Wednesday, 30 December 2015

LR-SAM operationalised: Indian Navy successfully tests long-delayed air defence missile

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 30th Dec 15

In a giant capability boost for the Indian Navy, a naval warship today test-fired a new missile that can shoot down incoming aerial threats --- such as aircraft and missiles --- whilst they are still 70 kilometres away.

A defence ministry press release today stated: “Adding a quantum jump in its air defence capability, INS Kolkata, Indian Navy’s state of art, indigenous stealth destroyer, successfully test fired the Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LR-SAM).  Two missiles were fired on 29th and 30th of December on high-speed targets, during naval exercises being undertaken in the Arabian Sea.”

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and India’s Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) have jointly developed the LR-SAM. The Israelis call this cutting-edge missile system the Barak-8, while India calls it the LR-SAM.

In earlier days, ship-to-ship battles were fought with heavy-calibre guns, requiring warships to come within gun range of each other. Once a shell was fired from a gun, there was no way of intercepting it in mid-flight.

Guns have now been replaced with long-range, anti-ship missiles, which are fired from submarines, ships or aircraft up to 150 kilometres away. Many of these, such as the US-made Harpoon II, are extremely accurate, with sensors on the missile homing it unerringly onto its target. They have a key vulnerability, though. Since a missile is bigger and much slower that a gun shell, it can be detected at long ranges with radar, and then shot down in mid-flight with another missile.

The LR-SAM detects and shoots down incoming missiles and aircraft with a reliability that is said to exceed 95 per cent. DRDO sources say there will be further tests to verify that the missile has been integrated properly onto INS Kolkata.

Mechanics of engagement

To engage an incoming missile or aircraft at the maximum possible range, INS Kolkata’s on-board radar --- called the MF-STAR (multi-function surveillance, tracking and acquisition radar) --- can detect it while it is still 200 kilometres away.

After detecting the target in the recent tests, the MF-STAR began tracking it, communicating its key parameters --- distance, altitude, direction and velocity --- to INS Kolkata’s command centre in real time.

Meanwhile the LR-SAM interceptor, located in a vertical canister on the warship’s deck, began its pre-launch checks. Simultaneously, the LR-SAM’s command system was generating engagement scenarios, calculating the exact point where the outgoing missile would impact and destroy the incoming target.

As INS Kolkata’s weapons officer gave the launch command, the interceptor roared out of its canister, engulfing the deck in a ball of fire. At the designated height, it switched to level flight, gained supersonic speed, and streaked towards the incoming target, guided by the MF-STAR over a data link.

About five-to-seven kilometres short of the target, a seeker on the interceptor’s nose switched on, locking it onto the target. To accelerate the interceptor, which was by now merely coasting, the dual-pulse motor fired for a second time. This increased the interceptor’s velocity up to Mach 5-7, enabling it to manoeuvre sharply in tandem with the target’s evasive zigzags.

A few metres from the target, the interceptor’s proximity fuse detonated its 23-kilo high-explosive warhead, disrupting it and preventing it from reaching the Kolkata.

The DRDO termed the test a success, although the “high-speed targets” that the LR-SAM shot down were significantly slower than the actual threats it must counter. Simulated targets travel at 500-550 kilometres per hour (kmph), while the Harpoon anti-ship missile comes in at about 865 kmph; and the Exocet missile at 1,150 kmph.

LR-SAM origins

During the Kargil conflict of 1999, when the navy was preparing for war, the admirals realised to their dismay that they had no counter to the Pakistan Navy’s Harpoon anti-ship missiles. The bigger and more sophisticated Indian warships, some costing half a billion dollars, were vulnerable to being sunk by the Harpoon, which costs less than $2 million. New Delhi approached Tel Aviv for an emergency procurement of the Barak anti-missile missile, which tided over that crisis.

Pleased with the Barak, New Delhi and Tel Aviv agreed in January 2006 to develop a 70-kilometre version of the Barak to counter anti-ship missiles of the future. Given the navy’s “blue water” ambition to control wide swathes of the Indian Ocean, a destroyer or frigate equipped with the LR-SAM would not just protect itself; but also create a protected “air defence bubble” for smaller warships in the flotilla.

India allocated Rs 2,606 crore to this project, which includes Rs 1,700 crore for fitting three Kolkata-class destroyers with the LR-SAM. The Israeli Navy made an equal commitment, undertaking to fit the Barak-8 on its three Sa’ar corvettes.

The work share was divided, with 30 per cent going to the DRDO, which was charged with developing the LR-SAM’s solid-fuel, two-pulse propulsion motors.  Israeli company, Rafael, has developed the rest of the interceptor missile. IAI has built the rest of the systems, including the sophisticated MF-STAR radar.

The delay in the LR-SAM of three-to-four years has been caused mainly by the DRDO’s difficulties in building the sophisticated two-pulse motor. Eventually, it succeeded in developing a stable propellant for this purpose.

The way ahead

After the LR-SAM is integrated on all three Kolkata-class destroyers (Project 15-A); it will be built for another four Project 15-B destroyers being constructed in Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL); and seven frigates that will begin construction in MDL and Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers, Kolkata (GRSE). The LR-SAM will also be installed on INS Vikrant, the indigenous aircraft carrier being built in Kochi. It is almost certain that several more warships would be equipped with the LR-SAM.

The manufacturing supply chain that is now emerging includes several private sector companies, such as Godrej & Boyce, and SEC. The LR-SAM system will be integrated at state-owned Bharat Dynamics Ltd. DRDO officials say that indigenising numerous sub-systems will bring down the cost of the system. 

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

International figures say India no longer biggest arms importer; India’s own figures say still Number One

Calculating arms imports is difficult; for example, INS Kochi, an India-built destroyer, has numerous imported systems

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 29th Dec 15

The authoritative Congressional Research Service (CRS), which provides data and analysis to the US Congress, finds that India no longer features in the world’s three biggest arms importers.

A new CRS report, according to The New York Times, finds that of the world’s total arms trade of $71.8 billion in 2014, the three biggest importers were South Korea ($7.8 billion in contracts signed), Iraq ($7.3 billion) and Brazil with $6.5 billion.

In March, the equally authoritative Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) had declared, in its annual weapons trade report for 2014, that Saudi Arabia had surpassed India as the world’s biggest arms importer. According to that report, Saudi Arabia imported $6.46 billion worth of arms, compared to India’s $5.57 billion.

This is not the only divergence in public figures relating to defence procurement, particularly that of India.

On December 8, the defence ministry told parliament that India had bought Rs 24,992 crore ($3.78 billion) worth of foreign weaponry in 2014-15. Ten days later, the same defence ministry told the same parliament that India had spent Rs 29,222 crore ($4.42 billion) on foreign arms in that same period.

There are several reasons for such divergent figures in tracking the weapons trade. First, some institutions track the signature of defence contracts in a particular year. On the other hand, others track the actual delivery of defence systems during that year.

For example, India signed a $2.1 billion contract with Boeing for eight P8-I multi-mission maritime aircraft in 2009-10. Agencies tracking arms contracts would have put that entire amount in India’s arms trade ledger for that year. Others, who track delivery, would spread the $2.1 billion across the six years till 2015, when the last P8-I was delivered.

There is also a reason for divergence in the defence ministry’s own figures. The figure placed before parliament on December 8 represents actual orders placed on foreign vendors during the year, and assumes orders placed on Indian vendors to be 100 per cent indigenous. The higher figure placed before parliament on December 18 tracks foreign components in “Indian” weapon systems, treating them as imports.

For example, the warship INS Kochi was built by Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL) and is, technically, an indigenous system. But it contains numerous foreign systems, such as the Israeli MF-STAR radar. According to the Defence Procurement Procedure of 2013 (DPP-2013), the cost of foreign systems, sub-systems and components in “indigenous” platforms are treated as imports, along with the freight, insurance, service costs, license fees, royalties and duties relating to their import.

Calculating according to DPP-2013, the “indigenous content in defence procurements for the year 2014-15 is approximately 40 per cent”, the defence ministry informed parliament on December 18. Based on the total procurement outgo of Rs 78,754 crore ($11.9 billion) for 2014-15, an imported component of 60 per cent adds up to Rs 47,252 crore ($7.14 billion).

That outgo is only from the capital budget. In addition, a significant portion of imported spares and components comes from the revenue budget, which, after deducting salaries, amounts to Rs 46,905 for the three services. Conservatively assuming a foreign outgo of 20 per cent from that component of the revenue budget, another Rs 9,381 crore ($1.4 billion) is added to India’s defence imports.

India’s total defence imports, arrived at by adding Rs 47,252 crore ($ 7.14 billion) of imports from the capital account to Rs 9,381 crore ($1.4 billion) of imports from the revenue account, amounts to $8.54 billion for 2014-15.

This means going by either CRS’s calculations, or those of SIPRI, India remains for now the world’s biggest arms importer.

On the export side, the CRS report notes that America is handily the world’s biggest arms exporter. From $26.7 billion in 2013, the sale of US arms rose in 2014 by almost $10 billion (35 per cent) to $36.3 billion, more than half of the global $71.8 billion arms export market.

Russia is a distant second, logging $10.2 billion in arms sales in 2014. Sweden is in third position ($5.5 billion); France is fourth ($4.4 billion) and China is fifth ($2.2 billion).

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Modi seizes initiative on Pakistan policy with “impromptu” visit to Lahore

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Dec 15

On a busy Christmas Day for him, Prime Minister Narendra Modi redefined the rules of Indo-Pak diplomacy with an unscheduled visit to Lahore to personally greet his counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, on his birthday.

The brief stopover at Lahore came on Modi’s journey home to Delhi from Kabul, where he inaugurated Afghanistan’s new parliament building --- a Rs 710 crore gift from India to the people of Afghanistan.

Foreign ministry sources in Delhi discount the official version of the story, in which Modi made an impromptu request to stop over at Lahore, during the course of a birthday telephone call to Nawaz Sharif. In fact, this stopover had been carefully considered in Delhi, as a way to galvanise the peace process further.

Careful planning, not least for adequate security at Lahore, preceded Modi’s tweet this morning that contained the bombshell: “Looking forward to meeting PM Nawaz Sharif in Lahore today afternoon, where I will drop by on my way back to Delhi.”

With Pakistan TV covering the visit live, Sharif greeted Modi with a hug at Lahore airport, and then accompanied him on a helicopter him for talks at the Sharif’s ancestral residence in Raiwind, 40 kilometres from Lahore.

In an intriguing aside, businessman Sajjan Jindal, who apparently set up a meeting between the two prime ministers in Kathmandu last year, was present in Lahore as Modi arrived. On Friday afternoon, he tweeted a photograph of himself with the message, “In Lahore to greet PM Navaz (sic) Sharif on his birthday.” It is not known whether Jindal played any role in mediating this meeting.

While it is not known what the two leaders discussed, the resumption of dialogue would surely have featured on the agenda. On Thursday, Sharif’s Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz had told Pakistan’s National Assembly that the two foreign secretaries would meet soon to discuss a comprehensive bilateral dialogue. Both foreign secretaries accompanied their respective PMs.

There has been predictable criticism of Modi’s initiative from India’s opposition, less the Left parties. However, Modi has drawn wide praise on social media for seizing the initiative in shaping Pakistan policy.

Earlier on Friday, while inaugurating the Afghan parliament, Modi addressed a full sitting, and urged a regional approach to restoring peace. “All of us in the region – India, Pakistan, Iran and others – must unite, in trust and cooperation, behind this common purpose and in recognition of our common destiny”, he said.

Modi’s advocacy of regionalism comes as Islamabad spearheads a “four party” approach to restarting dialogue with the Taliban, featuring the US, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. India has been conspicuously left out.

Highlighting Pakistan’s growing role in bringing the Taliban to the table, Pakistan’s army chief, General Raheel Sharif, will visit Kabul on Sunday to coordinate a second round of talks with the Taliban. After a first round of talks at Murree last year, Kabul called off the dialogue when it emerged that Mullah Omar had been dead two years and it was unclear who the government of Afghanistan was negotiating with.

Sharif will have his task cut out with a growing succession struggle within the Taliban. On Friday, The New York Times reported that the chiefs of several Taliban factions had written to Mullah Mohammad Mansour, Mullah Omar’s successor, rebuking him for a recent bloody crackdown on dissent within the Taliban.

Modi, however, made it clear that India supported the reconciliation dialogue. He told Afghan parliamentarians: “Those waging war from outside must seek a path to this building and this hall. Those seeking territory through gun must seek power through ballot. Those who have destroyed homes must now rebuild their nation.” 

Friday, 25 December 2015

Trade, energy and defence take centrestage in Modi’s talks with Putin

From the joint statement:

Beyond six nuclear power reactors at Kudankulam, Russia welcomed progress in identifying second site in India for additional six nuclear reactors.

Inter-governmental agreement (IGA) for building Kamov-226 helicopters under “Make in India” scheme.

Joint Study Group for studying possibility of hydrocarbon pipeline system connecting Russia and India.

ONGC Videsh pact with Rosneft for acquiring 15% stakes in Rosneft’s Vankorneft oilfields and discussions for further stakes in future.

Direct trade in diamonds between Russia and India and creation of a Special Notified Zone (SNZ) at the Bharat Diamond Bourse

Finalized visa pact to issue six-month, multiple entry, tourist visas, based on reciprocity.

MoU between "GLONASS” and Centre for Development of Advance Computing (C-DAC) for cooperating in commercial applications through integration of Russian and Indian satellite navigation systems.

* * * * *

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 25th December 15

Visiting Moscow at a time of trouble, when international sanctions over Ukraine are compounding the blow to Russia’s economy from plummeting oil prices, Prime Minister Narendra Modi signalled clearly that, notwithstanding India’s warming relations with the United States, Russia remains a privileged partner.

“We have stood together in bad times and good”, Modi reminded businessmen and officials at the CEO’s Forum in Moscow.

Defence, space and nuclear and hydrocarbon energy remain the four key pillars of the Indo-Russian partnership, but Modi placed an unusual focus on business and commerce. He talked up India as an investment destination, stating that its 7.4 per cent GDP growth is the highest amongst large countries.

“I have come to invite Russia to be a partner in India’s economic development”, said Modi. “We want to make India into a global manufacturing hub.”

Modi specially mentioned Russia’s interest in participating in the Delhi-Mumbai Infrastructure corridor. “I see Russia as a partner in India’s economic transformation”, said the prime minister.

While bilateral annual trade languishes at $10 billion, the two countries have set an ambitious target of tripling that over the coming decade.

The body language between the two leaders lacked the effusiveness of Modi’s earlier engagements with the leaders of the US, Japan, UK and France. However, Modi personally credited Putin for resurrecting the Indo-Russian strategic dialogue.

“You are the architect of the India-Russia Strategic Partnership… I have always had great respect and appreciation for (it)”, said Modi.

Defence was expected to be the highlight of the dialogue, but the joint statement only mentioned the signing of an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) for manufacturing the Kamov-226 light helicopter in India.

“The (agreement) on manufacture of the Kamov 226 helicopter is the first big project under the ‘Make in India’ initiative. It is rightly with our most important defence partner”, said Modi.

There was no indication whether the Indian partner for this project would be Hindustan Aeronatics Ltd, or Reliance Defence, both of which are keen on this project.

It is noteworthy that there was no official mention of the S-400 air defence missile system, or the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), all projects that were discussed during the visit. The joint statement after the talks has only a cursory mention of defence.

Energy cooperation was an expected highlight, with the two sides talking about building 12 Russian nuclear reactors, in two different locations. While four reactors already have the green light in Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu, and another two are being discussed; the next six reactors will come up at another location, probably Andhra Pradesh.

“Cooperation in nuclear energy (will eventually involve) twelve Russian nuclear reactors in two sites. The Indian manufacturing content has been increased in these. I thank President Putin for his support”, said Modi.

The Indian prime minister also talked up Indo-Russian cooperation in hydrocarbons, stating: “Russia can be a critical source of energy security for India. We are enlarging investment in Russia hydrocarbon sector.”

In September, ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL), the overseas arm of Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), had signed an agreement to buy a 15 per cent stake i Russia's second-largest oil and gas field, Vankor.

The joint statement put out by New Delhi and Moscow “welcomed the signing of Agreement between Rosneft and ONGC Videsh Limited for acquiring 15% stakes by OVL in Rosneft’s Vankorneft Oil fields and discussions for further stakes in future.”

The joint statement also “welcomed the first meeting of the Joint Study Group for studying the possibility of hydrocarbon pipeline system connecting Russia and India held in Moscow on November 6, 2015 as part of the Programme on Enhanced Cooperation in the Oil and Gas sphere signed in New Delhi in December 2014.”

Modi flagged cooperation between India and Russia on Afghanistan and Central Asia, specifically mentioning the road-cum-rail transportation corridor being built, with Indian support, through Iran’s Chabahar Port to those regions.

Significantly, the Indian prime minister backed Russia’s role in Syria, which has been sharply criticised by western powers for being supportive of Basher Assad’s regime. The joint statement notes: “Russia and India voiced their strong support to sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Syria. Both sides expressed a common understanding that the internal armed conflict in Syria cannot be solved by the use of force, but rather through political and diplomatic means – through a substantive intra-Syrian dialogue without preconditions or external interference…”

This constitutes vital diplomatic support for Moscow. Putin told the media after the bilateral dialogue: “It is important Russia and India make similar approaches to key international problems. Our countries are for a political settlement of the conflict in Syria and promotion of national reconciliation in Afghanistan.”

He also lauded the “high degree of (Indo-Russian) convergence on global issues”, terming Indo-Russian cooperation on the United Nations, BRICS, East Asia Summit, G-20 and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation as “a partnership of global character”. 

Thursday, 24 December 2015

S-400 missiles, Kamov-226 helicopters, Gen-5 fighters on Modi’s agenda in Russia

The Russian S-400 air defence missile that could feature in Modi's agreements with Putin in Russia today

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th Nov 15

Why is Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting Russia on what much of the world considers Christmas Eve? Because it will not be Christmas in Russia until January 7, according to the Gregorian calendar, when Orthodox Christians --- Russia’s majority --- celebrate Christmas.

Nor will Modi be mistaken for Santa Claus with a stocking filled with defence orders. India is no longer handing Moscow the meaty contracts that, from 1970-2000, met 70 per cent of India’s military equipment requirements.

Even so, there could be significant announcements about India’s purchase of Kamov-226T helicopters, S-400 air defence missile systems, and the long-delayed contract for joint development of the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA).

“Russia does things with us; [and] we do things with Russia, which we don’t do with any other country, said Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, briefing the media on Modi’s visit on Tuesday. While Jaishanker declined to predict what announcements could be made, here are some of the balls in play.

FGFA and Multi-role Transport Aircraft (MTA)

Once the flagship of Indo-Russian defence cooperation, the FGFA project illustrates the downswing in defence relations. For two-and-a-half-years, the two sides have bickered over a research & development contract (R&D Contract), under which India would commit about $4 billion (Rs 26,464 crore) for Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) to work with Sukhoi to evolve the Russian T-50 stealth fighter (already flying) into an FGFA that incorporated India’s requirements.

Business Standard learns that, last month, discussions were concluded on the R&D contract. While this clears the way for a positive announcement in Moscow, the Indian Air Force (IAF) continues to block the FGFA. Its criticism is intended to reinforce the impression of an aircraft shortfall, thus increasing pressure on New Delhi to buy more Rafale fighters, beyond the 36 already contracted with Dassault.

New Delhi will now decide whether to restrict the FGFA project to buying 60-70 T-50 fighters off-the-shelf from Russia, or to go ahead, as earlier planned, with joint development and the manufacture of larger numbers of a customised fighter.

The FGFA project kicked off in October 2007 with an Inter Governmental Agreement (IGA) between New Delhi and Moscow. In December 2008, a General Contract stipulated work share and cost, and conditions under which the FGFA could be sold to other countries.

In December 2010, under a Preliminary Design Contract, each side paid $295 million (Rs 1,952 crore) to finalise the FGFA’s configuration and systems. Since June 2013, when this was concluded, negotiations have dragged on over the R&D contract.

Standing in the way is the IAF, which announced in October 2012 that it would buy only 144 FGFAs, instead of the 214 originally planned. On December 24, 2013, as reported by Business Standard (January 21, 2014, Russia can’t deliver on Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft: IAF) the IAF told the defence ministry the FGFA’s performance was below par. On January 15, 2014, at a MoD review meeting, the IAF said the FGFA’s engine was unreliable, its radar inadequate, its stealth features badly engineered, India’s work share too low, and the fighter’s price too high.

While the FGFA’s future hangs in the balance, that of another Indo-Russian joint development project --- the Multi-role Transport Aircraft (MTA) --- is almost certainly dead. For three years negotiations have remained deadlocked and there is little likelihood of change soon.

Speaking to Russian new agency, TASS, on October 29, prior to a visit to Russia, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar stated: “(W)ith the Multi-Role Transport Aircraft, there are serious issues needing clarification, let me be frank. There are some serious observations which need to be clarified and reviewed properly.”

Kamov-226T helicopters

The proposal to build 197 Kamov-226T light utility helicopters in India has moved quickly after Modi committed to Putin, during their last annual summit in January, that India would give Russia the contract.

Parrikar told TASS in October: “[Regarding] the project for joint production of Kamov Ka-226 helicopters. I hope to use my visit to have it inked on paper when the prime minister arrives. Also the purchase of S-400 missile systems. We anticipate these projects to be coordinated by next month.”

What remains to be decided is whether Russian Helicopters’ Indian partner will be Reliance Defence, or HAL. Both firms have lobbied hard, but the decision will be a political one.

The Kamov-226T is a 3.5 tonne, two-pilot, light helicopter that is specially modified with a new engine for India’s high-altitude operations along the Himalayan borders.

S-400 air defence missiles

As promised by Parrikar above, the vaunted S-400 missile system --- a long-range, mobile, surface-to-air missile system (M-SAM) that can shoot down incoming aircraft and several types of ballistic missiles --- could see a high profile announcement on Thursday.

On December 17, the defence ministry cleared the purchase of five S-400 units, which could be used to protect high-value targets from nuclear-tipped missiles --- like New Delhi or our strike formations attacking across the border. While the contract value would be negotiated, Reuters has placed it at $4.5 billion.

The S-400 Triumf (NATO designation: SA-21 Growler) can shoot down aircraft and missiles at ranges of 40-400 kilometres.

Submarine and frigates

India and Russia have negotiated since 2012 for leasing a second nuclear attack submarine (SSN), to supplement INS Chakra, the Akula II class SSN that the navy has leased for ten years for some $900 million (Rs 5,954 crore).

Navy sources say this negotiation is entangled in a larger package of naval systems, including the sale of three Krivak-III frigates of the Grigorivich-class (Project 1135.6) to India. The navy, which already operates six such frigates, is keen for three more, which are lying part-built by Yantar Shipyard in Russia.

Russia wants the frigates to be completed in Yantar Shipyard, but the defence ministry wants to build them under “Make in India”. The navy, aware that India’s frigate-building shipyards are already full to capacity, is keen on building in Russia.

Complicating this further is Russia’s wish to be awarded, without competitive bidding, India’s Project 75I contract to build six conventional submarines with air-independent propulsion (AIP). The defence ministry wants competitive tendering, and is also apprehensive that Russia has not yet mastered AIP technology.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Book Review: "JFK's Forgotten Crisis", by Bruce Riedel

Title    :          JFK’s Forgotten Crisis: Tibet, the CIA, and Sino-Indian War
Author:           Bruce Riedel
Publisher:       The Brookings Institution, Washington
Pages   :         231
Price    :          $30.67

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd Dec 15

Bruce Riedel is a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) veteran, who has advised the last four US presidents on South and West Asia. His riveting new book, JFK’s Forgotten Crisis: Tibet, the CIA, and Sino-Indian War, addresses America’s role, and that of President John F Kennedy, in Tibet’s resistance to China’s subjugation and the Sino-Indian War of 1962. Numerous books and articles have earlier recounted America’s support to the Tibetan uprising against China in the 1950s, and its full-hearted response to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s SOS as Chinese troops advanced through the North East Frontier Province (NEFA) towards the Assam plains. However Riedel is the first to weave together these multiple strands in the context of US Cold War policies, telling the story from Washington’s perspective.

This is the detailed story of how Kennedy and Nehru, despite the lack of chemistry between them, were induced by their democratic values and principles to come together in the face of China’s aggression. More than any author before him, Riedel marshals logic and evidence of Kennedy’s support to India in 1962 to convincingly argue that, had Beijing not decided to withdraw its forces from Indian territory in December 1962, Kennedy would have accepted Nehru’s request for the US Air Force to send fighter aircraft to defend Indian airspace, freeing the Indian Air Force to strike targets in Chinese territory. In so doing, Riedel presents an alternative answer to an oft-asked question: “Why did China withdraw from captured Indian territory in 1962?”

Riedel provides context and colour to what is already documented about that sombre period. It is known that on November 19, 1962, India’s darkest hour of the war, Kennedy decided to despatch Averell Harriman and a team of crisis managers to India to assess what help was needed. Riedel reminds us of the significance of sending Harriman, who he describes as “an icon of American diplomacy”. In a striking parallel, President Franklin Roosevelt had despatched Harriman to an embattled London in 1941, at the height of the Battle of Britain, to implement the lend-lease programme, which provided Britain the resources to continue fighting Germany. Harriman also coordinated the war effort with Stalin; and, in 1975, was chief negotiator with the North Vietnamese at the Paris peace talks. Riedel convinces with his conclusion: “Sending such a high-level diplomat as Harriman was an important expression of American resolve. So large was Harriman’s team that the US envoy in Delhi, John K Galbraith, lamented the “mission is so large that there doesn’t seem to be any way of arranging conferences with the Indians short of hiring a church.”

The bold argument that Kennedy, and other US allies, would have fought China alongside India is given credence by plans, formulated during Harriman’s visit, for an air defence exercise in India in 1963, which would see US, British, Canadian and Australian fighter and bomber pilots rehearsing the defence of Indian airspace. This exercise was actually conducted, just weeks before Kennedy’s tragic death.

Riedel details a fascinating account of how close Washington and New Delhi came close to what might even have developed into a military alliance. But fate conspired to stall that rapprochement. A five-year, $500 million (big bucks in those days!) military aid programme that Kennedy’s administration drew up was to be sealed at a National Security Council meeting in Washington on November 26, 1963. Four days before that meeting, Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. His successor, Lyndon B Johnson, was more susceptible to pressure from Pakistan against military aid to India. President Ayub Khan threatened to cut off US access to Peshawar air base, from where U-2 spy planes mounted missions over China. Even so, a meeting was scheduled in the White House on May 28, 1964 to approve the aid. A day before that, Nehru suddenly died. His successor, Lal Bahadur Shastri, continued negotiations, but then, in August 1964, signed a larger deal with the Soviet Union. US Ambassador to India, Chester Bowles, described that as “a lost opportunity” in Indo-American relations.

The 35-year slump in relations that followed has not prevented Washington and New Delhi from coming together again in the face of China’s rise. The author highlights the irony in the fact that Mao’s paranoia about US-India collusion in supporting the Tibetan rebels --- quite contrary to the facts --- brought the two closer together in 1962 than anyone would have believed possible.

Enlivening Riedel’s book are numerous insider tidbits about personalities and events. The briefing notes for Nehru’s visit to the US during Dwight D Eisenhower’s presidency mentioned that the Indian prime minister “liked filet mignon and enjoyed an occasional Scotch as long as it was all in private.” Indira Gandhi, it was noted, shared his culinary tastes. Allen Dulles --- Eisenhower and Kennedy’s CIA chief --- drew his fascination for the Great Game from Rudyard Kipling’s “Kim”, which was by his bedside when he died. Roosevelt House, the New Delhi residence of the US ambassador, was designed by Edward Durell Stone --- the US architect who also designed the main building of PINSTECH (Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology), which catalysed that country’s nuclear arsenal.

Riedel is on sure ground whilst recounting the diplomatic dance between Washington, New Delhi and Karachi (then Pakistan’s capital). But he is disappointingly misinformed on the historical backdrop of the Sino-India border dispute. Nor have the editors of the book spotted an annoying series of factual errors, which badly erode the author’s credibility. For example, he writes that China’s October 1962 attack “resulted in China’s occupation of 14,500 square miles of territory claimed by India in Kashmir called Aksai Chin…” In fact China was in possession of Aksai Chin even before the war, and had even built a highway through it. Like in the statement quoted above, Riedel repeatedly ignores the fact that Ladakh is quite separate from Kashmir, with both forming separate parts of the state of Jammu & Kashmir. That leads to jarring errors like his statement: “All of the territory that China acquired in the Sino-Indian War in 1962 was a part of Kashmir.”

Even more disconcerting is Riedel’s apparent belief that the boundary between Tibet and Jammu & Kashmir --- which he calls the Johnson Line --- was drawn in 1914, along with the McMahon Line in the east. In fact the Johnson Line (never a formal boundary) has its origins in 1865, almost half a century before the Simla Conference, where the McMahon Line was drawn. These would be embarrassing mistakes even for a novice. That a thirty-year Central Intelligence Agency official could make such glaring errors, and that editors could let them pass through to publication, are nothing short of astonishing. It is to be hoped that subsequent editions of this otherwise very readable book are free of these errors.