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.

Monday, 23 September 2019

Book review: Lost opportunities in the Hindu Kush

India’s Lost Frontier: The Story of the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan
by Raghvendra Singh
Rupa Publications, 2019
491 words
Rs 995/-

Raghvendra Singh’s lengthy book on the past, present and future of what the British called the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Pakistan renamed as Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa conforms to the current trend of blaming Jawaharlal Nehru for many of India’s woes. Singh is a retired civil servant from the Indian Administrative Service whose bent for history was presumably stoked by an appointment as head of the National Archives of India. He has recently been appointed chief of the Development of Museums and Cultural Spaces. 

Singh makes a simple argument in his book: In 1946, the overwhelmingly Muslim NWFP elected a Congress government, which was firmly in the saddle as British and Indian leaders discussed the modalities of partition. Were the NWFP leaders to opt for joining India – as seemed likely at that time – the two-nation theory that Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League propagated would have been severely discredited. Further, Pakistan’s strategic viability would have been compromised, especially if Kashmir acceded to India, creating geographical contiguity with the NWFP. Given the popularity of the NWFP chief minister, Khan Abdul Jabbar Khan (universally known as Dr Khan Saheb) and his iconic brother, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who was also known as Badshah Khan or the Frontier Gandhi, both of them politically and ideologically linked with Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress, the NWFP seemed likely to opt for India. However, British political leaders, who were eyeing the exits from the subcontinent, were convinced of the strategic necessity of partitioning India and having Pakistan as an assured ally, rather than relying on the favour of an undivided subcontinent. They believed a friendly Pakistan would enable London to retain its influence in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, as well as provide air routes through the region. And so, with London hell-bent on partitioning India, it directed a procession of British villains – notably NWFP governor Sir Olaf Caroe and Viceroy Lord Louis Mountbatten – to conspire with Nehru to ensure that Pakistan eventually got NWFP. This thesis bears striking similarities with arguments made by others about how Nehru lost much of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) through mismanagement at best, if not outright skulduggery.

This argument fails to convince, deploying as it does the benefit of hindsight, while remaining oblivious to the enormous complexities facing Indian decision-making at that time. Indian leaders of that period had no experience of statecraft and had never been allowed by the British to handle security policy. Furthermore, all contemporary accounts of that time reveal the preoccupation with integrating the key princely states such as Hyderabad, rather than focusing on J&K and the NWFP. There was a genuine and valid fear of Balkanisation. Nor do the “incompetence” arguments take into account the capacity deficit that hamstrung the Indian leadership, especially in the fields of political intelligence and military power. Given these limited circumstances, the author appears to have underestimated the difficulties of forming two countries from the 17 provinces and 565 princely states the British left behind.

Even so, the author has mined multiple sources to bring out a detailed historiography of a complex and little-studied region. He has followed an interesting methodology – adopting a chronological approach up to the World Wars, and then taking up the narrative through the inter-war years through chapter-length studies of the key personalities in the great NWFP drama. The protagonists include British officials and administrators Caroe and Sir George Cunningham; British Viceroys General Archibald Wavell and Mountbatten; the trio of Badshah Khan, Dr Khan Sahib and Abdul Qayoom Khan and, of course, the central decision-makers, Nehru and Jinnah. In dealing with these personalities, the author weaves back and forth in time, sometimes confusingly, throwing up themes and leaving it to the reader to interpret the narrative as it comes through. 

Some of these portraits make for fascinating reading. About the stoic, Spartan Wavell he quotes: “On he went up the great, bare staircase of his duty, uncheered and undepressed.” He never got along with Churchill, whose “main concern whenever Wavell was home on consultations was how to send him back to New Delhi.” About the charismatic Mountbatten, whom the author clearly dislikes: “He was considered a remote and irresponsible master who sat in his luxurious office at Kandy (Sri Lanka) as a Zeus on Olympus, coming down once in a while to make sport with the lives of men fighting in a jungle, cool, charming and godlike in his taste for other people’s confusions.” The author writes that when Mountbatten commanded the fifth destroyer flotilla, the professional opinion about him was: “There is nobody better to be with in a tight spot than Dickie Mountbatten and nobody likely to get you into one sooner.”

The book finishes with a chapter, best described as “potted strategy”, that recounts the geo-strategic importance of the Hindu Kush mountains that straddle the tribal areas of the NWFP. The author points out that all migration along the “Hindu Kush Highway” from Afghanistan has taken place in an easterly direction towards India. The only example of the westerly move was the spread of Buddhism towards China. He warns that this holds a cautionary tale for India, especially with the Chinese expanding into the region and building “belt and road initiative” projects in Pakistan.

The strong points of this book are its historiographical research into a region of relevance, even if the reader does not necessarily agree with the conclusions the author draws. It is well produced, footnoted and indexed and should be widely read by students of the endless Af-Pak confrontation.

The navy loses its skilled PRO. Whose gain will this be?

For almost a decade, Capt DK Sharma (above) has brought credit to the navy

The Indian Navy has just lost one of its biggest force multipliers with the retirement of Captain Dalip Kumar Sharma, its longstanding Public Relations Officer (PRO) in New Delhi. The navy has many highly qualified and capable admirals. But I can state without hesitation that Dalip, or DK as we all called him, contributed more to the navy in the last decade than any admiral in even the most exalted position.

Dealing calmly, knowledgeably and good-humouredly with dozens of correspondents from print, television and social media, Dalip consistently projected his service in the best possible light. Unlike many government PR persons, Dalip was not a mindless propagandist. He did not gloss over, or attempt to bury, errors and mistakes by naval personnel – such as when a frigate, INS Beas, toppled over while in a dry dock, or an AN-32 aircraft was lost with all aboard off Chennai, or when sailors were killed in submarine accidents. He simply divulged the facts, while quietly reminding journalists of the hazards and dangers of operating at sea. One of his gems: “Nobody ever capsized, while sitting at a desk ashore.”

In navigating the navy through potentially troublesome news events, Dalip brought impeccable service credentials to the job. He was an ace navigator, having served as the Navigation Officer aboard the destroyer INS Rana during the 1999 Kargil crisis and Operation Parakram in 2001-02.

During almost a decade as PRO, Dalip Sharma brought the navy its full share of credit for multiple operations: such as the evacuation of Indian citizens from war-torn Yemen, the International Fleet Review in Visakhapatnam, and the managing of the super-cyclone Hudhud. He even brought the navy credit for counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir, quietly pointing to naval divers operating in Wular Lake in the Valley!

As a friend and news colleague, I will sorely miss Dalip. His successor, Captain Vivek Madhwal, has big shoes to fill and we all wish him luck in his tricky job. If I were a defence firm, doing business in India, I would waste no time in snapping up Dalip – I am assuming someone hasn’t already done that. Whoever gets him will not get just an outstanding PR person. He will get an officer who should have made it easily to admiral, and a gentleman who can be counted upon to do the right and honest thing.

Here’s wishing you fair winds and following seas, Dalip.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Rajnath Singh is first Indian defence minister to fly in Tejas

Says he chose to fly Tejas because it is an Indian fighter

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th Sept 19

On Thursday, Rajnath Singh became the first Indian defence minister to take a flight on the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft in Bengaluru. In flying in the Indian fighter, he was signalling confidence in the indigenous fighter programme. His predecessor, Nirmala Sitharaman, chose to fly in a Russian-origin Sukhoi-30MKI last year.

Asked after landing why he chose the Tejas fighter, Singh responded: “Because it is indigenously developed.”

Interestingly, Singh is not the first defence minister to venture up on the Indian-designed fighter. That honour went to Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen over a year ago, when he took a ride on a Tejas in July 2018.

Describing the 30-minute flight as “exhilarating”, Singh said: “It was very smooth and comfortable. I was enjoying it. I want to congratulate HAL, DRDO and several agencies concerned. We have reached a level where we can export fighter planes across the world.”

At least two countries, including Malaysia, have expressed interest in the Tejas, but no firm orders are in hand yet.

Hosting the defence minister in Bengaluru was the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), which is responsible for designing, developing and taking forward the Tejas LCA. Singh was personally flown by Air Vice Marshal N Tiwari, who heads the National Flight Test Centre in Bengaluru.

According to custom, Singh occupied the rear, co-pilot’s seat, but Tiwari gave him control of the aircraft briefly during the flight. Describing the experience, Singh said: "Koi problem nahi, jaise-jaise N Tiwari batate rahe, waise-waise mein karta raha (There was no problem. I just followed N Tiwari’s instructions)."

The defence minister had let it be known that his sortie was aimed at raising spirits amongst the ADA designers and pilots who were developing the fighter. While 40 Tejas Mark 1 are already on order, the defence ministry is negotiating the procurement of another 83 Tejas Mark 1A fighters for some Rs 33,000 crore.

The Tejas Mark 1A has a superior radar, air-to-air refuelling, a jammer pod and easier maintenance, and is being developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) in Bengaluru. The defence ministry’s procurement chief, Apurva Chandra, revealed on Tuesday that the price for 83 fighters has been successfully negotiated and only the maintenance and support costs remain to be finalised before the IAF signs a production contract with HAL.

Meanwhile ADA is developing the Tejas Mark 2, with a more powerful General Electric F-414 engine; as well as the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), which is a twin-engine, fifth-generation fighter with stealth features. Both these fighters are expected to be ready only after 2025.

ADA is also developing the naval Tejas Mark 1, which carried out its first “arrested” landing on a shore-based facility in Goa last week. The navy sees the Tejas as a stepping stone towards the AMCA, which would be the first indigenous fighter it fields on an operational aircraft carrier.

MoD spells out 5-point plan for arms industry to produce $26 billion annually by 2025

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th September 19

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his officials, addressing a defence industry gathering in New Delhi on Tuesday, spelt out a five point plan for raising India’s annual defence production from the current Rs 80,000 to $26 billion (Rs 1,82,000 crore) annually, by the year 2025.

“For this Indian defence industry needs to grow at the rate of 15% per annum,” said Singh.

With growth likely to come mainly from the private sector, Singh revealed that, of the current annual arms production of Rs 80,000 crore, private industry currently accounts for Rs 16,000 crore. In addition, the public sector outsources about 40 per cent of its production from private firms.

With the Indian defence budget limited in how much it could spend, the defence minister underlined export as a major driver. Over the last five years, defence export have witnessed a substantial rise, reaching Rs 10,745 crore ($1.5 billion) last year. The Defence Production Policy (DPrP) sets an annual target of $5 billion by 2025. 

The defence minister also stated that his ministry’s new “end-to-end online offset processing portal” has facilitated of offsets to the tune of $ 1.5 billion. 

Sanjay Jaju, Joint Secretary in the defence ministry, spelt out the government’s proposed five-point action plan for achieving the DPrP’s ambitious targets. “This will be a public document, we have already carried out consultations with industry,” he said.

The first point is a focus on developing entrepreneurs and empowering them to take risks. The ministry’s “Innovations for Defence Excellence” (iDEX) initiative, which engages with startups is a key driver, with 44 start-ups moving towards production. “We must move from a production mindset to the generation of intellectual property”, said Jaju.

The second driver will be a focus on cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence, drones and related products. A third driver is the new liberalised business eco-system, which is being transformed by reforms like GST. “India now has a one-country, one-tax environment. This creates huge opportunities for improving our supply chains and logistics”, said Jaju.

The fourth reform is the new openness of policymakers towards defence industry, enhancing feedback and the ease of doing business. Finally, there is a drive to create the skill sets needed to produce new products, services and technologies.

Singh also underlined that the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) would act as a technology engine for the private sector. “Government is working on a new policy to facilitate Transfer of Technologies (ToT) developed by the DRDO,” he said. 

He said the DRDO has signed more than 900 technology transfer agreements with industry so far.

Rajnath to fly in Tejas fighter, spend night on aircraft carrier

Navy facing cash crunch, wants budget share restored to 18% from 13.66%

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Sept 19

On September 19, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is planning a close viewing of two of India’s biggest indigenization successes. According to defence ministry sources, he will take a flight in the Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) in Bangalore.

On September 28, he will travel to Mumbai for milestones in India’s shipbuilding programme.

In what the navy’s vice chief, Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar describes as “The Raksha Mantri’s day at sea”, Singh will launch the first Project 17A frigate, INS Nilgiri at Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL); and commission the second Project 75 Scorpene submarine, INS Khanderi. He will also inaugurate a massive dry dock in Mumbai Port, large enough to accommodate aircraft carriers.

After that, the defence minister will sail out on the navy’s aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya. At night he will witness naval operations at sea, returning to Mumbai the next day.

The launch of INS Nilgiri sets the stage for building seven frigates for a total cost of Rs 45,000 crore. With Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL) building four and Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers, Kolkata (GRSE) building three frigates, all seven are scheduled to join the navy’s fleet between 2022-2025.

The navy has decided to name Project 17A warships after the six frigates of the Leander class – the first warships built entirely in India. Following INS Nilgiri, which MDL delivered in 1972, the navy commissioned the Himgiri, Dunagiri, Taragiri, Udaygiri and Vindhyagiri. All these are now decommissioned. Nilgiri was sunk on April 1997 by a Sea Eagle missile fired by a Sea Harrier fighter, operating off the aircraft carrier INS Viraat.

However, these six frigates will be reborn in the navy through Project 17A. The seventh and last frigate will get a brand new name: INS Mahendragiri.

The Project 17A frigates will be 6,500 tonnes each, and amongst the most heavily armed frigates anywhere. Each will carry eight BrahMos supersonic anti-ship missiles to destroy enemy ships and land targets at ranges of up to 300 kilometres. A complement of 32 Long Range Surface to Air Missiles (LR-SAM) will protect them from enemy aircraft and anti-ship missiles. They will mount the Mark 45, 127-millimetre Naval Gun System to engage surface targets out to 36 kilometres. And they will also carry torpedoes to sink enemy submarines and surface ships.

Given the navy must meet on-going payments for warships like INS Nilgiri, INS Khanderi and INS Kavaratti – the anti-submarine corvette that Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE) is likely to hand over to the navy this year – naval planners are making a strong pitch for restoring the navy’s traditional share of the defence budget.

“We will be seeking more money… Our endeavour is to ask for a higher share of the capital budget, which has also dropped in the last six-to-seven years. The navy’s budget share was about 18 per cent in 2012-13. Today it stands at about 13.66 per cent. We will try to convince the powers-that-be to enhance this share within the overall services budget,” stated Kumar, the navy’s vice chief.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Limited choices in “Strategic Partners”

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 17th Sept 19

Serious drawbacks were highlighted last week in the defence ministry’s so-called “Strategic Partner” (SP) model of procurement, when five Indian entities submitted Expressions of Interest (EoI) for being the SP in Project 75-I – the plan to build six conventional submarines for an estimated Rs 45,000 crore. There were two responses from the private sector – Larsen & Toubro (L&T) and Reliance Naval and Engineering (RNaval). Another two came from defence public sector shipyards – Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL) and Hindustan Shipyard Ltd, Visakhapatnam (HSL). A fifth response came from a proposed special purpose vehicle (SPV) between HSL and Adani Defence, even though SPVs were not invited to bid. HSL thus submitted two bids, effectively competing against itself.

In many ways this mirrored the response to the only other SP procurement progressed earlier – for building 111 naval utility helicopters (NUH) for Rs 21,738 crore. In May, EoIs were received from Tata Advanced Systems Ltd, Adani Defence, Mahindra Defence, Reliance Defence and the Kalyani Group. Although the defence ministry solicited bids only from private firms, public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) also threw its hat in the ring, submitting two EoIs – one in its individual capacity and another in a joint venture with Russian Helicopters Ltd called Indo-Russian Helicopters Ltd (IRHL). The defence ministry has remained silent.

To understand how the SP model works, let us consider Project 75-I. The selected Indian SP will build the six submarines in technology partnership with a foreign “original equipment supplier (OEM) that is being chosen in a separate process. Four OEMs – Rubin Design Bureau (Russia), Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (Germany), Naval Group (formerly DCNS, France) and Saab-Kockums (Sweden) formally responded to a “request for interest” the Indian Navy floated in October 2017. Since then, two more shipyards – Navantia (Spain) and Daewoo (South Korea) – have also indicated interest. Which of these six are actually in the fray will become clear on September 24, the last date for OEMs to submit EoIs. Then, after examining the SP and OEM proposals, the defence ministry will shortlist those it considers eligible. Shortlisted SPs will then pair up with approved OEMs to submit formal proposals. The defence ministry will award the contract to the SP-OEM pairing that it believes would build the submarines most cheaply, with the highest indigenous content and the most technology transfer. The aim is to equip the Indian defence industry with the skills and infrastructure to design and build the navy’s next 12 submarines without foreign help. Towards this end, Project 75-I proposes to incentivize OEMs who will deliver higher indigenous content than the minimum mandated level – which is 45 per cent in the first submarine, increasing to 60 per cent in the sixth.

However, somewhere along the way, the defence ministry has lost sight of what it intended to achieve – which was to nurture private defence firms that would compete on equal terms with the nine defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs) and the 41 factories of the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) that monopolised defence production until 2001. In 2005-06, the Kelkar Committee recommended that technologically capable and deep-pocketed private firms be nominated Raksha Udyog Ratnas (RuRs, or Defence Production Jewels), each operating in a specific technology sphere. The RuR identified for fighter aircraft would compete with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL). The RuR chosen for artillery guns would compete with the OFB. The chosen RuR for submarine building would compete with MDL.

Before long, this excellent initiative encountered push-back from OFB/DPSU trade unions, which feared job losses as manufacturing orders, hitherto handed to them on a plate, flowed instead to the more nimble and productive RuRs. Defence ministry bureaucrats, many of whom directly oversaw the defence public sector, also opposed competition from RuRs. Further, there was deep bureaucratic reluctance to be involved in selecting RuRs, especially after the decision-makers in the allocation of telecom spectrum and coal mining blocks faced corruption accusations. Consequently, for the duration of AK Antony’s defence ministership, the plan to pro-actively build up private defence manufacturers was put on the shelf.

In 2015, Manohar Parrikar, a defence minister who had once been an entrepreneur, resurrected a similar proposal, incorporating private sector SPs in place of RuRs. Two Parrikar-appointed committees – the Dhirendra Singh Committee and the VK Aatrey Task Force – set out stringent modalities for choosing SPs, including the financial and technical requirements companies were required to meet. But familiar resistance from bureaucrats and unions held Parrikar back until he relinquished charge as defence minister in March 2017. His successor, Arun Jaitley, took only weeks to announce an SP policy that entirely subverted its original aim. Jaitley allowed in OFB/DPSUs, forcing the private sector to compete with public sector entities that had been built up through decades of government largesse, including land, construction infrastructure, manpower skilling and technology transfer over multiple contracts awarded without tendering. Jaitley’s policy also diluted the domain competence needed to be an SP. A company no longer needed submarine building skills or “system-of-systems” domain competence to bid as an SP in a submarine project. Instead, it was enough to have commissioned, or owned a power, steel, chemical or automobile plant.

Besides the requirement for private companies to compete on unequal terms, there are other concerns about how Project 75-I is being pursued. Eyebrows have been raised over theentry of Adani Defence, which has neither a shipyard nor any shipbuilding experience; its participation rests on the parent Adani Group’s power plant. Since dry docks, wet basins and outfitting berths are essential for building submarines, Adani Defence relies on its SPV with HSL to meet those EoI conditions. But the rules demand that a bidding company must exist on the date the EoI is submitted – the Adani-HSL entity apparently does not. Nor is HSL eligible to bid alone, since it neither meets the EoI’s financial criteria (turnover and net worth), nor has it delivered a platform worth Rs 300 crore in the last five years.

Project 75-I starkly underlines the ambitions of Adani Defence, which, despite never having manufactured a single defence item, is on track to contend in all the four SP procurements planned. It is already participating in the NUH project and Project 75-I. Having tied up with Saab of Sweden, Adani will almost certainly pitch for the forthcoming SP tender for building 114 fighters in India. That leaves only the project for building tanks and, given the stakes Adani has picked up in tank electronics firm Alpha Design Technology, armoured vehicles seem to be in its crosshairs too.

The Reliance Group seems equally focused, despite the Rafale controversy, RNaval’s severe financial woes and a looming corporate insolvency process under the Indian Bankruptcy Code. RNaval might shelter behind its parent group’s financials, but Reliance Infrastructure’s poor liquidity and a credit rating of ‘D’ severely dents its prospects to qualify. Intriugingly, the defence ministry has diluted the credit rating requirement in its EoI request. The Defence Procurement Procedure of 2016 requires a credit rating of “A” for projects worth Rs 1,000 crore. The EoI request dilutes it to “BBB” for a project worth 45 times more. The logic behind this could be interesting.

Finally, timely delivery is everyone’s bugbear, except for L&T which is delivering vessel after vessel ahead of schedule. RNaval is years overdue in delivering patrol vessels to the navy. HSL was years late in overhauling a navy Kilo-class submarines. MDL is years late in delivering the Scorpene submarines under Project 75. It would seem the defence ministry is not spoilt for choice.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Navy Tejas fighter conducts landmark “arrested landing”

Video of the first arrested landing by a Naval Tejas fighter

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 14th Sept 19

On Friday, India took a giant step towards designing and building a Tejas fighter capable of operating off aircraft carriers, when a Tejas prototype fighter carried out an “arrested landing” in the navy’s Shore Based Test Facility (SBTF) in Goa.

Even air force pilots accept that the most dangerous and spectacular flying mission is one that naval fighter pilots perform every day: landing a fighter on an aircraft carrier deck, which is often just 200 metres long.

Such a landing is only possible if the pilot can successfully snag a “tail hook” on the tail of the aircraft onto a series of “arrestor wires” on the aircraft carrier’s landing deck. The wires then unspool, dragging the aircraft to a halt.

That is what Commodore Jaideep Maolankar, flying a naval Tejas prototype developed by the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO), demonstrated on Friday on a land-based airstrip, with the aircraft absorbing the huge deceleration stresses. This opens the door to actually landing the Tejas on an aircraft carrier, and thence to introducing the fighter into operational service.

 "Today is a golden letter day in the history of Indian naval aviation. This has put India on the world map as a nation with the capability to design a deck landing aircraft,” said a DRDO official who briefed the media after the event.

To be sure, the naval Tejas is still a long way from operational service. The navy has stated that the Tejas Mark 1’s current General Electric F-404IN engine is not powerful enough. This means that the navy will wait for the Tejas Mark 2, which will be powered by the peppier GE F-414 engine.

Yet, a small but highly motivated team of designers, flyers and technicians at the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), the DRDO agency responsible for the Tejas, are continuing to develop the Naval Tejas Mark 1 as a prototype for perfecting key elements needed for carrier deck operations – such as a rugged undercarriage that can absorb the impact of the aircraft with the landing deck.

This has been a delicate process, in which designers must strike a balance between weight, strength, speed, maneuverability and other flight aspects. For example, strengthening the fighter’s undercarriage adds weight, which reduces speed, climb rate and turning radius.

“Over multiple iterations over a sustained period, we have balanced these aspects in the naval Tejas. This has resulted in our developing a body of priceless technical experience and knowledge. Today’s achievement is not so much about developing an aircraft, as it is about building up a team of designers that will form the backbone of Indian naval aviation design in their working lifetime,” said a senior ADA official on Friday.

 The Naval Tejas flight test team that executed the landing will remain in Goa over the next month, consolidating the experience and conducting further testing.

Of the total budget of Rs 14,047 crore sanctioned for the Tejas project, the naval fighter has been sanctioned Rs 3,650 crore. Of that amount, Rs 1,729 crore has been allocated for the naval Mark 1 fighter, while Rs 1,921 crore is earmarked for the Naval Tejas Mark 2.