subjugation of India was inconsistent with Britain’s claim to be a moral power. In 1932, Menon established the India League as the forum for his activities and ran it up till independence on a shoestring budget, surviving, it emerges, on endless cups of tea. During these years he forged invaluable relationships with prominent left-wing British intellectuals Bertrand Russell and Harold Laski, future Labour Party prime ministers such as Clement Attlee and influential British policymakers, such as Sir Stafford Cripps and Lord Louis Mountbatten (Spoiler alert: Menon played a big role in his appointment as viceroy).

British Labour Party leader, Michael Foot, summed up Menon’s role in the freedom struggle: “[Annie] Besant fought for India’s freedom in India, while Krishna Menon worked for India’s freedom in Britain… We gave you Annie Besant and you gave us Krishna Menon who spoke to us in a language that we could understand.”

One of the most compelling themes of the book is its psychological portrayal of Menon – as a tortured soul in whom brusque ruthlessness went hand-in-hand with a deep desire for approval. Over the decades, Menon bombarded Nehru, his intellectual soul mate, with offers to resign because he felt under-appreciated or undermined by one of his rivals. Nehru’s patience was phenomenal; he would reply promptly, reassuring and pacifying his moody comrade, but only until the next bout of petulance. Occasionally, such as when Menon embroiled the government in the “jeep scandal”, Nehru would write more reproachfully, but never transgressing a line. Ramesh recounts a hilarious exchange in 1953, when even Nehru’s patience ran out while brokering peace between Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit and Menon. The prime minister wrote to Pandit: “By far the best part of my time is taken up reconciling people or in soothing them… I do not know if in other countries [leaders] are faced with these difficulties of individuals behaving too individualistically. In the Soviet Union, I suppose, when this happens they are liquidated…”

As the author painstakingly details – and that is one reason why this book is an elbow-taxing 725 pages long – Menon’s diplomatic achievements go well beyond his marathon, eight-hour-long speech in the United Nations, where, as even his detractors admit, he memorably defended India’s position on Kashmir. Menon also played a key role in mediating between the US and China on Korea, salvaging the Indo-China (Vietnam) accords in Geneva in 1954 and, incredibly, in almost managing to bring together America and China in 1955 – something that Pakistan eventually pulled off in 1971.

With Gemal Abdul Nasser (both in front row)

Ironically, given that so many of these triumphs involved China, Menon’s Waterloo came with the Sino-Indian war of 1962. Ramesh details the euphoria that greeted Menon’s appointment as defence minister in 1957, and the widespread optimism about the benefits of Menon’s partnership with the highly regarded army chief, General KM Thimayya. But, while Menon established the Defence Research & Development Organisation, the Border Roads Organisation, launched the navy onto a Blue Water trajectory with the purchase of an aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, and began the building of fighter aircraft in the country by concluding the MiG-21 contract with the Soviet Union, his inability to get along with his senior commanders (like him, heavily anglicised) severely undermined the military’s organisational coherence. In one of the most shocking parts of the book, Ramesh cites diplomatic despatches that recount Indian generals and officials, including Thimayya and Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, complaining bitterly about Menon to the British ambassador, even alleging that the defence minister was readying a coup to supplant Nehru. Today, this would seem disloyal, even treasonous but, in those days, not long after independence, the British continued to enjoy an exalted status that led to such confidences. It should not be forgotten that, until the late 1950s, the Indian Air Force and navy continued to be commanded by British officers. Menon himself told the British envoy that “General Thimayya was a fool and not a very nice fool either”, and blamed a lot of the backbiting on “too much whisky in the American embassy”.

The author challenges several truisms about 1962, notably the widespread belief that Menon was responsible for starving the army of resources. In April 1955, Menon sent Nehru an eight-page note on “Defence Expenditure and Economic Development”, arguing strongly for increased defence spending, given Pakistan’s entry into two US-led military alliances. It was Finance Minister Morarji Desai who declined to release more money for defence. Menon is also unfairly blamed for a hard line stance that provoking the Chinese into attacking India. In fact, he knew Zhou Enlai well, having negotiated with him for endless hours over the Korean and Indo-China conflicts and believed, even after their last, little-known meeting in Geneva just four months before China attacked India in October 1962, that war could be avoided. Yet, the 1962 debacle demanded a high-level political scapegoat, which meant the end of Menon’s career. Typically, this proud Malayali insisted for the rest of his life that he resigned, and was never sacked.

This is a book for everyone – the professional and amateur military historian, the student of India’s freedom struggle, and even the non-specialist reader. It is, perhaps, excessively rich in detail and at times annoying in its meanderings across chronology. It leaves a few important questions unaddressed, such as: Who was responsible for the decision not to use air power to stop the Chinese attack in 1962. But these are minor quibbles. In the final balance, it rivets the reader and will surely be one of the important books of recent times.

Friday, 17 January 2020

The chimera of tri-service commands

India does not need tri-service joint commands; it needs joint operational planning

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 17th Jan 20

Discussions on strengthening the apex level management of the military usually find agreement on the need for two reforms. The first is the requirement to appoint a tri-service chief to coordinate between the three services – the army, navy and air force – and to provide single-point military advice to the executive leadership. This has been partially implemented with the New Year Day appointment of India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). He has been charged with inter-service coordination, but will advise the government only on tri-service matters, while the three service chiefs will continue advising on matters relating to their respective service. 

The second reform that most experts agree on is the need for the three services to group themselves into tri-service combatant commands, rather than the current plethora of single-service commands they currently run, organised on a geographical basis – e.g. the army’s Northern Command, Western Air Command, Southern Naval Command, etc. It is argued that this dysfunctional separation should be eliminated by establishing tri-service commands, with each one given command of all the army, navy and air force units it requires to prosecute combat operations in wartime. One integrated, tri-service command already exists: the Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC). But that trial balloon was never extended elsewhere.

The US military was the first to implement the concept of geographically dispersed tri-service integrated commands. In 1947, it established five geographic combatant commands (such as Central Command, Africa Command, Indo-Pacific Command, etc.) that, between them, cover the globe. In addition it has four functional combatant commands, responsible variously for Special Operations, strategic forces, transportation and cyber warfare. In 2016, China’s People’s Liberation Army copied this model, reorganising its seven “Military Regions” and three “Navy Fleets” into five joint theater commands with elements from all three services. China’s initiative intensified the clamour amongst Indian reformers to also take steps to implement joint, tri-service commands. The Christmas Eve announcement notifying the creation of the CDS charged him with: “Facilitation of restructuring of military commands… by bringing about jointness in operations, including through establishment of joint/theatre commands.” The first CDS, General Bipin Rawat, has already held meetings to discuss the way forward with the three service chiefs.

But while jointness helps in structuring forces optimally, avoiding wastage in logistics and obtaining economies of scale in equipment procurement, it is worth thinking carefully before imposing a joint theatre command structure on the military. The Indian Air Force (IAF) has consistently opposed being split up into theatre commands and it is worth considering its arguments.

First, given the speed at which combat aircraft move and their extended operating ranges, especially with mid-air refuelling, the IAF views India as a single geographical theatre. It is logical to group the slower-moving army and naval warships in the geographic vicinity of where they are likely to operate. But combat aircraft canswing in minutes from one sector to the other, as also from one combat role (ground strike, air defence, photo reconnaissance, etc) to another. For last February’s attack on the Balakote terrorist camp in Pakistan, the IAF’s Mirage 2000 fighters took off from Gwalior, which is in Central Air Command, and struck its target opposite the Western theatre. In that pan-theatre mission, the Mirage 2000s flew over 1,500 kilometres, assisted by mid-air refuelling.

In similar fashion, the IAF can use fighters from Gwalior to hit targets across the McMahon Line in the Eastern theatre. Such a mission would involve just an hour of flying from take off to the target, with only limited need for mid-air refuelling, since the Mirage 2000s could easily land and refuel at the IAF bases in Tezpur or Chabua on their way back. It is quite feasible for a fighter to take off from an airfield in one command zone, strike a target in another, land for refuelling in a third and strike a second target in a fourth, before heading back to base.

Secondly, there are difficulties in inter-theatre coordination. Given the heavily contested airspace over Pakistan and China, strike missions today typically involve large force packages. Strike aircraft could require air defence escorts, electronic warfare aircraft, mid-air refuellers and airborne warning and control systems (AWACS), which would be assembled from multiple air bases, since no single air base hosts all the aircraft needed in a large force package. For example, the mid-air refuellers are based in Agra and transport aircraft at Hindon. The take-off of the force package from widely dispersed bases would have to be precisely coordinated, so that each component reaches its operational area at the designated time. The tight, centralised control and coordination needed for this is difficult to achieve once aircraft have been distributed between multiple theatre commands. Each theatre commander, with his own mission looming as the number one priority, would be reluctant to allow his own assets to be distributed for strikes in other theatres. 

Third, with the IAF’s fighter strength diminished to just 28 squadrons (against the authorized 42), sub-dividing these between two, three, or even four, theatres would create weakness everywhere. Only large air forces can afford to distribute aircraft between multiple theatre commands. India’s geographic sprawl appears vast, but is fairly limited in the context of aerospace operations, being smaller than even China’sWestern Theatre Command. That allows the IAF to treat it as a single theatre.

Fourth, operating on the basis of a single theatre requires the IAF to centralise control and planning, while decentralising execution. Fighter squadrons all have their permanent locations but, to prepare a pilot to operate in any theatre, she would move out often on detachment (a small group of pilots and fighters) to train in other locations. A Sukhoi-30MKI squadron located in Tezpur would send detachments to, say, Jodhpur, providing pilots the opportunity to train in desert missions. Sukhoi-30MKI pilots sometimes spend as much as 240 days each year on detachment to other theatres. Such inter-theatre flexibility would be difficult, were squadrons to be permanently grouped with a joint theatre command

Fifthly, defending India’s airspace, which is the IAF’s primary role, demands centralised control. The air defence vigil is controlled through the IAF’s Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS), an automated network that receives inputs from all military and civilian radars to create a nationwide air picture. This big picture will be even more essential once long-range S-400 air defence systems and the Medium Range Surface to Air Missile (MR-SAM) enter service later this year. Air defence also involves monitoring space. This necessarily requires centralised control. 

Pragmatically, the CDS has already affirmed that the military will not blindly mimic other countries in creating integrated theatre commands; and that these will be based on India’s peculiar requirements. Besides the IAF’s legitimate reasoning, there is also the fact that the navy has no role in most army commands, especially those deployed against Pakistan and China. It is therefore worth considering whether the restructuring emphasis should shift from creating tri-service commands to the more urgent issue of formulating integrated, tri-service operational planning structures so that – when the balloon goes up (military slang for when war begins) – the combat power of all three services is fully synergised.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

MoD expert rejects foreign helicopter, HAL says Dhruv is suitable

The Dhruv helicopter delivery line at HAL Bangalore

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th Jan 20

With the ministry of defence (MoD) poised to sanction on Friday a Rs 21,738 crore project to build 111 naval utility helicopters (NUH) in an Indian private sector firm, an MoD expert has suggested the project be scrapped.

The MoD and the navy want the NUH to be a foreign helicopter, built through the “strategic partner” (SP) model. This involves selecting a deep-pocketed Indian private firm as the SP, which will build the helicopters in India using technology supplied by a separately selected foreign “original equipment manufacturer (OEM).

However, former integrated defence staff chief, Vice Admiral Raman Puri (retired), who the department of defence production (DDP) has appointed as a consultant, has advised against inducting a foreign helicopter as NUH, when defence public sector unit Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) is in a position to supply a naval version of its indigenous Dhruv advanced light helicopter (ALH).

Puri has recommended the indigenous Dhruv chopper over a foreign design, citing Para 23 of Chapter II of the Defence Procurement Policy of 2016 (DPP-2016), which states: “Preference will be given to indigenous design, development and manufacture of defence equipment. Therefore, whenever the required arms, ammunition and equipment are possible to be made by Indian industry, within the time lines required by the services, the procurement will be made from Indian sources.”

On November 19, the MoD asked HAL for its comments. HAL has replied that it is “generally in agreement with the viewpoints provided by the consultant.”

Puri also pointed out that Para 23 states: “Accordingly the [MoD’s] categorisation committee, while considering categorisation under the DPP will follow a preferred order of categorisation,” in which “Buy (Indian – IDDM)” is top priority. IDDM is the acronym for “Indian Designed, Developed and Manufactured,” a criterion the Dhruv ALH meets.

HAL has pointed out to the MoD that the Dhruv ALH has been in operation with the navy and coast guard for about two decades. It notes: “ALH has proved its robustness in all operating conditions, as validated by accruing more than 260,000 flying hours and [flying] more than 280 helicopters in the services of various customers.”

The navy has opted for a foreign helicopter, to be built on the SP model, because the Dhruv ALH does not have foldable rotor blades that allow it to be parked within the cramped confines of a hangar on a warship.

But HAL’s response to the MoD states: “The design of ALH is such that role change can be achieved with minimum modifications and minimum time, which will enable the navy to use this helicopter…” 

HAL wrote that, while it did not earlier possess technology for foldable blades for the Dhruv, it “initiated a project with internal funding to design and develop a blade/tail boom folding mechanism on the ALH, which will meet the stowage requirements of the NUH.”

HAL executives say foldable blades can be easily developed in 2-3 years, a period shorter than what the MoD would take to sign a global NUH contract.

HAL’s letter also notes that the tender requires the foreign OEM to transfer nine critical technologies, which include a rotor system, transmission system, hydraulics, self-sealing fuel tanks, vibration isolation system and others. “All these critical technologies are available with HAL in the case of the ALH-based NUH, as it is HAL’s own development,” says HAL’s letter, which Business Standard has reviewed.

HAL also claims that “many other critical and advanced technologies [are] available with HAL, like the avionics system, glass cockpit, composite airframe technologies etc.”

Puri’s recommendations also reflect his opinion that it would be wasteful to buy a foreign helicopter, pay for transfer of technology, and develop manufacturing capability in an Indian private sector SP when all this already exists with HAL.

He has pointed out that the SP’s new manufacturing line would have no work after building 111 NUHs for the navy. The “transfer of technology” cost paid to the OEM and the cost of setting up a new NUH production line would make a foreign NUH far more expensive than the Dhruv, which HAL already manufactures in Bengaluru.

“Since the ALH-based NUH is conceived, designed and developed by HAL, there is no necessity for any ToT and thus a substantial amount of foreign exchange… can be saved,” HAL has argued.

HAL has also pointed out that it would be able to integrate weapons and sensors to meet the navy’s requirements in the future, upgrade the platform at any stage in its life-cycle, resolve technical issues and carry out “obsolescence management”, which involves ensuring the supply of spare parts all through its service life.

Puri’s intervention and HAL’s argument will not be welcomed by private sector firms who have responded to the MoD’s NUH tender. These includeTataAdvanced Systems Ltd, Adani Defence, Mahindra Defence, Reliance Defence and the Kalyani Group. In addition HAL submitted two responses – one in its individual capacity and another in a joint venture with Russian Helicopters Ltd called Indo-Russian Helicopters Ltd (IRHL).

The foreign helicopters in the fray include two Airbus helicopters – the AS 565 Mbe (Panther) and the H145M – as well as US firm Sikorsky’s S76D and the Russian Kamov 226T. The Panther is regarded as the front runner.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Our only allegiance is to Constitution: Army chief

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 12th Jan 20

Against the backdrop of concerns about growing politicisation of the military, the new army chief, General Manoj Naravane, strongly asserted that the army’s only allegiance is to the Constitution of India.

Addressing the media in Delhi in the run-up to Army Day on Wednesday, Naravane underscored the centrality of the Constitution in greater detail than any army chief before him.

“The army swears allegiance to the Constitution of India. Be it a jawanor an officer, you take an oath: “I swear by God that I will safeguard and honour the Constitution.” Naravane was referring to an oath that recruits take before being enrolled as soldiers.

“That is what will guide us in all our actions at all times,” said the new chief on Saturday.

Elaborating on this, Naravane said the army would safeguard the “core values which are enshrined in the preamble to the Constitution; that is justice, liberty, equality and fraternity.”

Stressing that the army must “secure for our people these core values,” Naravane stated: “That is what we (the army) and I need to keep in mind at all times.”

Naravane’s predecessor, General Bipin Rawat, had faced political flak last month for criticising students demonstrating against the government for a “lack of leadership”. In contrast, Naravane appeared to uphold democratic rights, as enshrined in the Constitution.

“If we realise what is our raison d’etre, and that is to uphold the Constitution and what it stands for, and the core values that are enshrined therein, and the fundamental rights that are guaranteed to all our citizens, then we will not go wrong in the discharge of our duties. We are an army of the people, and for the people. Whatever we do will be for that,” he stated.

Rebalancing operational emphasis to China border

Naravane also revealed that the army had rebalanced its operational emphasis from the western front (bordering Pakistan) to the northern front (bordering China).

“We continually evaluate likely threats and challenges that could develop. At one point, that was more towards the western front, but we feel now that both western and northern fronts are equally important and it is in that context that the rebalancing has taken place,” stated Naravane.

In this context, the Siachen Glacier sector has emerged as the most strategic and threatened sector, said Naravane. This was because both Pakistan and China physically bordered Siachen, and the two adversaries could collude to launch a combined offensive here.

“The threat of collusivity (collusion) is maximum in Siachen and the Shaksgam Valley,” said Naravane.

Asked whether the army was primarily oriented and trained for fighting a full scale war, or for counter insurgency (CI) and counter terrorism (CT) operations, Naravane stated that warfighting remained the army’s primary mission.

“We have a short-term threat of CI/CT but our long term threat will always be for conventional war and that is what we are preparing for,” said the army chief.

Terming CI/CT as a “short term requirement”, he said the brunt of this would be borne in the future by 63 Rashtriya Rifles battalions and 46 Assam Rifles battalions, freeing up the army to train for its primary role, which is conventional warfare.

Naravane also attempted to reach out to all sections of the army, including non-combat services that have been embittered in recent years by what they perceive as discriminatory promotion policies geared to favour the infantry.

I also want to assure everyone that in this process of [army restructuring], we will take everybody along. Nobody will be left behind.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

In a major naval aviation landmark, Tejas fighter lands on aircraft carrier

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 12th Jan 20

In a major landmark for indigenous Indian aviation, the naval version of the Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) landed for the first time on an aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, on Saturday.

This takes India into a select group of five nations – US, UK, Russia France and China – that have developed aircraft capable of landing and taking off from the severely constrained confines of an aircraft carrier deck, which is barely 200 metres long. During World War II, Japan too had developed carrier-capable fighters, but has not done so thereafter.

“After completing extensive trials on the Shore Based Test Facility (SBTF), naval version of Light Combat Aircraft did a successful arrested landing onboard INS Vikramaditya at 1002 hrs today. Commodore Jaideep Maolankar conducted the maiden landing,” stated a defence ministry release.

Landing on an aircraft carrier deck is the ultimate and most daunting challenge for a fighter pilot. He is required to slam down his fighter on a precise spot, so that the aircraft’s tail hook catches on a series of three wires laid across the landing deck. These wires unspool under resistance, dragging the fighter to a halt. 

Catching this so-called “arrestor gear” requires the fighter to descend much more sharply than in a regular landing. That requires a sturdy landing gear that can withstand the impact of what naval pilots often describe as a “controlled crash”.

To complicate matters further, the pilot is required to land with the throttle at “maximum power” so that, in case the tail hook does not catch the arrestor wires, the fighter can accelerate to take-off speed in the 200 metres of deck available to him.

In November, Girish Deodhare, chief of the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) agency in charge of the Tejas programme, told Business Standard that an actual carrier deck landing would be completed by the end of March. In the event, ADA has beaten its own deadline by over two months.

ADA will now carry out more test landings on INS Vikramaditya to generate inputs to fine-tune the controlling software. Carrier deck landings and take-offs can be greatly assisted by well-tuned flight computers.

The single-engine LCA Navy Mark I that landed today will not be inducted into naval service, being short on power and, therefore, fuel and weapons carriage capacity. The navy is waiting for a twin-engine LCA Navy Mark 2, with the engine power to get airborne with more fuel and weapons, which will provide greater punch and a longer operating range. The current Mark 1 is a test bed for developing the aviation systems that will go into the Mark 2.

ADA refers to the Mark 2 version as the Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TED-BF). ADA says it is targeting a first flight by 2025-26 and induction into service by 2031, when it will start to replace the Russian-origin MiG-29K/KUB fighters that currently fly off INS Vikramaditya. 

With the current LCA Navy Mark 1’s single General Electric (GE) F-404 engine replaced by two, more powerful, GE F-414 engines, the TED-BF will be a bigger and more heavily armed fighter.

The MiG-29 will also fly off INS Vikrant, India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier that is due to be commissioned in 2021. In addition, the navy is pursuing the procurement of 57 medium fighters to equip the Vikrant, and a second indigenous aircraft carrier called INS Vishal, which is currently on the drawing board.

Friday, 3 January 2020

PM Modi inaugurates five high-tech DRDO labs where everyone is under 35

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 3rd Jan 2020

On Thursday, in Bengaluru, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated five new scientific laboratories, which will employ only scientists under the age of 35 to develop cutting-edge and futuristic technologies for military weaponry.

Three months after Modi won the 2014 elections, he proposed that the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) must empower its younger scientists by establishing at least five laboratories where everyone, including the director, was less than 35 years old.

“We need labs in India which utilize raw talent, which employ people only below the age of 35. Let us allow these young scientists full decision-making power,” said Modi.

In response to his call, five so-called DRDO Young Scientist Laboratories (DYSLs) have come up in Bengaluru, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Hyderabad. “Each lab is working on a key advanced technology of importance to the development of futuristic defence systems,” said the DRDO on Thursday. 

“Research in the area of rapidly evolving Artificial Intelligence will be carried out at Bengaluru. The all-important area of Quantum Technology will be based out of IIT Mumbai. The future is dependent on Cognitive Technologies and IIT Chennai will house the lab embarking in this area of research. New and futuristic area of Asymmetric Technologies, which will change the way wars are fought, will be based out of campus of Jadhavpur University, Kolkata. The research in hot and critical area of Smart Materials and their applications will be based out of Hyderabad,” announced the DRDO.

 A committee, chaired by the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India, K Vijay Raghavan, has selected the directors of these laboratories. “Directors are empowered with financial and administrative authority at par with any director of a DRDO laboratory,” the DRDO said. 

While the five DYSLs would be reserved for youth, the DRDO’s existing 52 laboratories are already utilising a large number of younger scientists in research on 21stcentury subjects like cyber security, electronic warfare and underwater systems.

Thursday, 2 January 2020

India has a Chief of Defence Staff: Here’s what Rawat can and cannot do

The new CDS, General Bipin Rawat, in his new purple-themed (the colour of joint staff) regalia

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 2nd Jan 2020

On New Year Day 2020, the army has its 28thchief, General Manoj Mukund Naravane, and the military its first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat.

Congratulating Rawat, who he described as “an outstanding officer who has served India with great zeal,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “This institution (CDS) carries tremendous responsibility of modernizing our military forces.”

Modi also acknowledged that the ministry of defence (MoD), as it earlier existed, was short of military domain expertise. He tweeted: “Creation of the Department of Military Affairs with requisite military expertise and institutionalisation of the post of CDS… will help our country face the ever-changing challenges of modern warfare.”

Several questions remain, however, over Rawat’s role and functions.

1.         Is the CDS the commander of all three services – army, navy and air force?

Yes, at a purely ceremonial level. In rank and salary, Rawat will remain the equal of the army, navy and air force chiefs, with the government having notified the CDS in “the rank of a four star general with salary and perquisites equivalent to a service chief.” However, hewill also be the ex officio“Permanent Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee” (PC-COSC) – a body that includes all three service chiefs. 

As its permanent chairman, Rawat will be the first amongst these equals, like an elder in a gentlemen’s club. However, the government has specifically stated: “CDS will not exercise any military command, including over the three service chiefs.”

 Rawat’s second and more consequential role, from where he will draw substantive power over the services, will be as head of a new “Department of Military Affairs” (DMA) in the MoD. In this capacity, he will oversee substantive matters relating to the three services, including promotions, postings and foreign assignments. This will translate into enormous clout.

2.         Who will be senior, the CDS or the defence secretary?

In rank, precedence and salary, Rawat – like the three service chiefs – will be senior to the defence secretary, since service chiefs are the seniority equivalent of the cabinet secretary.

Traditionally, the defence secretary, who heads the department of defence (DoD), enjoys greater importance than the MoD’s other foursecretaries – who head the department of defence procurement (DDP), defence research and development (Defence R&D), ex-servicemen’s welfare (DESW) and defence finance (DDF). In the Allocation of Business Rules, the defence secretary is responsible for the “defence of India”.

Though the defence secretary has shed many of his responsibilities to the DMA, he retains responsibility for the defence of India and for making “defence policy”. He also remains responsible for all capital procurements from the defence budget. It is likely that, while the CDS will be nominally senior to the defence secretary, the latter will remain more influential.

3.         Is the appointment of a CDS a masterstroke that will achieve defence modernisation?

As CDS, Rawat can improve tri-service coordination and economise by eliminating duplication of military resources and facilities. He can also improve the military’s operational readiness by prioritising procurement of more urgently needed equipment. However, while obtaining more bang for the buck, he can do little about the primary obstacle to modernisation – which is a defence budget that is under 16 per cent of the central government’s expenditure. This is inadequate for equipping the military with sufficiently modern weaponry. Nor is the defence allocation likely to rise in absolute terms, given the current 4.5 per cent economic growth rate.

4.         Is the appointment of a CDS likely to achieve the creation of battle-ready, tri-service military commands, from the current 17 single-service commands?

The government has formally given the CDS the task of “restructuring of military commands for optimal utilisation of resources by bringing about jointness in operations, including through establishment of joint/theatre commands.”

This would greatly improve the operational posture of the three services and create a culture of integrated tri-service operations. However, there is deep institutional resistance to creating theatre commands, especially from the air force. 

Asked on Wednesday whether he would be able to change entrenched mindsets, Rawat was cautious. “That is something we will have to study. We will work with the three services and I’m sure we will come out with a mechanism that will suit the Indian system. We don’t have to copy systems (of tri-service integration) from other countries, we will do what suits us best,” said Rawat.

5.         In 2001-02, a Group of Ministers recommended that a CDS be appointed to serve as a single point military advisor to the government. Has that been achieved? 

Not really. The CDS notification states he “will act as the principal military adviser to Raksha Mantri (RM) on all tri-services matters. The three chiefs will continue to advise RM on matters exclusively concerning their respective services.” 

This compromise serves a dual purpose. It reduces resistance within the three services to creating a CDS, by preserving the three chiefs’ access to the RM. At the same time, it reduces the government’s reliance on a single-point advisor. The army, navy and air force chiefs would be able to provide the RM with greater domain knowledge about their respective services, allowing the CDS to focus on tri-service coordination.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

To all Broadsword readers, who take the trouble to visit my blog and plough through my writing...


Meanwhile, I remain at my keyboard to give you continuing updates on Indian defence and security and the economics, evolution, design and operational utility of Indian weapon systems. Do continue watching this space...