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)
Both India and China have agreed to a three-phase plan for disengagement in eastern Ladakh though the specifics are yet to be laid out and committed to. So, there’s still a lot left for interpretation and one wonders if all these are mere optics and meant to pander to domestic opinion by both Governments without each appearing either coerced or compromised. Both armies will supposedly move back armoured vehicles, including tanks and personnel carriers, from the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Also, Chinese forces will vacate their existing positions and return to the Finger 8 region on the North Bank of Pangong lake. And India, too, will return to its positions, prior to the clashes, at the border. Indian and Chinese militaries have agreed on a joint mechanism to verify the progress in the disengagement process through delegation meetings as well as using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. While all this may sound agreeable, it is still too early to trust the dragon, especially after what happened on June 15 in the Galwan valley, the clash that killed 20 Indian soldiers. That, too, happened in the name of ensuring status quo by China. Besides, with Beijing adamant about reclaiming positions from 1959 and denying India any strategic advantage with revamped border infrastructure, this may be just papering over a faultline. Since 1981, dialogues have continued at different levels while around 22 rounds of talks have taken place at the level of Special Representatives since 2003. And we are still where we started.
Both sides have reasons to de-escalate at this point in time. The harsh winter would stretch out men and resources in sub-zero, high altitude climes on both sides. India, which is dealing with the pandemic and a battered economy, can’t afford to devote significant resources to the military. On the other hand, the Chinese Government wants to focus on its growing GDP, the only economy to register a growth in a bad year, and consolidate its gains than bleed them out. But as always there’s a caveat and condition that the Chinese use as an excuse to continue their depredations. In September, the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times noted that the implementation of the agreement depended on whether India would keep up its end of the bargain. And on November 12, it claimed that reports of India and China having finalised a detailed disengagement were “inaccurate” at this stage. Till there is a signed agreement between the two sides on the logistics of the retreat, not much can be said. For now, we have to be rightfully cautious.
Courtesy: The Pioneer
The Army’s occupation of heights along Kailash Range may have strengthened the Govt’s hand in talks with China but it has not grasped the significance of the military action
On October 15, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar stated that the India-China talks on disengagement were “confidential and a work in progress.” Subsequently, former military veteran and journalist Ajai Shukla wrote on October 23 that the Government was in talks with the Chinese for a “Doklam-type agreement” which would result in “mutual troop withdrawals in the Pangong Tso sub-sector of Eastern Ladakh.” If he is correct, and there is no reason to disbelieve Shukla, given the accuracy of his earlier reports on the imbroglio, then our political establishment (as it has on numerous occasions earlier) is once again showing utter ignorance of how the military operates and is in the process of succumbing to Chinese pressure, grasping at straws in the hope of achieving what can, at best, be termed as illusory peace.
The truth is that even a cursory peep into our history suggests that our politicians lack the resolve to see things through, especially when the going gets tough. Oddly enough, they have also repeatedly shown themselves to be remarkably incompetent when it comes to negotiations with adversaries. Pandit Nehru, for example, turned out to be extremely short-sighted in his handling of the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) issue, seeking to negotiate a settlement just as preparations to recapture lost territory were moving forward. We are still paying with blood in J&K for his follies then.
To add to that, Nehru’s disastrous handling of the Indo-China relationship continues to haunt us to this day as well. What was pathetic at the time was his abject surrender and acceptance of defeat without even a semblance of resistance, reflected in his farewell address on radio to our Assamese brethren after our forces had retreated from Arunachal Pradesh. This was not just a reflection of his incompetence or inability to understand the manner in which the military operates, but more importantly, showed him to be irresolute and lacking in moral fibre as well, a flaw that taints most of our political establishment even today.
While one cannot blame Prime Minister Shastri for either lack of spine or absence of principles, he, too, showed complete ignorance of how the military operates and, therefore, a remarkable lack of judgement in his talks with Field Marshal Ayub Khan of Pakistan at Tashkent after the Indo-Pak War of 1965. The decision to vacate Haji Pir Pass, a key feature in the Pir Panjal mountain range, was to put it mildly, not just short-sighted but utterly naïve. The fact of the matter is that its capture, after a brilliantly-planned and executed operation, not only allowed us the option to reach Poonch directly from Uri but also dominate the important townships of Rawalkot, Bagh and Kotla in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). They could have been ours to occupy at any time of our choosing. These locations are now used by Pakistan as launchpads to push militants into Kashmir.
While the Bangladesh Liberation War was undoubtedly an unequivocal victory, its post-war impact weighed heavily on our military. Not only did Prime Minister Indira Gandhi reduce pensions and the status of the military, she agreed to the return of 90,000 prisoners of war (PoWs) without either forcing Pakistan to enter into an agreement on the status of J&K or getting back our own servicemen captured by them. The fact that 54 of our servicemen continue to languish in Pakistani captivity is shameful. But what is worse is the Government’s utter disinterest in getting our PoWs back. As some may be aware, there is an ongoing case in the Supreme Court, lodged by their next of kin, requesting it to direct the Government to take all necessary measures to arrange for their return, sadly with little success till now. This is not just a reflection of the callousness or lack of empathy within our political establishment that only gives importance to anything that impacts its electoral prospects, but also indicts all of us citizens, who prefer to live in ignorance.
Leaving all this aside, to understand what exactly the signing of a “Doklam- type agreement” signifies, we would need to focus on how that confrontation, in July 2017, which lasted for 75 days, played out. To understand the context, it is necessary to remind oneself that at that time, our general elections were due in just over a year and the NDA Government was already facing difficulties because of a faltering economy, not helped by a rather disastrous demonetisation exercise.
Clearly the last thing the Centre needed was trouble on our borders. This is ironical, given that the BJP probably won handsomely because of the Pulwama incident and our subsequent attack on Balakot.
The critical importance of the Doklam plateau lies in the fact that it straddles the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)-occupied Chumbi Valley, which is to its north, and the Jampheri Ridge to its south, which overlooks the Siliguri Corridor, India’s lifeline to its North-Eastern States. Though the status of the Doklam plateau itself is under dispute with the Chinese laying claim, it was till recently in the possession of our steadfast ally, Bhutan. Therefore, it would be reasonable to expect that the Indian Army would intervene in support of the Bhutanese Army if the Chinese attempted to illegally occupy the plateau, given the potential threat that it posed to our own security as well.
Therefore, when the PLA commenced road construction towards the Jampheri ridge, our Army did respond to the ingress in an extremely robust manner to halt Chinese road construction activity. Surprisingly, however, this action was at the initiative of the local commanders on the ground, unwilling to be bullied by the PLA, reportedly much against the wishes of the Army Headquarters and the Government, who were probably fearful of the consequences of opposing the Chinese.
Favourable public opinion, however, forced the Government’s hand and they had no choice but to walk the talk on nationalism. This matter was subsequently supposedly resolved at the Wuhan informal summit where a vaguely-worded statement, the so-called “Wuhan Consensus”, was released. In view of the mutually-agreed withdrawal of troops by both sides at the confrontation site to reduce tension and probably based on good faith, the Indian Army carried out troop withdrawals as required. However, the PLA reneged and after pulling back only a few hundred metres, established a new camp, recommencing road construction activity along a slightly different alignment three months later. In the process, it illegally occupied much of the Doklam plateau.
The latest reports suggest that they completed construction in January 2019 with the road terminating at the base of the Jampheri ridge.
However, the response of the Government to this provocation was remarkably subdued with no counter-action being initiated by the Army against renewed Chinese activity. Clearly its hands had been tied by the Government making abundantly clear that the present Prime Minister had, like those before him, succumbed to Chinese pressure despite being fully aware of the grave implications of the Chinese activity. Therefore, the Government’s refusal to acknowledge the PLA’s alleged occupation of approximately 1,000 sq km of disputed territory in eastern Ladakh was not unexpected. Nor was the public endorsement of this stand despite the loss of 20 bravehearts to Chinese treachery at Galwan.
Since then, the surprise pro-active action of the Army to occupy heights along the Kailash Range may have strengthened the hands of the Government in the continuing negotiations but it has not truly understood the significance of the military action.
If India understood the importance of the military action, it would refuse to discuss the issue in any talks just as the Chinese have done over their occupation of disputed territory in the Depsang sub-sector. While it is quite apparent that the Chinese are not in a favourable position to launch a full-fledged offensive at present due to hostile weather conditions and a lack of requisite forces, the situation may well change by next spring.
Would the Government then still remain steadfast in its aim and continue to confront the bully, or will it back down, as it has before, accepting some facile, token, face-saving tidbit thrown at us by the Chinese? After the Centre’s earlier misstep in Doklam, there must be fairly serious reservations, within the security establishment at least, as to whether this Government can follow through on its present course to its logical end, especially given that China controls the escalation ladder.
Actions always speak louder than words and we will soon know if Modi has it in him to be different from those in whose footsteps he follows.
(The writer, a military veteran, is a Consultant with the Observer Research Foundation and a Senior Visiting Fellow with The Peninsula Foundation, Chennai)
The naval exercises by US, India, Japan and Australia in Bay of Bengal firm up a coordinated maritime alliance to tame China
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad has finally taken off with four member States — US, India, Japan and Australia — conducting joint naval exercises in the Bay of Bengal. This is the first step in the operationalisation of a maritime alliance that is intended to counter China’s expansionism in the Indo-Pacific region by a coordinated response plan and sharing each other’s military strengths. It solidifies the consensus between four nations to act equally together regardless of a Chinese hitback against them individually, something which had held back the Quad all these years and fuelled the dragon’s ambitions. In fact, India itself had soft-pedalled the Quad initiative, hoping to deepen transactional ties with China given its economic dependencies. But China’s routine border incursions, justifying them on the ground of perceptional differences over the unmarked Line of Actual Control (LAC), and finally the clash in Ladakh, changed all that. India realised that for all the years of bilateral talks, based on looking at issues other than the thorny boundary question, were just a fig leaf for China’s naked territorial ambition. And as the standoff at Ladakh and Beijing’s insistence on restoring claimed positions of 1959 prove, it won’t settle or give up land that suits its strategic dominance in the region. And given China’s economic and military heft, India has realised that it needs to make common cause with the US, which is the only polarity capable of challenging and neutralising China, and put pressure on another front, the sea routes. In fact, it is at US insistence that India has firmed up its commitment to Quad and even welcomed Australia to the war drills. Predictably, China is anxious.
India has been wary of Australia for a long time as China continues to be that nation’s largest trading partner, accounting for 32.6 per cent of its exports. India had never thought that Australia would do anything to jeopardise this mutually beneficial relationship. But in a post-pandemic world, which has been entirely the fallout of China’s negligence and its neo-imperialism in a weakened economy, new allies are realising that without a common bulwark, there’s no chance of standing up to China’s might. Virus-hit badly, Australia had, with US encouragement, spearheaded a petition for a neutral, global investigation into Covid-19’s origin and China’s complicity in it. Our eastern neighbour, which now sees both India and Australia as US stooges, immediately responded, imposing an 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley and banning beef imports. Ever since, Australia has been looking to find allies where it can divert its exports and whom it can stand with. That led to the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between India and Australia. With the biggest democracies with stakes in the region now collectively committed to preserving open waters and holding off China’s misadventures, a robust Quad can encourage smaller States to coalesce together against Chinese assertiveness and debt-trap diplomacy. And if mutual interests find congruence, then over time it could become a NATO-like presence in Asia that could stand up to China’s bullying tactics. Most significantly, the military alliance could also be extended to an economic coalition of sorts, for example, by setting up a Quad Free Trade Agreement (FTA). An alternative supply chain and market would reduce the region’s dependence on China. With this consolidation, Beijing could have a tough time monitoring the entire South China Sea, which it claims as its sovereign territory.
Pak has stepped up militancy and party leaders are at its receiving end. Govt needs to resume political engagement in the Valley
The hitback against the ruling BJP is assuming troubling proportions in Kashmir, where the local angst over the abrogation of Article 370 is now manifesting itself rather violently, uncorking itself from absolutist clampdowns. BJP leaders and sarpanches are being hunted and shot dead as each Central notification strips down the identity markers and privileges of the erstwhile State, the latest provocation being the amendment of land rules. Three BJP leaders were shot dead in Kulgam and the party’s local unit has been worried about these “revenge” attacks, fuelled in no lesser degree by cross-border terrorism. There is enough evidence to indicate that our western neighbour has consistently tried to push in militants, its infiltration attempts going up significantly despite the pandemic. Now reports say that the attack at Kulgam was carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba militants, indicating that Pakistan — itself facing internal turmoil from a gathering pro-democracy movement and desperate to divert focus to Kashmir — is activating old networks. It is being aided by none other than China in this effort, which is miffed by our intransigence on Ladakh and clearly wants to stretch our military resources across two fronts, tire us out and drive a bargain on its terms. There have been reports of Chinese officials interfering in affairs of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, ostensibly to protect their interests but also encourage anti-India activities. Undoubtedly, there are interventionist designs by our neighbours but it would be unwise to blame the resurgence of fury in Kashmir solely on them. For there is another disturbing trend that is worrisome, that of local militant recruitments picking up although the overall militancy graph is down because of the clampdown and stricter Army vigil. Besides, local groups are increasingly using stealth tactics, making it difficult to establish a pattern. And a civil boycott or disobedience is usually faceless and difficult to pin down. Which means that the Government, which has pushed Kashmir’s reintegration for political point-scoring, though it has not been able to get things going on the ground or demonstrate any intent to better the prospects in the Union Territory, has to get real as it is too deeply invested to withdraw. It has to deal with the vacuum, engage with people’s representatives and traditional leaders, who have so far been a filter for New Delhi, and as their incarceration has shown, are just as popular. Locking them up has only united them and made them martyrs to a cause, one that they are likely to hit the streets with, a visual of which neither the Government, nor the world, can afford to ignore. If the Modi regime decided to unsettle Kashmir, it should have been prepared for the consequences and not pre-judged compliance by force but opted for gradual co-option. Its iron fist has worsened matters and disaffected even moderates who could have been counted upon to align with the larger objectives of a merger.
Even after a year, the BJP has neither been able to raise an alternative political front nor encourage a political climate. It may have helped float the Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP), drawing rejects from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and National Conference (NC), but it lacks credibility, being purely transactional. Over 12,000 panchayat seats lie vacant as their members made it clear that any electoral process would have to be preceded by the release of jailed political leaders. The BJP has now released the bigwigs, sent a mediatory politician like Manoj Sinha as Lt Governor and is keen for local body elections. But the restoration of basic civil rights is still a long way off. Internet bans mean the students and the new economy are left out of opportunities, joblessness is at an all-time high and the local economy is going down a Rs 40,000-crore plus sinkhole. The Government should have spaced out the implementation of the new rules with some reconciliatory moves that would indicate its intention to close the trust deficit and not made its animus so apparent. Clearly, the new rules, which allow outsiders to buy non-agricultural land, have agitated many who see this as an attempt at demographic colonisation of the Muslim-majority region. Their concern is valid as even the Dogras of Hindu-dominated Jammu and Ladakhis are not too happy about their local culture and privileges being swept away under the same clause. Particularly so when the Northeastern States are allowed autonomy under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution to protect tribal land. Many apolitical Kashmiris are wondering why, despite being a populous territory, statehood cannot be restored now as Union Territories with lesser populations are independent States. By hammering in the idea of a takeover, the Government is exposing itself to more questions on whether it intends to develop the State at all. With no perceptible stability and peace, businesses had anyway stayed away from the Valley and the pandemic has further aggravated the sectors that were at least surviving. And even if some entrepreneurs are keen to be self-starters, militant threats keep them away. The core sectors of Kashmir’s economy, particularly agriculture driven by the apple trade, are on a downward spiral. The Government would be unwise to interpret protest fatigue as calm. And as PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti’s aggressiveness or the Gupkar declaration shows, there is a hardening of political will among local parties. The rigidity of the Government is only proving to be counter-productive. Pakistan is anyway waiting to feed off this discontent but if the Government is so confident of its move, then it should have the gumption to allow the venting of dissent and some semblance of democracy. The denial of a problem isn’t convincing anybody anymore.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)
From a technological standpoint, we are living in a glorious age, the time of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, one marked by the transformative power of data and machine learning (ML). But the military has always been just a beat behind industry historically. Compounding this is the fact that military war fighting machines — particularly command and control systems — are complex and driven by reliability, speed and security. Today it is critical that the armed forces pull a half-level ahead to set the technological tone for the industry and create Military 4.5. It is a roadmap that will guide the innovation we need to keep the nation and its allies ready and compatible to keep themselves safe and free.
Military technology takes time to pass reliability tests but this gestation period can be shortened by thinking ahead. Chief among these innovations is the creation of the Internet of Military Things (IoMT) and the Internet of Battle Things (IoBT). Most of us are familiar with the IoMT’s civilian counterpart, the Internet of Things. Loosely described, it is the notion that machines can be made smarter and do much more for their human users, all through the application of sensors for the transmission and analysis of data. But the military version will be quite different from its consumer counterpart with thermostats that adjust a home’s energy levels or refrigerators that note when food will expire. The IoMT and the IoBT will be extended, hardened and more quickly advanced to help the armed forces make better decisions in a literal fraction of a second, win the missions necessary to defend the borders, promote force safety, warn and fix equipment well before it fails. The IoMT would enable hooking on to the larger network of organs engaged in related missions, working on national security by selecting secure domains by just the flick of a button and disconnect with the same ease. If IoMT is the mother that moves all things military in the war zone, ubiquitously, beginning at the apex/strategic level, the IoBT would be its subordinate that moves the “fighting things” (e.g., man and machine). The IoBT would work the fighting component on the battlefield in a physical manifestation of fighting battles of contact and proximity, typically in the tactical battle area.
We are well on our way to bringing the IoMT further along — but we need more from the industry. It should challenge itself to bring military hardware to comply with the digital needs of the systems to work as part of a defined combat domain. Combat systems have to work on data compatibility within the domain to infuse Artificial Intelligence (AI). Equipment manufacturers must know how much flexibility the user must be given to exploit the machine. Certain machines would have better programmability and others would require less, dependent on how much customisation is needed by its user. In a nutshell, not all equipment would be “plug and play” ready when received from the industry. The second industrial process, mostly in-house, would be needed to enable the equipment to become “plug and play” ready.
Find ways to better connect military machines: In the field, all the military’s machines — tanks, logistics, convoys, helicopters, fighter jets, command and control, medevac and so on — must work together as a harmonious, synchronous whole. This is the networked military, formally known as C5I2-STAR2 (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence and Information — Surveillance, Target Acquisition, Reconnaissance and Robotics). To understand the IoMT and IoBT, let us look at C5I2 and STAR2 as separate segments. To network war-fighting machines to the next level, we require the sensors and underlying infrastructure that make it possible for these disaggregated parts to work together in a seamless, automatic, even robotic way.
The first segment, C5I2, is to get the necessary inputs for decision-making; programme the higher to middle echelons; activate the battle fighting elements through the Command and Control mechanism based on the secure digital networks.
The second segment, STAR2, lies in moving battle platforms and machines. Surveillance and Target Acquisition requires sensors to be integrated for the operator. Reconnaissance and robotics supplement this process through automating the process with AI engines that would decide the effects to deliver to the acquired target within the pre-planned parameters. This would be the frontline cutting edge, powering the soldiers and machines to win battle engagements. Such technology would have to touch every part of the machine and operation (e.g., communications, security, weapons systems, flight controls, targeting systems). Inter-operability is critical and all systems must be totally interfaced. This does not exist today to the extent required. Sensors for military applications will not only be a multi-trillion dollar business but shall also bring more value in enriching the IoT concept.
Invest in and invent new materials: Companies and entrepreneurs adept at material and computer science will have an incredible competitive advantage if they turn their sights to military technology. Every part of the IoMT must be digitally controlled, down to the smallest sensors. If tanks are shot at, for example, they must be able to deflect projectiles, harden targetted surfaces or even be self-repaired. That means the need for light, self-healing, tough, amphibious materials that are eminently smart and survivable. They must work in all domains and also operate with impunity through contaminated zones such as Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) environment. This would prepare the military to fight hybrid wars under the CBRN overhang. The industry must help the armed forces to be faster in all respects, whether it is making an urgent repair in the field, gaining instantaneous situational awareness, or outmaneuvering an aggressive adversary. Non-traditional industry partners should feel encouraged to explore the possibilities of working with the military. The armed forces’ leadership sees the creativity, energy and speed of the commercial sector and is increasingly interested in the potential of partnering to leap ahead.
Give us predictive capability: Sensors open the door to knowing much more about the machines we rely on. If the industry can help us take a fresh look at the way our machines work, we can do more with them and save budget in the process. Any military machine, such as a fighting tank or an attack helicopter should possess a nervous system, a sensory system. Sensors would be part built-in surveillance, acting as eyes and ears, part a decision-aiding system, part engagement of the target system and part evasive capability, protecting from an attack, and so on.
Sensors could also tell us if and when a critical part will fail so we can pull it from the field and repair it. They could give us data on fuel usage and other factors, allowing us to predict the costs of field operations. They could predict what would happen in various engagement scenarios, empowering us with data that let us prioritise innovations that increase survivability, range, flight time, communications power, and so on.
Create reliable electromagnetic field communications: We must have greater spectrum efficiency, created through connectivity that relies not on fibre optics but through the undetectable electromagnetic field and space. Today, our communication capabilities over long distances still produce some latency, more so, when large volumes of data start to flow. As one can imagine, in the field, a delay of even a second or two can produce disastrous consequences. We need technology that drives total spectral efficiency so we can synchronise machines — and integrate allied weapons, troops and forces — on a very fine time sequence. There cannot be even a moment of latency — and that is the challenge we lay before the industry. There are heavy electronic emissions and signatures in the battlefield. Electronic Warfare (EW) sensors would need to deal with an overload of EW inputs. The targets which generate heavy signatures would be engaged by automated target acquisition programmes.
The defender must invest heavily in signature shields, deflection and deception. Imagine terabytes worth of data flowing into a few square kilometres of tactical battle area. With billions of IP addresses present in the same area, IP concealment or group addresses may have to be encrypted. Quantum technology would be at play to break and protect codes. Such operations can simply become too complicated for human control. This would necessitate getting the IoMT operating C5I2 segment to perform more efficiently to get hold of the complex STAR2 segment that runs the IoBT. MIL 4.5 is the future of military technological advantage. But it won’t be possible without the IoMT, which will underpin every aspect of operations.
With the military leadership’s guidance and the industry’s ability to deliver advances in sensors, telemetry, network centricity and more, we will achieve new heights of security.
(The writer is former Deputy Chief of Indian Integrated Defence Staff)
Despite the minor setback in the indigenous ATAGS programme, India must forge ahead in the nation’s interest and for the Army’s sake
The Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) programme began in 2012, spearheaded by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), with two strategic partners — the Bharat Forge Limited (BFL) and Tata Power Strategic Engineering Division (SED). The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) had ratified the procurement of 150 ATAGS in August 2018. However, the process of developing them started way back in 2013 and concluded by 2017. The howitzer gun system was developed in a record time of 30 months and has gone through extensive trials over the last four years and performed admirably with remarkable consistency.
The ATAGS is one of the most advanced and perhaps the world’s first gun which is capable of delivering Bi-Modular Charge System (BMCS) zone seven propellants. With a firing range of 48 km — a record of sorts in the 155 millimetre/52 calibre family — the ATAGS is an appendage to the indigenously developed 155 millimetre/45 calibre artillery gun Dhanush.
Dhanush is a derivative of the FH-77B 155mm/39 calibre towed howitzer, previously built by the Swedish defence contractor Bofors. The Indian Army procured a total of 414 Swedish howitzers between 1987 and 1991. Dhanush howitzers have a maximum effective range of 38 km in salvo mode as compared to the 48 km of the ATAGS.
The India-made ATAGS consists of a duel power system where hydraulics is used for mobility and gun in/out action whereas electrical power is used for the Gun Laying and Ammunition Handling System (AHS). The system is configured with an all-electric drive that ensures maintenance-free and reliable and secure operations over a long period of time. The gun system has automatic setting up, laying with a high-end Inertial Navigation System (INS) and automated AHS, which loads shell, charge and primer simultaneously with a manual back-up for the laying system. The gun system’s hydraulic drive provides effective manoeuverability in different terrains — on roads, cross country, in the desert and in high altitude areas. The high power Auxiliary Power Unit (made in India) also renders effective self-propelled speed, rapid deployment and short response time.
The ATAGS has greater than 95 per cent indigenous components. The complete supply chain, from raw materials to end product, lies within the country, making it a true embodiment of a “Make in India” in defence system. The ATAGS gun system comprises 7,463 components, of which 4,977 are manufactured parts involving about 30,000 manufacturing processes and more than 2,00,000 inspection parameters.
The project is now in the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) stage 10 (as per the DRDO TRL stages), after being put through mandatory trials over the last five years. Earlier this month, it entered into its last stages of trial — viz the Preliminary Staff Qualitative Requirements (PSQR) trial, which is done prior to its induction into the arsenal system. The gun has already been through a rigorous pre-PSQR trial with the users and DRDO teams. In these trials, the BFL- developed gun system fired a total of 130 plus rounds, mostly in zone seven, and the feedback was that the system has lived up to the parameters.
The gun fielded by Tata Aerospace and Defence Limited succeeded in firing 99 rounds. At the 100th round, which was fifth of the rapid-fire practice, the gun tube sheared off, triggering the first unfortunate incident. The cause is currently being investigated. Some experts blame it on ammunition, while the others want to zero in on the tube and the immense pressure it has been made to withstand. It must be noted that the guns, which have till now fired almost 2,000 rounds between them, can easily tolerate pressure levels up to 560 megapascals and are the only ones to fire munitions in zone seven. As part of the process, an investigation to identify and rectify the causes behind the “shear and structural strain” is a must. It would be detrimental to the cause of Atmanirbhar Bharat to delay or disrupt theprocesses of development of the ATAGS.
This is the first weapon platform which has been designed and developed from scratch and can boast of being truly Indian. Developed by the DRDO and two major Indian industry partners, nurturing a well-networked ecosystem of Indian vendors and sub-vendors, the ATAGS symbolises national pride. We own the design, its IP and all the data concerning the overall weapon system. Foreign assistance is costly and it will be foolhardy not to build on the successes that we have already achieved so far, notwithstanding minor setbacks. Most of the guns coming from the US, France, Germany, Israel and the Czech Republic, have encountered similar incidents at lower zones of firing, involving lower pressure, during trials. Thus, blaming higher pressure in ATAGS is a bit far-fetched. It is worth mentioning that none of these guns were fired in zone seven and neither fired as many rounds as the ATAGS.
It is a good opportunity to examine the quality and efficacy of the ammunition basket being produced in India as we are relatively new in making artillery munitions, fuses and charges (BMCS in this case). Given the extremely high pressure, every part of the munition, be it the shell, driving bands of the projectile or the fuse, which has to withstand extremely high angular velocity, every component must respond in a zero error manner. All said and done, precision and expertise come with real-time experience and trials. It is unlikely that a foreign vendor will part with core technologies or requisite data to make India atmanirbhar. In the nation’s interest and with the singular objective of giving more teeth to the Army, let us learn to take such incidents in our stride and resolve to forge ahead. India’s ATAGS must succeed.
(The writer is former Deputy Chief of Army Staff. Views expressed are personal)
Recently, India decided to join the Djibouti Code of Conduct/Jeddah Amendment (DCOC/JA) as an observer after a high-level meeting held on August 26. This is a group on maritime affairs, including countries such as Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Maldives, Seychelles, Somalia, United Republic of Tanzania and Yemen, all from the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the east coast of Africa and island countries in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Member nations include South Africa, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates. Recently Japan, Norway, UK and the US have also been included as observers of DCOC/JA. So India’s inclusion would increase its political stake in these waters and help it use the collective heft with other nations to tame Chinese expansionist tendencies.
The alliance came into being in January 2009 under the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). It initially focussed on piracy and armed robbery against ships in the western IOR, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. In 2017, other issues like the environment, human trafficking and illegal fishing were added. But it is the Jeddah Amendment that is significant. At a high-level meeting of the countries that signed the DCOC in Jeddah in January 2017, 17 signatory nations agreed to adopt a revised code of conduct. They agreed to work closely with the IMO and other stakeholders to build national and regional capacities in addressing broader maritime security issues and enabling the sustainable development of the maritime sector. And at the same tim, the code emphasised the important role of the “blue economy” in supporting sustainable economic growth, employment, food security and stability.
The Horn of Africa is of great strategic importance from a commercial and economic point of view because it is coveted by major powers of the world. Djibouti’s role is most important here. It may be a small country in terms of area and population but enjoys great geo-strategic importance. It commands the narrow entrance to the Red Sea on the southern end (from the Gulf of Aden side) with Egypt on the northern end. Every day millions of oil barrels and other oil products pass through this route to different destinations. Due to its important position, it hosts military bases of about nine countries, including the US, France, Italy and China. After the 9/11 attacks on the US, Washington established its largest permanent base in Djibouti, named Camp Lemonier, which houses at least 4,000 military personnel.
China has also expanded its military cooperation across the African continent in recent years as part of its national defence policy. On July 11, 2017, Beijing sent two warships across the Indian Ocean to Djibouti, the main objective of which was to establish China’s first overseas permanent military base. Work started formally on August 1, 2017. Djibouti is at the centre of China’s maritime policy as it is located at the northwest end of the Indian Ocean, allowing it to checkmate India. Its naval base here could prove to be the pillar of its oceanic strategy, known as the “string of pearls” or friendly islands in the sea route connecting China to West Asia. It is a crucial link in its ambitious “maritime Silk Route” plan.
The purpose of this network is to ensure the safety of China’s trade routes, its raw materials and oil-laden ships and the uninterrupted return of finished goods to Europe via the Gulf of Aden. India’s relations with the Horn of African nations like Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and Djibouti have been friendly since ancient times. Some historical researchers believe that economic and cultural relations existed between the two regions since 538 BC. All these nations share the same legacy of colonialism as well as the struggle for independence; India continued to support their anti-colonial fight even after attaining Independence in 1947. In the post-colonial period, India established the Special Commonwealth African Assistance Programme (SCAAP) in 1963. Its relations with the Horn of Africa countries have further strengthened through the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC), South-South Cooperation and other international fora. Now it is building on this historicity to emerge a key player in the region.
The strategic importance of the Horn of Africa for India can only be known from the fact that President Ramnath Kovind made his first foreign trip to two African countries — Djibouti and Ethiopia. During his visit, he remarked, “India and Djibouti have had historical connections and mutual contacts for a long time. Now we should try to rediscover this shared history and identity. Not only for the old times but to build a contemporary partnership, it is necessary to make the utmost effort to revive this shared heritage of ours. The potential of marine resources and engagement with the Indian Ocean has immense potential to create a sustainable future.” The President also said that “Djibouti is a strategic country, located near the Gulf of Aden. For India, it is an important partner of the Indian Ocean. In 2015, during the Yemen crisis, as part of Operation Relief, at the time of evacuating citizens and people from other countries, Djibouti supported India’s efforts.”
As an observer nation, India can boost its influence in the IOR with new diplomatic equations. New Delhi is already strengthening its position in its surrounding waters as part of the Indo-Pacific policy through Project Mausam, Mission Sagar and Indian Ocean Rim Group. It can further increase its strategic footprint through blue economy initiatives. This will enable us to sustain the use of ocean resources for economic growth, create better livelihoods and jobs and ensure the health of ocean ecosystems.
On the other hand, Beijing is increasing its clout through its claims in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, the String of Pearls diplomacy and Belt & Road Initiatives (BRI). India can effectively neutralise it if it consolidates its hold in this region alongside the Quad initiative with the US, Japan and Australia.
(The writer is an Assistant Professor, Department of African Studies, Delhi University)
CAG says offset obligations under jet deal yet to be fulfilled; LCA project could be hit
The ruling BJP might have capped the Rafale deal as a non-issue during the general elections and there was general acceptability of the acquisition of the fighter jet for improving our strategic competence. But now the ghost of murky deal-making has returned with the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (CAG) finding that French aerospace major Dassault Aviation and European missile maker MBDA have defaulted on offset clauses. The report says that till date they have “not confirmed” the transfer of technology for the indigenous development of the engine for the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) under the offset contract relating to the nearly Rs 60,000 crore deal for 36 Rafale fighter jets. Under the offset policy, a certain percentage of the deal value with foreign firms should flow into India as Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), which would eventually include technology transfer, local manufacturing of advanced components and creating jobs. Most vendors over-commit to get the contract and breaches of this nature aren’t new. But such a lapse could prove costly for the Government. According to the CAG report tabled in Parliament, as the vendor has not confirmed the transfer of this technology till date, the targets for doing so had already been delayed badly and could not be met before deadline. In its defence, Dassault Aviation has said it will eventually meet its obligation, which has slowed down in the last few months due to the pandemic. If Dassault does not make good on its commitment, then the Kaveri engine project will continue to hang fire. For the DRDO, which has been involved in the LCA project for long and has been unable to give its engine the kind of performance and thrust that it had planned, had to choose one made by the US firm GE. However, hopes of indigenisation of the project were raised again when during the Rafale negotiations, France agreed to help India work on an upgraded Kaveri engine.
Worryingly, the CAG also warned against the efficacy of our offset policy, saying it did not find a single case of foreign vendors transferring high technology to Indian industry, particularly in the defence sector, which ranked 62 out of 63 sectors receiving FDI. The failure on the part of Dassault to keep its end of the bargain would give more ammunition to the Opposition, which has also opposed and questioned Anil Ambani’s Reliance entering the deal as an offset partner for Dassault Aviation. The CAG report further said that “non-fulfilment of offset obligations by the vendor, especially when the contract period of the main procurement is over, is a direct benefit to the vendor.” This questions the Government’s ability to drive a bargain. Would this report be a can of worms?
(Courtesy: Editorial - The Pioneer)
Women in India have something to be extremely proud of as Avani Chaturvedi, a young fighter pilot of the Indian Air Force (IAF), will soon be part of the crew flying the newly-inducted Rafale fleet. She is now undergoing training to fly India’s latest acquisition and is part of a three-member women team commissioned as flying officers in July 2016, less than a year after the Government decided to open the fighter stream for women. The first Indian woman to fly a fighter aircraft solo, she has been flying MiG-21s for a while now. However, India has been a bit late in entrusting the nation’s safety to its daughters. Because this small and elite league of extraordinary women is led by Turkish aviator Sabiha Gökçen, who in 1937 flew fighter airplanes into war zones and dropped bombs on rebel camps. This was a time when women weren’t even allowed to become air force pilots, forget flying fighters. At the young age of 24, Gökçen became the world’s first-ever woman to participate in a national military operation. That a woman from a predominantly Western Asian country, with a small part straddling south Europe, was the first to do so says much about the region’s leadership at that time as even in the “free world”, namely the US, women were not allowed to serve as jet pilots until about 50 years later in 1976. And it took a few more years for women in the US to do what Gökçen could as Jeannie Leavitt became the first woman fighter pilot in 1993. It’s a sad statement on gender parity in the Indian security forces that it took over six decades for them to send a woman into combat. It was in 1999 during the Kargil War that India allowed Gunjan Saxena to fly into a war zone on a chopper. Too late and too little, the IAF has 10 women fighter pilots and 18 women navigators and the total strength of women officers serving in the IAF is 1,875 as the force continues to induct and deploy them as per strategic needs and operational requirements. Now, the Golden Arrows squadron that was raised on October 1, 1951, will have its first woman fighter pilot. Two women will also fly Navy choppers in frontline positions on Navy warships. A rather slow start. This in a country that has had a woman Prime Minister, a woman President and many women Chief Ministers and Governors, leaving behind a so-called developed country like the US, which is yet to have its first woman President. So while the much-maligned world of politics has been more inclusive, the gallant security forces have not been as welcoming of the other half.
Thanks to the Supreme Court, women officers in the Army can now get command positions on par with male officers and break the glass ceiling in the forces. However, the sad part is that they had to fight for it legally rather than being naturalised in the just order of things, considering that they were inducted in the Army way back in 1992, a long 28 years ago. The court also underlined the need for a mindset change in the evolutionary flow of changing times, not just in the Army but everywhere. It had said, “Physiological features of women have no link to their rights. Women work shoulder to shoulder with men.” Women officers in the forces, like their male counterparts, give up on all familial commitments to be part of the Army. They, too, undergo the same rigorous selection and training procedures as their male peers. If women have made it through all kinds of selection criteria, then they should at least be given a chance to prove their mettle. Not benched.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)
A live LAC not only forces us to keep troops deployed along it but also compels the PLA to do the same despite the constraints of distance and internal disturbances that its soldiers already confront
On the occasion of World Suicide Prevention Day on September 11, a newspaper report informed us that a suicide is committed every four minutes within our borders. That is truly horrendous, overwhelming and tragic, even more so given how little attention is paid to this issue. However, the frenzy surrounding the alleged suicide by young and upcoming actor, Sushant Singh Rajput (SSR), is a spectacle we could have certainly done without. It reflects very poorly on us as a society and of the times we live in, especially in view of how blatantly this tragedy is being used to further personal agenda and selfish interests. Nobody, but nobody, connected in any manner to this unfortunate episode, comes out clean, least of all his family, his so-called friends and well-wishers, the politicians and their handmaidens, including of course, the police and investigative agencies.
For all practical purposes, the very foundations that go towards making of a just and caring society, like the rule of law and ethical conduct, have been thrown out of the window. In all of this, the worst offenders, and that too by a huge margin, of course, have been some media channels. Their unseemly behaviour and the utter lack of professionalism expected of them just cannot be excused. They have acted as if they are covering a one-day match, reporting every little twist and turn as they occur, with expert comments and all. Worst of all, the way they have pandered to those propagating the most outlandish of conspiracy theories, clearly motivated by rewards they see within their grasp, has been bizarre, to say the least.
Some would suggest that in their rush to garner TRP, some of the players in the mainstream media no longer know any better and have plumbed depths that were inconceivable just a decade ago. But to draw such a conclusion may be patently incorrect given the fact that some of the smartest minds on the planet are associated with these channels. Obviously, what is in short supply is the spine required to stand up for what is correct. It is not that those working in this field are the only ones short of moral courage; in fact this malaise has greatly impacted all our public institutions. But what distinguishes the fourth estate from the rest is that it is supposed to be the conscience keeper of the people and it is this quality that gives them the moral authority to hold the powers that be to account. Even those of us embodied with just modest intelligence fully understand that the media’s focus on the most inconsequential of issues at this critical juncture, when lives and livelihoods are at stake and unwanted conflict looms large on the horizon, is a diversionary tactic to keep public attention from these very issues. Suspicions that this is being done at the behest of the Government cannot be overlooked.
One understands that given the complex challenges it faces, the Government has no interest in being further buffeted by the onslaught of public sentiment. However, that is neither here nor there because such an abrogation of one’s duties allows governments, both at the Centre and States, to avoid accountability for their lacklustre performance and moribund attempts at controlling the pandemic and kickstarting the economy. It is now fairly obvious that the Union Government has concluded that our only hope of controlling the pandemic rests on how quickly an effective vaccine is developed and distributed. It believes that competing priorities of life versus livelihood no longer allow it the luxury of resorting to draconian lockdowns of the kind we had earlier. They are now leaving it to individuals to take protective measures such as social distancing, wearing of masks and hand-washing to prevent the spread of the virus and avoid getting infected. In that sense, the Government has raised the white flag and has resigned itself to whatever fate awaits us. Such a hands-off attitude obviously cannot bring our economy back on the rails or help us confront the challenges we face on our northern borders.
Fortunately, on the issue of the Chinese border tangle, we have finally taken some positive action, albeit rather late and still only incremental in nature. Yet, this was wholly unexpected by the Chinese and has clearly pushed them on to the backfoot and forcibly swung the spotlight directly on President Xi. Whichever way this confrontation goes from here, he cannot avoid being held directly responsible. In this context, while his survival may not be at stake at present, he will undoubtedly find the going very tough if this initiative, obviously engineered by him, is seen as unsuccessful. Clearly, available force levels suggest that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) underestimated Indian resolve and just does not have the requisite troops to go in for a full- fledged offensive to throw out our troops from the dominating heights that they occupy or even throw us out of Ladakh, as some analysts envisage, at least not before the next campaigning season. The Foreign Minister’s meeting with his Chinese counterpart on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meet, and their mutually-agreed statement, suggests that the Chinese are buying time and the statement is probably not worth the paper it is written on.
This is not to suggest that the PLA might not still attempt limited offensive action either against our positions in the Pangong Tso heights or elsewhere in an attempt to wrest the initiative for which we are undoubtedly fully prepared. The additional commitments that have been thrust on us should not be seen as detrimental to either our economic health or our military capabilities. Our military has been neglected for far too long and it has taken Chinese perfidy to open Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s eyes and force him to provide it the requisite funds to upgrade capabilities. It has also made clear that economic development and military capabilities are directly linked, and we cannot build up one at the cost of the other. Being the politician that he is, Modi will no doubt figure out ways in which the military can be funded to meet future threats without greatly impacting our economic development.
In this context, the manner in which the formal induction ceremony for the first Rafale Squadron had been organised, with the Defence Ministers of both countries being present, is instructive. In the normal course of events, the formal induction ceremony would be kept to the level of the Chief of Air Staff with representations from the concerned embassy in attendance, with the ceremony being kept low-key. This was the process followed when the Jaguars were inducted in 1979, the Mirages in 1985 and the Sukhois in 1995. However, we know that Narendra Modi has never shied away from taking political advantage from military endeavours to enhance his nationalistic credentials. It is indeed ironical that while in his previous tenure he used the military to enhance his political credibility, as the Balakot operation and surgical strikes show, without improving their lot, Modi now finds himself cornered with his future dependent on how the military performs in the days ahead.
Finally, a live LAC not only forces us to keep troops deployed along it but also compels the PLA to do the same despite the constraints of distance and internal disturbances that its troops already confront. In effect, China has converted Tibet into an unstable Kashmir for itself, with an intransigent neighbour to boot. More so, if we refuse to accept Chinese sovereignty over it and use the Tibetan diaspora to our advantage. It also gives us an opportunity to mirror Chinese actions that have resulted in a gradual loss of territory over the years and improve our defensive posture, thereby ensuring that as and when the LAC is finally delineated, we are not at a disadvantage. One is hopeful that Modi has the stamina to go the distance.
(The writer, a military veteran is a Consultant with the Observer Research Foundation and a Senior Visiting Fellow with The Peninsula Foundation)