Tuesday, 31 January 2012



Friday, 27 January 2012

INS Tarangini gets a sister sailship: the INS Sudarshini

The INS Sudarshini, the navy's second training sailship for cadets, awakens memories... of the time I spent on the INS Tarangini in 2004 during its trip around the globe. Posted are 3 photos of that trip on the Tarangini (above). Three photos of the Sudarshini are pasted below those

The Indian Navy's press release on the commissioning of INS Sudarshini is pasted below:


INS Sudarshini a three masted barque (sail ship) and the second sail training ship of the Indian Navy was commissioned by Vice Admiral KN Sushil, Flag Officer Commanding in Chief Southern Naval Command at Naval Base today. INS Sudarshini is a follow on class of INS Tarangini which joined Southern Naval Command in 1997. The ship commanded by Commander P K Boyiri Varma is built by Goa Shipyard Limited and is designed by the British Naval Architect Mr Colin Mudie. INS Sudarshini with an overall length of 54 m, has 20 sails, 7.5 kms of rope and 1.5 kms of steel wire rope. She can sail for up to 20 days with its complement of 05 officers, 31 sailors with 30 cadets embarked for training. INS Sudarshini will join the First Training Squadron based at Southern Naval Command at Kochi. Interestingly, the ship was launched by Smt Letha Sushil, the spouse of Vice Admiral Sushil at Goa Shipyard on 25th January 2011.

Sail Training Ships are crucibles for future Naval Officers for training in seamanship, navigation, ship handling, and braving the elements. The inclusion of a second sail training ship will ensure the availability of either of the ships for training of cadets on a continuous basis. INS Sudarshini is expected to undertake a historic ASEAN voyage in September this year. The voyage, which would cement the historic ties of India with the countries of ASEAN region, will touch 18 ports in 8 countries and will conclude in April 2013. Southern Naval Command eschewed the traditional grandeur befitting a commissioning ceremony today, in view of the passing away of the Governor of Kerala. The ship will proceed on its first mission later today.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

US Air Force strongly backs the F-35

(Photo courtesy global-military.com)

With the F-35 under fire over time and cost overruns, the USAF has come out strongly behind the fighter, praising it as "multi-role capable, able to fight air-to-air and air-to-ground."

Detractors of the F-35, posting on Broadsword, have consistently --- and erroneously --- termed it solely a ground strike aircraft, with limited capability in air-to-air combat. Broadsword, of course, has consistently backed the F-35 as the best choice for India, rather than the over-priced, over-hyped Rafale and Typhoon. The latest PR trick by Eurofighter (I go into splits of laughter whenever I think of this) is to fly patrols over the Economic Summit at Davos. I kid you not... I've received an official release from Eurofighter to this effect.

The American Forces Press Service release is pasted below.

Air Force Leaders Say Strategy Calls for F-22, F-35 Capabilities
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24, 2012 – Fifth-generation fighter aircraft are key to America maintaining domain dominance in the years ahead, Air Force officials said here today.

Lt. Gen. Christopher D. Miller, deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and programs, and Maj. Gen. Noel T. “Tom” Jones, the service’s director for operation capability requirements, said the technology – exemplified in the F-22 and F-35 – assumes greater importance in combating growing anti-access, area-denial capabilities.

The generals spoke during a media roundtable in the Pentagon.

Fifth-generation aircraft are particularly valuable as part of the new defense strategy guidance that President Barack Obama unveiled here earlier this month, they said. That strategy explicitly affirms that the United States military must be able to defeat ant-access, area-denial threats.

“This is not a new thing,” Miller said. “Militaries have operated in ant-access environments probably since the beginning of time. But what is different, and why fifth-generation aircraft is relevant to that, is that operating in anti-access environments continues to become more complex and challenging.”

There is a continuing competition between nations developing anti-access capabilities and others devising ways to defeat that, the general said. “Fifth-generation aircraft are a key ability that the Air Force is bringing to the nation’s ability to operate in those environments,” he added.

The Air Force has flown against anti-access environments since it was founded. American fighters countered this capability in the skies over Korea and Vietnam. Airmen faced off against surface-to-air missiles ringing Hanoi. In the Persian Gulf War, airmen defeated the ground-to-air threat over Iraq, and most recently, they knocked out the anti-access capabilities around Tripoli.

But missile technology has become more complex and more difficult to counter. Command-and-control capabilities have grown. This will require a new set of capabilities flying against them, Jones told reporters. “The fifth-generation capabilities that the F-22 and F-35 possess will allow us to deal with that environment,” he said.

F-22s and F-35s bring maneuverability, survivability, advanced avionics and stealth technology to the fight. Both planes are multi-role capable, able to fight air-to-air and air-to-ground.
“These capabilities give our leaders the ability to hold any target at risk, anywhere in the globe, at any time,” Jones said. “I think it is important for any adversary to understand we possess those capabilities and intend to continue the development.”

Another aspect of the strategy includes the ability to operate against adversaries across the spectrum of conflict. F-22s and F-35s are particularly relevant at the top of the spectrum, “where we can’t always set the conditions for our operations as easily as we have in the last couple of decades of military conflict,” Miller said.

This is an extremely valuable capability that must be nurtured, the generals said.
Americans have become used to having domain dominance, Miller said, expecting U.S. service members to be able to operate on land, at sea, in the air with a fair degree of autonomy as they pursue national objectives.

“This is not a birthright,” Miller said. “That is something we have had to work very hard in the past to gain, … and we can’t take for granted that we are going to be able to support the joint team in future environments unless we maintain a high-end capability to target an adversary’s air forces, their surface-to-air forces and basically be able to seize control of parts of the air space and other domains the joint commander needs.

“It’s an Air Force capability,” he added, “but it’s a key Air Force contribution to the joint warfighting capability of the nation.”

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Performance, not age

In selecting senior Indian commanders, age is everything. Gen Hasnain, the highly effective commander of 15 Corps (pictured talking to locals in Kashmir) is blocked by his age from becoming army commander

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th Jan 12

The public battle over the army chief's age bears a larger lesson for the government: the undesirability of letting a date of birth determine which generals are appointed to senior military command and, especially, to the crucial appointments of army, navy and air force chiefs. As India now knows, the army chief (like those of the navy and air force) is appointed based not on merit but on when he was born. When a serving chief retires, his senior-most army commander is elevated to the top job. Only once has the government deviated from this: in appointing Lt Gen A S Vaidya instead of Lt Gen S K Sinha in 1983. Rather than exercise judgement in selecting a suitable chief from its 85-odd lieutenant generals, the government acts as if all of them are equally good, or bad.

Rather less known is the fact that the army chief’s key subordinates — i.e., army commanders and, under them, corps commanders — are also appointed based on when they were born. Of the officers promoted to lieutenant general, only those with at least three years of residual service (i.e., those below 57 years) get to command corps, while the rest of them warm desks. This even though a corps commander’s tenure is just a year. After commanding a corps, a lieutenant general is elevated to army commander only if he has two years of residual service.

These are not mere guidelines that are waived for exceptional officers, but ironclad rules that waste exceptional military talent for insufficient reason. An example of this is currently playing out. Lieutenant General Syed Ata Hasnain was brought in as Srinagar corps commander in autumn 2010 to staunch three years of bloodletting on the Kashmiri street. He successfully calmed tempers and dramatically boosted the army’s image, achieving in Kashmir what Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus could not in Afghanistan. Based purely on performance, Hasnain is an outstanding field commander. But, since he has less than two years of service left, he will not even make army commander, leave alone army chief. Instead, he will push papers in Delhi.

This ill-conceived “date of birth” approach to top-rank promotions sits atop a bitterly resented quota system in the ranks just below. The army’s “Mandalised” system of promotion quotas (described in this newspaper’s Weekend supplement on January 14) grants promotions at the key ranks of colonel and brigadier not to accomplished officers with the best career records; but distributes them between various arms on a pro-rata basis. That guarantees each arm — the infantry, the artillery, the armoured corps, etc., — proportionate representation in those crucial ranks, regardless of merit. Every promotion board rejects some outstanding officers because of “lack of vacancies” in that arm; while officers with notably inferior records get promoted because their arm’s vacancies must be filled.

No other country that I know of fetters its senior military command so. The United States government, like most others, selects its top soldier from a broad panel of generals, often picking up a relatively junior officer with an exceptional service record and the potential for bridging the sometimes opposing interests of the military and the political class.

Such systems of “deep selection” create incentives amongst the generals for bold decision-making and eye-catching performance. But Indian generals who are in the running to be chief (by virtue of their correctly aligned dates of birth!) need only to ensure that they don’t shoot themselves in the foot. This encourages conservative decision-making, the absolute avoidance of risk, and the “servicing” of personal relationships to ensure that nothing derails their candidacy.

The argument against “deep selection” sounds superficially convincing: that a compromised polity and an inherently anti-army bureaucracy can hardly be trusted to select the military chiefs. This argument suggests that dhotiwalas and babus (the military’s mocking reference to politicians and bureaucrats) would unleash patrimonialism and politicisation within an organisation that has remained relatively honest and functional only because of its complete segregation.

This argument is flawed, not least in regarding the selection of senior officers free of such influence — something that has been disproved in the debate over the army chief’s birth date. By promoting a chasm between the military and the political and bureaucratic elites, the military damages its own interests. With no political and bureaucratic investment in a military chief (we didn’t select him, he just happened to be born on a certain date and came up the chain) the civil-military relationship remains fundamentally adversarial. Any reform measure — the creation of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS); an integrated defence staff (IDS) headquarters, or the cross-posting of officers between the MoD and the IDS — founders on the rocks of inter-agency hostility.

A system of “deep selection” would galvanise the military’s leadership; lead to longer tenures for service chiefs, during which they could drive home key initiatives; promote a meritocracy from the top down; and, most importantly, create an incentive for elected representatives and government bureaucrats to pay closer attention to the military and the management of defence. For entrenched interests within the military, greater civilian involvement in promotions and appointments is threatening. But this must be the lesson that emerges from the current unsavoury face-off.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Samtel poised to take off with air force fighter fleet

The old Su-30MKI front cockpit (left) with Thales MFDs. At right is the same cockpit with Samtel MFDs

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd Jan 12

After bagging a Euro 1.47 billion (Rs 9,600 crore) contract for upgrading the Indian Air Force’s fleet of 51 Mirage-2000 fighters, French defence electronics giant, Thales, is now an 800-pound gorilla on the Indian defence scene. And its Indian partner, Samtel Display Systems (SDS), is emerging as a company to watch as it swoops alongside Thales onto India’s burgeoning aerospace market.

Thales’ offset liability from the Mirage upgrade contract amounts to Rs 441 million Euro (Rs 3000 crore). That induces Thales to source from SDS a significant share of the avionics (aviation-electronics) for upgrading the Mirage-2000. SDS, with whom Thales has a joint venture company, Samtel Thales Avionics, is poised to meet that requirement. SDS already supplies Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), India’s sole aircraft manufacturer, with cockpit displays (multi-function displays, or MFDs) for the Sukhoi-30MKI fighters that are built at HAL’s Nashik plant. The Ghaziabad-based company is also competing to build avionics for the IAF’s forthcoming Sukhoi-30 MKI upgrade.

And if the Rafale fighter --- built by Dassault with a large avionics component from Thales --- is chosen by the MoD as the IAF’s new medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA), SDS could benefit enormously from another wave of offset-driven orders for display systems and other avionics in the 126 MMRCA.

“We are looking at a turnover growth from Rs 60 crore in 2011-12, to about Rs 500 crore in 2015-16,” Puneet Kaura, Executive Director of SDS, told Business Standard.

Samtel Thales Avionics (Thales 26%; Samtel 74%), which was incorporated in 2008, is Thales’ only joint venture in India. The French company is currently setting up another JV with Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) for manufacturing radar components.

“Thales wants to build on our maturing relationship to make us a major supply source for avionics. They are looking at India very seriously, given the size of the deals they have signed or are contemplating,” says Puneet Kaura.

Thales shares Kaura’s optimism. Eric Lenseigne, who heads Thales India, says that India is a key market, both in defence and in the civilian areas of transportation, signalling, communications and automatic fare collection systems. Thales fare collection systems are installed on the Delhi Metro.

“We are keen on growing our joint venture in India, Samtel Thales Avionics. Samtel has key capabilities, and the capability to grow. We do not rule out their becoming a part of our global supply chain… provided they develop the way that we would like them to develop,” says Lenseigne.

So far, SDS’s key technological breakthroughs, such as the Su-30MKI displays, have been achieved indigenously. But now, as it progresses to cutting edge avionics the company requires technology infusion. For this, Samtel Thales Avionics, is a key vehicle.

An example of the futuristic avionics that SDS hopes to supply is the Infra Red Search and Track (IRST) System, which is standard kit in the Rafale as well as the Eurofighter Typhoon. This passive sensor detects enemy aircraft at ranges of 60-70 kilometres through the heat (infrared) that they emit. Unlike a fighter’s airborne radar, which gives away one’s own position by emitting an electronic beam, an IRST is entirely stealthy since it emits nothing.

Thales plans to offer the IRST to the IAF on a “Buy and Make (Indian)” basis. This category of procurement (specified in the Defence Procurement Procedure of 2011, or DPP-2011) requires an Indian partner to absorb critical, high-end technologies and develop capabilities within India. Thales has told the IAF that Samtel Thales Avionics would do 50% of the design and development work in India.

Both Samtel and Thales tell Business Standard that they will enhance Thales’ share of the JV, if the foreign direct investment (FDI) limit is raised from the current 26%. “If the FDI cap is raised to 49%, we have agreed that Thales’ holding in the JV will go up to 49%, while we will come down to 51% This is not a written agreement, but we have an understanding,” says Kaura.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Coast Guard gets first Inshore Patrol Vessel built by Hindustan Shipyard Ltd

Hindustan Shipyard, which could become the MoD's central yard for manufacturing nuclear submarines, has delivered its first vessel to the Indian Coast Guard. Press release pasted below.


New Delhi: Pausa 30, 1933
January 20, 2012

The Indian Coast Guard Ship Rani Abbakka, the 1st of a series of five Inshore Patrol Vessel (IPV) built at M/s HSL, was commissioned at Visakhapatnam by Minister of State for Defence Dr. MM Pallam Raju today in the presence of Vice Admiral Anil Chopra, Flag Officer Commanding in Chief (East), Vice Admiral MP Muralidharan, Director General Indian Coast Guard and other senior dignitaries of the Central and State Govt. The ship is named after Abbakka Mahadevi, the legendary queen of Tulunadu, Karnataka who fought the Portuguese in the latter half of the 16th century. She was also one of the earliest Indians to fight the colonial powers and is sometimes regarded as the 'First Woman Freedom Fighter of India'.

The 50 M Inshore Patrol Vessel, ICGS Rani Abbakka, the first of its class has been designed and built indigenously by M/s Hindustan Shipyard Limited, Visakhapatnam. The ship, which is equipped with the most advanced and sophisticated navigational and communication sensors and equipment. The ship is propelled by three MTU 4000 series Diesel engines of 2720 KW capacity at 2100 rpm each coupled with three 71S II Rolls Royce Jets to a maximum speed of 31.5 Knots. At economical speed of 14 Knots, it has an endurance of 1500 nautical miles. The special features of the ship include an Integrated Bridge System (IBS), Machinery Control System (IMCS), and an indigenously built Gun Mount with Fire Control System. The ship is designed to carry one Rigid Inflatable Boat and two Geminis for Search and Rescue, Law Enforcement and Maritime Patrol.
ICGS “Rani Abbakka”, manned by 05 officers and 34 men under the Command of Commandant C Vivekananda, will be based at Chennai and will be under administrative and operational control of the Commander, Coast Guard Region (East).

The ship on joining the Coast Guard Fleet will enhance Coast Guard’s capability in furthering its mandate of Maritime Safety, Maritime Security, Environmental Protection and Coastal Security on the Eastern Sea board.

Army chief’s crosshairs on Attorney General

Attorney General, Goolam Vahanvati, who has followed a long tradition of compliant AGs, by providing the MoD with a legal opinion that justifies turning down the army chief's petition for reconciling his birth date.

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th Jan 12

Squarely in the crosshairs of the army chief, General VK Singh, is Attorney General Goolam Vahanvati. Already under fire in the 2G spectrum allocation scam, which the CBI is investigating, Vahanvati provided Defence Minister AK Antony the legal opinion that led to the MoD’s rejection of General Singh’s petition for his birth date to be recognised as 10th May 1951.

The army chief's writ petition, filed in the Supreme Court on Monday, directly challenges Vahanvati’s opinion. The attorney general’s opinion overruled the earlier decision of a senior law ministry official, who had opined last May that the army chief was correct. Vahanvati, however, ruled that the MoD was on solid legal ground in putting the army chief’s date of birth as 10th May 1950.

Gen VK Singh’s writ petition cites the favourable opinions of four former Supreme Court chief justices and a former Solicitor General to directly suggest that Vahanvati's legal opinion is flawed.

“The attorney general has given his legal opinion, but we obviously do not accept that,” says Puneet Bali, advocate for the army chief. “We will contest it in court. Since the matter is sub-judice, I will not say any more.”

The army chief’s close advisors point out that attorneys general historically, and Vahanvati in particular, have been far from unbiased.

After the Bofors gun scam hit the headlines in 1987, then Attorney General, K Parasaran, provided a notoriously convenient “opinion” for the government, ruling that Bofors could not be asked to reveal the names of those who had been paid money because of “customer confidentiality”. This, although Bofors had declared that they were willing to provide the names; and the government had repeatedly said in public that it wanted the names from Bofors. Thereafter, on several occasions, the government ruled out obtaining those names from Bofors, citing the attorney general's opinion on “customer confidentiality.”

Former NDA disinvestment and telecom minister, Arun Shourie, asks, “Can you recall an opinion provided by an attorney general, which did not suit the convenience of the government of the time?”

Says Shourie, “Attorneys General should function as ‘in-house judges’ from whom government departments can obtain honest evaluations of legal cases. Unfortunately, they have functioned as lawyers for whichever government is in office, providing a legal rubber-stamp to decisions already made.”

Attorney General Vahanvati will be particularly vulnerable to such charges, say sources close to General VK Singh. The former Telecom Minister, A Raja, who is imprisoned and facing corruption charges in the 2G scam, used Vahanvati’s “legal opinion” to rationalize most of his allegedly illegal decisions. And Raja, while replying to a worried letter from the prime minister about spectrum allocation, wrote that he had been greatly “enlightened” in taking those decisions by “the learned Solicitor General”, as Vahanvati was at that time.

The CBI has not yet launched any specific investigation of Vahanvati’s role, and the attorney general himself strongly denies wrongdoing. However anti-graft campaigner, Prashant Bhushan, is pursuing a case in the Supreme Court, charging Vahanvati with drafting some of the most crucial arguments that Raja is now using in his defence.

If the Supreme Court decides to hear the army chief’s writ petition, and upholds his birth date as 10th May 1951, General VK Singh would be eligible to serve till 31st March 2013, when he completes three years in office. In that case, the current northern army commander, Lt Gen KT Parnaik, is likely to be the next army chief. Currently, General VK Singh is due to retire on 31st May 2012, after completing 62 years. In that case, the eastern army commander, Lt Gen Bikram Singh is likely to be the next army chief. This issue has arisen because the army has erroneously maintained two dates of birth for General Singh since 1970.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Broadsword quiz: a comparative evaluation of these two photos

I have already figured out that these are tanks on a train. The best answers will have to go well beyond that! Let's have some identification, evaluation and analysis here...

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Army chief moves Supreme Court against defence ministry

Gen VK Singh (centre) with senior army brass at the recently concluded Exercise Sudarshan Shakti in Rajasthan. Who will succeed him as army chief is now an open question (photo courtesy Livefist blog)

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 17th Jan 12

Army Chief, General Vijay Kumar Singh, is now on a full-blown confrontation course with the government. He has filed a writ petition with the Supreme Court, asking for his date of birth to be recognised as 10th May 1951. The MoD, however, has determined that he was born on 10th May 1950, a date that General Singh rejects as having been erroneously entered in 1965 on his application form for joining the National Defence Academy.

That MoD’s determination would make the general liable to retire on the last day of May this year, the month that he completes 62 years. But if the Supreme Court upholds his petition, General Singh would serve till 31st March 2013, when he completes three years as chief.

The date that is determined as General Singh’s birth date will determine who succeeds him as army chief. If the current chief retires this May, Lieutenant General Bikram Singh, the eastern army commander is likely to succeed him, by virtue of being the senior-most army officer on that day. If the Supreme Court appeal is upheld, the next army chief could be the current northern army commander, Lieutenant General KT Parnaik.

Business Standard learns that Gen VK Singh’s legal team in the Supreme Court includes Chandigarh-based lawyer, Puneet Bali, who filed the petition in the court today; and Uday U Lalit, the CBI’s Special Public Prosecutor in the 2G spectrum case.

A writ petition in the Supreme Court would ordinarily come up for hearing in the “mentioning list” in about one week. However, when a case has wide implications, or when a petitioner has requested for an early hearing, the court registry often lists the case early for hearing.

Asked by Business Standard whether General Singh would push for an early hearing, Puneet Bali confirmed, “We might make the request for an early hearing tomorrow, depending upon the instructions of the client.”

While the army chief’s personal staff officers declined comment when contacted by Business Standard, Puneet Bali said, “The army chief regards this an issue that concerns his personal honour and he feels very bitter at the aspersions that have been cast over his credibility.”

Crucial to the case could be the judge that hears the matter. According to the Supreme Court handbook, released by Chief Justice Balakrishna, all matters that could be filed before the court are divided into “47 subject categories” and each category is assigned to one or more judges. Each fresh case is placed in one of these subject categories and comes up before the judge(s) responsible for that category of cases.

Also muddying the waters is another petition, which has weighed in on the army chief’s behalf. Filed by a little-known Rohtak-based ex-servicemen’s body, the “Grenadiers Association”, this is due for hearing in the Supreme Court on 20th Jan. It is learned that Gen VK Singh and Defence Minister AK Antony have both been named as respondents in this petition.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

All the Chief's Men: Quotas rule promotions in a “Mandalised” army

These NDA cadets are all equal when they start. But not so when they become officers in various arms. Skewed promotion policies will give many of them an unfair edge over the others

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 14th Jan 12

A recent letter, boldly written by a serving lieutenant colonel to the army chief, General V K Singh says: “PROFESSIONAL DISCRIMINATION is upgrading (sic) into SOCIAL DISCRIMINATION. The formidable INDIAN ARMY is developing cracks. What the enemy would have loved to foster, is happening on its own.”

Says a senior officer of the mechanised forces who was recently promoted, but sees equally competent compatriots being overtaken by lesser officers: “The Indian army has been effectively Mandalised. The traditional meritocracy of senior rank has given way to a shoddy system of quotas that is placing unconfident and incompetent officers to command troops in battle.”

* * *

People sometimes wonder what drives soldiers in the face of death. The answer, surprisingly, is not patriotism, religion, discipline, bloodlust, or a quest for glory. Instead, most soldiers affirm that a shared brotherhood with their comrades is what drives them through mortal danger. The ones who die do so in the belief that death is better than besmirching the legacy of their unit or sub-unit.

“Soldiers live and die for the name of their unit alone,” says Brigadier Virendar Singh who led the assault on the 21,000-feet-high Bana Post above the Siachen Glacier in 1987, one of India’s most stirring military exploits.

Reflecting this philosophy, combat units are structured around the regimental system. Combat arms, which include the infantry (foot soldiers) and the armoured corps (tank men), are all organised into regiments or groups. These include legends like the Gurkha regiment, the Sikh Light Infantry and the Brigade of Guards. The armoured corps has a plethora of famous regiments like 4 Horse, Skinner’s Horse, and 3rd Cavalry.

Officers and jawans go straight from initial training into their unit, a tightly-bonded fraternity of 550 to 800 men. For the duration of their field service, they serve with that same unit, imbibing its ethos and character. Their uniform bears its distinctive symbols — cap badges, shoulder titles, belts, flashes and lanyards — which reaffirm their identity. They soak in, and revel in, their unit’s history, its battle honours and the personalities that it produced.

But the iron framework of the regimental system has now morphed into a monster that is ripping apart the fabric of the army as a whole. The legitimate aim of the regimental system — galvanising esprit de corps in combat units — has been short-sightedly extended into the competition for promotions and postings. Over the preceding decade, a string of army chiefs from two arms — the infantry and the artillery — have fiddled with promotion policies to boost the career prospects of officers from their arms. But every winner also creates a loser in the zero-sum contest to fill a very limited number of promotion vacancies. The losers in this divisive move are the armoured corps and the mechanised infantry, arms that have traditionally produced a high share of the army’s generals. Also on the losing side are combat support arms like the engineers and signals and the logistical services that sustain the combat soldiers.

The tool that has unfairly boosted the prospects of infantry and artillery officers is referred to within the army as “pro-rata” — a Mandal-Commission-style directive that guarantees each arm a fixed number of promotion vacancies, regardless of merit. Pro-rata began in 2002 under an artillery chief, General S Padmanabhan, and was consolidated by his successors: General N C Vij (infantry), General J J Singh (infantry) and General Deepak Kapoor (artillery). In 2009, when General Kapoor was the army chief, this institutionally-debilitating move was translated into formal policy.

Pro-rata rejects the widely accepted belief that senior rank must be awarded on merit, not on quota. Senior officers hold on to their regimental links, which get translated at senior rank into patrimonial ties.

Consider the appointments made by the current army chief, General Singh, from his Rajput Regiment. While Singh has been a relatively fair chief, he has posted officers from the regiment to practically every crucial appointment: the deputy chief of army staff, the director general of military operations, the adjutant general (responsible for discipline and manpower planning), the military secretary who posts and promotes officers, and the additional director general of administration & coordination. In addition, Rajput officers were placed at the head of key formations around Delhi: the Delhi Area which controls military installations around the capital, and the Meerut-based 22 Infantry Division.

* * *

Institutionalising the pro-rata system is letter number 08176/Est/POLICY/MP-2 issued by the adjutant general’s branch (Business Standard has a copy). It effectively allocates to each arm a fixed number of vacancies at the rank of colonel, which is the first selection-grade rank in the army when officers command their battalions/regiments, the basic combat unit with 550 to 800 soldiers. The colonel’s vacancies for each arm are calculated by simply adding up the number of units in that arm. For example, the army has about 350 infantry battalions and 60 armoured regiments.

That is where the Machiavellian fiddle starts. Added to the infantry kitty are some 110 units of Rashtriya Rifles (RR) and Assam Rifles (AR) located in counter-insurgency areas and manned by officers from every arm. Though an internal army study has found that non-infantry officers perform as gallantly as infantry officers in RR/AR, exclusionary conditions were fram-ed to make it almost impossible for armoured corps or mechanised infantry officers to command these units. With this one step, the infantry’s colonel vacancies went up from 350 to 460, a jump of almost 30 per cent.

But that was just the start; this advantage was then multiplied by differentiating command tenures for each arm. The shorter the command tenure, the more quickly the vacancies would arise, and the larger the number of colonels that would be needed from that arm. The infantry, unsurprisingly, got the shortest command tenure of just two-and-a-half years. A back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that with 460 colonels needed every two-and-a-half years, the infantry must promote some 184 colonels every year.

The influence of two artillery chiefs boosted the number of artillery units. Small units called “light batteries” with less than 300 soldiers, that were always commanded by lieutenant colonels, were elevated to “light regiments” commanded by colonels. The artillery’s command tenure was shortened from three-and-a-half to three years, similarly boosting its colonel vacancies. And departing radically from established military tradition, in which there are just two combat arms — the armoured corps and the infantry — the artillery was effectively promoted from a “combat support arm” to a combat arm. “How can the artillery be designated as a combat arm? They lob shells from tens of kilometres away and rarely encounter the enemy. Of the combat support arms, the engineers have a much better case for being called a combat arm,” says a retired infantry general who prefers to remain unnamed.

The engineers and the signals, the other two combat support arms, were sharply pegged back with their command tenures fixed at four years — a 33 per cent disadvantage to the artillery. The logistics services were discriminated against even more radically, with command tenures fixed at five years. “We would not go to war as Arms/Supporting arms… but as Indian army. ‘The command based model’ expect us (sic) to be fragmented in peace and united in war,” says the lieutenant colonel’s letter to General Singh.

The quotas of colonel vacancies are merely the tip of the iceberg. Beyond this first level of “Mandalisation” are quotas for brigadier rank, which are proportional to the benchmark that was created with colonel vacancies. Another set of quotas has been created in key career courses like the higher command course (for colonels) and the year-long National Defence College course (for brigadiers), both of which are almost mandatory for promotion. An armoured corps or mechanised infantry brigadier, for example, would be lucky to become a major general without doing the NDC course. By restricting the armoured corps and mechanised infantry vacancies in each NDC course to just two each, an annual quota of promotion to major general is effectively applied.

An armoured corps major general explains how this works: “I was subjected four times to quotas. One, while being promoted to colonel; two, for nomination to the higher command course; three, when I was promoted to brigadier; and four, when I was nominated to the NDC.” Says a young infantry lieutenant colonel: “Promotion prospects are 50 per cent higher in the infantry; so why should anyone join the mechanised infantry?”

* * *

“It will all work out even in the long run,” says a senior infantry officer. “Less qualified officers from the infantry and artillery are benefiting today, but it could be the armoured corps that benefits tomorrow.” This glosses over the basic truth: quotas benefit only the incompetent, whether from one arm or another.

Pro-rata proponents admit that meritocracy is desirable but is, in fact, impossible. They suggest that armoured corps and mechanised infantry officers serve in their own environment where patronage networks operate and even average officers are graded outstanding, tilting the promotion playing field in their favour. This argument overlooks the fact that infantry officers, operating in their own environment, similarly have fellow infantrymen all the way up the reporting chains.

General Singh denies there’s any problem. “Pro-rata is a myth created by people who don’t understand the system. A bandwidth (of merit) has been laid down, and all those who are meritorious are taken care of (i.e. promoted). Show me a man who was meritorious, but was not promoted.”

But the defence ministry does not share his sanguinity. So concerned is it at the army’s promotion methodology that it has held up for months the promotion of a set of major generals, while the army answers questions about various anomalies. The result: there is currently no lieutenant general to command the frontline 9 Corps on the Pakistan border, and there’s nobody to relieve the commander of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, Lt Gen Ata Hasnain, who has completed his tenure. In contrast to these promotion delays, navy and air force promotion boards, which adhere to fair and well-documented rules, are normally cleared by the ministry within 15 to 20 days.

General Singh blames the current delay on “letters, comments and private confabulations” between lobbyists and the ministry. “Our boards couldn’t have been fairer. There was transparency and absolute fairness.”

Old soldiers are surprised that the infantry and artillery chiefs could implement pro-rata without a consensus within the army. When the matter was discussed in an army commanders’ conference, the army’s highest forum, a respected mechanised infantry officer, Lt Gen H S Panag, thumped the table and asked whether the next step would be to appoint the army chief through quotas!

There is a growing belief across sections of the army, reflected in the lieutenant colonel’s recent letter, that the cohesiveness of the officer corps hangs in the balance. Mid-ranking officers suggest that realistic feedback be sought from the entire spectrum of officers through a direct medium like the army intranet. But the degree of resentment is perhaps not understood in the ivory towers from where the army is run.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Gen VK Singh: Army able to launch faster response against Pak

At a press conference in New Delhi today, army chief Gen VK Singh, all but admitted the existence of the "Cold Start" doctrine

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 13th Jan 12

Army chief, General VK Singh, strongly defended the Indian Army’s performance over this last year, brushing off questions about his date of birth. Asserting that the standoff with the defence ministry (MoD) “has not impacted my vision for the army,” the chief highlighted the army’s achievements, mentioning the 8 officers and 57 soldiers who died in counterinsurgency operations last year.

Addressing a press conference in New Delhi in the run-up to Army Day on 15th Jan, Gen Singh declined comment on the ongoing civil-military crisis in Pakistan. He outlined, however, the continuing terror threat from that country, stating: “There are 42 terrorist camps, some in POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) and some in other areas,” which continue to pump in “well-armed, well-trained, foreign and other terrorists” into J&K.

In contrast, Gen Singh was notably diplomatic about China, referring to “friendly relations” that invariably adhered to the 1993 Agreement on Peace and Tranquillity between India and China. He glossed over a recent incident, in which a Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) patrol entered Indian territory on 13th July 11 at Yangtse, near Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, and damaged a 200-foot long wall that Indian soldiers had constructed. Referring to this incident, which Defence Minister AK Antony described in parliament on 21st December, the army chief said, “We consider it a childish act. It is just like scoring a point, like one child coming and taking away another child’s toy.”

Gen Singh came closer than any other government official has to describing the widely speculated Indian warfighting doctrine that is popularly referred to as “Cold Start”. This doctrine learns from Operation Parakram, when the military mobilised for war against Pakistan after the terror strike on the Parliament in New Delhi on 13th Dec 01. After taking weeks to reach its launch pads along the border, India’s military found Pakistan’s forces deployed and ready for battle. The new doctrine allegedly aims at launching attacks without prolonged mobilisation.

“There is nothing like Cold Start. But we have a “proactive strategy” which takes steps in a proactive manner so that we can achieve what our doctrines and strategies [demand],” admitted Gen Singh.

“A lot of changes have taken place since 2001; and in the next two years even more changes will take place. We have done studies and made a plan to speed up deployments. We will have some new cantonments, forward locations… and changes in the method of mobilisation. From Parakram, there are a lot of changes. What we did in 15 days, we now do in 7; and will do in 3 days in the future,” explained the chief.

Asked about India’s military relations with Myanmar, Gen Singh said he aimed at assuaging hurt feelings amongst small regional countries about Indian neglect. “Some small countries think that we don’t take them along [with us]. I wanted to reassure them that we respect them… no matter how small.”

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Chinese tank units training in snow conditions in Xinjiang

The press caption that accompanied these photographs in People's Daily is as follows:-

It is right time to conduct training when the Tianshan Mountains is covered by accumulated snow. Recently, an armored regiment under the Xinjiang Military Area Command (MAC) of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) took its troops to the snowy Tianshan Mountains to practice maneuvering, coordination, protection and resistance in lifelike battlefield environment set in complicated area, so as to enhance its troops’ mobile operation ability in arctic-alpine mountainous area.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Who after Hu... and Wen?

China's political newbies, like Bo Xilai (pictured here with family), are transforming China's political style. Bo has lobbied openly, causing five PSC members to visit Chongqing

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 10th Jan 12

This year could end with a new president in Washington, but it will certainly see a brand new Chinese leadership. A fifth generation of Chinese leaders will take power this autumn at the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

China has moved beyond Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping; no single strongman controls all the levers of power. Instead, power is distributed between nine senior leaders who make up the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC). Watchers of Zhongnanhai (Beijing’s equivalent of the Kremlin and South Block) agree that even Hu Jintao --- China’s president and general secretary of the CCP --- is merely the “first amongst equals”. Collective leadership is now the norm; the 2007 Party Congress defined this as “a system with division of responsibilities among individual leaders in an effort to prevent arbitrary decision-making by a single top leader.”

This autumn, seven of the PSC’s nine members, including President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao are expected to step down, having reached retirement age. The two who will continue are Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, both in their late 50s, who were elevated to the PSC at the 16th Party Congress in 2002, when the current fourth-generation leadership was anointed. Reared thus for leadership, Xi is set to be president while Li will be China’s next premier.

How will the rest of the PSC be chosen? In theory, the 350-odd members of the CCP’s Central Committee elect 25 members to the Politburo. These then elect the 9 gentlemen of the PSC (ladies, stand aside please!), which then elects its own general secretary.

But the CCP’s internal democracy approximates that of the Indian National Congress. In what is actually a top-down process, China’s most influential leaders confabulate beforehand and allocate amongst themselves quotas in the Central Committee. They also “approve” in advance the members of the Politburo and the PSC; their decisions are later rubberstamped up the election chain. The outgoing PSC will reportedly meet this summer at the resort of Beidaihe to nominate the next Politburo, PSC and general secretary. Also influencing these decisions will be retired supremos like Jiang Zemin, Li Peng and Zhu Rongji who all back protégés to retain proxy influence and continue their favourite policies.

While nobody can accurately predict the factional bargaining and deal-making that will produce the new elite, it is clear that the next PSC will be drawn from the 204 full members of the 2007 Central Committee. After eliminating members who have retired, or will soon, the less experienced, and military leaders -- who are ineligible for the PSC -- there are just a few dozen candidates left.

A key determinant will be the faction or coalition that each candidate represents. After the growth of the last three decades, China includes the nouveau riche of the coastal regions and marginalised and disadvantaged groups from the inland provinces. The party has deftly accommodated both interests, creating the slogan “one party, two coalitions”. The “populist” coalition to which Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao belong, are dubbed the “tuanpai”. They speak for the farmer, migrant worker and urban poor. The “elitist” coalition, headed by Wu Bangguo and Jia Qinglin, include the so-called princelings (descendents of powerful party elites) with successful careers in the economically developed industrial zones.

The CCP balances these two coalitions, marrying tuanpai expertise in rural administration, propaganda and organisation with elitist skills in economic policymaking, foreign trade and investment and banking. This accommodation is set to continue: Xi Jinping is from the elitist coalition, while Li Keqiang is from the tuanpai. Both coalitions agree on fundamentals: ensuring the survival of CCP rule; ensuring socioeconomic stability; and enhancing China’s status as a global power.

After applying all these filters, Zhongnanhai watchers like Cheng Li of the Brookings Institution believe that there are 14 favourites for the next PSC. Seven of these candidates, i.e. exactly half, are tuanpai with close ties to Hu Jintao: Li Keqiang; Li Yuanchao; Liu Yuanshan; Liu Yandong; Wang Yang; Ling Jihua; and Hu Chunhua. Two of these --- Li Yuanchao and Liu Yandong --- are also princelings. They could play crucial mediating roles if factional infighting escalates, giving them a potential power advantage.

Of the seven “elitist” candidates --- Xi Jinping, Bo Xilai, Wang Qishan, Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng, Zhang Gaoli and Meng Jianzhu --- five are princelings, while Zhang and Meng draw their power from Jiang Zemin.

Along with Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, Wang Qishan and Li Yuanchao are likely to emerge as China’s top four fifth-generation leaders. Wang, a Politburo member and the party chief in Guangdong, is a bold reformist who wants more political and media freedom. Li, too, is a reformist who advocates a crackdown on corruption.

Vice-Premier Zhang Dejiang and the CCP’s propaganda chief, Liu Yuanshan have both served two terms on the Politburo and so are “entitled” to move up to the PSC. Shanghai Party Secretary Yu Zhengsheng has also served two terms, but only just makes it in the age cut-off. Given his formidable political clout, however, there is apprehension that the tuanpai might negotiate for his retirement (along with that of Liu Yandong, also born in 1945), arguing for a younger leadership.

That still leaves a couple of seats to be filled. All eyes on the Middle Kingdom!

The Great Indian Tank Design Challenge

Translate your views into a blueprint for India's Future Main Battle Tank. Join hands in designing the Broadsword Mark I

Since so many enlightened visitors to this blog have published so many responses to the articles that I posted on the FMBT, let us harness some of this expertise into a tank design for India. That is something that the Indian Army has not been able to finalise so far!

Please don't do what the army does: which is to cut-and-past a bunch of specifications --- 120 mm smoothbore gun; active armour; ATGM, etc --- and imagine that you've produced the blueprint for a tank.

Instead, start by analysing how the Indian Army would use its tanks in a war with a likely adversary. What would be India's operational objectives, and what kind of tank would be best suited for fulfilling those aims. For example, the Israelis realised that they might need infantry along with their Merkavas to mop up opposition... and that a heavy, lumbering tank was okay because no deep advances were envisaged... etc.

So, unlike the Indian Army, start by thinking through how the FMBT would be used. Given India's geo-political situation and the strategic dynamics of the region, what would be the military's operational objectives in a war. Then deduce the likely mission profiles; then arrive at the systems needed to achieve those.

All this in 250 words.

Criticism comes cheap. Now put your design hats on and come up with something useful.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

India ally, China foe in new US defence strategy

China, not war on terror, will be the new big focus in Pentagon planning in the years ahead.

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 7th Jan 12

America will no longer remain mired in grinding counterinsurgency campaigns like Afghanistan and Iraq; instead, it will reshape its military for the challenge posed by an emerging great power rival: China.

That was the key message yesterday from US president, Barack Obama. Flanked by his military commanders in full dress uniform, America’s commander-in-chief unveiled the Pentagon’s new defence strategy in a made-for-television performance in Washington. With a re-election campaign looming and with Republicans painting Obama as weak on defence, the US president talked up his military successes --- including the killing of Osama bin Laden; the degrading of Al Qaeda; the Libya campaign; and the end of the Iraq war --- before announcing sweeping budget and manpower cuts.

“We’re turning the page on a decade of war,” said Obama before releasing the new strategy that committed the Pentagon to save half a trillion dollars in expenditure over the next decade through measures like reducing the army’s size from 570,000 to 490,000 soldiers.

Even while announcing this “peace dividend”, the Pentagon indicated its next big threat. “We will of necessity rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific region,” says the new strategy document (italics in original). Without naming China, the target area is identified as “the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia.”

India is key to this new focus. Besides expanding “networks of cooperation with emerging partners throughout the Asia-Pacific…. United States is also investing in a long-term strategic partnership with India to support its ability to serve as a regional economic anchor and provider of security in the broader Indian Ocean region,” the strategy states.

America’s new strategy relies on significant military contributions from partner countries like India, while seeking to be their “security partner of choice.”

“Whenever possible, we will develop innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve our security objectives, relying on exercises, rotational presence and advisory capabilities,” says the document (italics in original).

The strategy specifies that the US will “maintain its ability to project power in areas in which our access and freedom to operate are challenged.” This refers primarily to China’s anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) strategy, in which anti-ship ballistic missiles like the purpose-built Dong Feng 21-D, attack submarines, anti-ship mines and swarms of small vessels, attack US aircraft carriers that approach China’s coast in a war, such as a Chinese operation to “liberate” Taiwan.

Entitled “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” the new strategy dilutes the US military’s requirement to be capable of fighting two major wars simultaneously. Such a capability was already in question given the Pentagon’s difficulty in sustaining the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns together. The new strategy mandates a one-and-a-half war capability, specifying that “Even when U.S. forces are committed to a large-scale operation in one region, they will be capable of denying the objectives of –– or imposing unacceptable costs on –– an opportunistic aggressor in a second region.”

“Our military will be leaner, but the world must know the United States is going to maintain our military superiority with armed forces that are agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats,” Obama said.

To maintain a range of capabilities, the downsizing military will rely on a “Joint Force” that will retain its accumulated expertise and corporate abilities for mounting a range of missions, including those that do not appear probably at present. If the need arises those elements will be quickly expanded, drawing on the all-volunteer military as well as the National Guard and the Reserves.

Driving the new national defence strategy, says The New York Times, are three realities: “the winding down of a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, a fiscal crisis demanding hundreds of billions of dollars in Pentagon budget cuts and a rising threat from China and Iran.”

This big picture restructuring goes hand-in-hand with newer, less manpower-intensive strategies that are already being implemented at the theatre level. In Afghanistan, for example, where the troop drawdown will no longer permit the manpower-intensive counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy that Obama had announced in December 2009, the US Army has already shifted in all but name to a strategy of “Advise and Assist”. This will see the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to take the lead in COIN operations, with the US forces confining themselves to training, advising and enabling roles. Instead of manpower intensive brigade deployments, the US forces will operate in 12-16 person teams, living and functioning with Afghan units. According to The Long War Journal, a blog that closely follows military events in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US 170th Brigade in Northern Afghanistan has already shifted to an “Advise and Assist” role. This year, most US forces plan to follow suit.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

FMBT Part II: India’s future main battle tank now grapples with a weight issue

The Arjun Mark II hydro-pneumatic suspension will be refined for the FMBT... and will be developed by CVRDE by 2030 into an "active suspension" system

Features of the FMBT
  • Weight: 50-tonnes
  • Engine: 1800 Horse Power
  • Transmission: CVRDE-developed
  • Armour: Active Protection System (APS)
  • Gun: 120 mm smoothbore
  • Suspension: Hydro-pneumatic
  • Active suspension after 2030

by Ajai Shukla
CVRDE, Avadi, Chennai
Business Standard, 3rd Jan 12

As the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) begins designing the Future Main Battle Tank (FMBT), the army is sending out typically mixed messages on the vital question of how big and heavy India wants its tanks. While insisting that the DRDO’s 60-tonne Arjun tank weighs too much to move around the riverine terrain of Punjab and J&K, the army has demanded features in the next Arjun model (Arjun Mark II) that will raise its weight to 65 tonnes.

Planning for the FMBT --- the Gen-Next tank that will follow the Arjun Mark II by 2020 --- is even more contradictory. The army wants the FMBT to weigh just 50 tonnes while bettering all the Arjun’s features.

Officials at the Combat Vehicles R&D Establishment (CVRDE), Avadi, who will develop the FMBT, say it is impossible to build the FMBT 15 tonnes lighter while also improving crew protection; fitting a more powerful gun that can slam projectiles through improved enemy tanks; and making the FMBT faster and more powerful.

The CVRDE director, P Sivakumar, told Business Standard during an exclusive briefing on the FMBT, that it would meet weight targets only if the army identified its inescapable needs rather than demanding every feature available. One example is crew protection. The FMBT will have a cutting-edge Active Protection System that detects incoming enemy projectiles (which travel faster than rifle bullets); and then fires a projectile to hit and degrade the incoming warhead. But the army also insists on the conventional armour plate that has traditionally protected tank crews.

“If you want a 50-tonne FMBT you must choose wisely. If your Active Protection System can reliably defeat enemy projectiles, why do you also want the heavy armour plating of passive systems? Whatever you use --- composites, lightweight materials, etc. --- the weight of the tank will rise. Similarly, how can you increase your tank gun’s ability to penetrate enemy tanks without a weight increase?” asks Sivakumar.

Difficult choices like these are delaying the finalisation of the FMBT’s Preliminary Staff Qualitative Requirements (PSQR), the document that will specify its capabilities and major systems. With nothing settled, the DRDO is readying for a heavier-than-planned FMBT. Business Standard reported yesterday that CVRDE is developing an 1800 Horse Power engine, rather than the 1500 HP needed for a 50-tonne FMBT.

While foreign consultancy will drive the engine design, CVRDE will play the central role in building a transmission system, which transfers engine power to the FMBT’s tracks. Sivakumar, himself an accomplished transmission designer, says that the CVRDE’s home-grown design will be vetted by a consultant, who will be chosen from three candidates: Ricardo; AVL; or US-based South West Research Institute.

“CVRDE has a tradition in transmission design. We built a 1500 HP transmission for the Arjun, which was not used because the engine design was changed. We have also built the “aircraft mounted accessory gearbox” that is standard fitment in the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft. It is 35 kg of magnesium alloy, spinning at 16,800 rpm. This gearbox has successfully completed some 3000 flights,” says Sivakumar.

The FMBT will be armed with India’s first smoothbore 120-millimetre tank gun. While the rest of the world has long used smoothbore guns --- which fire anti-tank missiles and high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) rounds --- the DRDO alone has stuck with rifled guns. There is confidence that the changeover will be smooth: the DRDO developed a smoothbore gun for the T-90 tank after Russia illegally blocked gun technologies. The DRDO is also working with Israel Military Industries (IMI), which developed the smoothbore gun for the Merkava tank.

Cushioning the FMBT’s ride will be one of the Arjun’s unique successes, its hydro-pneumatic suspension unit (HSU), which smoothens the jerks from driving fast over uneven cross-country terrain. The Arjun’s smooth ride allows its gun to accurately hit a suitcase two kilometres away while driving at 30 kmph. The initial FMBTs will have improved Arjun HSUs, while CVRDE proposes to develop an “active suspension” by 2030. This has sensors scrutinising the terrain just ahead of the tank and making anticipatory adjustments before the tank’s tracks roll over that area.

“The future is active suspension. The FMBT will initially roll out with hydro-pneumatic suspensions but we are commencing R&D for active suspension. It takes some time to develop a reliable active suspension. No tank has managed it so far,” says Sivakumar.

Monday, 2 January 2012

FMBT Part I: Army dithers over futuristic tank, DRDO pursues engine

The driving simulator for the Arjun tank developed by CVRDE Chennai. These can be coupled with gunner and commander simulators for holistic crew and tank troop training

By Ajai Shukla
CVRDE, Avadi, Chennai
Business Standard, 2nd Jan 12

India’s Future Main Battle Tank (FMBT), the backbone of the army’s strike power into the mid-21st century, languishes while the army continues an extended debate over its specifications.

A year ago, on 6th Dec 2010, Defence Minister AK Antony told the Lok Sabha that the army had formulated the FMBT’s specifications and the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) was carrying out feasibility studies. Antony, it now emerges, misled parliament. MoD sources say the army remains undecided about the basic features of the FMBT, including whether it should have three crew members or four. Consequently the army has not finalised the FMBT’s Preliminary Staff Qualitative Requirements (PSQR), essential for sanctioning the project and allocating funding.

The PSQR also allows engineers to begin designing the FMBT. It specifies the tank’s capabilities and components, including its weight; dimensions; mobility; weaponry; armour protection; communications; and any special capabilities that are required, e.g. the ability to drive underwater; or operate on a nuclear battlefield.

But the DRDO has begun work, anxious to shield the FMBT from the delays that plagued the Arjun programme. The FMBT must roll out by 2020, when the army’s oldest T-72 tanks, which entered service in 1979, complete their 32-year service lives. Business Standard was granted exclusive permission to visit the Combat Vehicles R&D Establishment (CVRDE), the DRDO facility outside Chennai where the Arjun Mark II is nearing completion; and the FMBT will be developed.

Dr P Sivakumar, CVRDE’s livewire director, revealed that work has begun on crucial FMBT systems, even without a PSQR. Based on the army’s weight limit of 50 tonnes for the FMBT, the DRDO has launched a “mission mode” project to develop an 1800 Horse Power indigenous engine. Sivakumar says that 1500 HP is sufficient for a 50-tonne tank, but the endemic danger of weight over-runs in a new tank makes a 300 HP margin prudent.

The project will co-opt domestic engineering companies like Kirloskar Oil Engines, Bharat Earth Movers Ltd (BEML), and the Mahindras; research institutions like IITs; and bodies like the Automotive Research Association of India (ARIA), Pune. An Indian “prime contractor” would assemble the FMBT engines from engine components supplied by a network of sub-contractors.

“India has never designed engines; engine technology has always been imported. But we will develop the FMBT engine as a national project. Our approach is not engine-specific; we are looking at developing the complete range of technologies needed for building engines. Not only design… but also manufacturing, testing, evaluation,” says Sivakumar.

This ambitious plan is cushioned with pragmatism. The DRDO has brought in international consultants to design the engine and build Indian manufacturing capability in engine-related fields. Sivakumar says that German companies MTU and Renk, which supply engines and transmissions for the Arjun tank, refused to provide consultancy, realising that building Indian capability would end their market here. DRDO is now evaluating consultancy proposals from Ricardo of Britain and AVL of Austria.

“Simultaneously, we have floated an Expression of Interest (EoI) to identify an Indian manufacturing partner. The consultant we select will work in a consortium with the DRDO; the army; and the Indian manufacturing partner, who will be associated with the programme from the design stage itself. We have allowed the consultants to visit manufacturing companies and report on their capability to build a modern engine,” explains Sivakumar.

The CVRDE director says that the consultants will finalise the engine design within 12 months, and take 18 months more to build the first prototype. “Within 30 months, or three years maximum, the first engine would be ready for testing,” he says.

“Both Ricardo and AVL have proposed that they design and build the first prototypes. But the Indian industry will work alongside the consultant. The first design is never perfect; so the consultant will make the changes needed in design, tolerances, or materials to refine the engine. Then, in the second phase, the Indian partner will produce the engine,” says Sivakumar.

Even as CVRDE develops this technological capacity, it is looking further ahead at a hybrid engine for the FMBT after 2030. Sivakumar says that a tank remains static for at least 40% of the time in battle, during which time its engine idles. “This means that 40% of the time, you wastefully run a 1500 HP engine, guzzling diesel and giving away the tank’s position, while you need very little power for running electricals like the radios and gun control equipment or for moving the tank slowly. So we are evolving a hybrid technology concept in which the tank will have two engines: a 500 HP engine for low power mode and another 1000 HP engine that kicks in when high power is required, e.g. for manoeuvring in battle,” explains the CVRDE director.

(Tomorrow: Choosing FMBT technology: the desirable versus the achievable)

The Future Main Battle Tank (FMBT)

• Army has not finalised FMBT specifications
• Tank required by 2020, when T-72s start retiring
• DRDO has begun work on 1500 HP engine
• Ricardo, AVL are potential design consultants
• Indian industry partner will manufacture engine
• Planning ahead for tandem “hybrid” engine