Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Siachen talks: samosas and chai, but no meeting of minds

Pak Defence Secretary, Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Athar Ali, flanked by Pak High Commissioner, Shahid Malik, calling on Defence Minister AK Antony. Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar is at the right.

Joint Statement Defence Secretary Level Talks between India and Pakistan on Siachen

New Delhi: Jyaistha 10, 1933
Wednesday, May 31, 2011

The Defence Secretary level talks between India and Pakistan on Siachen were held on May 30-31, 2011 in New Delhi. The Indian delegation was led by Shri Pradeep Kumar, Defence Secretary, and the Pakistan delegation was led by Lt. Gen (Retired) Syed Athar Ali, Defence Secretary. The Defence Secretary of Pakistan also called on Shri AK Antony, Defence Minister of India.

Both sides welcomed the ongoing dialogue process. The discussions were held in a frank and cordial atmosphere, contributing to an enhanced understanding of each other’s position on Siachen. They also acknowledged that the ceasefire was holding since November 2003. Both sides presented their positions and suggestions towards the resolution of Siachen.

The Pakistan side presented a non-paper on Siachen.

Both sides agreed to continue the discussions in a meaningful and result oriented manner. They agreed to meet again at a mutually convenient date in Islamabad.

Indigenising defence: the 70:30 fallacy

The belly of a Kolkata class destroyer at Mazagon Dock Ltd, awaiting the fitment of a propulsion train that has been sourced from overseas

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 31st May 11

Defence indigenisation has long been more a MoD slogan than reality. Minister Antony pays regular lip service to reversing the 70:30 ratio: i.e. reducing the foreign component of Indian defence from 70% to 30%. In practice, indigenisation has been, with apologies to Greta Garbo, an illusion, wrapped in a fallacy, cloaked in deception.

The empirical reality of “indigenisation” is evident in the Indian Navy, the only service that pursues indigenisation systematically (the Indian Air Force and the army talk the talk but oppose indigenisation in practice, demanding aircraft, tanks and guns now, not ten years down the line). The navy takes justifiable pride in building most of its warships in Indian shipyards, but a closer examination reveals that indigenisation is only skin deep. Defence shipyards have developed the crucial skills needed for designing and constructing sophisticated warships, and for harmonising myriad sensors and weapons into an integrated battle management system. But there is little headway in indigenising the multiplicity of components and systems that are the vital innards of a battleship.

Consequently, India’s four defence shipyards --- the flagship Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL); Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers, Kolkata (GRSE); Goa Shipyard Ltd (GSL); and the newly acquired Hindustan Shipyard Ltd, Visakhapatnam (HSL) --- must necessarily look overseas for the engines, gas turbines, propulsion systems, gearboxes, generators, hydraulic systems, air-conditioning and countless other systems, which add up to the bulk of the cost of modern warships.

These are all lost opportunities for India’s private sector companies, which could be building these systems as their route into the lucrative business of defence production. Examine the figures. From the navy’s budget of Rs 21,000 crore this year (all figures rounded off), almost 60% or Rs 12,000 crore is earmarked for capital expenditure. Of this, Rs 4000 crore will be disbursed directly to foreign shipyards that are constructing Indian warships, while Rs 8,000 crore will be paid to Indian shipyards. On the face of it, that would appear like a healthy 66% indigenisation rate, close to Mr Antony’s target.

Unfortunately, only a small share of this goes to the Indian shipbuilder. MDL retains just 25% of the cost of each warship it produces, with 75% being paid to foreign suppliers for the systems mentioned above. GRSE pays out 65% and GSL remits 55% abroad, not because they are better at indigenising but because their vessels use lower-end technology that is available in India.

The shocking statistic is that India has a 100% indigenisation rate in jungle boots and blankets and similar low-tech equipment. But in critical technologies, we import 85% of our needs. And in warship-grade and aerospace-grade components, we have indigenised just 5% of our requirement; 95% still comes from abroad. An example is Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd’s Dhruv helicopter, designed and integrated in India, but 90% foreign in physical content.

This regrettable situation exists largely because the MoD, particularly its Department of Defence Production (DDP), has failed to coordinate and sponsor the development of indigenous capability. Warship builders still import even warship grade steel, the toughened alloy that comprises the basic structure of a modern battleship. This is not because the technology is beyond us. Years ago, India’s public sector metallurgical establishments --- the Defence Metallurgical Research Laboratory (DMRL); Mishra Dhatu Nigam (MIDHANI); and Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) --- developed and manufactured warship grade steel (termed D 40S), which has been used in the navy’s reputed Shivalik class frigates. But cross-ministerial coordination is needed for producing the relatively small volumes needed for warship programmes while remaining profitable for both steelmaker and shipyard. Essar Steel had offered to produce warship steel, subject to some conditions. But the MoD has preferred to continue reliance on import.

In 2003 the navy addressed the lack of depth in indigenisation with a ‘15 Year Indigenisation Plan’, which was subsequently revised up to 2022. This forecasts the warship programme’s requirement of equipment and systems, hoping for import substitution by bringing in the private sector. A similar initiative last year, broadened to all three services, was the DRDO’s “Technology Perspective & Capability Roadmap”, which details the technologies that the military requires and urges the private sector “to offer firm commitments in partnering the MoD in developing contemporary and future technologies as well as productionalising (sic) equipment required by the Armed Forces.”

But these useful baseline documents are only a starting point for an indigenisation thrust. Private sector corporations that are interested in defence production would still require handholding and funding for their initially non-productive R&D. The funding is available --- each year the MoD has been earmarking some Rs 2000 crores for “Make” procedure projects, without a single rupee having ever been paid out --- but nobody in the MoD has taken clear ownership of such an initiative.

It is time for the defence ministry to step up to the plate. They have already identified 61 critical technologies --- especially materials and components that can be used across a broad range of sub-systems and systems --- that India badly needs for developing higher technological capabilities. A nationally synergised effort is needed, which must also explore the obtainment of specific technologies through the offset route.

We have learned how to swim at the deep end of the pool, developing the complex abilities needed for designing and integrating warships, aircraft and tanks, without developing the broader research and industrial eco-system that sustains a defence industrial base. It is time to deepen and broaden indigenisation, developing the materials, components and sub-systems that will not just substitute defence imports, but also provide technological “trickle down” to energise the national industrial base.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Army watches as Siachen dialogue resumes

As the two defence secretaries meet today, we wonder whether what was bought with blood and guts will be bartered for a later regret.

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 30th May 11

On a moonless night in Siachen, in May 1987, Second Lieutenant Rajiv Pande’s thirteen-man patrol silently climbed towards Quaid Post, a 21,153-feet high pinnacle near the crucial Bilafond La pass that was held by 17 Pakistani soldiers. Quaid had to be captured and Pande was fixing ropes on the near-vertical, 1500-feet ice wall just below the post, to assist a larger follow-on force in making a physical assault. As the jawans fixed the ropes, gasping for breath in that oxygen-depleted altitude, the Pakistani sentries just a few hundred feet above heard them. Gunfire rang out killing nine Indian soldiers, including Pande. But the four survivors could tell their unit, 8 Jammu & Kashmir Light Infantry (8 JAK LI), that the ropes were fixed.

Capturing Quaid post was vital, being the only Pakistani post that dominated key Indian positions at Bilafond La. Commanded by Subedar Ataullah Mohammed, Quaid Post was held by commandoes from the Quaid sub-unit of the elite Special Services Group.

With the ropes in place, 8 JAK LI helicoptered an assault team to Bilafond La. Since the Cheetah helicopter can only ferry a single passenger in those extreme heights, and because of frequent blizzards, it took 25 days for the team to gather. On 23rd June, sixty-four soldiers, commanded by Major Virendar Singh, began the attack, all night they searched in waist-deep snow for the rope fixed by Pande’s patrol. Unable to find it, they fell back to base.

The next night a silent cheer went up as the rope was found. In single file, with their rifles slung across their backs, the first section (10 men) started the ascent to Quaid, crossing en route the bodies of Pande and his patrol, still roped together in death. Halfway up, the Pakistani defenders spotted them and opened a murderous fire. Pinned to the ice wall and unable to fire back --- their weapons had suffered “cold arrest”, jammed solid from the minus 25 degree cold --- the assault team sheltered in craters formed by artillery shells. There they spent the entire day exposed, frozen, hungry and under Pakistani fire.

At nightfall on the 25th, the attack began anew. Now the neighbouring Indian posts ---Sonam and Amar --- also fired at Quaid, supplementing an artillery barrage. But each metre gained was paid for in blood; every Indian casualty needed four comrades to ferry him down. A brief rest, a cup of tea, and the four helpers were thrown back into battle.

“By any measure, we should have dropped from exhaustion”, said Major Virendar Singh, describing the events to Business Standard. “But Pande had to be avenged, and the relentless firing from Quaid reminded us of what we had to do.”

By daybreak on the 26th, it became evident that capturing Quaid post would need a daylight frontal assault. With the entire army brass’ attention riveted on this unfolding drama, the brigade commander, Brigadier Chandan Nugyal, radioed Virendar, promising him fire support from every artillery gun in range if he could finish the job.

“I knew we would not last another night on a bar of 5-Star chocolate. We fixed the attack for noon”, says Virendar.

After a massive barrage of artillery fire, Virendar closed onto the post with his 8-man assault party. Simultaneously, another small team outflanked Quaid from below and cut the ropes that the Pakistanis used. Subedar Mohammad knew the game was up. Four defenders jumped off the post, preferring instant death in the abyss below to being shot or bayoneted in combat. The two who remaining were quickly killed. By 3 p.m. the Indian assault party staggered onto Quaid.

“We had no strength to celebrate. At 21,000 feet, nobody does the bhangra, yells war cries, or hoists the tricolour. Ultimately, sheer doggedness wins. If we had once hesitated, Quaid would still be with Pakistan,” recounts Virendar. An admiring army awarded a Param Vir Chakra to Naib Subedar Bana Singh of the assault party and renamed Quaid post Bana Top; and a Maha Vir Chakra and 7 Vir Chakras to other bravehearts of 12 JAK LI. Virendar, who was severely wounded by an artillery shell after Quaid post was captured, won a Vir Chakra, as did Lieutenant Pande.

Indian posts across Siachen, like Bana Top, many of them won at similar cost, will be on the negotiating table today and tomorrow, as the defence secretaries of India and Pakistan meet for the 12th round of dialogue to resolve the Siachen dispute. The Pakistan Army --- for whom Siachen represents a stinging defeat at the hands of the Indian Army --- wants to erase that memory by “demilitarising” Siachen. It wants both sides to vacate their positions and pull back to an agreed line, well short of the glacier. But the Indian Army has little trust for its Pakistani counterpart after the Kargil intrusion and years of fighting terrorism. It asks: how do we know that Pakistan will not reoccupy Siachen after we withdraw? How can you assure us that we will not have to capture Bana Top again?

During 11 previous rounds of dialogue New Delhi had demanded a signed map from Pakistan, showing its forward troop locations, as a prerequisite for a Siachen settlement. Pakistan demurs, ostensibly because that would “legitimise” India’s “intrusion” into Siachen. Rawalpindi’s refusal to authenticate its positions has scuttled all previous dialogue. The reason for that reluctance, the Indian Army believes, is that a signed map would clearly show how badly Pakistan was beaten in Siachen. Although Pakistan terms it “the Siachen dispute”, its forward-most positions cannot even see the glacier. From 13th April 1984, when an all-volunteer Indian force was helicoptered to the Bilafond La pass, India’s complete control of the Saltoro Ridge has shut Pakistan out of Siachen.

Over the years, at enormous cost in dead and injured, the Indian Army has developed enormous skill at surviving at “super altitudes”. In the 1980s, casualties from frostbite and altitude sickness ran in the hundreds. By the end of the last decade, they were down to 20-22 per year. During the last eight years, nobody has died. Today, barely 10-12 soldiers are evacuated annually.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has termed Siachen “a mountain of peace”, and has tended to view it as a bargaining chip in the larger dialogue process with Pakistan. For the Indian Army, though, Siachen symbolises a superhuman feat of arms, sustained over decades. Generals today recall that the blood-soaked capture of the strategic Haji Pir Pass in 1965 was undone at the negotiating table in Tashkent. And many wonder whether history is about to repeat itself.

Friday, 20 May 2011


An official photograph of Air Marshal Charlie Browne, who will head the Indian Air Force (IAF) from 1st August 2011. A veteran Jaguar pilot, Charlie Browne is reputed to be favourably disposed towards western equipment... in contrast to the IAF's so-called "Russian mafia", which believes that Russian fighters are the very, very best!

A copy of the MoD's official press release is pasted below for your consumption.


New Delhi: Vaisakha 30, 1933
May 20, 2011

Vice Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal NAK Browne will be the next Chief of Air Staff on the retirement of Air Chief Marshal PV Naik from government service on July 31, 2011.

Born in Allahabad on 15 December 1951, Air Marshal NAK Browne was commissioned into the Fighter stream of Indian Air Force on 24 June 1972. With about 3100 hours of flying to his credit, he has had a varied operational experience that included flying Hunters, all variants of MiG-21s, Jaguars and SU-30s.

An alumnus of National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla, Pune, he is a Fighter Combat Leader, who has also served as an instructor at the Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment (TACDE) - a premiere flying establishment of the IAF and the Tri-services Defence Services Staff College (DSSC), Wellington.

A graduate of the Air Command and Staff College, Albama, USA, he had trained with the Royal Air Force (RAF) in the United Kingdom, on Jaguar aircraft and went on to command a Jaguar Squadron subsequently.

During his long and distinguished career spanning 38 years, he has held various operational and staff appointments that include - Joint Director at Air War Strategy Cell at Air Headquarters, Chief Operations Officer and Air Officer Commanding of a SU-30 base, Air-I at New Delhi based Western Air Command (WAC) and Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Intelligence) at Air Headquarters.

He was also responsible for establishing the Indian Defence Wing in Tel Aviv, Israel in April 1997 where he served as the Defence Attache till July 2000. From March 2007 to 31 May 2009 he functioned as the Deputy Chief of the Air Staff (DCAS) at Air Headquarters and was responsible for lAF's major Modernization Programmes.

Before taking over as the Vice Chief of the Air Staff (VCAS) at Air Headquarters on 01 January 2011, he was the AOC-in-C of Western Air Command, lAF's most vital operational Command. Under his command and personal supervision, the first ever landing of an AN-32 (fixed wing aircraft) took place at Nyoma, advance Landing Ground (ALG), located at an altitude of 13,300 feet on 18 September 2009.

Air Marshal Browne is recipient of Param Vishist Seva Medal (PVSM), Ati Vishist Seva Medal (AVSM), Vayu Sena Medal (VM) and is appointed as one of the Honorary ADCs to the President of India.

Married to Mrs Kiran Browne, they have a son, Omar, a fighter pilot in the IAF and a daughter Alisha, who is working with a multinational company.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Rejected MMRCA vendors fight to return

A Eurofighter Typhoon takes off for an aerobatics display at the Aero India 2011 show in Bangalore last February. The Typhoon and the Dassault Rafale have been downselected for the IAF's $9.5 billion purchase of 126 medium fighters

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 14th May 11

The elimination of four aircraft vendors from the $9.5 billion global competition to sell 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) to the Indian Air Force has not been accepted quietly. Business Standard has learned that the ministry of defence (MoD) has already received letters from all four inquiring why their fighters were found unfit.

The first inquiry was from Russia, asking why the IAF had found the MiG-35 unsuitable. Next was the US Embassy in New Delhi, asking for the specific reasons that had led to the elimination of the two American fighters, the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet; and the Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper. MoD sources also confirm that Sweden’s Gripen International has written in, seeking details of why the fancied Gripen NG fighter was ruled out.

Earlier, on 27th April, the MoD had written to the four vendors briefly outlining, but not detailing, the reasons for their elimination. The remaining two vendors --- Eurofighter GmbH; and Dassault of France --- were asked to extend the validity of their price bids, given two years earlier.

Vendor protests after elimination from a tender would usually be rejected as a pro forma exercise. This time, however, a MoD procedural error could provide vendors with a lever to claw their way back into contention. The MoD’s Technical Oversight Committee (TOC), which must review the IAF’s technical evaluation and flight trials to ascertain that procurement procedures were followed in full, had not completed its work before the MoD sent out the rejection letters.

It remains unclear why the MoD sent out its rejection letters before the TOC had ensured full compliance with procedures. Now, the three-man TOC --- headed by the Scientific Advisor to the Raksha Mantri (SA to RM), VK Saraswat, and with Bharat Electronics Ltd chief, Ashwini Datt and the IAF’s Air Marshall Anil Chopra as members --- is scrambling to complete this mandatory review. Emailed a questionnaire by Business Standard, the MoD has not responded.

Aviation experts apprehend that this procedural lacuna could be exploited by one of the “politically influential vendors” (read Boeing and Lockheed Martin) to re-enter contention. Senior IAF officers, however, emphatically rule out selecting either American fighter. Says an IAF officer involved in the selection process: “The US companies, which flaunt their technological leadership, are feigning hurt that their fighters were found technologically unsuitable. But it was their misjudgement to offer the IAF fighters like the F-16 and the F-18 that are decades old. It is arrogance to claim that these have been modernised and are good enough for a country like India. But, if they wanted to argue technology, they should have fielded the F-35.”

The Russian vendor, RAC MiG, is also upset with the IAF’s rejection but for another reason. “The MiG-35 has been developed in Russia as a natural replacement for the 2000-odd MiG-21s that are in coming to the end of their service lives in tens of air forces around the world. With the IAF --- a bastion of MiG fighters --- rejecting the MiG-35, the Russian builder worries about the negative signal that this will send across the world,” points out Pushpindar Singh, aerospace expert and editor-in-chief of the trade magazine, Vayu.

Meanwhile, Gripen International is fine-tuning its strategy for appealing the IAF’s rejection. According to the MoD’s letter to the company, the Gripen NG was found non-compliant with the IAF’s tender requirements on 51 counts, of which 43 relate to the critical Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar. Gripen International argues that it is unfair to say that the IAF has not been provided “proof of technology”, or proof that the Gripen NG’s Selex AESA radar (which is still under development) has surmounted the key technological obstacles needed for operationalising it in time for delivery to India. That is because Selex (in partnership with Euroradar) is also developing the Eurofighter’s AESA radar, which the IAF has accepted as technologically viable, and likely to be ready in time for delivery to India. Gripen points out that if Selex has convinced the IAF about having mastered the technology for the Eurofighter’s AESA radar, that same technology will drive the Gripen NG’s radar.

But IAF sources reveal that Gripen failed to provide proof that their AESA radar development was on track and that they could integrate that radar on a fighter. In contrast, Dassault had fitted two prototype AESA radars on Rafale fighters, proving that they were close to completion. Eurofighter too test-flew a prototype AESA radar for the IAF evaluation team, convincing them that it would be ready by 2014-15.

So far, all six vendors had conspicuously praised the MMRCA technical and flight evaluation procedures, declaring that this was the most professionally handled competitive procurement that they had ever encountered anywhere. Now, clearly, the gloves are off.

Monday, 9 May 2011

BAE Systems rethinks decision on artillery contracts

The FH-77B 05 howitzer, which BAE Systems had decided not to offer the Indian MoD in its January tender. Now, acknowledging the draw of the Indian market, BAE Systems seems to be concluding that it simply cannot afford to be left out.

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th May 11

The feeling is taking root within BAE Systems that the British defence multinational has blundered in opting out of the Indian tender for 155 millimetre towed artillery guns. This was evident on Friday, in the company’s Annual Business Review meeting in New Delhi, when senior executives argued that last month’s decision not to bid in the MoD’s Rs 8000 tender for 1580 towed guns would seriously disadvantage BAE Systems in competing for other tenders in the Indian Army’s Rs 20,000 crore artillery modernisation programme.

This growing fear was summed up by a source that was present in that meeting: “If we don’t take part in this tender, we’ll remain out of the Indian market for the next three decades.”

Shortly before the tender submission deadline of 28th April, BAE Systems had written to the MoD that it would not submit a bid in the contract for towed guns. Now, opinion within the company is veering around to the viewpoint that BAE Systems must bid for this tender.

The deadline of 28th April has since been extended by two months and the MoD will now be accepting bids up to 28th June. BAE Systems, therefore, has the time to change its decision.

Last month, BAE Systems had explained why the company was not bidding, despite participating creditably in earlier tenders, including field trials. To conform to the stringent Indian Army specifications laid down in an earlier RFP (Request for Proposals, as the MoD terms tender requests), BAE Systems had made expensive modifications to the gun it was offering, a modernised version of the battle-proven, albeit controversial, Bofors FH-77B gun. But the current tender, issued on 28th Jan 11, diluted the gun’s specifications in order to bring in more vendors. That made the BAE Systems gun over-designed, over-qualified, and probably too expensive.

The company’s spokesperson, Guy Douglas, told wire service, IANS, that the BAE Systems FH-77B 05 gun “was specifically designed for and demonstrated to meet the Indian Army’s requirements as stated in previous RFPs… We found that the new RFP includes technical and performance relaxations that allow less capable weapon systems to enter the competition. This significantly reduces the competitive advantage FH-77B 05 derives from its greater capability.”

It is not yet clear which artillery manufacturers will compete in this new tender for the long-delayed purchase of 155 mm towed guns, a procurement that has dragged on for almost a decade. Many of the world’s premier manufacturers have been eliminated through blacklisting, including Singapore Technology Kinetics (STK); South African company, Denel; Israeli company, Soltam; and German manufacturer, Rheinmetall.

Fuelling the growing belief that BAE Systems must bid in this tender are behind-the-scenes requests from the army’s artillery directorate, which has become convinced, over several rounds of earlier trials, of the quality of the FH-77B 05 Bofors gun. Given the army’s backing, BAE Systems’ “pro-participation” advocates argue that a few tens of millions of dollars spent on modifications would be an acceptable price for winning this Rs 8000 crore contract and taking pole position in the other lucrative gun contracts that total up to Rs 20,000 crores.

Contacted for comments, BAE Systems spokesperson, Guy Douglas, denied that there was a rethink under way and ruled out the possibility of a new decision ahead.

The expansively named Artillery Vision 2027 and the MoD-sanctioned Artillery Modernisation Plan visualise four major gun purchases ahead: besides the contract for 1580 towed guns, the army is also buying 140 ultralight 155 mm, 39 calibre howitzers from BAE Systems for about Rs 3000 crore. Another Rs 3500 crore is up for grabs for the purchase of 100 track-mounted, 155 mm, 52 calibre howitzers; and Rs 4000 crore for 180 similar vehicle-mounted guns for self-propelled artillery regiments.

BAE Systems has formed a JV with the Mahindra group, setting up a company, Defence Land Systems, which will be the local manufacturing partner for artillery contracts won by BAE Systems in India. Mahindra is likely to play an important role in any BAE Systems decision to participate in the tender. The final decision will be taken by BAE Systems’ Land & Armaments Divisions.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Pawan Hans grounding stalls China border roads

Right: The track that is being upgraded into the Thingbu-Mago-Chuna road.
Below: A view of Mago village, the first inhabited Indian village after crossing from Tibet into India over Tulung La

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 8th May 11

The grounding of helicopter operator Pawan Hans’ fleet after two shocking accidents in a fortnight near Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, has claimed another casualty: Border Roads Organisation’s strategic road building programme along the Sino-Indian border. With Pawan Hans helicopters no longer available to ferry bulldozers and materials to road building sites in remote areas, this crucial programme is experiencing further delays.

On 19th April, a Pawan Hans Mi-172 helicopter had crashed near Tawang, killing 17 passengers and crewpersons and grievously injuring five more. On 30th April, another Pawan Hans AS350 B3 helicopter crashed near Sela Pass, killing Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister, Dorjee Khandu and four others on board. Since then, Pawan Hans has suspended operations in the northeast.

These grounded helicopters have been central to the BRO’s success in by-and-large meeting tough road building schedules. Building sequentially, i.e. starting from one end of a proposed road and working steadily to the other end is a slow process. Instead, the BRO divides the road into segments, selecting multiple “attack points”, to which road building materials are heli-lifted. Work then proceeds simultaneously from each attack point.

Amongst the first to be affected is the crucial road being built from Thingbu towards the 18,000-foot Tulung La Pass on the border, so far just a mule track on which the Chinese infiltrated in 1961 to outflank Indian troops ensconced on the mighty Se La Pass. Since the BRO was using a Pawan Hans Mi-172 helicopter to carry a dismantled bulldozer to Thingbu, building has been stalled until it flies again. The Indian Air Force has already expressed its inability to support BRO road building, since its helicopters are fully committed in provisioning the army’s remote border outposts.

Also stalling are several other BRO roads in the northeast, where 6 of the 27 roads it is building are facing schedule slippages. Another 12 border roads that the BRO is building along the Sino-Indian border in Ladakh are not affected by the Pawan Hans grounding.

However, the Director General Border Roads (DGBR), Lieutenant General S Ravi Shankar, struck an upbeat note at the BRO’s 51st Raising Day celebrations today, declaring that these 39 roads would be completed by 2013. He said 25% of the BRO’s current annual budget of Rs 5400 crores is earmarked for Sino-Indian border roads.

These 39 roads are merely the beginning of an ambitious MoD project to bring connectivity to the Sino-Indian border. Top MoD sources tell Business Standard that the MoD’s General Staff Long Term Perspective Plan (or GS-LTPP) caters for Rs 57,000 crore to be spent by the BRO on new Sino-Indian border roads by 2022.

Despite that, India trails China substantially in building border infrastructure. Lt Gen Shankar explains: “It is not fair to compare us with China. They began work in the 1970s and 1980s. In those days, we were making single-lane roads, which we thought would be enough. Today we have more money and our thinking is different, so we are double-laning those earlier roads. We are moving very fast since 2007.”

Senior BRO officers highlight another emerging problem in executing its expanded road-building programme, which the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) monitors closely. The rolling out of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA) has resulted in growing reluctance amongst labourers --- traditionally recruited from eastern states like Jharkhand, Orissa and Bihar --- to leave their villages for the gruelling manual work involved in building border roads.

“The BRO cannot pay its casual labour more than the minimum wage prescribed by the central government, or by the state government where they work, whichever is greater. That amounts to Rs 120-170 per day, even in the tough conditions in which they work and live. As a result, they prefer to obtain employment at home under NREGA,” says the DGBR.

Also depleting the BRO’s traditional labour pool is the growing demand from companies that are building hydel power projects in Arunachal. “The hydel companies come and offer our labourers Rs 25 more than us; what can we do?” complains another BRO officer.

At a meeting with the Minister of State for Defence, MM Pallam Raju, on 5th May, the BRO proposed additional incentives for its workers, including subsidised rations, kerosene and clothing, to compensate them for the difficult living conditions in hand-built shanties by the side of under-construction roads.

Alongside its 36,600 permanent employees, the BRO has a workforce of about one lakh casual labourers. Over the last 51 years, the BRO has built a 48,300-kilometre network of border roads in India, 36 kilometres of major bridges, and 19 airfields.

In Afghanistan, the BRO has constructed the challenging 215-kilometre Delaram-Zaranj road at a cost of Rs 600 crore, finishing six months ahead of time with no cost overrun. In Myanmar, it has built the 160-kilometre road connecting Tamu-Kalemyo-Kalewa. In Bhutan, the BRO has built a high percentage of the roads, as well as the international airport at Paro. And, in Tajikistan, at India’s only overseas military base in Ainyi, BRO rebuilt the runway.

Friday, 6 May 2011

BROADSWORD QUIZ (Level "Difficult"): So how did Uncle Sam take down bin Laden?

Everyone gets to theorise... let's see how far out of the box you can go. There is a strict 400-word limit on your post. Please stick to that and don't have a wonderful theory shut out just because it was 10 words over the limit.

At the end, of course, I'll tell you all how it was actually done....


Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Osama conspiracy theories

Images of the house outside Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was killed by US Special Forces on Monday, 2nd May 11

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 3rd May 11

After years of not knowing whether Osama bin Laden was alive or dead, he was briefly resurrected through the announcement of his killing in a US Special Forces operation near Abbottabad, Pakistan. For me, Osama’s death feels strangely personal. I moved into his house in Kabul just a couple of days after he vacated it in November 2001. Soon afterwards, at the cave complex of Tora Bora near Jalalabad, I was amongst the journalists who watched from about a kilometre away as US Air Force B-52 bombers pulverised the cave mouths. And then, one morning, we learned that Osama and his inner coterie had escaped the previous evening, a small group trekking across the Safed Koh mountain range into the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan.

And it was there, almost a decade later, in what Pakistan now calls Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, that America’s long arm caught up with bin Laden. President Obama divulged today that US intelligence had been busy since August tracking the lead that eventually led to Osama. Last week, the US president gave this operation the thumbs-up. Early this morning, in what Obama suggested and US officials confirmed was an all-American strike, Special Forces went in and shot dead Osama, one of his sons, three guards, and another mysterious woman hostage. Six other sons and three wives were arrested.

This has raised, especially in India, a clamour of questions about whether Pakistani security agencies housed and protected Osama, and whether top Pakistani leaders and officials lied through their teeth in consistently rubbishing suggestions that Osama was hiding in Pakistan. Sceptics ask whether it was possible for such a well-known fugitive to hide without official collaboration in Pakistan’s heartland at the doorstep of its officer training school --- the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul --- just a kilometre away.

Besides these inconvenient questions, Islamabad is caught in another cleft stick. Accepting Pakistani involvement in Osama’s death would invite criticism from the right wing (which would include a large majority of all Pakistanis!) for partnering the hated Yankees in killing the admired Sheikh Osama. Denying involvement, on the other hand, would make everyone ask how US forces can operate deep inside Pakistan without the government knowing or being able to stop them.

Pakistan’s spy chief, Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, has issued an ambiguous statement that mutters about a “joint operation” but does not elaborate on the role that the Pakistani establishment played. It was widely reported that Pasha visited the US on 13th April to demand that the CIA cut down its operations inside Pakistan. Given that this request came just as US intelligence was closing the noose around bin Laden, sceptics wonder whether this was a last ditch ISI attempt to get Osama out of the trap that he was in.

The truth will not remain hidden forever, but some educated guesswork is already possible. America is hardly likely to have shared its August tip-off with Pakistani intelligence, given what it knows about the ISI’s enduring links with terrorist organisations and the consequent danger of tipping off bin Laden. Instead, US intelligence would have called upon its technical resources --- satellite surveillance and communications monitoring --- and also physical surveillance with highly paid informants, to confirm Osama’s presence and for planning the operation to kill him.

That actual strike, however, could never have been executed without Pakistani knowledge and, at least, acquiescence. Given that at least three US helicopters were used in the operation, flying through airspace that is carefully guarded by the Pakistani air defence network (the Kahuta nuclear establishment is close by) the complicity of the Pakistani air defence agencies was essential. It is this that General Pasha probably refers to in calling Osama’s killing a joint operation.

From the American viewpoint, Pakistan’s role in any such operation would be circumscribed by the lessons of Tora Bora. At the cave complex in 2001, Afghan militias closing in on Osama struck a deal with him, allowing him to escape into Pakistan just ahead of the handful of British and American special force operatives that were close behind. This time round, the US forces would have guarded against such a possibility by keeping Pakistani forces at a distance.

In evaluating Pakistani motives and actions, New Delhi must consider another possibility: that Islamabad and Rawalpindi decided to sacrifice bin Laden to the Americans to provide Obama with an honourable exit from Afghanistan, leaving the field to Pakistan. Listening to Obama’s announcement of bin Laden’s death, I was struck by how much it sounded like the first speech of his re-election campaign and its resemblance to a victory speech. It might well be that Osama’s killing could hasten the US drawdown from Afghanistan. If this conspiracy theory holds water, General Pasha’s demand in April to pare down the CIA presence in Pakistan was only the cover; perhaps his visit was to fine-tune the details of “Operation Osama”.

What will Osama’s killing do for the war on terror? Nothing really. The amorphous ideology of radical Islam and its evolving operational structures adapt quickly to leadership vacuums. Osama bin Laden became operationally irrelevant during his years in hiding; if he were to enter the field today, he would hardly know how to handle the complex interplay between the multiple actors in the anti-western array: the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network, the Punjabi jehadis… Osama would be shaking his head in disbelief. And so, just as Saddam’s capture did nothing to blunt the Iraqi resistance, Osama’s killing is unlikely to diminish terrorism and militancy in the AfPak region.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Osama is dead

Osama bin Laden, killed this morning by US Special Forces at a compound outside Abbotabad, in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, close by the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul

For me, the death of Osama is a strangely personal thing! Having moved into his house in Kabul just a couple of days after he vacated it... and having watched him being bombed in Tora Bora up to the day that he vacated the caves and trekked into Pakistan... I feel like I should be attending his funeral in Bagram, or wherever the Americans dispose of his body.

Oh well. I think I'll write an analysis instead of what I think the death of Osama means. Watch this space tomorrow.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Fighting to keep fighting: the bumpy road to army modernisation

The BAE Systems M777 ultralight field howitzer at the Defexpo 2010 in New Delhi. India is buying 140 of these under the US Foreign Military Sales programme for some Rs 3000 crores.

By Ajai Shukla
Defence & Security of India
Volume 3, Issue 5, April 2011

The current crisis of equipment obsolescence within the Indian Army has been brewing since the sharp cuts in defence expenditure during the economic crisis of the early 1990s. From its highs of more than four per cent of GDP during the late 1980s, when India had pursued an activist security and foreign policy (Sri Lanka, Maldives, Operation Brass Tacks, Operation Chequerboard, Siachen Glacier), defence expenditure plummeted to below 2.5 per cent of GDP as New Delhi’s focus shifted to fiscal stabilisation and economic reform.

Through the 1990s, before India’s economy shifted to a high growth trajectory, the army’s meagre capital allocations were insufficient for the phased replacement of equipment and weaponry that had outlived its life. The money available barely covered the annual instalments due for the tanks, infantry combat vehicles, mechanized air defence systems, assault engineering equipment and helicopters that Rajiv Gandhi, Arun Singh and General K Sundarji had splashed money on before the Bofors scandal swept away the Congress in 1989.

Nor has the economic revival of the preceding decade, and the steadily increasing allocations for capital expenditure, done much for replacing the army’s growing inventory of grey-haired equipment. Other than the multi-billion dollar purchase of T-90 tanks from Russia, big-ticket military expenditure has been directed more towards warships and aircraft than towards an army that has been engaged in relentless low-intensity combat in Jammu & Kashmir, Assam and Manipur.

Infantry modernisation has been more a slogan than a reality. India’s mechanised forces, which had constituted a formidable conventional deterrent through the 1980s and 1990s, have lost ground to Pakistan, which has dramatically cut down India’s combat power advantage with the intelligent purchase of modern tanks from Eastern Europe and self-propelled artillery from the US. The Indian Army’s artillery has been unable to procure modern guns for a quarter of a century, while the air defence artillery is even more decrepit. Logistics, traditionally consigned by India’s general staff to the unglamorous fringes of operational planning, has seen no new acquisitions of specialist vehicles and equipment.

Archaic Defence Planning

This gloomy situation stems largely from India’s archaic system of defence planning in which identifying the weapons platforms that are needed, rather than capabilities, drives the formulation of the military’s 15-year Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP); 5-year defence plans; and Annual Acquisition Plans (AAP). Modern militaries across the globe first identify the operational capabilities that they deem essential; then they build or acquire the weapons and equipment that would provide those capabilities. E.g. a military might decide it needs the ability to bring down, at 30 minutes notice, 20 tonnes of high explosive on a target 100 x 50 metre in size, 80 kilometres inside enemy territory, anywhere along a 700-kilometer section of the border. The planning cell would then decide whether that requirement would best be met by field artillery, multi-barrelled rocket launchers, cruise or surface-to-surface missiles, strike aircraft, or special forces. That crucial decision would then inform equipment procurement or development.

In New Delhi, however, equipment planning consists of the incremental upgrading of the equipment that the army already holds. Line directorates (e.g. infantry, artillery or mechanized forces directorates), which govern the equipment planning of each arm or service, simply demand an improvement over what they already operate. The artillery, equipped with 45-calibre 155 millimetre howitzers, demands 52-calibre howitzers to “modernize” the arm. The armoured corps clamours for T-90s to replace the T-72 fleet, the mechanised infantry for BMP-3s to replace the BMP-2s, and the engineers for bridges with 52-metre spans to replace the 40-metre bridges already in service.

The Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) is charged with preventing duplication and optimising resources, but with the army unable to rationalise equipment between its component branches, the IDS can hardly discharge that function. And so, instead of focusing intelligently on acquiring specific capabilities that are likely to be required in our specific operational environment, money is shared out between various interest groups, hoping to please all rather than developing specific capabilities.

With no clarity on the specific capabilities that it requires, the army’s framing of its equipment requirements also remains unclear. Arms vendors from across the globe complain about the tendency to frame General Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQRs) --- the performance specifications that each platform must fulfil --- on a “best of each” basis, extracting the best performance qualities from a number of different products and putting them together to create a “perfect” product. This approach, however, disregards the simple engineering truth that performance is all about trade-offs.

For example, the specifications that the army and the IAF framed for the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, demanded a continuous cruise speed of 270 kilometres per hour at sea level and the ability to lift a 200 kilogramme payload at 6000 metres. This entirely disregarded the fact that a helicopter’s rotor can either be optimised for lift at high-altitudes, or for high-speed performance. Instead of zeroing in on the capability that it needed, the military added one and one and got eleven.

Compounding the delays caused by poorly formulated GSQRs are the Ministry of Defence’s complex procurement regulations, promulgated in the frequently revised Defence Procurement Policy. Seven versions of the DPP since 2002 have culminated in the most recent one: DPP-2011. Every procurement initiated during this last decade is governed by the DPP that was valid at that time, confusing vendors and ministry officials alike.

A final deterrent to expeditious procurement is the “Bofors-Tehelka Syndrome”, the cautious MoD mindset that emerged from those two investigations of alleged procurement transgressions. Bureaucrats handling procurement operate with the clear understanding that procurement delays are not punishable whereas the slightest procedural infringement can result in a career scuttled. Consequently, equipment procurement is characterised by a stultifying adherence to hidebound procedure where officials focus less on giving the military quality products in an acceptable timeframe, at an optimal cost, and more on adhering fanatically to the DPP.

Obsolete Field Artillery

The Indian Army’s crippling equipment obsolescence is most alarmingly highlighted in its field artillery, the most important element of combat power in the Indian operational context. Unlike western expeditionary armies, which increasingly rely on air-delivered munitions for fire support to ground troops engaged in fleeting encounters with guerrilla opponents, Indian Army operations are most likely to consist of set-piece attack or defence, in which sustained, heavy artillery fires are regarded as crucial for causing attrition on the enemy. This was most recently illustrated during the Kargil conflict in 1999, when India’s ability to pulverise Pakistani positions with massed artillery proved a battle-winning factor.

India has less than 220 regiments of outdated artillery to support troops deployed year-round along its sprawling 4,350 kilometers of disputed boundary with Pakistan and China. Since poor road communications disallow the quick redeployment of guns to threatened sectors, army planning involves pre-positioning artillery all along the 740-kilometer Line of Control, or LoC, between India and Pakistan; the 110-kilometer Actual Ground Position Line, or AGPL, above the Siachen Glacier; and the 3,500-kilometer Line of Actual Control, or LAC, between India and China.

But boosting the clearly inadequate numbers and ranges has proved impossible since the late 1980s, when the Bofors scandal restricted India’s planned buy of 155 millimetre, 45 calibre FH-77B howitzers from the planned 1510 guns to just 410. The plan to upgrade India’s 60-odd regiments of Soviet-era 130 millimetre guns to 155 millimetres was curtailed after Israeli company, Soltam, was criticised for a poor upgrade job on the first 10 regiments. The backbone of India’s artillery, especially in the mountains, remains the indigenous 105 millimetre gun, which was built in India in two variants: the Light Field Gun (LFG) for mountain terrain and the Indian Field Gun (IFG) for plains.

Multiple procurements are envisioned under the expansively named Artillery Vision 2027, and the MoD-sanctioned Artillery Modernisation Plan. These include a tender worth an estimated Rs 8000 crore for 1580 towed 155-millimetre, 52-calibre howitzers. Another tender worth over Rs 3000 crore is being pursued, under the US Foreign Military Sales Programme, for 140 ultralight 155-millimetre, 39-calibre howitzers for mountain formations. Another Rs 3500 crore is chasing 100 track-mounted 155-millimetre, 52 calibre guns for the mechanised formations. And Rs 4000 crore is earmarked for 180 similar vehicle-mounted guns for self-propelled regiments. The total money in play here, some Rs 18,500 crore, is less a problem than the glacial pace at which these procurements have been processed over the last decade.

Mounting frustration over the delays in artillery procurement have encouraged an Indian consortium, led by the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO), in partnership with private sector companies, to consider a domestic howitzer development programme. Such an enterprise would bypass many of the procedural and political hurdles that have stymied attempts to purchase foreign artillery systems.

Also making headway is Project Shakti, or the Artillery Combat Command and Control System (ACCCS), a digital network that has been jointly developed by the DRDO’s Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR) and Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL). Dedicated to the army in June 2009, this is the first of India’s net-centric warfare systems that are intended to seamlessly integrate command functions in the 21st century battlefield.

Tank upgrades

The army’s tank arsenal is based predominantly on 2418 obsolescent T-72 tanks, the first of which came into service in 1979, more than three decades ago. Underpowered, night blind and reliant on outdated gunnery computers, many of these will be replaced by a planned arsenal of 1657 T-90 tanks, 1100 of which will be built at Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF), Avadi. But, since more than a thousand T-72s will continue to be in service beyond 2022, the army plans to spend Rs 5 crore per T-72 (it was bought for Rs 9 crore each) on retrofitting crucial systems, including the fire control system, main engine and night vision devices. This procurement has sputtered along for almost a decade with barely visible success.

The early retirement of the T-72 has been stymied by the army’s incomprehensible refusal to order larger numbers of the DRDO-developed Arjun, a 60-tonne Main Battle Tank that outperformed the T-90 during comparative trials conducted by the army’s 180 Armoured Brigade near Bikaner in March 2010. While a bulk order for Arjun tanks would allow HVF Avadi to scale up its production line, the army has capped its order at 248 Arjuns.

The T-72, after its planned upgrade, would cost Rs 14 crore per tank. The T-90s that HVF has produced since 2009 cost Rs 17.5 crores apiece. In contrast, a brand new Arjun, with a 1400 horsepower engine, state-of-the-art integrated electronics, an acclaimed 120 millimetre gun, and the indigenous, widely praised Kanchan armour, comes in at Rs 16.8 crores.

Given the Arjun’s much-delayed success, the army and the DRDO are formulating the specifications of a next-generation tank, so far referred to as the Future Main Battle Tank (FMBT). This will be developed by the DRDO as an entirely indigenous project. Additionally, the army has sent out a Request for Information (RFI) to global vendors for light tanks, which it plans to deploy in north-eastern India and for mountain warfare.

Infantry modernisation

Although the infantry forms the bulk of the Indian Army and has long been its most combat committed element, infantry modernisation has languished since 1998, when the MoD cleared what is known as “Modification 4B” to the scaling of an infantry battalion. This involved boosting firepower at the platoon level and also enhancing an infantry battalion’s anti-tank and anti-aircraft capabilities. In 2003, a Rs 3,500 crore infantry modernisation plan was cleared, which involved the procurement of 84 millimetre rocket launchers, anti-material rifles (AMRs), under-barrel grenade launchers (UBGLs), Kornet-E anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) and modern small arms, including sniper rifles.

The new game-changer for the infantry is an ambitious new development project called the Future Infantry Soldier as a System (F-INSAS), which aims to convert an infantryman into a digitally-networked all-terrain, all-weather, weapons platform with enhanced lethality, survivability, sustainability, mobility and situational awareness. This is still a development project, in which the DRDO, Indian industry and foreign technology partners are working together.

Modernisation of the mechanised infantry is another priority project for the army, with four private sector companies --- Tata Motors; the Mahindra Group; L&T; and the MoD-owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) --- competing to design and build 2600 new-generation Future Infantry Combat Vehicles (F-ICVs) to replace the Indian Army’s aging fleet of Russian-designed BMP-IIs. It is estimated that the development cost and the cost of manufacturing 2600 FICVs for the mechanised infantry could add up to Rs 50,000 crore, making this India’s most expensive defence contract so far. The four companies will be submitting their proposals to the MoD by May 2011.

Air Defence for Mechanised Forces

Air defence remains a crucial vulnerability in India’s national defence, with even the IAF chief and the defence minister publicly admitting to gaps in the radar coverage of Indian airspace. The efficacy of the Soviet-era SAM-2 and SAM-3 missile batteries, which have been granted several life-extensions by the OEMs, is also questionable. The air defence of India’s mechanised forces is another major gap, with the SAM-6, SAM-7 and SAM-8 medium range missile systems, procured in the 1980s, having lived out their service lives.

With the overseas procurement of replacement missile systems appearing too expensive to be viable, the MoD has initiated several development projects to produce India’s requirements indigenously. The DRDO’s Akash missile is already entering service; BEL and Bharat Earth Movers Ltd (BEML) are building 8 Akash squadrons for the IAF and 6 squadrons for the army. And DRDO, in partnership with Israeli defence manufacturers, is developing a Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LR-SAM) with a range of 70 kilometres; a Short Range Surface to Air Missile (SR-SAM) with a range of 15 kilometres; and is developing hypersonic technology for more advanced missiles. The Indo-Russian Brahmos cruise missile, which was designed as an anti-ship missile with a range of 290 kilometres, has been modified for the army for use against surface targets and has been undergoing extensive testing.

The DRDO is also at an intermediate stage in developing an integrated anti-ballistic missile system, having tested both exo-atmospheric and endo-atmospheric interceptors. This system is also capable of functioning as a long range air defence system, capable of engaging aircraft targets at ranges above 100 kilometres.

Meanwhile, also following the indigenisation track, the private and public sectors are competing for a development project to upgrade the L-70 air defence gun and integrate it with a fire control radar.

Signals modernisation

The provision of a state-of-the-art communications network for the army is one of the MoD’s key modernisation priorities. The static communications network along the borders is being converted to optic fibre. Meanwhile, a major indigenous development project --- the Tactical Communications System, or TCS --- has been initiated under the “Make” procedure of the DPP. Eight consortia, led by Indian prime contractors --- which include BEL, ECIL, ITI, Tata Power SED, Rolta, L&T, Wipro and HCL Infosystems --- will submit bids on 25th April.

Also being developed indigenously are a series of electronic warfare (EW) systems under the hush-hush Project Suraj, which include a Low Power Jammer (LPJ); an electronic warfare system for low intensity conflict (EW-LIC); an Integrated EW System for Mountains (IEWS MT); and a track and wheeled EW system for mechanised formations (EW – Track & Wheeled).


While the high number of indigenous development projects in the Indian Army’s modernisation plan is potentially a positive development, especially if this results in the development of domestic capability, a key reason for this is the failure of the defence procurement system to provide a combat committed army with suitable equipment in timely fashion.

It is time for the army to evolve realistic and well-considered GSQRs, and for the MoD to specify unbreakable time schedules for procurement, with officers being held accountable for delays. It is time also to translate into action the long-discussed proposal for a rolling, non-lapsable, Defence Modernisation Fund, to assure fund availability when a procurement process is reaching culmination.