Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The MoD's 2008 in review

The Defence Ministry released this "Year in Review" today:

The unprecedented terror attacks in Mumbai on November 26 and the counter measures by the armed forces in regaining control of the seized buildings and rescuing hostages marked a turning point in the activities of the Ministry of Defence towards yearend. A slew of high-level meetings to review and beef up security followed. As a follow-up the government approved immediate steps to augment coastal security, intelligence coordination and fast track acquisition of cutting edge equipment and interceptor boats for the Coast Guard.

The three Services also rendered yeoman's assistance during the Bihar floods in August, providing rescue and relief in areas devastated by an overflowing Kosi river. About 25,000 people were evacuated every day as army rushed 37 columns, the navy deployed boats and divers while the Indian Air Force airdropped medicines and food to the marooned people. Earlier in May, the IAF and the Navy extended humanitarian assistance beyond the borders, reaching out relief to earthquake hit China and cyclone-devastated Myanmar. While the Indian Navy ships INS Rana and Kirpan were the first to reach out to Myanmar, devastated by severe cyclone Nargis, the IAF engaged in the largest airlift across the border, providing 277 tons relief supplies to the neighbouring countries.


The test-firing of 3,000 kilometers range Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) Agni-3, 600-kms range canister-launched Surface-to-Surface Missile (SSM) Shaurya, supersonic cruise missile Brahmos' naval version, 350-kms range Surface-to-Surface Ballistic Missile (SSBM) Prithvi-2 and 3rd Genertaion Fire and Forget anti-tank missile Nag, pre-confirmatory test-flight of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Nishant, induction of Hawk-132 Advance Jet Trainer (AJT) and Rohini 3-Dimensional Radar into the IAF, upgraded Pinaka multi-barrel rockets into the army and the 5th Advanced Offshore Patrol Vessel (AOPV) ICGS Sankalp into the Coast Guard, hot and cold weather trials of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas promised punch to our armed forces. While Ordnance Factory, Trichy handed over ten Anti-Material Rifles to BSF in February, all 40 Ordnance Factories under the Ministry of Defence earned ISO-9002 international quality certification. An Integrated Space Cell was instituted in the Integrated Defence Staff in June, marking a path-breaking initiative to secure and consolidate the country's space assets.


The Indian Navy ventured beyond the South Asia region in an active role for the first time, patrolling the Gulf of Aden since October 23rd and achieving notable success in preventing piracy on the high seas. INS Tabar foiled a piracy attempt on merchant Vessel MV Jag Arnav on Oct.11th and aborted another attempt on a Saudi vessel. Next month, the Tabar sank a Thai boat commandeered by pirates. On Dec. 13th INS Mysore captured 23 in the pirate-infested waters, including many pirates, and recovered a cache of arms and ammunition.


For the first time again, a contingent of the Chinese Army touched down on Indian soil in December for joint counter-terror exercise 'Hand-in-Hand' at Belgaum. Earlier a Mechanized Infantry contingent of the Indian Army conducted the first joint exercise abroad at Salisbury Plains with the UK army in August-September. The IAF too earned kudos in the US participating in the Red Flag exercise at Nevada in August, as eight Sukhoi-30 MKIs, two IL-78 midair refuellers and an IL-76 transporter matched their paces with the likes of the USAF, French and South Korean air forces. In May, India participated in the Berlin air show as a partner country for the first time as the Defence Minister Shri AK Antony graced the occasion. The IAF helicopter aerobatics team Sarang earning a feather in the cap after being adjudged the Best Looking Close Formation. And later in July the Sarang team, flying the indigenous ALH Dhruv, also performed at the Farnborough air show in UK.


The much-awaited revised Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP-2008) was released on Sep.1st, paving the way for transparent and faster acquisition of hardware and promoting indigenous industry. The constitution of the Armed Forces Tribunal was also set in motion with the approval by the union cabinet in July of 31 posts of members and later the appointment of retired Supreme Court judge Justice AK Mathur as its Chairperson. Other major policy and administrative decisions include the granting of permanent commission to women officers in select branches, approval of phase-2 of AV Singh Committee report granting upgradation of 1,896 posts in the three Services, restructuring of 117 posts in the Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS) and issue of guidelines and massive hike in revision of rentals for land and property hired by the armed forces in Jammu and Kashmir. Other welfare measures include the approval of Married Accommodation Project (MAP-II), doubling of monetary grants to gallantry awardees, setting up of Army College of Medical Sciences in New Delhi and Sainik School at Rewari, Haryana and implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission.


Premier defence undertaking Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) broke new ground in exports, bagging an order of seven Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) worth $56.7 million from the Latin American nation Ecuador. In July the DRDO signed an agreement with Brazil's Embraer to jointly develop an Early Warning System (EWS) for the IAF. During the visit of Russian Defence Minister Mr. Anatoly Serdyukov to New Delhi on September 29th, a major decision followed extending the term of the Indo-Russian Inter-Governmental Commission on Military and Technical Cooperation (IRIGC-MTC) by ten years beyond 2010 when its present term expires. Later in December the India-Russia High-Level Monitoring Committee reviewed progress on development of 5th Generation Fighter Aircraft, AWACS and Multi-Role Transport Aircraft and acquisition of T-90 tanks, SU-30 upgrades and aircraft carrier Gorshkov, rechristened INS Vikramaditya.

The Defence Minister Shri AK Antony's visits to Malaysia in January and the US in September underlined India's growing Defence Cooperation with the respective countries and coordination among their Armed Forces. In a rare gesture the Indian Army's Remount Veterinary Corps gifted four horse pedigrees – two stallions and four mares, to Bangladesh army in February.

The Indian Navy hosted the first conclave of heads of navies of Indian Ocean littoral states, Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) in New Delhi on 14-15th February. A few days later, more than 270 companies from over 30 countries were represented in the 5th DefExpo, the land and naval systems exposition. DefCom in May and International Maritime Search and Rescue Conference (IMSARCON) in March were the other major conclaves hosted or organized in partnership with the armed forces. In March General Mehmet Ilker Basbug arrived in New Delhi, the first visit by a Turkish army chief to India. The US Defence Secretary Dr. Robert Gates, US army chief General George William Casey Junior, Chinese Deputy Chief of General Staff, People's Liberation Army, Lt. General Ma Xiaotian, Polish Defence Minister Mr. Bogdan Klich and Brigadier General Tay Lim Heng, Chairman of the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against ships in Asia (ReCAAP) were other major dignitaries to visit India this year.

The Indian Navy conducted periodic joint exercises – Milan 2008 with Asia-Pacific Maritime Navies at Port Blair in January, Malabar'08 with the US in October, Varuna with French Navy in May, Singapore-India Maritime Battle Exercise (SIMBEX).

And finally,

DEATH OF A TITAN ... In June, the country lost one of its finest and most decorated soldiers, the first Field Marshal SHFJ Manekshaw. The nation paid fitting tribute by according him a state funeral as thousands poured out to bid him farewell. A commemorative postage stamp and First Day Cover were released in memory of Field Marshal Manekshaw on Dec 16th, the Vijay Diwas marking Victory in the 1971 Indo-Pak War.

Monday, December 29, 2008

One supreme sacrifice, please. No extra cheese.

It will never fail to astound the unfamiliar just how easily India as a nation digests the deaths of its soldiers. A Lebanese friend of mine from Wales (where we went to grad school together) wrote to me recently. He said he was hoping to make a visit to India soon, but that he did not wish to impose on my time. Why? Let me quote him here: "You must be endlessly busy covering last rites of your valiant soldiers in Mumbai and Kashmir. I could not possibly pull you away from that." I've written back to him urging him to take the next flight to India. You see he's Lebanese, and is used to a phenomenal amount of public respect for his country's armed forces personnel, when they are brought back to Beirut in flag-draped wooden coffins. India and Lebanon are two nations that are as different as they come, in every possible way -- historically, governmentally, economically, socially. And yet, how different really?

Well for starters, in India we are so deeply desensitized to the death of a soldier that it has completely lost its power to make us stop and grieve. Completely. The martyr's day ceremony at Amar Jawan Jyoti is a pipsqueak affair that the average Joe doesn't give two shits about. What should be a sobre day filled with memory and unstinted adulation for the sacrificial lives, is a non-event attended by the three chiefs and a handful of uniformed hangers on. A fauji kid I know recently argued passionately with me about what Vijay Diwas really commemmorated -- it turns out that not only was she patently wrong, but that also hadn't a clue about what her decorated Colonel father received an Ashok Chakra in 1972 for. What I'm trying to say, simply, is that the person on the street has none of the mindspace for the soldier that he or she damn well should.

The commodification of the soldier is deep rooted. As a nation, we'd hate to admit it, but we consider the personnel of our armed forces far more expendable than others simply because somewhere deep down inside, we rationalise that the forces carry their worlds with them, and have the depth of numbers to cushion a handful of fatalities every now and then. And that, hey, it's a dangerous job but someone's gotta do it. The point is all of this applies to every other country and every other armed force in the world as well.

A seeringly simple example would be the "bhavpoorna shraddhanjali" banners that mushroomed across Mumbai during the terrorist seige, paying homage to the trio of senior police officers (Hemant Karkare, Ashok Kamte, Vijay Salaskar -- let's find someone who doesn't recognise those names) who were killed. It took at least five more days before someone noticed that this was brutally narrow. And so up came a banner, almost as an afterthought, at Churchgate, adding Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan's name to the trinity. There's no picking at straws here. I was in the city. It was an afterthought. Thank heavens for afterthoughts.

The faintly disturbing thing about all this is that even systemic insensitivity, which was long recognised as a snake coiled up within the innards of South Block, streaked naked across the Indian public conscience this year. Of course, I'm talking about Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw's funeral in Wellington (let's have anyone remember the date). The government's audacity in even allowing its real sentiments about the forces to show, sent the goodwill of mourners reeling. What a time they chose to do it!

I'm always reminded of a line from A Few Good Men. And even though the officer saying it in the film is the antagonist, the sentiment holds just fine:

"We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use them as the backbone of a life spent trying to defend something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said 'thank you', and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest that you pick up a weapon and stand a post."

Saturday, December 27, 2008

2008: One bad year...

I'm sure anyone with even a sliver of concern has noticed how acutely ironic these times are, and just what a gloomy year 2008 has been for the armed forces. Some say years like these come along once in a while, and bring with them enough baggage to last the collective consciousness of the the forces until the next bad year rings in. It could be a decade later, it could be two decades later. There's no telling.

I'm no military historian, but I can't think of a single modern year in which more searing moral damage has been dealt the armed forces than 2008. And as the year recedes (with good riddance), there's a cataclysmic irony of the flavour it leaves lingering in the air.

On Saturday, I visited the "protest road" outside Jantar Mantar in Delhi to cover the "fast unto death" by a group of ex-Servicemen. Veterans of our wars, sitting on the roadside, on an indefinite hungerstrike. A lady doctor from an ECHS clinic saunters in to give the strikers a once over -- blood pressure, pulse, the usual -- and leaves after carefully noting down their condition in a register notebook. Sepoy Sulaiman Khan. 8th Day. Pulse normal. Weak. Blood pressure normal. A retinue of General officers, including former Deputy Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen Raj Kadyan linger with the fasting group.

A retired JCO from Bareilly takes the microphone and spends 10 minutes calling upon his retired colleagues to abandon the Congress and BJP and to reclaim what's rightfully theirs, but politically. The widow of a jawan who died in the Kargil operations tearfully appeals to the crowd to never stop hoping, never stop fighting. It's not a particularly large crowd. I would urge anyone who lives in Delhi to visit the protest. It isn't spectacular. Nor is it loud or obtrusive. But it has a story to tell that should mortify us as a nation, each and every one of us. You may or may not agree with the demands that the ex-servicemen make of the government. But you always -- always -- leave with a stark, biting sense of injustice.

Remember, this is at a time when vengeance for the Mumbai attacks has rallied the nation like few recent events have. But that's just it. Here it is plain and simple. The very folks you need to fight your wars if you're ever have to enter one, are embittered, stricken and severely depressed. The damage that the 6th Pay Commission alone has caused would suffice to define the overriding sentiment among the armed forces in 2008. One of suspicion, a sense of treachery and betrayal. And most importantly, an utter and absolute loss of faith in the government. The semblance of silent respect is gone. Politicians are now perceived simply as self-seeking, heartless villains. And bureaucrats, only worse. All the decades of silent reproach that the forces have nursed for babus have come flooding out these last few months.

So damaging, as a matter of fact, has the 6thPC been on the larger psyche of the forces, that an amazing number of officers are convinced that the Malegaon probe (and its detention of an Army Lieutenant Colonel) is the UPA government's sinister way of telling the country that the armed forces are not the bastion of good that everyone thinks they are, and therefore, they don't really deserve what they're asking for. That may sound far fetched, but you'd be truly surprised how many folks in uniform staunchly support that theory.

If the Prime Minister now announces (as he is reportedly expected to) an acquiescence to the armed forces demands from the 6thPC, it may be too little, but it would definitely be too late. A great big chunk of the command and control respect that is the synapse between executive and military is gone. And needlessly.

2009 does not portend great things. But it does promise elections and change. Here's to better things. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

R.I.P. Wing Commander RKS Sisodia

It was with sorrow that I learnt today that Wing Commander RKS Sisodia, the Ministry of Defence spokesperson in Shillong passed away last night. I met him very briefly in July when he was in Delhi on temporary deputation. He was of immense help and personally present when I interviewed Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Fali Major at Vayu Bhawan that month. Following this, he was also of tremendous personal help to our channel's correspondents who were in Bihar to report on the flood relief operations. I remember the frantic calls I made to him in Purnea -- he would always assure me with a great deal of humour that things were being taken care of. He's the only person I know who had the positive energy to forward SMS jokes from the middle of flooded Bihar. He was 40, and leaves behind his wife and three young sons. Rest in peace.

India wants cluster bombs

Monday, December 22, 2008

The 6thPC finish line?

The three-member ministerial committee headed by Pranab Mukherjee to look into the armed forces demands from the 6th Pay Commission has finally completed its scrutiny -- it was tasked with the job by the Prime Minister on September 25. While the Ministry of Defence hasn't officially confirmed anything just yet -- and some have indicated that the Committee might even need to meet one more time -- it emerges that the Committee has recommended to the PM that three of the four core demands be met. The restoration of pensionary benefits for PBORs had already been accepted some weeks ago, so it pretty much boiled down to the other three demands. We hear the the armed forces demand for uniform grade pay on par with their civil services counterparts has been summarily rejected. However, insiders say the Committee accepted and recommended the upgradation of Lt Col and equivalents from PB-3 to PB-4, and the transference of some Lt Gens (not all?) to the Higher Administrative Grade Plus (HAG+).

Some believe it ain't over till it's over. Fair enough, considering the massive trauma that's been inflicted on the collective psyche of the forces ever since the 6thPC report was submitted at the beginning of this year. Also, the forces are now deeply suspicious of good news -- what's the catch, they ask. Also fair, considering the perception that serious anomalies were introduced into the Pay Commission report by bureaucrats who were tasked with ironing out certain lumps.

The veteran's outside demand for One Rank One Pension (OROP) has summarily been rejected by the government, as enunciated by Defence Minister AK Antony in Parliament. It turns out that the political consensus that was being sought on the demand didn't come through. Actually there was consensus -- no party thought it was feasible or necessary. So a thought for them as they languish in protest at Jantar Mantar.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Admiral Arun Prakash: Is the future beneath the waves?

On Navy Day, 4th of December 2008, the IN will celebrate the 37th anniversary of its audacious missile attack on Karachi in the 1971 war. For the pedantic, who hark back merely to Independence, the Service will be a little over 61 years old on this day. The historically inclined, who want to be one-up on the Army and IAF, could claim that the origin of the Royal Indian Navy goes back to Captain Thomas Best’s 3-ship squadron which defeated the Portuguese off Suvali (a few miles north of Hazira in Gujarat) in September 1612. Hence this is actually the IN’s 396th birthday! However, I doubt that that the Admirals who foregather in end-October for the annual Naval Commanders’ Conference will have time to discuss matters such as this, because their agenda is likely to be crowded with many other issues of substance.

An eminent Indian strategist has said: “If India had competent naval leadership and a strategic culture, the IN at the turn of the century would have had nuclear submarines.” While there may be a streak of truth here, these are harsh words because in India, matters impinging on grand strategy, are shared by the politician, only with scientists and bureaucrats; keeping the armed forces at arms length. Nevertheless, one wonders how much of their time the Commanders will devote to the navy’s critical under-water dimension and its submarine arm.

Over the past six decades the navy, once it had broken free of the “Cinderella Service” chrysalis, is generally acknowledged to “got its act together” a little better than its sister Services. If this is indeed true, it could be due to its compact size, a smaller decision-making loop, and the fact that it has possibly received greater exposure to external influences. The navy’s adroit management of its affairs can be viewed under two headings.

The Doctrine-Hardware Gap

A major pitfall confronting “young” armed forces universally is the gap that can arise between their doctrine (if they have one) and the order of battle that they create; especially in the context of hardware. The problem becomes aggravated when equipment has to be imported from diverse sources, as in our case, and often force-fitted into the ORBAT. Of course, the evolution of doctrine and strategy has itself been delayed and hindered by lack of higher direction from the government.

To take a few examples in India; The Army’s self-hypnosis about set-piece battles with armoured spearheads, low-intensity conflict and “boots on the ground” has created for it, a highly manpower-oriented paradigm in which even the Special Forces have been reduced to the status of super-infantry. Consequently one has the nagging feeling that the army has grid-locked itself, doctrinally, into a vicious circle. Its refusal to down-size, will deny it the fruits of technology; like precision weaponry, air-mobility, long-range fire-power and night-fighting capabilities, and siphon the money into manpower costs, which will, in turn, impede further modernization.

The IAF acquired many aircraft, including the Sukhoi-7 fighter-bomber, the MiG-23MF interceptor, and the Tupolev-124 and Ilyushin-14 transports either under duress or with insufficient forethought, because they proved of limited utility. At the same time, due to a lack of doctrinal focus, they completely overlooked the immense force-multiplying benefits that EW, early-warning radar, and air-to-air refueling would have bestowed, till quite late; and they still lack a true long-range (nuclear?) bomber.

By the same token, the IN found itself a few years after independence, with an aircraft carrier, a destroyer/frigate escort group and a basic fleet-train without a well thought out doctrine for their employment. Shunned by the West, the navy’s early acquisition programmes were guided, more by what the Soviets thought was good for us rather than what we actually needed or wanted. So much so that an editor of Jane’s Fighting Ships was constrained to remark that: “the IN is one of the few major navies which first buys hardware, and then thinks about how to use it”!

The IN realized the gravity of this problem at an early stage, and has been trying to address it since the last two decades. As far back as 1988, NHQ issued a document titled: “A Military Maritime Strategy 1989-2014” which reflected Cold War realities and the insular posture we had adopted in that era. Although overtaken by events within a few years, this document triggered off a process. However, it was not till the beginning of the current decade that the Service applied itself, once again, to matters of policy as well as dogma.

This has resulted in a series of documents including a Maritime Doctrine, a Maritime Strategy and a Maritime Capabilities Plan which have collectively provided an intellectual underpinning for, and placed the navy’s roles, missions, operational posture and acquisition policies into geo-strategic perspective. This has created a firm foundation which the Service can build upon in the years to come.

The IN has fortunately stood by two fundamental doctrinal convictions; on which the leadership has never failed to voice its views. Firstly, that India’s national interests and stature require it to have overt and credible trans-national capabilities. And secondly, that not just the management of trans-national capabilities, but the demands of today’s warfare require the integration of the three armed forces with a single head of the Defence Staff.

Regrettably, government policy appears to have placed nuclear deterrence outside the ambit of doctrinal examination by the navy (as well as the other two Services).


If one aspect sets it apart from the other two Services, it is the navy’s total commitment to indigenization, which was underpinned by two bold and far-sighted decisions in the late 1960s; to undertake warship construction in the country, and to set up a Directorate of Naval Design manned by a Corps of Naval Constructors. Our shipyards have, to-date, delivered over 90 ships ranging from basic patrol boats and amphibious ships to sophisticated submarines, frigates and destroyers. It is to be hoped that an indigenous aircraft carrier will slide down Cochin Shipyard’s slipway in a few years time.

Of a piece with the resolute indigenization drive is the symbiotic relationship which the IN has assiduously created with the DRDO – an organization which deservedly attracts much searing criticism otherwise. Apart from whole-heartedly participating in the work of DRDO’s two dedicated naval laboratories, the IN has invariably contributed funds as well as manpower to projects undertaken for it by the organization. And herein lies the crucial difference in the navy’s approach.

For many years the IAF regarded the LCA project with a degree of detachment and skepticism, and waited to assess its chances of success before committing itself in any manner. In the early 1990s a cursory enquiry by the IN about the feasibility of a carrier-borne version of the LCA, evoked an enthusiastic response from the design bureau – accompanied by a request for funds to undertake a study. NHQ reacted instantly with a grant of Rs. 4.5 crores for what was then, little more than a “pie in the sky”, but has now become a full-fledged LCA (Navy) Project with IN funding and personnel. If this bold and ambitious project succeeds, India will be one of just four countries world-wide producing carrier-borne aircraft. But that does not stop the IN from hedging its bets with the MiG-29(K) and possibly the JSF.

The Arjun MBT is turning out to be another heart-break story for the DRDO, because it has allegedly not come up to the army’s expectations. In a somewhat similar situation when a weapon system did not quite measure up to the Qualitative Requirements (QR), after many years of R&D, the navy took a conscious decision to designate the system as a “Mark I” version and accept a limited number. The DRDO was then prevailed upon to undertake the expeditious development of a Mark II version which would meet or exceed a new set of naval QRs.

A nation’s claim to major power status does not rest solely on its ability to produce a few nuclear devices. Such claims will ring hollow unless it can create an unassisted capability for designing missiles, aircraft, tanks, warships and submarines, as well as the industrial wherewithal to undertake their serial production. This calls for an intense synergy between the armed forces, DRDO, defence PSUs and the private industry.

For this to happen, there are two essential pre-requisites. Firstly the R&D establishment must muster the courage and intellectual honesty to admit failures when they occur, and secondly, the armed forces must continue to hold the DRDO’s hand in success as well in failure.

In the navy’s case, impending events call for a much sharper focus on our submarine building capabilities and infrastructure.

Building a Submarine Arm

A proposal for creating a submarine arm for the RIN was put up to the Government of India within months of Independence, but with the pacifist mindset then prevailing, it was felt at the highest levels that the acquisition of such a “weapon of offence” would run counter to our ethos of non-violence.

It was perhaps the alleged sighting of Chinese submarines in the Bay of Bengal in 1962 which led to the revival of this proposal and government acquiescence, the following year. The options offered by USA and UK being limited to WW II surplus vessels with limited capabilities and even less residual life, we turned to the USSR. The initial offer of trouble-prone Whiskey and Zulu Class boats (then in service with China, Egypt and Indonesia), was subsequently upgraded to the more rugged and contemporary boats of Project 641 or Foxtrot Class. Three such boats, along with a Don Class submarine depot ship were acquired in 1967-68, and five more added subsequently.

The Foxtrots, having trained and blooded a generation of submariners in war, the next step for upgradation of capabilities was taken by contracting for advanced hunter-killer submarines of German design. Between 1986 and 1994 four of these Type 209/1500 boats entered service; two built in Germany and two in Mazagon Docks Mumbai. Unfortunately allegations of corruption in this deal scuttled plans for further indigenous construction, and this was a huge setback for the nation in terms of capability accretion. However, concurrent negotiations with the USSR had resulted in the induction of 10 improved boats of the Kilo Class between 1986 and 2000. Because of their “teardrop” hull-form, these boats were much quieter. They also had superior sensors and high-endurance Indian-made propulsion batteries.

With all but one of the Foxtrots having been retired, and the Type 209 as well as Kilos (after modernization) entering the final phase of service life, the 2005 contract for building six French Scorpene Class submarines under license in Mazagon came not a day too early. But even this will be too late to prevent a drastic force level slump at the end of the next decade. In order to sustain the required submarine strength of about 25 boats, and ensure diversification of submarine production a 30-year plan was approved by the GoI, a few years ago. This plan envisages the simultaneous serial production of two types of submarines in two separate shipyards.

While one of the two types can be an of advanced submarine of imported origin, the time is now ripe for our naval architects to create a home-grown design, and for the DRDO to develop an air-independent propulsion (AIP) package which can be installed in a truly indigenous submarine.

The Quest for Nuclear Expertise

According to the 4th volume of the official history of the IN, the Service had begun to examine the viability of indigenous design and construction of a nuclear submarine as far back as 1967. The initiative gathered momentum soon after the 1974 “peaceful nuclear explosion”, and by 1978 a small IN-DAE team had been located at BARC to undertake serious design and feasibility studies. This study obviously brought home the magnitude of the colossal challenge posed by this undertaking, and it was decided to approach the USSR for assistance.

A decade after signing the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, the USSR made an unprecedented offer in 1981, to lease a nuclear powered submarine to India along with a training and maintenance package. Tagged on to this offer was an option for acquiring Soviet “assistance for design and construction of a nuclear-powered submarine” at a later date. In 1988 a Charlie I Class Soviet nuclear attack submarine (SSN) arrived in Indian waters on a 3-year lease. Renamed INS Chakra, this SSN carried neither the weapons nor the systems for a strategic role, and therefore served a limited purpose; that of providing experience to IN personnel in the operation, maintenance and deployment of a nuclear-propelled submarine. The reactor was guarded by Russians, and it seems doubtful that our scientists or engineers gained much design insight from Chakra.

In an astute and far-sighted initiative, the IN and the DRDO had joined forces, sometimes in the mid-1980s, to constitute an R&D venture designated the Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) Project . This little understood and much maligned project has been making steady progress in many areas related to the indigenous development of submarine as well as system design and construction. It is possible that external advice and consultancy may have been sought in some aspects of this enormously complex undertaking.

In hindsight, the Chakra lease was perhaps pre-mature, because 17 years after she went home, we are yet to see an indigenous nuclear boat, and in the interim the trained manpower has dissipated.

New Developments

In this context; Navy Day 2007 appeared to have brought two pieces of good news from authoritative naval sources; firstly that the ATV project was making rapid progress, and secondly that there was a proposal to lease another nuclear boat (possibly an Akula Class SSN) from Russia to facilitate crew training and familiarization . The Akula is known to be equipped with bow and stern tubes which can fire either torpedoes or anti-ship cruise missiles.

If the ATV project did not progress in its early years, as rapidly as the IN had expected, the 1998 Pokhran II tests and the Nuclear Doctrine issued subsequently, must have certainly expedited its pace. This “no first use” doctrine clearly aims for a triad of nuclear vectors in the near future. It requires little reflection to conclude that the only undetectable and survivable (hence credible) leg of the triad will be the SSBN; a nuclear-propelled submarine armed with ballistic missiles.

India’s Nuclear Stakes

The leased Russian SSN is unlikely to contribute to India’s nuclear deterrent, and suggestions that its cruise missiles could be modified to carry nuclear warheads appear very far-fetched, especially in the light of MTCR restrictions. While the exact configuration of the ATV remains in the realm of media speculation, the logical way ahead for the IN would be to build and sustain a small SSBN fleet for deterrence, and a few SSNs for anti-submarine and sea denial roles. The creation of such a force has to be viewed in a 40-50 year geo-strategic and fiscal perspective and will require overcoming many technology challenges. Some of these are:

1. The ab-initio indigenous design and production of a nuclear propulsion plant which will pose a major challenge for our nuclear scientists. Freedom from dependence on external assistance in this field is vital for national security. The 4000 ton Chakra’s reactor delivered 90 MW power, while the 7500 ton Akula is driven by a 190 MW reactor, and our designers should be aiming at a power output of around 200 MW.

2. Reactor design is heavily dependent on the level of proficiency attained in uranium enrichment and fuel fabrication technologies. Reactors which run on low enriched uranium (18%-20%) have a short refueling cycle whereas highly enriched uranium fuel (93% or above) can last the lifetime of a reactor.

3. A stealthy and safe hull design, using materials of sufficient strength which will facilitate high speeds and also permit the SSBN to lurk in deep waters, undetected.

4. The design and production of an underwater launched ballistic missile of inter-continental range, dimensionally compatible with the submarine, so that 12-16 can be carried on board.

All these endeavours are complex, laborious and time consuming, and a period of even 15-20 years for attaining the capabilities listed above may be optimistic; allowing for errors and unforeseen delays. While the USSR/Russia have, so far, been the main sources of maritime hardware and technology for us, other avenues are likely to open up. The US Navy has nuclear powered vessels ranging from cruisers and aircraft carriers to submarines, powered by 25 different types of reactors running into the 9th generation of development. It is quite possible that US or other technology may become available for indigenous programmes. Such assistance should, however, be sought very selectively and with the greatest caution, because of the strings that will come attached to it.

The PLA Navy sent its first (Han class) nuclear submarine to sea in 1974, and today the Chinese nuclear flotilla consists of 3-4 Xia and Jin class SSBNs (with missiles of up to 8000km range) as well as 5-6 Han and Shang class SSNs. Given that we are already 30 years behind China in this field, there is not a day to be lost in committing the necessary capital as well as human resources from the Navy, DAE and DRDO to this endeavour.


Like it or not, the underwater deterrent is going to be the Navy’s baby, and it will increasingly make exacting demands on the expertise and human resources of the Service (the funding will certainly have to come from elsewhere). The planning, production, trials, operational deployment and maintenance of the nuclear fleet will all require naval involvement.

Here it is worth quoting RAdm Raja Menon who has studied this issue in depth: “Eventually the country’s deterrence could shift entirely underwater….but for this the navy and the country will have to understand that this is a gigantic technological project operating at the frontiers of science….” He adds: “Government procedures simply cannot produce a nuclear submarine…and more harm cannot come to the country than to build it in furtive secrecy, where the first casualty is accountability.”

The biggest challenge will, obviously be that of project management which will require bold, imaginative and resolute naval leadership. Once the ATV Project completes its assigned R&D task, it could be converted into an enterprise for the serial production of nuclear submarines. Such a vast undertaking would involve a very large number of public and private sector units and could be run as a public-private corporation under the Navy’s supervision.

For a Service which has focused largely on surface ship operations since inception, this will involve a radical paradigm shift. But the Navy must face the fact that the future certainly lies beneath the waves.

(Admiral Prakash was Chief of the Naval Staff from 31 July 2004-31 Oct 2006. He currently lives in Dehradun. This column is from the current edition of Vayu Aerospace & Defence Review, a journal he is Editorial Advisor to)

Friday, December 19, 2008

PHOTO: BrahMos vertically launched from INS Ranvir

This beautiful photograph just came in. Photographed in the Bay of Bengal at 1200HRS on December 18. A BrahMos supersonic cruise missile lift off the universal vertical launcher on board the Indian Navy's Kashin II-class destroyer INS Ranvir. Yesterday's press release from BrahMos reveals that the three follow-on Krivak-class (Talwar-class) stealth frigates being built Kaliningrad will have the same vertical launcher modules. The BrahMos is already integrated in the inclined configuration on Ranvir's sister ship INS Rajput. According to the statement from the company yesterday, the launch makes BrahMos the world's "first and only supersonic cruise missile capable of being launched from vertical and inclined configurations from a naval platform".

Photos: LCA Tejas at Leh

Photos Courtesy DPR Defence

EXCLUSIVE Photos: India's Shourya missile test Part 2

Photos Courtesy DRDO

Thursday, December 18, 2008

EXCLUSIVE Photos: India's Shourya missile test Part I

Just got this clutch of photos of the Shourya (Programme K-15) test on November 12 at the Integrated Test Range, Orissa. More photos tomorrow.

Here's an informative article on the Shourya by TS Subramanian in the latest edition of Frontline magazine.

Photos Courtesy DRDO

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi: Honour our Soldiers

The following is a column by former Vice Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi that appears in the latest issue of COVERT, the fine new current affairs magazine edited by MJ Akbar.

There is predictable euphoria in the country about the brave actions of the defence forces during the highly successful operations launched by them at Mumbai to clear terrorists. There is no doubt that the land, sea and air warriors of the three services excelled in carrying out their tasks skillfully and with great élan. They do deserve to be commended. However, the rhetorical question is how long this adulation will last? I am afraid the unfortunate answer is ‘not too long’. After every such operation, there is spontaneous and across the board cheering for the soldiers, but it is soon forgotten.
Soldiers, whether serving or veterans, need to be honoured at all times and not only when they return victorious from a battle or war. Most nations do this, but in our country soldiers are soon forgotten and then ignored, till the next time they sacrifice themselves in some operation, Should we not change this? We must also compel a callous government to change its attitude towards the soldiers who protect the nation. This is not a harangue, but a statement of facts. While the citizens of India love and respect the military, the entire governing class, is either callous or indifferent to all military personnel to varying degrees. If this state of affairs continues, soon the military will lose its motivation to deliver when the chips are down.
The Indian defence forces have served the nation loyally, efficiently and effectively since Independence and even during the turbulent times of the partition of India. Thereafter, commencing with the operations launched to save Kashmir in October 1947, to the various wars and conflicts fought by the Indian military to secure the nation, it should have been the darling of the nation. It still is, in the eyes of the common Indian, the Aam Aadmi.
The story is quite different, however, where our governing class is concerned. They are so engrossed in meeting their own petty and short-term vested interests that they have no time for the soldiers. Indeed, they have left no stoned unturned to reduce the military’s status and make it a third class service. Witness how the budget of the defence forces has been steadily declining. As a percentage of the nation’s GDP, it has reached an all time low of less than two percent. Modernization of all the three services is moving at a snails’ pace and shortages of weapons, ammunition and equipment are steadily increasing. There is a grave shortage of officers in all the three services, but it is hurting the army the most, resulting in serious erosion of the capabilities of our units.
The pay, allowances, perks and most importantly status have declined to such an extent that service in the defence forces is at the bottom of the aspirational ladder for all young men and women. Although there is no shortage of soldiers, the young men come forward to get recruited, not because they are enthused but on account of the rising levels of unemployment. It is only the resilience of our soldiers; their training and ethos; and the values ingrained in them; coupled with professional leadership at all levels that has prevented the disintegration of the Indian military. However, against the sustained onslaught of the governing elite of our country, it is unlikely to last unless the people rise and compel them to honour the military and empower it instead of demanding the best while compensating them the least!
The military has always placed status and ‘izzat’ as the epitome of a soldier, while the government seems to have no time for such emotions. Our political leadership, on account of their high dependence on the bureaucracy, seems helpless, as they merely echo what their so-called advisers say. The situation reached such a breaking point in October that the three chiefs’ of the services had to protest vehemently, a departure from their traditional acquiescence on most issues, as the status of many ranks, particularly those of Lt Gen and Lt Col are being grossly lowered. This would have had a highly adverse effect on the morale and consequently fitness for war of all ranks, besides functional problems, especially in situations where a high degree of co-ordination with the police and administrators is a must for smooth conduct of operations. This type of downgrading not only affects status but also emoluments. What a reward for the military that is task-oriented and takes pride in its efficient work. People with inadequate knowledge termed it as defiance of authority, when in actuality it was the commitment of the chiefs’ to their commands, a sacred duty, which compelled them to take such a stance.
Morale of the defence forces is an important ingredient for victory. The effect of low morale of the military translates into the weakening of the security of the country. If the government is indifferent, the civil society must act. What should the citizens of the nation do to assuage the feelings of hurt and neglect, which are gnawing away at the hearts and souls of both serving personnel and the military veterans? Let me suggest a simple solution.
Most countries honour their serving soldiers and veterans by nominating a day and sometimes a week, where soldiers are felicitated by the highest leadership, as well as the citizenry. The serving personnel and veterans are made much of and literally placed on pedestals, while a grateful nation, led by the governing elite, sings paeans for their gallantry, tenacity, spirit of sacrifice, contributions to the security and sovereignty of the nation and their selfless spirit. Readers may recall that in early November many countries across the globe celebrated Remembrance Day, Veterans Day or days with other similar sentiments in a major way. Most citizens adorned the lapels of their coats or other outer garments with a bright red poppy flower to remember those soldiers who had sacrificed their lives and limbs during wars and conflicts, in the service of the nation.
What do we do in our country? Nothing at all! We seem to have no time for such niceties of life. Is this a deficiency in the character of our nation or are we so engrossed in the business of living that we studiously ignore those who are ready to sacrifice even their lives and actually do so? I do not think the citizens of our country are so callous, but I cannot say the same for our governing elite. Why can we not declare 16 December, the day when our armed forces brought glory and victory to the nation in 1971 as the day for honouring our soldiers, both serving and those who laid down their uniforms?
We must honour our soldiery. If the government or the civil society cannot do so, perhaps the military veterans, who numbered over 30 lakhs at last count and whose numbers are increasing by 60,000 every year will have to do it themselves but what a shame it will be for a nation of over one billion souls!!

Text ©Copyright COVERT

PB-4 demand in the bag?

Has the government given in to the armed forces' demand for Lt Cols and equivalents to be upgraded from Pay Band 3 to Pay Band 4? Sources tell us that a senior Naval officer was heard announcing this to junior ranks at the Western Naval Command headquarters recently. More when it's confirmed. Watch this space.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tejas lands in Leh

DRDO Press Release: Tejas programme reached a major milestone when the prototype vehicle PV-3 landed at Leh on 13 Dec 08 at 1326 hrs. The event is significant on many counts. Leh airfield in Ladakh region situated at an altitude of 10,600 ft is one of the highest airfields in the world. The prevailing temperature ranges from plus 5 to minus 20 deg Celsius.

The objective of the current phase of flight trials at Leh is to expose the onboard systems to the extreme low temperatures while making an assessment of the aircraft performance in the rarified atmospheric conditions. Two Tejas prototypes PV-3 and LSP-2 are involved in this important environmental test. LSP-2 powered by the latest IN20 engine with FADEC is in the Standard of Preparation (SOP) that will be cleared for induction in to Service.

As per reports received from the trial location, the current phase of flight trial is progressing well with aircraft and systems performing well as expected. The aircrafts were soaked overnight in cold weather, with temperature around Minus 20 deg and powered up next day for operation. The operation of the aircraft were satisfactory. Real time telemetry link between Pathankot, the base camp and NFTC of Bangalore is also made operational during the trial.

The success of the trial is the result of team effort of professionals from different organizations involved in the programme such as ADA, HAL, CEMILAC, DG-AQA, ADE, NAL and IAF. The flight trials are being conducted by the Test Pilots and Flight Test Engineers of the National Flight Test Centre (NFTC) under the direction of Air Cmde Rohit Varma Project Director (Flight Test). Senior officers from ADA, HAL and ADE; Mr PS Subramanyam, Director, ADA; Mr Ashok Naik, Managing Director (BC), HAL and Mr PS Krishnan, Director, ADE were present at Leh on this historic occasion.

But here's a piece in The Hindu that paints a dark picture.

Photo from Tejas hot-weather trials, still awaiting photos from the Leh trials

Remember our martyrs

Headlines Today will focus through the day on Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan. His final writings, his friends, his memories. Our channel's focus on the martyr is a tribute on Vijay Diwas to all of this country's martyrs who have fallen in duty.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Photos: INS Mysore arrests 23 pirates

Press Release: INS Mysore is currently in the Gulf of Aden for Anti-Piracy Patrol Operations which are being conducted under the control of the Western Naval Command. Whilst escorting merchant vessels in the Gulf of Aden, the ship received a distress call on MMB Channel 16 from MV Gibe (Ethiopian Flag) at about 1100 hours on 13 Dec 08. MV Gibe reported that she was under attack by two boats closing her and firing small arms. MV Gibe opened retaliatory fire with small arms that were held onboard the vessel. The position reported by the merchant vessel was 13 nautical miles from Mysore at that time. The ship altered course to close MV Gibe and also launched her integral armed helicopter.

On sighting the helicopter and Mysore, the boats disengaged from MV Gibe and attempted escape. Mysore closed the vessels and ordered them to stop. The larger boat was a dhow was of green colour and 8-10m in length. It had taken the second smaller boat (a skiff) under tow. Subsequently, the name of the dhow was identified as 'Salahaddin', Hull No 758(2).

The dhow was boarded at 1230h by the ship's Marine Commandos and a search carried out. 23 personnel (12 Somali and 11 Yemeni) surrendered on boarding. The search of dhow revealed a substantial cache of arms and equipment, including seven AK-47 and three other automatic rifles, along with thirteen loaded magazines; a rocket-propelled grenade-launcher along with rockets, cartridges and grenades; as many as three Outboard Motors (OBMs), a GPS Receiver, etcetera. The personnel, arms, ammunition and equipment have been taken into custody by INS Mysore and will be handed over to appropriate authorities ashore and the ship will return to her patrol-duties.

Friday, December 12, 2008

6thPC update...

Coming up tomorrow, a full update on where the government stands on the 6thPC, plus what the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee said to me in his interview regarding the progress. Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

LiveFist Column: Barack Obama is a new opportunity for India

By Neil Padukone

While the world rejoices in the victory of Barack Obama, Indian political circles have been filled with worries and pessimism. The Indian press has pounced on any indication that an Obama administration would be harmful to India (i.e. the recent ‘phone call’ episode), and instigated widespread cynicism throughout the country.

But these anxieties neglect changes in global politics and the irreversibly strong relations that America and India have established. The new US President brings opportunities for a new level of Indian global engagement. But it is upon India to make the most of it.


Given the Indian upper hand in Kashmir, India’s skepticism of outside involvement is understandable. But the status quo for India is far from perfect. If US engagement in Kashmir does materialize, India should not remain cynical.

It has long been argued that the Pakistani military’s every whim must be supported or Pakistan will implode and bring the world with it. With the Musharraf legacy decidedly obsolete, this argument no longer holds. After years of diverting US military aid to the Taliban and anti-India terrorists, Pakistan’s military must be held accountable.

As India has been able to do little to address unrelenting Pakistani aggression, countries with more influence over Pakistan must be engaged to exercise their authority.

The US is considering both economic and military aid to Pakistan, and is in a place to hold Pakistan’s feet to the fire on issues like supporting terrorists, a central element of any Kashmir resolution. Obama has long maintained that any military aid to Pakistan must be linked to on-the-ground changes, including cessation of military support for anti-India activity. With US sway over Pakistan, American participation in Kashmir may benefit India.

India’s strong new partnership with the US enables India to stand its ground if its long-term interests are threatened, and makes the “re-hyphenation” of Indo-Pakistan relations (in which US-India ties are seen through the lens of Indo-Pakistan affairs) near impossible.

Credibility and Global Challenges

America has the most to lose in the nuclear realm, and both Democrats and Republicans have been understandably vocal on nonproliferation. India shares these goals of nonproliferation and global disarmament, holding an unmatched nonproliferation record. But the US has often pursued nonproliferation while maintaining and expanding its own arsenal, undercutting its credibility in nonproliferation efforts.

Obama has stated that he would make the US a party to any treaty it promotes around the world, and favors reduction and disarmament starting in the US. If the US takes credible steps of its own, the cause of global nonproliferation is greatly and more credibly served.

US credibility is also central in dealing with climate change. Obama has said that the US must “lead by example”: setting standards on its own emissions, developing and sharing green technologies, and ultimately engaging the world in more equitable environmental frameworks.

Economics and Strategy

Many in India fear Obama’s ‘hardline’ views on outsourcing. But there is little that any US President could do to stop the flow of jobs to places like India, where wages are cheaper; Obama himself maintains that outsourcing “cannot be reversed.” Rather, the economic void left in the US must be filled with proactive domestic investment.

With Obama’s plans of research and development in alternative energies, science and technology, the advances that Indians make in these fields can be another source of partnership.

Due to the current economic crisis, global outsourcing to India will ebb regardless. But this change provides an opportunity for India to reassess its economic strategy. Outsourcing provided a boost to a sluggish Indian economy in the past decade. But India need not be overly dependent on external investors and must develop a long-term strategy that considers this.

‘A Great Nation’

Fears of an Obama administration emanate from an Indian strategic culture that is excessively myopic and reactive. If India wishes to be a global power, it must act as such.

An argument made by Obama himself is that India is on the brink of global power and should not remain caught up in regional tensions such as that with Pakistan.

Likewise, the Mumbai-based Strategic Foresight Group has said that “if India is serious about a place at the high table, Pakistan should not be an issue…India has wasted too much energy managing an adversarial relationship with Pakistan. If India wants to make a U-turn, it will only be possible with a new mindset and vision.”

A vision of global engagement could include an Indian role in promoting development and resolving conflict in Africa (i.e. Sudan), advancing investment in Latin America, facilitating an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, and even assisting the de-escalation of US-Russian enmity.

Vice President-elect Joe Biden has articulated a view of US-India relations that should inspire India itself: “There are all kinds of reasons to treat [Indians] as they are—a Great Nation.”

A New Opportunity

There have been false rumors that Obama is an extremist Muslim who will kowtow to the demands of radicals. He is a Christian who has taken firm and pragmatic stances on terrorism and radicalism. The victory of a Black man in the US, a country with so many racial divides, represents a victory of tolerance and acceptance over racism and prejudice for the world. A pluralist, accepting India should see it as such and as inspiration for change in its own, increasingly tense social fabric.

US-India relations are improving due to converging global interests and a growing Indian-American lobby, rather than partisan politics. They have been solidified by the nuclear agreement, which paves the way for heightened economic activity, brings the US away from a Pakistan-centric view of South Asia, and articulates India’s position vis-à-vis China.

An Obama Administration is likely to strengthen these ties; Joe Biden, a long-time supporter of India has said that the US rapport with India is the “single most important relationship that we have to get right for our own safety’s sake.”

In the end, the citizens of the US have already elected Barack Obama to stabilize and strengthen their country. A strong America—including the prospect of financial rehabilitation—is in the interests of a strong India.

Campaign rhetoric must of course be weighed against concrete actions, and how the new administration performs is most important. India should, as always, remain vigilant. But unwarranted defeatism will not help anyone. India should engage the new American President with an eye to the opportunities presented, not just the potential challenges faced.

As in the campaign that brought Obama to the presidency, positive engagement can be self-fulfilling. It is a lesson from which India can take some hints.

(Neil Padukone is a US-based security and international affairs consultant. He is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Security Studies, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. His research interests include security studies, international affairs, and political management. ©This column originally appeared on the ORF website here)

More Photos: India China Army Exercise Hand-in-Hand at Belgaum