Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Navy blues: policy shortsightedness dogs Indian warship building

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 17th Oct 17

The commissioning on Monday of India’s third and newest anti-submarine corvette, INS Kiltan, by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is good news. But it also underlines the ills that plague warship building in India. The Kiltan was commissioned five years later than originally scheduled and without anti-submarine capabilities that are fundamental to such a corvette. Three and a half years after the National Democratic Alliance came to power promising to quickly make up the military’s arms shortfalls, it is evident that, in warship building like in the procurement of other weaponry, this government has performed no better than the United Progressive Alliance before it.

In April, the navy’s warships acquisition chief told defence industrialists in New Delhi that the navy would increase its strength from 140 vessels currently to 170-180 ships by 2027. This requires increasing warship numbers by three or four every year, as well as inducting four or five new vessels annually to replace warships that complete their service lives of 25-30 years. Against this requirement for seven to nine new warships every year, the navy is barely able to induct three or four. This lackadaisical production rate in domestic defence shipyards has forced the navy to look overseas at offers like the Russian one to build four follow-on frigates of the Talwar-class.

A key reason for building delays is the navy’s penchant for the latest, with admirals demanding that each warship incorporates newer and more sophisticated technology. This is a recipe for delay. In contrast, fast builders like China finalise a particular design and then churn out a large number of those warships, benefiting from economies of scale, the certainty of supply orders and worker experience in building a particular “type”. The People’s Liberation Army (Navy) has already commissioned 25 Type 054A Jiangkai-II class frigates and is building three more. It has already inducted six Type 052D Luying-III class destroyers and work is under way on at least eight more.

In contrast, the Indian navy builds barely three or four warships of one type before going back to the drawing board and reworking specifications. It built just three Delhi-class destroyers under Project 15 and then took years to rework the design into what it called a “follow-on” class – Project 15A – but which was actually a substantively different warship. Even before three destroyers were built under Project 15A, the navy reworked the design into Project 15B, to build four new destroyers. Frigate orders have been similarly broken up. After Project 17 (three ships), there is now a follow order under Project 17A for seven frigates but, inexplicably, this is distributed between two different shipyards. A different kind of disjointedness characterises the four-corvette Project 28 order. The ship commissioned on Monday, INS Kiltan, has an all-composite superstructure in place of the steel superstructures on the first two Project 28 corvettes.

Besides design and planning confusion, warship building is also dogged by capacity limitations. All four public sector warship yards – Mazagon Dock (Mumbai); Garden Reach (Kolkata); Goa Shipyard (Goa) and Hindustan Shipyard (Visakhapatnam) – are located in metropolitan areas with little scope for expanding facilities. To add capacity, the defence ministry created the “strategic partner” policy to bring in private sector shipbuilders like Larsen & Toubro and Reliance Defence Industries. But the poorly conceived policy faces opposition, not least from within the defence ministry itself. Consequently, projects earmarked for strategic partners languish, such as Project 75-I to build six new submarines, even as Mazagon Dock’s submarine building facilities increasingly lie idle. Without policy clarity within the ministry, the navy’s strength and numbers are set to fall further.

Like all its predecessors, INS Kiltan joins navy fleet with major vulnerabilities

It doesn’t have towed array sonar, essential for detecting enemy submarines in the shallow Arabian Sea

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 17th Oct 17

Like numerous Indian warships before it, the navy’s newest anti-submarine warfare (ASW) corvette, INS Kiltan, joined the fleet on Monday without equipment crucial for discharging its primary role – detecting and destroying enemy submarines.

The Kiltan, like two predecessor ASW corvettes, INS Kamorta and INS Kadmatt, was commissioned by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in Visakhapatnam without “advanced towed array sonar” (ATAS), essential for detecting enemy submarines in the shallow Arabian Sea where the peculiar temperature and salinity gradients sharply limit the effectiveness of conventional sonars.

Without ATAS, enemy submarines can sneak undetected to within 50-80 kilometres of Indian warships and destroy them with heavy torpedoes from standoff ranges.

The Kiltan will also make do without another vital ASW platform – a naval multi-role helicopter (NMRH), which flies low over the sea, lowering “dunking sonar” into the water, listening for audio signals from enemy submarines. The navy is left with just a handful of NMRH choppers – 12 Sea Kings, of which no more than six are usually operational at any time; and eight Kamov-28, of which four-six are available. The navy must distribute these 10-12 helicopters between some 35 capital warships.

“An ASW corvette without towed array sonar and an ASW helicopter, is nothing more than a feeble joke”, says a retired navy commodore with decades of ASW experience.

Yet, neither of the two Indian warships that called on the Japanese port of Sasebo last week – the frigate INS Satpura and ASW corvette, INS Kadmatt – has towed array sonar. While passing through the South China Sea, these warships would have been at the mercy of Chinese submarines.

In June, the defence ministry scrapped an NMRH purchase that had been initiated in 2009 and was at the point of conclusion. Instead, returning to the start line, the navy has now re-initiated fresh procurement for 123 NMRH.

After this newspaper reported that every Indian warship built after 1997 lacked towed array sonar (“Warships in peril as defence ministry blocks sonar purchase”, May 16, 2014), the defence ministry contracted for six ATAS systems from German naval systems giant, Atlas Elektronik, for just under Euro 40 million (Rs 306 crore).

Those six ATAS systems were earmarked for the navy’s three Talwar-class frigates (INS Talwar, Trishul and Tabar) and three Delhi-class destroyers (INS Delhi, Mumbai and Mysore). In effect, a Rs 50 crore ATAS multiplied the survival chances of warships worth several thousand crore apiece, each crewed by hundreds of sailors.

Yet, the National Democratic Alliance government has gone slow on a follow-on proposal to build ten more ATAS systems at Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), in partnership with Atlas Elektronik. Those ten systems are intended for three Shivalik-class frigates (INS Shivalik, Satpura and Sahyadri); three Project 15A destroyers (INS Kolkata, Kochi and Chennai) and four Project 28 ASW corvettes, the third of which was commissioned today.

Without ATAS, India’s frontline capital warships, including the aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, rely on a relatively ineffective Passive Towed Array Sonar (PTAS), and an indigenous hull-mounted sonar called HUMSA to detect enemy submarines.

Perhaps oblivious to all this, Sitharaman stated today while commissioning Kiltan that: “[T]he government fully appreciates the nation’s defence requirements and requisite finances… would be made available for the modernisation and development plans of the Navy”, according to a defence ministry release.

INS Kiltan’s keel was laid in Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers, Kolkata (GRSE) in August 2010 and she was launched in March 2013. She has been undergoing sea trials since May, and has taken more than seven years in construction.

The corvette, manned by 13 officers and 178 sailors, is propelled by a combination of four Wartsila diesel engines to achieve a cruising speed of 25 knots. She has an endurance of 3,500 nautical miles.

In a significant departure from her predecessors, INS Kamorta and Kadmatt, INS Kiltan is India’s first major warship with an all-composite superstructure. This has made the vessel lighter by about 100 tonnes.

Her weapons package includes heavy weight torpedoes, ASW rockets, an Otomelara 76 millimetre anti-aircraft gun and two multi-barrel 30 mm AK-630 guns for close-in protection against enemy aircraft.

The corvette, in naval tradition, inherits her name from a previous INS Kiltan (numbered P 79), a Soviet-supplied Petya-class ASW vessel that served in the fleet for 18 years before she was decommissioned in June 1987.

The four Project 28 corvettes are all named after islands in the Andaman & Nicobar chain in the Bay of Bengal, and the Lakshadweep archipelago in the Arabian Sea.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

After Doklam, army anticipates next Chinese intrusion in Uttarakhand

Orders faster road building to four critical border passes in Central Sector, beefs up troops

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 14th Oct 17

In August, knife-edge diplomacy between New Delhi and Beijing managed to defuse a tense 71-day confrontation between border troops at Doklam, near the border tri-junction between India, China and Bhutan. But now, India is readying for possible Chinese retaliation in Uttarakhand, on the border tri-junction of India, China and Nepal.

This week, an on-going biannual conference of top army commanders in New Delhi discussed reinforcing the army in what is called the Central Sector – a 545-kilometre stretch of border that separates Tibet from Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, ending at the Nepal tri-junction. The generals also ordered road building to be stepped up for better access to four critical border passes.

“It has been decided that there would be a concerted heft towards road construction activities in this Sector. To that end, four passes to Niti, Lipulekh, Thangla-1 and Tsangchokla have been decided to be connected by [road by] 2020 on priority”, said an army statement, read out by a three-star general in New Delhi today.

As elsewhere on the border, China has already built all-weather roads to these passes, emanating from the Western Highway that links Lhasa with Xinjiang. This allows China to move troops to these flashpoints more quickly than India can.

In India, three existing main roads from the Indo-Gangetic plain must wind 300-400 kilometres to the border through landslide prone moutainside. These roads are: from Kalka – Shipki La; from Rishikesh – Mana Pass; and one to Dharchu La.

The generals also discussed interlinking these border passes with lateral branch roads and additional roads linking the Central Sector better with the plains.

“Road maps for intra sector connectivity within [the] Central Sector and inter-sector connectivity with neighbouring areas have been deliberated [upon]”, said the army statement today.

Besides improving road access, the army commanders discussed a plan to pump more soldiers into the Central Sector. This would be done under the army’s on-going Accretion of Forces initiative, under which a new corps headquarters has been raised in Panagarh, two mountain divisions (40,000 soldiers) in Pathankot and West Bengal, and an armoured brigade each for Ladakh and the Sikkim-West Bengal areas.

 “Organisation changes of some of the [army] formations have also been examined for capability enhancement”, stated the spokesperson blandly.

So far, the Central Sector has never seen active hostilities, remaining peaceful even through the 1962 war that saw pitched battles in the Western Sector (Ladakh), and the Eastern Sector (Arunachal Pradesh). After Sikkim became a part of India in 1975, the Sikkim-Tibet border was included in the Eastern Sector.

A reason for the Central Sector having remained peaceful is the towering Himalayan watershed that defines the border. Occupying territory across the high border ridgeline would leave defenders cut off by snow in winter.

That has not stopped China from contesting it in some places. Barahoti sees patrol confrontations regularly. China also lays claim to grazing grounds at Harsil (near Uttarkashi) and Rimkhim (near Joshimath) which are well on the Indian side of the border.

Highlighting the more benign nature of the dispute in the Central Sector, the two sides have agreed in ongoing Sino-Indian border talks to exchange maps of this area, marked with their perceptions of the border. In contrast, Beijing is unwilling to exchange similarly marked maps in the Eastern and Western Sectors.

Even going by China’s territorial claims, the Central Sector is a small part of the overall dispute. In the Western Sector, China claims about 35,000 square kilometres of territory that India regards as its own, including the vast Aksai Chin plateau. In the Eastern Sector, China claims 90,000 square kilometres of Indian-held territory, including much of Arunachal Pradesh. In the Central Sector, however, the dispute is over 2,000 square kilometres, in eight separate areas.

Even so, with tensions rising on the border, the performance of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) is coming under the scanner. According to figures tabled in parliament on August 8, BRO has managed to construct only 33, 49 and 34 kilometres of roads in Uttarakhand in 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 respectively. In the same period, the BRO built 154, 130 and 154 kilometres of roads in Jammu & Kashmir; and 99, 103 and 100 kilometres of roads in Arunachal Pradesh.

The BRO’s “roll-on” plan for the period 2015-20 envisages building/improving 519 roads, measuring 22,225 kilometres. Of these, 61 roads, measuring 3,417 kilometres, are designated strategic Indo-China Border Roads (ICBR).

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Garud commandoes take first casualties after secretly operating in J&K for 12 years

Modelled on Israeli Shaldag, Garuds earn combat experience in Kashmir

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th Oct 17

In January 2016, while defending the Pathankot air base in Punjab, Corporal Gursewak Singh became the first Garud – the Indian Air Force (IAF) commando force – to fall to terrorist bullets.

On Wednesday morning, two more IAF commandos – Sergeant Milind Kishor and Corporal Nilesh Kumar Nayan – became the first Garud fatalities in counter-insurgency operations in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K).

Kishor and Nayan died in action in Hajin village, near Bandipura in North Kashmir. They were operating with an army unit, 13 Rashtriya Rifles, when three armed militants opened fire at them. Incident accounts indicate the Garuds quickly killed two militants and were outflanking the third when he fired, catching them in the open.

Like the navy’s Special Forces – dubbed Marcos, or Marine Commandos – the Garud force has been operating in J&K since 2005. Over the years, they have had significant successes, including killing two Hizbul Mujahideen district commanders in Kupwara.

“We prefer to remain quiet about our operations in Kashmir and elsewhere”, says a Garud officer when asked for details.

The Garud force was conceived in September 2004, when air force chief, Air Chief Marshal S Krishnaswamy, on a visit to Israel, was impressed by their air force Special Forces Unit 5101 – also called Shaldag, or Kingfisher in Hebrew. On his return to India, Krishnaswamy ordered the establishment of a similar unit. It was named Garud, after a heavenly bird in Hindu and Buddhist mythology.

The Garud force conducts “aviation special operations”, including combat search and rescue (retrieving IAF pilots shot down or bailed out in enemy territory), “laser designation” of strategic enemy targets for smart bombs dropped from IAF strike aircraft, assessing the damage done to enemy targets after IAF air strikes, and the physical destruction of enemy air defence radars and guns.

For these dangerous tasks, the Garuds must infiltrate into enemy territory by air, sea or land. Certain helicopter units are affiliated to the Garuds for airborne infiltration.

While the force today numbers over 1,500 persons, Garuds typically operate in small tightknit “squads” of 14 commandoes. These are grouped into “flights” of 60-70 men.

All Garuds are volunteers, with some being directly recruited into the force and others opting to sidestep into the Garuds from other air force branches. It is rare to find pilots opting for the Garuds, since pilots link their futures with maximising hours in the cockpit.

The Garuds are equipped with specially procured weaponry, like the Israeli Tavor rifle. Reports from Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence indicate a range of advanced counter-terrorist equipment is being procured for the Garud force, including thermal night vision binoculars, special silenced carbines with holographic and night sights. Lighly armoured strike vehicles are also being procured.

The Garud force is headquartered in Chandinagar, near Baghpat, where training is carried out. In addition, Garuds are given specialist training by the navy’s Marcos, and army para-commandoes.

In a message tweeted by Northern Command today, the army paid its respects to the two Garuds: “[Army Commander Northern Command] and all ranks salute the supreme sacrifice of our martyrs [and] offer our deepest condolences to the families.”

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Five steps to a viable air force

The IAF must extend life of Jaguars, push Tejas and AMCA, sign FGFA, acquire two more Rafale squadrons, and build up force multipliers

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 10th Oct 17

Air Force Day, celebrated on October 8 each year, provides occasion to revisit the IAF’s biggest worry – it’s declining squadron numbers – and to examine how this could be reversed within its budget. Military planners estimate the IAF needs 42 fighter squadrons to tackle a two-front threat from Pakistan and China. Against this, the air force has just 33 squadrons, including 10 squadrons of obsolescent MiG-21 and MiG-27 fighters overdue for retirement. True, new Tejas and Sukhoi-30MKI fighters are rolling off the lines, but not quickly enough to replace the retiring MiGs, leave alone increasing the number of squadrons.

Each fighter squadron should have 21 aircraft, including 16 single-seat fighters, two twin-seat trainers (which would fly combat sorties in wartime) and three aircraft as maintenance reserves. The IAF has about 600 fighters, and calculating at 21 fighters per squadron, this adds up to just 29 squadrons. That means many of the IAF’s 33 squadrons operate with fewer fighters than the 21 authorised.

So why is the air force not allocated more money to quickly buy more fighters? A look at the chart (below) shows the IAF has already been allocated the lion’s share of the capital budget – which pays for new equipment. Additional capital allocations are possible only by raising defence spending (at the politically costly expense of social sector spending and infrastructure creation), or at the expense of the army or navy. The army, despite its massive size and urgent need for artillery guns, infantry equipment and air defence weaponry gets less than a third of the capital budget. Reducing it is impossible. The navy, which plays a growing role in the Indian Ocean, is as short of warships as the air force is of fighters and cannot countenance its modernisation budget falling below the present 25 per cent.

Service-wise sharing of budget (in Rs crore)

Services’ share of

Personnel costs
Running costs
Capital budget**

2015-16 (Actual)

Air Force

2016-17 (RE)

Air Force

2017-18 (BE)

Army *
Air Force

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

The answer, obviously, is for the IAF to spend more judiciously. Its misguided quest to own all flying machines, including attack helicopters that fight the land battle and should rightly belong to the army, has resulted in the IAF spending some $2 billion on 22 Apache attack helicopters – money that could have gone out of the army’s coffers. The IAF must also balance between, on the one hand, buying pricey, cutting-edge fighters like the Rafale that it can afford only in small numbers; and, on the other hand, acquiring inexpensive workhorses that provide the numbers needed to cover India’s vast airspace. While fighter pilots must not be sent into combat in inferior aircraft, an obsessive quest for outright combat superiority will leave an air force short of numbers. A telling example is the IAF’s Rafale purchase, where exorbitant cost (Rs 686 crore per aircraft, Rs 58,000 crore for the deal with add-ons) has left the IAF with just 36 fighters instead of the 126 that were tendered. Everyone disregarded Stalin’s dictum: “Quantity has a quality of its own.”

Building up quantity, without sacrificing quality, requires the IAF to progress on five simultaneous tracks. The air force chief recently stated, without elaborating, that by the IAF’s centenary in 2032, its squadron strength would reach authorised levels. In a country where even annual plans are seldom met, this projection is so far into the future as to be practically meaningless. The IAF must clearly elaborate how it will meet its targets, and lay down mid-course milestones for 2025. To stimulate this process, here is a five-point road map.

India’s fighter aircraft roadmap

Fighter type
Squadrons in service


Medium-to-heavy fighters

Built in Nashik, production run ends in 2018-19
Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA)
To be co-developed with Russia and built by HAL in India

Delivery of 36 Rafales from 2019-2022. Follow up order needed for 36 more to be delivered by 2025
Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA)
Inducted to replace upgraded MiG-29, Mirage-2000 and Jaguar, starting from 2032

Legacy medium fighters

Being upgraded by 2018-19, likely phased out in 2032
Mirage 2000
Being upgraded by 2020-21, likely phased out in 2032
Being upgraded by 2025, likely retired starting 2040

Single engine fighters

Tejas LCA Mk 1
Being built by HAL in Bengaluru by 2019-20.
Tejas LCA Mk 1A
Being developed by 2018-19 and built by HAL by 2025
F/16 or Gripen E
Manufactured on new line in India, starting 2024-25
Being phased out of service by 2020
Being phased out of service by 2020


First, the IAF must expedite the long-postponed proposal to upgrade at least four of its six Jaguar ground strike squadrons with more powerful engines, DARIN-3 navigation-attack avionics, airborne electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and capable air-to-air and air-to-ground weaponry. Along with three Mirage 2000 and three MiG-29 squadrons already being upgraded, this would keep 10 squadrons of capable (though not cutting-edge) fighters flying for another 15 years till 2032. The upgraded Jaguars could serve some years beyond that.

Second, the IAF must whole-heartedly support indigenous fighter development: specifically the Tejas Mark 1A, followed by the eponymous Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) – a twin-engine, stealthy, fifth-generation fighter. The IAF has initiated the acquisition of 84 Tejas Mark 1A fighters (four squadrons). This will have four improvements over the initial Tejas – AESA radar for added combat capability; air-to-air refuelling to increase combat range; an externally-mounted “self-protection jammer” (SPJ) to blind enemy radars, and tidier internal systems to increase maintainability and reduce “turnaround time”, i.e. how quickly a refuelled and rearmed Tejas can leave on a fresh mission after returning from an earlier one. Improving the Tejas incrementally could give the 2032 fleet eight Tejas squadrons.

Simultaneously, the IAF must strongly support the indigenous AMCA. Having a fully-developed and flight-tested AMCA by 2032 is vital for replacing the upgraded MiG-29s and Mirage 2000s that begin retiring that year, followed by the Jaguar. Expediting the conclusion of a contract to build a single-engine fighter in India with foreign collaboration would benefit the AMCA by galvanising an indigenous aerospace eco-system. It would also add six (or more) squadrons to the IAF by 2032.

Third, the IAF must drive the contract for Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) to partner Sukhoi in co-developing and manufacturing the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA). This heavy fighter would replace the Sukhoi-30MKI, when that IAF workhorse ages. In July, a defence ministry Expert Committee ruled that the technological expertise Indian engineers would gain from working with Russian experts would also feed positively into the AMCA project. HAL chief, T Suvarna Raju says if India acted quickly, HAL would get to co-design the heart of the FGFA’s combat systems– including navigation systems, radars and weapon aiming devices. This would translate into the ability to upgrade the FGFA mid-way through its life cycle. Further, the FGFA co-development is incredibly cost effective –India will pay just $3.1 billion. There is no reason to delay this project.

Fourth, paradoxically, considering that buying the Rafale was a financial blunder, the IAF must now procure two more squadrons. The Rafale will be the IAF’s eighth fighter type when it joins (sixth if one discounts the MiG-21 and MiG-27 on their way out), and it makes little sense to create basing and maintenance infrastructure for just two Rafale squadrons.

Fifth and finally, the IAF must focus on acquiring and indigenously developing force multipliers, especially aerial tankers (unforgivably stuck for years in the defence ministry pipeline); airborne warning and control systems to maximize usage of existing combat assets; and satellite-based data links to greatly enhance airspace awareness and weapon-targeting capabilities of the fighter fleet.

The challenge is as clear as the opportunities. Can the IAF and defence ministry get their acts together?