Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Single agency being set up to process defence exports

Rajnath Singh's defence ministry has been talking up the need for increasing defence exports

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th Oct 19

In a new initiative to boost the export of Indian defence products, army chief, General Bipin Rawat will on Friday launch the Indigenous Defence Equipment Exporters Association (IDEEA) in New Delhi.

IDEEA is conceived as a non-profit association, set up under Section 8 of the Companies Act. It has the stated objective of making India “one of the top three defence equipment exporters in the world.” 

The association will effectively be a nodal agency for receiving and processing export inquiries from all prospective customers across the globe. Its director, Major General Prem Mohan Vats (Retired) says: “IDEEA will provide a platform for defence exporters, particularly MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises), to air their concerns and to reach customers.”

Sanjay Jaju, the defence ministry official who interfaces with industry,had announced in June the creation of a Defence Export-Import Portal, that “will post export opportunity leads that our sources have obtained, which exporters can follow up and translate into business.” IDEEA, it appears, is intended to meet the same purpose promise.

IDEEA is directed towards achieving the defence ministry’s ambitious aim, stated in the Defence Production Policy of 2018 (DPrP-2018), of exporting defence products worth of $5 billion (Rs 35,000 crore) annually, by 2025. 

Given that defence exports were Rs 11,000 crore in 2018-19, achieving this target requires defence exports to more than triple in six years. The 2018-19 export figure was itself a more than two-fold jump over the preceding year’s exports worth Rs 4,682 crore, according to the defence ministry website.

The ministry assesses that enhanced exports would be essential for meeting the DPrP-2018 target of making India one of the world’s top five defence producers, with an annual defence production turnover target of US $26 billion (Rs 180,000 crore).

India’s current defence production is Rs 90,000 crore per year, says Jaju. Export markets would be crucial for absorbing production levels that are double of this, given that the defence capital allocation is currently Rs 108,248 crore.

The defence ministry has moved gradually towards creating an enabling environment for exports. The first step was to loosen barriers by gaining Indian entry into the four global export control regimes. India has already obtained membership of the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group. New Delhi is now lobbying for entry into the fourth – the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Meanwhile, as an export promotion measure, the government has steadily increased the levels of foreign direct investment (FDI) permitted in defence. If this continues, foreign defence firms might soon be allowed a majority stake in joint ventures (JVs) they set up in India.

In 2016, the prevailing 26 per cent FDI cap in defence manufacturing was raised to 49 per cent through the automatic route. Additionally, FDI above 49 per cent was permitted through case-by-case government sanction “wherever it is likely to result in access to modern technology or for other reasons to be recorded.”

So far, this has failed to spur foreign investment. The defence sector has received FDI worth just $ 0.18 million (Rs 1.26 crore) from April 2014 to December 2017, the defence ministry told Parliament on March 7, 2018.

The biggest recipient of Indian defence exports is currently the US, which has imported nearly Rs 5,000 crore worth of equipment. Next comes Israel, and then the European Union.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

We said, Xi said…

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 15th Oct 19

Notwithstanding the gushy media coverage, which even featured the detailed dinner menu, of last week’s “informal summit” between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and China’s President Xi Jinping at Mamallapuram, outside Chennai, this was hardly a breakthrough in the testy relations between the two countries. If there was diplomatic success, it lay in New Delhi’s forebearance in allowing the summit to take place at all. A country less complaisant towards China might well have called off the summit three days before it happened, when Beijing, after Xi’s meeting with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, publicly declared that China supported all Pakistan’s “core concerns”. This amounts to backing Islamabad’s claim over all of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and, in effect, the abandonment of Beijing’s professed neutrality on the Kashmir dispute. New Delhi’s placid acceptance of this, without even a strongly worded rebuke, must have signalled to Xi that New Delhi desired the optics of a Modi-Xi summit far more than Beijing did. This would have been confirmed during the summit when Modi silently heard out Xi’s account of his meeting with Khan.

The key achievement of the summit, as prominently advertised by both sides, apparently was that Modi and Xi spent over five hours in one-on-one talks on global affairs, investment and trade, combating terrorism, tourism and people to people contacts. Afterwards, Modi talked up the “Chennai Connect” that, he felt, would usher in “a new era” in Sino-Indian ties. Xi declared these were “heart-to-heart” conversations and that he and Modi were “like real friends.” However, experience teaches that an exchange of national visions between the leaders of two countries does not naturally pave the path to peace, especially when there exists a deep-rooted strategic rivalry between them. Observers with a sense of history would recall the four-and-a-half hours of documented conversations between Mao Zedong and Jawaharlal Nehru in October 1954 in which the two leaders similarly discussed America’s role in the region, the global environment and India’s and China’s place in it. Yet, eight years later they were at war.

Courtesy: Ajay Mohanty, Business Standard

True, New Delhi has little choice but to diplomatically engage an increasingly powerful, wealthy and assertive Beijing. However, it cannot be so distracted by the rhetoric of friendship and fraterntity as to miss the fact that, since the first “informal summit” at Wuhan last year, China has done nothing to allay India’s key security or economic concerns. The Indian Army has been unable to reduce a single soldier on the borders and our military’s deployment posture remains predicated on the possibility of a two-front war. We are no closer to resolving the Sino-Indian border dispute, with the Chinese continuing to stonewall even the first step towards that – which is to exchange maps marked with each side’s perceived alignment of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de facto border. Recent delegations from influential Chinese think tanks (which accurately reflect Beijing’s official stance) have recited to Indian audiences the hackneyed formulation that a border solution “should be left to future generations.” The official briefings after Chennai indicate that the Chinese stuck to the same line. With little accommodation in the present, Xi’s proposal for a “hundred-year plan” for cementing ties between the two countries only kicks the can so far down the road that it ceases to be visible at all.

New Delhi’s economic concerns remain unaddressed too, primarily its expanding $53 billion trade deficit with China and misgivings over the terms of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership – a gigantic free trade pact being negotiated between 16 countries that together constitute some 40 per cent of the world’s economy. Here too the can has been kicked down the road, with a “High-Level Economic and Trade Dialogue Mechanism” being set up to tackle these issues. That this is merely a hastily-applied band-aid was tacitly acknowledged by Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale’s admission: “It was a brief discussion.” 

The experience of previous committees warns us to temper expectations. In the realm of border management, the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs, signed in January 2012; and the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement, signed in October 2013 failed spectacularly to calm the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Instead, there was a three-week-long standoff at Depsang, Ladakh in April 2013; followed by a 16-day face-off at Chumar, Ladakh in September 2014; and then the tense 73-day confrontation at Doklam, Bhutan in June-August 2017. The brief spell of peace on the LAC after Wuhan reverted inexorably to the scattered confrontations of earlier days.

Gokhale told the media that the two leaders did not discuss Kashmir as it is “an internal matter” for India. There was good reason to avoid discussing Kashmir, but it is, in fact, far from an internal matter. China physically occupies about 45,000 square kilometres of J&K state as claimed by India, including 3,000 square kilometres captured in the 1962 war and never returned; and 5,180 square kilometres ceded to China by Pakistan in 1963. If the only J&K issue that remains to be discussed with Pakistan is the return of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to India, it is hard to justify remaining silent about the return of China Occupied Ladakh.

The concept of “informal summits” seems here to stay, with Modi having already accepted Xi’s invitation to come and chat next year in China. However, there is little to be gained from a summit that is reduced to a spectacle and where competitive rhetoric far outpaces the reality. If Modi was reduced to writing poetry, China’s envoy to India, Sun Weidong tweeted: “From Wuhan to Chennai, from Yangtze river to Ganges, China and India join hands and stand together. Dragon and Elephant have a tango.” Sun should have known that such saccharine descriptives sound patronising to Indians when China and India still stand far apart on so many issues. If a dragon ever tangos with an elephant, that seems a long way from where we are now.

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

On IAF 87th anniversary: India gets first Rafale, celebrates Balakot strike

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th Oct 19

As the Indian Air Force (IAF) celebrated its 87th anniversary on Tuesday, a clear theme was the operations of February 26, when Indian fighter aircraft attacked the Balakot terrorist training camp in Pakistan and skirmished with counter-attacking Pakistan Air Force (PAF) fighters the next morning.

Drawing thunderous applause from spectators at Hindan Air Base outside Delhi was the “Avenger formation” in the fly-past, a three-aircraft formation led by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman in his MiG-21 BISON fighter, flanked by two Mirage 2000 fighters flown by pilots who had bombed Balakot.

Varthaman was shot down and captured by the Pakistani military in that skirmish, but only after shooting down a PAF F-16 fighter, as claimed by the IAF. 

On Friday, the IAF had released a promotional video, celebrating the bombing of Balakot and the subsequent aerial skirmish as major accomplishments.

Meanwhile in Merignac, France, aerospace firm Dassault delivered to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh the first of 36 Rafale fighters the IAF has bought for Euro 7.8 billion. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has claimed that the outcome of the aerial confrontation in February would have been “something very different” had the IAF had Rafales at that time.

Yet, despite Singh’s symbolic “acceptance” of the first Rafale fighter in Merignac, the IAF is still years away from fielding Rafales with the full capability New Delhi has paid for. 

On Friday, the IAF boss, Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Bhadauria, revealed that the first IAF Rafales, a batch of four aircraft, would only reach India next May. That means an eight-month delay from the contracted delivery date of September 2019 – or three years after the contract was signed.

Further, these Rafales, and tens more that will follow them, will not have the enhanced capabilities – termed “India Specific Enhancements” (ISEs) – the IAF has demanded and paid Euro 1.7 billion for. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report of February 2019 reveals that, until December 2021, the IAF will receive less potent Rafales, built to the lower capability specifications of the French Air Force.

According to the CAG report, the IAF will receive its first Rafale with ISEs installed only in December 2021 – 63 months after the contract signature. Then, over the subsequent eight months, i.e. till August 2022, Dassault (and its French avionics partner, Thales) will install and retrofit ISE capabilities on all 36 Rafale fighters contracted by the IAF. 

The IAF chief has downplayed the eight-month delay in delivering the first Rafales by arguing that IAF pilots would get more time to train in France. 

On Friday he stated: “The aircraft will come at the end of May next year in Indian skies. The advantage is that our pilots will be substantially trained by then. That group of pilots will be near ‘operational’ to take on any task after landing here.”

Bhadauria also dismissed speculation that the delivery of 36 Rafales could be followed by an order for 36 more. He indicated that, to supply more Rafales, Dassault would have to win the IAF tender for 114 “multi-role fighter aircraft” (MRFA).

“Our plan is for building 114 MRFA in the Strategic Partner (SP) model and that is currently being followed,” said Bhadauria.

The tender will involve choosing original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) from seven firms that have expressed interest– Dassault, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Sukhoi, MiG, Saab and Eurofighter. Simultaneously, Indian SPs will be chosen from private and public sector firms that meet the qualifications. Qualified SPs will then partner selected OEMs and submit proposals to the government.

Aerospace analysts believe Dassault is well-positioned to win the MRFA tender, since it has already amortised many of its costs in the tender for 36 Rafales.

Before flying to Merignac, the defence minister had a 35-minute meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.

The Air Force Day parade and fly-past at Hindan also saw debut participation from the Apache AH-64E and Chinook CH-47F – both American helicopters that were inducted into the IAF over the preceding year.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Air Force chief outlines plan to solve shortage of fighter squadrons

Jaguars to retire, additional MiG-29 and Su-30 squadrons being bought

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 5th Oct 19

Four days after assuming command of the Indian Air Force (IAF), Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria has described in detail what his fighter fleet will look like a dozen years into the future. 

There is already concern that the IAF is down to just 30 fighter squadrons, against the assessed requirement of 42 squadrons. Bhadauria’s plan, unveiled in an interaction with the media on Friday, will only raise numbers to 37 squadrons by 2025, before falling again to 33 squadrons by 2032. 

Behind the continuing shortfalls is the impending retirement of the last of six remaining MiG-21 squadrons when their technical life ends in 2021.

Jaguar to retire without new engines

In addition, Bhadauria announced that six Jaguar squadrons would retire in the early 2020s, since it would be too costly to equip then with new engines needed to extend their service lives into the 2030s.

“We have had to drop the plan for re-engining the Jaguar because it has been delayed inordinately and the cost went too high,” said the IAF chief. 

“The non-BISON MiG-21s will retire by the end of this year, or go up to March 2020 at the most. Only the MiG-21 BISON fleet will be left and will go up to the end of its technical life [in 2021], he said.

Worryingly, the shortfalls could be even worse if there is delay in processing the purchase of 114 eponymous Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA), which an Indian “strategic partner” (SP) will build in technology partnership with a global “original equipment manufacturer” (OEM).

Requests for Interest (RFIs) have already been sent out to prospective SPs and OEMs for this tender.

“The [vendors’ responses] have already been received for the 114 MRFA case. We have started the process for obtaining AoN (Acceptance of Necessity) now,” said Bhadauria. The AoN, which the defence ministry accords, is the first step in a procurement and is followed by the issuance of an RFP (request for proposals) – the basic tender document.

Bhadauria’s plan also includes building 83 Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) is quick time to fill the light fighter vacancies left by the retirement of the MiG-21 and MiG-27 fighters.

On a parallel track, India would build the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), a fifth generation medium fighter.

More MiG-29s and Sukhoi-30MKIs

Meanwhile, the IAF chief confirmed the IAF would buy 21 MiG-29 fighters that are lying ready built in Russia. “We are going to go in for 21 MiG-29, which has already been informed [to Moscow],” he said. 

Adding those to the IAF’s existing three MiG-29 squadrons, which are undergoing a mid-life upgrade, would take the number of IAF MiG-29 squadrons up to four. In addition, the navy flies two squadrons of the navalized MiG-29K/KUBs.

Bhadauria also confirmed reports that additional Sukhoi-30MKI fighters would be built by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) in Nashik. HAL will soon complete delivery of the last squadron of Sukhoi-30MKIs, bringing up the IAF fleet to 13 squadrons.

“We are moving towards ordering 12 more Sukhoi-30s. Whether we need some more in lieu of aircraft that are going to get phased out from 2025 onwards… we will have to take a look later. But at the moment, 12 is what is being followed up straightaway,” said Bhadauria.

The chief also confirmed plans to upgrade the Sukhoi-30MKI, with modern “radar and weapons capabilities and also tackling obsolescence management and electronic warfare aspects.”

No plan for 36 more Rafale

Dismissing rumours that India is buying 36 more Rafales from France, Bhadauria stated: “Our plan is for building 114 MRFA in the SP model. There is no separate plan for this (36 more Rafales).

He confirmed a delay in Dassault’s delivery of the first four Rafale fighters. While Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is going to France next week to accept the fighters, they would only fly to India in May 2020, said Bhadauria.

Friday, 4 October 2019

As Project 28 nears end, GRSE feels it’s equipped to build more corvettes

INS Kadmatt, the second ASW corvette built under Project 28, sails into Sasebo, Japan

By Ajai Shukla 
Garden Reach, Kolkata
Business Standard, 4th Oct 19

Workmen bustle over INS Kavaratti, a sleek anti-submarine warfare (ASW) corvette nearing completion at Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers (GRSE), Kolkata, on the monsoon-swollen Hooghly River. The last of four corvettes built under Project 28, Kavaratti will be commissioned before end-2019 – three years later than contracted.

Besides being badly late, Project 28 is also over-budget – by an incredible 250 per cent. The four corvettes were sanctioned for Rs 2,700 crore, but INS Kamorta, Kadmatt, Kiltan and Kavaratti will end up costing about Rs 7,000 crore in all.

Even so, there is no complaint from the Ministry of Defence (MoD), or from the usually demanding navy. The admirals regard the delay as an acceptable price for making the Kamorta-class India’s most highly indigenised warships – about 90 per cent “Made in India”.

The ASW corvettes, which are designed and equipped to detect enemy submarines and destroy them with torpedoes, have also ended up far more silent – and, therefore, better equipped to listen for submarines – than originally envisioned.

Project 28 time-and-cost overruns mounted progressively. The first delay was caused by the MoD’s decision that INS Kamorta and its successors would be constructed from indigenous warship-grade steel – called DMR 249A, and manufactured by Bhilai Steel Plant. Developing and producing DMR 249A in sufficient quantities took two years longer than anticipated. 

Then, after constructing the first two corvettes (INS Kamorta in 2014 and Kadmatt in 2016), the navy decided that the third and fourth corvettes would have superstructures (the part above the deck) built from composite materials. 

The lower radar reflectivity of composites makes the corvettes harder to pick up with radar. Also, being far lighter then steel, composite superstructures have reduced the weight of INS Kiltan and Kavaratti from 3,150 tonnes to just 3,000 tonnes, thereby increasing their speed to 46 kilometres per hour (kmph) and their sea endurance to 6,400 km at a speed of 33 kmph.

However, that also imposed another year’s delay, as Swedish firm Kockums taught GRSE workers the intricacies of building with composites. Since composites cannot be welded, sheets must be held together with rivets that are finely calibrated according to the weight they support.

Over the course of Project 28, indigenization levels have reached 90 per cent, says GRSE chief, Rear Admiral VK Saxena (Retired). These include the difficult areas of sensors and weapons, where import content is usually high.

Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd has built the 76 millimetre Otomelara gun, while Larsen & Toubro has built the heavyweight torpedo tubes and rocket launchers used to destroy enemy submarines. The Kavach chaff launchers that serve as decoys for incoming missiles are built by the Ordnance Factory Board in Ambarnath.

Bharat Electronics Ltd has built most of the sensors and combat management systems in the Kamorta-class corvettes. These include the Revathi radar that detects enemy aircraft out to 300 km, the Lynx fire control radar that guides missiles and the Combat Management System (CMS) that integrates all the weapons and sensors.

Kirloskar Oil Engines Ltd (KOEL) has built the four diesel engines that power these corvettes, while the on-board power generation system (consisting of 3 MegaWatt generators) is manufactured in India by Cummins and Kirloskar Electric.

Given the success in designing, manufacturing and evolving a successful ASW corvette, GRSE executives say the MoD should order more corvettes, which the navy badly needs.

Yet, despite the manufacturing eco-system already created, the navy is now evolving a design for the so-called “Next Generation Corvette”. 

“We have taken up a case with the navy and are in talks with them. It makes sound economic sense to freeze the design and specifications of the successful Kamorta-class and build around that,” says Saxena.

The GRSE chief points to the US Navy’s so-called DDG-51 programme, under which it has built 82 destroyers of the successful Arleigh Burke-class. Currently, every one of the US Navy’s destroyers is of this class, which has allowed incremental design and process improvements and economy of scale for vendors and sub-vendors.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Warship woes: Stop the bluster and build capability

INS Tarkash, a Krivak-III frigate built for the Indian Navy

By Ajai Shukla
Unsigned editorial for Business Standard
2nd October 2019

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was correct in stating that the Indian Navy could deal Pakistan a heavier blow today than in 1971, when Indian missile boats attacked Karachi port. But Mr Singh has set his sights very low. The Karachi strikes, while morale boosting, were eventually peripheral to the outcome of that war. Today, given that Indian Navy’s budget of $8 billion is only slightly smaller than Pakistan’s entire defence allocation of $11 billion; far more would be expected from it. New Delhi’s strategic vision of the Indo-Pacific requires the Indian Navy to exercise control over not just the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal, but all of the northern Indian Ocean from the Strait of Hormuz in West Asia, to the Malacca Strait in the East. In achieving this, the key challenge would come not from Pakistan’s weak navy, but from a bigger and stronger China, which is already asserting its presence in these waters. The question for Indian planners is: How ready is our navy for that?

Serious capability shortfalls are evident from the navy’s demand for a larger share of the defence modernisation budget. In an unusually blunt statement last fortnight, the navy vice chief publicly lamented that, in the last seven years, its share of the overall defence budget has dropped from 18 per cent to under 14 per cent today. Meanwhile, its share of the capital budget has fallen from over 30 per cent to less than 24 per cent today. The Indian Navy’s long-term capability plan envisions a fleet of 200 warships and 450 aircraft by 2027, but it currently has just 131 warships and 230 aircraft. Worse, most shortfalls are in capital warships – the multi-role destroyers, frigates and corvettes that are the navy’s workhorses. Submarines are in short supply and the government’s inability to conclude a long-delayed contract for building 24 minesweepers has left the navy with not one of these crucial vessels.

Equally worryingly, many capital warships built in the last two decades are operating without sensors and weapons that are central to their capability. Most of the navy’s modern vessels are not fitted with modern towed array sonars, essential for detecting enemy submarines. These warships, each costing several hundred million dollars, risk being torpedoed because of the absence of sonars worth a few million dollars each. Similarly, the Scorpene submarines now entering service at half a billion dollars each are toothless because contracts have not been concluded for modern torpedoes. As a stopgap, the navy’s decades-old SUT torpedoes have been given a lifetime extension but numbers are falling to barely six torpedoes per submarine. 

Part of the blame lies with the navy, which designs quality warships, but builds just three-to-four vessels in each design class. In comparison, the US Navy builds to a standardised design – it commissioned USS Arleigh Burke in 1988, and has since built 82 destroyers of that class. This allows for incremental design and process improvements and economy of scale for vendors and sub-vendors. In comparison, the Indian Navy’s 12 destroyers are spread over three different designs.

The challenges before the navy are clear. Rather than bluster, it is time for the government to set a clear roadmap, allocate the finances needed and facilitate the navy in creating the capability needed for supporting India’s strategic vision in the region.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

New Scorpene submarine late and over-budget, stakes rise for Project 75-I

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 29th Sept 19

On Saturday, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh commissioned into service the navy’s 15thconventionally powered, diesel-electric submarine, INS Khanderi. Built in Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL) in technology partnership with French shipyard Naval Group, this is the second of six Scorpene submarines the navy contracted in 2005 for Rs 18,798 crore.

The defence minister described the commissioning as “a proud moment for the nation, the Indian Navy and MDL.” In fact, INS Khanderi is being delivered more than six years late, well over cost and with several defects that remain to be resolved.

When the Khanderi first sailed out of Mumbai for sea trials on June 1, 2017, it was expected to join the naval fleet by end-2017. However, the trial team found dozens of shortcomings that MDL and Naval Group have grappled with for over two years.

While the navy’s vice chief, Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar, insists the Khanderi is now a “fully combat capable submarine”, navy sources say it is being commissioned with several shortcomings still unresolved.

In June, Broadsword reported (“Navy finds defects in Scorpene submarine; one more year of delay”) that there were 35 defects that still remained to be resolved. Of these, 29 could not have been resolved during the monsoon period, since they required testing in absolutely calm seas – or what is called “Sea State-1”.

Nor is the Khanderi being commissioned with a full complement of its primary weapon, the torpedo. This after the government cancelled the purchase of 98 torpedoes from Italian firm, WASS, because its group company, AgustaWestland, was accused of bribing Indian officials to win a contract for VVIP helicopters. 

As an emergency stopgap, German firm Atlas Elektronik was contracted to modernise 64 torpedoes, bought in the 1980s and 1990s for the navy’s four Shishumar-class submarines. This meagre quantity is now being shared with the Scorpene submarines being commissioned.

By 2022-23, when six Scorpenes will have been commissioned to supplement the four Shishumar-class boats, there will be just six torpedoes for each submarine.

Besides these, the navy operates nine Russian-origin conventionally powered Kilo-class submarines, one nuclear powered attack submarine (INS Chakra) and a nuclear powered, nuclear missile submarine, INS Arihant.

That is well short of the navy’s assessed requirement of 24 conventionally powered submarines and six nuclear powered attack submarines.

Yet, there is delay and confusion in the proposal to build six more conventional submarines, with “air independent propulsion” (AIP) that would allow them to remain submerged for up to two weeks, compared to just 36-48 hours for a diesel-electric submarine. When a submarine is submerged, it is far harder to detect.

The new proposal, called Project 75-I, envisages selecting an Indian firm as “strategic partner” (SP). Chosen SPs will bid to build the six AIP submarines in partnership with a foreign “original equipment manufacturer” (OEM) that offers a suitable submarine design and transfer of technology.

In response to a navy enquiry, five Indian entities have submitted Expressions of Interest (EoI) for being the SP in Project 75-I. These include MDL, Larsen & Toubro (L&T), Reliance Naval and Engineering (RNaval), Hindustan Shipyard Ltd, Visakhapatnam (HSL), and a proposed special purpose vehicle (SPV) consisting of HSL and Adani Defence.

Navy sources say only L&T and MDL are realistic contenders, since financially stressed RNaval and HSL do not meet the financial criteria and the HSL-Adani SPV remains to be formally incorporated.

The more difficult choice is between the five firms that have submitted EoIs for selection as the chosen OEM. Rubin Design Bureau (Russia) has offered its Amur submarine, Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (TKMS, Germany) its Type 218 boat, Naval Group (formerly DCNS, France) its Shortfin Barracuda, Navantia (Spain) its S-80 and Daewoo (South Korea) its KSS-3 submarine.

Of these, only Rubin, TKMS and Naval Group are considered to have a chance. The Navantia S-80 is grappling with serious weight imbalance issues, while the Korean submarine is an untested design.

Indian naval submariners are almost unanimously convinced of the superiority of the TKMS Type 218, the design of which is optimised for the shallow Baltic Sea – which has similarities with the Arabian Sea, where the waters 40 kilometres off Karachi are just 40 metres deep. The Type 218 is also reputedly the most silent design. However, it is probably the most expensive of the three.

The Shortfin Barracuda would be significantly cheaper, with the infrastructure having already been set up in MDL for building six Scorpenes. However, since the French Navy operates only nuclear powered submarines, Naval Group builds conventionally powered and AIP submarines only as a commercial ploy to keep its submarine line active. The submarines themselves, like the Scorpenes, are less than cutting-edge.

The Russians are the dark horses, with naval planners wary of the tendency to submit low-cost tenders and then raise the price during construction, as with the aircraft carrier, Gorshkov (now Vikramaditya). Also going against Moscow is New Delhi’s concern that awarding Russia the Project 75-I contract might invoke sanctions from Washington under the 2017 law, Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act ( CAATSA).

Friday, 27 September 2019

Interview: Ajai Shukla on "The Current and Future State of India’s Military"

The Diplomat’s Franz-Stefan Gady talks to Ajai Shukla about the current state and future trajectory of the Indian Armed Forces. Shukla is a former officer of the Indian Army, where he held various positions including commanding one of the service’s most elite tank regiments. Over the span of his journalistic career, Shukla reported from various conflict zones such as Afghanistan and Iraq. He also covered the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War for Indian media outlets. Shukla is currently a consulting editor with the national daily, Business Standard.

The Diplomat: A book on Indian military modernization published in 2012 carried the title Arming Without Aiming, by which the authors of the book principally meant that the India in the past has had difficulties executing a clear strategic vision when it comes to military procurement and long-term defense planning. The armed forces, according to the authors, suffer from balkanization of military organization, underpinned by a persistent dysfunction in the country’s political-military establishment, and a lack of strategic guidance. Do you agree with this assessment? Do you think the situation has improved over the last seven years? 

That India has no strategic culture is a common perception amongst western security analysts, especially after it was famously enunciated by RAND Corporation analyst, George Tanham in the 1990s and echoed by Stephen Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta in their book, Arming Without Aiming. This was indeed true at the time of India’s independence in 1947, when leaders of the freedom struggle, such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, found themselves helming national security, strategy and intelligence without any previous experience in these matters. Nor were India’s first generations of generals, admirals and air marshals any better equipped, since many of them had been promoted to general rank with little service experience. The British exited from India without imparting to their successors any tradition of strategic thinking, high military command, internal security or intelligence. It has, consequently, taken time to build up experience and expertise in these realms.

Furthermore, generations of leaders in independent India have held the strategic belief that India’s biggest vulnerabilities are the deficit of economic and social development, rather than external threats. This conviction has held through three wars initiated by Pakistan in the hope of “liberating” Kashmir (1948, 1965 and 1999) and through its sustained use of proxies to foment insurgency in Indian states such as Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). It has only been in crisis, such as the humbling military defeat by China in 1962, that Indian leaders have focused seriously on national security preparedness, and diverted a larger share of national resources to this end. Yet, each time a crisis blew over, New Delhi switched back its attention and resources to development and social sector expenditure.

On the positive side, this confidence in its own stability and resilience has prevented India from being overly militarized, and from becoming a national security state like its twin, Pakistan. It has also ensured that a healthy share of its scarce resources have been allocated to urgent developmental priorities. Whether this bespeaks a lack of strategic culture, or the opposite, can be debated.

The Diplomat: What can you tell us about the readiness levels of the Indian military? Is the Indian military ready for war? Is there a difference within the service branches? How about cross-service cooperation?

India’s military likes to portray itself as not just ready for war, but actually fighting one every day of the year. That it is a heavily committed army is beyond doubt. About one-third of the army is engaged at all times in counter-insurgency operations in J&K and in the northeastern states where militancy is winding down, but is still significant. Another one-third is deployed round the year, manning the “no-war, no-peace” borders with Pakistan and China, which mostly run along high-altitude Himalayan terrain. The remaining one-third of the force should be training for its warfighting role, but actually spends much of its two-year “peace tenure” recuperating from operational deployment or preparing for its next tenure in the field.

Given these commitments, training for warfighting gets short shrift. Given the stovepipes in which the army, navy and air force operate, there is little appetite or time for inter-service training, although lip service is always paid to the need for it. Each of the three services tends to structure, equip, plan and prepare for single service operations. The air force, for example, accords far greater priority to equipping itself with air defense fighters than with ground support aircraft. Its stranglehold over attack helicopters, including tank killers such as the Apache AH-64E, means the army’s armored divisions must coordinate with the air force for integrating these assets into the land battle. Similarly, the navy focuses far more on capital warships – frigates, destroyers, aircraft carriers and submarines – than it does on amphibious warfare vessels that are crucial for exercising control over India’s numerous island territories.

On India’s latest independence day, on August 15, 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the government would appoint a Chief of Defense Staff (CDS), a single point commander for all three services. While this has the potential for propagating a more holistic, tri-service approach to military force structuring and operational planning, it remains to be seen how this decision will be implemented.

The Diplomat: What are the most pressing material needs of the Indian Army, Air Force, and Navy? 

The 1.2 million strong army has simultaneously too many personnel and too little firepower. It needs to shed 200,000-300,000 personnel and divert the savings into battlefield fire support, especially artillery and light attack helicopters. It will need to compensate for manpower reductions with investments in real time surveillance and command systems.

The navy, which aspires to be a key security provider in the Indian Ocean, needs more surveillance assets, including satellites, long-range shore-based radar, and long-range maritime surveillance aircraft such as the manned P-8I Poseidon and the unmanned Sea Guardian drone. Its surface warship fleet is badly short of helicopters for anti-submarine and airborne early warning roles. Minesweepers are badly needed. The conventional submarine force (diesel-electric SSKs, as well as air-independent SSPs) needs to be boosted from the current 15 to the planned 24 boats. Also essential is a line of six nuclear attack submarines (SSNs) that are under development, but could take another decade to enter service. A third aircraft carrier is proposed to be built indigenously but is awaiting official sanction. 

The Indian Air Force (IAF) badly needs to provide mid-life upgrades for its fighter fleet – especially Sukhoi-30MKI and Jaguar aircraft – while simultaneously pushing through the long-delayed procurement of 114 multi-role fighters from the global market. The IAF must also take ownership of the Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) and the eponymous Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) projects, which are currently making slow progress under the Defense Research & Development Organization (DRDO). A large number of Tejas fighters are needed to replace the IAF’s obsolescent MiG-21 and MiG-27 fighters, most of which have retired without replacements, with the squadrons having been “number-plated”. The IAF also badly needs more force multipliers, particularly air-to-air refueling tankers and airborne warning and control systems (AWACS).

The Diplomat: Do you think the Indian military’s budget is adequate for range of missions it is expected to fulfil in the future?

The large number of weapons platforms languishing in the procurement pipeline point to a lack of capital funding needed to conclude those acquisitions. However, the government has signaled its inability to spend much more than 2 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product on defense, inclusive of pensions. As a percentage of overall government spending, defense allocations have fallen steadily from 17.7 per cent in 2017-18, to 16.5 per cent in 2018-19, to 15.5 per cent in the current year. That is insufficient to cater for the military’s missions of border protection, warfighting preparations and stocking, counter-insurgency, maritime domain protection, out of area contingencies and humanitarian aid and disaster relief (HADR).

That said, for a developing country like India, with its multiple security requirements, the defense budget is likely to remain inadequate. Instead, the missions will have to be tailored to the funds available. The military will have to re-prioritize spending with expenditure diverted to the most urgent requirements, such as creating and training more Special Forces units. There would also have to be greater inter-services consensus on where funding should be directed and prioritized. 

The Diplomat: Are operational requirements for the military shifting? For example, the Indian military has been planning for a two-front war with both China and Pakistan. Do you think this is a realistic scenario or should resources be shifted to meet other possible requirements in the near future?

A two-front war with China and Pakistan is a worst-case circumstance that would arise only from a simultaneous failure of Indian strategy and international diplomacy. Militaries cannot be structured, particularly for countries with limited means, on the worst possible eventuality; rather, they must cater for the most likely ones. However, Indian military planners routinely raise the bogey of a two-front war, throwing in another “internal security half-front” comprising of Kashmiri militants disrupting lines of communications in the interior. 

It is not unusual for militaries to conjure up scare scenarios to bolster their annual bids for budget and resources. However, in India, where the bogey of a two-front war is not rigorously questioned, this has created an acceptance of shortfalls. The IAF’s current strength of 30 squadrons is accepted even though 42 fighter squadrons are assessed as the minimum needed for a two-front war. The navy’s Maritime Capability Perspective Plan – 2012-2027 envisions a force of 200 warships and 500 aircraft to control its Indian Ocean demesne in the face of encroachments from Pakistan and China. However the navy currently operates just 140 warships and 220 aircraft.

Until about a decade ago, the army’s eastern command, which safeguards much of the border with China, had seven divisions under command. In the event of hostilities with China, plans existed for three-to-four “dual task divisions” to be moved from the Indo-Pakistan border to the eastern command. Over the last decade, however, citing the possibility of a two-front war, the army argued that inter-theater reinforcement would not be possible. To make the eastern theatre self-contained, the army pitched for, and was sanctioned, four new divisions, including two that would be part of a new “mountain strike corps.” This shortsightedness swelled an already bloated army by 100,000 more soldiers, leaving less for equipment modernization.

India cannot win a two-front war and should not plan for one. Preventing such an eventuality should be a key aim of Indian diplomacy and global strategy.

The Diplomat: One of the most controversial doctrinal shifts in recent years has been the adaptation of the so-called Cold Start doctrine, also known as Pro-Active doctrine. There have been recent reports that the Indian Army is standing up its first so-called Integrated Battle Group, an instrumental component for the execution of Cold Start. Do you think the doctrine is a stabilizing or destabilizing factor in an inter-state crisis like we have seen in February 2019 between India and Pakistan? 

India’s “Cold Start” or “Pro-active Operations” doctrine, the existence of which is not officially acknowledged, aims to punish any Pakistani outrage or terror attack on Indian soil by quickly mobilizing a number of mechanized formations stationed in the vicinity of the Indo-Pakistan border and launching multiple swift, shallow offensives to cause attrition on the Pakistani Army and capture territory along a broad front. Essential for success is the ability to mobilize and launch attacks before the Pakistani Army can occupy its defensive positions in strength. To achieve this the Indian Army has moved several armored brigades into cantonments closer to the border. Further, the Cold Start attack is sequenced differently with defensive formations (or pivot corps, as they are called in Cold Start lingo), which are located closer to the border, given much of the responsibility for the initial thrusts rather than waiting for the arrival of the strike corps from their locations much farther from the border. These swift ground strikes would be integrated with the simultaneous and full mobilization of the air force and navy.

Pakistan’s military responded swiftly, taking both conventional and non-conventional measures to counter the threat from Cold Start. The non-conventional measures have garnered much of the attention, particularly Pakistan’s ostentatious operationalization of a tactical nuclear weapon (TNW) – the Nasr, or Hatf 9 short-range ballistic missile, presumably equipped with a miniaturized nuclear payload and fired from a multi-barrel launcher at battlefield targets. Pakistan has signaled in various ways that an Indian offensive breakthrough on the battlefield would face Nasr strikes, perhaps on Pakistani territory. Given India’s nuclear doctrine of assured massive retaliation, Pakistan’s threat of TNW use is enormously destabilizing. Besides the possibility of a terrorist strike uncontrollably escalating to full-scale nuclear war, India has highlighted, as have other worried countries, the danger of Pakistan’s TNWs – which must necessarily be forward deployed – falling into the hands of rogue actors, such as ideologically subverted military commanders or jihadi terrorist groups.

Pakistan has unconvincingly argued that its TNWs are adequately safeguarded. However, it may be more justified in believing that its conventional military counter to the Cold Start doctrine would successfully hold off Indian offensive thrusts, thus eliminating the requirement for TNW release, deployment and use. The conventional measures the Pakistan military has taken include a posture review termed “New Concept of Warfighting”. This involves a so-called “3-R” process to “Reorganize, Restructure and Relocate” its defensive formations. Each of them now maintain one-third of their strength in their defensive positions at all times, creating the operational time and space needed for building up to full strength in the event of a Cold Start attack. Further, Pakistan’s defensive formations have been beefed up with additional armor (earlier held centralized in the rear), providing them a greater ability to block Indian armor thrusts until more Pakistani units can be built up from rear areas.

The Pakistan military’s operational and intelligence assessments conclude that an Indian Cold Start offensive can be held off with conventional forces alone, without having to employ TNWs, or even issue a nuclear threat. That, in the view of Pakistani planners, would constitute a victory in a war initiated by India. This belief gave Pakistani intelligence agencies the confidence to go ahead with the Mumbai terrorist strikes in 2008, well after Cold Start was initiated. Indian analysts argue that the conventional deterrent posed by Cold Start has prevented Pakistan from initiating any more Mumbai-style misadventures. In fact, Pakistan has probably been held back by the international outrage and US pressure following the Mumbai strikes.

The Diplomat: As a nuclear-armed state, what do you make of the recent discussions of a gradual shift away from India’s no first use nuclear policy to a more ambiguous nuclear doctrine? 

In August, India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh placed a question mark over India’s doctrinal pledge of nuclear “no first use” (NFU), when he said India may not feel indefinitely, or unquestionably, bound to that commitment. This was clearly not just an off-hand comment, since the defense minister simultaneously tweeted the same message. Singh was echoing his predecessor in 2016, Manohar Parrikar, who had walked back from NFU, but later qualified that as his “personal views”. Earlier, the former chief of India’s Strategic Forces Command, Lieutenant General BS Nagal, had publicly declared that no Indian leader could stand by and wait for an adversary to nuke the country. In 2010, then National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon had repudiated NFU in a speech to India’s National Defense College. (That speech has since been amended on the foreign ministry website, removing the NFU repudiation).

Policymakers in Islamabad and Beijing have never believed that New Delhi actually hews to an NFU policy, given its on-going investment in technologies and systems that go beyond a purely retaliatory nuclear policy. These include precision-strike missiles, ballistic missile defense systems and surveillance and reconnaissance means. Statements like Rajnath Singh’s only reinforce such scepticism.

Loosening New Delhi’s NFU commitment would be consistent with Modi’s policy of creating additional policy options in the national security realm. This penchant has been evident in multiple ways: During the 2016 cross-border strikes on militant camps, the IAF’s February 2019 air strikes on Balakot, deep inside Pakistan, the recent anti-satellite (ASAT) test and, in August 2019, the shock dilution of Article 370, which had granted special status to J&K state in the Indian union. A dilution of New Delhi’s NFU pledge would create “use it or lose it” incentives in Pakistan for pre-emptive nuclear use in a crisis. It would also bring international pressure on New Delhi, which has reaped many benefits – such as a trade waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group – from being perceived as a “responsible” nuclear actor. However, Modi might well see benefits in ambiguity, keeping adversaries guessing while simultaneously denying any change in policy.

The Diplomat: Has Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” initiative, exemplified in the defense realm by a new strategic partnership policy under the framework of the Defense Procurement Procedure 2016, been a success? What is the progress on increasing the indigenization of Indian military systems? What is the biggest strength of the Indian defense industry? Its biggest weakness?

Modi’s “Make in India” initiative has been characterized more by unrealistic target-setting and policy announcements than by what every analyst and policymaker accepts is the way forward: To empower the private sector to play a greater role in defense research and development (R&D) and manufacture, rather than providing preferential treatment to the MoD’s nine defense public sector undertakings (DPSUs) and 41 ordnance factories (OFs), which have monopolized defense manufacture for decades and continue to do so despite government promises of a level playing field for the private sector.

Vested interests within the public sector continue scuttling initiatives like the “strategic partner” (SP) policy, which envisaged building up private firms with proven technological excellence and deep pockets as alternatives to the DPSUs/OFs. This was to be done by reserving selected procurements – such as the building of naval helicopters and conventional submarines – for private sector SPs. However, when tendering began, it became evident that the government has succumbed to pressure and also allowed DPSUs/OFs to bid for these contracts. The Defense Procurement Procedure of 2016, the current bible of defense procurement, has failed to remedy matters. A new DDP, which is currently being formulated, is likely to be implemented in 2020.

The biggest strength of the Indian defense industry is probably the dynamism and entrepreneurship of its private sector, particular in information technology and software engineering – both crucial fields in defense production. Its biggest weakness is the nexus between government policymakers and the public sector, which continues to skew the playing field in favor of the latter.

The Diplomat: There is a slow ongoing shift away from Russian military hardware to the procuring systems from other countries including France and the United States. The recent acquisition of Russian-made S-400 air defense systems, and the corresponding threat of U.S. sanctions, has caused controversy in Washington.  Can you foresee a scenario where reliance on Russian systems will be significantly reduced in the near to medium-term with the United States stepping in as the country’s top weapons supplier? 

India’s shift from Russian systems to western defense platforms is discernible. However, over 60 per cent of India’s arsenal, especially in the realms of submarines, aircraft and armoured vehicles, continues to be of Soviet/Russian origin and keeping those platforms going will require continued procurement from Moscow. Russia also keeps alive its leverage in New Delhi by providing systems and technologies – such as nuclear submarine development assistance – that no other country is willing to supply. Russia also provides India certain categories of platforms, such as warships, helicopters and air defense weaponry, at attractive rates. The recent contracts for Krivak-III frigates, Mi-17V5 and Kamov-226T helicopters and S-400 air defense systems illustrate this.

The Diplomat: As a former Indian Army officer, what is the one thing analysts and defense commentators, who have not served, most consistently miss when writing about the Indian armed forces? Do you think your service has given you particular insights into the military? 

As a former military officer, I have ability to understand the mindset of defense planners and how the institution reacts to situations and initiatives. I am also able to read between the lines when the military puts out messages and statements. Finally, as a combat soldier, the personal experience of operating weapons systems and platforms has given me the understanding of how the overall effect is often far less than the sum of its parts. Analysts and commentators who have not served tend to take statements and situations at face value, which often presents a misleading picture.