Wednesday, 30 November 2016

String of tactical debacles concerns army

“Kill ratio” down, fewer militants killed for each soldier’s life

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 1st Dec 16

The tactical debacle in Nagrota on Tuesday, in which four militants stormed an army unit and killed seven soldiers, is the latest example of militant fidayeen (suicide attack) teams inflicting disproportionate casualties on army units. On New Year Day, a four-militant team entered the Pathankot air base, killing seven security personnel and injuring 20. On September 18, four militants struck an army camp in Uri, killing 19 and injuring 30 army jawans. In Nagrota yesterday, four fidayeen succeeded in killing seven soldiers, including two officers, before being gunned down themselves.

This is anathema for an army that frowns on a “kill ratio” poorer than four-to-six militants killed for the loss of each soldier. This success rate was maintained even during the most violent years in J&K. In 1999, 270 soldiers were killed while 1082 militants were eliminated (1 : 4 ratio); in 2000, it was 311 killed against 1,520 militants dead (1 : 4.9) ; in 2001, a total of 408 army men laid down their lives while killing 2020 militants (1 : 4.9); in 2002, 362 soldiers died while the army gunned down 1707 militants (1 : 4.75); and in 2003, the price paid for eliminating 1,494 militants was 258 soldiers dead (1 : 5.7).

In the last three years, with militancy on the ebb and the army operating more lightly, the ratio was two-to-four militants killed for each dead soldier. In 2013, 32 soldiers died, while killing 67 militants (1 : 2 ratio); in 2014, it was 31 soldiers dead, while gunning down 110 militants (1 : 3.5); and last year, 28 soldiers laid down their lives while killing 108 militants (1 : 3.8).

With army casualties on par with militant casualties this year, there is pressure to establish what has gone wrong. Even more worrying than casualty numbers is the jihadis’ success in Pathankot, Uri and Nagrota at breaching what should have been tightly guarded perimeters, and gaining access to the lightly guarded interiors of military establishments and camps. A brigade commander notes: “We were fortunate that the jihadis could do serious damage only in Uri”.

A fidayeen squad, which must attack from the open against sandbagged and protected sentry posts on the perimeters of army camps, should suffer heavy casualties while forcing an entry. That the militants entered unharmed in Pathankot, Uri and Nagrota speaks of poor siting of sentry posts and careless sentries.

Even more worrisome is the tactical sloppiness on the Line of Control (LoC) that allowed the bodies of several soldiers to be mutilated by militants or Pakistani soldiers. When soldiers leave their posts for patrolling or laying ambushes, they are at least a section, i.e. ten men. While adversaries can sneak across the LoC and ambush such a patrol, even cause casualties with an initial burst of fire, trained soldiers start fighting back immediately, according to basic infantry drills.

“Only in one situation can a patrol justifiably allow its dead or injured soldiers to fall into enemy hands --- and that is when every single member of that patrol is dead or badly wounded. Good soldiers do not leave comrades behind”, says a retired general.

In a healthy army, alarm bells would have rung long ago, with basic tactical standards being demanded and subordinate commanders disciplined. Instead, tactical booboos keep getting repeated.

In a vibrant military, the next level of oversight comes from its veterans who, in military culture, are custodians of tradition and professional standards. Unfortunately, veterans gloss over declining professional standards, focusing instead on demands for better pensions, salaries and status --- important issues, but secondary to professional proficiency.

On television, on Tuesday, senior officers downplayed the Nagrota fiasco. One general argued: “I think it is an admission on the part of Pakistan that the surgical strikes [of November 29] were successful.” Said another, on the question of lax perimeter security: “No matter how highly secure you are, [with militants] who are determined to kill and prepared to die, there is no hundred per cent defence against it… These attacks cannot be stopped at the target end, they can only be stopped at the source end.”

In fact, the truth is quite the opposite. India can do little to stop jihadis at the “source end”, i.e. Pakistan. Where the military can stop them is at the “target end” --- through better perimeter security, tactical drills and higher standards of accountability.

The final level of oversight --- the political leadership --- is the quickest to abdicate responsibility. Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson, BVL Narasimha Rao, declared on television after the Nagrota attack: “I do believe that after a series of such attacks, we ought to do everything possible to secure ourselves; at least secure our military establishments. But this is not a political [responsibility]… It’s the army themselves… I think they are in a position to take any decision that they need to; they don’t require any government’s intervention in this.”

The government’s disinclination to get involved is remarkable, with tactical debacles like Uri having strategic effects, and creating an imperative for escalation that impacts India-Pakistan relations. At Uri, incompetent management of a camp’s perimeter defence forced the government to order “surgical strikes”. This had the potential for dangerous escalation, while ultimately doing little to deter Pakistani adventurism.

Ultimately, when the Indian Army enters full crisis mode, there is no doubting its ability and resilience. Kargil was an example when, in 1999, tactical and intelligence laxity were set aside and the situation recovered, albeit bloodily. In Pathankot, Uri and Nagrota, examples of individual competence partially retrieved situations that could have played out more damagingly. Yet, the army cannot afford to gift success to militants again. There remains the possibility that a windfall jihadi “success” --- such as the destruction of Pathankot’s fighter aircraft; mass casualties in Uri, or wives and children taken hostage in Nagrota --- could allow a four-man fidayeen team to take India and Pakistan to war. 

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Army initiates long-term contracts with private firms for ammunition manufacture

Competitive selection proposed, to avoid “nomination” of private firms

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Nov 16

The army has issued a Request for Information (RFI), inviting Indian industry to respond to a proposal for manufacturing ammunition in the country.

“The purpose of the RFI is to facilitate preparation of Request for Proposal (RFP) and identify prospective manufacturers for participating in the proposal for indigenous manufacture of ammunition”, says the document, which is posted on the government’s Central Public Procurement Portal.

The RFI, and the forthcoming RFP, highlights the difficulties faced by the ministry of defence (MoD) in identifying “strategic partners” (SPs) --- private firms designated as the preferred production agencies for manufacturing various categories of defence equipment like aircraft, warships, submarines, ammunition and others.

So contentious has been the formulation of a MoD policy for identifying “strategic partners” that the Defence Procurement Policy of 2016 (DPP-2016) was issued earlier this year without a Chapter 6 --- which was to be the strategic partner policy. It remains a blank space in the DPP to this day.

Private sector defence firms, which regard being nominated as a strategic partner an essential first step to entering the lucrative defence business, have competed fiercely to mould the policy to suit their own candidatures. Adding to the difficulty has been bureaucratic reluctance to nominate strategic partners --- because of concern over future allegations of bias, and the possibility of getting embroiled in investigations.

Now, after discussions at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the MoD has chosen to bypass the issue of nominating strategic partners for manufacturing ammunition. Instead there is the appearance of competition, involving the issue of an RFI and RFP.

Yet, the RFI contains a strategic partner-style, long-term component, that says: “The ammunition is proposed to be procured under a long term contract over a period of first 10 years… Subsequent extensions after 10 years will be decided, negotiated and contracted based on requirement of the Army as determined after performance of the supplier over the initial ten years of supplies.”

Further, “It is proposed that the manufacturer should develop the infrastructure and absorb the complete [Transfer of Technology] for manufacture of ammunition within two years from signing of contract.” For this, there will be no government funding.

The RFI covers almost most type of ammunition, except for small arms, from 23-millimetre rounds for air defence guns to 155-millimetre artillery gun ammunition. India’s military faces a serious shortage of ammunition, with stocks catering for just 20 days of intense battle, only half of the 40 days of battle stock that planners have mandated. The MoD has assessed that ammunition worth Rs 19,000 crore is needed to make up this deficit.

The RFI clearly weighs in favour of large private firms, with financial criteria that excludes many medium-scale private companies that have manufactured and supplied ammunition, and its components, for decades.

Companies eligible to participate must have a consolidated turnover of at least Rs 200 crore for each of the last three financial years; capital assets at gross book value of Rs 100 crore; revenue growth of at least five per cent in at least three of the preceding five financial years, and a minimum credit rating equivalent to CRISIL/ICRA “A”.

Small and medium sector company executives have already protested their exclusion from the contract, with at least one letter directly addressed to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar.

Companies like Sandeep MetalCraft, Indo-Swiss Time, Micron Instruments, Premier Explosives and Polar, which have decades-long records of supplying high-technology components like electronic fuzes for artillery shells, find themselves left out of even smaller contracts, which could all flow to the selected large-scale vendors.

“Does the MoD realize that its policy deliberately excludes small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs), while the prime minister’s policy is to build up SMEs?” asks one chief executive officer (CEO), speaking off the record.

“I could understand the MoD’s reluctance to award a contract worth several thousand crore to a medium-scale industry. But we have been winning smaller contracts of up to Rs 150 crore, and supplying them reliably, even to international customers. Now, these guidelines will render us ineligible”, another says.

These apprehensions will be voiced at an “industry interaction” that the MoD has scheduled for December 9 in New Delhi. Vendors are required to respond to the RFI by December 16.

The RFI stipulates tough conditions to safeguard the supply of ammunition from subsequent technology denial, and to allow for the “surge manufacture” needed in wartime. It mandates that “the manufacturer will ensure continuous availability of minimum one year’s stock of ex-import components during first two years after signing of contract or 100% indigenisation, whichever is earlier. In case full indigenization is either not possible or not proposed, the manufacturer from third year onwards will have to hold two year’s stock of ex-import content at all times.”

Private firm CEOs point out that maintaining one/two years of ex-import stock would be a heavy financial liability, for which they assume the MoD would compensate them.

The proposal for nominating private sector strategic partners was mooted by the MoD-constituted Dhirendra Singh Committee in 2014-15. Subsequently, the VK Aatre Task Force recommended designating one private sector strategic partner (SP) for each of seven technology areas --- aircraft; helicopters; aero engines; submarines; warships; guns and artillery, and armoured vehicles. It also recommended that three other technology areas --- metallic material and alloys; non-metallic materials; and ammunition, including smart munitions --- have two strategic partners each designated. 

Friday, 25 November 2016

Despite Indo-Pak tensions, proposals to enhance “cross-LoC” trade

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 25th Nov 16

As India and Pakistan expel each other’s diplomats and the two armies trade fire across the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), the 2003 ceasefire appears increasingly fragile. Yet, even through this disruption, trade across the LoC continues, making it perhaps the most robust confidence building measure (CBM) between the two sides.

On Friday, Ram Madhav, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) General Secretary, and former J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah, will release a report that examines how cross-LoC trade through J&K can be enhanced and facilitated.

Since October 2008, when New Delhi and Islamabad allowed the parts of J&K they respectively control to start trading across the LoC, the two sides have traded commodities worth more than US $700 million.

According to a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) signed between India and Pakistan, “barter trade” takes place on a mutually agreed list of 21 items (which originate in Kashmir) through two designated routes --- Uri-Muzaffarabad route at Salamabad; and Poonch-Rawalakot route at Chakkan-da-Bagh.

The tariff-free trade takes place four times a week, with 100 vehicles (each under 9 tonnes) allowed to cross the LoC each day. They must have Jammu & Kashmir (India) or Azad J&K (Pakistan) number plates.

Since New Delhi and Islamabad do not accept the LoC as an international border, the terms “trade out” and “trade in” goods are used instead of “exports” and “imports”.

The report, which Business Standard has reviewed, proposes opening more trade routes across the LoC to “enhance people-to-people contact and make trade and travel geographically easier”.

Over the years, the two sides have discussed opening a second land route in Punjab in addition to the already functioning Atari-Wagah link; and also trade through a rail link connecting Munabao in Rajasthan (India) with Khokrapar in Sindh (Pakistan). This has not moved forward.

The report proposes replacing the current barter trading system with monetised trade to reduce losses to the traders. The list of tradable items is proposed to be expanded, with harmonized system (HS) codes introduced to prevent items being misrepresented.

To mainstream LoC trade, the report recommends including LoC traders in national business chambers in India and Pakistan.

It recommends that periodic “Border Haats” (rural markets) be organized at the LoC to enhance the economic well being of communities living near the LoC, and to boost informal trade.

To improve trade infrastructure, the report proposes the installation of full body truck scanners at check-posts or Trade Facilitation Centres (TFCs) to ease and expedite inspection and minimise damage to goods. It proposes upgrading road links to the LoC, and instituting communication channels between traders.

Recognising the danger of disruption from Indo-Pakistan political downturns, the report proposes that cross-LoC trade be contextualized in terms of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) trade through innovative models like “Intra-regional Cluster Trading”.

The report, entitled “Cross-LoC trade through Jammu & Kashmir” has been prepared by the market research organization, Bureau of Research on Industry & Economic Fundamentals (BRIEF). The presence of Ram Madhav and Omar Abdullah at the release is regarded as significant.


Recommendations on LoC trade

Open more trade routes across the LoC to enhance people-to-people contact
Replace barter trading system with monetised trade to reduce losses.
Expand list of tradable items from the current 21 items.
Introduce “harmonized system” codes to prevent items being misrepresented.
Periodic “Border Haats” at the LoC to boost local communities.
Install “full body truck scanners” at check-posts to ease inspection.

Upgrade road infrastructure to reduce cost of transportation.
Establish formal communication channels between traders.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

MoD’s blacklisting policy for arms vendors has few of the promised changes

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th Nov 16

Since the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) began governing in May 2014, two defence ministers, Arun Jaitley and Manohar Parrikar, have promised --- the latter repeatedly --- a “blacklisting policy” that penalises arms vendors for corruption; without reducing procurement choices by narrowing down the field of vendors.

On Tuesday, the defence ministry finally posted the new policy on its website, titled: “Guidelines of the Ministry of Defence for Penalties in Business Dealings with Entities” (hereafter Guidelines).

The Guidelines are notable mainly for their conservatism. They detail various kinds of corruption and lesser procurement offences; and describe two categories of penalties: suspension, and banning. They briefly mention “financial penalties”, but then say nothing more about them.

Serious differences within the ministry on the principles and modalities of blacklisting have been evident, not least from the delay in formulating Guidelines. Parrikar first promised a blacklisting policy by January 2015. It has taken another 21 months to promulgate Guidelines.

Even after the MoD’s apex Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) nominally cleared the Guidelines on November 7, hotly debated changes remained to be made. Promulgation has taken another 15 days.

Eventually, the Guidelines have little buy-in from the bureaucracy. All decisions relating to suspension or banning of a vendor must be made by “the competent authority”, which is the defence minister himself. There is no delegation of authority.

The problem of subsidiaries

The prime driver for a new policy is the February 2013 blacklisting of Italian defence conglomerate, Finmeccanica, by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). This was done after company chairman, Giuseppe Orsi, was arrested in Italy for allegedly bribing Indian officials to win a contract for twelve AgustaWestland AW-101 VVIP helicopters. Dealings were also stopped with Finmeccanica’s 39 subsidiary companies, many of which are key defence suppliers to India.

These include marine systems vendor, Whitehead Alenia Sistemi Subacquel (WASS); radar and communications specialist, Selex Electronics Systems (ES); aerospace giant, Alenia Aeromacchi; armaments major, Otomelara; and helicopter maker, AgustaWestland. Key procurements were stalled, including the acquisition of Black Shark torpedoes from WASS for the Scorpene submarine.

Soon after taking over as defence minister in November 2014, Parrikar declared that companies that violated procurement norms should face “heavy financial penalties”, not blacklisting. Citing Finmeccanica, Parrikar asked: “Should we rule ourselves out of dealing with all of its 39 subsidiaries? There has to be a clear policy on that.”

The new policy specifies that a ban or suspension of an entity will not be automatically extended to its allied firms. It would only be extended “by specific order of the competent authority”.

It seems likely now that the defence ministry’s indefinite ban on Finmeccanica and all its allied firms could be whittled down to a five-year ban on AgustaWestland alone.

Financial penalties

Parrikar has pushed hard, but unsuccessfully, for financial penalties for corruption, in place of suspension or bans. On December 12, 2014 he had proposed: “How much you (the vendor) violated, pay the Indian government 4-5 times that, only then will you be permitted to participate in defence tenders.”

The new policy, however, barely touches on financial penalties. It starts out by mentioning “Levy of Financial Penalties and/or Suspension/Banning of business dealings with entities” to punish wrongdoing. However, the rest of the six-page policy mainly details conditions and procedures for “suspension” and “banning” of vendors. There is no further mention of procedures for levying “financial penalties”.

Ruled out, therefore, is the US-style option of “deferred prosecution agreements” (DPAs), in which the ministry grants amnesty to defaulting vendor companies in exchange for punitive cash penalties, an explicit or implicit acceptance of guilt, and their full cooperation in further investigations into the offence.

The CII had strongly urged the defence ministry to adopt DPAs in dealing with corporate corruption. It pointed out that corporations in the US paid $24.8 billion in fines during 2010-2014. Of that, $3.87 billion was for violating anti-corruption laws.

On the other hand, legal experts in criminal compliance warned against the practice of allowing companies to buy their way out of trouble. Evidently, the defence ministry bureaucracy has prevented Parrikar from having his way on this.


The Guidelines specify six offences that could lead to suspension or banning of a vendor. The first four causes, which involve corruption, would invoke bans of at least five years. These are (a) violations of contractual integrity pacts; (b) adopting corrupt/unfair means to win contracts; (c) misuse of agents or agency commissions, and (d) national security considerations.

There are two lesser offences, which would attract shorter bans: (a) non-performance or underperformance of contractual provisions, and (b) any other ground that is the defence minister deems to be in the public interest.

A key element of the new policy is the distinction it makes between suspension and banning. Suspension may be ordered “pending a full proceeding into allegations” against a company relating to those six violations, or when referring a case for investigation.”

The policy places a one-year cap on suspension of a company but, paradoxically, provides for extending the suspension, six months at a time, up to the maximum period of banning (which the Guidelines do not specify).

Banning, on the other hand, would be imposed “at least five years” if an entity is found guilty in a competent court of any of the first four offences involving corruption, or “on receipt of information regarding filing of charge-sheet in the court of law by CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) or any other investigating agency.” 

Sherbir Panag, a Mumbai-based compliance expert, highlights the dichotomy between these two conditions --- one requiring an actual conviction, and the other merely the filing of a charge-sheet.

“This contradiction could be challenged as an absence of due process. After the defence ministry blacklisted Israel Military Industries (IMI), it challenged the ban in court alleging an absence of due process. The new policy could be similarly challenged as having different benchmarks for banning --- one requiring conviction, and the other only a charge-sheet”, says Panag.

Panag opines that the ministry would mostly suspend, not ban, companies suspected of wrongdoing. “Obtaining a conviction in court takes at least a decade. Even filing a charge-sheet takes years. Three years after AgustaWestland was banned, CBI has not yet filed a charge-sheet”, he points out.

Nor does the new policy recognise corruption investigations by foreign enforcement agencies, even though practically every alleged defence scam in India was unearthed abroad. A Swedish Radio investigation unearthed the Bofors scam in 1987; an Italian investigation revealed the AgustaWestland payoffs in 2013; a US Securities and Exchange Commission investigation this year unearthed payoffs to Indian officials by Embraer in the sale of three business jets to the Defence R&D Organisation.

“Corruption has two sides. For every vendor who pays a bribe, there is someone in the defence ministry who pockets it. What is needed is enforcement and investigation in our own country. Neither the ministry, nor its blacklisting policy, deals with that”, says Panag. 

Jaguar fighter gets 20-year lease of life with DARIN-III avionics

The upgraded Jaguar, along with the HAL team that developed the DARIN-III "navigation-attack" system

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th Nov 16

The Indian Air Force (IAF) took a vital step on Wednesday towards boosting its dwindling fleet of combat aircraft. As MiG-21s and MiG-27s retire, forcing the IAF to close down squadrons, a new avionics upgrade for the nuclear-capable Jaguar strike fighter will let it fly for another two decades.

This is Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd’s (HAL’s) new DARIN-III (Darin Three) “navigation-attack” system that allows the Jaguar to do pinpoint bombing. The DARIN-III allows a pilot to feed in the coordinates of targets deep inside enemy territory. Once airborne, the computer’s inertial navigation system directs the pilot to the target, telling him when to releases his weapons precisely.

The IAF’s deputy chief, Air Marshal RKS Bhadauria, flew a Jaguar equipped with DARIN-III in HAL Bengaluru, after which he accorded “initial operational clearance” of the upgraded system.

The IAF’s six Jaguar squadrons (20 fighters in each) are deployed in Ambala, Jamnagar and Gorakhpur. Termed “deep penetration strike aircraft”, the Jaguar destroys surface targets like terrorist camps, air bases and warships with its on-board weaponry, including “new generation laser guided bombs” (NGLGBs); and the lethal Textron CBU-105 “sensor fuzed weapons”, bought in 2010 from America. This effective tank-buster breaks up into many “smart bomblets” that guide themselves to the tanks and penetrate their turrets from above.

The 120 twin-engine Jaguars will also get new engines supplied by US major, Honeywell, for an estimated $3 billion. Each Honeywell F-125N engine delivers 43.8 KiloNewtons (kN) of thrust, significantly higher than the 32.5 kN of the Jaguar’s current Rolls-Royce engines.

Powerful engines are essential for swift ingress into enemy territory and a quick escape after a strike. Enemy radars that pick up the Jaguars would scramble fighters to intercept them.

To deal with these, the Jaguar will be fitted with the EL/M-2052 radar, supplied by Israeli company, Elta. This “active electronically scanned array” (AESA) radar allows pilots to simultaneously track enemy fighters, guide missiles towards them, while also jamming enemy communications and radar. While the Jaguar is primarily a strike fighter, its new AESA radar, coupled with a good air-to-air missile, would provide it a formidable capability against attacking enemy fighters.

Currently, 60 Jaguars --- half the fleet --- will be equipped with DARIN-III and the EL/M-2052 AESA radar.

The Jaguar provides a remarkable story of how indigenous upgrades are cheaply modernising, and extending the life of, a foreign-origin aircraft. In 1978, India signed a $1 billion deal for 160 Jaguars, manufactured by Anglo-French company, SEPECAT. The first 40 aircraft, which were supplied in flyaway condition, came with an out-dated “navigation and weapon-aiming sub-system” (NAVWASS).

As HAL began manufacturing the Jaguar, an Indo-French co-development team began upgrading the avionics to DARIN. From 1982, all Jaguars built at HAL had DARIN systems.

Buoyed by that achievement, the IAF and HAL decided in the 1990s to upgrade the DARIN. The result was the superb, entirely indigenous, DARIN-II, which guides the Jaguar blind, literally to the touchdown point on the runway.

“Even in Ambala’s infamous winter fogs, when you couldn’t see your hand if you extended your arm in front of you, the Jaguars were landing and taking off easily”, says a new retired Jaguar pilot.

The 60-odd Jaguars with DARIN-II will continue to operate that system, while the other 60, which still have the original DARIN, will now be upgraded to DARIN-III.

The IAF is currently the world’s only Jaguar operator. IAF boss, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, stated in October that the upgraded Jaguars would remain in service for the next 15-20 years.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Navy’s P-8I maritime aircraft losing technology race due to poor contracting

The P-8I interior, where five crew members monitor the aircraft's sensors for enemy contacts during each mission

By Ajai Shukla
Seattle, USA
Business Standard, 23rd Nov 16

In 2012, the Indian Navy became the first non-US military to field the Boeing P-8 Poseidon, paying $2.1 billion for eight of these cutting-edge multi-mission maritime aircraft that patrol vast stretches of ocean to detect and destroy enemy submarines and warships.

Yet, India has lost the advantage of being first-mover. Australia’s new P-8 aircraft, which arrived in that country last Wednesday, is significantly more capable than the Indian version. So too will be the British version of the P-8.

The reason: poor contracting by New Delhi. The Australian and British contracts with Boeing provide for automatic upgrade of their P-8s, in tandem with each new upgrade of the US Navy P-8s, a process that continues round the year through the aircraft’s service life. India’s contract for the P-8I has no such provision.

Australia’s and the UK’s automatic upgrades are embedded in what is termed a “spiral upgrade programme”. Without the upgrades this provides for, India’s P-8Is are steadily lagging behind the technology curve.

A follow-on Indian contract signed in July 2016 for four more P-8I aircraft, which are to be delivered by 2020, will belatedly make up some of this technology lag. Mark Jordan, chief engineer of the P-8 project, said in Seattle last Monday that the Indian Navy had provided “a long list of upgrades” for the new aircraft. Some of those upgrades would also be fitted retrospectively into the first eight P-8Is.

But subsequent upgrades and improvements would not be passed automatically to India’s P-8Is, while Australia and the UK will continue to benefit.

With no contractual provision for even informing India about new upgrades developed by the American vendors, the navy would only learn about upgrades from open sources, such as the internet, and information shared during joint exercises.

From the start, the navy’s P-8Is were handicapped by Delhi’s refusal to sign up for an Indo-US communications security agreement called the “Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement” (CISMOA). Without this the US cannot legally part with any “CISMOA-controlled equipment”.

Instead, the navy opted for commercially available equipment that does not permit such secure networking.

Of all the weaponry that India has contracted from the US in the last decade --- including the C-130J Special Operations transporter, C-17 Globemaster III heavy lift transporter, P-8Is, CH-47F Chinook heavy lift helicopter and AH-64E Apache attack helicopter --- the P-8I has arguably contributed the most towards strengthening India’s defence.

With naval pilots flying long, eight-to-ten hour surveillance missions in the Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, India knows exactly what is happening in these waters. To deal with enemy warships and submarines the P-8I detects, it has seven tonnes of weaponry on board, including the Harpoon missile and heavyweight torpedoes.

Even so, there may be a cost to keeping the P-8I fleet lagging in technology.

The root of the problem is New Delhi’s out-dated approach to buying weaponry, which acquires equipment separately from upgrades. Currently, several Indian platforms are undergoing exorbitantly expensive “upgrade” programmes that cost several times more than the original purchase. These include Kilo-class submarines; and the Mirage 2000 and MiG-29 fighters.

In contrast, buyers like Australia and the UK incorporate continuous upgrade programmes into the procurement contract, keeping the equipment current rather than paying for “upgrading” several decades down the line. This involves sharing the cost of upgrade development with the vendors. In return real-time upgrades translate into a continuous technology edge.

For example, Australia’s 24 F/A-18 Super Hornets, which began delivery in 2010, have been kept at the same cutting edge as the US Navy’s Super Hornets through a “spiral upgrade programme” included in the contract.

The P-8I, which is engineered on a Boeing 737-800/900 airliner, is built to cater for continuous upgrades through its service life. Boeing engineers point to its 60 per cent power reserve, 25 per cent cooling reserve and 200 cubic feet of unutilised space. Its software has “advanced modular architecture that allows for quick expansion and affordable growth of capabilities.”

Says Jordan: “As threats evolve, you can modify and upgrade the mission systems and stay in front of the threat for a very long time.”