Thursday, 30 August 2018

Jaitley’s 15 questions on the Rafale deal... and the opposition's position on each

By Ajai Shukla
Edited version in Business Standard
30th August 18

On Wednesday, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley wrote a Facebook post, challenging the Congress and Rahul Gandhi on accusations they have made about the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft, for Euro 7.85 billion, after an agreement between French President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in April 2015.

Jaitley posed 15 questions to Rahul Gandhi. Here they are, with the Opposition position placed alongside each of them.

Jaitley’s questions
Opposition’s charges
On delay
The UPA suffered from decision-making paralysis. Wasn’t the decade-long delay in the Rafale purchase due to UPA’s incompetence and indecisiveness?
There was no “decade-long delay”. From 2004 to 2007, the Indian Air Force (IAF) framed the fighter’s requirements; from 2007 to 2011, the IAF conducted flight tests and only in 2011 did the IAF select the Rafale and Eurofighter. In 2012, the Rafale was found cheaper and price negotiations began with Dassault. The role of the government began only in 2012.
Did the UPA’s delay compromise national security, given the IAF’s urgent need for fighters?
If the UPA’s delay had compromised national security, why did the NDA wait for more than one year before buying the Rafale in 2015? In fact, security was compromised by reducing the number of Rafales from 126 (in the UPA tender) to just 36, and doing away with the “Make in India” component.
Was UPA’s failure to buy the Rafale motivated by “collateral considerations” like in Bofors?
The UPA did not buy the Rafale, so there is no question of bribes. If there are questions of “collateral considerations”, they relate to Anil Ambani, and how he mysteriously replaced Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) in the deal.
On facts
How has Rahul Gandhi given contradictory figures for cost of the Rafale: variously Rs 700 cr, 520 crore, 540 crore and 526 cr.
Why is the government refusing to release the real figures, both of Dassault’s 2007 bid and the cost of the current contract. The defence minister had vowed to release the figures, but then backed off, citing a secrecy agreement with France, which does not even apply to commercial aspects.
Is Congress aware of the Rafale price that Dassault quoted in 2007 in its winning (L-1) bid? An escalation clause in that bid would have raised the price until the last fighter was delivered. Has forex variation been considered?
The Rafale price in Dassault’s 2007 was hinted at by then defence minister Manohar Parrikar, who said in April 2015 that 126 Rafales would cost about Rs 90,000 crore. That comes to Rs 715 crore per aircraft. Why is the government refusing to release the real figures?
Is Congress aware that, comparing basic aircraft price, along with the escalation clause, the NDA has signed the deal at a price 9 per cent cheaper than what the UPA would have paid?
In the absence of official figures from the government, the deal price of Euro 7.8 billion for 36 fighters indicates a far higher cost than what the government claims – a multiple of more than three times higher.
Can Rahul Gandhi deny that, adding on India-specific adaptations and weaponry,would have made the 2007 L-1 price at least 20 per cent higher than what the NDA negotiated in 2016?
The India-specific enhancements are a fiction, meant to hide the full cost of the Rafale. The Joint Statement issued in Paris by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Francoise Hollande in April 2015 mentions that 36 fighters would be in the same configuration as the 126 fighter tender of 2007.
Can Rahul Gandhi deny that the total contract cost of 2016, with add-ons, future supplies and maintenance, is more favourable than the 2007 L1 offer?
The cost agreed to by the government in 2016 is far higher than the 2007 bid. In that respect, it contradicts the Paris Joint Statement of April 2015, which pledged a contract at a more favourable price.
Role of private industry
Can Rahul Gandhi deny that the Government of India has no contract relating to the Rafale with any private industry? All 36 Rafales will be supplied fully built “and there is no manufacturing of these 36 aircrafts in India.”
In abandoning the “Make in India” component of the 126-fighter tender of 2007, where 108 fighters were to be built by HAL, the NDA government has surrendered a great opportunity to build up India’s aerospace industry. These fighters should have been built in India.
Foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) under the UPA’s own offset policy can select their own Indian offset partners and the Indian government has no say in this. 
The Offset Guidelines give the defence minister the responsibility to approve all offset contracts. Besides, it is no coincidence that Dassault has abandoned HAL and chosen Anil Ambani, who is known to be close to the BJP.
On procedure
Is Rahul Gandhi aware that there are two ways of acquiring defence equipment -- either competitive bidding or through an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA)?
There is a laid down procedure for approving an IGA. This was not followed at the time Modi announced in Paris in April 2015 that he had asked France to supply 36 Rafale fighters.
Can Rahul Gandhi deny that the UPA itself had in 2007 shortlisted the Rafale as technically- acceptable and L1 in price competition? 
The opposition has no quarrel with the selection of the Rafale. It was a mistake to bring down the numbers from 126 to just 36 fighters, leaving the IAF short of numbers.
Can Rahul Gandhi deny that the urgency of defence requirement caused New Delhi and Paris to “execute the supply of 36 Rafale aircrafts at terms better than the 2007 offer of the UPA?”
The contract for 36 Rafales was concluded on highly unfavourable terms and at a far higher cost than the 2007 offer.
“Can it be denied that both the Price Negotiation Committee and the Contract Negotiation Committee negotiated for 14 months before concluding the deal?”
The cost that was agreed upon was unfavourable to India.
Can it be denied that before the deal was executed, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) approved the transaction?
The CCS did indeed approve the transaction before the contract was signed in 2016, but no CCS approval had been taken by Modi before his Joint Statement with Holland in April 2015, which committed India to buying 36 Rafales.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Army indicts “human shield” officer for “fraternising” with Kashmiri woman

Major Leetul Gogoi, addressing the media last year

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 27th Aug 18

An army major, Leetul Gogoi, who created a human rights storm in April 2017 by tying a local Kashmiri to his jeep as a human shield against stone pelting by a violent mob, has severely embarrassed the army again.

Senior army sources have revealed that a military court of inquiry (CoI) has indicted Major Gogoi after the Jammu & Kashmir Police (JKP) detained him on May 23 while he was checking into a Srinagar hotel with a young Kashmiri woman.

Gogoi told the JKP that the woman was an “intelligence source” and he was taking her to the hotel to debrief her. However, the army has not bought this argument and found Gogoi culpable of two offenses: first, “fraternising with locals against army orders” and, second, “being absent from his place of duty in an operational area.”

For the local Kashmiri people, this case reverberates far beyond military rules, or even sexual contact between consenting adults. There is outrage that a local girl could contemplate “inappropriate contact” with an army person. Meanwhile, perhaps inevitably, allegations of coercion are seeping into the public narrative.

After the human shield incident, the army controversially shielded Gogoi, even praising him for “innovative thinking” that saved the lives of stone-pelters, who might otherwise have been killed or injured in retaliatory firing by the army. The generals were also pushed into defending Gogoi by widespread demands to revoke the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which many blamed for creating the mindset that permitted such excesses.

This time, however, after Gogoi was detained at the hotel, the army quickly made it clear he had transgressed beyond the pale. Questioned about the case, army chief General Bipin Rawat stated that the “strictest possible action” would be taken against officers “found guilty of any offence.”

So far, only the first stage of an exacting military disciplinary procedure has gone against Gogoi. After the CoI comes the recording of “summary of evidence” (SoE), where a board of officers will interview the accused person and witnesses to the alleged offence, with the accused permitted cross-examination. If the SoE recommends punishment, charges will be framed and a court martial ordered. In this, a military court, headed by a general, will judge the case and pronounce sentence.

“We will see what the SoE unearths. If it is an open-and-shut case, where the accused is not contesting the evidence, we will recommend a ‘summary general court martial’ (SGCM), which will reach a conclusion quickly. If there are complications, and the accused contests the evidence, we will convene a ‘general court martial’ (GCM), which is a more stringent and, therefore, slower process,” says a senior army general.

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Make in India gets mega defence push

DAC clears acquisitions worth Rs 460 bn, including Rs 217 bn purchase of 111 utility helicopters for the navy

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Aug 18

The defence ministry’s apex procurement body, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), has accorded approval for acquisitions worth about Rs 46,000 crore (Rs 460 billion), which includes missiles and two types of helicopters for the navy, and artillery guns for the army.

The biggest procurement green lighted on Saturday was the Rs 21,738 crore (Rs 217 billion) purchase of 111 Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH), which will be built by a competitively chosen Indian private sector company.  

“This is the first project under the MoD’s prestigious Strategic Partnership (SP) model, which aims at providing a significant fillip to the government’s ‘Make in India’ programme. The SP Model envisages indigenous manufacturing of major defence platforms by an Indian SP, who will collaborate with foreign OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), acquire niche technologies and set up production facilities in the country,” the ministry said in a statement.

The search for a suitable foreign OEM began more than a year ago. On December 1, the navy chief, Admiral Sunil Lanba said: “We have floated an RFI (request for information) and we have gotten responses from five OEMs. They are being examined.”

On July 30, the defence ministry had promulgated the “implementation guidelines” for choosing an SP in the helicopter category, clearing the way for this procurement.

The basic SP policy framework is a part of the Defence Procurement Procedure of 2016 (DPP-2016). However, equipment-specific selection criteria need to be separately drawn up for each of the four weapon categories the SP policy covers – fighter aircraft, helicopters, submarines and armoured vehicles. The guidelines for fighters, submarines and armoured vehicle categories are still awaited.

Multi-role helicopters

In another procurement that the navy chief had identified as “the most important helicopter for us”, the DAC cleared the purchase of 24 naval multi-role helicopters (NMRH) that operate from the decks of capital warships, providing early warning and locating and destroying enemy submarines.

The navy’s NMRH fleet currently consists of less than a dozen vintage Seaking helicopters, which are increasingly difficult to maintain. While the acquisition of replacement NMRH has dragged on for over a decade, the helicopter hangars of the navy’s frontline warships have remained effectively empty.

“To enhance the capability of navy at sea, approval has also been granted for procurement of anti-submarine capable, 24 in number multi role helicopters, which are an integral part of the frontline warships like the aircraft carriers, destroyers, frigates and corvettes. Availability of MRH with the navy would plug the existing capability gap,” said the defence ministry.

The ministry has, however, not announced which procurement category these helicopters are being bought under. There are reports that the contract is being awarded on a single-vendor basis to US aerospace giant, Lockheed Martin. This comes just days ahead of the 2 + 2 US-India meeting in Delhi on September 6.

Defence blog, Livefist, wrote: “The Indian MoD today cleared decks for the navy to contract for 24 Lockheed Martin-Sikorsky MH-60 Romeo maritime helicopters in a government-to-government deal with the Pentagon. The deal is expected to be worth $1.8 billion (Rs 125 billion).”

The MH-60 Romeo is built by Sikorsky, which Lockheed Martin – already the world’s biggest arms company – acquired in November 2015.

The defence ministry is also silent on whether the 24 NMRH will be bought in flyaway condition, like the 36 Rafale fighters contracted in 2016, or whether there is a “Make in India” component to the deal.

With the navy’s requirement for NMRH pegged at 123 helicopters for the entire fleet, it is feasible to buy the initial 24 in flyaway condition, with the remaining 99 helicopters built in India. Contacted for a clarification, the defence ministry did not respond.

Artillery guns

In a badly-needed fillip to army firepower, the DAC approved the manufacture of 150 indigenously designed and developed Advanced Towed Artillery Gun Systems (ATAGS) at an approximate cost of Rs 3,365 crores (Rs 33.65 billion). 

These guns, which the ministry terms “the mainstay of artillery in the near future” are being procured under the “Make – Indigenously Designed, Developed and Manufactured (IDDM)” category. The Defence R&D Organization (DRDO) has overseen their development and two private firms will build the guns in parallel – the Kalyani Group and Tata Power (Strategic Engineering Division).

The plan is to eventually induct about 1,500 ATAGS. The current order is a preliminary batch that will be used to continue gun development.

Finally, the DAC cleared the procurement of 14 Vertically Launched Short Range Missile Systems that will boost the capability of warships to shoot down and destroy incoming anti-ship missiles.

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Washington outlines agenda for inaugural 2 + 2 meeting with India next month

The aim: "To discuss how do we operationalize India's status as a major defence partner.”

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd Aug 18

Washington’s chief South Asia diplomat, Alice Wells, has for the first time outlined a clear agenda for the inaugural 2 + 2 dialogue in New Delhi on September 6.

Previewing the meeting, for which two US principals – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary for Defense Jim Mattis – will travel to India for joint talks with Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Wells stated: “What we're looking for at the upcoming 2+2 ministerial is to discuss how do we operationalize India's status as a major defence partner.”

Since 2016, when India was officially recognised in US law as a “major defence partner”, Washington has purposefully upgraded the defence relationship. Earlier this year, the Hawaii-based, Asia-focused US military command was renamed the “Indo-Pacific Command” to highlight India's centrality to regional security. By clearing an amendment to the National Defence Authorization Act 2018, the US Congress effectively exempted India from being caught up in US sanctions against Russia. And, earlier this month, the Trump administration granted India “Strategic Trade Authorization-1” status to facilitate sensitive high technology trade.

New Delhi sources also indicate that a crucial communications security agreement (COMCASA), which has been in negotiation for over a decade, could be signed shortly before, or after, the 2 + 2 meeting next month.

“As you know, we've gone from essentially zero dollars in defence cooperation in 2008 to as much as $18 billion today.  We do more military exercises with India than with any other country in the world, but how do we take this partnership to a new level so that it's not just going to be defence acquisitions but really a way of framing how we see challenges and how we want to be able to respond together to address these challenges,” said Wells, outlining an agenda geared to “demonstrate… the facts of this maturing partnership.”

Wells, who was briefing the media in Washington DC on Monday, ahead of the annual Indian Ocean Conference in Hanoi, Vietnam next week, also talked up India’s role in Afghanistan.  Pointing to “India's $3 billion commitment to date up to 2020 in support of Afghanistan's economic development,” Wells said “We welcome the fact that India has stepped up and has evinced this commitment and enjoys a strategic relationship with Afghanistan that does not have to come at the expense of any other country in the region.”

In contrast, Pakistan’s “critical role” was mainly to “take stronger steps to ensure that the Taliban either come to the negotiating table or are expelled back into Afghanistan rather than enjoy safe haven outside of the country.”

Referring to the new Imran Khan-led government in Islamabad, Wells said, “We have expressed our concern over the fact that terrorist proxy groups continue to be able to enjoy safe haven in Pakistan.  We are urging the government to do more to bring pressure to bear against these organizations and externally oriented terrorist groups.”

Wells also indicated that Washington would work to ease Islamabad’s roadblocks on trade between India and Afghanistan. “It's easier for India to trade with Brazil than it is with some of its neighbouring countries. That doesn't make sense,” she said.

Underlining America’s claim to being an Indo-Pacific nation, Wells said: “The United States conducts about $1.4 trillion in two-way trade with the rest of the Indo-Pacific, more than any other country in the world, and has provided a cumulative 850 billion in foreign direct investment.” 

Wells characterised America’s economic goal in the region as “not about spending dollar-for-dollar, for instance, compared to [China’s] Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).” 

Taking a pot shot at the BRI, Wells said American companies would use their investment of over $850 billion in the region “to participate in projects that are at the highest international standard, that are efficient and cost-competitive, and that bring returns to the countries who benefit from their participation.”

Wells was echoing India’s criticism of the BRI. On May 13, 2017, explaining why India had stayed away from the on-going BRI Forum in Beijing, New Delhi stated: “We are of firm belief that connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognized international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality.” India also raised concerns that BRI would create unsustainable debt burdens on participants, violate environmental norms, and violate “sovereignty and territorial integrity”, referring to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that passes through Jammu & Kashmir territory occupied by Pakistan.

Suggesting there were infrastructure opportunities in the Indo-Pacific far beyond BRI, Wells stated: “Some of the estimates are, like, $27 trillion in investment is going to be required over the next several decades.”

While Wells echoed the longstanding US position that the regional security architecture was centred on Asean, she stated that the US is “lending its expertise” to the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, which the Indian Navy set up more than a decade ago as a framework for collective action on maritime security issues, including disaster relief.”

Alongside security cooperation, Wells pointed to the importance of “economically focused fora” like the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), as platforms for driving conversations on regional connectivity and infrastructure.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Doklam a year on: Bhutan more worried about India than China

Looking down at the Chumbi valley from the Indian Army post at Nathu La, close to Doklam

By Ajai Shukla
South China Morning Post
19th August 18

Link to article on South China Morning Post:

Last week, an Indian parliamentary panel fluttered the dovecotes in Thimphu – Bhutan’s idyllic capital – by recommending New Delhi encourage Bhutan to deploy more soldiers in the disputed Doklam area, where a year ago several hundred Indian and Chinese soldiers stood eyeball-to-eyeball, raising real fears of bloodshed. 

Non-violent patrol confrontations are common along the undefined, 4,588 kilometre, Sino-Indian border, but the face-off at Doklam was unique. Indian soldiers were not defending Indian soil; they had crossed into Bhutan and claimed to be acting on Thimphu’s behalf, in accordance with a security treaty between India and Bhutan. For the 73 days that Doklam smouldered, Thimphu walked on eggshells, balancing between India’s stifling embrace and the potential consequences from China.

The Doklam crisis ended with mixed results for India. As the Indian Army chief himself admitted in January, Chinese troops continue to occupy North Doklam, while Indian soldiers have pulled out of Doklam and returned to their outposts in Sikkim. On the positive side, India managed to force China to halt building a road in Doklam, which it was extending southwards, across the Torsa Nala, to its claim line at the Zompelri Ridge, which runs southeast from Mount Gipmochi. Indian military planners believe it essential to enforce Bhutan’s claim line along the Batang La - Sinche La ridgeline, about 12-14 kilometres north of Zompelri Ridge. They worry that Chinese possession of Zompelri would give the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) a launching pad to capture the vulnerable Siliguri Corridor – a narrow, 29 kilometre-wide sliver of land, with Nepal on one side and Bangladesh on the other. It connects mainland India with its eight north-eastern states.

Thus, in confronting China in Doklam, the Indian Army was protecting vital Indian interests more than enforcing the India-Bhutan security pact.

Some Sikkim veterans like Lieutenant General SL Narasimhan (Retired), who is on India’s National Security Advisory Board, believe concerns about Siliguri are overblown. Breaking through India’s strong border defences in Sikkim would require the PLA to mobilise large bodies of troops, giving India time to reinforce. Chinese troops would have to enter Doklam through the Chumbi Valley which is overlooked by dominating Indian positions that would pound the PLA with artillery, air and ground fire. Were the Chinese attackers to miraculously reach Gipmochi, they would then face the daunting task of advancing to Siliguri through 80 kilometres of forested mountains, without artillery or logistic support. Once in Siliguri, the isolated Chinese spearheads would face massive Indian counter-attacks. 

Whatever the logic for Doklam, that confrontation has exacerbated Thimphu’s concerns about getting sucked into a Sino-Indian conflict. Bhutanese elites, and increasingly the public, believe they should settle their border with China, not tack a settlement onto India’s more intractable dispute. Beijing has offered Thimphu a strategic swap, in which it will concede to Bhutan disputed territory in the north, in exchange for Doklam. New Delhi, however, firmly discourages conceding Doklam to China. 

A top-level Bhutanese politician told me in Thimphu: “Since 1984, we have had 25 rounds of boundary talks with China. There is still no settlement because we also have to take into account India’s security concerns. But we have to think carefully and get a settlement that is good for Bhutan.”

India has discouraged Bhutan from opening diplomatic relations with other countries, particularly with China, encouraging it instead to conduct diplomatic relations through its embassy in New Delhi. But now, with China outpacing India economically and militarily and showing its power through incidents like Doklam, Bhutan’s old elites and new, populist politicians increasingly worry about having hitched their wagon to the wrong horse. There is also a popular aspiration across Bhutan to emerge from India’s shadow and assert sovereignty more tangibly. New Delhi has not handled this aspiration with sophistication and sensitivity.

This causes resentment across Bhutan. Responding to Indian criticism of the recent Chinese ministerial visit to Thimphu, Tenzing Lamsang, Editor of The Bhutanesenewspaper tweeted: “I would advise Indian media outlets, commentators, think tanks & even policy makers against such excessive paranoia and speculation. This is what Bhutanese find irritating & at times even suffocating. You call us your closest friend, so at least trust us and give us some space.”

It is ironic that Indian assistance, as in Doklam, has only swelled Bhutanese resentment. India’s Border Roads Organisation has done much to create a network of roads in Bhutan under its so-called Project Dantak. But Dantak’s enormous visibility has worked against it. Last year, public criticism forced Dantak to remove from Paro airport a large sign saying “Dantak welcomes you to Bhutan.” Last month, Dantak was also forced to remove road safety reflectors that were in the colours of the Indian flag. Now there is criticism of Dantak for building roads too expensively. 

Similarly, there is criticism across Bhutan about the hydroelectric power purchase arrangement with India, which has backstopped economic cooperation between the two countries. So far, the Indian government has funded the construction of hydel plants in Bhutan and paid Thimphu directly for the power it purchased. Now, New Delhi wants to delegate responsibility to its public sector power corporations, which would make decisions based on economic rather than strategic rationale.

New Delhi must realise that there are few takers in Bhutan for the logic that India’s military commitment to Bhutan gives it ownership over Thimphu’s security and economic decision-making. There is the lurking fear of China, which is unsurprising in a predominantly Buddhist country. But that is gradually giving way to an even more tangible irritation at India’s clumsy overlordship.

Anti-runway and anti-tank missiles successfully tested by DRDO

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th Aug 18

The defence ministry on Sunday announced the success of two major new weapon systems developed by the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO). One is a precision-guided bomb, launched from fighter aircraft to incapacitate enemy air bases up to 100 kilometres away. The second is an anti-tank missile, fired from helicopters to destroy enemy tanks as far as seven kilometres away.

The indigenously designed and developed guided aerial bomb – named the Smart Anti Airfield Weapon (SAAW) – was launched from Indian Air Force (IAF) fighters at Chandan range, in Rajasthan. The ministry stated “The weapon system was integrated with live warhead and has destroyed the targets with high precision.”

The SAAW is basically an extremely accurate bomb and is termed a precision-guided munition (PGM). After its release from an aircraft, a sophisticated “inertial navigation system” on the bomb, which is preconfigured with the coordinates of the target, guides it precisely to its target – typically an enemy airfield up to 100 kilometres away.

Striking the airfield’s runway precisely with a single bomb is more economical than using traditional free-fall bombs, which are less accurate and must therefore be released in large numbers to be assured of incapacitating the target airfield.

Another major advantage of the SAAW is that, after releasing it at a safe distance from the enemy airbase, the aircraft can return home safely without exposing itself to the intense anti-aircraft defences surrounding most air bases.

“A total of three tests with different release conditions were conducted during 16 to 18 August and all the mission objectives have been achieved,” said the defence ministry.

These were the eighth round of developmental trials the SAAW has undergone. It is now regarded as ready for induction into the IAF’s arsenal.

Separately on Sunday afternoon, in “summer trials” in the blazing hot Pokhran Range, an indigenous Dhruv helicopter launched a HELINA anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) at a tank target seven kilometres away, successfully striking and destroying it.

HELINA is the acronym for “helicopter launched Nag” missile, a heavier and longer-range version of the vehicle mounted Nag missile, which has a range of four kilometres.

The missile is locked onto its target through a telescopic sight just before it is fired. After it is airborne and is flying towards its target at 200 metres per second, it is guided by an “infrared imaging seeker”, that homes in on the target’s heat signature. 

That means the HELINA has overcome a problem that has delayed it for several years: locking onto the heat signature of a tank target in summer, when the surrounding environment is also very hot, making the target’s heat signature merge into the surroundings.

“It is one of the most advanced anti-tank weapons in the world,” claimed the defence ministry today.

The HELINA is likely to be eventually fitted onto the eponymous Light Combat Helicopter that is being developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Pentagon report anticipates China’s “nuclear triad”, naval base in Pakistan

Report confirms Chinese submarines visited Malaysia and Pakistan, but Sri Lanka turned one away

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Aug 18

The United States Department of Defense (the Pentagon) revealed on Thursday that the Chinese air force “has been reassigned a nuclear mission”, and is developing long-range strategic bombers to deliver nuclear weapons. 

“The deployment and integration of nuclear capable bombers would, for the first time, provide China with a nuclear ‘triad’ of delivery systems dispersed across land, sea, and air,” it said.

The US Congress-mandated “Annual Report on Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China” is a Pentagon summary of Chinese military developments over the preceding year.

The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) already fields the nuclear capable Xian H-6K bomber, with a range of 3,500 kilometres – enough to strike targets in India with the cruise missiles it carries. But now, says the Petagon, China is developing a “stealthy, long-range strategic bomber with a nuclear delivery capability that could be operational within the next 10 years.”

India claims to have a “nuclear triad”, but its air-delivered capability is makeshift, based on tactical fighter aircraft like the Jaguar and Mirage-2000 that are jury-rigged to deliver nuclear weapons. 

India neither has, nor is developing or buying, long-range strategic bombers of the kind that China is developing. The Indian nuclear deterrent is primarily based on Agni-series ballistic missiles, with a usable submarine-launched missile capability still some distance away.

The report takes note of last year’s 73-day standoff at Doklam when “India halted China’s efforts to extend a road in territory disputed with Bhutan near the India border.” While that was resolved with a mutual troop withdrawal in August, “both countries maintain a heightened military presence in the surrounding region.”

Interestingly, the Pentagon believes that China’s response at Doklam was commanded from one of the five new theatre commands that the PLA switched to in 2016. “Theater commands appear to have assumed more operational control from the services, and probably commanded the PLA’s responses to North Korea, India, and activities in the South China Sea,” says the report.

The report noted: “India halted another Chinese road construction effort in disputed territory in Arunachal Pradesh in December 2017.”

Acknowledging the PLA Navy’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean, the Pentagon noted the deployment of four counter-piracy task forces to the Gulf of Aden. This means the PLAN has rotated 28 task forces since 2008, when it began these missions.

The Pentagon underlined the continued deployment of PLAN submarines to the Indian Ocean region. “Chinese attack submarines conducted port calls in Seppangar, Malaysia and Karachi, Pakistan, but they were denied a port call in Colombo by Sri Lanka. These submarine patrols demonstrate the PLAN’s emerging capability both to interdict key sea lines of communication (SLOC) and to increase China’s power projection into the Indian Ocean,” the report stated.

As part of this, China’s first overseas base in Djibouti, which was operationalised last July, and its controversial acquisition of Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port, would be followed by more Chinese bases. The Pentagon says Beijing “will seek to establish additional military bases in countries with which it has a longstanding friendly relationship and similar strategic interests, such as Pakistan, and in which there is a precedent for hosting foreign militaries.”

After changing from seven geographical commands to five theatre commands, the PLA Army (PLAA) is focusing on “flattening” the command hierarchies, while still retaining most combat units. First the PLAA reorganised its 18 group armies into 13 (renamed) group armies. The combat echelons in the five dissolved group armies were retained as brigades, without the overarching headquarters of divisions, corps and group armies. These brigades, which are largely self-sufficient in combat power, can be switched between theatres quickly, depending on the requirement.

This brigade structure is being extended to the PLAAF and PLAN. “The PLAAF is also converting its fighter and ground attack [aircraft] divisions into brigades subordinate to air bases, and the PLAN is creating brigade-level frigate flotillas. The PLA probably expects that a more consistent brigade structure across the force will improve joint combat capabilities,” says the report.

All of this is resulting in manpower cuts, with the PLAA having reduced its numbers by 300,000 in 2017. In contrast, India is making heavy weather with much smaller cuts. “The first phase of the (manpower) reforms involves redeployment and restructuring of approximately 57,000 posts,” said Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her Independence Day broadcase on Wednesday.

The Pentagon report also highlights the manpower shift between China’s army, navy and airforce. This involves “increasing the relative size of the PLAN and PLAAF and reducing PLAA personnel to less than half of the PLA,” it says.