Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Reviving the army’s warrior cult

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, April 28th 2015

Not long ago, army officers were deeply proud to serve in elite units. The tougher the life, the more dangerous the mission, the more they stuck out their chests. When cadets at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun opted for an arm or service to join, few chose cushy lifestyles, safer assignments, bigger allowances, or promotion prospects. Most of us in my batch of 1979 signed up with combat units that had fought gallantly in the still-recent 1971 war. As officers we leapt at the chance to serve in combat zones. We didn’t feel superior to our fellow officers in peace areas, only sorry for them. Each of us was utterly certain that his own arm or service was absolutely the best. Steadfast infantrymen, flamboyant cavaliers, professionally hard-nosed gunners, engineers, signallers, resourceful logisticians---we all believed in our own nobility, without pooh-poohing others’ roles. Soldiers held up risk and hardship as a badge of honour, not as an accounting tool for better promotions. Sadly, that is no longer the case. Today, the issue of promotions is dividing the army.

A soldier who takes the field can legitimately demand that the army look after his family. He can demand good accommodation; high quality army schools to which his children are assured admission; adequate medical facilities; sympathetic attention to the travails of separated families; and, vitally for morale, the respect and affection of the populace. These are all justifiable expectations.

What he cannot justifiably demand is faster, easier promotions based on frequent field tenures. Yet, generals have prepared just such a specious “deprivation index”, and a string of infantry and artillery army chiefs have showered preferential promotion quotas on their former arms. The result is that an organisation once led by the most meritorious officers is increasingly led by the most deprived.

The defence ministry is now embroiled in a humiliating standoff over this issue. The Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) --- the military’s departmental tribunal --- had rightly struck down what it calls a “discriminatory” promotion policy that allows 60 per cent of infantry and artillery lieutenant colonels to be promoted to colonel, while other arms and services languish at 26 per cent. By appealing to the Supreme Court against the AFT verdict, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has backed regimental patronage instead of meritocracy.

That meritocracy has been insidiously undermined over decades, starting in the training academies. Traditionally the top five per cent of each graduating class, a “superblock” of 15-18 cadets, chose which unit to join, while other cadets were distributed among arms and services depending upon vacancies. Cadets competed fiercely to be commissioned into the unit of their choice. In the 1980s, the superblock was reduced to a wafer-thin 2-3 cadets, because too few toppers chose the infantry or artillery. Now chance, not choice, governs which arm or service most cadets will serve in. Years later many of those officers, being evaluated for promotion, discover that this arbitrary allocation reduced their prospects of becoming colonel from 60 per cent to 26 per cent.

This quota system has taken root up the hierarchy, most damagingly at the “general staff” level--brigadiers and generals responsible for shaping the army’s strategic vision.

All successful modern armies since Frederick the Great’s Prussian army in the late 19th century, have selected elite general staff based on ability. The general staff is expected to rise above regimental loyalties. However, India’s infantry and artillery generals, who dominate decision-making, instituted quotas to guarantee that their arms also dominate the general staff. They cornered a disproportionate share of vacancies at the crucial rank of colonel, and then extended this privilege to the ranks of brigadier and major general by reserving vacancies there too, on a pro-rata basis. It is this discriminatory “command exit model” of reserving colonel vacancies that was struck down by the AFT, and that is now before the Supreme Court.

The cabal of generals who rammed this model through speaks volumes. The army chief at the time was an artillery officer, General Deepak Kapoor, currently in the crosshairs of the Central Bureau of Investigation for his flat in the Adarsh Housing Society. His officer management chief (Military Secretary) was an infantry officer, Lieutenant General Avadhesh Prakash, who in 2011 was court martialled for the Sukhna land scam, stripped of his rank and medals and dismissed from service.

These discredited worthies knew that many infantry and artillery colonels who attain their rank through quotas couldn’t compete for promotion with counterparts from other arms and services who endure a gruelling selection process. Therefore, they abandoned the concept of a meritocratic general staff and distributed brigadier vacancies on a pro-rata basis, based on the number of colonels in each arm or service. To solidify this advantage, they also allocated vacancies in the Higher Command (HC) course and Higher Defence Management Course (HDMC), important qualifications for promotion to brigadier, on a pro-rata basis.

In 2008, Generals Kapoor and Prakash, convened a board of (mainly infantry) officers that, despite a strong dissenting note, extended pro-rata to the rank of major general. Strong opposition within the army partly blocked this move, but the generals switched tactics: since it is practically mandatory for a brigadier seeking promotion to attend the National Defence College (NDC), they allocated NDC vacancies on a pro rata basis. The Mandalisation of the army was complete.

To favour quotas over merit is to poison traditional soldierly values. Increasingly cynical officers now play the promotion game. As one infantry officer puts it: “To keep getting promoted, I must keep two things in mind: stay alive; and restrain myself from punching my CO (commanding officer)”. Calculating officers cultivate “godfathers”, rising stars from their own regiment, on whose personal staff they spend years of protected service. Others arrange postings under well-disposed commanders, who duly inflate the “annual confidential reports”, or ACRs, of their protégés. Across the army, commanders with glaring shortcomings are buying off subordinates with inflated ACRs. So puffed up is the grading today that any ACR below “outstanding” jeopardises an officer’s career. A “good” amounts to professional burial. High quality officers increasingly choose to quit, rather than compete at a disadvantage with inferior officers from a privileged service or under a godfather’s protection.

It is time for generals to recognise how badly quotas damage the army. Justifying promotions with a “deprivation index” or a “harsh service conditions” plea breeds a culture of victimisation that is the antithesis of the soldier’s creed. The infantry is forgetting that it needs no help. Few organisations anywhere are quite as formidable as an Indian infantry battalion—a truth recognised on battlefields and United Nations missions the world over. It remains true for the rank and file and junior leadership even today. It is a pity that senior officers, motivated by false loyalty, are replacing the bravura that conquered Siachen with a rather less inspiring attitude of deprivation.

Dassault rapped for poor ethical and anti-corruption monitoring

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, April 28th, 2015

Widely respected anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International, has ranked French company Dassault Aviation amongst the world’s least transparent defence companies, with the lowest monitoring of ethical violations and corruption.

India is set to buy 36 Rafale fighters from this company, on a single-vendor basis, with no price transparency, after an unexpected request from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on his visit to France this month.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar told Doordarshan on April 13 that Mr Modi made this request to bypass the reservations of a defence ministry committee, which remains unconvinced that Dassault Aviation quoted lower than its rival Eurofighter GmbH in a bid to supply India with 126 medium multi-role fighters.

Transparency International has ranked Dassault Aviation in “Band F”, the lowest grading, alongside 56 other companies like Pakistan Ordnance Factories, King Abdullah II Design and Development, and a raft of Chinese and Russian arms companies.

Transparency International says it evaluated each company based on 41 indicators, using “publicly available information relating to [companies’] ethics and anti-corruption programmes.” Companies with “Little or no” programme are placed in “Band F”.

Dassault Aviation has not responded to a request for comments.

Also with Dassault in “Band F” are two Indian companies --- Ordnance Factor Board (OFB) and Tatra Trucks. Both face on-going corruption investigations by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Transparency International also evaluated three other Indian defence companies. Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) is ranked in “Band D”, which means it only has “Limited” ethics and anti-corruption mechanisms.

Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML) and Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) are ranked even lower in “Band E”, which indicates they have “Very limited” ethics and anti-corruption programmes.

Just four defence companies out of the 163 evaluated by Transparency International are ranked in “Band A”, or those with “Extensive evidence” of ethics and anti-corruption programmes. All are American corporates: Lockheed Martin; Raytheon; Bechtel, and Fluor Corporation.

Interestingly, Finmeccanica --- which the CBI is investigating in India after Italian prosecutors arrested its chief executive in 2013 for allegedly paying bribes to sell the Indian Air Force (IAF) twelve AW 101 VVIP helicopters --- ranks highly in “Band B” as a company with “Good” ethics and anti-corruption mechanisms. The Italian courts have cleared Finmeccanica of wrongdoing; the CBI is continuing its probe but has failed to file a charge sheet so far.

Transparency International is a Berlin-based non-profit organisation that aims to “combat corruption and prevent criminal activities arising from corruption”.

Its latest report, released on Monday, “assesses the ethics and anti-corruption programmes of 163 defence companies from 47 countries using publicly available information.” Of these, 63 companies provided detailed internal information this year, almost double the number that did so in the last report in 2012.

Overall, Transparency International finds that “most large defence companies still show little evidence of ethics and anti-corruption programmes… However, many defence companies are increasingly addressing corruption risks.” 

Dhanush gun clears army trials, Ordnance Factories Board to build 114

The Dhanush 155 mm howitzer at Defexpo 2014 in New Delhi in February 2014

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, April 28th, 2015

The Indian Army’s most worrying operational gap --- that of field artillery guns to support infantry and armour in battle --- is gradually being filled. An Indian 155 millimetre, 45-calibre artillery gun called the Dhanush has cleared its field trials and is ready for manufacture in numbers.

Talking to Parliament’s consultative committee on Monday, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said “Dhanush has successfully met all technical parameters during the winter and summer trials. Dhanush incorporates many improved features than the guns [that] the Army is possessing at present”.

The Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) has built the Dhanush from manufacturing blueprints that Swedish company, Bofors, supplied India as part of the controversial 1986 purchase of 410 FH-77 howitzers. The OFB was going to build over a thousand of these howitzers in India, but allegations of kickbacks scuttled that plan; for years, OFB sat on the blueprints.

Now, it has not only figured out how to build these guns, but has upgraded these from the FH-77’s original 39-calibre to a more robust 45-calibre howitzer.

A higher calibre denotes a longer barrel and, consequently, a longer range. OFB officials say that upgrading the 39-calibre FH-77 into the 45-calibre Dhanush has increased the gun’s range from 27 kilometres to 38 kilometres, using enhanced range ammunition.

The OFB, it is learnt, will now receive an order for building 114 Dhanush guns, to equip 6 artillery regiments. If these guns perform to the army’s satisfaction, the order could go up to about 400 guns.

So far, the army is satisfied with the performance of the Dhanush during winter trials that were carried out in Sikkim and summer trials in Rajasthan last year.

Overall, the artillery consists of 264 regiments, many of them holding 105 and 130 millimetre guns. However, it has been decided that its basic gun will be 155 millimetres, so that their heavier shells can pulverize a piece of ground before infantry soldiers or tanks move to capture it, reducing casualties.

The artillery lobs shells from as far away as 20 kilometres, but has historically caused more battlefield casualties than any other arm.

With India having concluded no big artillery purchase since the 1980s, a range of tenders are now out for procuring modern artillery.

The purchase of 145 ultralight howitzers (ULH) from BAE Systems is being processed with the US government. With BAE Systems demanding close to $700 million (Rs 4,500 crore), the government has told parliament the price is too high.

Even so, the ULH is considered essential for the army’s new, but now-curtailed, mountain strike corps. Weighing only 4.2 tonnes (compared to the Dhanush’s 10 tonnes) the ULH can be transported rapidly by helicopters in the mountains.

Separately, the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) is partnering private firms like L&T, Bharat Forge and Tata Power SED in a Rs 700 crore project to build the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun (ATAG). This 155-millimetre, 52-calibre gun could have a planned range of 60 kilometres, while weighing just 12 tonnes.

In November, Parrikar sanctioned the purchase of 814 mounted gun systems (MGS) for an estimated Rs 15,750 crore. In this tender, Indian companies will establish joint ventures with foreign gun-makers.

To equip the artillery until the indigenous projects fructify, tenders have been floated in three more categories of 155 millimetre guns. These are for purchasing (a) 1,580 towed guns; (b) 100 tracked (self-propelled) guns; and (c) 180 wheeled (self-propelled) guns.

Towed guns are for regular use in plains and gentle mountains; tracked (self-propelled) guns are mounted in armoured vehicles to support tank formations; wheeled (self-propelled) guns are for fast-moving, non-armoured formations; The MGS is a regular 155-millimetre gun fitted onto a high mobility vehicle. This allows it to move faster and start firing quicker than a conventional towed gun.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

As Xi Jinping concludes Pakistan visit, the dollars do not obscure the questions

Xi Jinping addresses a joint session of parliament in "the house of his brother"

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 22nd Apr 15

China’s President Xi Jinping left Pakistan on Tuesday after a two-day state visit with the Nishan-e-Pakistan --- the Islamic Republic’s highest civilian honour --- pinned to his breast, having provided badly-needed infrastructure funding to a beleaguered and cash-strapped Pakistan.

Even so, the euphoria over the signing of more than 50 agreements during Xi’s visit, committing some $46 billion in Chinese funding for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, is tempered with apprehension.

Both sides know this 3000-kilometre passage from Kashgar in China’s restive Xinjiang Autonomous Region to Gwadar in Pakistan’s insurgency-affected Baluchistan, passes through these countries’ most chronically unstable areas.

Beijing fears for the security of its engineers and workers in Pakistan, several of whom have been killed in terrorist attacks, especially in Baluchistan. Earlier this decade Beijing had insisted on deploying People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers in the Northern Areas for safeguarding Chinese labour there. New Delhi had strongly protested the stationing of PLA troops on Indian-claimed territory.

With Islamabad eager to reassure Beijing about safety of its personnel, Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain told Xi in a one-on-one meeting on Tuesday that Pakistan would raise a 10,000-man security division dedicated to protecting Chinese workers in Pakistan.

According to Dawn newspaper, a major general would head this force, reporting directly to General Headquarters (GHQ), as Pakistan calls its army headquarters.

President Xi’s announcement of $46 billion in funding in Pakistan is the tip of the spear for Beijing’s so-called “Silk Road Economic Belt” project, which aims to extend Chinese infrastructure to South and Central Asia. First announced in Kazakhstan in 2013 and since renamed “One Belt, One Road”, this infrastructure development strategy has multiple aims.

At the security level, it aims to tamp down rising Islamist radicalism in Xinjiang, Pakistan and Afghanistan through economic development. Bringing development to Baluchistan is also expected to cool the decades-old insurgency there.

At the macro-economic level, extending infrastructure through Asia into Europe is expected to open up new markets to Chinese producers, whose domestic markets are stagnating in the face of overcapacity.

Finally, this provides China with a more remunerative use for its massive foreign currency reserves, much of which currently stagnates in low-yielding US treasury bonds. China’s foreign exchange reserves stand at $3.7 trillion, according to Beijing’s March-end figures.

Beijing dispenses this infrastructure funding through its so-called “policy banks” --- three government lenders that focus on financing infrastructure development in China and abroad. These are China Development Bank (CDG); Export-Import Bank of China (Ex-Im Bank); and Agricultural Development Bank of China.

The Financial Times quotes the Chinese financial website, Caixin, that China’s central bank has already disbursed $62 billion to two of these banks for the “One Belt, One Road” initiative. The CDB has received $32 billion in forex reserves, while Ex-Im Bank has received $30 billion.

China’s generous chequebook diplomacy has provided Pakistanis an opportunity to ridicule America, which has never come close to dispensing such largesse.

Even in arms supplies, Beijing has clearly overhauled Washington. Earlier this month, Washington notified the US Congress of its intention to sell Pakistan $952 million worth of defence equipment, including 15 AH-1Z attack helicopters and 1,000 fire-and-forget Hellfire missiles.

China, however, has bigger deals in the making. Beijing and Islamabad are in the final stages of negotiating the purchase of eight Chinese conventional submarines --- these could be either the Yuan-class Type 039A or Type 041; or the Qing-class Type 032. This $4-5 billion deal was expected to be signed during President Xi’s visit, but was eventually a notable omission.

Stationed in Gwadar with suitable reserves of spare parts and maintenance facilities and personnel, these submarines would allow the Pakistan Navy to support Chinese submarines of the same type whilst they operate in the Indian Ocean.

The authoritative Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) says Pakistan sourced 51 per cent of its arms imports from China during the period 2010-14. The US was in second place with 30 per cent, says SIPRI.

A significant part of China’s arms sales to Pakistan are accounted for by the JF-17 Thunder light fighter, which has been “co-developed” by both, but still has a large part supplied by China. President Xi’s flight was symbolically escorted by a detachment of eight JF-17s as he arrived in Pakistan and on his way out.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

INS Visakhapatanam shows growing Indian ability to build warships economically

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21st Apr 15

On Monday, eight months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi commissioned the first Project 15A guided missile destroyer, INS Kolkata, the first of its successor class vessels --- INS Visakhapatnam --- was launched into the water at Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL).

INS Visakhapatnam, the first of four stealthy destroyers coming up under Project 15B, began taking shape on January 23, 2013, when MDL started fashioning 2,800 tonnes of Indian-made warship steel into the warship’s hull. With this partly-build structure now floating in water, INS Visakhapatnam will be built up by 2017 into a 7,334-tonne behemoth. After trials, it will be commissioned in 2018 as India’s most heavily armed warship.

It will be joined in the fleet at two-year intervals by three successors: INS Paradip, INS Marmagoa and a fourth vessel, yet unnamed.

The most remarkable feature of these destroyers is not their 32 world-beating Indo-Israeli anti-ship-missile defences called the Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LR-SAM), or Barak 8; nor the arsenal of 16 Brahmos supersonic cruise missiles that can sink ships or strike land targets 295 kilometres away; nor the heavyweight torpedoes that can destroy enemy submarines 100 kilometres away.

The most remarkable feature of these warships is that, tonne-for-tonne, they are not just one of the world’s most heavily armed but also one of the cheapest.

India’s warship building edge

Displaces (tonnes)
Cost per tonne (US $)

INS Kolkata (Project 15A)
Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai
Guangzhou-class destroyer
Jiangnan Shipyard, China
INS Visakhapatnam (Project 15B)
Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai
Daring-class (Type-45) destroyer
BAE Systems, UK
South Korea
KDX-III Sejong destroyer
Hyundai, South Korea
USS Rafael Peralta (DDG-51) destroyer
Bath Iron Works, Maine, USA
Akizuki-class destroyer
Mitsubishi, Nagasaki, Japan
Project 21956 destroyer
Severnaya, Russia
Hobart-class destroyer

Underlining the benefits of designing and building combat platforms in the country, the four Project 15B warships will cost the navy Rs 29,348 crore, an average of Rs 7,337 crore per destroyer. Tipping the scales at an estimated 7,334 tonnes, INS Visakhapatnam will cost the navy just about Rs 1 crore per tonne, or $159,750 in 2014 prices.

The Project 15A destroyers are built even cheaper --- at $92,210 per tonne --- but the fall of the rupee and inflation in labour and materials cost have raised the price of their successors.

Only China’s Guangzhou class destroyers were built cheaper, at $146,870 per tonne in 2014 prices. However, as combat platforms, Guangzhou-class destroyers are not in the same class as INS Visakhapatnam. Their anti-missile defence consists of 48 Russian-origin SA-N-12 Grizzly surface-to-air missiles, which have ranges of under 40 kilometres, depending upon the target. The LR-SAMs on the Visakhapatnam-class, in contrast, shoot down incoming anti-ship missiles --- the most significant threat to surface warships --- at ranges out to 70 kilometres, and have a far better hit probability.

Similarly, the Brahmos anti-ship/anti-surface missile, which is both supersonic and has a range of 295 kilometres, is regarded as superior to the Guangzhou-class’ YJ-83 anti-ship missiles, which have ranges of about 200 kilometres.

The Daring-class destroyers, which spearhead the Royal Navy’s surface fleet and which the United Kingdom boasts are the finest air defence destroyers in the world, cost an estimated 193,650 per tonne to build.

Few would dispute the technological pre-eminence of the US Navy’s DDG-51 destroyers, of which USS Rafael Peralta is the newest. Boasting the Aegis Combat System for air defence, Harpoon anti-ship missiles and Tomahawk strategic land strike cruise missiles; these Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are the gold standard in multi-role capability. However, this capability comes at a prohibitive $205,000 per tonne, despite the economy of scale that comes from building about 100 of these warships.

Even more expensive is Japan’s Akizuki-class destroyer, which Mitsubishi is building for $232,370 per tonne; and Australia’s Hobart-class destroyer, designed by Spanish shipbuilder Navantia and built in Australia, which will cost the Royal Australian Navy an estimated $333,300 per tonne, more than double the cost of INS Visakhapatnam.

The capabilities that the navy has announced for Project 15B indicates the design of these warships --- rooted in the three destroyers of Project 15; and evolved into the three of Project 15A --- has continually improved. Although these vessels use the same power plant --- four Ukrainian M-36E Zorya gas turbines --- INS Visakhapatnam, which is significantly heavier at 7,334 tonnes than the 5,800-tonne Delhi-class destroyers of Project 15, can work up the same speed (30 knots, or 56 kmph).

The Visakhapatnam’s crew of 325 officers and sailors, include an air complement that operates the ship’s two helicopters. The destroyer carries 1,000 tonnes of fuel, which allows it to patrol the oceans for 8,000 nautical miles (15,000 km; 9,200 miles) at 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph). For entering an area that has undergone a nuclear, chemical or biological (NBC) strike, the Visakhapatnam has a “total atmosphere control system”, which cleans the air through a filter system.