Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Chinese warships return to South China Sea, as Indian Navy continues heavy deployment around Maldives




By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21st Feb 18

A Chinese warship flotilla that had entered the Indian Ocean, reportedly heading for the Maldives Islands, has turned around and returned to the South China Sea, say highly credible Indian Navy sources.

On Tuesday, Reuters quoted Chinese website Sina.com to report that eleven Chinese warships had entered the Indian Ocean “amid a constitutional crisis in the tiny tropical island chain of the Maldives now under a state of emergency”, clearly suggesting gunboat diplomacy at work.

However, Indian Navy sources say that, while a Chinese flotilla, including a destroyer and a frigate, had indeed crossed into the Indian Ocean through the Sunda Strait, it turned around and returned to the South China Sea through the Lombok Strait.


The four straits of Malacca, Sunda, Lombok and Ombai Wetar are used by China’s People’s Liberation Army (Navy), or PLA(N), to cross between their bases in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.


That leaves the PLA(N) with three warships in the Gulf of Aden, a routine deployment for anti-piracy escort duties. Besides this “28th Anti-Piracy Escort Force” (APEF), as the three-vessel task force is called, three PLA(N) warships of the 27th APEF are doing port visits in Africa.

The Indian Navy, meanwhile, continues maintaining a heavy presence of battle-ready warships in the Arabian Sea, including many close to the Maldives.

According to a navy announcement last Wednesday, “A tri-service maritime exercise, code named ‘Paschim Lehar’, commenced on the Western seaboard on 12 Feb[ruary 20]18. This exercise includes participation of a large number of ships, submarines and aircraft from the Western Naval Command of the Indian Navy.”

The announcement also revealed the presence of “Eastern Naval Command, Indian Army, Indian Air Force and the Indian Coast Guard [units that are] also participating to build inter-operability.”

In all, India has over 40 ships and submarines deployed in Exercise Paschim Lehar, and a similar number of combat aircraft.

If further signalling were needed of the ready availability of Indian military power, the navy also announced that army amphibious forces – specialist units used to assault and capture island targets – were also participating in the on-going exercise.

Contacted for comments, an Indian Navy spokesperson stated: “This is a routine training exercise that is taking place. It will last for a month.”

In simple strategic terms, India’s proximity to the Maldives lets it project far greater force around the archipelago than the PLA(N), for significantly longer durations.

The on-going constitutional crisis in the Maldives is a contest for influence between the pro-China President Abdulla Yameen, and his pro-India predecessor, Mohamed Nasheed, who is currently in exile in Sri Lanka.

New Delhi is concerned that the Maldives is gravitating into Beijing’s orbit, with Yameen signing up for the Belt and Road Initiative. There is worry that China could eventually build a naval base here.

Yameen has allowed Beijing to invest in a major port project in the Maldives. That prompted Nasheed to state that China was “buying up the Maldives”.

Yameen has responded with a political crackdown. After the Supreme Court ordered the release of jailed opposition members earlier this month, Yameen declared a 10-day state of emergency on February 5.

On Monday, Yameen sought parliamentary approval to extend the emergency for 30 days. However, in a press release on Tuesday, the Ministry of External Affairs tweeted: “It is our expectation that the Government of Maldives will not be seeking the extension of the State of Emergency and resume the political process with immediate effect.” 

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Capability jump: IAF looks to buy fifth-generation F-35 fighter

IAF to request for classified briefing from Lockheed Martin

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 15th Feb 18

In what would be a huge capability jump, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is increasingly interested in procuring the American F-35 Lightning II for its depleting fighter fleet.

Business Standard learns the IAF top brass is formally requesting for a classified briefing by the F-35’s prime builder, Lockheed Martin, on the capabilities of the sophisticated, fifth-generation fighter developed under the US Joint Strike Fighter programme.

The US government has not formally offered the F-35 to India. A classified briefing would require formal clearance from the US Department of Defence (the Pentagon) and the State Department. The grant of such a clearance would be an important first step towards permitting the sale of F-35s to India.

It is learnt the IAF wants to procure 126 of the variant called F-35A – the air force version of the fighter that incorporates “conventional take-off and landing”, or CTOL. Another variant, the F-35B, incorporating “short take-off and vertical landing”, or (STOVL), has been developed for the US Marine Corps. A third version, developed for the US Navy, incorporates “catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR).

The Indian Navy, which has never ruled out operating the F-35 off Indian aircraft carriers, has received a briefing on the F-35 as far back as 2010, Lockheed Martin official Orville Prins told this correspondent. However, at that stage, the F-35 was still grappling with serious development challenges.

The F-35’s affordability is also attractive for New Delhi. In contrast to the bare-bones price of $115 million for each Rafale fighter (with India-specific enhancements, spares, logistics and weapons all extra), the F-35A cost customers $94.6 million last February. Lockheed Martin says it will reduce the cost to $80 million by 2020.

A fifth-generation fighter is characterised by a “stealth design”, making it far more difficult for radar to detect; “supercruise”, or the ability to fly at supersonic speeds without engaging engine afterburners; and highly networked avionics that detect and engage enemy aircraft using a range of sensors and weapons across the battle-space.

The only true fifth-generation fighters in service are the US Air Force’s F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II. China is developing two stealth fighters – the J-20 Chengdu and the J-31 Shenyang. Russia is developing its own fifth-generation fighter, the PAK-FA, and has offered India a partnership role in developing the PAK-FA into the eponymous Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) for the IAF. Negotiations on roles and costing are over, but the Indian defence ministry is yet to accept.

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) defence minister, AK Antony, had ruled out buying the F-35, stating that India would meet its short-term requirement of fifth-generation fighters with the FGFA. For the IAF’s long-term needs, the Defence R&D Organisation is developing the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA).

Sources close to the Pentagon say India would not be sold the F-35 as long as it is partnering Russia in the FGFA co-development project. That is because Washington would guard against the leakage of F-35 technology into the FGFA.

Senior officers say the IAF is not enthused about the FGFA project. They point out the F-35 is further advanced in development and has already entered service with the USAF and six-seven air forces of American allies.

For Lockheed Martin, an Indian request for the F-35 would create a dilemma. The US company would rather have the IAF buy the F-16 Block 70, which it has offered to build in India in partnership with Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TASL).

For Lockheed Martin, that would keep alive the F-16 assembly line, which has long functioned from Fort Worth, Texas, and has now moved temporarily to Greenville, South Carolina, where it is building a $2.8 billion order from Bahrain for 19 F-16V fighters.

The Fort Worth facility has been made over to building the F-35, of which over 3,000 are already on order.

Meanwhile, the assembly line in India would build new F-16s for the IAF, as well as for orders that Lockheed Martin expects from southeast Asian and central European countries. It would also provide overhaul and upgrade facilities for the estimated 3,000 F-16 fighters in service worldwide, in some 25 air forces.

As this newspaper reported (December 16, “Lockheed Martin says F-16 orders flowing in”) Lockheed Martin calculates that an Indian line would benefit, in the medium term, from new fighter orders worth $16 billion, and $6.5 billion in upgrading old F-16s.

Simultaneously, American jobs would get a lease of life, as F-16 suppliers in the US would continue feeding into the integration line in India. At least 50 per cent of the F-16 by value would continue to be made in America.

For all these reasons, Lockheed Martin is painting the F-16 Block 70 sale to the IAF as a stepping stone to eventually obtaining the F-35.

While the US has supplied the F-35 only to close allies, Washington insiders say India’s recent designation as a Major Defence Partner (MDP), and a groundswell of goodwill towards New Delhi, make conditions propitious for an Indian request. An indicator is the recent permission granted for the sale to India of the Sea Guardian unmanned aerial vehicle – so far sold only to close allies.

In 2011, the influential US Senate Armed Services Committee requested the Pentagon to study the feasibility of an F-35 sale to India. Senators John Cornyn (co-chair of the Senate India Caucus) and Joseph Lieberman spearheaded the proposal.

But US officials in Washington also complain about fatigue at New Delhi’s tardiness in following up discussions with formal requests. The mood in the Pentagon, say these officials, is: “Let New Delhi ask for the F-35. Then we’ll take things forward.”

The defence ministry and the IAF have not responded to an emailed request for comments. 

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

In the wake of Jammu terror strike, MoD clears Rs 15,935 crore rifle procurement


MoD has failed to push through several earlier tenders for assault rifles and carbines (above DRDO's new INSAS rifle)

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 14th Feb 18

Two days after yet another deadly terrorist strike in Jammu claimed six Indian lives, the government restarted a faltering procurement aimed at strengthening the firepower of the frontline infantry soldier, who bears the brunt of counter-insurgency operations and deployment along the Pakistan and China borders.

On Tuesday, the ministry’s apex Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), chaired by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, cleared the capital purchase of assault rifles, sniper rifles and light machine guns worth about Rs 15,935 crore ($2.5 billion).

“In the last one month, to equip the soldiers on the border with modern and more effective equipment, the DAC has fast tracked procurement of the three main personal weapons, i.e., rifles, carbines and light machine guns”, a defence ministry release stated.

The “Fast Track Process” of the Defence Procurement Policy of 2016 (DPP-2016), is directed at concluding an acquisition within a year.

Over the preceding decade, the defence ministry has gone through several long-running acquisition processes for small arms – which include assault rifles, carbines and light machine guns – but cancelled them all, most recently last year.

The core of the approvals accorded today relate to the infantry’s basic weapon – the assault rifle. Approval was accorded for procuring 740,000 assault rifles for an estimated cost of Rs 12,280 crore ($1.91 billion).

The ministry stated the rifles will be procured under the category of “Buy and Make (Indian)”. This involves buying a limited number of fully-built rifles from the chosen global vendor, who then transfers technology to India to build the bulk of the order in the public sector Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and by private firms.

The DAC also approved procurement of 5,719 sniper rifles for long-range shooting by the army and the air force at a cost of Rs 982 crore ($153 million). Given the complexity of these high precision weapons, they will not be built in India; but procured fully-built under the “Buy Global” category of the DPP.

However, “the ammunition for these will be initially procured [from abroad] and subsequently manufactured in India”, said the defence ministry release.

The DAC also cleared the purchase of an “essential quantity” of light machine guns for an estimated cost of Rs 1,819 crore ($283 million). This initial procurement is intended to meet the immediate “operational requirement of the troops deployed on the borders… [while a] concurrent proposal is being processed for the [remaining requirement] to be procured under the ‘Buy and Make (Indian)’ categorisation,” said the ministry.

As Business Standard earlier reported (November 4, “Infantry to get foreign rifles, others to get 'made in India'”), the government is proceeding on two parallel acquisition tracks to procure small arms at affordable prices. Frontline combat soldiers will be armed with sophisticated, relatively expensive foreign-origin rifles, with reflex sights, to give them an edge on the battlefield. These will be heavier 7.62 millimetre (mm) rifles, designed to kill rather than merely injure enemy soldiers.

Meanwhile, non-frontline soldiers will get indigenous rifles. In procuring these, the army would choose between the INSAS-1C, developed by the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO), and the OFB-developed Ghatak rifle. These are 5.56 mm rifles, lighter and less lethal than the infantry’s 7.62 mm assault rifles. But, with an estimated cost of about Rs 50,000 apiece, these will be significantly cheaper.

“Since a state-of-the-art assault rifle will cost about Rs 200,000 each in the global market, let us issue these only to frontline infantry soldiers who confront the enemy armed only with their rifles,” army chief, General Bipin Rawat had told Business Standard in November. “Let us provide a cheaper indigenous option to other soldiers, for whom the rifle is not a primary weapon,” he said.

Besides green-lighting the acquisition of rifles and light machine guns, the DAC also approved the procurement of an Advanced Torpedo Decoy Systems (ATDS) for the Indian Navy. This system, named the “Mareech” has been developed indigenously by the DRDO and has successfully completed extensive trial evaluations.

“The 'Mareech' systems will be produced by Bharat Electronics Limited, Bengaluru at an estimated cost of Rs 850 crore”, announced the defence ministry.



Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Mohan Bhagwat is right. And the defence budget indicates why the army is not ready for war!



By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 13th Feb 18

Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), was on the button when he declared on Sunday that, if war broke out, the military would not be ready for at least six to seven months. The RSS chief did not mention that those months would fly past in emergency procurement of weaponry for the army, probably at usurious prices. And he was laughably na├»ve in boasting that the RSS could fill the gap while the army prepared for operations. Yet, Mr Bhagwat perceived the worrying lack of defence readiness, even though it apparently escapes those whose primary responsibility is the defence of the country — Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his defence minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, and her predecessors, Arun Jaitley and Manohar Parrikar. The situation was no different under the previous government.

That the military is unprepared for war is no secret. Beyond the political bluster, threats from generals and warmongering from television warriors, this is evident from plenty of thoughtful commentary, and from a conveniently leaked letter written in 2012 by former army chief, General V K Singh, to his defence minister, A K Antony, listing equipment shortfalls. There is also a less advertised shortfall in training and alertness that has gifted adversaries with operational successes like in the terrorist strikes in Pathankot and Uri, and in Jammu over the weekend. An editorial in this newspaper noted that the government’s miserly defence allocations are not in sync with its tough posture and with a deteriorating security environment. It concluded that Mr Modi probably does not expect a war. 

What are the messages from last fortnight’s defence budget? Seen alongside the last few Budgets, it highlights an unimaginative incrementalism, with each year seeing broadly the same percentage of funds distributed between services and departments, with the absolute allocation gradually rising in tandem with the 6-10 per cent annual rise in the overall budget. In each of the last three years, the army has been allocated 68-69 per cent of the services’ budget, with the navy getting about 12.5 per cent and the air force 19.5 per cent. In the years before that, i.e. 2014-15 and 2015-16, the army got only 64-65 per cent, with the navy and air force getting an additional 2 per cent each. But the grant of One Rank One Pension (OROP) in 2015 and the implementation from 2016 of the Seventh Pay Commission’s salary recommendations disproportionally raised the manpower-heavy army’s requirement for money, at the cost of the navy and air force. The noteworthy point here is that even this unusual shift in allocations was occasioned not by strategic imperatives, but by a perceived political need to raise military pensions and salaries.


 Also evident is the government’s unwillingness to tackle the personnel problem head-on, even though manpower costs are now close to 70 per cent of the military’s total allocation. This  is evident from the exclusion of military pension costs from the declared budget, even though the pension bill is a direct outcome of personnel policies followed by the three services. Excluding pension costs from the defence budget, even though they have almost doubled under the present government from ~605 billion in 2014-15 to ~1,089 billion this year, creates little incentive for the painful shift to a predominantly short-service military where most soldiers serve for five-seven years and then move on without being entitled to a lifetime pension. This government has added simplicity and transparency to the defence budget and factoring pension costs  would be another practical and beneficial reform. My chart incorporates pension costs.

In countries that are serious about defence, each service is allocated funds based on perceived security priorities, operational roles in dealing with those threats, and the equipment, training, and manpower needed to discharge roles. However, the unchanging percentages in the service allocations bear no reflections of the security debates and environment changes of recent decades. There is no funding for the changed approach to warfighting in a nuclearised backdrop that has birthed the Cold Start doctrine — lightning strikes by forward deployed armoured formations to respond to serious provocation by Pakistan. Nor is there any budgetary recognition of the pressing need for additional Special Forces, or aerial strike capabilities as viable retaliatory options  think surgical strikes. The repeated public affirmations about India taking on the role of “net security provider” in the Indian Ocean, or building up coastal security mechanisms along a highly vulnerable 7,500 kilometre coastline, is not validated by any increased outlay in the navy budget, which has in fact shrunk by two per cent in overall terms; and from over 30 per cent of the defence capital budget in 2014-15 to just 25 per cent today. With smaller maritime adversaries like Pakistan increasingly relying on countering India’s more powerful navy through “sea denial”, which means laying mines and prioritising submarine warfare, the naval allocations remain grossly insufficient for India’s planned response  to buy 12 mine counter measure vessels and 16 anti-submarine warfare shallow water craft, torpedoes and sonars for a range of vessels, and build six new submarines in India. Instead, procurement bottlenecks have forced the navy to surrender billions in unspent money: ~25 billion in 2012-13; ~36 billion in 2013-14; ~53 billion in 2015-16; and ~44 billion in 2016-17.

Similarly, an already depleted air force, which must urgently conclude a “single engine fighter” contract to replace ten retiring MiG squadrons with fighters that are built in India, has been allocated a capital budget that would barely cover “committed liabilities”, the phrase for installments on purchases in earlier years, like the Rafale fighter.

Another major dichotomy is the pittance allocated for “Make” projects, which senior defence ministry officials talk up as locomotives for India’s defence industry. “Make” projects involve consortia of Indian defence firms coming together to build complex defence platforms with the defence ministry reimbursing 80-90 per cent of the development cost. Yet, despite its obvious industrial and technological benefits, the government spent nothing under this head in 2015-16; ~2.5 billion in 2016-17; ~ 0.2 billion last year; and has allocated ~1.4 billion this year, a mere drop from the capital budget ocean of ~940 billion.

The government must ensure that defence spending — which will account for 16.5 per cent of government spending and 2.16 per cent of the gross national product in 2018-19, inclusive of pensions — buys bang for this very considerable buck. This will require thoughtless incrementalism to give way to holistic planning and a steady hand at the tiller. With three changes of defence minister in four years, the Modi-government’s entire term will have passed in ministerial learning. The defence ministry cannot afford this game of Musical Ministers.

Budget distribution between the three services


Total service budget^^
Each service’s share of
Personnel costs^^
Running costs
Capital budget**

Rs crore
%
Rs crore
%
Rs crore
%
Rs crore
%
2014-15 (Actual)








Army*
166,539
64%
115,987
84%
32,216
65.5%
18,336
25%
Navy^
38,235
14.5%
8,075
6.0%
7,891
16%
22,269
30.5%
Air Force
56,304
21.5%
14,299
10%
9,209
18.5%
32,796
44.5%
TOTAL
261,078
100
138361
100%
49316
100%
73,401
100%
2015-16 (Actual)








Army*
174,893
65%
119,468
83.5%
34,823
65%
20,602
29.0%
Navy^
37,178
14%
8,501
6.0%
8,802
16.5%
19,875
27.5%
Air Force
55,993
21%
15,061
10.5%
9,734
18.5%
31,198
43.5%
TOTAL
268,064
100%
143,030
100%
53,359
100%
71,676
100%
2016-17 (Actual)








Army*
220,712
69%
154,894
83.5%
37,587
65%
28,231
36%
Navy^
40,709
12.5%
10,736
6.0%
9,976
17.5%
19,997
25.5%
Air Force
59,823
18.5%
19,442
10.5%
9,995
17.5%
30,386
38.5%
TOTAL
321,244
100%
185,072
100%
57,558
100%
78,614
100%
2017-18 (RE)








Army *
231,368
68%
168,607
82.5%
37,555
64%
25,206
32%
Navy^
42,398
12.5%
12,560
6.0%
10,490
18%
19,348
25%
Air Force
67,836
19.5%
23,700
11.5%
10,580
18%
33,556
43%
TOTAL
341,602
100%
204,867
100%
58,625
100%
78,110
100%
2018-19 (BE)








Army *
250,714
68%
185,232
82.5%
38,794
64%
26,688
32%
Navy^
45,255
12.5%
13,470
6.0%
10,937
18%
20,848
25%
Air Force
72,609
19.5%
25,785
11.5%
11,068
18%
35,756
43%
TOTAL
368,578
100%
224,487
100%
60,799
100%
83,292
100%
(Source: Ministry of Finance budget document)

*    Excludes budget for Border Roads Organisation, but includes Rashtriya Rifles and National Cadet Corps
^    Excludes Coast Guard, but includes Joint Staff budgets
^^  Includes pensions to all three services
**  Capital budget for three services only, excludes allocations for DRDO and Ordnance Factories