Thursday, 30 June 2016

After long development path, BrahMos comes into its own

Air-launched version in testing; export interest from many countries

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 1st July 16

After entering modern warfare in 1944 as the V-1 and V-2 rockets that a desperate Germany fired into England towards the end of World War II, cruise missiles had a second coming as high-technology showpieces during the First Gulf War of 1990-91. The world watched television images of Tomahawk cruise missiles flying along the streets of Baghdad and precisely entering targeted buildings through open windows.

Yet, even the iconic Tomahawk cruise missile was effective mainly against incapable and weakened enemies like Iraq and Afghanistan. In contrast, countries with potent air defences and capable fighter aircraft can detect and shoot down cruise missiles, most of which fly at sub-sonic speeds, i.e. slower than sound, which travels at 1,224 kilometres per hour.

In contrast the Indo-Russian BrahMos, its name an intermingling of the Brahmaputra and Moskva rivers, is the world’s first cruise missile that flies at high supersonic speeds --- Mach 2.8, or 3,450 kilometres per hour. Since it hugs the ground, enemy radars can detect it only at short ranges. By the time they fire a missile to down it, the BrahMos is far away, perhaps already close to its target.

Last Saturday, India test-flew a potent, new version of the BrahMos --- a lightened missile that can be carried on, and fired from, the Sukhoi-30MKI fighter that is the backbone of the Indian Air Force (IAF) fleet. Transported on the Su-30MKI to the vicinity of the target, this overcomes the BrahMos’ one drawback --- a short range of just 295 kilometres.

This range restriction was imposed on the Indo-Russian missile by the provisions of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which prevents member countries from transferring missiles, including unmanned aerial vehicles, which can carry a 500-kilogramme payload to a distance of 300 kilometres.

Russia is an MTCR member-partner; and India, which became a member-partner on Monday, has voluntarily adhered to MTCR guidelines since September 2008. While this imposed a 300-kilometre limit on the BrahMos’ range, there are no technological difficulties in increasing it. Both countries wave away enquiries about plans to do so.

With the BrahMos having carefully kept out of the MTCR’s purview, plans to export it are afoot. In May, the BrahMos Aerospace spokesperson, Praveen Pathak, told TASS: “talks [for the export of BrahMos] with countries like UAE, Chile, South Africa and Vietnam are in advanced stages.” He said discussions were also under way with the Philippines, South Korea, Algeria, Greece, Malaysia, Thailand, Egypt, Singapore, Venezuela and Bulgaria.

Including India’s own requirements of the missile, DRDO officials indicated that eventually $15 billion worth of BrahMos could be built for various militaries. If that happens, economy of scale would bring down the current high cost of the system.

A long development path

New Delhi and Moscow hold up BrahMos as their most successful defence project. It germinated in 1992-93, when India and Russia --- then in dire economic straits --- conceived the idea of co-developing a supersonic cruise missile. Russia’s rocket design bureau, NPO Mashinostroyenia, would develop the supersonic propulsion, while the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) developed the guidance and navigation systems and the command and control elements.

Sceptical of the DRDO’s capabilities, Moscow sent a team to evaluate whether it could actually develop sophisticated guidance systems. After carefully inspecting three DRDO laboratories --- Hyderabad-based Research Centre Imarat (RCI), which develops navigation systems; Defence R&D Laboratory (DRDL), which develops missile systems; and the Dehradun-based Defence Electronics Applications Laboratory (DEAL), which develops communications technologies --- the Russians agreed to the work distribution.

Yet, for long, the arrangement remained secret. In 1995, then DRDO chief, APJ Abdul Kalam, signed a preliminary agreement with Russia, after which Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, personally approved the project. This led to the establishment of the BrahMos Aerospace joint venture (JV) in February 1998 through an Inter-Government Agreement (IGI) between India and Russia.

AK Antony, then defence minister, told parliament on May 9, 2007 that Brahmos Aerospace has a share capital of $250 million, with India holding 50.5 per cent and Russia the remaining 49.5 per cent. While this paid for designing, developing, producing and marketing the basic BrahMos, the share capital was enhanced later by $50 million for developing the aircraft-launched version. This means India has contributed about Rs 850 crore at current exchange rates. The DRDO has spent another Rs 370 crores on developing Brahmos systems.

The missile burst into public domain with its first test-flight in 2001, which was witnessed by then defence minister Jaswant Singh, and all the service chiefs. What had been developed was a two-stage cruise missile, fired from a canister. The first stage, a solid-propellant engine, rapidly boosts the missile to supersonic speed and then drops off. The second stage is a liquid-fuel, air-breathing ramjet engine that powers the missile for most of the journey to the target.

Quickly realising its potential as an anti-ship missile, the Indian Navy offered two frontline destroyers, INS Rajput and Ranvir, to be fitted with the BrahMos. The admirals insisted it be capable of evading enemy missiles through complex manoeuvres, including right angle turns at supersonic speed. Later, the navy demanded a “salvo capability”, in which warships carrying the BrahMos can fire eight missiles at an enemy flotilla, two seconds apart, each targeting a different enemy warship.

With this achieved, the navy demanded a demonstration of these capabilities. In March 2010, INS Ranvir fire a BrahMos missile at a decommissioned vessel, INS Meen, which sank quickly after the missile slammed into it above the waterline. Since then, a satisfied navy has included the Brahmos in the arsenal of every Indian capital warship being constructed, including three destroyers of Project 15A, four of Project 15B and seven frigates that will be built under Project 17A. Even Indian warships built in Russia are fitted with the BrahMos.

The army too came aboard, given its need for precision firepower in implementing its new “Cold Start” doctrine, also referred to as “proactive strategy”. Given the differences in targeting, range and flight path, the army version of the BrahMos required a different configuration and software. A more precise guidance system was included in a new BrahMos series called Block II. The army then asked for a “steep dive” version for mountains, in which the BrahMos, after flying over a high ridgeline, could dive steeply to strike a target in the valley several thousand feet below. The complex changes needed in guidance software have been implemented in the Block III version. A satisfied army has ordered three regiments of BrahMos.

“We are entirely customer-oriented. Any programme that is not oriented to the customer will not succeed”, said K Sivathanu Pillai, the former director of BrahMos Aerospace.

Following the navy and army lead, the IAF has asked for two BrahMos versions. One is a surface-to-surface version for striking ground targets that are important for the air battle --- enemy radar and communications networks, and forward air bases. A second, lighter version of the BrahMos, its weight pared to 2.5 tonnes, will be carried on the Sukhoi-30MKI for deeper-lying targets. This involved strengthening the fighter’s airframe to allow it to carry a 2.5 tonne payload, and to ensure the missile does not impeded the flow of vast quantities of air needed to keep the fighter’s Saturn-Lyulka AL-31FP engines going.

With the missile having already flown on the Su-30MKI, the next step is to test-fire it to ensure the missile separates cleanly from the aircraft, after which its booster will ignite.

Also developed and test-fired in 2013 is an underwater-launched BrahMos, which can be fired from a depth of 40-45 metres. In the future is a “hypersonic” version of the Brahmos, which will travel at Mach 5-6.

On February 7, 2014, testifying to their confidence in the BrahMos’ future, India and Russia signed a document indefinitely extending the venture.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Mullah Mansour killing highlights Pakistan’s narrowing options in Afghanistan

By Ajai Shukla
India in Transition (
Centre for Advanced Study of India (CASI)
University of Pennsylvania

Did Pakistan facilitate the May 21st killing of Mullah Muhammad Mansour because the Taliban chief refused to join peace talks with Kabul? Mansour’s obstinacy was, after all, preventing Islamabad from delivering on its promise to the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) to bring the Taliban to the dialog table. Was the drone strike that killed Mansour a wasted effort, given that his successor, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, is equally disinclined to barter away battlefield gains [1] in a political settlement that would leave most power with the “puppet regime” in Kabul? Given the Taliban’s stubbornness, did the Pentagon miss out on a Heaven-sent opportunity to strike the Taliban leadership when they met to choose his successor?

The answers to these questions, while necessarily speculative, are broadly discernible from the sequence in which events played out. Three days before the attack, the Taliban had boycotted peace talks with Kabul, organized in Islamabad by the QCG -- which included the US, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Since Mansour’s elevation as the Taliban chief last July, this had been his consistent response to dialogue proposals, mirroring the attitude of his predecessor, the Taliban’s first chief, Mullah Muhammad Omar who reportedly died in a Pakistani hospital in 2013 [2]. Embarrassed thus by Mansour, Pakistan’s foreign secretary, Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary, toned down Islamabad’s previously unqualified support to the insurgent group, declaring on Friday the 20th that Afghanistan needed to take stronger military action against the Taliban, which should also be offered “incentives” to come to the table [3]. The next day, Mansour was killed.

Islamabad’s response to the killing was unusually muted; especially compared to its voluble outrage after Osama bin Laden’s killing in 2011. On Saturday, May 21st, soon after the Pentagon announced the attack, a pro forma statement from Islamabad regretted the “airspace violation”. On Sunday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif issued a mild reproof from London. [4] On Monday, America’s ambassador to Pakistan, David Hale, was called in to the foreign ministry office in Islamabad and handed a demarche against the “violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.” [5] The same day, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan criticized the drone strike as “totally illegal, not acceptable and against the sovereignty and integrity of the country” [6]. This relatively strong condemnation placated conservative segments of the populace. Yet, significantly, not until Thursday did the most powerful man in the land, army chief General Raheel Sharif, break his silence, asking Hale to desist from unilateral actions. [7]

Few have taken Pakistan’s protestations of non-involvement in Mansour’s killing at face value. The skeptics include Indian policymakers, whose bleak assessments of Pakistani double-dealing in Afghanistan have proven right over the years. New Delhi pundits are certain that the Pakistan Army (which controls policy on four areas: Afghanistan, India, the US relationship and “strategic assets”, which includes the nuclear arsenal and jihadi groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba) sacrificed Mansour to signal to other Taliban factions, and to the next Taliban chief, that bucking the Pakistan Army, and its powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), would incur a heavy cost. Simultaneously, by denying any role in his killing, Pakistan could continue playing good cop to America’s bad cop, flavoring its leverage over the Taliban with a subtle touch of menace.

Pakistan’s obsession with Afghanistan stems from its conviction that India seeks influence in Kabul to “outflank” Pakistan and engage it on two fronts. This stymies Islamabad’s vaguely defined notion of “strategic depth”, in which the military relies on Afghan territory to compensate during wartime for Pakistan’s limited geographic depth. Pakistani analysts have also rationalized the need for influence and territorial access in Afghanistan in terms of alternative havens for jihadi groups; and, incredibly, even for housing nuclear weapons beyond the range of Indian strike aircraft. A former Pakistan military intelligence and ISI chief, Lieutenant General Asad Durrani writes: “Strategic depth is a sound concept. All countries strive to gain and retain it. It is not merely a geographical or spatial notion, but has many dimensions: military, economic, demographic, social and political”. [8]

The Taliban with influence in Kabul is central to Islamabad’s project for strategic depth in Afghanistan, given that Pakistan is widely reviled amongst other groups in that country as a domineering neighbor. Even the Taliban is by no means an unquestioning proxy [9], preferring to follow its own interests rather than those of Islamabad. Yet, Pakistan realistically calculates that a Taliban toehold in Kabul is its best shot at retaining leverage and serving as a check on India, which is as popular across Afghanistan as Pakistan is reviled, particularly in the north.

For this, Pakistan has translated its influence over the Taliban leadership and the Haqqani Network into membership of the QCG, from where it could influence the formation of a convenient post-conflict government in Afghanistan [10]. Pakistan’s National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz told a Washington audience in March: "We have some influence on them because their leadership is in Pakistan, and they get some medical facilities, their families are here. So we can use those levers to pressurize them, to say, 'come to the table'." [11] Islamabad’s undisguised opportunism suited everyone in the QCG: Kabul desperately wants a settlement with the Taliban; Beijing is backing close ally, Pakistan, to create the post-conflict stability in which China could economically exploit Afghanistan; and Washington hopes the Taliban’s inclusion in a broad-based government would provide a fig leaf of respectability to its withdrawal from Afghanistan. The 9,800 US soldiers currently in Afghanistan need to be drawn down to 5,500 by the start of 2017.

This applecart was upset by the Taliban’s flat refusal to join peace talks with Kabul, jeopardizing Pakistan’s place in the QCG, as also its game plan for Afghanistan. Even if the Pakistan military did not actually pull the trigger on Mullah Mansour, the khaki-clad generals in Rawalpindi who Mansour was defying would have shed few tears.

The question of who actually killed Mansour has three possible answers. First, it could have been a unilateral American attack, riding on the experience gained during years of armed drone operations that have decimated the jihadi leadership in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The Mansour strike occurred in neighboring Baluchistan that, like FATA, would have very thin air defenses, given that the bulk of Pakistan’s assets guard against pre-emptive strikes by India on the eastern front.

The second possibility is a fully Pakistani military operation. That would have required the US to supply Pakistan the American platforms and systems needed for unmanned strikes --- unlikely, given the current trust deficit. Furthermore, Washington knows maintaining security is difficult in the leaky Pakistani system.

The most likely possibility is a joint US-Pakistani operation. Unlike the bin Laden operation, this time American and Pakistani interests strongly converged. Both needed to send the Taliban leadership a message --- comply, or die. Pakistani ground intelligence would have helped place the crosshairs of an American drone on Mansour, since the CIA has no ground intelligence network in Baluchistan of the kind it painstakingly developed in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and FATA.

Mansour’s killing underlines that the Taliban is not so much a Pakistani proxy as an independent player guided by its own organizational interests. Proving many assessments incorrect, recent Taliban statements and actions (e.g. Akhundzada’s defiant rejection of talks) suggest that most Taliban leaders still see continued battle as the route to power in Kabul, rather than negotiating with a depleting enemy. This is not accepted by US policymakers, who allowed the Taliban factions to meet unharmed, to select a new leader, who would inevitably be as recalcitrant as the last. It was an opportunity lost.

[1] Reuters,
[2] BBC,
[3] Interview to Reuters,
[4] Dawn,
[5] New York Times,
[6] The Guardian,
[7] Dawn,
[8] Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi:
[9] Ajai Shukla, Time to Talk to the Taliban?
[10] The New Yorker,
[11] BBC:

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Brahmos missile flies on Sukhoi-30, IAF moves towards deadly new capability

A Sukhoi-30MKI being integrated with a Brahmos missile (in foreground) at HAL Nashik

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th June 16

With the successful test flight on Saturday of a Sukhoi-30MKI fighter fitted with a Brahmos cruise missile, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has moved closer to a potent new capability.

When the Indo-Russian Brahmos is operationalized on the Su-30MKI, IAF pilots would no longer have to fly deep into heavily defended airspace to strike enemy fighter bases, or targets like terrorist camps, nuclear installations and military headquarters. Instead, they can launch a Brahmos from as far away as 295 kilometres, and turn back to safety while the missile flies on to do the destruction.

Business Standard learns the IAF will modify at least 40 Su-30MKI fighters to carry the Brahmos missile.

Air-launched land-attack missiles are not new, nor are cruise missiles like the vaunted US Tomahawk missile, that can be launched from thousands of kilometres away. What makes the Brahmos-Su-30MKI combination lethal is the speed with which it strikes --- the aircraft flies well above Mach 2, and the missile flies at Mach 2.8, giving enemy air defences little chance to detect and shoot them down before they strike the target.

Besides eliminating the need for taking a human pilot over heavily defended targets, the Brahmos has also proven to be a highly accurate missile. For the IAF, getting Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) --- which builds the Su-30MKI under licence at Nashik --- to integrate the aircraft with missile has been a priority.

On instructions from Air Headquarters, Sukhoi (in Russia) and HAL (in India) independently conducted feasibility studies. After the IAF determined that HAL had evolved the simpler, most manageable, design, it placed an order on HAL in January 2014 to integrate the Brahmos onto the Su-30MKI.

“It is a perfect example of ‘Make in India’ and an engineering marvel in aviation history of India. It proves that when all agencies come together with one mission, there is nothing like impossible”, declared the HAL chief, T Suvarna Raju, after the flight test today.

Business Standard was granted exclusive access to the Brahmos upgrade, while HAL was carrying it out at a facility called the Aircraft Upgrade R&D Centre (AURDC) in Nashik.

The AURDC had earlier upgraded the MiG-27 and MiG-21 fighters, partnering a Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) laboratory called the Defence Avionics Research Agency (DARE). Along with DARE, the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, also played a part in the Brahmos upgrade.

A key challenge was to strengthen the Su-30MKI airframe, particularly its underbelly weapons station, to carry the huge Brahmos missile (8 metres long, 0.7 metres in diameter, and 2560 kilogrammes in weight).

Since the Brahmos protrudes beyond the Su-30MKI’s air intakes, it was imperative to ascertain that it did not impede the flow of air into the fighter’s engines. This was achieved through computational fluid dynamics modeling.

Meanwhile DARE modified the pilots’ digital cockpit display, creating a new “page” that the pilots would use while launching the Brahmos.

Having established that the Su-30MKI can carry the Brahmos in flight, the IAF will now carry out flight-testing to determine the penalty such a bulky external load imposes on flight parameters like speed and turn performance.

After that, the IAF will actually fire the Brahmos from the aircraft, ensuring that the missile separates from the fighter smoothly. This phase of testing will also check how accurately the Brahmos hits its target.

The Su-30MKI is already a highly modified aircraft, with HAL having carried out more than 40 modifications to the fighter originally delivered by Russia. It is expected that countries like Malaysia, which fly a similar version of the Su-30, could also seek the Brahmos capability. 

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

New Delhi plans counter-attack against Beijing

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 22nd June 16

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is preparing to leave for a Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) plenary meeting in South Korea on June 23-24, for a last-ditch attempt to gain India membership of that body. Meanwhile, an international arbitration court is finalizing a ruling that would allow New Delhi to strike back at Beijing, if it continues to oppose Indian membership.

Within days, the United Nations’ Permanent Court of Arbitration, located in The Hague, is likely to rule against China in a case filed by the Philippines in 2013. Manila has challenged Beijing’s militant claim over much of the South China Sea. A ruling against China would give New Delhi the opportunity to directly criticize Beijing.

China has claimed the UN court does not enjoy jurisdiction on this issue, which it says should be resolved through bilateral talks. It also claims that 60 countries, including India, support this position. So far, just seven countries have confirmed support to China. India has withheld comment, a restraint it would be in a position to abandon.

While never having criticized China directly, New Delhi has demanded “freedom of navigation” in the western Pacific, especially the South China Sea. Earlier this year, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar spoke at the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus, forthrightly demanding that “freedom of navigation” be respected in these waters. Parrikar struck the same note at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in May. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his speech to the US Congress, went so far as to suggest a “US-India partnership [to] anchor peace and stability from Asia to Africa, and from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific.”

The Philippines has taken before the UN arbitration court competing claims by six countries --- China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines --- in a 3.5 million square kilometer stretch of ocean, stretching from Taiwan to Singapore. China has the most expansive claim, expressed through the so-called “Nine-Dash Line” that it bases on historical domination dating back 2,000 years.

The multiple claims centre on two island chains --- the Paracel and Spratly islands --- and rocky outcrops and shoals near the Philippines called the Scarborough Shoal.

These areas are believed to hold abundant natural resources, including oil, natural gas, minerals and fishing grounds. Half the world’s trade passes through shipping lanes in this region.

Manila has appealed to the United Nations court that China’s claim violates the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which allocates each country an “exclusive economic zone” (EEZ) within 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) of its coastline. China claims significantly more.

With each claimant country vigorously pursuing its claims, the region has been heavily militarized, most of all by China. Besides the People’s Liberation Army (Navy) and a well-trained and equipped Coast Guard, Beijing provides its fishermen military training for decades, according to numerous press reports from the region.

Meanwhile, the United States, which has separate treaties with Japan and South Korea and has instituted a “rebalance to the Asia-Pacific” to bolster its military presence in the region, has declared its intention to station fighter aircraft in the Philippines.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

American patience is stretched

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21st June 16

Both Indian and American media gushed over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech to the United States Congress last fortnight. There was potent symbolism in his invocation of American soldiers who had fought and died abroad “to protect the torch of liberty”, just as Indian soldiers had “fallen in distant battlefields for the same ideals”. There was also a powerful message in Mr Modi’s statement that “our relationship has overcome the hesitations of history” and that America is “an indispensable partner.” He even sent out a message to Beijing by declaring that “In Asia, the absence of an agreed security architecture creates uncertainty” and that “A strong US-India partnership can anchor peace and stability from Asia to Africa, and from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific.” But words, even those of Mr Modi, are only a limited substitute for action.

A few days later, one of the people who had listened to Mr Modi’s speech, displayed his impatience by declining to back an India-specific amendment, the “Advancing US-India Defense Cooperation Act”, which requires the American president to “formalize India’s status as a major partner of the United States.” Introduced by senate heavyweights that included Senator John McCain and the co-chairs of the India Caucus, Mark Warner and John Cornyn, this amendment is a companion to an almost identical document, entitled “US India Defense Technology and Partnership Act”, that the House of Representatives, the lower house of Congress, had already passed. The plan was to tag this amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), to save the India clause from the fate of most bills introduced in the bitterly divided US Congress --- which is to stall amidst acrimony, and eventually fade away into oblivion.

However, the irate Senator Bob Corker, who chairs the powerful Foreign Relations Committee, was not willing to let the bill go through Senate. Corker is amongst a growing number of American Congressmen who believes New Delhi continues to spurn Washington’s outreach to India since 2005. These legislators ask: “What has India done so far in response to the US?” Corker also happens to be an active campaigner for ending “modern day slavery”, or the trafficking and exploitation of people from places like Nepal for exploitation as sex workers or domestic servants --- in which India does not look good. So Corker made it clear that on the India amendment to the NDAA, which had a substantial foreign relations component, he would not waive his jurisdiction as the Foreign Relations Committee chief, even though the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee chief had done so. As it turned out, Corker’s opposition was not needed to scuttle the India amendment. Other Senate leaders decided, at a particular stage of discussion, that no more amendments would be passed. So, along with about a hundred other amendments, the India amendment too was set aside. The Indian media, predictably, went to town again. Some sections saw this as a snub to Modi, while anti-US sections tut-tutted about how foolish it was to trust the Americans.

The India amendment will be discussed further and may yet be passed. However, we would be unwise to ignore the building resentment in the US Congress amongst legislators who believe India is freeriding on the defence partnership. New Delhi seems to assume that America’s outstretched hand to India will remain outstretched forever, while we debate at leisure about whether Uncle Sam deserves our trust and friendship.

To be sure, this Indian insensitivity is not just directed at America. Even as New Delhi keeps Washington dangling, Indian diplomats and bureaucrats deal just as disdainfully with Moscow, Paris, London and other capitals. Ironically sensitivity and consideration seems reserved for India’s adversaries, with Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj explaining carefully on Sunday that Beijing was not really opposing India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG); it is only linking India’s NSG membership with that of Pakistan because of its concern for procedure and due process.

Noting such blows to Indian interests, and China’s increasingly undisguised support for Pakistan, Washington wonders what it will take for New Delhi to take a tougher stance against Beijing. US policymakers acknowledge preliminary signs of a stronger Indian policy. A Pentagon official cites Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s “forward leaning” statement (code for critical of China) on the Asia-Pacific at the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM+). This column took note last fortnight of Mr Parrikar’s relatively forthright comments at the Shangri-La dialogue in Singapore last month. Mr Modi’s speech to US Congress also contained statements implicitly critical of China that would have been welcomed in Washington. But this is too little, too late, and patience is running out in Washington. US legislators and policymakers are watching closely for New Delhi’s reaction to the impending verdict of a UN arbitration court on the maritime dispute in the South China Sea between the Philippines and China. The UN court is widely expected to rule in favour of Manila, providing an opportunity for New Delhi --- which normally supports UN bodies --- to speak out against Beijing. China has claimed that sixty countries, including India, supports Beijing’s position that the UN body has no jurisdiction over a bilateral dispute. Only eight of those countries --- which include Vanatu, Togo and Lesotho --- have confirmed supporting the Chinese position. Delhi is one of the countries that has neither confirmed, nor denied, Beijing’s assertion on its behalf.

Also galling to Washington is India’s continued foot-shuffling on signing the three “foundational agreements” for defence cooperation --- a Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) for easy accounting of cross-servicing of defence units; the Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) for safeguarding cutting edge American-developed communications equipment and a Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for exchanging geospatial (or mapping) data. After years on the back burner, this has come alive again, and Mr Modi undertook during his visit to Washington to sign an LSA. To detoxify the agreement, which many had unfairly criticized as an infringement of India’s sovereignty, Washington proposed it be called a Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). While this will now be signed, BECA should follow, since it contains little that New Delhi can object to, while providing Indian forces access to American maps and data --- which proved extremely useful when the two countries’ militaries conducted relief operations together in Nepal after a massive earthquake. That leaves CISMOA, which is a major roadblock to realizing the operational potential of valuable defence platforms --- like the C-130J Super Hercules special forces transporter; and the P-8I Poseidon maritime mission aircraft --- that India has already paid billions of dollars for. True, CISMOA entails intrusive provisions, such as the stationing of US inspectors alongside CISMOA-covered equipment; and that too at Indian expense. However, if New Delhi and the Indian military are comfortable with stationing US military equipment, distrusting an American inspector amounts to shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Mr Modi declared before the US Congress:, “the constraints of the past are behind us… and the foundations of the future are firmly in place”. It is time New Delhi focused on the present as well.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Boost for “Made in India”, HAL demonstrates new trainer aircraft to Parrikar

(Photo credit: Rana, Aeronautical Development Agency)

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 17th Jun 16

Emphatically underlining its capability to design and fly aircraft, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) staged the “inaugural” flight of its Hindustan Turbo Trainer – 40 (HTT-40) before Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on Friday.

In doing so, HAL has conclusively made its point against a skeptical Indian Air Force (IAF), which opposed the HTT-40 project, blocked funding, and imported an expensive Swiss trainer, the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II, rather than backing the indigenous HTT-40.

“There is no need for [the HTT-40 trainer]”, IAF boss, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, said dismissively at the Aero India show in February 2013. “We have the Pilatus PC-7. It’s a proven aircraft. The project HAL plans is from scratch. Our indications are that the cost will be too high. There is no need for all this.”

HAL came back punching. Former chairman, RK Tyagi, and the current boss, T Suvarna Raju, threw their weight behind the trainer project and committed Rs 350 crore of internal HAL funds to the development project. A team of young, talented HAL designers worked without IAF assistance to bring the aircraft to flight.

On Friday, as Parrikar watched the HTT-40 smoothly take off and circle the HAL airfield in Bengaluru, his own support to the indigenous project, and that of his predecessor, AK Antony, were vindicated.

Congratulated the HAL designers, Parrikar said: “The young team has taken a calculated risk and they have flown the aircraft within one year and kept their assurance. The indigenous content on HTT-40 is close to 80 per cent. Almost 50 per cent of the components on HTT-40 are manufactured by private players of the Indian aerospace ecosystem. Here, the role of private players and MSMEs has been significant in the production of parts. The IAF is positive in all these developments”.

Preceding this “inaugural flight”, the HTT-40 had already made its first flight on May 31. Since then, test pilots have expanded its flight envelope, to clear it for flying at 300 kilometres per hour and for 4-G turns. It has validated its glide tests (flying without engines), instrument landing, and demonstrated its ability to land in heavy rain.

Said HAL chairman, Suvarna Raju today: “The project will now go in full throttle as we aim to get the aircraft certified in 2018. Towards this, HAL will be manufacturing three prototypes and two static test specimens”. It is remarkable feat that the aircraft in its inaugural flight carried out low speed pass, a series of turns, high speed pass and short-landing using reverse thrust which is a unique feature available on this engine-propeller combination.”

The HTT-40 is a propeller-driven, turbo-prop aircraft for “Stage-1” training of rookie pilots, learning to fly their first aircraft. After 80 hours of basic training on the HTT-40, pilots move on to “Stage-2” training on the HAL-built Kiran Mark II jet trainer. Those selected to fly fighter aircraft move on to “Stage-3” training on the Hawk advanced jet trainer (AJT), after which they graduate to frontline fighters in the IAF’s combat squadrons.

The IAF has calculated it needs 181 basic trainer aircraft. It has already bought 75 Pilatus PC-7 Mark II trainers and the purchase of another 38 is being processed. That leaves space for 68 HTT-40s in IAF training schools.

For HAL, the challenge now is to certify the trainer by 2018, putting it through a challenging regimen of stall and spin tests.

After that, HAL projects it will build the first two HTT-40 trainers in 2018, eight in 2019, and reach its capacity of 20 per year from 2020 onwards.

The advanced systems in the HTT-40 include a pressurised cockpit (which allows flight at high altitudes), “zero-zero” ejection seats (which allow ejection even from a static aircraft), and a state-of-the-art cockpit display with “in-flight simulation” that permits flight instructors to electronically simulate various system failures, allowing the rookie pilot to handle the “emergency”. 

Video of inaugural flight of the HTT-40 trainer

As Broadsword had reported on May 30th, the first flight on the HTT-40 took place on May 31st. Since then, the trainer has expanded its flight envelope, prior to demonstrating it before Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar today, on June 17th, 2016

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

From tackling terror to NSG inclusion, Modi-Obama make headway on range of issues

By Ajai Shukla
Philadelphia, US
Business Standard, 8th May 2016

India and US to be “priority partners” in the Asia-Pacific
Text finalised of logistics agreement (LEMOA)
Additional defence agreements like CISMOA possible
High technology sharing with “major defence partner” India
Additional projects to be taken up under DTTI
US cooperation for designing indigenous aircraft carrier
India to assist in repatriating WWII US pilots’ remains
Counter terrorism: arrangement for sharing information
US support for India’s entry into global non-proliferation agreements, most immediately Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)
US finance for six nuclear power projects; contracts by 2017

After Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s discussion on Tuesday with US President Barack Obama in Washington, a joint statement described what it billed as their “third major bilateral summit”, after earlier meetings in September 2014 and January 2015.

The statement noted a new military logistics agreement, made common cause in the South China Sea, revealed growing American involvement in helping India build an indigenous aircraft carrier, and announced additional co-development projects for defence equipment. There is a new agreement for sharing terrorist-related information. India will be buying six 1000MW nuclear power plants from Toshiba-Westinghouse, with the contract to be signed in 2017. And Washington has thrown its full weight behind India’s candidature for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

Asia-Pacific cooperation

US officials privately lament New Delhi’s poor follow-up of strategic agreements. This joint statement pins India down to specific action, announcing “a roadmap for cooperation under the 2015 U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region, which will serve as a guide for collaboration in the years to come.”

In a subtly-worded statement that takes the US-India partnership beyond the 2014 Vision Statement and 2015 Declaration of Friendship, Modi and Obama “resolved that the United States and India should look to each other as priority partners in the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean region.”

The leaders also welcomed last month’s inaugural meeting of the US-India Maritime Security Dialogue, which was instituted in April during US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s visit to New Delhi.

In an indicator last week that New Delhi was shifting closer to Washington in its confrontation with China in the South China Sea, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, had hardened his tone against China’s unilateralism and bellicosity.

The long expected announcement about a US-India logistic agreement duly came, with the statement noting “the finalization of the text of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA).” The actual signing will take place shortly at a lower official level.

Washington will be delighted with an indication that New Delhi is open to other agreements, such as the Communication and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement, which it has so far resisted. The statement noted that Modi and Obama “expressed their desire to explore agreements which would facilitate further expansion of bilateral defense cooperation in practical ways.”

Defence technology

Washington has promised to ease the transfer of defence technology to India, a pledge it has made earlier in less explicit terms. The joint statement says: “United States hereby recognizes India as a Major Defense Partner… The United States will continue to work toward facilitating technology sharing with India to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners.”

Without mentioning specifics, Modi and Obama said they had “reached an understanding under which India would receive license-free access to a wide range of dual-use technologies, in conjunction with steps that India has committed to take to advance its export control objectives.”

The statement also welcomes “the establishment of new DTTI [Defence Technology and Trade Initiative] working groups to include agreed items covering Naval Systems, Air Systems and other Weapons Systems.” During Obama’s 2015 visit to India, four “pathfinder projects” were announced for co-developing systems, but these have made little headway. It remains unclear what the new projects are, or how they will be structured.

There are clear indications that the Indian Navy has approached Washington for assistance in building its second indigenous aircraft carrier. The joint statement “announced the finalization of the text of an Information Exchange Annex under the Joint Working Group on Aircraft Carrier Technology Cooperation.”

In another announcement that will be welcomed in America, Modi told Obama he would support the location and repatriation of bodies of World War II US pilots who crashed in the Eastern Himalayas while flying supplies from Assam for Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang forces fighting the Japanese in China. During Carter’s visit to Delhi in April, one pilot’s remains were despatched to the US.


Taking the already close counter-terrorism cooperation forward, Modi and Obama “applauded the finalisation of “an arrangement to facilitate the sharing of terrorist screening information.”

The joint statement also called for Pakistan to prosecute those behind the 2008 Mumbai and 2016 Pathankot terrorist attacks.

India’s acceptance into NSG, MTCR

Highlighting Washington’s strong support for India’s entry into the four global non-proliferation agreements, the joint statement looked forward to “India’s imminent entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime.” Further, the US “re-affirmed its support for India’s early membership of the Australia Group and Wassenaar Arrangement.”

The statement said: “President Obama welcomed India’s application to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), and re-affirmed that India is ready for membership. The United States called on NSG Participating Governments to support India’s application when it comes up at the NSG Plenary later this month.”

Modi is making a last-ditch attempt on his on-going five-country tour to marshal support for India’s membership of the NSG from two reluctant members: Mexico and Switzerland. At the end of his visit to Berne, Switzerland announced its support. If Mexico too drops its resistance when Modi visits on Thursday, Obama would urge China to not be the lone objector.

On UN reform the statement affirmed support “for a reformed UN Security Council with India as a permanent member… The leaders are committed to continued engagement on Security Council reform in the UN Intergovernmental Negotiations (IGN on Security Council Reform.”

Nuclear power generation

Billed as a clean energy project that would fulfil “the promise of the U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement”, Modi and Obama “welcomed the start of preparatory work on site in India for six AP 1000 reactors to be built by Westinghouse and noted the intention of India and the U.S. Export-Import Bank to work together toward a competitive financing package for the project.”

The statement referred to “the announcement by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd and Westinghouse that engineering and site design work will begin immediately and the two sides will work toward finalizing the contractual arrangements by June 2017.”

Stating that the US “supports the Government of India’s ambitious national goals to install 175 GW of renewable power which includes 100 GW from solar power,” the joint statement said the two countries would jointly launch an initiative for off-grid solar energy at the founding conference of the International Solar Alliance in India in September.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Mr Modi’s Washington agenda

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 7th June 16

On Saturday, in the lead-up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s on-going visit to the United States, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar spoke out in measured terms against China’s aggressive unilateralism in the South China Sea. Addressing the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Parrikar abandoned the timidity with which Indian officials speak about China, and called for “the parties to these disputes [in the South China Sea] to renounce the threat or use of force against other states.”

American observers often misread the studied distance New Delhi maintains from US actions and comments on the South China Sea, to conclude that India does not have the stomach to stand up for regional rights. Mr Parrikar himself has rebutted over-enthusiastic comments from senior American officials --- including the US Pacific Command (USPACOM) chief, Admiral Harry Harris Jr, and the US envoy to India, Rich Verma --- about joint patrolling by the US and Indian navies. Yet, even at this moment, an Indian flotilla with three frontline warships is sailing the South China and East China Seas, visiting ports in Vietnam, the Philippines, South Korea, Japan, Russia and Malaysia.

Meanwhile, in Singapore, Mr Parrikar pointed to India’s own interests in retaining freedom of navigation in the waters of the western Pacific, through which more than half of India’s maritime trade passes. He said: “While we do not take a position on territorial disputes, which should be resolved peacefully without the threat or use of force, we firmly uphold freedom of navigation and over-flight in accordance with international law, in particular the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

Voicing the concern of regional countries at Beijing’s belligerent rhetoric and inflated maritime claims, represented by its unilaterally drawn “Nine-Dash Line” that claims much of the South China Sea as China’s historical waters, Mr Parrikar stated: “While no single region has a monopoly on nationalist rhetoric, we need to pay special attention to its linkages with territorial disputes and alternate readings of history in this part of the globe.” Even without joint patrolling, this brings New Delhi’s stated position in this region pretty much congruent with Washington’s.

Mr Parrikar also backed the ASEAN-created, multilateral security architecture to maintain regional harmony, although these mechanisms are distrusted by China, which prefers to bully smaller countries in bilateral arrangements, rather than being outnumbered in a multilateral framework. Yet, Parrikar supported multilateralism, stating: “We have a foundation of regional and sub-regional arrangements to build upon. Bilateral dialogue and confidence building can usefully supplement these regional and sub-regional mechanisms. ASEAN has built several mechanisms, which can play a central part in the regional security framework.”

Yet, Mr Parrikar also served the US a reminder that, despite Washington’s and New Delhi’s common interests in south-west Asia; India’s core concerns include violent conflict in West Asia, and Afghanistan’s stability that is being relentlessly undermined by Pakistan. While the Indian defence minister did not say so, New Delhi deeply resents American diplomatic and military support to Pakistan, which allows Islamabad to leverage its support for the Taliban to keep India out of a substantive role in shaping a post-conflict regime in Afghanistan.

This dichotomy --- US-India convergence in south-east Asia, and divergence in south and west Asia --- will form the geopolitical backdrop to Mr Modi’s engagement with President Barack Obama on Tuesday and Wednesday in Washington. Even so, the US administration may be already re-evaluating its unquestioning support to Islamabad. Last month’s killing of Taliban chief Mullah Muhammad Mansour, in a drone strike in Baluchistan suggested that Pakistan might find it harder to string along Washington indefinitely. The blocking of funding by the US Congress for the sale to Pakistan of eight F-16 fighters, and the passage of the “US India Defense Technology and Partnership Act” in the House of Representatives underline that American lawmakers have lost patience with Islamabad and better understand the potential of partnering with India. This realisation will be inevitably reinforced with a predictably rousing Modi speech to a joint sitting of the US Congress. That Americans of Indian origin constitute a potent political lobby became clear in New York in 2014, during Mr Modi’s jamboree at Madison Square Garden.  

While the defence partnership is loaded with the weight of expectations, there is not much on the table in terms of deliverables. India may be formally associated with the US Central Command (USCENTCOM), in addition to the Hawaii-based USPACOM, which currently coordinates military exercises and plans with New Delhi. While two “foundational agreements” have been broadly negotiated, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) is likely to be signed quickly, while the signing of the more operationally vital Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) may depend upon the political reaction to LEMOA.

As always, there will be feel-good statements about US-India joint exercises, especially the Indian Air Force’s participation in last month’s Red Flag exercise in Alaska, and the naval Exercise Malabar, now a trilateral exercise that also includes Japan. Much will be made of India’s purchase of the CH-47F heavy lift helicopter, and the AH-64E Apache attack helicopter. There could be news about India’s $700 million purchase of 145 M777 ultralight howitzers. All eyes will be peeled for indications that the Indian Navy has chosen to partner with America in the design and construction of its second indigenous aircraft carrier, a 65,000-tonne vessel that will be called INS Vishal. If the navy finally plumps for a catapult launch capability (as it is increasingly inclined to do), that may open the doors for not just a host of US aircraft carrier systems, such as the electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS), but also air combat control systems, and a bouquet of naval combat helicopters, fighters (the F/A-18 Super Hornet remains a strong contender) and electronic warfare aircraft.

Still underperforming is the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), established in 2012 to remove hurdles to US-India defence trade. Four “pathfinder projects” announced during President Obama’s visit to Delhi in 2015 have made little headway. Since this is his pet project, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter can be expected to propose measures to galvanize this initiative.

New Delhi watchers will measure the success of Mr Modi’s visit less in terms of defence agreements than in the context of whether he can induce President Obama to unstintingly campaign for India’s candidature of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Mr Modi has laboured to persuade holdout countries to support India’s entry into the NSG; his current visits to Switzerland and Mexico aim at this very objective, and has apparently succeeded with Berne. But unstinted US support will be crucial. In 2008, a nominally “lame duck” President George Bush pushed through crucial legislation relating to the US-India nuclear deal. Mr Obama, who still has seven months in office, could win serious equity in New Delhi by shepherding India into the NSG.