Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Tejas fighter finally achieves production target

Eight Tejas to roll out this year; heavily outsourced to private sector

By Ajai Shukla
HAL, Bengaluru
Business Standard, 16th Aug 17

Since December 2013, when the indigenous Tejas fighter was operationally cleared to join the Indian Air Force (IAF), Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has struggled to establish an assembly line that could build the homegrown light fighter quickly and cheaply.

With just three Tejas delivered until this year out of the 20 ordered in 2013, the IAF’s complaint that the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) had taken too long in development gave way to the charge that HAL was not building the fighter fast enough to replace the IAF’s retiring MiG fighters.

HAL’s manufacturing shortfall became even starker last November, when the defence ministry cleared the acquisition of 83 more Tejas 1A fighters. This successor to the Tejas Mark 1, with four specified capability improvements, is required to enter production in 2019. This plan hinges on establishing a high-capacity assembly line.

Now, finally, HAL’s Tejas assembly line in Benguluru is meeting its targets. On a visit by Business Standard to the Tejas assembly line, HAL chief T Suvarna Raju has confirmed that eight Tejas fighters will roll off the line this year – the rated capacity of the assembly line.

Furthermore, with an additional investment of Rs 1,231 crore sanctioned for enhancing capacity, the Tejas line is projected to build 10 fighters in 2018-19; and 16 Tejas Mark 1As each year from 2019-20 onwards.

Thereafter, the line is expected to build the Tejas Mark II fighter, an advanced variant of the Tejas with a more powerful General Electric F-414 engine and upgraded avionics.

Outsourcing to private defence firms has been key to achieving HAL’s production targets. “HAL is now focusing mainly on putting together large assemblies that are built and supplied by private aerospace companies. That has allowed us to speed up work exponentially”, says Raju.

HAL has created five “Tier-1” suppliers that each build a part of the Tejas. The front fuselage is supplied by Dynamatic Technologies Ltd, Bengaluru; the centre fuselage by VEM Technologies, Hyderabad; rear fuselage by Alpha Tocol, Bengaluru; wings by Larsen & Toubro, Coimbatore; and the tail fin and rudder by National Aerospace Laboratory and Tata Advanced Materials Ltd.

Each of these Tier-1 suppliers sources components and sub-assemblies from lower-order Tier-2 and Tier-3 suppliers, creating an aerospace industry around the Tejas.

In addition, a range of equipment is sourced from other private firms that are emerging as players in the aerospace realm: avionics racks and air intakes from Lakshmi Machine Works, Coimbatore; electrical panels from Amphenol, Pune; slats and elevons from Aequs, Belgaum; pipelines from Rangson, Mysore, and precision mechanical assemblies from Sri Koteswara Cam Systems, Secunderabad.

HAL plans to eventually outsource 69 per cent of the production of Tejas structural modules, with just 31 per cent of the work done in-house – consisting mainly of assembly and equipping work.

A visit by Business Standard to the Tejas production hanger reveals the most technologically advanced production line that HAL has ever set up – significantly more high-tech than the Hawk advanced jet trainer line that was established with BAE Systems.

The production jigs, on which Tejas components are fabricated, are calibrated with lasers to an accuracy of 50-80 microns (one micron is one-thousandth of a millimeter). This ensures repeatability, which means that every component coming off a jig is precisely the same, and can be switched across aircraft.

There are also robotic machines to drill the thousands of holes that are required in each Tejas’ carbon “skin”. These robots drill in two days what manual drillers earlier took two months to do.

“It earlier took us 19 months to build a Tejas, from start to finish. This is now down to 11 months, and we will be building each Tejas in nine months by September this year”, says Raju.

HAL’s plan for expanding Tejas production to 16 fighters per year involves establishing a second assembly line. This has physically replaced the Hawk trainer line that is close to completing delivery of its orders.

The cost of Rs 1,231 crore is being half-funded by HAL, with the IAF and navy picking up the tab for the other half.

Tejas production schedule    


Upto March 31, 2017
3 Tejas Mk 1
3 Tejas Mk 1
IOC configuration
2017 – 2018
8 Tejas Mk 1
11 Tejas Mk 1
IOC configuration
2018 – 2019
10 Tejas Mk 1
20 Tejas Mk 1
5 single-seat IOC
4 twin-seat IOC
1 (spare capacity)
2019 – 2020
16 Tejas Mk 1A
20 Tejas Mk 1
16 Tejas Mk 1A

2020 – 2024
67 Tejas
20 Tejas Mk 1
83 Tejas Mk 1A

2024-25 onward
Tejas Mark II

(IOC: Initial Operational Configuration)

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Book review: Shadow play in the Himalayas

Title:  Shadow States: India, China and the Himalayas, 1910-1962
Author:  Berenice Guyot-Rechard
Cambridge University Press
321 Pages
Rs 550/-

Seventy years after independence, Indian policymakers continue fumbling ineptly in administering our frontiers, resulting in unabated tensions in strategic border states like Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), Manipur and Nagaland. Now here is a book with lessons for our mandarins: A detailed account of how newly-independent India – administratively inexperienced, resource-starved and preoccupied with problems with Pakistan over J&K – established its writ over the North East Frontier Province (NEFA) – today the state of Arunachal Pradesh, peopled by staunchly committed citizens of India.

Why did New Delhi feel the need to quickly consolidate its presence in the wild and unexplored borderlands of the Eastern Himalayas, which the British had largely left alone, categorising it an “Excluded Area”? Since NEFA was a territorial entity not administered by the British colonial state, its accession to India was problematic; New Delhi needed to explicitly exert jurisdiction. But with China simultaneously consolidating its control over Tibet, including its outlying Kham and Amdo areas, the two Asian giants shared a border for the first time in history. The author’s thesis, which runs through the book, is that India and China, in asserting control over their new territories, acted as “shadow states” to each other – with state-making and nation-building playing out as a contest for the allegiance of border people. As she puts it, this “turned into processes of mutual observation, replication and competition to prove themselves the better state – becoming in short, anxiety-fuelled attempts at self-definition against one another.”

Berenice Guyot-Rechard, who teaches history at King’s College, London, has comprehensively mined archives in London, New Delhi, Guwahati and Itanagar and a wealth of primary and secondary sources to tell the story of India’s entry into NEFA. She recounts the halting decision-making, first by the British in pre-1947 India and then by the new Indian state to enter NEFA; the difficulties faced by administrators as they inched into terra incognita, and the constant paring of aims and objectives due to sheer lack of resources. In contrast, China moved with relative authority into Tibet, cajoling, co-opting and coercing the Tibetan people in eventually establishing Beijing’s authority over that vast territory.

Ms Guyot-Rechard postulates that, through these processes of state building, both New Delhi and Beijing were acutely aware of being watched and compared by the border populations who were, given the porous borders, highly mobile and able to switch sides to where they assessed the better opportunities lay. With both sides insecure about the other’s “pull” over the border people, competitive “state shadowing” eventually led to war.

The most interesting chapters describe India’s travails in pushing administration forward to the McMahon Line border, frequently having to backtrack after outrunning material and manpower resources. The author describes the mechanisms that frontier officials established to communicate with the locals – “political interpreters”,  gaonburas” (headmen) and “dobashis” (interpreters); and the sophisticated ways that locals exploited these conduits to suit their own ends. Ultimately, it was local participation that determined the success or failure of administrative consolidation, since local cooperation was essential for navigating the trackless mountains, finding water sources, obtaining porters, re-supplying posts and a myriad of other functions. As the author put it, “[T]he reach of the Indian state went in many places only so far as the feet and backs of tribal men and women would take it.”

A select cadre of frontier officials that New Delhi specially recruited for NEFA, Nagaland and other border areas, spent weeks “hiking at a snail’s pace around the countryside”. True, but the author – biased, perhaps, by comparison with China’s more purposeful consolidation – is unkind in her descriptions. The speed at which the officials trekked through their jurisdictions indeed constrained the area they could cover. But it gave them a worm’s eye view of the areas they moved through and the time to internalise that unfamiliar environment. India’s establishment of an administration with limited resources and expertise was, at one level, a bumbling, amateurish exercise worthy of ridicule. But it was also a feat of determination that, against all odds, eventually led to success.

Many would regard China as the unquestioned victor in projecting itself in the borderlands as a state – both in establishing a functional administration and, in the ultimate display of state capability, in waging war. Yet, as the author herself notes, the weakness of the Indian state made it more acceptable to NEFA than the all-powerful Chinese state. If, during the 1962 war and in two months of Chinese occupation after fighting ended, Beijing had demonstrated its capability to win and to effectively administer the same area that India had struggled to govern, the local population also figured that they had very little control over what exactly Beijing chose to deliver. The author assesses: “Arguably, [China’s] demonstration of invincibility, impeccable efficiency, and self-sufficiency had been too convincing (italics in original)… The Indian state, by contrast, was fragile and imperfect; but its tensions, its vulnerabilities, its reliance on the population, and perhaps its focus on relief and rehabilitation offered [the local people] more space to negotiate, criticise and make demands.”

Ms Guyot-Rechard’s fine book will be a reference work for all students of Sino-Indian relations. Finely judged and elegantly written, the book is illustrated with numerous photographs of that time and several extremely useful maps. Usefully, footnotes are placed at the bottom of each page, saving the reader the bother of leafing back and forth. My only production complaint is an insufficiently readable font – darker would have been better.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Village near Doklam evacuated, India thickens border presence

Nathan Valley (courtesy

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 10th Aug 17

Although the generals are not expecting a Chinese attack on the disputed Doklam bowl, where some 150 Indian soldiers have been in an eyeball-to-eyeball face-off against some 40 Chinese border guards since June, the army is taking no chances.

Villagers in Nathang, a border village 10-12 kilometres as the crow flies from Doklam, have been asked to evacuate their homes and move elsewhere. Nathang is overlooked directly by mountain features at Doklam, like Gyemochen, which China claims as the disputed India-China-Bhutan tri-junction.

Another Indian village nearby, Kuppup, is significantly closer to the border. But it is shielded from the Doklam area by high mountains that Indian troops occupy.

Army spokespersons deny the military has asked for Nathang to be evacuated. The civilian administration, however, is unlikely to have taken such a step unilaterally.

Simultaneously, two Indian mountain divisions –17 Division, headquartered in Gangtok; and 27 Division, based in Kalimpong – are discreetly moving troops to their battle stations on the Sikkim-Tibet border, including areas far removed from Dolkam.

Military sources downplay this move as “precautionary”. Says one senior officer: “We have our annual operational alert in October every year. This year, because of the tension at Doklam, we have advanced it by a couple of months.”

The operational alert allows troops to get acclimatised to high altitudes, renovate the bunkers and trenches from which they would fight, break out ammunition, and carry out the coordination needed to fight an integrated defensive battle.

Even as the army takes these precautions, policymakers in New Delhi are optimistic that diplomacy would resolve the issue without the need for military action.

“This is China’s ‘Kargil moment’, where a crisis has been created by gung-ho military commanders, who appear to have misled the leadership in Beijing that India would quietly accept Chinese road-building in Doklam”, says a former top diplomat with decades of experience in dealing with China.

“Although Beijing knows it has erred, China cannot pull back without losing face. That means the face-off will continue at least until the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), most likely to be held in October. Xi Jinping is not going into that crucial Congress from a position of weakness, given that his leadership for the next five years will be shaped there”, says the former diplomat.

Yet China would face significant military disadvantages in mounting a frontal attack to evict Indian troops from Doklam. This would involve advancing through the narrow Chumbi valley, overlooked by Indian troops deployed on the heights.

“Even an airborne strike, like the spectacular staged for Xi Jinping at Zhurihe on July 31, on the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) 90th anniversary, would find it difficult to dislodge Indian troops at Doklam without using massive air power and escalating the crisis dramatically.

Asked about military options that could provide China with a face-saver, a senior general believes the PLA might choose to occupy another strategic border pass, such as the 17,500 foot Lipulekh on the India-China-Nepal tri-junction.

Lipulekh is controlled by India, but is also claimed by Nepal, providing a striking parallel with the India-China-Bhutan context at play at Doklam.

“China could occupy Lipulekh, and use that as a face-saver for a mutual withdrawal from Doklam. Then, after the 19th Party Congress is concluded, all sides could return to the status quo”, projects the general, speaking off the record.

Army spokespersons state that the situation at Doklam remains unchanged. However, they are not willing to speak about the number of troops confronting each other. Business Standard reported on Aug 4 that 40 Chinese troops are confronting about 120 Indian troops in Doklam. China has about 1,500 troops to the north of Doklam, while India has about 600 troops to the west, backed up by two army brigades further away. 

Friday, 4 August 2017

Doklam: the word from Ground Zero

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 4th Aug 17

On Friday, with China’s defence ministry warning New Delhi that: “restraint has its bottom line”, Indian Army officers participating in the Doklam faceoff have provided Business Standard the first detailed accounts of how the situation has evolved.

They say the Doklam bowl – which is disputed between China and Bhutan – currently has an extended, 200-metre long line of Indian infantry soldiers confronting a smaller number of Chinese border guards. Just one metre separates the two lines.

At any time, there are about 40 Chinese border guards in the disputed valley, facing off against three times that number of Indian jawans.

Backing up the Chinese front line are another 1,500 troops, a mix of border guards and regular People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers. These are positioned outside the disputed Doklam area, but cross in and out of the disputed area, relieving those on the front line at regular intervals.

Indian troops standing guard in Doklam are similarly relieved by a full infantry battalion (600 troops), located in Indian territory to the west. Backing up this battalion is a full infantry brigade (2,000 troops), ready to respond to any military moves from China.

In addition, a second fully acclimatised infantry brigade, slightly further away, stands ready to respond to a crisis.

“We fortunately had two brigades training in high altitudes nearby, so we have plenty of acclimatised troops. If needed, we can muster far more forces than the Chinese in Sikkim. This would never be an area where they start something”, says a senior Indian commander.

According to these officers’, tension began in early June, when Indian forces in the vicinity observed Chinese patrols reconnoitring the track in the disputed Doklam bowl. Intelligence assessments concluded that China was going to try and extend the road towards the Jampheri Ridge, at the farthest edge of China’s claim line.

Indian commanders strongly rejected yesterday’s statement by China’s foreign ministry, which claimed that India had been notified on May 18 and June 8, out of goodwill through the border meeting mechanism”, that China would be building a road in Doklam.

They say, the Indian army reported to Delhi that road building seemed imminent, and were granted permission to cross into Bhutan-claimed territory to stop construction.

When India crossed into Doklam and confronted the Chinese construction parties, “they were taken completely by surprise and offered no resistance”, says an officer privy to events. “These are no soldiers; they are conscripted border guards, who live in heated barracks and periodically patrol the border in vehicles. They don’t walk much”, says an Indian commander.

“Our soldiers, in contrast, live a far tougher life. In Doklam, they stand guard without moving, while the Chinese keep breaking the line and going back for cigarette breaks. Indian morale is sky-high; soldiers know they are participating in something unprecedented – crossing a border to defend an Indian ally”, says the Indian officer.

Eventually, the Chinese had to send in a political commissar, recount Indian officers. “The commissar ordered up martial music and the hoisting of Chinese flags to stiffen resolve. They clearly had problems”, he says.

In the macho manner of militaries, the Indian Army is using a large number of Sikh and Jat soldiers to man the line in Doklam – in the expectation that their height and sturdiness would intimidate the smaller Chinese.

Army officers are elated also at having kept the confrontation out of the media for a full ten days, until Beijing was forced to make the incident public. “The Chinese have always complained that India’s media is too shrill and pro-active. This time, China had to mobilise their media, because we were there on the ground and nobody knew.”

Indian soldiers also point out that China has begun building bunkers and creating defences on the border. “That’s another first. They are recognising our capability to act decisively”, says an officer.

According to a senior Indian general: “The situation in Doklam has plateaued. Militarily, the Chinese know they can do nothing here. Eventually it will have to be a negotiated withdrawal, or the Chinese will have to open a front in another sector.”

With Beijing warning on Friday that “Chinese armed forces will resolutely protect the country's territorial sovereignty and security interests”, the PLA could choose its next move anywhere on a long, 3,500-kilometre border that stretches from Ladakh to Myanmar.