Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Generals, step back

Blurring the lines between soldiers and political activity is good neither for society nor for the military

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 30th April 19

There was a public furore in the United Kingdom in 2009, when aspiring prime minister David Cameron announced the elevation to the House of Lords of the former British chief of general staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt. Even Cameron’s own party men objected to violating a longstanding convention that senior military officers steer clear of party politics, even in retirement. A senior Tory leader pithily summed up the widespread unease, telling The Guardian: “This is unwise. Dannatt is a perfectly decent man. But he has absolutely no political experience. All he can bring to the table is his military experience. How are his successors in the military going to take to his position?”

In India, however, there was scarcely a whimper of disquiet on Saturday, when Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman ceremonially inducted seven senior military veterans into the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in a public function. One of them, Lieutenant General JBS Yadava, declared: “I agree that it is believed that defence forces will not go with any party. But, every person has a right to political thought… We can’t just stay on sidelines.”

Earlier this month, a former army vice chief, Lieutenant General Sarath Chand, was similarly inducted into the ruling party. While in service, he had testified before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on defence that the government had failed to allocate funds needed to replace the army’s antiquated equipment. Now, less than a year after retiring, here he was declaring: “No one has worked for the military as much as the BJP.”

True, there are no legal or legislative hurdles to a military veteran playing a political role, nor do Indian generals adhere to the British tradition of eschewing electoral politics after retirement. Even so, many military veterans percieve a moral barrier between themselves and active politics. From the day they don the uniform, military personnel are taught to be proudly apolitical – a vital instrument of the state, not of one or another government, and certainly not of any political party. In officers messes, two subjects were taboo for discussion: ladies and politics. These time-tested traditions are the military’s institutional safeguards to keep it out of the political arena. A clear distance is considered to be essential between soldiers and political activity.

That conviction has driven some 500 well-respected senior veterans, including former service chiefs, to petition the President, expressing their disquiet over “the unusual and completely unacceptable practice of political leaders taking credit for military operations like cross-border strikes, and even going so far as to claim the Armed Forces to be “Modi ji ki Sena”. This is in addition to media pictures of election platforms and campaigns in which party workers are seen wearing military uniforms…” The petition asks the President “to ensure that the secular and apolitical character of our Armed Forces is preserved.”

This is not to suggest that national security and defence should be off-limits for discussion in an election campaign. Quite the contrary, since the defence of the realm is the first duty of any government. Every party should and must present a detailed defence manifesto and face interrogation about how they propose to build India’s military sinews while diverting as little money as possible from other pressing needs like education and healthcare. In reality, this vitally important debate over a responsibility that consumes some 16 per cent of government expenditure has been crowded out by chest thumping and braggadocio and vulgar threats to potential adversaries that apparently amuse a large section of the voters but do little to deter potential enemies. This is a role that ex-servicemen could usefully play a role in, such as Lieutenant General DS Hooda’s preparation of a National Security Strategy that has informed the Congress Party’s defence manifesto. Unlike the generals who joined the BJP in a blaze of publicity and now find themselves sidelined, Hooda has declined to join any party, content to share his experience and expertise for the national interest.

Within the military, everyone understands the ongoing political gamesmanship in beguiling voters with the rubric of “teaching Pakistan a lesson”. For a military that has, over the decades and under successive political dispensations, been degraded, starved of resources and devalued in relative precedence, there is heady gratification in suddenly occupying the limelight, being lauded by the political elite and deified by the cheering throng. But when the lights dim and the applause fades, soldiers, sailors and airmen can hardly miss the depressing realisation that they are no better off than before. The many promises of bigger budgets, faster modernisation, state-of-the-art weaponry and respect from the ministry or the civil officials who rule their lives turn out to be hot air. As would be vouchsafed by thousands of disabled veterans who are spending their retirement fighting in court for their elusive benefits, it is the government and the defence ministry that stands in their way.

Starry-eyed former generals dreaming of political careers would do well to recognise that political parties have actually fielded only a handful of veterans in elections over the last two decades. Walter C Ladwig III, an India specialist at King’s College, London has compared the percentage of veterans in the Lok Sabha with those in the UK parliament and in the US Congress over the years. In the 1970s, 70 per cent of American Congresspersons were veterans, mainly due to conscription during the Vietnam War. After the draft was ended, this dropped to 50 per cent in the 1990s. Today, long after the era of compulsary service, 19 per cent of US congresspersons are military veterans. In the UK, that figure currently hovers around eight per cent. In India, from the first to the 14th Parliaments, just two-to-four per cent of the elected members had a “professional background”, which includes policemen, military veterans and civilian professionals like doctors and engineers.

This is unlikely to change anytime soon. Election Commission data indicates that 16 veterans were given party tickets in the 1999 general election, a figure that dropped to 10 in 2004, seven in 2009, before rising again to 16 in 2014. The numbers could be marginally higher, since Ladwig has identified veterans through military ranks affixed with members’ names. Those who left out their ranks, such as General VK Singh, have not been counted.

For many veterans who have served an apolitical ideal of the state, the key question today remains: is the military being saffronised; and how much concern should that arouse? It must be remembered that militaries the world over are conservative organisations and, therefore, tend to align themselves with parties like the BJP that propagate conservative social and political values. What is of deep concern though, is the aggressive deification of the soldier evident today, amplified by a jingoistic media. With service chiefs and generals increasingly paraded to endorse government viewpoints, or provide “clean chits” against criticism, there should be worry about the use of the military – and of notions of the “national interest” or majoritarian religious sentiment – to effectively shut down the space for critique or doubt. This device, which is straight from the European fascist playbook, is good neither for society, nor polity, nor the military itself. It is time the generals stepped back.

Garden Reach Shipyard wins Rs 6,311 crore contract

These anti-sub vessels will detect enemy submarines in the unusually shallow Arabian Sea

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 30th April 19

Kolkata-based defence shipyard, Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers (GRSE) signed a Rs 6,311 crore contract with the defence ministry on Monday to build eight anti-submarine warfare shallow water craft” (ASWCs) for the Indian Navy.

In parallel, Kerala state shipyard, Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL) will build another eight ASWCs for the same price. These 16 vessels are being built in two shipyard simultaneously to shorten the delivery period.

The ASWCs will fill a worrying capability gap in the navy: the ability to detect enemy submarines in the Arabian Sea, where the unusually shallow sea bed reflects sonar signals emitted by submarine hunting vessels, masking the signals reflected off the enemy submarine, and making it difficult to detect.

The ASWCs are equipped with sophisticated sonar, with an algorithm that differentiates the signals reflected off the enemy submarine from those bouncing off the sea bed.

These vessels will also have the ability to sprint fast for short bursts in order to maintain contact with a submarine it detects; as well as sophisticated data link networks for sharing information about the enemy submarine with friendly anti-submarine warships and aircraft.

GRSE says these vessels can also be used for search and rescue operations and, in their secondary role, for laying and detecting underwater mines.

With the Pakistani navy already possessing three sophisticated French submarines and in the process of procuring four Chinese submarines, the navy has been pushing for ASWCs. Of even greater concern is Pakistan’s fleet of an estimated six miniature Italian submarines – called the Chariot – which can operate very effectively in shallow waters.

“It was a huge boost for team GRSE when the shipyard was declared successful in the competitive bid for design, construction and supply of eight ASWSWCs,” stated the shipyard on Monday, noting that this was a competitive procurement in which all public and private shipyards were permitted to complete. 

After the ASWC tender was issued in April 2014, it has taken five years to sign a contract. The first vessel is to be delivered within 42 months from the contract, that is by October 2022. After that, GRSE must deliver two more ASWCs annually, completing delivery by April 2026. 

GRSE is simultaneously building three stealth frigates for the navy under Project 17A, completing an order for four ASW corvettes under Project 28, while also building a range of other vessels – landing craft, fast patrol vessels and survey vessels for the navy and coast guard.

The ASWCs displace 750 tons, can sprint at 25 knots and are crewed by a complement of 57 sailors.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

IAF findings that India shot down own helicopter put on hold until after elections (Updated with IAF rebuttal and my response)

The smoking remains of the chopper after it was shot down by an IAF missile near Budgam

By Ajai Shukla
Edited version in Business Standard, 27th April 19

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has been told to keep on hold the findings of a “court of inquiry” (CoI) that has conclusively determined that an IAF Mi-17V5 helicopter was shot down by an Indian missile battery that was guarding Srinagar air base.

A senior helicopter pilot, of the rank of air commodore, heads the CoI.

Six IAF personnel and a civilian on the ground died in that “friendly fire” incident on February 27. Top IAF sources say the incident happened after officers from the ground missile battery misidentified the IAF chopper as a Pakistani aircraft on a mission to attack Srinagar.

The disaster took place the day after IAF fighters had struck a Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terrorist camp in Pakistan to retaliate against a JeM suicide bomb attack 12 days earlier, which killed over 40 Indian troopers in Pulwama, near Srinagar. 

The CoI has found that, with IAF and army units across Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) in a state of hair-trigger alert against expected Pakistani retaliation, two crucial omissions led to the missile battery opening fire and downing their own helicopter.

First, to guard against misidentification of aircraft in the prevailing state of alert, all IAF aircraft coming in to land in Srinagar were required to approach the air base only through a designated air corridor. Ground missile units would know that the aircraft approaching through the narrow “funnel” was a friendly aircraft.

For reasons that remain unclear, the Mi-17V5 helicopter was not in the safe corridor as it approached from the direction of Budgam, to the south of Srinagar. The ground missile units assumed the radar track they picked was that of a hostile aircraft.

Second, IAF aircraft are equipped with an electronic device called an Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) system, which beams out a coded signal that identifies the aircraft as a friendly one to all IAF radars and IFF receivers. The IFF system is required to be switched on, especially in a situation where ground missile units are on high alert.

For reasons that remain unclear, the CoI has found that the ill-fated helicopter’s IFF system was not switched on that day.

IAF officers say they are keen to serve justice quickly and make an example of those found guilty of operational lapses. However, they are held back by a “go-slow” order from above.

They say the reason is: With the Balakot bombing and the Pakistani response, including the alleged shooting down of a Pakistani F-16 fighter, being painted in election campaigning as a major Indian victory, admitting the loss of a helicopter and seven personnel due to friendly fire would present a bleaker picture.

On February 27, the downing of the helicopter was obscured by the media attention on the downing of an IAF MiG-21 Bison fighter and the capture of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman.

The IAF has declined to comment, stating: “The CoI is still in progress”. Asked specifically about the delay in finalising the findings of the CoI, the IAF said: “The time line of any CoI cannot be predicted.”

It is learned that the missile that was fired was an Israeli short-range surface to air missile (SR-SAM), which can engage incoming targets at ranges out to 20 kilometres. While engaging targets at those ranges, there is no scope for visual identification. Aircraft are merely a blip on a radar.

The incoming helicopter was engaged with the permission of the Base Air Defence Officer at Srinagar, who was required to satisfy himself that targets being engaged were indeed hostile.



In response to this article, the Indian Air Force tweeted at 10:26 a.m. on April 27:

“Today in an article written by Ajai Shukla he has incorrectly speculated that the IAF Court of Inquiry constituted to investigate the Mi-17 V5 crash at Srinagar on 27 Feb has been put on hold. This is his imagination and IAF categorically denies this.”

“CoI of aircraft accidents are meticulous & time consuming. All past inquiries of aircraft accidents bear testimony to this. Proceedings of a CoI are not commented upon by IAF till completion of the inquiry in all cases. There is no connection between elections & completion of CoI.”

Ajai Shukla responds:

This corespondent contacted the Indian Air Force for comments before publishing the article. The report carried their comments: "The CoI is still in progress” and “The time line of any CoI cannot be predicted.”

The IAF accepts the article's basic point: that, two months after the deaths of seven persons in a "friendly fire" incident, the CoI has not been finalised. 

None of the other details in the report, about how and why an IAF missile battery shot down an IAF helicopter, are being rebutted by the IAF.

The IAF claims that a two-month delay in finalising a CoI relating to an operational debacle is normal. However, top IAF officers say the delay in finalising the CoI has been imposed from above.

I stand by the report, which is based on inputs from two highly credible IAF officers.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

China's navy surpasses India's in both strength and doctrine

PLA Navy doctrine advances steadily from "coastal defence" to a "far seas" concept

By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 24th April 19

Two of the Indian Navy’s latest vessels – a destroyer, INS Kolkata and a fleet tanker, INS Shakti – were part of a multi-national naval fleet that Chinese President Xi Jinping reviewed on Tuesday on the 70th anniversary of the raising of the People’s Liberation Army (Navy), or PLA(N).

INS Kolkata and INS Shakti have sailed to the port city of Qingdao, which hosted warships from 60 countries for the maritime spectacle.

The Indian Navy participated for the third consecutive time in the PLA(N)’s five-yearly international fleet review (IFR). “The navy has deployed its finest assets for the IFR with an aim to strengthen existing cooperation, enhance mutual trust, extend interoperability and build greater synergy to address common maritime concerns among participating navies,” the navy stated on Tuesday.

When the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) captured power in 1949, it inherited neither a navy, nor a maritime tradition – that had last existed six centuries ago, when China’s legendary eunuch admiral, Zheng He, led trading flotillas across the Indian Ocean, bringing back shiploads of treasure. But in 1435, the Ming dynasty emperor, threatened by the Mongols from the north, ordered his navy sunk and concentrated on strengthening the Great Wall.

Now modern China’s new emperors have returned their focus to the seas. Beijing stated in a White Paper in 2015: “The traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned.”

That turnaround took time coming. Until the 1970s, political turmoil within China, the Korean War and the border confrontation with the Soviet Union left Beijing resources only for “coastal defence”. This changed after Deng Xiaoping’s economic opening in the 1980s, when the PLA(N) graduated to a “near seas” strategy based on “offshore defence”.

From the turn of the century, a growing China cast its gaze further, beyond the so-called First Island Chain – which runs north-to-south from Sakhalin to Borneo, along the Kuril Islands, Taiwan, and the northern Philippines. 

Beijing’s 2015 White Paper talks about “open seas protection”, earlier termed the “far seas” concept. This expands China’s sphere of influence, by dominating approaches to the Second Island Chain, which runs north-to-south from the eastern edge of the Japanese archipelago, along the Bonin and Marshal islands to the Palau archipelago.

Towards that end, the PLA(N) is building warships at an unprecedented rate. It now operates an aircraft carrier, 33 destroyers, 50 frigates, 41 corvettes, 109 missile boats and 75 submarines – a fleet three-to-five times the size of India’s. In the last two years alone, it has launched four massive new Type 055 destroyers – each displacing 12,000 tonnes, almost twice INS Kolkata’s size.

In contrast, India has commissioned only four destroyers in the last two decades. Four more are under construction in Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai.

Chinese vs Indian naval power

Type of vessels
Chinese navy
Indian navy

Aircraft carriers
1 + 1*
1 + 1*
16 + 5*
* Being built

In submarine power too, the PLA(N) has far outpaced India, operating 75 submarines to India’s 14 (with five more being delivered soon). The PLA(N) launched its first indigenous submarine in 1971 and, three years later, inducted its first nuclear attack submarine. Initially rudimentary, Chinese submarines now incorporate more modern technologies, such as ultra-long-wave communications systems, automated command systems and improved survivability.

If India has an edge over the PLA(N), it is in the demanding realm of naval aviation. While India chose to develop aircraft carrier-borne power projection with the purchase of INS Vikrant in the late 1950s, the PLA(N) only landed a helicopter on a warship for the first time in 1980. Only in 2017 did the Liaoning, a refurbished Russian aircraft carrier, joined the PLA(N) fleet. Now the PLA(N) is planning to induct 4-5 carriers into its fleet.

The PLA(N) is divided into three fleets: the North Sea Fleet, based in Qingdao and responsible for the Yellow Sea; the East Sea Fleet, based in Ningbo and responsible for the East China Sea; and the South Sea Fleet, headquartered in Zhanjiang and responsible for the South China Sea.

The PLA(N) is emphatically abandoning its traditional insularity. It conducted its first foreign visit only in 1985, and held its first joint exercise with a foreign navy in 2003. But in 2008, a PLA(N) flotilla of three vessels set sail for counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. Since then, the PLA(N) has maintained that presence in West Asia and Africa, and strengthened it with a naval base in Djibouti. China is also growing its naval presence in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

Monday, 22 April 2019

Congress report: Rivalry with China certain, proposes measures to manage it

“Can give China access to Indian ports, if it accommodates our core interests”

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 22nd Apr 19

A new report on national security that the Congress Party released on Sunday in Delhi provides an insight into how key relationships with China and Pakistan will be managed if a Congress-led government comes to power next month.

“Future strategic rivalry between China and India is a certainty, and a successful trading partnership cannot overcome the reality of this competition,” says the report, titled “India’s National Security Strategy” and authoredby Lieutenant General DS Hooda, former army commander in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K).

To break the deadlock in border talks, the report suggests: “Ongoing border talks are achieving no major breakthroughs and focus of negotiations must shift to accurately defining the Line of Actual Control (LAC). This too is a complicated task but if successful, will go a long way in preventing the occurrence of (extended patrol clashes) like Depsang, Chumar, and Dokalam (sic).”

In fact, Beijing has steadfastly resisted defining the LAC. It has dragged its feet even on the preliminary step of exchanging maps marked with each side’s perception of the LAC’s alignment.

The report cites areas of cooperation with China, including shared development goals, increased trade and common environmental concerns. It proposes that, depending upon China’s “willingness to show an understanding of our core interests”, India could some day “offer access to China through Indian ports [to the Indian Ocean].”

This would constitute a major reversal of New Delhi’s current unwillingness to participate in, or even discuss, the Belt and Road Initiative with Beijing.

On Pakistan, the report appears to back the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s tough line, stating: “The events following the Pulwama bombing have established new redlines”, and that “India must be prepared for unilateral, limited military actions against terror groups in Pakistan.”

However, discussing the report after its release, Congress leader P Chidambaram dismissed the “drum beating and chest thumping” that had come to characterize all discussions about Pakistan. “War is not an option. Anyone who says otherwise is misleading the Indian people. We build strong armies not to win a war but to avoid a war,” he said.

Chidambaram said the war-talk that one hears in Delhi is “far removed from the radar of rural India.” He said: “There are limits to our economic capacity and that has to be carefully apportioned between defence of India and development of the people.”

While not ruling out talks with Islamabad, Chidambaram said: “We must find a way to normalise relations with Pakistan. If we need to change behaviour of Pakistan we need to change our behaviour towards them.” 

Asked what changes he would propose, Chidambaram admitted “We have tried pretty much everything, but that does not mean we do not go on trying.” He said the two sides had already come close to solutions on the Sir Creek and Siachen disputes, while the “most difficult” J&K dispute could be tackled at the end.

On Afghanistan, the Congress will continue New Delhi’s unbending opposition to the Taliban, even though the US and Russia are now in dialogue with the insurgent group. “India has always supported an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process of peace and reconciliation… [but] must not compromise on its position and get drawn into supporting the Taliban,” says Hooda’s report.

To tackled the J&K insurgency, Hooda argued for simultaneously addressing its two distinct “centres of gravity”: the Pakistan sponsored dimension and internal Kashmiri alienation.

We have had separate military and political strategies. We need a combined and comprehensive politico-military strategy. There must be a well-crafted information campaign [to overcome the] feeling in Kashmir that the state is at war with its own people,” said Hooda.

Asked whether the NDA government had never communicated a political objective to the army in Kashmir, Hooda said: “We have never had a clear political objective, and if there was one, it has not been transmitted to the troops on the ground.”

Saturday, 20 April 2019

After IAF’s strike on Balakot, MoD turns to Russia to boost ammunition stocks

Army asks Russia for air defence missiles, rockets, anti-tank ammunition

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th April 19

In Kargil, in 1999, the operations to evict Pakistani infiltrators found the military short of artillery ammunition and precision-guided aircraft bombs. Today, after the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) strike on Balakot on February 26 and retaliation the next day by Pakistani fighters, the military finds itself badly short of air defence missiles and surface-to-surface rockets.

In 1999, the ministry of defence (MoD) obtained bombs and ammunition from Israel on an emergency basis. This time round, the MoD has asked Russia to urgently replenish India’s firepower.

India’s emergency requests on Russia include launchers and missiles for the Igla-S “very short range air defence system” (VSHORADS), rockets for SMERCH multi-barrel, surface-to-surface rocket launchers and Mango armour-piercing ammunition for India’s fleet of T-90 tanks, say sources in New Delhi and Moscow.

The army has told the MoD restocking up is essential in case the current truce with Pakistan breaks down, or there is another terrorist strike like the Valentine Day suicide bombing of a Central Reserve Police Force convoy that killed 40 troopers. While that led to a limited IAF strike on a Jaish-e-Mohammed training camp in Balakot, inside Pakistan, another terrorist provocation would demand heavier Indian retaliation.

While the Igla-S is a defensive weapon, the requests for SMERCH rockets and Mango armour-piercing ammunition indicates the military is preparing for ground offensives as well.

Moscow is cooperating to deliver India’s orders on urgent priority. Russian negotiating teams, which have already engaged in discussions with the MoD, will be travelling shortly to New Delhi with techno-commercial offers for meeting Indian demands.

Business Standard learns the emergency sourcing from Moscow will be paid for under financial powers delegated to the vice chiefs of the three services. Last November, the MoD increased the vice chiefs’ financial powers to Rs 500 crore for each transaction. The current purchases would involve multiple transactions, but the exact costs are still being negotiated with the Russians.

Contacted for confirmation, the Indian MoD responded: “Urgent purchases are necessitated at times based on emerging situations and these cannot be shared as they can compromise tactical and operational level planning.”

Given the threat from Pakistani fighters, which attacked Indian military installations in numbers on February 27 and shot down an Indian MiG-21 Bison, the most significant purchase is the Igla-S VSHORADS. This portable air defence system is carried and operated by a two-man crew and fires missiles to shoot down enemy fighters at ranges of up to eight kilometres.

Last November, the MoD announced it had selected the Igla-S in the hotly contested VSHORADS tender for 5,175 missiles and 800 launchers for all three services. An MoD committee has been negotiating costs with Rosoboronexport (RoE), Russia’s defence export body, but a contract has not been finalised.

Other vendors in the VSHORADS contest, particularly Swedish firm Saab, are hotly contesting the selection of the Igla-S, which they allege failed user trials. However, with the Igla-S now meeting emergency Indian requirements, the larger VSHORADS tender seems settled in ROE’s favour.

Moscow is obtaining further goodwill by offering to refurbish the army’s obsolescent Igla-M launchers to enable them to launch the far more capable Igla-S missiles.

Friday, 19 April 2019

HAL’s intermediate trainer flies again, reviving prospect of all-indigenous trainer fleet

HAL's Sitara intermediate jet trainer (IJT) taxies for its first flight after extensive redesign

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 19th April 19

With its confidence buoyed by success in developing a basic trainer aircraft, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) on Wednesday flew its Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) after an extensive redesign that has taken almost three years.

“The flight was flawless and its success is an important step in the IJT programme”, announced HAL on Thursday. 

The success of the IJT – also called the Hindustan Jet Trainer – 36, or the Sitara – is crucial for both HAL and the Indian Air Force (IAF). For a cash-strapped HAL, building 73 IJTs the IAF needs represents business worth Rs 5,000 crore.

For the IAF, the IJT would seemlessly replace a fleet of obsolescent Kiran Mark I and II trainers that are already on borrowed time. Without that, the IAF will have no aircraft for the intermediate stage of flying training. Late last year, the IAF decided that its rookie pilots, after completing “Stage-1” flying training on the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II basic trainer, would graduate directly to “Stage-3” training on the HAL-built Hawk advanced jet trainer (AJT).

The IAF realises that “two-stage” training places unrealistic demands on trainee pilots The successful development and quick manufacture of the IJT would allow its time tested “three-stage” training to continue.

That would also mean HAL aircraft are used in all three stages of IAF flight training. HAL’s basic trainer, the Hindustan Turbo Trainer – 40 (HTT-40), is doing well in flight testing and is expected to join the fleet alongside the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II trainer. HAL has also manufactured the Hawk AJT fleet in Bengaluru, under licence from BAE Systems.

However, the IJT’s development trajectory has been troublesome. In 2016, flight testing was put on hold after the trainer experienced difficulty in pulling out of spins – something that inexperienced pilots cannot be exposed to.

In December, the IAF requested to close down the IJT project. However HAL asked the defence ministry (MoD) for time to rescue the programme. HAL offered to return the IAF the Rs 3,000 crore it had paid towards an order for 73 IJTs. HAL’s board allocated Rs 50 crore in company funds to take forward the IJT’s development, supplementing the Rs 600-700 crore it had already spent.

Senior HAL sources tell Business Standard the IJT has undergone an extensive two-year redesign process, guided by design consultancy from US firm, Birhle, to help the aircraft pull out of spins. This was achieved by shifting the horizontal fins and rudder further down the fuselage. Now mathematical modelling indicates the redesigned IJT is well equipped to handle spins.

“HAL continued its R&D efforts and undertook modification of IJT aircraft based on extensive and comprehensive wind tunnel studies”, affirms HAL chief R Madhavan.

“We will have to conduct at least another 200 test flights to validate the IJT, including its stall and spin characteristics. But we have built 13 aircraft already and we can finish this without undue delay,” says a senior HAL designer.

HAL designers also say many useful lessons have been learned from the development of the HTT-40 basic trainer. That expertise is now being fed back into the IJT.

An example of this is the HTT-40’s modern all-glass cockpit, which will be retro-fitted into the IJT. In addition the safety equipment for stall and spin testing is being used in the HTT-40 and will be also used for the IJT.

With the service life of the Kiran Mark II having recently been extended by four years, the IJT has that much time to enter service in numbers.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

China’s space prowess overshadows ASAT test: Report

Ashley Tellis: India must “brace itself for a long-term space competition”

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th April 19

An analysis of India’s March 27 anti-satellite (ASAT) test concludes that it was directed squarely at China, but would not deter Beijing from interfering with, or damaging, India’s satellite network in wartime. 

The report by Ashley Tellis, which the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace released on Tuesday, argues that, while India has demonstrated its ASAT interceptors can destroy Chinese satellites with kinetic (direct impact) strikes, Beijing’s highly sophisticated ASAT programme provides it with several non-kinetic options to disable Indian satellites without physically striking them.

Beijing’s ASAT capabilities “include the capacity to mount sophisticated cyber attacks directed at [Indian] ground stations with the intent of either corrupting or hijacking the telemetry, tracking, and command systems used to control various spacecraft on orbit. They also involve huge investments in developing ground-, air-, and space-based radio frequency jammers that target the uplinks, downlinks, and crosslinks involved in either the control of space systems or the transmission of data arising from various space system activities,” says Tellis.

Beijing began developing non-kinetic weapons to disable enemy satellites following widespread criticism of its ASAT test in January 2007, which created about 3,000 space debris that will constitute a hazard for decades. 

“Beijing has concentrated on developing… mainly low- and high-energy lasers, as well as space-based high power microwave systems as more usable alternatives. Low-energy lasers can dazzle or damage electro-optical or infrared sensors and would be particularly effective against India’s earth observation and scientific research spacecraft, most of which are located in low earth orbits,” says Tellis. 

He argues that China would not take seriously an Indian threat of retaliating against a Chinese non-kinetic strike with a debri-creating kinetic strike, and is “hence not particularly conducive to successful deterrence.”

“Ground-based high-energy lasers and space-based high-power microwave weapons on the other hand could, when successfully deployed, permanently destroy the electronic circuitry of various kinds of satellites without creating the unwanted debris usually associated with a physical collision. While such lasers would likely be most effective against satellites in low earth orbits, space-based high-power microwave weapons could target all kinds of space systems even in higher orbits,” he says.
 Beijing’s ambitious star wars programme also incorporates “service satellites” that do not smash into adversaries’ satellites, but push them off their trajectory or physically damage them with robotic arms.

“Finally, China retains an impressive capability to target India’s master control facilities (and other nodes in its telemetry, tracking, and control network) through both space-based jamming and precision air and missile attacks, while also possessing the capacity to indiscriminately destroy India’s (and others’) space platforms through high-altitude nuclear explosions. Because the latter would put at risk both Chinese and adversary spacecraft simultaneously, it is unlikely that such operations would ever be preferred by Beijing when it has so many other less risky alternatives available,” says Tellis.

Consequently, “India’s kinetic ASAT system has important but limited value: it can deter kinetic strikes on India’s space systems, but this is the least likely eventuality because Beijing is already investing heavily in suppressing India’s (and others’) space systems through less destructive but comparably effective alternative instruments,” says the report.

Meanwhile, China continues to develop kinetic “direct ascent interceptors” such as the SC-19 and its successor the DN-3, which provide “hit to kill” capabilities against adversaries’ high-value space platforms.

Tellis says India has no choice but to develop similar non-debri-causing technologies to be able to “credibly deter Beijing’s space denial programs below the levels of ultimate physical violence directed at various space systems—the gray zone in which more counterspace activities are likely to materialize in the future.”

Calling India’s ASAT test “a shot across the bow to China”, the Carnegie report calls in India to “brace itself for a long-term space competition. If it fails to do so, it will have to contend with the worst of both worlds: heightened threats from China in the face of increasing Indian vulnerability.”

Monday, 15 April 2019

With Nirbhay missile test and Coast Guard patrol vessel, L&T issues reminder

The Nirbhay long-range, sub-sonic cruise missile roars off the launch pad for its successful test on Monday

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th April 19

Larsen & Toubro’s (L&T’s) defence business scored twin successes on Monday, with a successful test of the long-range Nirbhay cruise missile in Odisha, followed by the ahead-of-time delivery of a 2,140-tonne Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) to the Coast Guard (CG) at Visakhapatnam.

The Nirbhay test – its sixth developmental flight trial – was crucial, with three of its five previous firings having been unsuccessful to varying degrees. This test, however, was a complete success, says the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO), which manages the Nirbhay project.

L&T has designed the Nirbhay’s airframe, fuel tanks and foldable wings, as well as the entire launch system. Other private sector firms also have lesser roles. The Gas Turbine Research Establishment, a DRDO laboratory, is designing the Nirbhay’s engine.

Launched from the Integrated Test Range in Chandipur, Odisha, the Nirbhay was required to skim the sea, just metres above the waves, and accurately navigate its way past a series of designated “way points”, spread out over 1,000 kilometres.

This capability would, in wartime, allow the Nirbhay to follow a low-level path, undetected by enemy radar, and strike a target 1,000 kilometres away with extreme precision. Stealth is essential because the slow-flying missile is vulnerable to being shot down by fighter aircraft, if detected by enemy radar.

“The missile took off vertically, turning horizontally into [the] desired direction, [the] booster separated, wing deployed, engine started, [and the missile] cruised [past] all the intended waypoints. The missile demonstrated its sea-skimming capability to cruise at very low altitudes,” said a defence ministry (MoD) release.

The defence ministry says a chain of radars, electro-optical and telemetry systems along the eastern coast tracked and validated the Nirbay’s flight.

More flight-testing lies ahead for the Nirbhay, which will eventually be fired from land, sea and airborne platforms.

Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) delivered

Army chief General Bipin Rawat commissioned Indian Coast Guard Ship (ICGS) Veera at Visakhapatnam, the third of seven OPVs that L&T is building at Kathupalli shipyard in Tamil Nadu.

L&T won the Rs 1,304 crore CG contract to build seven OPVs in March, 2015. All three vessels delivered so far have been ahead of schedule.

These OPVs are designed in-house, at L&T’s warship design centre at Manapakkam, Chennai, making it the first significant warship fully designed and built in private sector facilities. L&T is pushing hard to be also allowed to design and build larger warships like corvettes, frigates, and destroyers, but the MoD has so far given those contracts “on nomination” to the four public sector defence shipyards: Mazagon Dock, Mumbai; Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers, Kolkata; Goa Shipyard Ltd and Hindustry Shipyard Ltd, Visakhapatnam. In addition, Cochin Shipyard Ltd, a state enterprise, is being “nominated” to build aircraft carriers for the navy. 

L&T is also pushing for the Project 75-I contract to build six conventional submarines, based on foreign technology, which the MoD proposes to tender under the strategic partner (SP) category. For this, L&T has an impressive track record, having built the hulls of India’s nuclear submarines at its Hazira facility.

Says Jayant Patil, who heads L&T’s heavy engineering and defence business: “We have demonstrated our ability to deliver high-tech platforms on, or ahead of, time and within budget. We remain optimistic that the MoD will provide us a level playing field to enable us to play a larger role in defence.”

The 98-metre-long OPVs embark 106 crewmembers, who police India’s maritime zone on anti-smuggling and anti-piracy missions of up to 5,000 nautical miles (9,250 kilometres). The vessels can touch 26 knots (50 km per hour) and deploy a 30-millimetre main gun and two 12.7 mm heavy machine guns. 

The OPV also embarks a twin-engine helicopter and four high-speed boats for boarding operations. It is also equipped to respond to fires and oil and chemical spills.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Peering into the volcano: Chris Fair's book on Lashkar-e-Tayyaba

In Their Own Words: Understanding Lashkar-e-Tayyaba
By C Christine Fair
Oxford University Press, 2019
307 pages, Rs 950/-

Five years after Christine Fair wrote Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War, which attempted to decode the Pakistan Army’s strategic culture through a detailed study of its in-house publications, Fair has scoured the in-house literature of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba(LeT) to arrive at how its members think and act in remaining the Pakistani “establishment’s” instrument of choice for cross border jihad. Her book is a deeply worrying look into the heart and sinews of a potent terrorist outfit that possesses the attributes needed to survive and flourish: unflinching state support, an institutionalised narrative of religion-based victimisation, strong support from a highly conservative populace, a steady flow of funds and a clear enemy.

In Fighting to the End, Fair relied on the Pakistan Army Journal, periodicals from Pakistan’s military Staff College and National Defence University and the Pakistan Army Green Book, an annual compilation of articles by Pakistani military officers. For this book, the author has mined a trove of materials including books, pamphlets, calendars and periodicals put out by the LeT’s exclusive publisher, Dar-ul-Andlus,nearly one thousand shaheed(martyr) biographies of LeT fighters who were killed while waging jihadin Kashmir, and the author’s personal materials collected during her numerous trips to Pakistan between 1995-2013. Fair writes that the Pakistan military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) blacklisted her in 2013, which prevented her from ever returning to Pakistan.

While this book provides a revealing and comprehensive guide to the broader jihadi landscape in Pakistan, its intense focus on the LeT is especially interesting. In an analytical arena where scholars’ perceptions and conclusions have been too often based on anecdotal evidence, Fair’s reliance on LeT publications comprises a more rigorous methodology. Her empirical analysis, drawn from hundreds of data cases, often upturns established tenets on jihadi groups, their sources of recruitment and their organisational principles.

The author convincingly underlines the unique, symbiotic relationship between Pakistan’s military and the LeT. Since Pakistan’s many Deobandi groups, such as the Jaish-e-Mohammed, Harkat-ul-Ansar and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, draw resources from the wealthy Deobandi mosque networks and political influence from the Deobandi Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam(JUI) political party, they are more independent from the ISI (which manages jihadi groups on behalf of the army). In contrast, the LeT has a far smaller resource base, since it draws on the Ahl-e-Hadeesinterpretation of Islam that is followed by just four per cent of Pakistan’s populace. Further, the Ahl-e-Hadees adherents are far from united, with serious disagreements over issues like jihad. That leaves the LeT with access to only a limited pool of domestic resources, leaving it dependent on the ISI that controls it tightly. Deobandi groups, especially those in the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) can engage in takfir– holding their rulers responsible for deviating from Islamic principles. However the ISI makes sure the LeT’s jihad never focuses inwards. The LeT can kill Hindus, Christians and Jews outside Pakistan, as during the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, but doing so within Pakistan would create disturbances and instability. Therefore, apostates in Pakistan are to be won over with tarbiyat(education) and dawa(proselytization).

The most convincing parts of the book relate to the data mined from the shaheedbiographies. It reveals that 98.9 per cent of LeT militants fight in Kashmir, with just a handful engaged in Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Bosnia-Chechnya. The LeT fighters die, on average, when they are 21 years old, but by then have already served the group for four years.

Postulating that the LeT provides the Pakistan Army with low-cost manpower to fight India deniably, Fair compares the terms of service of an LeT militant with those of a Pakistani soldier. Most LeT fighters complete the Daura-e-Khaas course, by which time they would have trained for 16 weeks. A Pakistani soldier trains for 36 weeks. Then he serves for 15 years, drawing salary and later pension. A LeT militant’s goal is not to retire with benefits but to die in combat. Thereafter, his family receives far less compensation than what the government pays the family of deceased soldiers.

Despite Fair’s rigorous research, the book allows in occasional errors of fact and interpretation. One example is her explanation for why the LeT activated militancy in Poonch and Rajouri in the mid-1990s. She ascribes this to LeT recruits sharing ethnic linkages with locals in those areas, which would allow them to operate there easily. In fact, the local populace consists mainly of Poonchis, Paharis, Gujjars, Bakarwals and Dogra Rajputs (both Hindu and Muslim). These groups contribute only marginally to LeT recruitment, which is drawn mainly from Punjab. The author also cites the intention to target a larger Hindu populace in Poonch-Rajauri, perhaps even replicate the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits from the Srinagar valley in the early 1990s. In fact, there are almost no Kashmiri Pandits in Poonch and Rajauri, which are part of the Jammu region, not Kashmir. Finally, the record shows there was never any significant Hindu migration from those areas. The reality is that the ISI activated insurgency in Jammu after the mid-1990s because its fighters in Kashmir were under severe military pressure.

Notwithstanding minor errors, the author melds her vast experience in South Asia, her skills in Urdu and a penchant for empirical research into a very readable account of the LeT. This book must find a place on every South Asia specialist’s bookshelf. A final benefit for most readers would be an introduction to several new words: in one single paragraph of this book, I encountered “gasconading” (boasting extravagantly) and “prated” (engaged in empty talk). If you haven’t guessed it already, Fair was talking about Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.