India on Wednesday showcased its home-grown fighter Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas at the 13th edition of the biennial Aero India 2021, with a spectacular display of its strike capabilities and daring manoeuvres at the Yelahanka air base on the city's outskirts.
Flown by Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter pilot Manish Tolani, the indigenous Tejas demonstrated its prowess and agility through breath-taking aerobatics, including thunderous rapid rolls, vertical Charlie, upside down and angular flying display on the first day of the 3-day air show under Covid cloud.
Designed and developed by the city-based state-run Aircraft Development Agency (ADA) of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and built by state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), Tejas is the world's only light combat aircraft.
The IAF has already inducted the LCA-1 in its fighter fleet squadron at its Sulur air base in Tamil Nadu's Coimbatore.
The Cabinet Committee on Security, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on January 13 approved the purchase of 83 Tejas Mark-1A variants, including 10 trainers for the IAF at Rs 48,000 crore from the defence behemoth HAL.
This is in addition to the 40 LCA-Mark-1, the IAF has placed an order in 2016 with HAL to deliver for setting up two squadrons of the fighters.
The city-based company has delivered 20 Tejas and in the process of delivering the remaining 20.
Other military aircraft that flew at the inaugural event of the air show in the presence of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Karnataka Chief Minister B.Y. Yediyurappa and other dignitaries include Rafale fighters of the French aerospace major Dassault, Sukhoi-30 MKi, Jaguar, advanced jet trainer Hawk and HAL-made helicopters such as ALH (Advanced Light Helicopter), Light Combat Helicopter and Light Utility Helicopter.
The highlight of the 2-hour long opening show was the dazzling aerobatics by the IAF's 9 Surya Kiran Hawks and 4 Sarang ALHs Dhruv.
The US B1-Bomber also flew along with LCA at the opening event.
The maiden joint aerobatics by Surya Kirans and Sarang choppers was the highlight of the show at different altitudes.
Both the aerobatic teams flew in heart formation with their trail smoke on a bright sunny day.
Dornier 228, Hindustan Turbo Trainer (HTT)-40 and LUH and ALH Mk III of the HAL were at the static display.
India plans to spend 130 billion dollars on military modernisation in the next 7-8 years to strengthen its security apparatus, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on Wednesday.
Speaking at the 'Aero India' show here, the Minister said: "We have taken many steps to strengthen our security apparatus recently. Domestic manufacturing of bigger and complex defence platforms has now become the focus of our policy under the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan. We plan to spend 130 billion dollars on military modernisation."
To achieve the twin goals of self-reliance and exports, he said, a target has been set to achieve a turnover of Rs 1,75,000 crore, including exports worth Rs 35,000 crore in aerospace and defence goods and services by 2024.
He pointed out that India holds the potential to become a reliable supplier of defence equipment to many friendly nations. "We have a strong and diversified Micro, Small, Medium Enterprises sector, having more than 5,000 active units," the Minister said.
Talking about 'Aero India', he said that India today offers a unique opportunity in defence and aerospace manufacturing. "This opportunity comes as a 'sangam' or confluence of rising demand, greater innovation, conducive policies and maturing ecosystem in defence and aerospace manufacturing sector," he said.
The Minister said that in aviation sector, the air show and aviation exhibition is one of the brightest galaxies which offers a wide variety of options, solutions, partnerships and, most importantly, opportunities.
Singh expressed gratitude to the Defence Ministers of Maldives, Ukraine, Republic of Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Comoros and Madagascar, who were present on the occasion, and others who joined in virtually.
About 540 exhibitors, including 80 foreign companies, defence ministers and delegates, services chiefs and officials from more than 55 nations are participating in the event. "It reflects the growing optimism of the global community," he said.
In order to maximise the reach and participation, the event was planned in a hybrid format with a concurrent virtual exhibition that will integrate seminars, B2B interactions and others.
He said that 2020 was a challenging year for the entire world and saw adverse impact on the lives and livelihood of the people as well as industrial growth and economy of many countries.
The Minister said that despite the constraints caused by the global coronavirus pandemic, large participation was witnessed in this year's air show.
Singh also pointed that the existing supply chains, developed by aerospace and engineering firms, an investor-friendly government, with simplified procedures and fast-track business approvals through single-window mechanism combine to make Karnataka a very attractive destination for the industry.
New Delhi, Jan 25 (IANS) Indian and Chinese soldiers clashed at Naku La in North Sikkim last week with many injuries reported, said a government source. The situation is said to be under control though as of now.
Naku La, incidentally, was one of the original face-off sites, along with Pangong Tso, Galwan, Gogra, Hot Springs, in early-May last year.
The government source said the clash took place three days ago. It happened while both the countries' government and military were readying for another round of talks to resolve border dispute along the 3,488 kilometre-long Line of Actual Control.
On Sunday, India and China held a 16-hour long marathon military dialogue that eneded at after 2 a.m. on Monday to resolve the ongoing nineth month long border dispute and thinning of forces along the LAC.
The ninth Corps Commander level talks between both the countries took place at the Moldo Meeting point in Ladakh region. It had started at 10.30 a.m. on Sunday and ended at 2.30 a.m. on Monday.
Lieutenant General P.G.K. Menon, the Corps Commander of Leh-based HQ 14 Corps, led the Indian delegation. India has sought complete disengagement and withdrawal of forces from the disputed areas.
It happened after almost two months after the last dialogue.
The details of the meeting were yet to come. The military commanders will convey the details of the meeting to the Prime Minister Office.
On June 15, 2020, India lost 20 soldiers during a violent clash at Galwan Valley with Chinese People's Liberation Army soldiers. Chinese never made their casualty public.
India and China are engaged in a nine-month-long standoff at the LAC. Despite several levels of dialogue, there has not been any breakthrough and the deadlock continues.
Lucknow, Jan 24 (IANS) Combat aircraft, including the top-of-the-line Rafale or Sukhoi, will soon be able to land and take off from an airstrip being developed on the 340-km long Purvanchal Expressway in Uttar Pradesh.
The government is developing a stretch of 3.2 kilometres near Sultanpur district on the Expressway where combat aircraft can land and take off. "The stretch is being developed in such a manner that any combat aircraft can land and take off. It is part of the Expressway and we are in regular talks with the Indian Air Force," Awanish Kumar Awasthi, Additional Chief Secretary of the Uttar Pradesh government, told IANS.
Awasthi, the 1987-batch officer, is looking after expressway projects in the state. The officer said that 85 per cent of the total work of the Purvanchal Expressway has been completed and he is hopeful that by March it will be completed fully.
In 2017, 16 Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft had performed landings and touch-and-go manoeuvres on a stretch of the Lucknow-Agra Expressway. Back then, the C-130J Super Hercules aircraft had landed with Special Forces commandos as part of the drill.
The Centre has taken an initiative to develop roads and highways in a manner that permits combat aircraft to land and take off in times of crisis. The Indian military has for long flagged the threat of war fro two fronts. With the disputed border with China and Pakistan active at the same point of time, the armed forces are stretched to the maximum. The government is pushing for development of infrastructure for armed forces.
The Indian Air Force, Border Road Organization, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and state governments are working together to ensure that the quality of road or expressway permits its usage for landing and takeoff of IAF aircraft.
Earlier, the Prime Minister's Office had also issued directives in this regard, after which all the stakeholders had started working in sync.
The road construction agencies have been aligning and realigning the roads and highways design in consultation with the IAF to ensure that combat jets can use this infrastructure as and when required.
New York, Jan 22 (IANS) President Joe Biden's Defence Secretary-nominee Lloyd Austin has said that Pakistan's actions against anti-Indian terrorist groups are "incomplete" and that he will press Islamabad to stop giving them sanctuary.
In written replies to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee, he said, "If confirmed, I will press Pakistan to prevent its territory from being used as a sanctuary for militants and violent extremist organizations."
Austin who needs the US Senate confirmation to be the defence secretary, provided written answers to questions from the Committee ahead of its hearings held earlier this week.
Both the Senate and the House of Representative voted on Thursday to give him a waiver from a US law that prohibits retired military officials from becoming defence secretaries for seven years after their retirement. Austin retired only in 2016.
One of the Committee questions asked if there were changes in Islamabad's cooperation with Washington since it withheld security assistance in 2018. He wrote, "Pakistan has also taken steps against anti-Indian groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), although this progress is incomplete.
But he said, "Many factors in addition to the security assistance suspension may impact Pakistan's cooperation, including Afghanistan negotiations and the dangerous escalation following the Pulwama terrorist attack."
Austin may be implying that the aftermath of the Pulwama attack in February 2019 had an influence on Pakistan. At least 40 Indian security personnel were killed in the Pulwama terrorist attack in February 2019. Tensions escalated between the neighbours when Indian Air Force jets bombed a camp in Balakot run by JeM, which claimed it was behind the attack. An Indian MiG-21 aircraft was shot down by Pakistan and its pilot was captured and released.
The JeM attack in India was condemned by the US and several countries as well as the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Asked what "tools and options" the US had to stop Pakistan giving sanctuaries to "militants and violent extremist organisations", he said that he would press that country, but noted, "Pakistan is a sovereign nation." He added, "Continuing to build relationships with Pakistan's military will provide openings for the United States and Pakistan to cooperate on key issues."
Under former President Donald Trump, the US had cut its troops in Afghanistan while negotiating a political settlement with the Taliban, giving its patron Pakistan a pivotal role in the peace process.
Austin acknowledged this, writing, "Pakistan will play an important role in any political settlement in Afghanistan." This makes the US dependent on Islamabad and limits the extent of its actions against it, which he implied.
"Pakistan is an essential partner in any peace process in Afghanistan. If confirmed, I will encourage a regional approach that garners support from neighbors like Pakistan, while also deterring regional actors, from serving as spoilers to the Afghanistan peace process," Austin said.
"I will focus on our shared interests which include training future Pakistan military leaders through the use of International Military Education and Training (IMET) funds," he said.
The IMET cooperation was blocked in January 2018 by Trump when he suspended defence programmes for Pakistan. But in late 2019, he approved the resumption of IMET, while keeping most of the $2 billion programme on hold.
Austin has experience of working in Afghanistan and with Pakistan. He was the commander of a joint task force of the US and its allies during 2003-05 in Afghanistan. "We also need to work with Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) and to enhance regional stability," Austin said.
Nagpur, Jan 16 (IANS) Nagpur-based Indian Army officer Lt Col Prasad Bansod has developed the country's first indigenous 9 mm 'Machine Pistol', an official said here on Saturday.
Working with the Infantry School, Mhow (Madhya Pradesh), Bansod, 39, developed the pistol in a record four months with assistance from ARDE, Pune.
Named 'ASMI' - symbolising pride and self-respect - the machine pistol's empty weight is less than 2 kgs and it costs less than Rs 50,000.
Unlike the conventional pistols which can fire only one round at a time, 'ASMI' can also fire in a machine-mode its entire load of 33 rounds in one shot, almost like a mini-machine gun, explained the official.
Sporting an upper receiver made from aircraft-grade aluminium and lower receiver of carbon fibre, the pistol has been manufactured through 3D printing process including trigger components made by 3D metal printing.
The barrel is 8 inches long with 33 rounds of high-capacity magazine and the weapon fires the in-service 9 mm ammunition.
"The weapon has a huge potential in the armed forces as a personal weapon for commanders, tank and aircraft crew, radio-radar operators, other categories of security workers, besides VVIP protection and policing duties and in the civilian domain," said the official.
Officials are optimistic that Bansod's 'ASMI' is likely to find huge employability within the central and state police organisations, besides a huge export potential as the production cost would be well under Rs 50,000 per weapon.
Swedish aerospace and defence company, the Saab Group said that it was contracted to sell two advanced airborne surveillance systems to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
According to Saab's statement on Monday, the company has "received a follow on contract with the UAE regarding the sale of two GlobalEye systems, Saab's advanced airborne surveillance system", Xinhua news agency reported.
"The order value is $1.018 billion and the contract period is 2020-2025," it added.
Saab said that GlobalEye provides simultaneous air, maritime and ground surveillance.
It combines sophisticated radar technology with the ultra-long-range Global 6000 aircraft from Bombardier.
The company also said that the work will be carried out in Gothenburg, Linkoping, Arboga, Jarfalla and Lulea in Sweden and in Centurion, South Africa.
Founded in 1937, Saab serves the global market with world-leading products, services and solutions within military defence and civil security.
New Delhi, Jan 1 (IANS) : The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) Chief G. Satheesh Reddy on Friday asked scientists to focus on next-generation needs including cyber security, space and artificial intelligence.
"The immense potential available in DRDO has been a catalyst for the development of industries in the defence manufacturing sector," the DRDO Chief said observing the 63rd Foundation Day of its establishment.
Reddy also met Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and presented him a model of Akash Missile System, which is recently cleared for export.
While addressing the scientists, Reddy said that the academic institutes, research and development organisations and industry need to work together on the advanced and futuristic technologies to make India self-reliant in the defence sector.
He mentioned that a number of SMEs and MSMEs are supplying small components to subsystems for all DRDO projects and have been nurtured by DRDO.
"Now they have become partners in all new developments," said the DRDO adding that that the institution conducts a competition dare to dream for startups and very enthusiastic response have been received.
He further added that at least 30 startups should be supported every year to develop innovative products for our forces.
He said that DRDO should make efforts towards strengthening long-term ties with the academia and aim to leverage the academic expertise available in the country and increase the synergy with them.
"DRDO should concentrate on applied research and translational research and then make prototypes from the applied research," Reddy said. He further said, that the industry should be in a position to adopt these technologies and have necessary infrastructure, and scale these up to market with sustained quality.
Chairman DRDO also launched an Online Industry Partner Registration Module to simplify the process of vendor registration.
DRDO was established in 1958 with just 10 laboratories to enhance the research work in Defence sector and was tasked with designing and developing cutting edge defence technologies for Indian Armed Forces.
Today, DRDO is working in multiple cutting edge military technology areas, which include aeronautics, armaments, combat vehicles, electronics, instrumentation, engineering systems, missiles, materials, naval systems, advanced computing, simulation, cyber, life sciences and other technologies for defence.
Reddy also said that said that in 2020, DRDO achieved many milestones such as maiden landing of LCA Navy onboard INS Vikramaditya, demonstration of Hypersonic Technology Demonstration Vehicle, AQuantum Key Distribution and QRNG developments in area of Quantum Technology, Laser Guided Anti Tank Guided Missile, Supersonic Missile Assisted Release of Torpedo, Anti Radiation Missile, enhanced version of PINAKA Rocket System, Quick Reaction Surface to Air Missile (QRSAM), Maiden launch of MRSAM, 5.56 x 30 mm Joint Venture Protective Carbine (JVPC) and many other milestones.
He also highlighted the contributions of DRDO during Covid pandemic and said that nearly 40 DRDO laboratories developed more than 50 technologies and over 100 products on war footing to develop products and technologies for combating the deadly disease in India.
China’s attempt to alter the status quo along the LAC should not be taken lightly as the PLA will have many options available once the snow starts melting
As we see off a rather turbulent and difficult year, it would be worthwhile to review how well the military faced up to the nation’s security challenges and, more importantly, where it goes from here. As has been the case with the vast majority of peoples and countries around the world, the COVID-19 impact has been quite disruptive and debilitating for our military as well. A situation no doubt further compounded by the unprovoked aggression by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Eastern Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which undoubtedly caught the military by surprise.
The year had started on an excellent note with the Government finally biting the bullet and announcing the appointment of General Bipin Rawat as the first Chief of Defence Staff, two decades after it was first officially mooted following the Kargil conflict. It went a step further by carving out a Department of Military Affairs, to be headed by the CDS as its ex officio secretary, to deal with issues pertaining exclusively to military matters. While a year is insufficient to comment on the efficacy of these changes, suffice it to say that General Rawat has not distinguished himself in his new role.
However, the unilateral and partially successful attempt by China to alter the status quo along the LAC thrust a wholly unprepared military into the deep end, pushing all other concerns out of the window. Till the commencement of this imbroglio, the substantial tract of disputed territory that we claim was regularly patrolled by our security forces as per the mutually accepted protocols that have been in place for over two decades. Also, make no mistake, despite all the talk of mutual withdrawal and easing of tensions, there is little doubt that the Chinese have no intention of withdrawing from the occupied areas, especially in the Depsang and Galwan sub-sectors, without making us pay a heavy price.
The PLA now poses a clear and present danger to our positions at Daulat Beg Oldi. Its loss in any future conflict would adversely impact our ability to continue holding on to the Saltoro Ridge, west of the Siachen Glacier. That would be a serious strategic setback as currently our occupation of the Saltoro Ridge allows us to dominate the entire region up to the Karakoram Pass, including the Shaksgam Valley that has been illegally ceded to China by Pakistan. Our existing posture threatens the security of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passing through this region as it is vulnerable to interdiction. Its importance to both China and Pakistan cannot be overestimated given the massive investments made, which could be motivation enough for collusive or collaborative action by the two neighbours.
Despite the Army having been caught napping in the initial stages, its speedy and robust response — especially after the horrendous loss of lives at Galwan — was commendable. Subsequently, under the ambit of “Operation Snow Leopard”, it raised the stakes considerably by occupying dominating heights along the Kailash Range in the Chushul and Pangong Tso sub-sectors which has negated some of the PLA’s earlier advantages. While these heights are well in depth within our territory and have never been claimed by the Chinese, they do dominate both banks of the Pangong Tso as well as the important Chinese administrative base at Moldo. Most importantly, it allows us to choke off the Spanggur Gap, the area through which the PLA’s mechanised elements could otherwise have advanced towards our positions at Chushul, thereby opening up an approach to Leh. However, the shoe is now on the other foot, as it provides us a suitable launch pad for a riposte towards Moldo and the Chinese depth areas, if the situation so warrants.
However, we should not be misled by the selective rhetoric which suggests that the Chinese are on the back foot, the PLA is demoraled and their leadership floundering for a way out of the impasse without loss of face. While our action does give us a tactical advantage and has stabilised the situation, it has by no means robbed the PLA of the inherent advantages it enjoys, given the superior economic strength and its military size. However, they may be in for an unpleasant surprise, given the extended lines of communication and difficulties of combat at such high altitudes, apart, of course, from the fact that they face an extremely tough and battle-hardened opposition with ample experience in mountain warfare.
On our part, we have to accept that our Government has always had a very defensive mindset when it comes to China. In fact, the Modi Government has shown excessive restraint at the present time, not only refusing to name China but going so far as to try and delink the Depsang intrusion from the transgressions elsewhere in an attempt to justify the ongoing negotiations, which appear to be restricted to troop withdrawals from the Chushul-Pangong Tso sub-sector. Even our occupation of the Kailash Range was only in response to the PLA’s transgressions in the vain hope that it would deter further attempts at ingress or escalation. On that occasion, the PLA probably miscalculated our willingness to stand up to their provocative behaviour and was thus caught off guard by our robust response. At that time, they just did not have the requisite force levels in place to react before the onset of winter.
In similar circumstances, a more determined Government would probably have responded to such aggression by mirroring the Chinese and resorted to “salami slicing” actions along the LAC by occupying disputed areas along our claim line where the PLA has no permanent presence. This could have then been used as a bargaining chip during negotiations to ensure an equitable delineation of the LAC which, in time, would have allowed the Prime Minister to negotiate and resolve the border issue to our advantage.
The Government’s unwillingness to take the initiative is partly explained by its fear of Chinese reaction as well as driven by the fact that it has no illusion as to the poor state our military is in; something that cannot be rectified in short order by loosening the purse strings. Unfortunately, misperceptions, lack of clarity and sheer disinterest in strategic affairs have been the hallmark of our political leadership, which finds little time for anything other than domestic politics. This has resulted in a superficial understanding of the geopolitical complexities surrounding the issue of national security at the institutional level.
The Armed Forces have borne the brunt of this ignorance, being subjected to neglect by successive Governments over the years. In all likelihood, it has been premised on the belief, however misconceived, that a powerful military poses an existential threat to the political dispensation in power. It must, therefore, be kept in check and out of decision making. However, far more damaging has been the political leadership’s belief that the military’s utility has been severely constrained, if not rendered irrelevant, as chances of a conventional conflict have greatly diminished with the advent of nuclear weapons in the region. A belief which has been given considerable boost by the Army leadership’s almost single-minded focus on counter-insurgency operations; even to the extent of accepting a gradual degradation of our conventional capabilities without protest.
As to the future, there is little scope for optimism as a few months from now will herald the start of a new campaigning season along the LAC as the snow melts. Given our defensive mindset, our choices will be wholly limited to dancing to the PLA’s tune. Their options are many; they could, for example, play a waiting game and do nothing at all for now, having already forced us to concede territory. On the other hand, they could exert pressure elsewhere along the LAC to ensure that we respond in much the same manner we did this year. In fact, their biggest error would be to escalate the situation to teach us a lesson as then Modi would be forced to respond in kind, to avoid his reputation being tarnished.
However, if President Jinping does not cross that Rubicon, the Modi Government will continue to do what it does best, focus on increasing its footprint by winning the forthcoming Bengal elections. Undoubtedly, it will resort to dissimulation regarding the LAC situation, using every means at its disposal to push the narrative that our borders are quiet, safe and inviolate. It will then be back to business as usual and the CDS could then return to the onerous task of simplifying military uniforms and badges of rank.
(The writer is a military veteran, who is a consultant with the Observer Research Foundation and Senior Visiting Fellow with The Peninsula Foundation, Chennai. The views expressed are personal.)
New Delhi, Dec 13 (IANS) China is carrying out joint air force exercises with Pakistan in Sindh as part of the sabre-rattling in response to the Indo-Pacific Quad exercises in which the Indian Navy participated recently. The war games, merely 200 km from the Indian border, are taking place just a week after Chinese Defence Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe visited Pakistan to sign an MoU for closer military cooperation. The exercises, named 'Shaheen' or Falcon-IX, are underway at the newly operational Bholari air base near Karachi.
According to the Nikkei Asia magazine, the Pakistan Air Force released a video showing the wide range of military aircraft on display in the exercise, which will last until late December. China has sent its fourth-generation Shenyang J-11 air superiority fighters and Chengdu J-10 multirole jets.
Pakistan, meanwhile, is flying a mix of third-generation Chinese-made Chengdu F-7 interceptors, French Dassault Mirage 5 attack planes and the new multirole JF-17 Thunder jointly produced by China and Pakistan. No American equipment, such as the F-16, has been deployed, the Pakistanis said.
China's Defence Ministry said the drills will "deepen practical cooperation between the two air forces". Pakistan's air force, has become increasingly dependent on China as the US has cut off military hardware supplies to Islamabad due to its links with Islamic militant outfits.
At the opening ceremony on December 9, Air Vice Marshal Ahmed Sulehri, the deputy chief of Pakistan's air staff, said the exercises "will further enhance inter-operability of both air forces, thereby fortifying brotherly relations between the two countries". Major Gen. Sun Hong, the assistant chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army Air Force, said they "will improve actual level of combat training and strengthen cooperation".
China's military build-up on the Ladakh border has forced India to counter the move to protect its territorial rights and go in for a rethink about the country's security arrangements and military exercises. This has rattled both China and Pakistan. India recently hosted the massive Malabar 2020 naval exercise with the US, Japan and Australia. The inclusion of Australia in the group has strengthened the "Quad," or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue comprising the four democratic countries which are seen as a counter to China's increasing muscle flexing in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond to African shores.
Beijing and Islamabad have also been strengthening their relationship with China providing economic, military and even nuclear support to cash-strapped Pakistan. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) a $60 billion communications, energy and infrastructure project to connect western China to the Arabian Sea through the Gwadar port under the Belt and Road initiative forms part of the anti-India strategy. While the ongoing drills are not the first joint air force exercise between the Chinese and the Pakistanis, the timing, location and size are significant.
The Indian military has been aware of the possibility of a two-front war with China and Pakistan and chief of defence staff, Gen. Bipin Rawat, has stated that the Indian defence forces are prepared to face such a challenge if need be. Analysts like retired Rear Adm. Sudarshan Shrikhande, India's former chief of naval intelligence, think that the exercise is reflective of China and Pakistan's larger strategic posture toward India. "The issues of growing coherence and collusion between China and Pakistan have become concerns for India," Shrikhande told Nikkei Asia.
Both China and Pakistan have also been jolted by the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement on Geospatial Cooperation signed in October between the US and India which allows New Delhi access to American satellite military intelligence for better weapon accuracy. According to Nikkei Asia, even as Pakistan's military continues to draw closer to China, it still wants to maintain cordial ties with the US, with which it has often partnered since joining the US-led alliance against the Soviet Union during the Cold War, an arrangement which helped it both gain Washington's favour and provide benefits in return for decades.
Pakistan's military finds itself in a difficult balancing act between the US and China, given current trade and political tensions between Washington and Beijing. "When we granted the Americans an air force base to spy on the Soviets in the 1950s, we received American hardware to fight the Indians in the 1960s," a Pakistani officer told Nikkei Asia.
"When Pakistani intelligence supported the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s, and defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan without one American boot on the ground, we got F-16s in return. The same happened again, when the Americans invaded Afghanistan. "Yes, we've been transactional allies, but dependable allies. Now, the Americans have found a new friend in the Indians. But they should know better," the officer said.
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A disengagement deal on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China, whose ingredients have been leaked, is being considered by the Government. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar mentioned it in mid-October as a confidential Chinese proposal and Army Chief Gen Naravane recently likened it to a work in progress. It apparently involves vacating the strategic Chushul heights on Kailash range — a critical bargaining leverage superbly created by the Special Frontier Force (SFF), which must not be frittered away in a piecemeal limited disengagement for Chinese withdrawal from the Fingers area.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is speaking the obvious: “We need a strong military to deter aggression.” We have one but it can checkmate Pakistan, not China. Prime Minister Narendra Modi knows that due to economic recession, the modernisation of armed forces will be grounded. So he is boosting soldiers’ morale by celebrating Diwali with them, riding the Arjun tank and acclaiming his Government’s record in defence reforms. But defence allocation under his watch has been the lowest as a percentage of GDP, which has been declining since his Government came to power. Singh should be informed that shastra puja (worshipping weapons) alone will not add to deterrence.
If a limited disengagement and not a full and complete disengagement and de-escalation is implemented, it will be at an extraordinary strategic cost. China has been insisting that Chushul heights be vacated as part of a partial disengagement limited to north and south bank of Pangong lake. Colossal confusion prevails about the exact contours of the withdrawal as to whether it will be across all intrusion points in East Ladakh or just the Pangong Lake region. The strategic heights gained by SFF must not be vacated as these are on the Indian side of the LAC and were in our possession in 1962. An infantry brigade fought on these heights but withdrew prematurely, first to Chushul and then in panic to Leh. India must not repeat the Himalayan blunder for painting political success after a pounding from the opposition for loss of territory. China has already pushed India into a corner by imposing unequal terms during the initial disengagement, which separated troops from friction points culminating in the Galwan clash.
The Indian Army was forced back from positions it held earlier in Galwan, Hot Springs and Gogra; buffer zones were created on the Indian side of the LAC even as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) failed to faithfully disengage from all the flashpoints. The Chinese have refused to discuss Depsang, where it has intruded 18 km and blocked Indian patrols. On its part, the PLA has managed to creep forward towards its 1959 claim line and annexed territory. In the proposed disengagement plan, China wants vacation of Kailash range for withdrawal from the Fingers area.
What is incentivising India to de-induct from the commanding heights overlooking the PLA Moldo garrison and from where, on a clear day, one can see the Aksai Chin road that China has illegally constructed? It could be the difficulty of supporting a Brigade on and along these heights in the harsh winter to follow where temperature is already minus 30 degrees centigrade and will go down to minus 40 degrees centigrade. The snow will be different from what the soldiers are used to in Siachen, which has been made habitable and defensible over nearly four decades of occupation. If sustenance of troops is the compulsion, a smaller force can be kept and turned over as is being done on Saltoro Ridge in Siachen. Withdrawal from Kailash range should never be part of any limited Chinese proposal on disengagement.
The Chushul heights are a countervailing advantage in forcing withdrawal from Depsang and becoming the pivot of any tradeoff in an overall disengagement and de-escalation agreement, which is return of status quo ante, April 2020. PLA is occupying Black Top post close to the Mukhpari post on Kailash range. Chinese soldiers are conscripts, who normally do not man posts at an altitude of 17,000 feet. The Chinese are facing a greater degree of difficulty in their occupation of heights in areas near the Kailash range. The three-step withdrawal plan limited to both banks of Pangong Lake area reportedly consists of the following:
(a) Removal of heavy weapons from both banks of the lake
(b) Full vacation by PLA from North Bank in Fingers area, back to the original Finger 8. The Indian Army similarly will pull back to its permanent location at Dhan Singh Post near Finger 3. Area between Fingers 4 and 8 will be converted to buffer zone (another buffer zone on Indian side).
(c) Indian Army will vacate Chushul heights and PLA, Black Top. Withdrawal will include dismantling of structures on North Bank like barracks, fortifications, jetties.
(d) A verification and monitoring mechanism has been included.
Apparently, a more authentic version of the selective disengagement was discussed on November 6 during the eighth round of military commanders’ talks, which were described by India as “candid, in-depth and constructive in which views were exchanged on all friction points along LAC in the western sector of India-China border areas.” It was also the first time that the two Generals held a one-on-one, which is very rare with Chinese interlocutors. The ninth round of the commanders’ talks is expected later this month so that withdrawals can begin by mid-December.
The Government relies on leaking information through its civil and military officials to test ideas. So while some newspapers have reported that disengagement is confined to the Lake area, North and South Bank, others have said it covers all friction points, including Depsang. In other words, it is a full and complete disengagement. With trust and faith gone with the wind after Galwan, fear is that once you pull out from the Kailash range, its re-occupation will not be easy given that terrain and PLA’s duplicity. The strategic heights have shifted the balance of military advantage and bargaining potential to India. In 2005, India came close to withdrawing from Siachen in an agreement with Pakistan. With complete breakdown of trust, Army Chief Gen JJ Singh said: “Indian Army will withdraw if ordered. But don’t ask it to re-occupy Siachen.” Since then any withdrawal from Siachen is enveloped in silence.
Two former Northern Army Commanders, Lt Gens HS Panag and DS Hooda, have said that vacating Chushul heights without full restoration of status quo ante will be squandering a strategic asset. Any agreement with China, which is about a piecemeal disengagement, must be unacceptable. Nothing should be left to later or a separate phase of withdrawal. Surrendering one’s trumpcard ab initio is a monumental folly.
(The writer, a retired Major General, was Commander, IPKF South, Sri Lanka, and founder member of the Defence Planning Staff, currently the Integrated Defence Staff)