Saturday, 30 April 2011

(Sorry, forgot to post yesterday): Only Dassault, Eurofighter left in IAF fighter selection

Right: A view of Aero India 2011, with a Eurofighter doing aerobatics in the distance.

Left: Rafale taxies for take off. As Broadsword reported then, these were the two fighters that were the IAF's choices, and that the American fighters were out of the race

Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 29th April 11

India’s keenly watched purchase of 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) for some Rs 42,000 crore ($9.5 billion) has entered its final leg. Yesterday, four of the six vendors were officially ruled out of the fray after the Ministry of Defence (MoD) wrote to them, providing full details about how their fighters had failed to meet the specifications laid down by the Indian Air Force (IAF). Just two vendors did not receive letters of rejection: France’s Dassault Aviation and the European consortium, Eurofighter GmbH.

The aircraft that the MoD ruled out of contention include Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet; Lockheed Martin’s F-16IN Super Viper; the Russian MiG-35; and the Swedish Gripen NG. Each of these failed to meet several of the over 600 parameters evaluated by the IAF. The Gripen, for example, though highly rated in flying performance, was rejected because the IAF was not convinced that its airborne radar would be delivered in time.

Neither Dassault nor Eurofighter have been officially informed that they have been down-selected, or that they are the only two vendors remaining in contention. But both are assuming their aircraft met the IAF’s requirements during the technical evaluation and field trials. And, that one of them — the lower bidder, going by India’s defence procurement regulations — will be awarded the contract.

“We’re not yet popping the champagne or handing out bonuses,” said an executive from one of the vendors still in contention. “We haven’t heard anything yet from the MoD, so any celebration would be premature.”

What is clear, though, is the disappointment amongst the losers, each of which had spent millions of dollars in putting their fighters through the MoD’s rigorous selection process and supporting their bids from newly-opened offices in Delhi. The United States government, which has applied sustained political pressure from President Obama downwards, has declared that it is “deeply disappointed by this news”.

Indicating that Washington has not yet given up hope, US Ambassador Tim Roemer stated today, “I have been personally assured at the highest levels of the Indian government that the procurement process for this aircraft has been and will be transparent and fair. I am extremely confident that the Boeing F/A 18IN and Lockheed-Martin F-16IN would provide the IAF an unbeatable platform with proven technologies at a competitive price.”

The Boeing Company, also “disappointed with this outcome”, stated, “Our next step is to request and receive a debrief from the IAF. Once we have reviewed the details, we will make a decision concerning our possible options, always keeping in mind the impact to the IAF.”

The MoD’s tender (officially termed a Request for Proposal, or RfP) asks for 126 fighters, with the first 18 to be supplied in flyaway condition within three years of signing the contract, and the balance to be progressively built in India through transfer of technology. But most aviation experts predict the IAF’s growing requirements will lead to at least 200 MMRCAs being eventually inducted into service.

The down-selection of the Eurofighter and Rafale points to the Indian military’s growing financial muscle. Going by publicly available figures of previous purchases of these aircraft, the Eurofighter and Rafale are easily the two most expensive of the six that were being considered. Critics point to the fact that the Rafale has not been bought by any air force besides France. Of the four countries that developed the Eurofighter, three — the UK, Italy and Spain — have decided to go in for the F-35 being developed by the US, rather than increase their fleet of Eurofighters.

Nevertheless, the IAF’s dwindling fighter fleet — now down to 32 squadrons from an authorised 39.5 squadrons, each squadron having 18 fighters – has forced the MoD to go ahead with the MMRCA purchase. The indigenously developed Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), entering production now, will only be inducted in significant numbers after 2016. The IAF has been meeting the shortfall by buying more Su-30MKIs from Russia, even as Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd’s production line has failed to meet schedules.

Meanwhile, the IAF has pressured the MoD to expedite the MMRCA purchase. At the Aero India 2011 air show in Bangalore, in February, IAF boss Air Chief Marshal P V Naik declared that he expected the MMRCA contract to be signed by this September, a day after Defence Minister A K Antony had set a deadline of March 2012.

In the next step in the MMRCA procurement, which is expected any day, the MoD will ask Eurofighter GmbH and Dassault for fresh commercial bids that will remain valid for the next two years. The two companies will also be asked to finalise their offset proposals. Then the commercial bids will be opened to decide the winner. Finally, an MoD-instituted cost negotiation committee will negotiate a final cost with the winning company.

Monday, 25 April 2011

DRDO explosive kit snapped up by US company

The chief of DRDO's High Explosives and Materials Research Laboratory with the representative of the US firm that will commercialise its explosive detection kit in the US.

Extracts from a Ministry of Defence press release today is pasted below


New Delhi: Vaisakha 05, 1933
April 25, 2011

A USA based firm Crowe & Company, LLC has entered into a licensing agreement with DRDO to acquire the technology of Explosive Detection Kit developed by the High Energy Material Research Lab (HEMRL), Pune, one of the constituent laboratories of DRDO. An MoU to the effect was signed by Dr. Subhananda Rao, Director HEMRL on behalf of DRDO, and Ms. Faye Crowe, President, Crowe & Company, LLC, USA here today.

HEMRL has developed the kit for quick detection and identification of explosives that can detect and identify explosives based on any combination of nitro esters, nitramines, trinitrotoluene (TNT), dynamite or black powder. The testing requires only 3 to 5 mg of suspected sample and only 3 or 4 drops of reagents. The explosive detection kit comes packed in a box the size of a vanity case and in miniature vials that can be kept in shirt pockets. It contains reagents capable of detecting explosives, even in extremely small, trace quantities.

Crowe & Company had approached FICCI under DRDO-FICCI, ATAC programme to enter into MoU for licensing agreement with DRDO for the said technology. In the past FICCI has also facilitated a similar kind of licensing agreement for explosive detection kit between DRDO an Indian company, named, Vantage Integrated Security Solutions (P) Ltd. The DRDO – FICCI Accelerated Technology Assessment & Commercialisation (ATAC) programme is a unique initiative that aims for commercialisation of cutting edge technologies developed by various labs of DRDO for civilian applications.

Speaking on the occasion Dr. Subhananda Rao, Distinguished Scientist & Director HEMRL, Pune informed that through the explosive detection kit, the security forces can instantly identify the explosive that was used for the detonation in the aftermath of a blast. They just have to take a sample of the residues from the scene of the crime and test it against the chemicals given in the kit. The change in colour tells them if the explosive used is RDX, TNT, PETN or any other chemical. Highlighting the features of the technology Mr S. Radhakrishnan, Director, DIITM, DRDO informed that the present technology is being widely used by the bomb detection squads of the Indian Army, paramilitary and police in Jammu and Kashmir, Assam, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

Ms Faye Crowe, President of Crowe & Company said that after getting the necessary approvals from the US regulatory institutions they are planning to introduce the explosive detection kit to the US army and US homeland security forces and in other international markets.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Q&A: Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, GOC 15 Corps, Srinagar

Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain in his office at Badami Bagh military station, Srinagar. He does not sit too long in this office, preferring to move around the valley instead. The flag visible behind him bears the Chinar leaf symbol of 15 Corps

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21st Apr 11

A general battling an insurgency among an often hostile populace while labouring hard and openly to win hearts and minds is not usual, but that is what Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, commander of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, has been at since taking charge four months earlier. Ajai Shukla spoke to him. Excerpts:

Q. I'm sure you've been asked this before, but how does your Muslim identity help you in dealing with the Kashmiri people?

Well, people read my name and it helps in the first meeting, but Kashmiris are very analytical. Unless they believe I'm genuinely helping them, I won't get a second chance. More than from my faith, I benefit from long experience in Kashmir, where I commanded a brigade and then a division before coming to 15 Corps. I also benefit from my understanding of religion as a strategic weapon. And, I greatly benefit from my relationships with many people who I have known from past tenures, both civilians and in the administration.

Q. How significant is your success in bringing down militancy? The army says there are just 300 militants left in the valley?

I'm not looking just at statistics. To say that militancy is down to sub-critical levels and this year we'll be able to stop it completely, it is not like that. I always caution people, don't get elated by numbers.

The problem remains one of intent and infrastructure across the LoC (line of control), where 700-800 terrorists are ready for infiltration and many more are being trained.

Q. The big problem in the valley now seems to be stone pelting and mass uprising, not militancy. Is the army shifting focus?

I see a clear nexus between stone pelting and terrorism. From 2008, when the agitation started, the main instigators and crowd controllers were all known militants. And, the stone pelters were doing it for money. Near Zainakote is a boatmen's colony, all poor people. They were paid Rs 300 per day to throw stones. In Baramulla, where the cart pushers earn Rs 200 per day, they were willing to throw stones for Rs 300.

Q. Is this going to be a summer of discontent again?

After three summers of agitation, most Kashmiris have lost patience. Parents don't want school-going children to take to the streets. Businessmen, shopkeepers, labourers, white collar workers, all want normalcy. Important organisations like, for example, the Tata Sumo Union, are putting pressure for normalcy.

But the separatist leadership is looking for a trigger they can use to start an agitation. Over the past three years, we gave it to them on a platter. In 2008, the trigger was the Amarnath Shrine land issue, with all its misinformation. In 2009, you had the mysterious deaths of two girls in Shopian; again, nothing was proved. Last year, it was the unfortunate death of a young boy, Tufail Mattoo, killed by a teargas canister.

Q. And, there could be another trigger this year?

An innocuous incident could be exploited tomorrow, for example a traffic accident involving an army vehicle. If a trigger is there, things could snowball.

Q. Many Kashmiri villagers are impressed with your programme to win hearts and minds.

Our senior officers always knew that soft power makes the ultimate difference in an insurgency. But the junior ranks were more focused on operations, understandably, given the high levels of insecurity. Now, they are focusing on being courteous and helpful, for instance, when checking a vehicle. So, our people-friendly approach is being implemented from top to bottom. Training soldiers for this is more difficult than training them in tactical drills, but now the young officers and soldiers have taken ownership of this initiative.

For over a decade, we have run a programme called Sadbhavana, providing material benefits like schools and vocational training to the populace. Now we are engaging them at the human level. The basis of my strategy has been to listen, rather than to talk down to the people

Q. You believe it is working?

Our new approach has certainly created interest. We are engaging the youth, getting them off the streets through focused programmes like explaining the opportunities for them in other parts of the country. In a programme called ‘Watan ki sair', we sponsor trips by youngsters across India.

Q. Nevertheless, there remains real anger amongst Kashmir's youth.

If you're living in a tinderbox, where the press is negative, and you can't move around, there will be anger against everything. Most places offer ways of diverting oneself; here there is nothing, especially during the five-month winter, when everyone stays at home. We have begun organising events and competitions in football, cricket, carom, debates and quizes. We recently organised a half-marathon, and 3,000 people participated, including 300 girls. Another 8,000 people came out to cheer the runners.

Q. What about the political dialogue?

There are too many players who don't want normalcy, Pakistan's ISI for example. Separatists will only negotiate if there is pressure from the people of Kashmir, who must be convinced they are better off with India. For that, the Army has to prevent turbulence, so that the other government agencies can work towards creating normalcy.

Q. And, the confidence building mechanisms, like the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad transport links, are losing steam?

I was at Uri when the Caravan-e-Aman (the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus) began with much fanfare. Now, barely anyone travels on the bus. Trade is increasing, but without a strong regulatory body that deals with communications, financial exchanges, etc, it cannot pick up. All that can happen only with improvement in relations. So, it is a Catch-22 situation.

This January, I found 120 trucks coming and going from each side. But everyone has hijacked the rules, so you even find coconuts from Kerala going across, even though trade has to be confined to local produce.

Q. Your final assessment?

I believe 2011 is a crucial year. The stamina for mass agitation is running low, terrorism is down, and infiltration is low. 2011 must be the year of difference in Kashmir.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Another summer of unrest in Kashmir?

Street protesters running away from teargas during last summer's widespread agitation across the Kashmir valley. The protests took off after a young student, Tufail Mattoo, died after being hit by a teargas canister

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 19th Apr 11

This summer will witness a clash of wills in Kashmir, the outcome of which could reshape New Delhi’s engagement of Pakistan and its dialogue with the Kashmiri secessionist leadership. In the blue corner, so to speak, is Kashmir’s new generation of hard line separatists, a tiger of unknown stripe, on whose back Tehrik-e-Hurriyat chief Syed Ali Shah Geelani precariously perches, pretending to ride it. In the red corner is Srinagar’s security establishment, a myopic leopard that never changes its spots, which firmly believes that old-style preventive arrests can staunch any flow of passion.

It may just be possible that the security czars win by walkover. In a meticulously implemented plan, the coordinators and leaders of last year’s street protests are being picked up and jailed in Jammu, while the J&K Police’s new cyber cell is monitoring websites like Facebook that were used to coordinate last year’s protests. The police calculate that taking away protest coordinators like Masarat Alam would prevent the focusing of popular anger into the violent public demonstrations that grabbed news headlines over the last three years.

But more likely, the government has gotten its calculations badly wrong. The clumsiness with which the government has suppressed demonstrations since 2008, and the potent symbolism of young children killed in police firing, has midwifed the emergence of a younger, more radical, more dissipated separatist leadership. A new Kashmiri generation, deeply disillusioned with their leaders and with the going-nowhere armed militancy that fruitlessly claimed thousands of Kashmiri lives, has taken ownership of the public protest. Masarat Alam himself was only a symbol; taking him away will give rise to another.

The government of India can claim credit for having allowed the baton of separatist activism to pass smoothly from one generation to the next, ensuring thereby at least one more generation of unrest in the valley. Every Kashmiri leader that might have settled with New Delhi on acceptable terms --- from the Hurriyat moderates, to the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front’s Yasin Malik, to the current crop of young firebrands before they were radicalized --- has been systematically discredited. Every one of New Delhi’s Kashmiri interlocutors earned the label of quisling without the consolation of a single concession to take back to their people. They seem likely to spend this summer watching the drama from the sidelines.

The government, meanwhile, is congratulating itself on the (so-far) successful Panchayat elections in Kashmir. Even though the robustly contested 2008 elections were both preceded and followed by angry violence, New Delhi inexplicably continues to mine consolation from the Kashmiri proclivity to vote, believing quite erroneously that an embrace of democracy is an embrace of India. But the populace has adequately demonstrated that it can go straight from the polling booth into an anti-India demonstration.

In the by lanes of Srinagar, the discussion is not about whether there will be mass protests this summer, but about when and over what. Mr Geelani, in an attempt to salvage relevance --- of Kashmir’s older-generation leaders, he alone has some left by virtue of having never engaged New Delhi --- has been talking up the issue of the Dogra Certificate, which the government generously provided, just as it had provided the Amarnath land issue in 2008, the controversy over the Shopian killings in 2009, and the police firing on demonstrators last year.

As backup, Geelani is mobilizing opinion on the “occupation” of private land by the Indian Army, which he sharply criticized during the India Today conclave in New Delhi in March, and in a district-level mobilization programme earlier. All this may be a wasted effort on his part. In the emotional tinderbox that is Kashmir, a chicken coming under the wheel of an army truck can set off a local riot. And, as was evident last year, a mishandled public protest can trigger a chain of events that sets the whole valley alight.

Pakistan, meanwhile, does what it can to keep the pot bubbling and believing as always that victory in Kashmir is just around the corner. Talk to any young Kashmiri, however, and it will become quickly clear that the valley hardly relishes joining a country that is itself disintegrating. Kashmiris cheered for Pakistan in the World Cup semi-finals and would probably vote for Pakistan in a two-choice referendum. But that is less Pakistan’s success and more anti-incumbency against India.

New Delhi has not left itself with many choices. It must begin a focused engagement of the Kashmiri leaders that it wants to deal with, starting with the Hurriyat moderates and the JKLF. An all-party mechanism, comprising senior political leaders from across the political spectrum, must represent New Delhi so that every political party has ownership of the process. The current self-destructive confrontation between Jammu’s Hindu grievances --- exploited by the Congress as much as by the BJP --- and Kashmir’s Muslim interests, has to be managed without letting the contradictions spiral, Amarnath style, into fratricidal conflict.

Yet, a bloody summer may be inevitable. At that moment, it would be important to react with the knowledge that India is in Kashmir for the long haul and any bridges that you burn in your relations with the local population while dealing with the protests, will need to be painfully rebuilt.

Army general’s battle for hearts in Kashmir

Lieutenant General Ata Hasnain, GOC 15 Corps, at a Jan Sunwai (or Awaami Sunwai) in a village in the Kashmir valley

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 19th Apr 11

The Indian general, five rows of medal ribbons splashing colour on his crisp combat fatigues, greeted the hundred-odd locals gathered at Zainakot, on the outskirts of Srinagar. Handing his baton to an aide he quipped, “haath mein danda pakar kar baat nahin karni chahiye (one shouldn’t talk with a stick in one’s hand).”

Everyone laughed. Lieutenant General Syed Ata Hasnain, the first Muslim officer in two decades to head 15 Corps, which defends the Kashmir valley, had broken the ice in signature style. Four months ago, Hasnain had been commanding a mechanized strike corps in the desert. At which point, army chief, General VK Singh, sent him to Kashmir, trusting him to rebrand the army’s image in a valley simmering with discontent.

Kissi achhe kaam to dua ke saath shuru karna chahiye (Every good work should begin with a prayer),” Hasnain told the gathering. One of the villagers got up and recited a verse from the Koran, with everyone joining in. Hasnain thanked him, amidst clapping. The locals were interested now. Like all the encounters scripted by the general, this one between the army and the people was very different from the stone-pelting that had consumed this area during the last three summers.

Over the next hour, the general conducted what he calls a “Jan Sunwai”, or public hearing, reminding them that this was not a “durbar”, the traditional army term for when a commander addresses a gathering. “Durbar to Mughalon ke zamaane ka tha, angrezon ke zamaane ka. Mein aapko sunne aaya hoon (Durbars happened during the Mughal era and the British. I’ve come to listen to you).”


And Hasnain listened patiently to an outpouring of woes: a suggestion that army convoys be timed for when civilian traffic was low; a greybeard who complained that intelligence sources were using their army links to settle local scores; a youngster studying in Kerala who begged the general to recreate here that student-friendly culture of libraries and tuitions; and a request that former militants who had completed their jail sentences not be stigmatized forever with the label “released militant”. Finally, one elder, who lived next to the house of absconding Hizbul Mujahideen chief, Syed Salahuddin, demanded a road to his village so that he could send a message to Salahuddin that a development project had actually come good.

Hasnain reacted immediately, promising him that road. “You will be able to write to your former neighbour that the corps commander drove to your house on the new road and had a cup of tea with you.” The audience burst out laughing.

During the last two decades, an insurgency-fatigued populace has seen army units and generals come and go, and many promises made and broken. But this new corps commander’s approach of careful listening, and then following up with action are capturing the attention of a growing local audience.

Whether this has “won hearts and minds”, that elusive counter-insurgency objective, it is too early to tell. But it has obviously reduced the security presence, especially in Srinagar, for the last two decades a city of bunkers and guns carpeted by helmeted security men.

As he bids farewell and shakes outstretched hands, Hasnain is careful not to over-promise: “So many of you have lost hope after the last twenty years. Look into your hearts and pull yourselves out of your depression. Always judge carefully who is lying to you and who is telling the truth; things will surely change.” And, with that upbeat message, the general is off.

Hard road

Hasnain’s message resonates across swathes of rural Kashmir. But amongst Srinagar’s disillusioned, politically sophisticated activists, students and lawyers, bitter anger still simmers over last year’s estimated 120 civilian deaths in street protests. It is this urban community that sets the agenda and makes the headlines.

During a day spent talking to students at Kashmir University, Business Standard heard multiple accounts of how every youngster who had been involved in last year’s stone-pelting (the police had video-filmed all the protests) was being arrested by the J&K Police and sent off to jail in Jammu under the dreaded Public Security Act, which allows preventive detention for up to a year.

The police say that only hardened stone-pelters (this phrase is now an established part of Kashmir’s lexicon) are being arrested and in small numbers. The establishment sees stone-pelting as only a change of militant tactics, orchestrated street protests replacing the failed gun. The Kashmiri narrative of unarmed civilians being cut down by bullets is flatly rejected.

Says SM Sahai, Inspector General of Police for Kashmir: “Stone-pelting became an alternative method for the militants after the gun had failed. They began looking at other means of creating disturbance… The police ensure that actions against people who are instigating stone-pelting continues, hence the arrests under the PSA…. For about 1200 incidents of violence [according to FIRs registered last year] our arrests are less than 5000, around 4-5 per FIR. Is that a lot for the kind of violence seen?”

Sahai says that the police had detained 180 people under the PSA, of which 114 remain in custody.

General Hasnain’s challenges are evident: reconciling his intention to treat the Kashmiri people compassionately on the one hand, with the government’s tough approach towards law and order on the other? And secondly, sustaining the army’s well-intentioned engagement of a politically mobilised populace without a credible dialogue between the separatists and the centre.

(Tomorrow: Interview with Lt Gen Hasnain)

Monday, 18 April 2011

Moderates to probe Showkat killing

Differing forms of Kashmiri alienation. A press conference by hard line women's leader Asiya Andrabi, and a common man during last year's street protests

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Apr 11

Kashmir’s moderate separatist leaders, physically targeted over the years by radicals, are launching their own investigation into the killing on April 8 with an explosive device of the respected Jamiat Ahle Hadith (JAH) chief, Maulvi Showkat Shah.

On Saturday, the state police arrested four suspects in the killing, which they blamed on factional rivalry within the JAH. The moderates, in launching their own investigation, are sending out a message that they would no longer remain silent in the face of sustained attack. Over the past two decades, some of the moderate leaders killed in Kashmir, evidently at the behest of radicals, include Mohammad Farooq in 1990; Qazi Nissar in 1994; Abdul Gani Lone in 2002; Sheikh Abdul Aziz in 2008; and now Showkat Shah. In addition, moderate leader Fazl-ul-Haq Qureshi was shot and critically injured in 2009.

Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, chairman of the moderate faction of the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference, told Business Standard all the separatist factions would meet here tomorrow to set up an all-party committee to investigate the murder. In a challenge to Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s hard line Tehreek-e-Hurriyat faction, which many Kashmiris are reported to suspect of masterminding the attacks on moderates, he said he expected Geelani’s faction to join the probe.

“If they don’t, then it’s an issue,” said the Mirwaiz.

Geelani had expressed shock over the killing and termed it a loss to the J&K movement.

Added Farooq: “The Hizb-ul-Mujahideen is conducting its own probe (into Maulvi Showkat’s killing). The Lashkar-e-Toiba had a function in Islamabad and they said that they would look into it. We, too, are not letting anybody off the hook. We are looking from New Delhi to Islamabad to Srinagar. Everybody is a suspect for us.”

Backing the moderates’ probe is Yasin Malik’s Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), the organisation that spearheaded the armed movement for “azadi” until Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence sidelined them by propping up the Hizbul Mujahideen, which backed merger with Pakistan rather than “azadi”. While the JKLF is no longer an influential armed group, it commands significant moral authority with the Kashmiri people.

“We have taken it as a challenge, as an attack on the JKLF, and on me personally as a close associate of Maulvi Showkat. The people of Kashmir, by coming out in large numbers against the killing, have proved the killer a coward. The message was loud and clear. It is a referendum in favour of Showkat,” declares Malik.

Former Hurriyat chairman, Abdul Gani Bhat, who had created ripples in January by suggesting publicly that Kashmiri radicals were behind the killing of moderates, said: “In my opinion, one of us did it. It is for the government to come up with a statement that A did it or B did it, so that the people know who is at the bottom of it.”

Tapping citizen anger

This unusual vocal outrage expressed by moderates appears to draw strength from the spontaneous grief expressed by common Kashmiris, who turned up in tens of thousands at Showkat’s funeral here. “When a civilian is killed by the army or the police, or a government agency, people are on the streets. But when somebody is killed by an unidentified person, they take it in their stride. We have to make people more conscious to killings that are done by ‘black sheep’ or people who are in our own herd,” says Mirwaiz Farooq.

While most people believe the all-party investigation is political tough talk rather than an authentic police-style criminal investigation, locals are still waiting to see if the JAH takes this further. The JAH is a disciplined cadre-based organisation, with a mass membership across Kashmir, many in influential positions. Showkat was a religious fundamentalist in his adherence to the Salafi creed, which harks back to the days of the Prophet, but he was a political moderate, advocating dialogue and negotiation rather than stone pelting and the gun.

According to police and political sources, it was less his stance against violence that led to his assassination, as his growing closeness to the top Saudi Arabian clergy, including the influential head priest of Mecca. The Saudi cleric had recently accepted an invitation to visit Srinagar, abandoning the traditional Saudi reluctance to visit a disputed territory. Sources allege the ISI was worried that diluting this stance would erode Pakistan’s claim over Kashmir, raise Showkat’s status above other Kashmiri religious leaders, including Geelani, and enhance the JAH’s influence.

Already Showkat’s Trans-World University was being funded by the Islamic Development Bank and by donations from Saudi Arabia. He had favoured a broad-based education, with the sciences and liberal arts going hand in hand with study of the Quran.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Broadsword Quiz: Level "Ultra-easy". Where am I?

Just in case you were wondering about the silence from me over the last couple of days... here I am. The question is where?

Monday, 11 April 2011

Tatas bag record deal to modernise air force bases

In a project that is called the Modernisation of Airfield Infrastructure (MAFI), Tata Power SED will be paid Rs 1094 crore to upgrade 30 strategic airfields like this one on the Sino-Indian border

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th Apr 11

A Tata company has won the largest-ever defence contract awarded to an Indian private sector company through a competitive global tender. On March 16, the Ministry of Defence signed a Rs 1,094-crore contract with Tata Power’s Strategic Electronics Division (Tata Power SED) for modernising 30 Indian Air Force (IAF) airbases across the country. Tata Power SED has 42 months to execute this strategically vital contract, officially called Modernization of Airfield Infrastructure, or MAFI.

Starting with the Bathinda airbase in Punjab, Tata Power SED will refurbish and modernise airfield infrastructure so that the IAF can operate its next generation of modern combat aircraft from there. State-of-the-art Air Traffic Management systems will be installed, along with Category-2 airfield lighting systems and hi-tech navigational aids that will permit flying operations at night and in adverse weather.

The 30 IAF airbases that will be modernised under MAFI include eight key airfields along the Sino-Indian border such as Chabua, Tezpur and Hashimara. The IAF has already begun deploying frontline Sukhoi-30MKI fighters to the Tezpur air base in concert with the army’s raising of two new divisions to strengthen defences along the Sino-Indian border.

This will be followed by the MAFI Phase II contract for refurbishing another 28 airbases. The current contract has an option clause, which allows the ministry to invite Tata Power SED to execute the Phase II of MAFI at a pre-determined rate.

The ministry has not yet announced the award of this contract. Approached for comments, Tata Power SED declined comment until an official announcement was made.

India’s private sector defence companies view this as a major milestone in their protracted struggle to enter the defence sector on equal terms with defence public sector undertakings and foreign companies. On January 13, the ministry released the first-ever Defence Production Policy that explicitly encourages the private sector to enter defence production.

The MAFI contract has been bitterly contested, with Italian giant Selex Sistemi Integrati petitioning the Delhi High Court after its price bid of Rs 1,141 crore narrowly lost by Rs 47 crore to Tata Power SED’s winning quote (figures from Selex Sistemi Integrati’s petition to the Delhi High Court). Despite legal delays — in which the Delhi High Court and then the Supreme Court rejected Selex’s contention that the Tata consortium did not have the technical capability and experience to upgrade the 30 IAF airfields — the ministry managed to finalise the MAFI contract in just over three years.

The Defence Procurement Policy stipulates two-three years to finalise a contract.

Tenders for the MAFI contract were issued on January 4, 2008, and vendors submitted bids within six months. After a technical evaluation of the vendors’ proposals, the ministry opened their commercial bids on August 2009. Selex went to the court in November 2009 but, on November 24, 2010, the Supreme Court rejected its petition, declaring, “This court is not a Robin Hood… do you want us to stop the modernisation of the airfields?”

Selex Sistemi Integrati has executed several major contracts to modernise airfields in Pakistan and China over recent years. This fact, along with the legal challenge that it threw at the ministry, has seriously damaged its prospects of winning future defence contracts, say senior ministry officials involved in procurement.

Notwithstanding the courts’ relatively speedy rejection of Selex’s plea that the MAFI contract had been improperly awarded, the Italian company’s petition spun off a broader legal question —- whether foreign companies are entitled to the protection of Article 19 of the Constitution of India. This article, which Selex cited in its petition, provides citizens of India (note, not foreign nationals) freedoms such as those of movement, speech, assembly, formation of unions, etc.

The two-judge Delhi High Court Bench that considered Selex’s petition referred the question to a higher Bench, noting, “Almost all large tenders today are being challenged in writ proceedings before the Court and are coming up for judicial scrutiny. It is thus necessary to settle the legal issue in question.”

The Supreme Court is expected to pronounce a verdict on this question on May 19.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Broadsword quiz: level "easy": what is this?

What do these photographs depict. Most accurate and complete answer wins! Cheers...

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Promoting crisis within the military

An ongoing spat between the MoD and Army HQ is keeping key positions empty. A codified army promotion policy will put an end to such face-offs

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 5th Apr 11

South Block is being roiled by a face-off between military and the ministry of defence (MoD), which co-exist at the best of times in mutual loathing. Since September, the MoD has blocked the routine promotion of army officers to the senior-most levels of command. Today, the commanders of several army divisions and corps – combat formations that are headed by major generals and lieutenant generals, respectively – are serving extended tenures since nobody is being promoted to relieve them. The Indian Army’s elite 1 Corps, which strikes deep into enemy territory in war, currently has no commander. Two major general posts in the crucial Military Operations Directorate and one in Military Intelligence Directorate are lying vacant.

Such a situation is unthinkable in India’s security environment, where a combat-ready military is regarded as the deterrent that holds back more Mumbai-style terrorist attacks. Even before terrorism became a factor in our security calculus, the military valued smooth succession at higher levels of command. When former army chief and India’s military legend General S H F J Manekshaw found the MoD dilly-dallying on the appointment of one of his army commanders, he unilaterally issued an order posting a suitable general and asked the MoD to regularise it in due course.

But that was a different era and Manekshaw was Manekshaw. Since then the MoD has asserted its supremacy, especially in the 1998 sacking of navy chief Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat for refusing to implement the government’s appointment of Vice Admiral Harinder Singh as deputy chief of naval staff.

The cause of the ongoing confrontation is as follows: three years ago the army chief at the time, General Deepak Kapoor, implemented new criteria for promotion, in which subjectivity was minimised in assessing an officer’s suitability for higher rank. The new “quantification system” sought to translate into a set of numbers every measure of officers’ performance — in day-to-day functioning; on courses of instruction; special appointments; honours and awards and so on. This was to eliminate subjective judgement, which could scuttle a deserving candidate or elevate someone relatively less capable. This system was to be evaluated for three years and then tweaked if required.

When General V K Singh, the current army chief, took over from General Kapoor, feedback gleaned from army officers suggested changes in the quantification model. The new chief also decided to roll back another Kapoor-era policy to divide generals into two streams: those cleared for commanding combat formations and others who were cleared only to fill staff posts in headquarters. The army headquarters sought permission from the ministry, but the bureaucrats wondered why each new army chief had to tinker with promotion policies. For months, the matter hung in limbo.

Eventually, in January, the army promulgated the new quantification model and conducted promotion boards to the ranks of major general and lieutenant general, clearing all successful candidates for command and staff. Predictably, the MoD has refused to clear the board results. The army chief has met the defence minister, but there is no resolution. Mr Antony appears to agree with his bureaucrats who point out: every new army chief sets about reversing his predecessor’s policies.

Watchers of the Indian military believe that the absence of a formal promotion policy allows the flourishing of patrimonial interest, where policy changes are manipulated to benefit supporters and service constituencies. Unlike the civil services, where an iron-clad promotion policy has long existed, the military’s rulebook takes the form of policy letters, many of which are superseded as each new chief implements his ideas. This theoretically allows for responsive and adaptive promotion policies, but it also creates suspicion about the motives behind policy changes.

Noting that frequent policy changes have sharply increased the number of generals who approach the courts, the army’s former Judge Advocate General, Major General Nilendra Kumar, believes that, “When policy is changed almost every alternate year it indicates lack of consistency and suggests efforts to favour or bail out certain people. This leads to uncertainty and anxiety within the military.”

It also leads to poor policy, like the “pro-rata” system that the army implemented a decade ago. This involves allocating vacancies to each arm, at the rank of brigadier, in proportion to the number of officers in the arm. If the infantry comprised 55 per cent of all officers, they would get 55 per cent of all brigadier vacancies. Slammed by critics as the “Mandalisation of the army”, this divisive policy, backed by heavily populated arms like the infantry and the artillery, threw out the meritocracy that had governed higher rank in modern armies ever since the famous Prussian general staff had demonstrated its advantages.

Instead of learning from history, the army extended “pro-rata” to selecting major generals and was all set to extend this to the lieutenant general rank as well. Fortunately, when the proposal came up for discussion at the Army Commanders’ Conference in 2008, the famously outspoken Lieutenant General H S Panag acidly observed that the logical next step would be to select the army chief, not on merit or seniority, but turn by turn from each arm. That effectively quashed the proposal.

It is time to end the uncertainty caused by this endless tweaking of promotion policy. High-grade officers are retiring before their time, while the MoD refuses to release their promotion board results. The MoD must clear the army’s current proposals and ensure that all three services codify promotion policy in a simple rulebook.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Designers insist Tejas will belie all sceptical questioning

A test pilot readies for a Tejas test flight. The National Flight Test Centre (NFTC) Bengaluru is trying to speed up flight testing, to complete it by end-2012

by Ajai Shukla
ADA, Bengaluru
Business Standard, 4th April 11

With the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) entering service with Indian Air Force squadrons, the designers of this indigenous fighter have explained why they believe this will be the world’s premier light fighter.

The Tejas Mark II, which will be developed by 2014 and roll off production lines by 2018, will perform 40 per cent better than the current fighter. After which would come the ultra-modern Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft, the AMCA, which the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) says will be a “fifth-generation plus” fighter, more formidable than anything flying today.

In an exclusive interview with Business Standard, P Subramanyam, the director of the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), which is developing the LCA and the AMCA, responded to IAF criticism that the Tejas was not yet a world-class fighter. He pointed out that the Tejas Mark I, still being flight-tested, had been flown to just 85 per cent of its full capability. The Tejas Mark II --- in which a more powerful GE-414 engine will replace the current GE-404 engine --- would perform another 15 per cent better.

“The Tejas Mark I will expand its performance envelope to its full capability by end-2012. And a major performance boost will come from the Tejas Mark II’s new GE-414 engine, which we have signed a US $700 million (Rs 3,135 crore) contract to build here in India. The Mark II will outperform the Mark I by about 15 per cent in the key aspects of take-off run, rate of climb, acceleration, and turn rate. Most of this would come from the higher thrust of the GE-414 engine. Another 2-3 per cent benefit would come from better aerodynamics… since we will re-engineer the fighter to accommodate the new engine. That overall 35-40 per cent improvement would make the LCA the world’s premier light fighter,” says Subramanyam.

The Tejas Mark I is scheduled to obtain Final Operational Clearance by end-2012. A fighter is granted FOC when ready for combat missions, with all its weapons and sensors fitted, integrated and tested. The IAF worries that the Tejas, already long delayed, might not obtain its FOC on schedule.

Meanwhile, ADA designers are working on the Tejas Mk 2, which Subramanyam says will fly by 2014, enter production by 2016, and obtain FOC by 2018. “Besides re-designing the airframe to accommodate the GE-414 engine, ADA will also grab the opportunity to upgrade key electronics --- especially the flight control computer and some avionics --- so that the Tejas Mark II is a cutting-edge fighter when it enters service”, explains the ADA chief.

“No fancy plan”

Brushing aside apprehension of further delay of the kind that has dogged the Tejas programme, Subramanyam insists, “Our design timeline is realistic. The main sub-systems of the Tejas Mark II will remain unchanged except for electronics components. So the Mark II will not need extensive flight-testing because most of its sub-systems will have already been test-flown on the Mark I.”

ADA designers also say that the “maintainability” of the Tejas has already been established. This key attribute relates to how quickly and easily technicians can service and repair the fighter and, therefore, how quickly it can get out of the hangar and into combat. Out of 200 “requests for action” --- which are suggestions from IAF pilots and technicians for design changes that would ease maintenance --- most have already been implemented. Just 12-15 remain for implementing in the Tejas Mark II.

The Tejas programme will provide the springboard for the ADA’s next project, which will be a more heavily armed and capable fighter. Even as Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd and Russian aerospace giant, Sukhoi, jointly develop the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), ADA will go it alone in developing an Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft. The DRDO’s R&D chief, Prahlada, has told Business Standard that the AMCA will have features more advanced than current fifth-generation fighters. That means that the AMCA will be technologically ahead of the FGFA when it enters service at the end of this decade.

Asked whether that might be over-ambitious, Prahlada, retorts, “When we had begun the LCA programme, people asked the same question. They thought we would not be able to build a fighter with composite materials, and with an unstable aerodynamic configuration. The Tejas has proved them wrong. Today we say we will build a fighter that is better than Gen-5. And the sceptics will be proven wrong again.”

As Business Standard earlier reported, Rs 10,397 crore have been sanctioned for developing the Tejas Mk 2 for the IAF; and another Rs 3,650 crore for the naval Tejas, which would operate off aircraft carriers. Subramanyam points out that this total expenditure of Rs 14,047 crore would be amortised over 200 Tejas fighters, at about Rs 70 crore per aircraft. This projected order includes two squadrons (40 fighters) of LCA Mk 1 that the IAF has already ordered; and an expected 5 squadrons (100 fighters) of LCA Mk 2; and another 2-3 squadrons (40-60 fighters) for the navy.

In addition, the manufacturing cost of the IAF Tejas is projected at Rs 180-200 crore and that of the naval version at Rs 190-210 crore.