Saturday, 30 March 2019

The Tejas Mark 2 fighter has been bulked up into medium fighter category

Repeated IAF demands for more capability likely to delay Mark 2, which is set to be a very different fighter

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 30th March 19

Tejas’ changing goalposts

Tejas Mark 1
Tejas Mk 2 (PDR-2014)
Tejas Mark 2 (2017)
Tejas Mark 2 (MWF-2018)

GE F-404
GE F-414
GE F-414
GE F-414
500 mm longer
1000 mm longer
1,350 mm longer
All-Up Weight
13.5 tonnes
15 tonnes
16.5 tonnes
17.5 tonnes
3.5 tonnes
4.5 tonnes
5.5 tonnes
6.5 tonnes
Internal fuel
2,486 kg
2,672 kg
3,300 kg
3,300 kg

The Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA), which was developed to replace the MiG-21/MiG-27 light fighters in the Indian Air Force (IAF), will not remain a light fighter much longer. 

Numerous additional capabilities demanded by the Indian Air Force (IAF) for the Tejas Mark 2, which is still on the drawing board, will increase the weight of the 14.5 tonne aircraft by three tonnes, into the 17.5 tonne medium fighter class.

“We now call the Tejas Mark 2 a medium weight fighter, or MWF”, said a senior Tejas designer in a classified briefing in New Delhi on Friday, which Business Standard attended.

Consequently, the Tejas Mark 2 is now being billed by the IAF as a replacement for the Mirage 2000 medium fighter, rather than the lightweight MiGs that are retiring soon.

Changes in defence equipment specifications demanded by the buyers – the army, navy and IAF – are partly responsible for endemic delays in developing indigenous weaponry. Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) has cited the IAF’s repeated changes in Tejas Mark 1 specifications as a reason for production delays.

However, this is probably the first time that user-driven changes are driving a weapons platform into an altogether different category.

The briefing explained that the transformation of the Tejas from a light to a medium fighter has taken place incrementally over the preceding decade. In 2009, the Tejas Mark 2 was sanctioned as a “re-engined” version of the Tejas Mark 1, with the current General Electric F-404IN engine replaced by a GE F-414 engine with higher thrust.

During the three years it took to buy the F-414 engine, the IAF kept demanding additional systems and improvements in the existing ones. By 2014, when the Tejas Mark 2’s preliminary design review (PDR) was conducted, the aircraft fuselage design was stretched by half a metre and it became one-and-a-half tonnes heavier. Compared to the 3.5 tonnes of payload (mainly weapons and external fuel) envisioned in the initial design, the Tejas Mark 2 was now to carry 4.5 tonnes – one tonne more.

Meanwhile, the IAF and HAL conceived an interim fighter called the Tejas Mark 1A, with additional capabilities like an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and an advanced electronic warfare suite. By 2017, the IAF demanded all those capabilities and more in the Mark 2.

The 2017 Tejas Mark 2, therefore, became a full metre longer. With an all-up weight of 16.5 tonnes and a payload of 5.5 tonnes, it was already pushing the medium fighter border. The IAF also demanded that it carry 3.3 tonnes of internal fuel, almost a tonne more than what was envisaged in 2009.

Last year, the Tejas Mark 2 transitioned fully from an LCA to a “medium weight fighter” (MWF). It will now be 1.35 metres longer and significantly broader than the original Mark 2, and will carry 6.5 tonnes of payload – more than double the original plan.

“The Tejas Mark 2 MWF is now required to have greater range and endurance. It will have 11 weapons stations, compared to the earlier seven stations and will carry weapons like the SCALP missile, and the Crystal Maze and SPICE-2000 guided bombs”, said the Tejas designer.

An aviation analyst, speaking off the record, says these ambitious specifications would almost certainly delay the Tejas Mark 2 significantly, since the designers must effectively create a brand new aircraft by the target date of 2025.

“The IAF has steadily moved the goalposts for the Tejas. This is only the latest example”, says the analyst.

Friday, 29 March 2019

NEWSMAKER: Meet Dr G Satheesh Reddy, India’s ‘Star Wars’ mastermind

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 29th March 19
Scientists of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) are basking in the limelight after being publicly lauded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday for successfully conducting an anti-satellite (ASAT) test, a capability that only the US, Russia and China had demonstrated so far. A key role in this achievement has been that of the DRDO chief G Satheesh Reddy. An acclaimed navigation specialist, Reddy has personally led the development of systems that guide a missile, itself travelling at hypersonic velocity, to a satellite 300 km away that is travelling through space at almost 30,000 km per hour.
Even so, the achievement remains a collective one, shared by hundreds of scientists and technologists who participated over decades in the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP). The IGMDP was kicked off in 1983 by the talismanic DRDO chief (and later President of India), A P J Abdul Kalam, and spearheaded by talented and hardworking young scientists that he personally selected. Amongst those were propulsion specialist Vijay Kumar Saraswat, who headed the DRDO from 2009-2013; and navigation systems specialist Avinash Chander, who followed Saraswat as DRDO chief from 2013-15. Like Reddy, these pioneers masterminded the Prithvi and Agni programmes and the many strategic missile systems that flowed from the IGMDP, including the ballistic missile defence (BMD) programme and now the ASAT system.
Reddy is, in a sense, a child of the Modi government’s shake-up of the DRDO. In August 2014, three months after coming to power, Modi publicly criticised DRDO’s endemic delays, which he ascribed to a ‘chalta hai’ (lackadaisical) attitude. Four months later, he sacked then DRDO chief Chander, terminating a service extension that had recently been granted. Of the three posts that Chander held — DRDO chairman, secretary defence R&D and scientific advisor to the raksha mantri (SA to RM) — the first two went to radar specialist S Christopher, while Reddy was given the prestigious job of SA to RM. In being elevated to that post, Reddy, then less than 55 years old, superseded an unprecedented number of seniors. When Christopher retired last August, Reddy was given both his posts, making him the top defence R&D czar.
Even after taking over as SA to RM in June 2015, Reddy retained the crucial DRDO appointment of director general (missiles and strategic systems), overseeing the development of navigations systems by Research Centre Imarat, the secretive laboratory he had earlier headed. With propulsion systems development having more or less stabilised, most key advances in strategic and tactical missiles, guided bombs and drones are now taking place in the precision of navigation systems. Many of the DRDO’s key projects, such as guided glide bombs, guided rockets in the next Pinaka rocket launcher system, and the next-generation of strategic missiles such as the unacknowledged Agni-6 and the K-4 submarine-launched ballistic missile, fall squarely in Reddy’s sphere of expertise.
The DRDO chief, savvy in New Delhi politics, clearly understands the imperative to share credit with the government. Even though Saraswat had repeatedly stated, from as early as 2010, that the technology for an ASAT test was ready and developed, Reddy has prudently allowed credit to the Modi government.
“While we have been working on the technology for a while, as you know, serious work on it started about two years ago in 2016-17. We went into mission mode only six months ago, from when we worked day and night. This is a new missile that has been developed… although we have used some existing technology as background,” Reddy told an interviewer on Wednesday. 
Asked who he would credit for the test, Reddy replied: “The National Security Advisor (Ajit Doval) whom we report to on strategic matters gave direction to go ahead with the test and he had the concurrence from the Prime Minister.”
In the often staid Indian scientific community, Reddy is a youthful star. In 2015, he was awarded the prestigious Institution of Engineers (India) and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers award. The same year, he was awarded a medal by the hallowed Royal Aeronautical Society, London, which has recognised aerospace excellence every year since 1909, when Wilbur and Orville Wright came to London to receive the first gold medal.

Reddy is the first Indian to be appointed Fellow of the Royal Institute of Navigation in London, and of the Royal Aeronautical Society. He is a foreign member of the Academy of Navigation and Motion Control, Russia, a Fellow of the Indian National Academy of Engineering, an Honorary Fellow of the Computer Society of India, and of the Sensors Research Society.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

India successfully tests ASAT missile, joins club that includes US, Russia and China

Technologies that went into Mission Shakti have been available with DRDO for over a decade

Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 28th March 19

On Wednesday morning, 300 kilometres above the Odisha coast, a ballistic missile defence (BMD) interceptor developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) struck a satellite in low earth orbit (LEO), smashing it into pieces.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the success of the test, codenamed Mission Shakti, on television and Twitter. Declaring that “there cannot be a greater moment of pride for any Indian”, he stated: “In the journey of every nation, there are moments that bring utmost pride and have a historic impact on generations to come. One such moment is today. India has successfully tested the Anti-Satellite (ASAT) missile.”

The prime minister said India had registered its name amongst the space superpowers. “So far, only three countries were in this club – America, Russia and China. Now India has become the fourth country to develop this capability,” he said.  

After the high-profile announcement, many were asking if this was permissible with the model code of conduct in place since March 10, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. Late in the evening, the Election Commission announced it would probe the matter.

The tracking and interception capabilities that went into Mission Shakti have been available with the DRDO for over a decade. It began developing these after China’s successful ASAT test in 2007. 

On March 18, 2008, then DRDO chief, Dr VK Saraswat (now a NITI Aayog member) had briefed the media in New Delhi that intercepting an incoming missile fired from 2,000 kilometres away required the same technology needed for shooting down a satellite. Claiming that the DRDO already possessed that capability in 2008, Saraswat had said: “We have built, as of now, ABM (anti-ballistic missile) systems with interceptors to engage 2,000 kilometre-class of targets.”

On multiple occasions thereafter, Saraswat reiterated his claim. In February 2010, he had said: “We already have the building blocks for ASAT weapons. We don’t want to test a real ASAT weapon because it will lead to debris in space but can simulate a test on ground using an electronic satellite.”

Space remains a grey area without binding international treaties to govern the conduct of nations. However, there is broad consensus that ASAT tests that involve physically destroying a satellite should be avoided, since that creates space debris that endanger other satellites and space vehicles.

China’s high-profile 2007 ASAT test, which struck the target satellite at an altitude of over 1,000 kilometres, broke it up into more than 3,000 fragments, which still pose a hazard in space.

Emphasising that India had behaved more responsibly, the MEA stated: “The test was done in the lower atmosphere to ensure that there is no space debris. Whatever debris that is generated (sic) will decay and fall back onto the earth within weeks.”

Modi, too, emphasised India’s responsible conduct. “India has always been against the deployment of weapons in space and it has not deviated from that position. Today’s test in no way violates any international law or treaty or understanding,” he said.

The defence ministry said: “The test has demonstrated the nation’s capability to defend its assets in outer space.” However, experts pointed out that Mission Shakti did not test a defensive system that could shield Indian satellites from attack. Instead, it tested a retaliatory capability to shoot down enemy satellites.

“In wartime, the enemy may want to degrade our surveillance or communications capabilities, for example by taking down an Indian Navy satellite. Developing the capability to destroy enemy satellites would hopefully deter him,” said Rakesh Sood, a former Indian diplomat who specialises in nuclear and space policies.

Rajeshwari Rajagopalan, a space specialist with Observer Research Foundation, said that even though there was no international momentum for banning ASAT tests, New Delhi might have decided to conduct its tests now before any ban came into place. Having been left on the wrong side of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, it played safe this time.

“The timing, however, is significant, just weeks before the general elections. With no ASAT test conducted over the last five years, there was no technical compulsion to do so at this time, only an electoral one,” said Rajagopalan.

The MEA statement, however, said the test was conducted because it was important to safeguard India’s growing space programme, including the Mangalyaan and Gaganyaan missions and India’s 102 spacecraft that were “a critical backbone of India’s security, economic and social infrastructure.”

New Delhi has ratified the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which prohibits weapons of mass destruction in outer space, but not conventional weapons. India has participated in all sessions of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. New Delhi has supported UNGA resolution 69/32 on No First Placement of Weapons on Outer Space. In the Conference on Disarmament, India supports consideration of the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS).


Mission Shakti: India shot down one of its satellites 300 km away in space with an anti-satellite missile, the country's first test of such technology

Duration: The test, carried out by DRDO scientists, lasted three minutes and was done in the lower atmosphere to ensure there was no debris in space

Significance: Anti-satellite weapon allows for attacks on enemy satellites — blinding them or disrupting communications — as well as providing a technology base for intercepting ballistic missiles

Select club: India is the only fourth country after the US, Russia and China to successfully develop and test anti-satellite weapon capabilities

Early pioneer: The US performed the first anti-satellite test in 1959. China destroyed a satellite in 2007, creating the largest orbital debris cloud in history

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

IAF inducts Chinook helicopters, as US muscles into Russia’s helicopter monopoly

Chinook, already 50 years old, will be over 100 years old when it retires in 2060s

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Mar 19

The Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) first four Chinook CH-47F helicopters that Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa inducted into the fleet on Monday will swell within a year to a fleet size of 15 choppers.

Senior IAF officers say that this $1.5 billion purchase from US firm, Boeing, which was signed in September 2015, will almost certainly be followed by an additional order. Given the Chinook’s utility, both in war and in disaster relief missions in peacetime, more of these helicopters are needed for a country India’s size.

The Chinook replaces the Russian Mi-26 in the heavy lift class – the first helicopter category in which America has supplanted Russia’s dominance in India. Later this year, with the induction of Boeing’s Apache AH-64E attack helicopters, Russian Mi-35s will start being retired. Then, if the Sikorsky MH-60 Romeo is chosen as expected as the navy’s new multi-role helicopter (NMRH), Russia’s Kamov-28s and Kamov-31s will be shut out from a third category.

The Chinook, with its distinctive double rotor, one at each end of the helicopter, is arguably the world’s most recognisable helicopter. It is one of Boeing’s biggest winners, with almost 19 countries flying 900 Chinooks, more than half of those by the US military. 

The Chinook first flew in 1962, more than half a century ago. The US Army intends to fly Chinooks into the 2060s, when it will have been in service for over a century.

While the current Chinook CH-47F outwardly resembles the CH-47A that first hauled cargo in the Vietnam War, today’s version is far more capable. While the “A version” could get airborne with a gross weight of 15,000 kg (cargo plus helicopter weight), today’s Chinook can lift 22,500 kg – one and a half times more. 

But the current CH-47F’s real edge lies in its avionics. Its “digital advanced flight control system” (DAFCS), enables the Chinook to hover at a precise spot, such as with its cargo compartment opening onto the edge of a building’s roof, allowing people marooned on the roof – say due to floods – to clamber on board.

On a Business Standard visit to Philadelphia, where the helicopters delivered on Monday were being built, Chinook pilots explained that the flight computer allows a detailed flight route to be fed into the main computer. The chopper autonomously follows that route, coming to hover at the destination point. The pilot then manoeuvres the Chinook to where it is required by pressing a “Beep Switch” that moves the Chinook up, down or sideways in one-foot increments.

“This is particularly useful when a group of Chinooks are operating together and their rotor wash is buffeting each other around. The computer caters for all of the turbulence”, explained the Chinook pilot.

These user-friendly capabilities have been developed incrementally through decades of combat flying. Each time a Chinook unit returned from Iraq or Afghanistan, Boeing debriefed its pilots and maintenance staff in “after action reviews”. The crews were specifically asked what worked well in the chopper, what aspects they would like changed, and what they would never, ever want changed.

“The DAFCS is invariably mentioned in the “don’t-ever-change” category. The pilots say it lets them perform precision missions today that they would never have tried earlier,” a Boeing engineer said.

Dhanoa obliquely referred to this on Monday, stating: “This modern, multi-mission-capable, heavy-lift transport helicopter will enhance our heli-lift capability across all types of terrain to full effect.”

Like the indigenous Dhruv and Light Combat Helicopters, the Chinook is tailored for high altitude operations. Boeing test pilots say they have flown a Chinook CH-47D over Mount McKinley – at 20,300 feet the highest peak in North America.

In war, the Chinook will provide two vital capabilities to the army. It will boost artillery fire support by quickly transporting the M777 ultralight howitzer from one deployment area to another, slung by cables under the helicopter’s belly. In addition, the Chinook can quickly transport troops to a threatened sector, with up to 50 soldiers squeezed into each helicopter.

In a conventional single rotor helicopter, 10 per cent of the engine output goes to the tail rotor, which is needed to stabilize the helicopter. But in the Chinook, the tandem rotors stabilize the helicopter, with all the engine power providing lift. 

Monday, 25 March 2019

Tejas readies for three-way dog-fight in Malaysia with Pakistani and Korean fighters

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 25th March 19

Two Tejas light fighters from the Indian Air Force (IAF) are in Malaysia to display their aerobatic performance at the Langkawi International Maritime Aerospace Expo (LIMA-2019), which begins on Tuesday. The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) will be watching carefully to evaluate if the Tejas meets expectations for its Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) project.

Aerospace experts believe Malaysia will choose between three light fighters: Tejas, the South Korean FA-50 Golden Eagle and the Chinese-Pakistani JF-17 Thunder, which already equips the Pakistan Air Force (PAF).

Since the RMAF is still deciding between a supersonic LCA and a sub-sonic fighter lead-in trainer (FLIT), three additional jet trainers are also regarded as contenders. These include Italian firm Leonardo’s M-346FA aircraft, the South Korean T-50 trainer and the Russian Yakovlev-130.

In January, Malaysia issued requests for information (RFI) under its LCA/FLIT procurement programme, expressing interest in acquiring an initial 12 fighters by 2021-22, with an option for 24 more in the future. Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), which builds the Tejas, also received an RFI and responded in March.

Of these six contenders, only the Tejas and the Yakovlev-130 will be flying in LIMA-2019, according to the flight display programme. The JF-17 Thunder is a notable absentee, given that RMAF chief, General Affendi bin Buang, while visiting Pakistan last November, had personally invited the PAF to demonstrate the JF-17 Thunder at LIMA-2019.

The Chinese-Pakistani JF-17 Thunder

However, the Pakistani fighter has registered its presence. On Saturday, at Pakistan’s National Day parade in Islamabad, the JF-17 presented an aerobatics performance before Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed, who was the chief guest.

The RMAF is procuring an LCA/FLIT under a its “Capability 55” modernisation programme, which envisages adding a single-engine, supersonic fighter to the current RMAF fleet, which consists mainly of twin-engined fighters, including the Boeing F/A-18D Hornet and the Russian Sukhoi-30MKM and MiG-29.

Kuala Lumpur has priced the procurement programme at about US $300 million, or $25 million per fighter. That is the estimated cost of the JF-17 Thunder, with the Tejas and the FA-50 Golden Eagle priced slightly higher at about $30 million each.

However, the ticket price is only one dimension of a fighter’s life-cycle costs. There are apprehensions over the JF-17’s engine, the Russian Klimov RD-33, which provides low serviceability, requires heavy maintenance and leaves a give-away smoke trail. The RMAF knows this, since its MiG-29 also use the RD-33 engine.

The South Korean FA-50 Golden Eagle fighter

In contrast, the Tejas and the FA-50 Golden Eagle both use the highly reliable General Electric F-404 engine, which also powers the RMAF’s F/A-18s. Further, the Tejas incorporates a significant amount of Israeli avionics, which also feature in the RMAF Sukhoi-30MKMs. These factors would reduce the life-cycle cost of the Tejas.

In design and materials, the Tejas is the most advanced of the three light fighters. It has an unstable design and a quadruplex fly-by-wire system controlled through an sophisticated mission computer. While the JF-17 and FA-50 are built mainly from metal, the Tejas’s fuselage and wings feature advanced composite materials, which reduces the aircraft’s weight and allows it to carry more weapons and fuel. 

The Tejas’s big drawback is the IAF’s reluctance to back it. In contrast, the JF-17 and FA-50 are strongly backed by the Pakistani and Korean air forces respectively. The PAF already flies six squadrons of JF-17s.

“It would be a travesty if the Malaysian air force likes the Tejas, but decides against it because it sees IAF reluctance to back the fighter. The sooner the IAF throws its weight behind the Tejas, the earlier it will crack the international market, where there is already drawing significant interest,” says strategic affairs expert, Bharat Karnad.

For LIMA-2019, however, the IAF and HAL have taken a formidable team of 80 personnel and four aircraft – including two Tejas, one C-130J Super Hercules and one Illyushin-76.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Govt names next navy chief, superseding one admiral

Admiral Karambir Singh will be the first helicopter pilot to head the Indian Navy

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd March 19

Setting aside the principle of seniority, the government on Saturday named Vice Admiral Karambir Singh as the next chief of naval staff (CNS). The current CNS, Admiral Sunil Lanba, who is due to retire on May 31, will hand over charge to Singh that day.

Singh, who is from the 1980 batch, will supersede Vice Admiral Bimal Verma, the current Commander in Chief Andaman & Nicobar (CINCAN), who was commissioned in 1979. Verma is the younger brother of Admiral Nirmal Verma, who was CNS from 2009-12.

With the chief of army staff, General Bipin Rawat, having superseded two of his seniors in being appointed army chief, this will be the first time since independence that two of the three service chiefs will be the government’s chosen men.

No air force chief has been appointed through supersession. The army has had just one supersession before Rawat’s appointment – when General Arun Vaidya superseded Lieutenant General SK Sinha in 1983. 

Verma’s supersession was anticipated within the New Delhi grapevine. Since February 2016 he has remained in the smaller and less consequential Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC), even as his juniors were given command of the navy’s two main commands. In October 2017, Singh was appointed chief of the Visakhapatnam based eastern command and, in January, Vice Admiral Ajit Kumar P was placed at the head of the Mumbai-based western naval command. 

Verma’s chances were reportedly undermined by the navy’s infamous “war room leaks” case in 2005, while he was principle director of naval operations. His proximity to the case earned him a Letter of Displeasure, while three of his subordinates were dismissed from service. However a Letter of Displeasure is valid only for a limited period of time and Verma was duly promoted from commodore to rear admiral and then vice admiral, at which rank he was also cleared to head the ANC. It remains unclear whether that Letter of Displeasure was now used to deny Verma the CNS position.

Within the naval fraternity, which sets great store by seniority, there is lingering unease about this supersession. “While appointing a service chief, the existing fleet commanders-in-chief should be superseded only for very good reasons. I presume the government has such a reason. In any case, supersession should be an exception, not the norm,” said former navy chief, Admiral Arun Prakash.

Karambir Singh’s career record has been unblemished. He has served as a helicopter pilot, flying the navy’s Chetaks and Kamov choppers. While several aviators have been CNS, Singh is the first helicopter pilot to head the navy. Singh has also held four sea commands, including skippering a Coast Guard patrol craft, INS Chandbibi, the navy’s missile vessel INS Vijaydurg and two destroyers, INS Rana and INS Delhi.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

The Parrikar vacuum

By Ajai Shukla
Editorial comment, Business Standard
19th March 2019

With the passing of Manohar Parrikar, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has lost not just a successful chief minister and former defence minister, but also one of its few leaders with the ability and will to bridge the political spectrum and reach out to Goa’s minority Catholic and Muslim communities. True, much of this has to do with Mr Parrikar’s origins in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state, where religious polarisation does not wins election. Even so, he deserves credit for rising above his Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh origins, obtaining a modern scientific education, working as a technology entrepreneur and, later, providing Goa a relatively liberal, tolerant administration during three tenures as chief minister, two of them truncated.

Opinion is divided on his effectiveness as defence minister, but Parrikar quickly understood the need to empower the private sector to drive indigenous defence production. His willingness to throw open the doors of his office to private industrialists won him a loyal following in the private sector and provided him a valuable reality check on the advice provided by sometimes hidebound administrators who preferred the status quo. He established a “Saturday Club” where he, or his senior officials, met regularly with executives of private defence industry leading to a better understanding within the defence ministry of how the private sector was institutionally discriminated against in defence manufacture. Parrikar did more to “level the playing field” than any other defence minister before or after.

Facing a ministerial culture where decisions were often held up by the fear of consequences, Parrikar replaced what he openly criticised as a “culture of suspicion” with his own bold decision-making style that cleaved through the Gordian knot of One Rank, One Pension; and other issues that his predecessors preferred to avoid. The ambitious deadlines he set for himself suggested he would have liked to move faster. The reality, however, is that he could not.

Throughout his 28 months as defence minister, Parrikar remained acutely aware of the importance of retaining a secure political base. Functioning from New Delhi, he remained the de facto chief minister of Goa, flying down on most weekends to set policy and adjudicate disputes within a fractious coalition. His stature across the political spectrum in Goa was underlined after the 2017 elections, when the Congress emerged the largest party, but the BJP persuaded smaller parties and independents to form a coalition around Parrikar. That took him back to Goa where, despite falling critically ill, he continued functioning as chief minister till the end. 

Political turmoil in Goa following his death vindicates Parrikar’s belief that he was all that held the BJP-led coalition together. Without a BJP leader who can match his stature, coalition partners like the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and the Goa Forward Party are reconsidering the cost of their support. Leaders from these politically opposed parties have made it clear that they had come together under Mr Parrikar, not the BJP. In its letter to the Governor demanding a smooth transition, the Congress has paid Parrikar a backhanded compliment, writing: “Now, after Mr Parrikar’s death, BJP has no allies.” The BJP, which has been on the lookout for more talent in the government, will surely feel his absence.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Parrikar remembered as defence reformer with clean image

Manohar Parrikar: 13 December 1955 - 17 March 2019

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18 March 19

Manohar Gopalkrishna Prabhu Parrikar, who passed away in Goa on Sunday evening, is remembered in the defence ministry and across India’s defence industry as a rare defence minister who grasped the daunting technological dimensions of the military. 

His background as an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) graduate and as a chief minister with an excellent track record as an administrator equipped him to initiate defence industry and policy reforms that are only now beginning to bear fruit.

On November 10, 2014, Parrikar left his post as Goa’s chief minister and took over the powerful defence minister’s post, replacing Arun Jaitley who had functioned as a stopgap for the previous five months. Parrikar remained defence minister for just 28 months, returning to Panjim on March 13, 2017 to head the newly elected Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition government.

“Like AK Antony before him, Parrikar came to the defence ministry with a reputation for personal honesty. But Antony was wary of private companies and felt comfortable only with the public sector. Parrikar was confident enough to throw open his doors for private firms, and to co-opt them into building India’s defence capabilities,” says a top civil servant who served under Parrikar.

“His extraordinary passion and commitment to the public good brooked no short cuts or unholy compromises. A rare figure in public life, his absence will be sorely missed,” says former defence acquisitions chief, Vivek Rae.

In instituting defence policy reform, Parrikar often underestimated the resistance from entrenched interests. Consequently, he seldom met his self-imposed deadlines, whether in coming out with the new Defence Procurement Procedure of 2016, a Make in India policy, or the Strategic Partner (SP) policy that overtly co-opts the private sector into defence manufacture.

Yet, many of these policies are now coming on stream and the credit belongs to Parrikar, say defence ministry bureaucrats.

“He initiated unprecedented reforms, bringing in a fresh breath of openness in the defence ministry and engaging industry before promulgating policies. Unfortunately, many of his path breaking initiatives slowed down after he returned to Goa,” says Jayant Patil, L&T’s defence head.

The biggest tribute to his legacy will be to complete his unfinished agenda,” says Rahul Chaudhry, who heads Defence Innovators and Industry Association.

“He was an affable, approachable, man-on-a-mission who devoted himself to deciphering and simplifying the complexities of defence acquisition policy,” recalls Rajindar Bhatia of Kalyani Group.

Parrikar’s tenure was not without controversy, such as when he stated in May 2015: “We have to use terrorists to neutralise terrorists.” Typically, Parrikar never apologised for that statement or retracted it.

However, Parrikar had only a limited role in the single biggest defence controversy that still dogs the BJP-led government: the purchase of 36 Rafale fighters from French vendor, Dassault. As numerous reports have now established, key decisions relating to that contract were taken in the prime minister’s office (PMO) or by the cabinet committee on security (CCS), including the decision in early April 2015 to announce the purchase during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Paris that month.

Parrikar was left with the job of defending the deal to the media. He consistently made it clear that, his support notwithstanding, the decision to buy 36 Rafale was Modi’s and the PM should be “given credit” for it.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Russian arms sales boom in the face of prickly ties, possible sanctions

Russia was India’s biggest arms supplier from 2014-18; further deals valued at $15 billion are in the pipeline (Photo: At the commissioning of INS Chakra in 2012) 

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 12th Mar 19

Defence business between Russia and India is booming, with contracts worth over $15 billion in the pipeline. This is despite rising strategic friction between Moscow and New Delhi, and the threat of US sanctioning India for defence ties with Russia.

On Monday, the Stockholm International Peace Research Organisation reported that Russia was India’s biggest arms supplier from 2014-18, accounting for 58 per cent of all India’s defence imports. And this is set to continue.

On Friday, India signed an estimated $3 billion contract with Russia leasing a Russian nuclear attack submarine (SSN) for ten years, starting 2025. Five days earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a factory that will manufacture at least 750,000 AK-203 Kalashnikov rifles for the Indian Army, worth another billion dollars. In October, the ministry of defence (MoD) announced a contract to build two Krivak-III class frigates in Goa Shipyard. Two more Krivak-III frigates are coming fully built from Russia as part of the four-ship procurement, estimated to be worth $3 billion.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is also buying Russian. In October, it inked a $5.43 billion contract for five S-400 Triumf air defence units. Last month, Business Standardreported the IAF’s interest in buying and upgrading 21 MiG-29 fighters lying unused in Russia for about a billion dollars. The IAF has also mooted a new contract to build 18 Sukhoi-30MKI fighters in Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) for over $800 million. And HAL and Russian Helicopters have tied up to build 200 Kamov 226T light helicopters in India, worth about $2 billion.

From Russia with love

Weapons System

AK-203 Kalashnikov assault rifles
$1 billion

10-year lease of nuclear submarine 
$3 billion

Krivak-III frigates
$3 billion

Air Force
S-400 Triumf air defence system
Five units
$5.43 billion

MiG-29 fighters
$1 billion

Sukhoi-30MKI fighters
$800 million

Kamov 226T helicopters
$2 billion


$15.23 billion

These big-ticket contracts, worth over $15 billion exclude India’s large annual outgo on maintenance, spares, overhaul and upgrade of its existing Russian platforms. Nor do they include other procurements in the pipeline, such as the “very short range air defence system” (VSHORADS), where a Russian vendor has emerged the lowest bidders, but has not yet been awarded a contract. 

Despite this thriving defence trade, New Delhi and Moscow have an increasingly prickly relationship. Russia provided only qualified support after the IAF struck a Jaish-e-Mohammed camp in Balakot, Pakistan on February 26. Earlier, Russia had condemned the February 14 suicide bombing in Pulwama that killed 40 Indian security men, stating that “those who ordered it and carried it out” should be “duly punished”. Moscow also affirmed “unwavering support” for India’s “uncompromising fight against terrorism”, omitting, however, to mention Pakistan as the Jaish’s home.

Russia further nuanced its line after the Balakot strike, expressing “grave concern” over the “escalating situation” along the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan “which are Russia’s friends.” New Delhi has noted this unusual equivalence.

The day after Balakot, when Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj met her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, on the sidelines of a Russia-India-China (RIC) foreign ministers’ meeting, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) “expressed hope for a de-escalation” of the situation. On March 28, the MFA referred to “dangerous manoeuvres” along the LoC, urged restraint and offered counter-terrorism support to both countries. Here again, Moscow placed India and Pakistan on par.

Given New Delhi’s longstanding antipathy to international mediation on Kashmir, its feathers were most ruffled by Moscow’s offer to mediate in the crisis. On March 1, after a telephone call between Lavrov and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Moscow expressed “readiness to promote the de-escalation of tensions”.

Indian foreign policy experts ascribe Russia’s new even-handedness, even deference to Islamabad, as stemming from Moscow’s wish to play a central role in an Afghan settlement with the Taliban.

Towards this, Russia’s defence ministry last month announced the supply of a “small” number of Mi-35 attack helicopters to Pakistan. This supplemented four Mi-35s supplied in 2016-17 – the first combat platforms Russia sold to Pakistan since the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with India in 1971.

Then, in Vietnam last month, Lavrov dismissed the Indo-Pacific concept as an American ruse “to get India involved” in balancing China. He indicated that this was an artificial construct to align India with Japan, “which has no love lost for India”.

Even so, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman attended a Russian briefing on the new MiG-35 at the Aero India 2019 show in Bengaluru last month. Ministry insiders say there is little chance of the MiG-35 winning a tenderfor 114 medium fighters for the IAF, or the navy’s tender for 57 multi-role carrier borne fighters.

However, Russia remains a strong contender in the navy’s Project 75-I tender for six conventional submarines for an estimated $4-5 billion. 

Arms purchases from Russia render New Delhi vulnerable to sanctions under an American law passed in 2017 – called “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” (CAATSA). This mandates sanctions against countries that engage in “significant transactions” with Russian, Iranian and North Korean defence and intelligence entities. President Donald Trump is empowered to waive these sanctions, but Washington sources say waivers would be given only in exceptional cases.