Saturday, 9 December 2017

Unlike India’s chaotic preparations in 1962, a Chinese war plan made months in advance

The Dalai Lama's escape (pictured here, struggling to the Indian border) led Mao to "teach India a lesson"

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th Dec 17

On October 20, 1962, when China attacked Indian posts on the Namka Chu rivulet near Tawang, marking the start of the disastrous Sino-Indian war, the troops that conducted that attack – the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) 11 Infantry Division – prepared for that battle in three years of battling Tibetan guerrillas, called the Chushi Gangdruk.

Earlier, on August 25, 1959, the first-ever armed clash between Chinese and Indian soldiers, took place when an Indian patrol ran into a Chinese company (roughly 100 soldiers) stationed in Migyitun “for work with the masses”, as Beijing euphemistically termed operations against the Chushi Gangdruk.

PLA General Yin Fatang reveals that, on June 11, 1962, the Tibet Military Command constituted the “Advance Command Post for China-India Border Self-Defence Counter-attack” code-named Z419 (“Z” stands for “Xizang”, or Tibet). Yin was appointed its political commissar.

Four days earlier, PLA General Tan Guansan, who had brutally put down the Lhasa revolt in March 1959, relayed orders from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee and Central Military Commission to prepare to fight the Indian army.

These are some of a range of new details of the 1962 Sino-Indian war gleaned by Chinese scholar, Jianglin Li, from Chinese Communist Party (CCP) documents and interviews with People’s Liberation Army (PLA) veterans. Li’s research is posted on the “War on Tibet” website in a research article entitled  “‘Suppressing Rebellion in Tibet’ and the China-India Border War”.

The war clouds began gathering in May 1962, when Beijing decided to “create conditions for peacefully resolving the border dispute” by “resolutely fighting back” against the advancing Indian army, says Wei Ke, director of Z419’s political department. Then itself, it was decided that the main front would be the eastern sector, specifically the Tawang and Walong areas. 

By October, 10,300 Chinese soldiers were placed under Z419 Command Post, charged with attacking India in Kejielang (Nyamjang Chu valley) and Tawang, according to a PLA “Studies on Battle Examples”.

Yin says: “From mid-June 1962, Z419 Command Post started to collect intelligence in the battle zone and work on a battle plan.” Intensive military training began, including individual training, unit training and battle exercises at regimental level. Based on the experience of fighting the Chushi Gangdruk, Z419 replaced physically unfit officers and soldiers. Well-trained rocket launcher operators were dispatched to Tibet from Wuhan, and artillery personnel were sent from several military commands. Beijing Military Command sent communications equipment and operators. Over one hundred English, Hindi and Tibetan interpreters from different areas were sent to Tibet for the coming “self-defence counter-attack”.

Meanwhile, in contrast with China’s formidable build up, the Indian Army was struggling to send to the border an inadequate formation of 2,400 soldiers – the ill-fated 7 Infantry Brigade – which was short of soldiers, arms, equipment and acclimatisation for high-altitude combat.

Beijing took the final decision to go to war in two meetings. The first was on October 8, between Mao Zedong and China’s top leadership – Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Liu Shaoqi, Zhu De, He Long, Nie Rongzheng and Luo Ruiqing. The next day, Z419 received the pre-order for battle.

The die was cast, According to General Zhang Guohua, who was selected to command the battle; he flew back to Lhasa from Beijing on October 13th. A “Frontline Command Post”, positioned at Tsona, replaced Z419 for the battle.

The second meeting, at which the final go-ahead was given, took place at 1:30 p.m. on October 17. The Central Military Commission and Mao himself approved General Zhang Guohua’s battle plan.

Besides the PLA’s overwhelming advantage in combat soldiers numbers, Li’s research reveals the CCP’s Tibet Work Committee supported the frontline with a major logistic effort. It dispatched 1,280 party cadres to lead civilian workers functioning as logistical support teams. 32,237 Tibetans and 1,057 pack animals were drafted to load, unload and transport supplies, carry wounded soldiers back from battlefront, and clear up battlefields, etc. Over 10,000 civilians were drafted to repair and construct roads.

It is hardly surprising that, on October 20, Indian defences in the Tawang sector crumbled in hours. 

Friday, 8 December 2017

Chinese army prepared for 1962 war by fighting Tibetans

After Lhasa went up in flames in early-March 1959, the PLA fought 12 major battles in Tibet over the next 3 years

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 8th Dec 17

In path breaking research into the Tibetan uprising in 1956-59 and the lead-up to the 1962 war, Chinese scholar Jianglin Li has accessed Chinese Communist Party (CCP) documents and interviewed People’s Liberation Army (PLA) veterans from that war to present critical new aspects of that period’s history.

 Li’s research illustrates that Mao Zedong cynically regarded operations against the Tibetan resistance – called Chushi Gangdruk – as an opportunity to train the PLA.

This research rebuts earlier claims by 1962 war veterans like Yin Fatang, a former CCP boss in Tibet, that the PLA fought the 1962 war unprepared. A similar claim was made in the 2008 memoir of Ding Sheng, who commanded the PLA’s 54thArmy in Walong sector. Ding says that in October 1962, the 54th Army was scattered across Sichuan for agricultural work. On October 28, when he received the order to attack Walong, “the troops were hastily mobilized, issued warm clothing and rushed to Tibet for the battle at short notice”, Ding says.

Li’s research – which is posted on the “War on Tibet” website in a research article entitled  “‘Suppressing Rebellion in Tibet’ and the China-India Border War” – shows the PLA presented a formidable contrast to the poorly equipped and poorly acclimatised Indian troops.

CCP documents indicate that, in the three years from March 1959 to March 1962, the PLA fought 12 major battles in Central Tibet, targeting the Chushi Gangdruk. Li concludes that, when the 1962 war began, “It had been less than a year since Ding’s troops pulled back from Tibet after three years of fighting.”

Beijing’s hostility came even though India helped China sustain its occupation of Tibet. “In the early 1950s, China needed India’s help to send supplies into Tibet, so that the PLA could consolidate the occupation. India was quite generous in providing this help. In 1952, Beijing “used diplomatic channels” to ship 2,500 tons of rice from Guangdong province to Calcutta, and transport it up to Tibet through Yadong (Dromo). By April 1953, all the rice had arrived. This basically solved the food supply problem for PLA troops, and enabled them to establish a preliminary footing in Tibet”, according to a book, “Remembering Tibet – Collected Recollections of Advancing and Liberating Tibet”.

After discovering the existence of the border dispute in 1952, when the Chinese Foreign Ministry “absorbed the former foreign office of the Kashag (Tibetan government) and acquired its archival documents”, Zhou Enlai sought to buy time.

“India is still under British and American influence, so we want to win it over… [Border disputes] should be solved in future… due to insufficient documents now”, says Zhou’s 1954 directive on the border issue, according to Wang Gui, of the Tibet Military Command Political Department.

Unlike the patient Zhou, Mao had decided to teach India a lesson by end-March 1959, soon after the Tibet uprising and Dalai Lama’s escape to India. Wu Lengxi, who headed Xinhua and People’s Daily at that time, describes Mao fuming in a Party Central Committee meeting in Shanghai: “Let the Indian government commit all the wrongs for now. When the time comes, we will settle accounts with them”.

PLA aggression on the McMahon Line started right away, says Wang Tingsheng of the 54th Army Division. His memoirs recount: “PLA soldiers crossed the McMahon Line at three locations in pursuit of escaping Tibetans.”

Even so, Mao carefully lulled India into complacency, ordering the inclusion of a paragraph into a May 15, 1959 letter from Beijing to New Delhi: ““China’s main attention and principle of struggle is focused on the east, the West Pacific region, on the ferocious American imperialism, not on India, the southeast or south Asian countries at all. …China will not be so stupid as to make enemies with the US in the east, and make enemies with India in the west. Pacification of rebellion and implementing democratic reform in Tibet would pose no threat to India whatsoever.”

At the time Mao made this statement, PLA 11 Infantry Division was already fighting the Tibetan resistance in Chamdo. Three years later, on October 20, 1962, this battle-hardened division would start the Sino-India war with its attack on Indian positions on the Namka Chu rivulet, near Tawang.

Li shows that Mao viewed operations against the Tibetan resistance as training ground for the PLA, causing the use of disproportionate force and warfighting weaponry against Tibetan civilians. From January 22nd to February 19th 1959, Mao Zedong added written instructions to four reports on the Tibet situation, stating: “Rebellion is a good thing”, as it could be used to “train the troops and the masses”, and to “harden our troops to combat readiness.”

Xu Yan, a professor at the Chinese National Defence University, says the key differentiator in the 1962 war was combat experience. “Most of the troops of the [PLA] who fought at the China-India border have a glorious history”, he commented, “Besides that, they had also acquired rich combat experience in high and cold mountain regions in the five years from the Khampa rebellion in 1956 to the end of the suppression of Tibetan rebellion in 1961.”


(Next: Part II: China’s preparations for attack)

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

A test for the defence minister: end this nonsense about scrapping India's BMS project

Ms Sitharaman’s decision on whether to kill the BMS project or not will reveal her commitment to building real indigenous capability in defence


By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 8th Dec 17

Senior Indian Army generals, who grew up before smartphones became a part of our daily lives, are blundering in scrapping as “too costly” the ~5,000-crore project to indigenously design and develop a Battlefield Management System (BMS). More tech-savvy junior officers understand the importance of the BMS, which will provide frontline combat soldiers with a real-time tactical picture of the battlefield to help them deal with “the fog of war”. But generals call the shots, and now a defence ministry okay is all that is needed to cancel this promising initiative. 

The success of the US Army in Gulf war I (1991), when Saddam Hussein's well armed and battle hardened Iraqi Army folded in less than 96 hours, amply demonstrated the power of a networked force. The defence ministry must also evaluate the army's wish to foreclose the BMS in the light of the Chinese BMS (named Qu Dian) which began deployment 10 years ago. Even Pakistan is working on their own BMS named Rehbar.  If the Indian military wishes to avoid the fate of Hussein's forces, it too must network its battlefield units securely and robustly.

Then there is the need to prioritise "Make” category projects -- including  the BMS, there are only three in the pipeline. These harness Indian defence industry to develop “complex, high-tech systems”, with the government reimbursing 80 per cent of the development cost. Such projects build design and development skills and systems integration capability, which is far more important than “Make in India” projects, which merely involve assembling imported components and systems to blueprints provided by a foreign “original equipment manufacturer” (OEM) under “transfer of technology”. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s decision — whether to kill the BMS “Make” project or nurture it — will be a revealing indicator of her commitment to building real indigenous capability in defence.

Why is the BMS more important than buying the tanks and guns for which the army wants to save its money? A BMS is a “force multiplier” that uses information and communications technology (ICT) to enhance the effectiveness of the field force and the weapons they operate? An example of this in civilian life is Google Maps. Buying a fast (and expensive) car has limited benefits in terms of reaching one’s destination sooner, but Google Maps’ software does that more effectively. It chooses the fastest route by “crowd sourcing” traffic conditions, with user inputs updating this dynamic element in real time. This allows for the most efficient use of the road. Extrapolating this cheap and commonsensical solution to the battlefield, the “crowd-sourcing” of inputs from friendly elements on the battlefield — soldiers, weapons systems or surveillance devices that form a part of one’s own force — builds up a common operating picture of the battlefield that is updated in real time. The “battlefield transparency” this creates enables soldiers and combat commanders to react to emerging situations faster than the enemy. Network centricity is all about being faster on the OODA loop – the action sequence of Observe, Orient, Decide, Act – than the adversary. In non-military terms that means being quicker in picking up and identifying the enemy, deciding how and with what weapons to engage him, and then actually doing so. A strong BMS system that provides battlefield transparency, and enables the immediate use of firepower and manpower, creates greater combat effect than expensive tanks, guns or fighter aircraft that are unable to use their capabilities to full effect. 

Although creating a BMS combat network would be cheaper than buying weapons platforms, it still requires the expenditure of significant sums. In 2011, the defence ministry approved the BMS for an overly optimistic ~350 crore. Other worldwide benchmark projects indicate $1.5-2.0 billon dollars in initial investments towards developing BMS-type “force multiplier “capabilities. 

Today, the combined cost quoted by the two “development agencies” (DAs) – one, a consortium of Tata Power (Strategic Engineering Division) and Larsen & Toubro; the other between Bharat Electronics Ltd and Rolta India – is a more realistic ~5,000 crore. This would be paid out over five years, but the army is unwilling to earmark even ~1,000 crore per year for this revolutionary project, which would harness India’s demonstrated skills in information technology. Given the range of technologies that it would galvanise, the BMS would be not just a “force multiplier” for the military but equally for the ICT economy. 


Why does developing two BMS prototypes cost so much? The other ICT-based networks the army is developing — such as the “artillery command, control and communications system”, which integrates fire support from artillery guns; or the “battlefield surveillance system” that integrates surveillance systems — are basically software systems. These will ride on a communications network called the “tactical communications system” (TCS), which is being developed as a separate “Make” programme. The BMS, however, is intended for the combat soldier, who would outpace communications networks like the TCS, especially in situations like an advance into enemy territory. The BMS, therefore, requires its own communications backbone, built on sophisticated “software defined radio” (SDR) that provides enormous flexibility with its ability to function on disparate “wave forms”. This means the BMS must have advanced communications technology, on which the information technology component is fully integrated. All these must be engineered as part of the project. The US Army tried in vain to ride its BMS on a generic radio, the Joint Tactical Radio System.  Some $15 billion later, they realised the hardware and software had to be engineered together in a “system of systems” approach. Each element and device in the BMS has to be planned for SWAP (size, weight and power), and a range of waveforms have to be created. 

The day of reckoning for the BMS is December 29, when the two DAs must submit their “detailed project reports”, including final price estimates, to the Defence Production Board (DPrB), which the defence secretary currently heads. The ministry is currently squeezing the DAs to bring down their prices by over 30 per cent, even if that means reducing the scope of the BMS project. It is mind-boggling to see a government that claims to be committed to defence preparedness and indigenisation haggling with defence industry over a project that would bring to the Indian military a “revolution in military affairs”, albeit three decades after it transformed the US military’s way of warfare. It is time for Ms Sitharaman to step in and end this nonsense. 

Sunday, 3 December 2017

India-Afghanistan beyond the Durand Line



My Enemy’s Enemy: India in Afghanistan from the Soviet Invasion to the US Withdrawal
By Avinash Paliwal
(Hurst & Company, London, 2017)
380 pages

Given Afghanistan’s importance in India’s foreign policy and security calculations, there is a regrettable dearth of literature on New Delhi’s contemporary relations with that wild and romantic country. Filling that void partly is Avinash Paliwal’s new book, which purports to be, “A definitive account, grounded in history, of the strategic axis between New Delhi and Kabul.”

The summary on the cover’s back leaf continues: “India’s political and economic presence in Afghanistan is often viewed as a Machiavellian ploy aimed against Pakistan. The first of its kind, this book interrogates that simplistic yet powerful geopolitical narrative and asks what truly drives India’s Afghanistan policy.”

If Paliwal, a lecturer at the University of London, had let his well-researched historiography tell its own story, it would have convincingly illustrated what regional specialists know to be the case: that New Delhi has strategically promoted a stable and united Afghanistan, free of Pakistani influence. This is motivated less by altruism than by the conviction that an independent Afghanistan’s default relationship with Pakistan would be inherently oppositional – for reasons as diverse as the colonial baggage, and the still unsettled Durand Line border that cleaves through a sprawling Pashtun populace. Then there is the Afghan resentment about a large neighbour ruled by domineering “Punjabi” elite – as Afghans commonly refer to Pakistanis – meddling in their internal affairs.

Instead, the author has burdened his account with a clumsy theoretical framework –that Indian policymaking vis-à-vis Afghanistan has been controlled in turn by two ideologically opposed groups: the Conciliators, who build goodwill with, and politically engage, all Afghan groups regardless of their affiliations, including the Taliban; and a second group, the Partisans, who befriend only those Afghan groups that are clearly opposed to Pakistani influence in Afghanistan. Since My Enemy’s Enemy is a reworked version of the author’s doctoral thesis, the theoretical underpinning presumably comes with the package. Yet it interferes with the flow of the narrative, annoyingly diverting it into irrelevant cul-de-sacs about whether an event was the handiwork of the Conciliators or Partisans.

For example the author argues that Partisans in New Delhi ignored the Afghan Mujahideen (or the Peshawar Seven, led by Pakistan-backed commanders like Gulbudin Hekmatyar) during the anti-Soviet jihad from 1979-89, and through the Soviet-backed presidency of Mohammad Najibullah for three years thereafter. But, in 1992, when Najibullah was overthrown and the Mujahideen took power in Kabul, the Narasimha Rao Doctrine of 1992 facilitated the return of Conciliators, with New Delhi resolving to deal with whoever was in power in Kabul, the Mujahideen at the time. The pendulum swung again in 1996, when the Taliban evicted the Mujahideen from Kabul. The Partisans regained sway in New Delhi, keeping India aloof from the Taliban, even though the latter wanted ties with India as a hedge against Pakistani domination.

In fact, what drove Indian policymaking through this period was not the rise or fall of Partisans and Conciliators. In the case of the Rao Doctrine in 1992, the same Indian policymakers were taking decisions before and after that policy watershed. Indian engagement with Afghan groups was always driven by their apparent closeness to Pakistan, and the degree to which they were regarded as acting at Pakistan’s behest. Therefore, India shunned the Mujahideen until 1992 because they were being remote controlled from Pakistan against the Soviets. Once they came to power in Kabul, India cultivated leaders like Ahmed Shah Massoud, who were inherently opposed to Pakistan. When the Taliban swept to power in 1996, dialogue with Kabul went into limbo, not because of some imagined Partisan resurgence in New Delhi, but because the Taliban was perceived as handmaidens of Pakistan. For this same reason, Indian policymakers abjure dialogue with the Taliban to this day.

Notwithstanding this diversion, the author painstakingly reconstructs Indo-Afghan relations, drawing on the Kabuliwallah connection that creates a natural bond between Indians and Afghans, tracing relations from independence, through the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan to the upheaval that began with Mohammad Daud’s coup in 1973. He rightly brings out how India’s support for Pashtun independence, announced by External Affairs Minister Swaran Singh in the Lok Sabha, built bonds with Afghanistan’s Pashtuns that endure to this day. Yet, Afghanistan, walking a tightrope between India and Pakistan, took a balanced position during India-Pakistan wars and on the Kashmir issue.

While the author has clearly carried out extensive archival research, the same cannot be said about interviews with key Indian policymakers. For example, Vivek Katju and Arun Singh, who handled the all-powerful Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran desk at key periods, have not been interviewed. Nor has Satinder Lambah, India’s points-man with Kabul after 9/11, when the Taliban was overthrown and Afghanistan entered its current trajectory. Instead, too much credence is given to anonymous interviews with intelligence officials, many of who betray a tactical rather than strategic orientation.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the author’s description of the Bonn Conference in December 2001, which settled on Hamid Karzai as Afghanistan’s first post-Taliban president. Paliwal recounts that New Delhi came off the loser in Bonn, since it was unable to get Burhanuddin Rabbani – allegedly an Indian “proxy” – elected president. In fact, those of us in Afghanistan and Bonn during that period are aware that Satinder Lambah, having already calculated that Afghanistan’s delicate ethnic balance required a Pashtun as president, had already persuaded the powerful Panjsheri leaders to accept Hamid Karzai as president. With this deal in his pocket, Lambah played a key role in the famous “midnight conference” in Bonn, where the deadlock was broken by choosing Karzai as president and a raft of Panjsheri leaders were accommodated in key portfolios. This, along with the fact that Panjsheri units constituted the bulk of the Afghan National Army, and Panjsheri monopoly over the Afghan intelligence services, gave India enormous leverage in Kabul, post-Bonn.

The author has been let down by sloppy editing, with the pages littered by numerous factual and grammatical errors that should have never passed an editor’s eye. Rajiv Gandhi is called his mother’s “younger son”; Jaswant Singh became foreign minister and defence minister in 1998 ( in fact, he took on the defence portfolio only in 2000); some 1,000 Afghan officers trained in India every year (it is 100 officers); and many more.

Notwithstanding the errors, Dr Paliwal’s book is a fascinating read that will surely be a prescribed text for university courses on South Asia – especially after a second edition polishes the text and eliminates the mistakes.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Navy chief admits damage to INS Chakra

Over last three months, Indian ships refuelling from US tankers

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 2nd Dec 17

For the first time, the navy has officially confirmed that INS Vishal, its second indigenous aircraft carrier that will be built in the 2020s, will be a conventionally-powered vessel, not a nuclear powered warship as earlier envisaged.

Indian Navy chief, Admiral Sunil Lanba told a press conference on Friday that the navy is going in for a “65,000-tonne, two-deck, CATOBAR (catapult take off but arrested landing), conventionally powered” carrier. It would incorporate the latest “EMALS (electro-magnetic aircraft launch system) and AAG (advanced arrester gear)” developed by US firm, General Atomics, for launching and recovering aircraft.

First reported by Business Standard (October 27, “Navy drops cherished dream of nuclear-powered aircraft carrier”), this has now been officially confirmed.

The chief of naval staff (CNS) also confirmed the navy’s ongoing acquisition of 57 multi-role carrier-borne fighters (MRCBF) was meant for both indigenous aircraft carriers – INS Vikrant, which would be commissioned in end-2020, and INS Vishal which would take another decade.

With the Naval Tejas fighter unsuitable for deployment, the MRCBF procurement is regarded as essential by the navy, said Lanba.

Providing an update on the MRCBF procurement, Lanba said the navy’s Request for Information (RFI) that had been floated earlier this year had received four responses. Sources say these are from Boeing for its F/A-18E/F, Dassault for the Rafale Marine, Saab for its Gripen Maritime and from Russia for an updated MiG-29K, which the navy is already flying.

“We will take the [MRCBF acquisition] process forward. But the middle of next year, we should be able to float the RFP (request for proposals, as the tender is called)”.

Submarines

The CNS confirmed worrying rumours about underwater damage to INS Chakra, the nuclear attack submarines that the Indian Navy had taken on a ten-year lease from Russia in 2012.

“The Chakra has suffered damage to her sonar dome. Two [hull] panels have been dislodged. A Board of Inquiry has been constituted to find out the cause. A joint team of the Indian Navy and the Russian side has assessed the damage. We have ordered the panel at the soonest”, said Lanba.

The chief dismissed reports published last month in Russian newsmagazine, Kommersant that US Navy officials had been permitted to visit the Chakra during their recent visit to India. “No American person has seen the submarine from nearby”, said Lanba tersely.

In good news for the navy’s depleted submarine fleet, Lanba revealed that Project 75I – which involves building six conventional attack submarines with “air independent propulsion” (AIP) – has made progress.

“We have a 30-year plan for a total force level of 24 submarines. Project 75I is the first project being progressed under the Strategic Partner (SP) model. We have floated an RFI for identifying OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). Responses have been received from four OEMs and they are under examination. A committee has been constituted for identifying the Indian strategic partner.

Pressed to identify the four OEMs who have expressed interest in Project 75I, Lanba named German submarine maker, ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS), French shipmaker Naval Group (formerly DCNS), Kockums of Sweden and Russian armament supplier, Rosoboronexport.

Asked whether Mitsubishi Heavy Industries had expressed interest in supplying its highly regarded Soryu submarine, Lanba cryptically responded: “The Japanese have expresed their inability to compete.”

It remains unclear whether the Japanese believe their submarine’s price is uncompetitive, or whether they are reluctant to sell warfighting equipment to India.

The SP model for procuring weapons platforms involves identifying an international OEM with an in-service platform that meets the military’s requirements. Simultaneously, an Indian SP firm is identified with the manufacturing skills to build that platform in India with transfer of technology.

Indigenous SSN

The navy chief also acknowledged an indigenous project to build six nuclear attack submarines, termed SSNs (the acronym for “sub-surface nuclear”).

“It has kicked off and I will leave it at that. It is a classified project. The process has started,” said Lanba.

The navy chief also revealed that India and US had “operationalised” an agreement for “reciprocal logistic support”, termed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), signed in August 2016. “Our ships are taking fuel from US tankers during anti-piracy patrols [near the Horn of Africa]. This began about three months ago”, he said. 

Friday, 1 December 2017

Army, MoD look to shut down “high-tech soldier” programme

The army looks to foreclose one of only three existing “Make” projects

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 1st Dec 17

In a blow to the oft-stated plan to build indigenous defence systems through the “Make” category of procurement, the army wants to shut down the Rs 5,000 crore Battlefield Management System (BMS) project. This ambitious plan to network the army’s combat units will digitally interlink fighting soldiers, providing them a common tactical picture in the battlefields of the future.

The concept of BMS is similar to that of home Wifi usage, where multiple family members plug devices onto a common router, interconnecting with each other while also connecting with the external internet. Similarly, in a BMS-equipped unit, combat soldiers, each with a digital identity, interconncted via a MANET (mobile ad hoc network) that rides on software defined radios (SDR) they carry.

This gives each soldier and commander a common battle picture. A geographic information system (GIS) locates each soldier’s digital identity, along with the identities of supporting weaponry like tanks and mortars. This so-called “Blue Force Tracking” provides clarity amidst the fog of war.

This project is being spearheaded by two Indian consortia that have been selected as Development Agencies (DAs) in a process that has lasted ten years. In one consortium, Tata Power (Strategic Engineering Division) is partnering Larsen & Toubro (L&T); the other has Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) partnering Rolta India Ltd. Each DA has quoted about Rs 2,500 crore to design the BMS and build four competing prototypes.

The prototypes will be built for an armoured regiment, and mechanised infantry, foot infantry and Special Forces battalions.

Project BMS is one of only three ongoing “Make” category procurements, in which chosen Indian firms design and develop strategic, high-technology platforms, with the defence ministry reimbursing 80 per cent of the development cost. On October 28, at a defence industry workshop in Delhi, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman heard top industrialists describe the “Make” category as the “soul of indigenisation”, and recommend launching 8-10 “Make” projects every year to build Indian capability.

Yet, just days later, the army formally recommended scrapping Project BMS, noting that it should spend money on “more urgently needed equipment.” On November 24, the Defence Production Board (DPrB), chaired by Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra, agreed in principle.

The DPrB has not yet ordered Project BMS to be foreclosed. Instead, it has directed the army to submit by December 29 the Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) of both DAs. However, ministry sources reveal that, once the DPRs are received, the DPrB will recommend foreclosure on the grounds of excessive cost.

The sanctioned cost of Project BMS in 2007 was Rs 350 crore per DA. It is learned that, even as the project heads for closure, the defence ministry is bargaining for the DAs to slash development costs from the quoted Rs 2,500 crore.

Contacted for comments, the defence ministry has not responded.

The army’s opposition to Project BMS stems from the belief that it will cost too much to install in all the army’s 800-plus combat units. An unofficial figure of Rs 50,000 to 60,000 crore is being quoted. However, with the prototypes still to be built, this is only the broadest generalisation.

“We cannot extrapolate mass manufacture costs from what prototype development cost. Leapfrogs in some technology realms could well make the BMS relatively affordable,” says a senior army officer who believes in enhancing combat effectiveness through high technology, as the US Army has done.

Incongruously, the move to shut down the introduction of high technology into combat echelons comes even as the army goes ahead with other projects to network higher headquarters. This is being done through projects like Tactical Communications System (TCS), Command Information and Decision Support System (CIDSS), Artillery Command, Control and Communications System (ACCCS), Battlefield Surveillance System (BSS) and others. Experts scoff at the notion of a 21st century command and control network controlling a mid-20th century combat force.

Private defence industry says foreclosing BMS means not just the loss of a decade, but also of crores of rupees that Indian firms have spent in conceptualising the system, negotiating with suppliers and technology developers, building design and production consortia and committing experts to the project.

Business Standard learns that the army has evaluated the prospect of selected DAs claiming costs and initiating legal proceedings.

“What we have spent is not as important as the defence ministry’s credibility. If the BMS project is closed, no private industry will participate with any conviction in any subsequent “Make” project. If you are looking to build a military industrial complex, killing the BMS is the worst possible step”, says the chief executive officer of a private firm that is committed to defence production. 

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Part 3: From light fighter to nuclear delivery platform: Long road to the Rafale


By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 25th Nov 17

Since the turn of the century, when the Indian Air Force (IAF) began its quest for cheap, light fighters to replace the Soviet-era fleet of light MiG variants, the IAF’s specifications for the replacement fighter have changed so much as to be almost unrecognizable.

From supporting development of an indigenous fighter, to adding more fighters to the Mirage-2000 fleet already in service, the IAF switched tack to buying medium, multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) through competitive global tendering; to eventually buying 36 Rafale fighters in a government-to-government deal with France.

In the newest twist, after Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi announced on April 10, 2015 in Paris that India would procure 36 Rafale fighters from French vendor, Dassault, the justification for acquiring such a high-end fighter transformed into veiled hints that it is a platform for delivering nuclear weapons in wartime.

Three days after Modi’s Rafale announcement, then defence minister Manohar Parrikar said on Doordarshan: “It is a strategic purchase and should never have gone through an RFP (Request for Proposals, or a competitive tender)”

Most nuclear strategists have taken “strategic purchase” to mean that India would rig Rafale fighters to deliver nuclear weapons – in place of the Mirage 2000s and Jaguars that currently do the job – as the airborne leg of its nuclear triad.

In the calculations of many analysts, there could be no other valid reason for an air force that already operates seven types of fighters to buy just 36 aircraft of an entirely new type, further complicating a logistical nightmare.

Furthermore, nuclear strategists say in the era of highly reliable land-based and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, delivering nuclear weapons by aircraft is a dispensable option.

Says Vipin Narang, nuclear strategist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: “Given India’s diverse and capable land and sea-based missiles, it is worth considering whether one even needs a replacement delivery platform for nuclear gravity bombs. If India is committed to a triad, a more cost effective solution may be to make Brahmos a nuclear missile and use the Sukhoi-30MKI to deliver it, obviating the need to replace Mirage and Jaguars. It is hard to justify $225 million a plane for an increasingly obsolete mission.”

If indeed the Rafale’s nuclear capability led to its purchase, it remains unclear why the government does not publicly state it? The commitment to a nuclear triad – of delivery of nukes by land, sea and air -- is already publicly enunciated in India’s nuclear doctrine. It would be reasonable to state that the IAF is paying souch a heavy cost to have the most seamless transition from the Mirage 2000 to another French platform, says Narang.

However, there would be questions over whether the Rafale needs to do that job. The Mirage 2000 and the Jaguar are both being upgraded, and can act as airborne nuclear vectors till 2030-35.

Shifting goalposts

The nuclear talk is only the latest example of the IAF shifting goalposts on its fighter purchase. It is worth tracing the procurement over the last two decades.

Since the early 1980s, when the IAF had 42 fighter squadrons but 30 of them were light MiG variants that faced obsolescence, it was decided to develop the indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) to replace them. In 1981 the IAF, in a document called “Air Staff Target 203”, defined a requirement for a light, single-engine to replace the MiGs from the mid-1990s.

But the LCA was delayed and, in 1999 had still to make its first flight (it eventually flew only in 2001). The IAF, happy with the performance of the Mirage 2000 in the 1999 Kargil war, began lobbying for buying the Mirage production line that Dassault was closing down, and re-establishing it in Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to build the excellent Mirage 2000-5 fighter.

“As an air force we were very familiar and comfortable with the operational and tactical handling of the Mirage 2000,” said Air Marshal (Retired) Pranab Kumar Barbora, who was Vice Chief of Air Staff till 2010.

That would have given the IAF large numbers of inexpensive yet sophisticated, single-engine fighters, ideal for replacing the MiGs. But the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) defence minister, George Fernandes, under fire after the Tehelka exposes on defence procurement corruption, shied away from a single-vendor buy from Dassault – ironically, considering that eventually happened with the Rafale purchase 15 years later.

In 2002, Fernandes ordered the IAF to float a global tender. Specifications were framed for a light fighter, and the IAF floated a “Request for Information” to four global vendors in 2004. However, in 2005, Dassault – apparently miffed at having to compete instead of being awarded a single-vendor contract – foreclosed the option of transferring the Mirage 2000 line to India.

It took the IAF three more years to draw up specifications of a new fighter. On August 28, 2007, when the IAF issued an international tender for what was dubbed the MMRCA, the inexpensive, light, single-engine MiG-replacement fighter had morphed into a high-tech, medium-to-heavy fighter that could have one engine or two, and would inevitably cost far more than what was hitherto envisaged.

When responses to the tender came in, there were now six aircraft in the fray: Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen - C; Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Super Viper; Russian Aircraft Corporation’s MIG-35; Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet; Eurofighter’s Typhoon and Dassault’s Rafale.

Defence Minister AK Antony, while chairing a meeting of his Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) on June 29, 2007, outlined three guiding principles for the MMRCA procurement: “First, the operational requirements of IAF should be fully met. Second, the selection process should be competitive, fair and transparent, so that best value for money is realized. Lastly, Indian defence industries should get an opportunity to grow to global scales.”

A decade later, none of these objectives have been met. With the IAF’s operational requirements still unmet with the procurement of just 36 Rafales, fresh tendering is underway for 114 “single-engine fighters”. Instead of a “competitive, fair and transparent” selection, the decision to buy the Rafale remains opaque. And, with the “Make in India” component of the deal scrapped, indigenous defence industry remains ignored.

The Dassault advantage

Through the five years it took the IAF to conduct and conclude the MMRCA selection process, the buzz within the defence aerospace community was that the contest structure favoured Dassault.

To win, a fighter had first to meet the IAF’s requirements in technical evaluation and performance flight-testing. Then, in the second stage of evaluation, commercial bids would be opened of those vendors whose fighters had met the IAF’s norms. Based on a “life-cycle costing” matrix, the lowest bidder (termed L-1) would be declared the winner.

After lengthy flight trials the IAF eliminated four fighters in April 2011 – the Gripen-C, F-16, F/A-18E/F and the MiG-35. Coincidentally, these were the four that were significantly cheaper than the Rafale. Only the excellent, but expensive, Eurofighter Typhoon went into a commercial bidding contest against the Rafale. On January 30, 2012, Dassault was informed it was the L-1 bidder.

Amongst the fighters the IAF eliminiated were the F-16 Super Viper and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, the world’s most combat tested and proven fighters that form the backbone of the world’s most formidable air force.


Ironically, the IAF is now pursuing two fresh acquisitions – for single-engine fighter and multi-role carrier-borne fighters respectively – in which the F-16 and F/A-18 are hot contenders. Evidently, the purchase of 36 Rafales has changed little for the IAF.