Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Balakot, a year on: What has changed for India after the airstrike?

 By Ajai Shukla
New Delhi
Business Standard, 26th Feb 20

A year has passed since Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter aircraft bombed a compound near the town of Balakot, in Pakistan, which had been identified as a training camp run by the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). The JeM is a Pakistani Punjabi terrorist group that focuses its activities on India and had brought the two countries to the brink of war after its fighters attacked the Parliament building in New Delhi on December 13, 2001.

Balakot was struck in the early morning hours of February 26, 2019, in retaliation for the killing of 40 Central Reserve Policy Force jawans in a suicide car-bomb attack near Pulwama, Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). Located about 80 kilometres across the Line of Control (LoC), in the Pakistani province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the Balakot strike was the first by India on a target in mainland Pakistan since the 1971 war. All fighting since then, including the Siachen and Kargil conflicts, has been confined to the disputed J&K state.

New Delhi declared the attack a major success. Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale announced that “a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis” were eliminated. The same day, the Indian media cited “government sources” to claim that 300 terrorists were in the camp when it was struck. A few days later, Amit Shah, the president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), claimed in an election rally that “more than 250” terrorists died in Balakot. Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared: “India will no longer be helpless in the face of terror.”

All this while, the IAF declined to put a figure on the casualties inflicted in the attack, stating merely that it had accurately struck the designated target. Pakistan repeatedly denied any casualties and took foreign journalists to Balakot, but kept them some distance from the camp.

A similar game of claims and counter-claims ensued the next day, when the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) launched its own cross-LoC strikes on Indian military targets. India claims it “thwarted their plans” and shot down a PAF F-16 fighter, while losing one IAF MiG-21, whose pilot bailed out and was captured by Pakistani ground troops and subsequently repatriated to India. The PAF denies losing any aircraft, while claiming that it shot down two Indian fighters.

A year later, beyond the rhetoric, what are the key changes for each side?

A new normal?

First, there is the contention that, with the Balakot strike, India has established a “new normal” that would govern its future reactions to Pakistan-backed, cross-border terrorist provocations. Previously, New Delhi had reacted to such incidents with remonstrations, empty threats or demonstrative military mobilization, such as after the 2001 terror strike on India’s Parliament. After the 26/11 Mumbai terror strikes in 2008, as also after the Mumbai train bombings in 2006, New Delhi had confined its reaction to mere diplomatic condemnation. 

In contrast, the cross-LoC “surgical strikes” of September 2016, staged to retaliate against the killing of 17 Indian soldiers in Uri, demonstrated that India would retaliate militarily. The Balakot air strike was an even stronger message, since the target is located in what New Delhi recognizes as Pakistani territory, not in disputed J&K. 

Further, in the unwritten code that governs the use of armed force on the LOC, air strikes – especially across the IB – constitute a significant escalation over cross-border firing, or a limited crossing of the LOC by ground forces, which are regarded as less inflammatory options.

The Balakot strike, therefore, constitutes a message that New Delhi would have no choice but to retaliate strongly against future terrorist outrages, with cross-IB or -LoC air and ground attacks, but not necessarily restricted to those. India’s deterrence posture has unquestionably hardened and its efficacy is evident from the absence of seriously damaging cross-border terrorist attacks since then.

Even so, the LoC continues to witness ceasefire violations and infiltration. This suggests that, in the long term, strikes on non-military targets like the JeM camp in Balakot have only a limited and transient ability to compel the Pakistan army to fundamentally alter its patterns of behaviour.

With the Indian military unable, or unwilling, to present concrete and unquestionable proof of having struck the terrorist infrastructure it targeted, of having killed hundreds of terrorists and of having shot down a PAF F-16 fighter with an obsolescent MiG-21, Pakistan’s military has succeeded in selling its public an alternative narrative in which the Pakistani David successfully gave a black eye to the Indian Goliath.

Calling “Pakistan’s bluff”

Not to be outdone, a host of Indian strategists, analysts and retired military officers appeared on news television to claim that India had abandoned strategic restraint and had “called Pakistan’s nuclear bluff.” They argued that India’s nuclear deterrent and second strike capability had preventing Pakistan from rattling its nuclear sabre, thus allowing India to strike targets inside Pakistan. Even Modi, while campaigning in the run up to the May 2019 general elections, claimed that Pakistan had been deterred from using nuclear weapons by the certain knowledge that India’s nuclear weapons would not be saved up for Diwali.

In fact, at no stage did India come anywhere near transgressing Pakistan’s nuclear red lines. That military believes its conventional forces are capable of holding off an Indian offensive long enough to allow international pressure to end the fighting. Pakistan plans to invoke the use of nuclear weapons only if its survival was threatened by crippling military losses, or if India was poised to capture a large part of that country. Given the highly limited scope of the Balakot strike, and Gokhale’s unequivocal assertion that the operation was completed and that it targeted only terrorists, Pakistan’s existence was never threatened. It would be dangerous for New Delhi to believe it had successfully called Islamabad’s nuclear bluff and could henceforth disregard Pakistan’s nuclear options. If that country’s media is anything to go by, the lesson drawn by Pakistani generals is that, in the event of India using force in a future crisis, they must escalate more rapidly to the nuclear brink.

Diplomatic isolation

On the diplomatic plane, contact between the two capitals remains broken with both sides having withdrawn their envoys after New Delhi read down J&K’s special status on August 5 and split the state into two union territories.

India has strenuously attempted to isolate Pakistan internationally but with mixed results. China continues its support to its “all weather ally” and, after New Delhi’s intervention in J&K, Turkey and Malaysia also back Pakistan. India has had greater success in putting Pakistan under pressure from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a 39-member international body, for failing to block fund flows to terrorist organisations designated by the United Nations Security Council, which include the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and the JeM. 

Pakistan, having complied so far with only four of the 27 action points demanded by the FATF, remains on the list of “Other Monitored Jurisdictions”, or grey list, until the next review on June 2020. India seeks to get Pakistan placed on the list of “Non-Cooperative Countries or Territories” or black list, which will curb financial flows and aid to Islamabad, placing Pakistan under even greater economic pressure. Already under dire economic stress, Pakistan arrested LeT chief, Hafiz Saeed in July, who was sentenced in February to five years in prison for terrorist finance violations.

On May 1, sustained Indian pressure paid off when China lifted its veto and the UN designated JeM chief, Maulana Masood Azhar, an international terrorist and placed him on the 1267 Sanctions List. While Pakistan is likely to minimise the actual impact of this measure, it theoretically means the shutdown of the JeM and its activities.

Yet, Islamabad continues to extract support, including from Washington, by virtue of its control over the Taliban at a time when America seeks to negotiate a face-saving withdrawal from 19 years of war in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, New Delhi’s August crackdown in J&K, which in many respects still continues, has brought an unwelcome international spotlight onto India’s human rights record. In the US Congress, traditional bipartisan support for India is giving way to criticism, including from Indian-origin representatives such as Pramila Jayapal, who has tabled a resolution in the House of Representatives that criticises India’s heavy-handedness in Kashmir. While that has received support from only 63 members in the 435-member House, a growing chorus of anti-India criticism from American civil society and the powerful liberal media could complicate the problem. So far, the US administration has remained silent, with President Donald Trump stating during his visit to New Delhi that India should resolve its own internal problems. However, a senior administration official noted pithily: “What the US Congress says today is usually what the administration will say tomorrow.”

Trade relations

In the wake of the Pulwama attack, India withdrew Pakistan’s “most favoured nation” (MFN) trade status and imposed punitive tariffs on that country. With retaliatory tariffs imposed by Islamabad on Indian exports, the two biggest victims are Indian exporters; and consumers in Pakistan who are being denied access to cheap Indian exports. Yet, given that most Indian exports to Pakistan are routed through West Asia, it is only direct India-Pakistan trade that is suffering consequences.

Water sharing

A week after the Pulwama attack, New Delhi threatened Pakistan it would get tough on water sharing. Water Resources Minister Nitin Gadkari tweeted: “Our government has decided to stop our share of water which used to flow to Pakistan. We will divert water from eastern rivers and supply it to our people in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab.” 

This was not a threat to abrogate the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960 (IWT), but rather a reiteration of earlier commitments to prevent the flow of water into Pakistan from the three rivers that fall in India’s share under the IWT: the Sutlej, Ravi and Beas. While Gadkari’s tweet sounded menacing, Pakistan would continue getting the water in the three western rivers: Indus, Jhelum and Chenab rivers. India fails to harness all the water from the eastern rivers largely because of its own unresolved inter-state water disputes. Were these disagreements to be resolved, it would still take India years to build the dams and canals needed to divert all the water it is entitled to under the IWT.


A year after Balakot, India and Pakistan remain locked in hostility, with little prospect of reconciliation in the offing. New Delhi’s unrelenting pressure on Islamabad continues, but that has only made Pakistan more determined than ever to confront and criticise India in every possible forum. Pakistan believes India has been rendered vulnerable to criticism by its crackdown in J&K, and New Delhi’s liberal credentials further tarnished by the sustained protests over the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019, which is internationally seen as anti-Muslim. With Trump offering mediation on resolving the J&K dispute, Pakistan believes the Kashmir game is not yet over.

US, India are now “global strategic partners”, to resume Quadrilateral Initiative

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Feb 20

Without any deadlock-breaking agreements on trade, or the sale of nuclear power reactors, much of the feel-good around the two-day visit of US President Donald Trump centred on the burgeoning US-India strategic and defence partnership.

“Today, President Trump and I have taken a decision to raise our partnership to the level of a comprehensive global strategic partnership,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing the media after bilateral talks in New Delhi on Tuesday.

Modi and Trump agreed to galvanize the Quadrilateral Initiative (Quad), which could become an important element in the Indo-Pacific strategic architecture, bringing together democracies that are wary of a rising China. 

“Together, the Prime Minister and I are revitalizing the Quad Initiative with the United States, India, Australia, and Japan.  Since I took office, we have held the first Quad ministerial meeting… and expanded cooperation on counterterrorism, cybersecurity, and maritime security to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific,” stated Trump.

Over the preceding 15 years, New Delhi has avoided alienating China by walking a delicate line on initiatives like the Quad, and on exercises and operations with US military forces in the Indo-Pacific. 

Modi abandoned some of that restraint on Tuesday, declaring: “In the last few years, there has been an unprecedented increase in interoperability between our armies.”

Trump confirmed that India’s military signed contracts with Boeing and Lockheed Martin on Tuesday for the purchase of military helicopters. Earlier today, we expanded our defense cooperation with agreements for India to purchase more than $3 billion of advanced American military equipment, including Apache and MH-60 Romeo helicopters -- the finest in the world. These deals will enhance our joint defense capabilities as our militaries continue to train and operate side-by-side,” said Trump.

Importantly for Trump, who is critical of India’s $24 billion trade surplus with the US, these contracts will take the total value of US defence equipment bought by India to over $20-21 billion.

The Indian Army will get the Apache attack helicopter in its AH-64E configuration, with deliveries starting in 2023, according to the manufacturer, Boeing. 

This is the latest version that entered service with the US Army in 2011. Boeing says it has 26 new advanced technologies, including more powerful engines, composite rotor blades and the capability to control unmanned aerial vehicles.

More than 2,400 Apaches are in service worldwide, with over 400 of them being the latest AH-64E model. The Indian Air Force (IAF) has already bought 22 Apache AH-64Es, which will all arrive by May.

Since the current army purchase of six Apaches does not meet the requirements of even one strike corps, more Apaches are likely to be procured in the future.

The Hyderabad-based firm, Tata Boeing Aerospace Limited (TBAL), already manufactures helicopter fuselages for multiple Apache operators around the world. TBAL is a joint venture between Tata Advanced Systems Ltd and Boeing.

Modi underlined the growing manufacture in India of advanced defence and aerospace components and systems for global vendors. “Cooperation in ultra-modern defense equipment and platforms will enhance India’s defense capabilities.  Our defense manufacturers are becoming a part of each other’s supply chains,” he said.

Despite India’s growing purchase of US weaponry and the incorporation of Indian manufacturers into global supply chains, there is a worrying lack of movement in furthering the technology relationship that India wants – which involves co-design and co-development of equipment, so that Indian firms can absorb the “know how” and “know why” needed to build truly indigenous weaponry.

“The Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) which New Delhi and Washington set up to align the two sides’ aspirations has not yet resulted in a single successful project,” points out an Indian defence scientist.

The Trump-Modi meeting was markedly silent on the flagship DTTI project: US assistance in designing India’s second indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vishal. There are concerns on the US side that India’s static defence budget has little money to support such projects.

There was only a cursory update on the long-running negotiation of a pending US-India foundational agreement – the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation (BECA) – with the joint statement looking forward to its “early conclusion”. Two other foundational agreements – the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and the Communication Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) have already been concluded, enabling the two militaries to work together.

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Trump announces $3 billion in arms sales to be signed today

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 25th Feb 20

Visiting US president Donald Trump, addressing a cheering throng of 125,000 Indians in Ahmedabad’s Motera Stadium soon after landing in India on Monday, talked up US-India defence cooperation and pitched to sell India “some of the best, most feared, military equipment on the planet.”

“We make the greatest weapons ever made – aeroplanes, rockets, ships, missiles. We make the best and we are dealing now with India,” said Trump.

“I am pleased to announce that tomorrow (Tuesday) our representatives will sign deals to sell over $3 billion in the absolute, finest, state-of-the-art helicopters and other equipment to the Indian armed forces,” said the US president.

Washington has already logged $15-18 billion in defence sales to India over the preceding decade, including C-130J Super Hercules and C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft, P-8I Poseidon long range maritime aircraft, M777 ultralight howitzers and CH-47F Chinook and AH-64E Apache helicopters. With equipment worth billions more in the pipeline, Trump stated confidently: “I believe the United States should be India’s premier defence partner and that’s the way it’s working out.”

On the agenda on Tuesday, say US and Indian official sources, is the signature of a $2.6 billion contract for the supply to India of 24 Sikorsky NH-60R (popularly called “Romeo”) naval multirole helicopters, worth an estimated $2.6 billion.

The Romeo is badly needed, say naval planners, to operate off Indian frigates, destroyers and aircraft carriers. The navy’s dozen-odd Seaking helicopters are well past their retirement dates.

The Romeo provides its parent warship with greatly enhanced anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability. Its “dunking sonar” detects enemy submarines, which are then sunk with its formidable on-board torpedoes. In addition, the chopper can patrol a vast expanse of ocean and destroy enemy ships with air-to-surface (A2S) missiles. The Romeo can also fly naval commandoes to enemy shores, landing them there with covering fire from its on-board machine guns.

The Romeo’s versatility, large weapons payload and sophisticated avionics have earned it the nicknames of “flying frigate” and “Swiss army knife of naval choppers.”

While Tuesday will witness the signing of a contract for just 24 helicopters – insufficient to equip even the navy’s current warships – the requirement is actually for 123 such helicopters. After buying the current 24 off the shelf, the navy will initiate another procurement to build 99 more in India under the “strategic partner” (SP) programme. This will involve selecting a private Indian company as SP, which would then partner a foreign vendor to manufacture the equipment in India.

With 24 Romeos already in the fleet, Sikorsky would be in pole position in any competitive procurement to build more naval helicopters in India.

However, “Make in India” would cost some 50 per cent more than buying off the shelf, since it would involve setting up a new factory after obtaining a manufacturing licence from the original vendor, creating an eco-system of Tier-1, Tier-2 and Tier-3 sub-vendors, training workers and creating a testing and licensing eco-system.

New Delhi and Washington are also keen to complete the signing of a contract for six AH-64E Apache attack helicopters, for an estimated $930 million. The Indian Air Force (IAF) has already contracted for 22 Apaches, delivery of which will be completed this year. Now all further Apaches contracted will equip the army’s mechanised strike corps.

Also in the pipeline, but unlikely to be signed on Tuesday, is an Indian procurement of about 30 high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs), of the Sea Guardian category. This tri-services procurement is likely to cost about $3 billion.

The biggest and most lucrative tender, however, is the IAF’s ongoing tender for 114 medium fighters, which would cost $15-20 billion. Two American firms are in the running for that contract: Boeing, with its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin which has offered the F-21 fighter – a renamed version of the F-16 Block 70.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Women in command: The decision on permanent commission was long overdue

Captain Tanya Shergill commands a contingent of men soldiers in the Republic Day parade

By Ajai Shukla
Unsigned editorial in Business Standard
18th Feb 20 

India’s military has a well-deserved reputation of being a meritocracy that treats its members equally, irrespective of religion, caste or colour. Unfortunately, it has never been gender neutral, steeped, like most militaries worldwide, in patriarchal notions of gender roles. As a consequence, even though women were allowed to serve as officers since 1992, their terms of service have remainied severely circumscribed, especially compared with their male counterparts. The Supreme Court’s judgment on Monday goes a long way towards levelling the playing field.

In its essence, the court has addressed a petition by a group of 332 women officers challenging the terms and conditions of service imposed arbitrarily by the defence ministry in 2006. In that, the government permitted women to serve for 14 years (as against just five years earlier), but denied them eligibility for permanent commission (PC), which would allow them to continue serving for 20 years, by when they would be eligible for a pension. The SC judgment now allows women officers to opt for PC, whichever stage of service they are at. It also removes the bar the government has imposed on women tenanting command appointments, allowing them to command military units.

The rationale presented by the defence ministry to argue for restrictions on the role of women officers makes for depressing reading. It argues that the military is not just a profession but a “way of life” that requires sacrifices and commitment, which women officers would find a challenge “owing to their prolonged absence during pregnancy, motherhood and domestic obligations…” The government went on to argue that soldiers rely heavily on physical prowess in combat and that “inherent physiological differences between men and women” make it a challenge for women to command military units – even non-combat units. The argument against women also cites “minimal facilities for habitat and hygiene” in forward posts. Women, the government goes on to argue “have a negative impact on unit cohesion”. The apex court has done well to dismiss this deeply entrenched misogyny with the observation that this is a stereotypical and constitutionally flawed notion and that assumptions about women in the social context of marriage, family and society are not a constitutionally valid basis for denying equal opportunity to women officers.

The judgment has found merit in the argument that the army’s hierarchy must begin accepting women as equal colleagues. It has noted that, over the last 26 years, women officers of all ages and service profiles have been posted to sensitive places, including tough field areas, and that they have performed excellently for the most part. The only persuasive logic that defence ministry deployed was that changing the terms of women officers’ service from Short Service Commission (SSC) to PC, would militate against the findings of the Ajay Vikram Singh Committee that sought to create a leaner permanent cadre of officers, supplemented by an enhanced SSC cadre, which would serve a few years and then go home without competing for higher ranks. It was calculated that the PC:SSC ratio should be 1:1.1, in order to reduce the army’s worryingly pyramid-like promotion structure. Currently, that ratio is skewed at an unsustainable 3.98:1. The induction of hundreds of women officers from the SSC into the PC cadre will skew the promotion pyramid further. This, however, could be managed, since women officers constitute just four per cent of the overall officer strength: a total of 1,653 women officers out of 40,825 officers in all.

Permanent commission, command roles for women in Army get Supreme Court nod

Rejects ministry’s argument that ‘troops not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command of units’

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Feb 20

In an important step towards granting women the right to serve in the military on equal terms with men, the Supreme Court (SC) on Monday granted women the right to permanent commission (PC), and the right to command.

This opens the doors for women to command military units, such as logistics, signals or engineer regiments, thus placing them in the position of leading bodies of 500-600 men in combat support duties.

The apex court rejected the defence ministry’s argument that “(Indian) troops are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command of units” because they (the men) are “predominantly drawn from a rural background.” In so arguing, the defence ministry had implicitly invoked a social order in which women normally take orders from men.

The SC rejected that outright. “The submissions advanced in the note tendered to this Court are based on sex stereotypes premised on assumptions about socially ascribed roles of gender which discriminate against women,” said the judgment.

The apex court also dismissed the defence ministry’s contention that “owing to their prolonged absence during pregnancy, motherhood and domestic obligations towards their children and families,” women are not equipped to deal with “the hazards of service.”

The judgment called this “a strong stereotype which assumes that domestic obligations rest solely on women.”

“Physiological features of women have no link to their rights. This mindset must change,” said Justices DY Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi, who were on the two-judge bench that delivered the landmark judgment.

The petition was filed by a group of 332 women army officers, who joined the army from 1993 onwards. Their petition was partially accepted by the Delhi High Court in March 2010, a verdict that the defence ministry appealed against in the apex court.

Importantly, this Supreme Court ruling does not grant women the right to serve in combat units. However, it dismisses the government’s contention that women would be permitted to serve only in staff assignments, and not in command billets.

“An absolute bar on women seeking criteria or command appointments would not comport with the guarantee of equality under Article 14… The blanket non-consideration of women for criteria or command appointments absent an individuated justification by the Army cannot be sustained in law,” the judgment stated. 

Women already serve in combat roles in the air force, which last year qualified its first women fighter pilots. Navy chief, Admiral Karambir Singh, pointed out in December that women naval officers already perform combat tasks, such as firing torpedoes and missiles at enemy warships while serving as observers and weapons systems officers on board maritime aircraft like the P-8I Poseidon. Women officers also serve on board naval warships in combat, albeit discharging non-combat roles.

However, there remains strong institutional resistance to allowing women into combat roles in the army, where the infantry, armoured corps, mechanised infantry, army aviation and artillery could often be involved in close-in, hand-to-hand fighting with the enemy.

At the time of filing the petition, woman officers were permitted PC in only two services – the Judge Advocate General’s Branch and the Army Education Corps. Women officers in all other units were entitled only to a “Short Service Commission” (SSC), which allows them to serve five years, extendable to 10 years; and then a maximum of 14 years. Earning a pension requires an officer to have served at least 20 years.

However, on February 25, 2019, the defence ministry permitted SSC women officers in another eight arms/services to be granted PC.

Women doctors and dentists have long been allowed permenent commissions, as are women in the Military Nursing Service (MNS). Women doctors and dentists comprise one-fifth of all medical corps officers, while the MNS is an all-woman service.

In contrast, just 3.8 per cent of the army’s 42,253 officers, 6 per cent of the navy’s 10,393 officers and 13.1 per cent of the air force’s 12,404 officers are women. Many young women say they are deterred from joining the military because of the SSC restrictions.

Women in uniform^

Total officers held
Women officers held
Air Force
Medical corps
Dental corps
Nursing service
(Figures compiled from responses to Parliamentary questions)

^ As on January 1, 2018

Now the Supreme Court ruling will allow women to opt for PRC at the time they join, without the periodic reviews and extensions inherent in the SSC route. 

The judgment cited 11 examples of women officers who had performed acts of gallantry or exemplary service.

“After nearly three decades of meritorious services and numerous medals won by women officers, it is unfortunately still argued that they do not fit due to physiological features. I hail this judgement, which is perhaps the only way to bring much needed change,” says Wing Commander (Retired) Neelu Khatri, who was amongst the first batch of women officers commissioned in 1993-94.

The SC ruling only applies to women in officer rank, since women do not currently serve in the rank and file. The first step towards that has been taken last year, with the defence ministry informing Parliament that 1,700 women would be enrolled into the Military Police as enlisted personnel, below officer rank.

In another measure that opens the door wider for women, the defence ministry has approved the admission of girl children in Sainik Schools, starting from academic session 2021-22. This decision follows the success of a pilot project in Sainik School Chhingchhip, in Mizoram, which began two years ago. 

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Boeing to offer F-15EX fighter to India, will have two aircraft in contest

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 13th Feb 20

Seven of the world’s premier fighter aircraft are already competing in the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) global tender for 114 medium fighters. There could soon be an eighth: the F-15EX fighter, developed for the US Air Force (USAF) by The Boeing Company.

On Wednesday, Boeing confirmed to aviation magazine FlightGlobal that it has asked the US government for sanction to offer the IAF its F-15EX.

“While awaiting further definition on the Indian Air Force’s requirements, we have requested a license for the F-15 so that we’re ready to share the full spectrum of potential solutions across our fighter portfolio when appropriate,” stated Boeing to FlightGlobal.

Boeing would thus be fielding two fighter aircraft in this tender. It has already offered its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter in response to a “Request for Information” (RFI) the IAF floated last year.

Boeing has also offered the Super Hornet in response to a separate RFI the Indian Navy floated for 57 fighters, to be flown off its aircraft carriers. 

“We continue to offer the F/A-18 Super Hornet to both the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force, and our F-15 is experiencing a resurgence in interest in the US and around the world,” stated Boeing to FlightGlobal.

Boeing has requested a licence in order to be able to share details of the F-15EX with Indian officials. This is a mandatory requirement under the US government’s International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

The other fighter manufacturers that have responded to the IAF’s RFI include: Lockheed Martin, with its single-engined F-21; Saab with its single-engined Gripen E/F, Dassault with its twin-engined Rafale, Eurofighter GmbH with its twin-engined Typhoon, and Russia with two twin-engined fighters: RAC MiG-35 and Sukhoi Su-35.

The IAF’s procurement of 114 fighters follows the cancellation in 2015 of its 2007 tender for 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA), and the purchase of 36 Rafale fighters in 2016. Short of numbers, the IAF has launched the procurement of 114 medium fighters in an exercise that closely mirrors the MMRCA tender.

The F-15 Eagle programme, like that of the F-18 Hornet, dates back decades. However, Boeing has developed futuristic versions of both fighters for the decades ahead. The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is slated to equip US Navy carriers into the 2040s, while the F-15EX (which is still to be named), will provide the USAF with multi-role capability during this period.

The F-15 Eagle, which is flown by several air forces, including that of Israel, has a formidable air-to-air combat record of 104-0. Along the way, Boeing developed a ground strike version called the Strike Eagle. Now, equipped with a new cockpit, airborne electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, integrated electronic warfare suite and fused sensors and data links, the F-15EX is a multi-role fighter capable of the full range of missions.

Capable of flying at Mach 2.5 (two-and-a-half times the speed of sound), the F-15EX is the world’s fastest fighter aircraft. It carries 13.5 tonnes of weapons load, more than the Rafale or the Sukhoi-30MKI. And with a range of 1,000 nautical miles (1,850 kilometres), it can strike targets deep inside enemy territory.

Based on publicly available US budget figures, the F-15EX costs $80.3 million per fighter. The cost of the twin engines and armament could be half that again. However, building the aircraft in India, which involves setting up and certifying a new factory and training workers could take that up significantly, as would adding the cost of spares and weaponry.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

DRDO chief interview: “We must work today to develop the technologies of tomorrow”

At Defexpo 2020, the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) chief, Dr Satheesh Reddy, spoke to Ajai Shukla about the “Make in India” initiative. Edited excerpts:

Q.        How can multiple agencies -- the DRDO, defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs) private industry and academia function cooperatively in developing and manufacturing defence equipment?

In the “Make in India” programme, the role of the DRDO is to support industry with technologies that are, as far as possible, developed within the country. These technologies must be transferred to the industry so that they are not reliant on outside technologies. Most technology transfer that happens is “manufacturing technology.” There is very little transfer of “know how” and “know why”. In contrast, technology developed by the DRDO has been completely developed in-house and in the country. This has involved a knowledge-debate within academia, within R&D organisations and within industry. So the DRDO must focus on developing as many critical technologies as possible and transferring them to the industry.

Meanwhile, the industry’s role should not be that of a mere producer. It must upgrade skills from “build to print” (i.e. translate a blueprint into a product) to “build to specs” (translate product specifications into a blueprint, and thence into a product). That would take much of the development load off the DRDO, which can then concentrate on developing core technologies. Today, if we want to satisfy the armed forces, or to address the export market, we need to make systems that incorporate state-of-the-art technologies. So we must work today to develop the technologies of tomorrow, in order to become state-of-the-art.

India has been mostly a technology follower. Weaponry and products come to us and then, years later, we try to develop the technologies in those. That has to change, and we have to become a technology leader, or at least contemporary. I cannot sell a system that incorporates decade-old technology.

Q.        Given that we are technology followers, isn’t this going to take a long time?

No. In some technology areas, we are already very strong. For example, we already have all the technologies that are needed in missile systems. Today, we can develop any missile system that may be required. Similarly, in radar technology, we are completely self-sufficient. Even industry is equipped and experienced to support us in this field. We are also strong in fields like sonar, torpedoes, electronic warfare systems, airborne warning and control systems (AWACS) and artillery guns.

In building these systems we operate at the technology frontier. We are amongst the six or seven most advanced nations in these areas. So, in these areas, we should think innovatively about what will be required after five years and start developing that today. In five years, we could have a technologically leading, first-of-its-kind system.

Q.        Who should be responsible for this technology anticipation and planning?

It has to be a combination of R&D organisations and academia, with inputs from the armed forces.

Q.        Under someone like the DRDO chairman, or the Scientific Advisor to the Government?

We already meet regularly and talk to the armed forces for drawing up its LTIPP (long term integrated perspective plan). We also take feedback from academia about what basic research and applied research is under way, and we try and assess what shape the country is in terms of scientific and technological capability. We have not set up a formal body for this purpose, but we have prepared a technology roadmap in DRDO based on these discussions. Each of the DRDO’s laboratories has a technology roadmap and all of this comes together in the larger assessment.

Q.        In developing weapons platforms in India, traditionally DRDO has functioned as a systems integrator. Do you believe DRDO should concentrate on developing core technologies, while capable private firms take on the role of systems integrators?

Absolutely. The days when DRDO used to be systems integrator have gone. Already, some DPSUs have begun functioning as systems integrators and soon private industry will also do systems integration. We have brought in a concept called DCPP – development cum production partner. This involves selecting a private firm as the DCPP, who joins on Day-1 of the project and works and learns with the DRDO, which also benefits from the firm’s capabilities. The firm then becomes the manufacturing partner when the product goes into production.

Q.        But in the model you describe, DRDO seems to be the lead integrator…

No, the private firm is the integrator; the DRDO only oversees. The first time, it will be difficult for him to be the lead integrator. For example, in developing a new missile system, we would oversee the working of our DCPP. By the end of the development phase, the firm will have absorbed the technology and developed capability and experience. The DCPP also manufactures the system, so there is a smooth induction into service in large numbers.

Q.        With the DPSUs not having functioned well as production partners, is it time to give private firms greater opportunities as production partners?

I believe that DPSUs and private industry can co-exist. There is an excellent model for cooperation in the Akash missile, for which the military has placed orders worth Rs 25,000 crore. Bharat Dynamics is the lead production agency, but 85 per cent of the production value has gone to private industries as Tier-1, Tier-2 and Tier-3 suppliers.

Q.        But is private industry confined to the role of lower order suppliers?

No. The Akash missile has four sections and there are private firms that supply an entire section, fully integrated with all its electronic and mechanical packages. There is a tier-ised production chain that enables BDL to produce a significant number of missiles every month. So there is space for both public and private firms to operate. We cannot just close a DPSU. And, when we give the job of lead production agency to a private sector firm, there is a need to protect the Tier-1, Tier-2 and Tier-3 suppliers. Otherwise MSMEs will vanish.

Cracking defence exports

By Ajai Shukla
Unsigned editorial in Business Standard
10th February 2020

New Delhi’s aim of increasing defence exports ten-fold, from the existing level of about 2,000-3,000 crore annually to over $5 billion (Rs 35,000 crore) each year, was first enunciated in the Defence Production Policy of 2018 (DPrP-2018). At Defexpo 2020 in Lucknow last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reaffirmed that pledge. Helped along by adding the export of civil aerospace products to that of defence kit, the export figure has reached a high of Rs 10,700 crore this year. Even so, meeting the DPrP-2018 export target still requires a three-and-a-half fold increase, which will take some doing. 

Multiplying defence exports is crucial for meeting the DPrP-2018 target of taking India into the league of one of the world’s top five defence producers, with an annual turnover of US $26 billion (Rs 180,000 crore). Currently, defence production is a mere Rs 90,000 crore per year and doubling this would require vastly increased exports. The currentdefence capital allocation is Rs 118,534 crore and the lion’s share of this is spent on foreign equipment. Next, the defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs) get to feed at the table, with the defence ministry ensuring their order books are full. The left overs, if any, are then made available to India’s private sector defence firms. The defence ministry official who interfaces with industry explicitly spelt out in a seminar of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in June that the private sector must export to survive. He warned the limited capital budget would be barely enough for paying instalments for equipment purchased in previous years, and for purchases from the public sector defence production units. Private defence firms could expect only “a small share of the pie,” he said.

To be sure, the government has moved purposefully to boost defence exports. It has charged defence attaches posted to Indian embassies across the world with seeking out opportunities to supply their host countries with Indian military equipment. New Delhi has created a liberalised trade environment for Indian defence exports by obtaining entry into the four global export control regimes. India is already a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group. Entry into the fourth – the Nuclear Suppliers Group – could be nigh. In October, Indian officials invited in 50 foreign military attaches posted with their embassies in India and made a pitch for Indian defence and aerospace products. To facilitate sales, New Delhi has offered friendly foreign countries such as Myanmar, Maldives and Sri Lanka “credit lines” for purchasing Indian defence equipment. DPSUs have been given export targets of 25 per cent of their turnover. A nodal agency, the Indigenous Defence Equipment Exporters Association (IDEEA), was set up in October for processing defence export inquiries from prospective customers across the globe.

Notwithstanding these measures, a large boost in defence exports requires the emphasis to change from exporting low-value ammunition, spares and aerospace components to the export ofhigh-value, complex combat platforms such as the Tejas fighter, Dhruv and Rudra helicopters, the Arjun tank, Akash air defence systems, Pinaka rocket launchers and a range of indigenous warships including corvettes, frigates and destroyers. The Indian military’s reluctance to buy these platforms raises legitimate questions amongst potential customers. The defence ministry must ensure the defence forces induct indigenous weaponry into service, working with industry to incrementally develop and improve the products, even as the resulting exports create economy of scale, bring down equipment prices and generate strategic heft for India.