Friday, September 23, 2016

The story behind the story on Rafale that I broke

Last year in April, I almost ignored one of the biggest tip-offs I have received as a journalist but managed to put it up on my blog 12 hours after I first heard about it. 

The story begins on the morning of 9 April 2015, around 1130 am when I bumped into a top defence source at the domestic airport in Delhi who casually mentioned that a decision has been taken by the government to buy the Rafale combat jets off the shelf from France, scrapping an ongoing process that was going nowhere. 

I heard the source say that between 60 and 63 jets were to be bought. Apparently, the decision was taken at a special meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) hours before Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to depart for France. A few hours after that we had this accidental meeting at the airport.

My 'news antennae' was immediately up and I had no doubt about the authenticity of the new since the source was top class but as luck would have it, I had back-to-back appointments that day culminating in a dinner at an embassy. Since I was by now freelancing, I wasn't sure who among the news outlets would believe me with such a massive news break. So I hesitated and kept the information with me.Until about 10.45 at night. 

As I got into the car for a 45-minute journey home, it struck me that this gold standard info should not go unreported. What if some one else also reports it in tomorrow morning's newspaper,I thought to myself and started writing furiously on my I-phone.

Reaching home around 1130, I decided to put up the news on my own blog. So about 10 minutes to midnight on 9 April ( now I see the time was actually 1153 pm), I published this ( blog post, sticking my neck out. 

All hell broke loose in the aviation circles across the world around midnight IST as I tweeted the link to the piece. Many enquiries were made, many Direct Messages on twitter were exchanged and it wasn't until about 4 am that I could sleep.

Waking up later than usual the next day (10 April), I scanned the morning newspaper for any news on Rafale and sure enough one of the Delhi papers had more or less the same information as I had.

The South Block, headquarter of India's Ministry of Defence (MoD), was--friends on the defence beat said--swarming with reporters of international news agencies and newspapers that afternoon, trying to confirm the news. Indian Air Force officials and the MoD Spokesperson were inundated with calls trying to verify the news put out by me and another newspaper about the decision on Rafale. No one seem to have any idea. Our reports were in fact run down by established celebrity defence analysts as fanciful and unrealistic. To be honest, I did feel bit uneasy but kept the faith since I had got the news from someone who had an inside track in the government.

As the day progressed, one hint of that there was indeed the possibility of a deal being announced came through a report from Paris which quoted Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) confirming that talks were on on this issue. 

I felt slightly assured.

But it was not until past 10 pm Indian time--nearly 23 hours after I had taken a chance to put out what looked liked an improbable news at that time--that I could heave a sigh of relief. Prime Minister Modi announced at a joint press conference with French President Francois Hollande that he had asked France to supply 36 Rafale planes in ready to fly condition ( 

I had got the numbers wrong however. I had said India may buy 60 to 63 Rafales. It turned out that the numbers were to be restricted to 36. 

Since then, in the last 17 months, despite what many naysayers said, my sources in the IAF and MoD negotiating team kept insisting that the deal would go through and go through on India's terms. 

In some hours from now, the Indian and the French Defence Ministers will witness the signing of the formal contract. India has got its way in many respects ( but skeptics will still have doubts. 

For the sake of the country's security and for the IAF to remain a potent force, let's wish the main protagonists good luck.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

A veteran's appeal against constant whining

Received this message from a sensible, mature and proud veteran. He is in a minority at the moment but the silent majority must back him and reclaim the voice of sanity is what I feel. Read on. And Act. Now.

It's not even funny to observe that most of who are creative at whining are those who just were mute when then  RM made a written statement in parliament that OROP was not feasible or desirable.

  • Mute when a Chief gave in writing that NFU & MACP not needed by services as it would kill merit.
  • Mute when Then  PM MMS in reply to Then ldr of opposition in lok sabha Mr Advani said OROP implemented issue closed.
  • Mute when then RRM closed investigations into bursting T-72 Guns
  • Mute when Substandard safety plates in mines caused deaths / maiming in mine lifting ops

One person comes along who says yes I will give and we pillory him.

Not appreciating what we got despite institutional bias.

What is in works despite lobbies & vested interests working against it ...

Think ...


Instead of supporting efforts to strengthen hands that are giving we seek to deride those who fight for us
The Service pay cells
The AG & DG pers of Navy & AF
The Army CDRs & C-in-Cs of services
The Three service chiefs
The services favouring bureaucracy
The RM
The PM
We heckle Justice Reddy who is in favour of ESM
Other than our selves we have pilloried all ..
Sad state of affairs
We need to ask ourselves what have we done for common cause positivity ..
πŸ™πŸ™πŸ™πŸ™ Most of you here are senior in age & service ..
Respectfully .. create & take forward positive .. even positive constructive criticism
Else we will loose all respect
Ponder think contemplate

Another young officer, reading the above post just now messaged me this: That's what is required Dada. Get the Army back into Army. Where has the glory gone. My, everything is forged in steel once I say, I am in the army. What's this nonsense going on.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

DSSC: The cradle of tri-services jointmanship

Starting this week, I am going to write about different training establishment of the three armed forces that I visit throughout the year for guest lectures. They have glorious traditions, major accomplishments nd a vital role to play in shaping the top future military leadership. I start with the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC).

 Every February or March when I drive up from the plains of Coimbatore to the Nilgiri Hills and into the spotlessly clean campus of the Defence Services Staff College, I realize how this premier tri-Services training institution epitomises the crΓ¨me de la crΓ¨me of joint training military institutions in the world.

The Staff College, since its inception, has undoubtedly been the fountainhead of learning and military scholastic excellence in India. In my nearly decade-long association with DSSC as a visiting faculty—sharing my thoughts on military and media—the sharpest queries and most critical comments have come from the best and the brightest of the three services who get into this prestigious course through a competitive exam.
I have witnessed the College providing an invigorating environment for developing the ability for analytical thinking, creative and intellectual ability, ingenuity and innovative methids. In doing so, DSSC has reaffirmed its commitment to the noble traditions of the Services, while advancing the core values of ‘Duty, Honour and Country’in the leadership of Indian Armed Forces. These aspects are well summed up in College motto ‘Yuddham Pragyaya’, meaning ‘To War with Wisdom’.

It was therefore fitting to hear President Pranab Mukherjee presenting the colours last week in a glittering function. Presentation of colours is by one of the greatest honours bestowed upon an institution in recognition of exceptional service rendered to the nation. Speaking on the occasion, he said the college provides a stimulating environment for “analytical thinking towards creativity and intellectualism”. Founded in 1905 as the Army Staff college in Deolali near Mumbai, it was relocated to Quetta (now in Pakistan). “Post its relocation from Quetta to Wellington in 1948, the Defence Services Staff College has emerged as the premier Tri-Service Institution in the country, and today it epitomises ‘Military Academic Excellence’,” the President said. “The Staff College, founded on the pillars of ‘jointmanship and military leadership’, has played an instrumental role in enhancing the professional capabilities of the officers of the three Services to face the future challenges,” Mukherjee said. He said most critical and sensitive leadership in all the wars has been provided by the alumni of this very “fountainhead of military learning.”

Historically, excellence in command and staff functions has always been the cornerstone of success on the battlefield. The aim of the 45 week long annual Staff Course conducted at the DSSC is to train and educate selected officers of the three Services for command and staff functions in peace and war, in their own Service and inter-Service environment. Whilst numerous institutions of each Service such as Army, Navy and Air Force  exist worldwide to fulfil this role, DSSC is a unique institution in India and among the very few in the world which is truly ‘joint’ in nature and provides professional military education for officers of all three Services together.

The curriculum of the Staff Course caters to needs of the Indian Armed Forces and those across the globe to face the challenges in the unique security calculus that exists today. The course curriculum, balanced and comprehensive in terms of content as well as methods of conduct, comprises the subjects of National Security, Strategy, International Relations, Theories of Warfare, Leadership, Communication Skills and Research Methodology. Most of the academic education is conducted through seminar system in the form of discussions moderated by the faculty. Exercises and war games assist students to validate operational concepts learnt during the Course through practical application. These war games and exercises extensively utilise computer based packages for versatility and objectivity. The students also devote a significant amount of time to individual and group research as well as Study tours. In addition to the faculty driven education, eminent experts in diverse disciplines from across the globe provide students with their perspectives on contemporary and relevant issues through guest lectures.

The scholarly accomplishments of the College are also demonstrated through ‘Trishul’, a tri-Service professional journal, which provides a discussion forum for thought-provoking ideas and matters ‘au courant’ dealing with military issues, international relations, strategic affairs and progressive precepts of joint war fighting. 
Demonstrated professionalism of the Indian Armed Forces, comprehensive course content, world-class facilities and well qualified faculty make the Staff Course conducted at DSSC one of the most sought after courses in the world. DSSC has educated over 1700 students from 75 foreign countries to date and produced not only iconic military leaders but also the Heads of State in many a country. During my visits to DSSC, I have had the opportunity to interact with students from 25-30 countries at any time. Apart from professional training of the highest quality, these students are well nurtured during the intensive training into informal ambassadors of DSSC, contributing significantly to military diplomacy and soft power of the country.
Conforming to the modern needs, the College functions in a network enabled environment with a Wide Area Network connecting entire academic and residential areas. These enable host services such as e-mail and cloud, delivery of training content, interactive forums, conduct of online exercises, dissemination of critical information, administrative services. Software applications such as Geo-graphical Information System, War Gaming Systems and Combat Decision & Resolution Package are leveraged extensively to enhance the value of qualitative training imparted. The recently commissioned Air Wing War gaming Centre, is a futuristic operational Command & Control Centre in the armed forces, which aptly demonstrates the juxtaposition of infrastructure development and exploitation of information technology to fulfil academic needs.
As the current Commandant Lt Gen SK Gadeock, AVSM, says his Vision of DSSC strives not only to produce future military leaders and commanders, but also to achieve holistic persona development of their families, thus contributing to society and nation building in the long run. An important factor in accomplishing this objective is in providing robust infrastructure and a conducive, stress free environment. 
The most remarkable feature of the College is the availability of all the facilities within one campus, in proximity of the centre of academic activity. In recognition of the quality management system and environmental management system employed and the standards achieved, the College was accorded ISO 9001:2008 and ISO 14001:2004 certification on 25 Jun 2015- an unprecedented distinction. DSSC now stands apart as the only Armed Forces Institution in India to be certified for compliance with both ISO standards. The Presentation of colours by the President only confirmed the pre-eminent status that DSSC has come to enjoy among Category A Training Establishments of the three services.  

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Let the Army do its job

Last week, Capt Amrinder Singh, Maharaja of Patiala, soldier and now politician, wrote a heartfelt piece batting for the Indian soldier deployed in Kashmir and berated the political as well as military leadership. The burden of his lament was: The Indian Army in Kashmir has been de-fanged and is fast becoming an "army of girl guides." The article immediately gained currency and wide circulation, especially among retired faujis, already angry with the government for various alleged sins of commission and omission on One Rank One Pension and 7th Pay Commission issues.

Capt Amrinder had some valid points in his piece, written more as a soldier that he was. However, the politician in him could not resist the temptation of taking pot shots at the current leadership. "The Government of India must allow freedom of action to the Army. The directive must be just one: 'Bring a situation in the state where the writ of India runs and not that of the ISI,' he wrote, hinting that the current government at the Centre which has an alliance with the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir was going soft on militancy in Kashmir. He was being economical with the truth. But more of the status of counter-insurgency a little later.

Coming back to Capt Amrinder’s piece. As a political leader, he has the liberty and right to criticise opponents. The sad part is he has used the Army and its so-called lapses to hit out at the political leadership. "For instance, in Budgam when a car broke through a military checkpoint in November 2014, the soldiers manning the post opened fire, as was their duty. One officer and eight jawans were court-martialed and imprisoned. Penalising soldiers for doing what was expected of them is unacceptable. It is for the Chief and his Northern Army Commander to stand by their men in the difficult duty they are performing and not succumb to political pressures," Capt Amrinder writes in support of his criticism. 

However, as it turns out, no such court martial took place. The Army’s Northern Command which has been at the forefront of the counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir came up with an official denial on its Twitter handle. It said: "No army soldier, officer court martialed/ imprisoned in the Budgam incident of November 2014," giving lie to the good Captain's assertion. However, the clarification notwithstanding, a large number of Whatsapp messages, google groups and twitter handles started taking the army to task for punishing the soldiers once again highlighting the dangers of depending on unverified posts/reports to express opinions that spread confusion among the serving ranks of the military and demoralising them.

Last month, at a seminar on Social Media and the Military at Chandigarh, I have had an occasion to point out to this pitfall. There I cited an example of how some months ago, a senior veteran criticised the Ministry of Defence for deciding to appoint 'outsiders' to sit on promotion boards of senior military commanders. Again, the article was written without bothering to cross-check facts. There was no such decision taken and yet, the article got widely circulated giving false impression and further adding to the already existing negative sentiments against the 'civilian' in military minds.

Other such examples of misleading, untrue posts doing the rounds abound but suffice it to say that veterans--many of whom are active keyboard warriors now--may need to pause a bit and rethink about the propensity of using the stratagem of 'forwarded as received.' It is easy to morph, amend, twist articles, photos and posts because of improved technology and faster communication, thanks to the 'mobile republic' that India has become. A civilian forwarding a post about the military will not be taken as seriously as a veteran's forward would be.

The veterans, I feel, have a great responsibility to support the organisation that they served with dedication and loyalty. Please level constructive criticism by all means. But please also have faith in the current leadership which may be faced with new challenges and circumstances, the old timers never had to face.

The military too needs to reach out to veterans and keep the community informed about various new initiatives and developments concerning the organisations. As I mentioned in Chandigarh last month, every Command and of course service HQ s should think of a 'communication cell' where veterans active in the traditional media and on social media can post their queries and clarify doubts so that gaffes that keep occurring because of misinformation/disinformation are kept to a minimum.

Coming back to the current situation in J&K. The Army has studiously kept itself away from the current law and order issue in Kashmir valley where protesters have been on a rampage in the wake of the killing of Burhan Wani, a self-proclaimed terrorist. In one instance, the Army patrol, when faced with a riot-like situation, followed the standard operating procedure of warning the crowd before firing at the crowd that tried to snatch weapons from the soldiers. Unlike the police and central armed police forces, the army has to shoot to kill which is exactly what the patrol did.

A closer look at figures pertaining to counter-insurgency operations this year is also revealing. According to official figures, since January to 24 July 2016 the security forces have eliminated 85 terrorists as compared to 43 for the corresponding period in 2015 while 17 have been caught as compared to just five last year. That Pakistan has once again ‘opened the tap’ in pushing in terrorists into Jammu and Kashmir is evident from the fact that there have been over a dozen infiltration attempts from January to July.  Ten soldiers have already died defending the country this year so far and this is not counting police and CAPF personnel who laid down their lives during their duty in J&K.

Clearly, there is no let up in Pakistan’s attempt to stir trouble in J&K, especially in the Kashmir Valley.  And of course there is no policy to rein in the Army and appease terrorists. 

The Indian Army has stood firm for over quarter of a century in thwarting this attempt. The military leadership, soldiers and indeed all security forces continue to battle difficult circumstances in Kashmir. Let’s not add to their woes by spreading half-baked stories, factually incorrect posts and inaccurate articles. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Kargil conflict recalled, by a leader on the ground

The month of July always brings back memories of the summer of 1999 when India experienced a range of emotions—pain, loss, anguish, pride, triumph and military victory—thanks to the young men and their not so young leaders who conducted one of the most famous military campaigns in what, till then, was an obscure place: Kargil. Operation Vijay, the official name of Indian Army’s fierce counter-offensive in the rugged terrain of Ladakh’s Kargil-Drass-Batalik area, is probably the most well-known military operation in independent India’s history.

It is rightly known as the first military conflict that entered Indian drawing and bed rooms, thanks to the then fledgling Indian TV news industry. In subsequent years, many of us in the media have written and reported on the heroes of those days, about the victory achieved by the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force against heavy odds. Kargil, 1999 is by now very well chronicled. So why am I writing this piece?

Because, I finally found time to read what is perhaps THE most authentic and comprehensive account of the Kargil conflict. Lt Gen Mohinder Puri, who commanded the 8 Mountain Division—hastily rushed into Kargil from Kashmir Valley—as a Major General in 1999, waited for than 16 years to pen down his memories and his observation on the conflict that has come to define the Indian Army’s image in the 21st Century. His book Kargil: Turning the Tide, published by Lancer Publishers in 2015 can easily be described as the most intimate account of the Kargil conflict simply because it is written by the man who led the Indian charge in that limited theatre.

Although Gen VP Malik has written a detailed account of Kargil 1999, his was a take as seen from the strategic level. Many others too—soldiers and journalists included—have described what happened in Kargil, but I recommend Gen Puri’s book for the simple fact that his is the on-ground report. While the first nine chapters clarify many doubts that students of recent military history may have had about the conduct of operations, the initial mistakes, the setbacks and the recovery all along the front line, to me the most important part of this book are Chapter No. 10 and 11 titled Principles of War and Reflections, respectively. The entire essence of Operation Vijay is encapsulated in these two chapters and contains many lessons which I am sure, Gen Puri’s successors deployed in this sector have imbibed in the later years.

The 8 Mountain Division, rightly called ‘Forever in Operations’ since it has never had a moments respite after its raising in 1963 (in the north-east), is now entrusted with guarding the entire Kargil-Drass-Batalik frontage of the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan.

Gen Puri has been frank in admitting some of the pitfalls and mistakes that inevitably happen during a hot war but he has also shed light on how innovative tactics—employment of Bofors gun in direct firing role, for instance—helped the Indian troops turn the tide. He also gives due credit to the Indian Air Force and points out that restrictions imposed by the political leadership in not allowing crossing of the LoC, actually created more problems for the air warriors since they did not have enough depth to launch their attacks and instead of approaching the objective from south to north, the air attacks had to launched in east-west direction, restricts the IAF’s options. The Army too suffered because of the restrictions. As a formation commander he wanted limited permission to cross the LoC for purely tactical purpose but the terms were unambiguous. As Gen Puri says: “Exercising...the options to cross the LC would have meant faster operations, lesser casualties without much loss of credibility. It would have shown us as a nation which applies restraint but cannot be pushed around. Wars if thrust upon a country must be fought on enemy’s territory; unfortunately in military terms we failed to achieve this objective.”

That despite this major restriction and many other adverse factors such as difficult terrain, critical equipment shortages and intense public scrutiny, then Maj Gen Mohinder Puri and his officers and men of several units finally evicted the intruders and regained Indian territory , albeit at very heavy cost, cannot be forgotten. As the nation gears up once again to celebrate the anniversary of the Kargil victory later this month, those interested in what actually happened in those summer weeks in a remote border area 17 years ago, must get hold of Gen Puri’s honest account of the Kargil conflict, if only to understand what it takes to stake your life to protect the nation.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

India and US defence ties: Well-intentioned, not yet on the same page

 This is what I wrote for India Abroad magazine: ( and 

Admiral Harry Harris, the Commander of the Honolulu-headquartered US Pacific Command is a blunt man. As a military leader who reckons China poses the greatest threat to world peace in today’s context because of its reckless actions in East and South China Seas, Adm. Harris doesn’t pull punches when it comes to commenting on China’s ‘adventurism.’
And so it was this March in Delhi when he created ripples by his remarks that “in the not too distant future, American and Indian Navy vessels steaming together will become a common and welcome sight throughout Indo-Asia-Pacific waters, as we work together to maintain freedom of the seas for all nations.” It was a dare to China but more importantly, it appeared to be the clearest signal yet from Washington that it wants India to be part of a coalition against China. India’s Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar promptly rejected the proposal saying, "As of now, India has never taken part in any joint patrol; we only do joint exercises. The question of joint patrol does not arise.”

This public exchange encapsulates, the state of Indo-US Defence relations: Well-intentioned but not on the same page yet. That both New Delhi and Washington recognise the need to deepen their defence partnership is an acknowledged fact. The point of dissonance is the way to achieve it. India, despite a right of the centre government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is not inclined to join the US camp, much to the dismay of US strategic community. Instead, New Delhi wants to follow the principle of multi-alignment. So, even as it seeks to get US Defence technology and is willing to collaborate on some key projects like aircraft carrier, India simultaneously wants to keep its complex relationship with China on an even keel by following the ‘collaboration-with-competition’ approach, a policy followed by Washington with Beijing for a couple of decades now.

So, when US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter, considered to be the most India-friendly US official in recent years, came to India in early April, he knew that India will not accede to all demands that US makes on the defence front. He was quite contended to announce—with Manohar Parrikar—that the US and India had made substantial progress on one of the three ‘foundational agreements. The Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), rechristened as Logistics Exchange Memorandum of  Agreement (LEMOA) as an India-specific pact, is still a work in progress despite the United States pushing for it. It will eventually be signed, may be even during Mr Modi’s upcoming US visit but the time taken over finalising its content demonstrates India’s reluctance to be seen as an American ‘groupie.’

It must be noted however that LEMOA is the easiest of the three agreements that the US is keen India should sign. The other two--the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Understanding (CISMOA) and BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for geospatial information)—are politically sensitive issues and even the Modi government, despite its political heft, will be wary of agreeing to their provisions. The CISMOA for instance, may inadvertently lock the Indian military into technology regime driven by the US. About the BECA, Indian authorities have concerns about collection of data by the US private sector that does its job on behalf of the US military.
The LEMOA on the other hand, has its roots in the Access and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACAS), which was signed by the US with its NATO allies and permitted the alliance partners to access supplies, spare parts, servicing from each other’s land, air bases and ports. In the era of Cold War it was essential for allied forces to operate seamlessly anywhere in the world to support possible military confrontation with the Warsaw Pact nations. It provided the legal framework for operational flexibility while ensuring constitutional autonomy of member nations. Since platforms and equipment in the alliance countries had their origin either in the US or Europe, the positioning of spare parts for servicing of these platforms while transiting through any of these alliance nations, provided legal protection against local taxation provisions and adverse public opinion.
As Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, former Commander-in-Chief of India’s Western Naval Command wrote last week: “However, the bilateral relations of US with number of other countries became strategic in nature with changing geopolitics which necessitated similar agreement for more reasons than just the transit access. Slightly modified agreements were signed with Singapore, Afghanistan, Philippilnes and Sri Lanka. None of these countries have lost their strategic autonomy. They deal with China and rest of the world with equal ease. Sri Lanka has often provided logistics support to Chinese submarines and naval vessels at its ports. In fact, they have all benefited by acquiring US hardware, logistics and spares support...”
The discussion on the basic agreements apart, US and India are currently busy operationalising the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI). Four pathfinder projects, agreed to during President Barack Obama’s visit in January 2015, are in various stages of finalisation but are yet to fructify. Similarly, India and the US conduct several joint exercises across the three services. The Indian Air Force (IAF), very recently participated in the ‘Red Flag’ Exercise in Alaska; the Indian and US Armies regularly have Exercise Yudh Abhyas while Exercise Malabar, initially a bilateral arrangement between Indian and US navies has now expanded to become a tri-lateral exercise with Japan. In fact, last week, four ships of the Indian Navy have sailed to Malacca Straits, an area of maritime interest to the India. They will be deployed on 75-day long operational sojourn in the South China and North West Pacific. During this overseas deployment, the ships of Eastern Fleet will make port calls at Cam Rahn Bay (Vietnam), Subic Bay (Philippines), Sasebo (Japan), Busan (South Korea), Vladivostok (Russia) and Port Klang (Malaysia). In addition to showing the Flag in this region of vital strategic importance to India, these ships will also participate in MALABAR-16, a maritime exercise with the US Navy and Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Forces. This is in keeping with the new spirit of cooperation between Pentagon and the Indian MoD. Remember, a joint statement by Carter and Parrikar during Carter’s latest visit to India in April announced a new Maritime Security Dialogue and discussions on anti-submarine warfare and submarine safety. These flow from the path-breaking 2015 Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region issued by Obama and Modi.
So where are Indo-US relations headed?

The potential for collaboration in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations between Indian and US forces is immense but there is unlikely to be any joint patrol or joint operations by the two militaries given India’s abhorrence to be seen as a US camp follower. India will always try and nurture its defence relationship with Russia and other European countries such as France by keeping a slight distance with the US which, India’s policy makers feel, has been an unreliable partner in the past. The continued patronage extended by Washington to Pakistan is a reality India cannot ignore despite the recent reports about Washington asking Islamabad to pay for the F-16s it wants from the US.

It is fair to assume therefore that India-US defence ties will be marked by some areas of convergence and some divergence in approach. Fortunately, leadership on both sides is pragmatic enough to understand that their worldviews do not always match and therefore neither expects the other to support blindly. Within that constraint, Pentagon and South Block are doing fine in taking defence relations between US and India to the next level. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

India and Vietnam: Going beyond Brahmos

As India’s Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar winds up the Singapore leg of his two-nation, south-east Asia sojourn and heads to Hanoi, the oft-repeated talk about India seeking to sale the Brahmos missile to Vietnam is once again making headlines. Only, unlike in the past, there is a distinct possibility that both India and Vietnam will finally bite the bullet.
All indications now point to the fact that New Delhi has overcome its reservations and dare one say, fear about annoying China in supplying the cruise missile to Vietnam. After years of hesitation and obfuscation, South Block is now set to move forward in finalising the sale of Brahmos missiles to Vietnam. Apparently, co-developers of the missiles, the Russians have also agreed to proposal in principle. While the actual delivery is some distance away, the very fact that India is now openly talking about exporting weapons platforms to friendly countries is in itself a paradigm shift. So far, the squeamish Congress-era decision-makers shied away even from talking about such a possibility. Among potential customers for the Brahmos systems are South Africa, Chile and Philippines besides Vietnam.
Defence Minister Parrikar will of course have much more to talk about with his Vietnamese counterpart than just the sale of Brahmos missiles. Singapore, Vietnam besides South Korea and Philippines are important nations that India is reaching out to aggressively in South Asia . As part of the tweaked Act East policy a more robust military-to-military partnership with important nations in south-east Asia is also underway.
Vietnam and India of course have some things in common. To begin with, both have borne the brunt of Chinese aggression -- India in 1962 and Vietnam in 1979. Both India and Vietnam, who have long-pending territorial disputes with China thus decided to unite against their common adversary,. Although India refuses to directly intervene in the South China Sea dispute, it indirectly supports nations like Vietnam, Philippines and Indonesia on the stand that they take with regard to the South China Sea.
Moreover, the collapse of the Soviet Union, for long a security guarantor for both India and Vietnam in Asia, left New Delhi and Hanoi without an all-weather, all-powerful friend in the 1990s.
Both New Delhi and Hanoi had traditionally sourced majority of their military hardware from the erstwhile Soviet Union. That commonality has meant that both can share expertise and resources available with their respective armed forces in terms of handling and maintaining the Soviet-era weaponry.
India, for instance, has repaired and upgraded over 100 MiG 21 planes of the Vietnamese Air Force and supplied them with enhanced avionics and radar systems. Indian Air Force pilots have also been training their Vietnamese counterparts. The Indian Navy, by far larger than the Vietnamese navy, has been supplying critical spares to Hanoi for its Russian origin ships and missile boats.
High level political visits between India and Vietnam have also been more frequent.  In September 2014, President Pranab Mukherjee was in Vietnam, 24 hours before Chinese President Xi Jingping was due in India. Within a month of Mukherjee’s visit Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung was in India within a month to take the bilateral relationship to the next level. Parrikar’s visit is in continuation of that process.
The Defence Minister is accompanied by Defence Secretary, G. Mohan Kumar, C-in-C, Eastern Naval Command, VAdm SCS Bisht, DG Air Operations, Air Mar Anil Khosla and DG, DRDO S. Christopher, besides others. High level visits apart, the Indian Navy has been quite active in its friendly forays in South-East Asia. Meanwhile, a flotilla of Indian warships is on a 75-day deployment to the Indo-Asia-Pacific.
The Indian Navy’s Eastern Fleet is ‘Acting East’ with four of its ships en route to the seas east of the Malacca Straits, an area of maritime interest to the Indian Navy. In a press release, India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said that the four ships, the INS Satpura, Sahayadri, Shakti and Kirch under the command of the Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Fleet Rear Admiral SV Bhokare had sailed out on 18 May 16 on a 2½ month long operational deployment to the South China and North West Pacific. During this overseas deployment, the ships of Eastern Fleet will make port calls at Cam Rahn Bay (Vietnam), Subic Bay (Philippines), Sasebo (Japan), Busan (South Korea), Vladivostok (Russia) and Port Klang (Malaysia). In addition to showing the Flag in this region of vital strategic importance to India, these ships will also participate in MALABAR-16, a maritime exercise with the US Navy and the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Forces or the Japanese navy.
Parrikar is expected to reiterate India’s position on freedom of navigation as stated in the Indo-US joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) which affirms the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea.

The Vision Document, released during President Obama’s India visit in January 2015, also calls on all parties to avoid the threat or use of force and pursue resolution of territorial and maritime disputes through all peaceful means, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a position that Vietnam too subscribes to. Beijing may be unhappy with the growing closeness between New Delhi and Hanoi but it can do little on this front except issuing occasional statements. In that sense India's effort to deepen engagement with Vietnam and goes much beyond just selling a deadly missile to a friendly nation.

Whatever the consequences of this strategy and counter-strategy, one thing is sure: The Indo-Asia-Pacific region is poised to become the new playground for the 21st century version of the Great Game in the years to come.