Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Raheel Sharif to succeed Kayani as Pakistan’s new army chief

On Friday, Lt Gen Raheel Sharif will succeed Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani as Pakistan's army chief

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 28th Nov 13

Jolting the defence establishment in Rawalpindi, Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif has named Lieutenant General (Lt Gen) Raheel Sharif as Pakistan’s next army chief, say reliable defence sources in that country. Currently a three-star general, Raheel Sharif will be promoted to four-star rank tomorrow. On Friday he will take over as chief of army staff (COAS) from General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, who has headed the Pakistan Army for six years since 2007, when he took over command from General Pervez Musharraf.

Simultaneously, Lt Gen Rashad Mehmood will be promoted and appointed chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee (CJCSC). General Kayani is currently the CJCSC, in addition to his own job as COAS, since the retirement of General Khalid Shamim Wynne on October 8. The CJSCS performs a planning and coordination role that is significantly less powerful than that of the COAS, even though the CJSCS is a four-star general like the COAS.

In choosing his namesake, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has overruled the recommendations of General Kayani, who reportedly suggested that Lt Gen Rashad Mehmood be appointed army chief and Lt Gen Haroon Aslam be made CJCSC. In picking his own army chief against the advice of Gen Kayani, Mr Sharif has significantly asserted his authority over the military.

Although junior to other contenders, Lt Gen Sharif was a realistic contender because of his close relationship with the PM’s family. However, Nawaz Sharif has a poor record in choosing army chiefs. All four chiefs selected by him earlier eventually turned against him. Gen Asif Nawaz Janjua, who died in the saddle in 1983, had testy relations with Mr Sharif; after his death Janjua’s family alleged that “his enemies” had poisoned the chief. His next pick, Gen Abdul Waheed Kakar induced Mr Sharif to resign in 1993, along with the president with whom he was at loggerheads, Ghulam Ishaq Khan. In 1996, Gen Jehangir Karamat resigned in protest, the only Pakistani army chief ever to have done so. Mr Sharif’s fourth pick as chief, General Pervez Musharraf, evicted him in a coup in 1999, leading to a long exile in Saudi Arabia.

Mr Sharif’s latest appointee, Lt Gen Raheel Sharif, possesses all the credentials needed for the top job. Commissioned into in the Frontier Force Rifles, he commanded the Gujranwala-based 30 Corps in his current rank. His name was amongst the three offered by Gen Kayani to head the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), along with that of Lt Gen Rashad Mehmood; eventually the third, Lt Gen Zahir-ul-Islam, was chosen. Earlier, while heading the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) at Kakul, he shifted the emphasis of training from conventional warfare (i.e. against India) to asymmetric warfare (i.e. counter terrorism). Though Lt Gen Sharif was posted in Kakul before Osama bin Laden was discovered and killed in Abbottabad, at the PMA’s doorstep, the reconstructed account of Osama’s last years indicate that the Al Qaeda leader had indeed been his neighbour whilst at the academy.

Interestingly, Lt Gen Sharif is the younger brother of one of Pakistan military heroes, Major Shabbir Sharif, who was awarded the Nishan-e-Haidar (Pakistan’s version of the Param Vir Chakra) for gallantry in the 1971 war. Only ten Pakistanis have won this award so far.

The new CJCSC, Lt Gen Rashad Mehmood from the Baluch regiment, is a native Punjabi like Raheel Sharif. Currently serving as chief of general staff (CGS) --- the traditional springboard to the COAS office --- he was the front-runner. Besides commanding the prestigious 4 Corps, which is responsible for defending Lahore, Mehmood had galvanized the “C” Wing of the ISI, which conducts counter-terrorism operations against jihadi groups, some of them backed by the ISI itself.

General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the chain-smoking enigma who will depart after a six-year tenure as COAS (including a three-year extension granted in 2010), is currently about 8 years senior to his corps commanders and senior staff officers. While that gives Kayani complete control, Lt Gen Raheel Sharif would take some time to stamp his authority over other senior commanders who are also his contemporaries.

Gen Kayani had engineered an unprecedented course correction in Pakistan’s military doctrine, directing his army to combat a “multifaceted threat” from terrorists and separatists, rather than focusing only on India. Speaking at PMA Kakul on Aug 14, 2012, Gen Kayani declared that the war against terrorism was Pakistan’s war, not just that of the army.

Given the Pakistani Army’s internal safeguards that keep radical Islamists out of the top hierarchy, Raheel Sharif is likely to follow the same line. For an army that could soon be launching an offensive into North Waziristan, where it would face bloody fighting against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the change of leadership comes at a pivotal moment. 

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Get the military a media plan

Northern army commander, Lt Gen Sanjiv Chhachra (Image: courtesy Xinhua)

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Nov 13

The world’s fourth most powerful military worries that negative media coverage is eroding its image. For decades after 1947, even through the humiliating rout by the Chinese in 1962, India’s press placed the military on a pedestal. Foreign correspondents who rode into Dhaka with the Indian military in 1971 described our jawans fondly, even admiringly. This is no longer so. Now everyone is fair game for a brash, iconoclastic new breed of journalists and news organisations that operate in real time on digital media platforms. This is evident from the on-going feeding frenzy around one of the media’s own --- a newsmagazine editor who faces accusations of rape.

The military community, both serving and retired, finds it hard to deal with this new environment. In forum after forum where I meet the military, officers bitterly criticise what they call an anti-national media and an ungrateful nation. They point to numerous poorly sourced news articles critical of the military to dismiss even legitimate criticism.

Critics of the military reject this prickliness with the jibe that the services are stuck in a time warp and must understand that they too are subject to scrutiny. But that would be short sighted because self-esteem is a crucial driver that induces soldiers, sailors and airmen to function in professional situations where death is a real possibility. If militaries were compensated monetarily for the risks they encounter, employee costs would be unaffordable. The respect that a military is accorded, therefore, should be viewed as cost-free remuneration that drives soldiers to do what they do.

One winter morning in the early 1980s, I was a young lieutenant motorcycling down from Ferozepur to Delhi for a weekend of leave. With my shiny new Yezdi (yes, there was once a mobike called that!) stalled by a tyre puncture, I was admiring the mustard crop in the fields around me when a passing farmer saw my uniform and stopped his tractor. He loaded my Yezdi on his trailer and took me to a tyre repair shop in Moga, the nearest town, waving aside my offer to pay him. The tyre-shop owner peremptorily told his other customers to wait, fetched me a steaming glass of milk, repaired my tyre and had me back on the road in 20 minutes. There was no question of payment --- it was only a puncture, he said. This public regard kept us functioning as soldiers, not the princely Rs 790/- that I was drawing each month.

Yet, the defence services are not beyond criticism, nor can the military justifiably dismiss all criticism as anti-national. So sensitive has the military become that the top brass even allege that the military’s image is being deliberately smeared by inimical journalists acting at the behest of bureaucrats, civil society and politicians.

The truth is that the military knows very little about the world of journalism and has no plan in place to learn more. It has no filters to distinguish one news report from another --- credible from amateurish, one that needs rebuttal from one that should be ignored. Instead of a careful evaluation of reportage, what comes to the fore is an unstoppable urge --- rooted perhaps in military training --- to respond, and respond now. Even as officers respond to a news report with reflexive denials and inadequately crosschecked “facts”, the digitisation of the communications space permits others inside the organisation to pass on contradictory narratives. A senior television journalist who specialises in this tit-for-tat says that 70 per cent of the calls that he receives contradicting army statements come from the rank and file, not from officers.

Nor does the army know when to be silent. In the recent intrusions in Keran, J&K, top generals appeared repeatedly before the media, promising a swift end to the operations. With no end in sight the conspiracy theories began, terming the intrusion “another Kargil”. Why did the army set deadlines when a simple statement could have sufficed --- that the army has the situation under control and would brief the media when operations were concluded?

This readiness to comment on on-going operations is matched by an inexplicable need to cloak administrative matters in secrecy. Instead of letting journalists file “exclusives” and “exposes” on issues like rape by military men, there must be a website where administrative statistics are freely available? The generals seem unwilling to admit that 1.6 million soldiers, sailors and airmen represent a slice of society that will reflect the trends and ailments of the broader society they are drawn from.

The military operates in the harshest of environments. Things will inevitably go wrong, and the military must realise that suppressing the truth is neither feasible nor desirable from a professional standpoint. Misrepresenting or denying a bungle may seem convenient, but this engenders a dangerous culture of tolerance in an organisation where news of a cover up can hardly be suppressed. Like other vibrant organisations, the military must have the confidence to acknowledge mistakes and institute measures to remedy them.

With survey after survey underlining that the military remains India’s most respected organisation in the eyes of the public, the generals must have the confidence to step back and unhurriedly prepare a media plan. In 2003-04, the army set up a new department to interface with the media --- the Army Liaison Cell. The ALC must now be manned by specialists, officers who have worked as journalists, who can conduct daily briefings, put mistakes and even debacles in perspective, and release harmless information that continues to be treated as secret. 

Monday, 25 November 2013

Karzai plays Loya Jirga card to get backing for security pact with US

Afghan leaders since King Amanullah have used Loya Jirgas to gain popular backing for difficult decisions

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 25th Nov 13

The Loya Jirga that gathered in Kabul last week, an assembly of more than 2,000 handpicked tribal elders, chiefs and community leaders, has successfully made President Hamid Karzai seem the most unbending protector of Afghan interests.

On Sunday, after four days of closed-door discussions on the draft of a security agreement with the US that would allow thousands of American troops to remain in Afghanistan after 2014, the assembly issued a statement: "The Loya Jirga requests the president to sign the agreement before the end of 2013."

"Given the current situation in, and Afghanistan's need... the contents of this agreement as a whole is endorsed by the members of this Loya Jirga."

This constitutes a popular green light for the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that Mr Karzai’s government has negotiated with Washington. The BSA meets all the US conditions for retaining an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers in Afghanistan even after the drawdown of the NATO-led International Security Force is completed next year.

Despite his nail biting brinkmanship while negotiating the BSA with Washington, Mr Karzai eventually conceded contentious US demand for legal jurisdiction over American soldiers and civilian contractors operating in Afghanistan and for allowing US Special Forces to continue counterterrorism raids on Afghan homes “in exceptional circumstances.”

Most analysts agree that President Karzai had little choice. The BSA is crucial for the survival of the Afghan government after the NATO drawdown next year. The Afghan National Security Force (ANSF), which will number some 3,52,000 troops and policemen, will need help in combating an inevitable Taliban offensive, say experts.

Yet, President Karzai, with an eye on his legacy, has dextrously ensured that the BSA’s ownership is transferred to the Loya Jirga and, therefore, to the people of Afghanistan. While inaugurating the assembly on Thursday, Nov 21, Mr Karzai thundered that his successor, not him, would sign the BSA after presidential elections early in 2014. Mr Karzai is constitutionally ineligible for another tenure as president, having already served two terms.

Washington, however, insists that the BSA must be signed this year. The US says that any further delay will result in a full pull out of NATO forces --- the so-called “zero-option”. Now Mr Karzai has arranged political cover, with speaker after speaker at the Loya Jirga pleading with him to sign the BSA immediately.

The Loya Jirga head, Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, declared he would resign and leave the country if the BSA were not signed this year. News agency AFP reports that other delegates shouted for Mr Karzai to “Sign in, sign it”.

"They (the Americans) have accepted all the conditions set out by him (Karzai) and us (the Loya Jirga). It would hurt Afghanistan if he does not accept it," said Mujadedi.

The ball is now in President Karzai’s court. The Taliban has warned that anyone supporting the BSA would be committing a “historical crime”. Yet, with the ANSF, still consisting mainly of light infantry and Special Forces units, with little heavy weaponry, logistical backup, medical resources or air support, the continued presence of US and European trainers and Special Forces remains crucial.

President Karzai has used the Loya Jirga skilfully. Often misrepresented as a centuries-old institution, it is in fact a political assembly that was invented less than a century ago by the founder of modern Afghanistan, King Amanullah. Combining elements of traditional tribal culture with the representative concepts of western parliamentary democracy, King Amanullah held three Loya Jirgas in 1923, 1924 and 1928, to gain popular support for his political, legal and administrative reforms and for Afghanistan’s first constitution.

In 1964 the Loya Jirga was first written into Afghanistan’s constitution, and has remained a feature of all four constitutions since. A series of myths were created to give it added legitimacy, such as the fabricated notion that legendary Afghan monarch, Ahmed Shah Durrani was crowned by a Loya Jirga in 1747. In fact Loya Jirgas have been handy political instruments that Afghan leaders have used to rubberstamp their decisions and imbue them with a timeless legitimacy.

This is easily done for the simple reason that the leader decides the guest list. Each of the 2,500-odd invitees to the recently concluded Loya Jirga was handpicked by Mr Karzai’s office. The Loya Jirga can be manipulated far more conveniently than those of the Afghan parliament, which consists of elected, not invited, members.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Innovative MoD initiative to clear production policy bottlenecks

The MoD's procurement chief, Satish Agnihotri, is respected by private sector for engaging in unorthodox ways
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd Nov 13

A new and unconventional mechanism holds genuine promise for easing the private sector’s entry into indigenous defence production. On Saturday, at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) in Delhi, the MoD’s procurement chief --- Director General (Acquisitions) Satish B Agnihotri --- and a group of senior ministry of defence (MoD) officials will meet with private sector defence heads, discussing and resolving their difficulties.

This will be the third such meeting of this informal, but highly effective, forum. Agnihotri instituted this outreach after making the unprecedented decision to resolve private industry structural problems in face-to-face meetings at the IDSA on Saturdays.

Since the private sector was allowed into defence production in 2001, policy hurdles, discriminatory taxation regimes and organisational bias in favour of the public sector have placed structural hurdles before private companies hoping to benefit from India’s enormous defence market.

“For the first time in a decade, we are beginning to feel like we are not talking to a wall,” says Rahul Chaudhary, co-chief of Ficci’s defence committee and CEO of Tata Power (SED).

Achievements of the Saturday Forum include the issue last week of a tender for four Landing Platform Docks (LPDs), giant 21,000-tonne helicopter carrying ships that will be built by India’s private sector in consortium under the “Buy & Make (Indian) category. Also initiated last week was a project for building a Battlefield Management System (BMS) under the “Make” procurement category.

Private industry chiefs say that individual problems are not discussed during the Saturday meetings --- only issues that relate to the entire industry. For that reason, the private sector representation is restricted to industry bodies CII, Ficci and Assocham.

“If private companies come and meet me one-on-one, it sometimes spells trouble for me,” said Agnihotri at a Ficci function on Thursday evening. “So I would rather meet with industry bodies.”

Agnihotri says that his plan for creating a role for the private sector has centred on small, sustainable steps rather than spectacular policy changes. Like many officials and industrialists who are adopting Tendulkar similes, Agnihotri too uses a cricket simile to illustrate the bureaucratic and political difficulties in making bold changes.

“Defence has certain peculiar characteristics… the outfield is slow. If you just keep waiting to score boundaries, I’m sorry but you will not score very much. The trick lies in singles and twos, which one can take,” he says.

This Saturday’s meeting will be Agnihotri’s last, as he has been transferred out on promotion as secretary in the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. On the agenda are measures for giving MSMEs a larger role in defence production.

“One man has made a substantial difference in a very short time. We hope this initiative continues,” stated Jayant Patil of L&T, who handles R&D in Ficci’s defence committee. 

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Loya Jirga to convene today as US, Afghanistan close in on military agreement

The site in Kabul where a Loya Jirga convenes today to vet a proposed security arrangement with the US

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21st Nov 13

Washington and Kabul appear to be close to crossing two major hurdles that stand in the way of a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that the US needs for retaining a residual force in Afghanistan from 2015 onwards, after US and NATO-led forces largely withdraw from that country.

The first is an agreement between Washington and Kabul that would allow US forces to operate effectively, without being subject to Afghan law. This hurdle may have been crossed on Tuesday night when US Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly agreed, in a telephone conversation with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, that President Barack Obama would write him a letter acknowledging US “mistakes” that had “hurt Afghans”, apparently referring to intrusive raids on Afghans’ residences over the last 12 years.

In return, Kabul will permit US Special Forces to continue counterterrorism raids on Afghan homes “in exceptional circumstances”, for example when US lives are at stake. Kabul has already accepted another US red line, which is granting Washington legal jurisdiction over US soldiers and civilian contractors operating in Afghanistan. That means US soldiers charged with violating Afghan rights or breaking Afghan law would be prosecuted in American, not Afghan, courts.

US law mandates this requirement. Failure to reach such an agreement with Baghdad had led to a full US pullout from Iraq.

For a beleaguered Kabul, a full western military pullout from Afghanistan, which was termed the “zero option”, might decisively turn the tables in favour of the Taliban. A full pullout would also have jeopardised $4.1 billion in annual military aid that donors have pledged for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).

If negotiating the BSA has been difficult, another hurdle lies ahead. President Karzai has ruled that to come into being, the BSA draft must be passed by a Loya Jirga --- a gathering of notables under Afghan tradition --- which will convene in Kabul on Thursday and probably discuss the matter for several days before arriving at a conclusion.

If the Loya Jirga accepts the BSA, it would be the first time Afghanistan voluntarily accepts a foreign military presence. There is speculation that Karzai has convened the Loya Jirga in order to provide political cover for this deeply contentious decision. But uncertainty remains; the Loya Jirga has previously endorsed the Afghan president’s decision, but the 3,000-odd delegates cannot disregard Afghanistan’s vaunted love for independence, and the improbable legend that Afghans are raised on --- of having defeated three occupying superpowers (19th century Britain, 20th century Soviet Union, and 21st century America).

Notwithstanding this, most Afghans pragmatically realise that the fledgling ANSF would lose ground against the Taliban, were it not backed by a residual US force and by continued US logistical support. This would be especially so if a united Taliban were backed by Pakistani material, moral and direct military support.

Reminding Afghans of the deeply contentious nature of this argument, a car bomb on Saturday killed six Afghans outside the Kabul Polytechnic campus, where the Loya Jirga will convene. The same day the Taliban warned that anyone supporting the BSA would be committing a “historical crime”. After fighting the US, NATO and the ANSF for years based on President Obama’s declared pullout time line of 2014, the Taliban does not welcome the prospect of a residual US force remaining in Afghanistan indefinitely.

Washington has not yet put a figure on the strength of the residual force, but US government sources have indicated that it would comprise of 8,000 to 12,000 troops. Of these, an expected 3,000 to 4,000 would be contributed by NATO countries, which would start making troop commitments once Washington and Kabul finalise the BSA. The residual force would include Special Forces and units equipped with drones for counterterrorist strikes in Afghanistan and in the border areas of Pakistan.

President Karzai had negotiated hard for security guarantees for Afghanistan by the residual US and NATO force. But Washington is apprehensive about being dragged into a military confrontation with Pakistan, and so US negotiators have managed to satisfy Kabul with a less forceful assurance of Afghanistan’s security.

The ANSF, which includes both army and police forces, already consists of almost 3,52,000 persons. Most military forces consist of light infantry and Special Forces units, with little heavy weaponry, logistical backup, medical resources or air support. 

AgustaWestland names Justice Srikrishna as arbitrator

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21st Nov 13

The icy deadlock between the ministry of defence (MoD) and AgustaWestland, is hurtling towards confrontation. In New Delhi, on Wednesday, the MoD held its first face-to-face meeting with AgustaWestland since February, when a contract to supply India with 12 AW-101 helicopters was derailed by allegations of bribes paid to Indian officials through illegal middlemen.

At the meeting, which MoD sources describe as a “hearing”, AgustaWestland told Upamanyu Chatterjee, the novelist who is also the joint secretary in charge of land and air systems acquisition, that there was no wrongdoing by the Anglo-Italian helicopter company, or by its parent company, Finmeccanica, in winning the contract.

AgustaWestland also reminded Chatterjee that the matter was still under arbitration by nominating its arbitrator. The MoD is required to nominate an arbitrator by Dec 3, while a third arbitrator must be nominated by mutual consent.

In a subsequent press release later, AgustaWestland stated: “In accordance with the rules of arbitration under the Indian Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996, AgustaWestland is nominating former Supreme Court Judge and former Chief Justice High Court Kerala, Justice Mr. B.N. Srikrishna; a well-known jurist of unimpeachable experience and reputation.”

AgustaWestland is required to respond to a “final” show-cause notice that the MoD issued on Oct 21. Business Standard understands that the response will come in only on Nov 25 or 26, when it is due.

The company is apprehensive that, in fixing the Wednesday meeting, the MoD was merely enacting a charade of consultation before unilaterally cancelling the contract. This after Defence Minister AK Antony appeared to have pre-determined the outcome by declaring publicly on Oct 30 that AgustaWestland had “violated the contract.”

AgustaWestland had retorted then that, “none of the legal processes looking into this matter have been completed.” The company told Business Standard that “the outcome of the proper legal processes should be awaited.”

The contract, worth Euro 556 million (Rs 4,700 crore at current rates), was signed in 2010 for specially protected helicopters to transport high Indian officials and visiting foreign dignitaries in comfort and safety. Three AW-101 helicopters have already been delivered to the Indian Air Force (IAF).

The controversy had erupted on Feb 12 when prosecutors in Milan, Italy arrested Finmeccanica chief ,Giuseppe Orsi, on charges of bribing Indian officials to secure the VVIP helicopter contract. Orsi headed AgustaWestland in 2010, when the IAF contract was signed.

The Indian MoD immediately froze the contract (three helicopters had already been delivered), suspended payments to AgustaWestland, and initiated an enquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Navy gets long-delayed Vikramaditya, finally!

Defence Minister AK Antony, in a markedly different element from his native Kerala, reviews a Russian guard of honour

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 17th Nov 13

With snowflakes sprinkling the dignitaries gathered on Saturday at the Sevmash Shipyard in Severodvinsk, Russia, Defence Minister AK Antony commissioned the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya into the Indian Navy. The 44,500-tonne warship will now sail to its home base in Karwar, India, from where it will partner the smaller, 24,000-tonne INS Viraat, currently the navy’s flagship. Sixteen years after INS Vikrant was decommissioned, the navy will again boast of two aircraft carriers in its fleet.

“Aircraft carriers have been part of the Indian Navy’s force structure since our independence and have effectively served the country over the past five decades or so.  The induction of ‘Vikramaditya’ with its integral MiG-29K fighters and Kamov-31 helicopters, not only reinforces this central policy, but also adds a new dimension to our navy’s operational capabilities,” said Mr Antony at the event.

Ending the acrimony over Russia’s five-year delay in delivering the Vikramaditya, and the three-fold cost increase from $947 million agreed in 2004 to $2.3 billion today, Mr Antony said the Vikramaditya “truly symbolizes the time-tested special and privileged strategic partnership between our two great nations.”

Navy chief, Admiral DK Joshi, said the Vikramaditya would provide the navy a two-carrier capability in the medium term, and bridge the period between when the obsolescent INS Viraat is decommissioned, and the indigenous INS Vikrant enters service. The Vikrant is being built at Cochin Shipyard, but will not be commissioned before 2015. Earlier, the navy had said the Viraat would remain in service beyond 2018.

In addition to Mr Antony, the navy chief and the defence secretary, Russia’s deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin and defence minister, Sergey Shoigu also attended the ceremony.

Sevmash shipyard has comprehensively rebuilt the Vikramaditya over the preceding decade. It was originally built in Ukraine in 1987 as the cruiser, Baku, which could carry a complement of Yak-38 vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft. Russia’s naval chief, Admiral Gorshkov, believed that the Baku should be a full-fledged aircraft carrier, not a “compromise carrier” that it was. In 1991, when the Soviet Union’s collapse placed Baku in Azerbaijan, the vessel was renamed Admiral Gorshkov. Eventually, a bankrupt Moscow mothballed the vessel in 1995.

In 2004, India signed a contract to repair and refurbish the Gorshkov, and convert it to a full-fledged aircraft carrier that could operate the MiG-29K fighter. Since this required a runway both for take-off and for a wire-arrested landing, the Gorshkov had to be converted from a VTOL to a short-take-off-but-arrested-recovery (STOBAR) carrier. This required a 2,500-tonne ski jump and arrestor gear to be fitted, as well as major modifications in 1,750 of the ship’s 2,500 compartments. New aircraft and ammunition lifts, engine boilers, diesel generators, water distilling and reverse osmosis plants, air-conditioning and sensors and weapons had to be fitted, a task that eventually took 115 months instead of the contract 52 months.

 With eight steam boilers running on high speed diesel, the Gorshkov can work up a top speed of 29.5 knots (55 km per hour). Her onboard generators produce 18 megawatts of power, enough to run a small city. She is a two-acre chunk of sovereign Indian territory that can operate 13,000 km from India.

This floating air base can be parked 12 nautical miles (22 km) from another country’s coastline, i.e. just outside its territorial waters. The Vikramaditya has 30 aircraft on board, which includes a mix of MiG-29K fighters and helicopters like the Kamov-31 for airborne early warning (AEW), Kamov-28 for anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and Dhruv or Chetak utility helicopters. The versatile MiG-29K, with an operating range of 1,300 km (extendable to 3,500 km with in-flight refuelling), provides deadly reach to the Vikramaditya. The “aviation complex” is controlled by the Resistor-E radar complex, which provides air traffic control services and precisely guides incoming MiG-29Ks to within 30 metres of the flight deck.

The name “Vikramaditya” literally translates into “Strong as the Sun.” The aircraft carrier’s motto is Strike Far, Strike Sure.” 

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Book review: The VK Singh manifesto

Business Standard, 16th Nov 13

Courage and Conviction: An Autobiography
By General VK Singh (with Kunal Verma)
Aleph Book Company, New Delhi
363 pages
Rs 595/-

In his book “Courage and Conviction”, the country’s most controversial army chief, General VK Singh, follows a tradition of autobiographical immodesty. Of the handful of chiefs who penned memoirs, General JJ Singh titled his book, “A Soldier’s General”. General KV Krishna Rao, more modestly chose the title, “In the Service of the Nation.”

VK Singh’s book will certainly outsell those of his predecessors. It is a no-holds-barred attack on the United Progressive Alliance government, which denied him extra time in office by turning down his plea to revise his date of birth. When he sued his political masters, the Supreme Court was as unsympathetic. Left to lick his wounds, a lame-duck VK Singh treated his remaining four months in uniform as a launch pad into politics, almost taunting the government to sack him. In a letter to the prime minister that was quickly leaked, VK Singh complained that delays in arms purchases had made his army unfit for war; he gave media interviews that roiled civil-military tensions; and attended a public function that was linked with an opposition party. Since he retired, he has associated with Anna Hazare’s dharna and appeared with Narendra Modi at a public rally.

Given his animus and his ambitions it is hardly surprising that VK Singh has lambasted the government. Some of that criticism is deserved, given the government’s neglect of the military over the decades. It is welcome that an army chief has parted the shroud of secrecy that has too long hidden negligence in national security decision-making. Yet, the author’s bias and obvious motivations seriously damage his credibility. How much credence can be placed in the account of a former army chief who has claimed that the army was paying off J&K politicians and then, having seriously eroding their credibility with their constituencies, walked away from that statement?

This untrustworthiness annihilates what could otherwise have been an important book. There is inherent readability in the tale of an army officer who carved out an exceptional career path, and his travails and triumphs through the 1971 war, the Sri Lanka campaign, stints on the line of control (LoC), demanding courses in the United States and high command all the way up to the army chief’s office. Indeed the sections where VK Singh recounts life in the army are the most readable parts of the book. But an agenda keeps resurfacing, with the author projecting himself ham-handedly as a crusader who was evicted because he battled corruption and money-making.

Megalomania might be a strong word, but the author certainly holds himself in high esteem. He describes himself as a Tanwer, “one of the thirty-six ruling races of India.” He recounts how a large cobra entered the house where VK Singh, then one year old, was playing on the floor alone. When word spread, people came running only to find the infant “happily playing with the cobra.” Any resemblance to Krishna and the legend of Kaliya Nag is presumably coincidental.

Hovering like a malevolent phantom over most of the book is VK Singh’s disputed birth certificate, which caused his confrontation with the government. This is so even in accounts of his childhood, spent with his extended family in their village, their “bronze, chiselled faces” giving him confidence that “not one of them… would ever bend with the wind.” This not-so-subtle characterisation foresees the author’s humiliating rebuff from the Supreme Court, where a judge observed, in jest more than seriously, “Wise people are those who move with the winds.”

Just 24 pages into the book, VK Singh brings the issue of his birth date into the open and returns to it with groan-inducing frequency. While presenting his version in detail, he glosses over the big question --- why did he thrice accept the army’s decision on his birth date, only to challenge that later in court? His answer --- poor advice.

It is hard to avoid concluding that the author has a victimisation complex, given the indiscrimination with which he distributes blame, denouncing now one set of people and now another for essentially the same thing. First he blames an earlier army chief, General JJ Singh, for planning a “line of succession”, that required him to retire on a particular day so that he would be succeeded by General Bikram Singh (the current chief). A few pages later, he alleges that he was pushed out by powerful enemies he made in exposing the Sukhna land scam, the Adarsh Housing Society scam, the Tatra vehicle procurement scam and various dodgy arms deals. In a line redolent with delusion, he writes, “I knew I wasn’t suffering from any paranoia… the same people were involved, different circles with overlapping areas of interest, yet with a common core supporting them.”

The author raises important issues relating to the army’s combat readiness and equipment procurement processes, both areas that would benefit from openness and public debate. But VK Singh writes more like a schoolboy than an army chief, making it difficult to take him seriously. Describing the equipment shortages that emerged during the Kargil conflict in 1999, he says “Babus were running around the globe with suitcases of cash, looking for ammunition.”

Making the preposterous allegation that the government allocates the defence budget each year with the specific intention of taking much of it back for populist expenditures, he speculates on the MoD’s reaction after “sabotaging” expenditure one year --- “I am quite sure there must have been lot of clinking of glasses and high fives amidst the powers that be (sic).”

This kind of Pidgin English keeps popping up disconcertingly. Someone worked out a “knock-kneed plan”; his commanding officer gave him “a real rollicking” (meaning bollocking, not a good time). The blame for this gobbledegook rests with Kunal Verma, who VK Singh has written the book with. Verma, a long time military groupie who has been paid crores of rupees from the defence budget to write self-congratulatory coffee-table books, has added little value to the book.

In the final balance, “Courage and Conviction” is worth a close read. It provides interesting accounts of life in the army and a stunning insight into the mind of an army chief who went rogue. There are gripping accounts of the Sri Lanka debacle, the 1984 Operation Blue Star attack on the Golden Temple, the Operation Parakram fiasco and the internal fault lines within the army. The author does not hesitate to allocate blame to well-known names, but always emerges as the good guy himself. General VK Singh clearly believes that more important than making history is to write it.