Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Which of the three services looks fittest and most ready for war?

Postcard to Mr Khurshid

Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid will visit Beijing on May 09

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 30 Apr 13

Dear Mr Khurshid,

I wish you a fruitful journey next week, when you visit China to apply ointment on the "beautiful face" of Sino-Indian relations, which you observe has been marred by the "acne" of China's military intrusion into the Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) sector in Ladakh. You and the prime minister have wisely downplayed the intrusion so far; inflammatory public statements would only make a happy ending more elusive. But please do not display the same forbearance in your official conversations in Beijing.

Be certain that the Chinese will blame these occasional confrontations on the Indian army's insistence on building up forces and infrastructure on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). You will hear that the best way to de-escalate is an immediate mutual cap on troop numbers and military infrastructure. Such an understanding, your counterpart will sagely observe, can maintain the peace until a wiser generation can resolve the border dispute (or, as India calls it, the border question).

Hon'ble Minister, do not allow yourself to be sidetracked from the central issue of the moment: a flagrant violation of the status quo through the occupation of territory that both sides claim. This is no routine patrol incursion, which is common since both sides routinely patrol up to their perceived boundaries in order to keep alive their claims. Instead, this is an escalation that establishes "facts on the ground" that would materially affect an eventual territorial settlement. Remember the Wangdung intrusion, near Tawang, in 1986? That pocket, where the Chinese had pitched up a few tents, much like they did at DBO last fortnight, continues to remain with them.

In contrast to the furious Indian response at Wangdung, where the army built up forces aggressively to dominate the Chinese camp, the Indian army has fallen in line with orders from the top, refraining from a troop build-up or even tough talk that could shut the door to a face-saving de-escalation. But remember, the Chinese style is to keep testing an opponent's resolve. In DBO, China is "taking the temperature" again. You must make it clear that --- even in the absence of a Wangdung-type troop build-up --- all options remain on India's table. The "proportionality" that you have advocated could involve a similar occupation of disputed territory by Indian troops at a selected time and place.

Naturally Your Excellency would never use crude threats, but a man of your sophistication would find the diplomatic language to indicate to Beijing a red line --- consolidation of the intrusion. If the Chinese patrol replaces tents with permanent shelters, the Indian army will conclude that they intend to remain there through winter. In that case, it will be difficult for the government to explain to voters why it is not reacting militarily to a Kargil-style occupation of Indian territory.

Your counterpart will undoubtedly repeat the statement that Chinese soldiers are on their own side of the LAC. Your response should be: "Well, what do you believe is the alignment of the LAC? You cannot claim simultaneously that your troops are on your side of the LAC; while also refusing to share with us your perception of that line."

The starkest lesson of DBO is that, without mutual agreement over where the LAC runs, or even "agreed disagreement" over both sides' view of their frontier, the uncertainty becomes unmanageable. There is the ever-present danger of routine patrols being seen as "intrusions", and a new encampment like the Chinese one at DBO being seen as territorial aggression, triggering an armed face-off.

Your Excellency, make clear to Beijing that it must exchange maps with India on which both sides have marked what they perceive as the LAC. For over 30 years now China has refused to spell out what it believes is the LAC despite repeated requests from New Delhi since December 1981, when the first round of boundary talks took place.

Article 10 of the solemn bilateral agreement of 1996 says: "the two sides agree to speed up the process of clarification and confirmation of the Line of Actual Control." China ignores this, as also repeated Indian requests in meetings of the Joint Working Group (JWG).

China has benefited from this lack of clarity by continually shifting its claim line westwards. Last Tuesday, foreign ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said he had "asked the Chinese side to maintain status quo in this sector, and by status quo I mean status quo prior to this incident". The problem is that there are multiple status quos in this area. China keeps changing its patrolling pattern and India is left guessing. Today China can occupy practically any hilltop in southeastern Ladakh and claim that it is on its own side of the LAC.

For all these reasons, Mr Khurshid, the ministry of external affairs (MEA) cannot continue with its misplaced satisfaction at having activated the joint consultative mechanism. While this talk shop convenes and both sides reiterate boilerplate positions, the Chinese patrol remains in Raki Nala.

Finally, Your Excellency, the timing of this incursion --- a month before Premier Li Keqiang's visit - is hardly coincidental. China's new regime is clearly testing New Delhi's resolve, checking to see whether the MEA's wish to make the visit a success will induce it to meekly accept the incursion at DBO. Your discussions in Beijing will set the tone for the next 10 years. We are confident you will flash the steel that your predecessor, SM Krishna, did in reminding the Chinese that our sensitivities in J&K matched Chinese sensitivities in Tibet; coming closer than any Indian official before or after to reopening the Tibet question.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Video of F-35B Lightening II deck operations on USS Wasp

Let me resurrect a long-running debate on this blog --- should India buy the Rafale or the F-35 Lightening II? 

For recent Broadsword arrivistes, here's the context: I believe the IAF, and later the Indian Navy, should be buying the fifth generation F-35, not outdated dinosaurs like the Rafale or the Mig-29K. The F-35 is better, cheaper and operationally more relevant for us than the other two Gen-4 fighters. And it is a myth that Dassault or MiG will give us any more technology than Lockheed Martin and Boeing would.

But the most convenient argument deployed by opponents of the F-35 is that its development is hugely delayed. So which fighter's development isn't?

Here a video of the recent sea trials of the F-35B (the STO/VL variant, the most troublesome of the three variants, with the greatest design challenges) carried out early this month on the USS Wasp, off Newport, Virginia.

Doomsayers had predicted that vertical landing would burn holes in the deck and that the downwash would sweep sailors overboard. Well, bad news doomsayers, take a look at how close the sailors are standing to the landing aircraft.

The trials featured 74 vertical landings and short take offs over a three week period. No catapults, no tail hooks.


lick your mouse here:   F-35B

Saturday, 27 April 2013

The president awards soldiers for gallantry and service

A soldier's sacrifice. Capt Manish Singh of 9 Para (Special Forces) being awarded the Shaurya Chakra today for valour beyond the call of duty. Take a look at the face of everyone in this photo. That's what they feel about his sacrifice.

The road forward with China

India must keep talking, while building more border roads

India's ongoing build-up along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de facto border with China, has run into trouble at Daulat Beg Oldi in Ladakh, where - as in the lead-up to 1962 - its operational ambitions have outpaced the country's logistics. Today, a strong patrol from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has parked itself on territory India claims, benefiting from easy access over a good Chinese road across the Depsang Plains. Meanwhile, the Indian army's access to that area is mainly through a recently reactivated, weather-dependent landing ground. Without the ability to build up force, the army has little choice but to negotiate. The PLA will demand operational concessions, most likely the withdrawal of Indian defences in some other contested sector.

While it is necessary to acknowledge this tactical weakness, it must not be allowed to persist. Over the preceding decade, New Delhi has taken steps to translate India's long-standing disadvantage on the LAC into parity. Additional forces have been sanctioned, including a mountain strike corps, two mountain divisions and two armoured brigades; and forces have been relocated to the LAC from Kashmir and the Indo-Pakistan border. Air power and air defence capabilities have been greatly enhanced and a network of roads sanctioned. 

But little of this has come up on the ground yet, especially communications infrastructure. Without a road network, the cruel Himalayan terrain reduces even the largest divisions to isolated groups of soldiers sitting on widely separated hilltops. For decades, New Delhi has failed to speed up road building, blaming in turn state governments for not providing land; the environment ministry for blocking construction; the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) for lacking capacity to take on so many projects at the same time; geological difficulties; and even the Chinese for blocking road construction close to the border.

New Delhi must initiate an emergency inter-agency drive to cut through the difficulties and cut the roads through the hills. A Strategic Roads Plan already exists, crafted by Shyam Saran, a former special advisor to the prime minister who invested years of tramping around the borders into this comprehensive document. The BRO roads, the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana and the special border area schemes need to be coordinated to optimise effort and expense. And a high-powered government panel, perhaps a group of ministers (GoM), must be charged with implementing the scheme in a time-bound manner. 

Until this network of new Indian roads substantially changes the military equation on the ground, India has little choice but to hasten softly in its military build-up. Beijing's proposal to freeze troop levels on the LAC stems from the confidence that its enviable infrastructure in Tibet acts as a force multiplier, permitting its relatively small number of troops to concentrate and disperse rapidly, running rings around India's immobile pickets. While Beijing can appear reasonable in asking for troop levels to be frozen, it cannot legitimately request a freeze on road building, which also benefits border populations. And as India changes ground realities, it must face the current ones, too - and keep talking with the Chinese army to ensure that tensions do not get out of hand.

Friday, 26 April 2013

China’s third confrontation with India’s border build-up

An IAF AN-32 landing at Nyoma in Sept 09, activating the crucial landing ground in Ladakh

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Apr 13

China’s intrusion into the Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) sector, at the northern tip of India just below the towering Karakoram Pass, is a demonstration of anger --- certainly that of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and possibly that of Beijing as well --- at the Indian Army’s third surge towards the Sino-Indian border.

The first Indian move to militarily occupy the Sino-Indian border began after 1957, when New Delhi discovered that China had built a nearly 200-kilometre-long highway through the Aksai Chin, a high altitude desert that abuts Ladakh on the east. Belatedly realizing the need to establish a presence along its claim lines in Ladakh and the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA, now Arunachal Pradesh), New Delhi rushed troops into these unknown areas in what was known as the “Forward Policy”. With the PLA fearing that India was backing a massive Tibetan rebellion, and with that apprehension inflamed by the refuge that New Delhi granted the Dalai Lama India in 1959, the Indian move forward degenerated into war.

The second Indian move to the border began in 1982. Army chief, General KV Krishna Rao persuaded Prime Minister Indira Gandhi that twenty years of fearful holding back had to end and the Indian Army moved forward again, deploying in strength over the next four years in Tawang and Chushul. In 1986, a Chinese patrol pitched up tents in a disputed area called Wangdung, north of Tawang, triggering a furious Indian Army build up that came close to actual hostilities. China sought a flag meeting; the PLA realized that it was dealing with a very different Indian Army from the one it had whipped in 1962. Diplomatic engagement led to Rajiv Gandhi’s 1988 visit to China. In 1993, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao visited Beijing and signed an “Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the India-China Border Area,” which maintains a largely peaceful border even today.

We are now in the middle of the third Indian surge to the border and, like the previous two, it is being contested by China. It began with the raising of two Indian mountain divisions for the defence of Arunachal Pradesh and with the activation of three Sukhoi-30 fighter bases in the Brahmaputra valley. Simultaneously, seven Advanced Landing Grounds (ALGs) in Arunachal were refurbished, permitting their use for forward replenishment and for heliborne operations. Two armoured brigades are currently being raised and a mountain strike corps will begin raising shortly. The improvement of road infrastructure forms a part of this effort.

In Ladakh, too, India is thickening its presence on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de facto border with China. The arrival of 8 Mountain Division in Kargil during the Kargil War freed a full brigade for the LAC. With militancy reducing in Kashmir, another brigade moved out to Chushul. Landing grounds were activated in Nyoma and DBO and roads started coming up to connect isolated posts.

All this raises China’s hackles. Road building near the LAC, especially in the areas of Chushul-Demchok and a new alignment that will connect DBO, has been steadfastly resisted by the PLA. Chinese patrols objected to new bunkers built by the Indian Army near Chushul several years ago; like today, the PLA retaliated by establishing a camp on India’s side of the LAC, forcing the Indian Army to negotiate a settlement. The current PLA encampment at DBO is again retaliation for Indian Army defences constructed elsewhere.

The Indian Army has no good options in DBO, unlike in 1986 during the Wangdung intrusion. Then, the army was close to its road head and the helicopter base at Tawang, permitting a massive build up that quickly dominated the Chinese camp (that the Chinese are still there is another matter). Today India has no surface link to DBO, and the DBO landing ground permits only a limited build up. In contrast the Chinese enjoy a road link to their camp across the wide Depsang Plain. Like in 1962, India’s logistical build up has not kept up with the operational build up. Now there is little option but to negotiate a Chinese withdrawal.

China has clearly signaled its discomfort with India’s troop build up, submitting a draft proposal for a freeze on troop levels that will solidify and make permanent India’s disadvantage along the LAC. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), eager to create “deliverables” that could create an air of success around Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to India next month, is studying the proposal.

China’s strategy is evident: to confine Indian strategic attention to the Sino-Indian border, preventing New Delhi from looking beyond at Tibet and Xinjiang, China’s most sensitive pressure points. Beijing apprehends --- with the fearfulness of a state that knows its weaknesses --- that signing a border settlement would free India from the burden of having to continually lay claim to, and physically defend, a challenged border. China realizes that a settlement would change the fundamental nature of the New Delhi-Beijing engagement. No longer a supplicant, India could raise the issue of Tibet, a lead that western democracies would quickly follow.

So far, India’s military, bureaucracy and political elite have fallen for China’s game, directing their energies into placating China in the hope of a border settlement. Realizing our ill preparedness to defend our territorial claims has created endemic strategic defensiveness. New Delhi remains disinclined to change the game by challenging China on Tibet.

This remains so despite frequent reminders of China’s vulnerabilities. On Tuesday, 21 people were killed near Kashgar, in Xinjiang, in a violent armed stand off. The anger against Beijing in its restive border regions was again underlined on Wednesday when two Tibetan monks in Sichuan set themselves afire, adding to the gory tally of more than 100 self-immolations since 2011. China has flooded Xinjiang and Tibet with black-suited armed militias, whose members now carry portable fire extinguishers to douse Tibetans who are attempting self-immolation. But there remains widespread resentment at Beijing’s increasingly colonial presence in these areas.

In contrast, India’s border population along the LAC remains heartwarmingly Indian. In Ladakh, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, despite New Delhi’s inexplicable neglect, pro-India sentiment is high and China is regarded with distrust and suspicion that is constantly reinforced from across the border.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Concern over Army transfers amid border stand-off

Proposed transfers after Lt Gen KT Parnaik's retirement on 30th Jun will place key hotspots under commanders unfamiliar with the situation

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 25th Apr 13

As a tense stand-off continues on the Sino-Indian border in Ladakh, where a Chinese patrol has apparently established a camp eight km inside India, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is confronted with a difficult decision — an inexplicable Army proposal to shift top generals, which would see key hotspots being placed under new commanders, unfamiliar with the situation.

The proposal, personally cleared by the Army Chief, General Bikram Singh, would leave Ladakh without both its top generals on July 1. That day, the commander of the Leh-based 14 Corps, Lieutenant General (Lt Gen) Rajan Bakshi, who is handling the ongoing crisis at Daulat Beg Oldi, would be shifted to Lucknow. The same day, his boss, the Northern Army Commander, Lt Gen K T Parnaik, will retire.

Replacing Parnaik in Udhampur would be Lt Gen Sanjeev Chachra, currently commanding the Western Command in Chandimandir.

Also proposed for transfer on July 1 is Lt Gen Anil Chait, commander of the Lucknow-based Central Command, which looks after the disputed Uttarakhand border with Tibet. From this key operational command, Lt Gen Chait would move as Chief of Integrated Defence Staff to the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, a mouthful that is abbreviated to Chief of Integrated Service Command (CISC).

Replacing Chait in Lucknow would be the newly promoted Lt Gen Rajan Bakshi. While Bakshi is entirely familiar with Ladakh, he would be new to the operational situation in Central Command.

The Army Chief’s proposal would also leave the crucial Chandimandir-based Western Command with a new commander. Replacing Chachra in Chandimandir would be Lt Gen Philip Campose, currently heading the Army’s Perspective Planning (PP) Directorate, who would move to Chandimandir on promotion.

Two top Army generals and a senior MoD official have expressed serious concern to Business Standard over these proposed changes, which would leave Northern, Western and Central commands in new hands during a sensitive period.

“We don’t know how this Chinese intrusion into Daulat Beg Oldi will play out. The Chinese could pack up and leave tomorrow or they could stay on, forcing us into a major operation like in 1986, when they intruded into Wangdung, in Arunachal Pradesh. Either way, it is ridiculous to change the two top commanders in a key sector simultaneously,” said a senior MoD official.

MoD officials are wondering why GOC 14 Corps, Lt Gen  Bakshi, cannot be sidestepped from Leh to Udhampur, taking over Northern Command from Lt Gen Parnaik instead of being shifted to Lucknow. This would allow continuity in handling the situation on the Sino-Indian border.

The ball is currently in MoD’s court, which can approve or reject the Army’s proposal. There is serious apprehension within MoD, since the government’s Allocation of Business Rules, 1961, squarely makes the defence secretary, as head of the Department of Defence, responsible for India’s defence.

“It is hard for the defence secretary to forget what happened in 1962, after Lt Gen B M Kaul was appointed commander of 4 Corps in NEFA, as the situation was escalating. Many historians blame the severity of India’s defeat in NEFA on the appointment of Lt Gen Kaul,” said a senior MoD official.

A senior general also pointed that Army Headquarters has always emphasised the importance of “tenure stability” of Army commanders. According to current promotion rules, a lieutenant general can only be promoted to Army commander (i.e. to head Northern Command, Western Command, etc.) if he has at least two years of residual service left before retirement. This was to ensure that an Army commander spends enough time in command, so that he is familiar with the operating environment in which his command operates.

“Now, they want to post out the Western and Central Army commanders, who have barely completed a year in their jobs. The new commanders would have to start afresh,” said a serving general.

MoD officials note that transferring Army commanders has proved controversial. In 2008, there was a furore when then Army Chief Gen Deepak Kapoor posted Lt Gen H S Panag, then the Northern commander, out from Udhampur to the Central Army in Lucknow. This took place after Lt Gen Panag initiated inquiries into dubious financial contracts that had been entered into during Gen Kapoor’s tenure at Udhampur.

Commenting on the proposal, Army Headquarters said, “There are three Army commanders’ vacancies that have to be filled and so we have proposed the right officer for the right job.”

It is not clear whether this means that the Army regards Lt Gen Chachra, an infantry officer, as ill-suited to command the mechanized-heavy Western Command; or whether Lt Gen Bakshi, an armoured corps officer who has successfully commanded an infantry division and corps, is regarded as unsuited for Northern Command.