Monday, April 30, 2012


An Indian Navy press release announcing the launch of its latest base on Lakshadweep Islands

INS Dweeprakshak, the latest Naval Base of Indian Navy was commissioned at Kavaratti in the Lakshadweep archipelago today by Vice Admiral KN Sushil, Flag Officer Commanding in Chief Southern Naval Command. The event marks an important mile stone in the Navy’s resolve to incrementally augment the security infrastructure at the strategically important Lakshadweep Islands.            The commissioning ceremony was marked by grandeur and solemnity befitting the occasion.

A 50 men Guard was paraded in honour of the Commander in Chief on arrival. The ceremony of naming the establishment was performed by Smt Sunitha Ismail, Chairperson State Social Welfare Board. Thereafter Captain SM Hanchinal, Commanding Officer, read out the Commissioning Warrant and of the Naval Ensign was hoisted as the Southern Naval Command band played the National Anthem. Saying “Lakshadweep islands form the maritime frontiers of our country on the Western side” Vice Admiral KN Sushil noted that the commissioning of a full fledged Naval Base was another milestone in the commitment of the Indian Navy to maintain effective coastal surveillance and defence capability. The Admiral also complimented the crew of the INS Dweeprakshak and exhorted them to do their utmost in the discharge of their responsibilities. He also informed the gathering that radar stations and other surveillance measures were in place for shipping traffic monitoring and intelligence gathering.          

Indian Navy has been operating a detachment at Kavaratti since early eighties. With the commissioning of INS Dweeprakshak, the island territories would see calibrated strengthening of assets in step with their growing relevance to the security calculus of the Nation. A firmer footing in the islands, which are spread out astride some of the busiest shipping lanes of the world would provide the necessary wherewithal to the Indian Navy to discharge its responsibilities suitably. Indian Naval Warships on patrol would now extend their reach farther with base support from INS Dweeprakshak.         

Commanding Officer INS Dweeprakshak will also function as Naval Officer in Charge Lakshadweep and Minicoy. Dr N Vasanth Kumar Chairman of Lakshadweep Welfare Board, District Panchayat  Member Shri Jallaluddin Koya, Commodore MR Ajaykumar, Naval Officer in Charge Kerala, Commodore Ajay Saxena, Chief Staff Officer Operations of Southern Naval Command, Mr Ajay Kumar Superintendent of Police and  a large gathering of local community witnessed the function.

Friday, April 27, 2012

INS Teg to reach India in June

At an impressive ceremony at the Yantar shipyard in Kaliningrad, Russian Federation, INS Teg was commissioned today as an Indian Naval Ship by Vice Admiral KN Sushil, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command.
INS Teg, is a modern and contemporary Warship with advanced technologies incorporated in every facet of design to make her stable, stealthy, fast and formidable. The ‘Teg’ class of ships, an advanced version of the ‘Talwar’ class guided missile frigates already in service with the Indian Navy, have been built to meet the specific Command and Control needs of the Indian Navy for co-ordinated Surface, Air and Underwater missions.
Photo: Courtesy: Indian Navy
The weapons suite of the 125 metre, 4000 ton frigate includes the BRAHMOS Surface-to-Surface missile system, a Surface-to-Air missile system, 100 mm medium range gun, Close-in Weapon System, Torpedo tubes and Anti-Submarine rockets. With its advanced weapons suite and sensors fully integrated with its Combat Management System, the ship is equipped to augment the Indian Navy’s Net Centric capability, and is well suited to undertake a broad spectrum of maritime missions. The ship also embarks and operates an anti-submarine or an airborne early warning helicopter– a dominant force multiplier.
Teg incorporates innovative stealth technologies to reduce her radar cross section, infrared and magnetic signatures, as well as radiated underwater noise.
The ship is powered by an advanced gas turbine propulsion plant with state of the art Controls, to attain speeds in excess of 30 knots. The ship has been equipped with complex automated systems for nuclear, biological and chemical defence, damage control and fire fighting that can be operated centrally from sheltered posts to minimise casualties and achieve rapid restoration of combat effectiveness.
The ship’s crest embodies two crossed swords against the blue sky and ocean waves which symbolise strength, responsibility and commitment to a righteous cause.
Commanded by Captain Rakesh Kumar Dahiya, a 'Communications and Electronic Warfare' specialist, Teg is manned by a crew of about 250 including about 25 officers. It is interesting to note that the individual crew members speak 15 different languages as their 'mother tongue' and follow six different religious faiths - A true microcosm of the diversity, and unity of India.
The ship’s motto ‘Towards Eternal Glory ’ ‘अभिमुखम  अनन्त यशम’ truly reflects the indomitable spirit of the ship and her crew, the will to fight for what is honest and truthful, and to surmount the most challenging odds in pursuit of Victory.
Teg is likely to reach Indian shores by end Jun 2012. The other two ships of the Teg class viz Tarkash and Trikand are likely to be delivered by September 2012 and mid 2013 respectively.  

The Making India's latest stealth frigate

Courtesy: Indian Navy

Adding muscle & stealth to Indian Navy

India's latest stealth frigate, INS Teg (Video: Courtesy Indian Navy via ANI; actual visuals start after 20 seconds into the video), is being commissioned into the Indian Navy at the Yantar shipyard at Kaliningrad in Russia today.

Armed with the 290-km BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles, among other weapon systems, the 3,970-tonne warship can operate an anti-submarine or early-warning helicopter from its deck.

The 125-metre-long INS Teg is the first of the three frigates being built in Russia as a follow up order to the Talwar Class frigates commissioned some years ago. India's order for the Talwar-class ships was placed with Russia in 2006 for $1.6 billion.
INS Teg will be followed by the induction of INS Tarkash and INS Trikand in the next one year or so.
Russia had taken out INS Teg for sea trials earlier this year in the Baltic Sea and completed the tests between March 5 and April 7 this year.
The Yantar shipyard had said earlier this month that all on-board systems on INS Teg, including armaments were tested in the presence of Indian Navy officers and the frigate proved to be fully ready for final stage of acceptance trials.
INS Teg was laid down at Yantar in 2007. INS Tarkash and INS Trikand are at various stages of construction.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The trouble with India's military

My latest piece in the Japan-based website The Diplomat written almost two weeks ago. Some more developments have taken place in the intervening period but relevant nevertheless. Read on.
Last month, India’s Parliament was up in arms over the leak of a supposedly top secret letter written by Army Chief Gen. V.K. Singh to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. In typical Indian fashion, the uproar – partly spontaneous, partly orchestrated – was at first more about the leak of a highly confidential letter than the critical shortages of weapons and equipment that were pointed to.
Among the problems Singh pointed to were the claim that the Army’s entire fleet of tanks is “devoid of critical ammunition to defeat enemy tanks,”the suggestion that the country’s air defense were “97 percent obsolete,” and criticism that the Elite Special Forces was “woefully short” of “essential weapons.”
After the initial din died down, however, the import of the Army Chief’s letter gradually dawned on lawmakers asked the government and the Army to explain why the shortages haven’t been addressed. Indeed, the shortages are all the more baffling because India’s Defense Ministry reported it had spent its full quota of funds in each of the last three financial years, while the Stockholm-based International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said recently that between 2006 and 2010, India ranked first in terms of arms imports.
So why all these shortfalls?
The answer lies in the convoluted and often excruciatingly slow acquisition process that exists within the Defense Ministry. By even some conservative estimates, it can take anywhere between three and five years for a proposal mooted by a service headquarters to come to fruition. This snail’s pace has been noted by lawmakers in the past.
The Standing Committee on Defense (2008-09), a cross-party body of lawmakers, said in its report: “In the opinion of the Committee, the present state of affairs in the Ministry is clearly indicative of lack of seriousness towards timely finalization of plans, which ultimately leads to adverse bearing on modernization process in the armed forces.”
In his first interview on assuming office on April 1, 2010, Singh told me bluntly: “Our biggest challenge is how to remove our hollowness in terms of deficiencies in various fields, and the second one is modernization. Both need to be addressed (as a) priority so that whatever the Army requires that makes it battle worthy is there.
“When I talk of ‘hollowness,’ it is when you authorize something, but it may not be there because over a period of time, the procurement (process has) delayed acquisition,” he said, adding that such delays inevitably mean that some of the equipment is obsolete by the time it is available for combat units. 
Two years on, and it’s clear that despite the voicing of such concerns, even the day-to-day requirements of many combat units are at dangerously low levels. Singh wrote first to Defense Minister A.K. Antony and then to the prime minister to highlight this fact.
But it shouldn’t have taken a letter from Singh to make clear shortcomings that were already obvious to many. Numerous commentators and analysts had already pointed out the sorry state of India’s air defenses and artillery. Gurmeet Kanwal, until recently director of the Army’s think tank, the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, has written:
“Sadly, the Indian Army has almost completely missed the ongoing Revolution in Military Affairs…The Corps of Army Air Defense is also faced with serious problems of obsolescence. The vintage L-70 40 mm AD gun system, the four-barreled ZSU-23-4 Schilka AD gun system, the SAM-6 (Kvadrat) and the SAM-8 OSA-AK have all seen better days and need to be urgently replaced by more responsive modern AD systems that are capable of defeating current and future threats.”
One of the key reasons for the military shortfalls has simply been the duplication of effort in processing a procurement proposal at both the Service Headquarters and the Defense Ministry, since the two aren’t integrated at the functional level.  As a result, files are typically initiated and processed at the service headquarters before undergoing the same process at the ministry. 
In addition, the generalist bureaucrats at the ministry are often unable to grasp the urgency of the armed forces’ requirements, frequently sitting on files for months on end. The civil servants, for their part, say the military keeps changing qualitative requirements, leading to delays.
And so the blame game goes on, leaving soldiers without basic requirement. The solution, analysts say, is to truly integrate the bureaucracy and the service headquarters through cross postings and by creating specialists with domain knowledge across the spectrum.
Unfortunately, this is all easier said than done. One barrier is the high level of mistrust between armed forces representatives and the civilian bureaucracy, a state of affairs that has existed since India secured independence in 1947. Despite the change in nomenclature, with the service headquarters now known as the Integrated Head Quarters, the processes haven’t really changed. 
As former Chief of Army Staff Gen. S. Padmanabhan noted in his book A General Speaks: “Even after independence, India’s political leaders found it convenient to keep the Army, Navy and the Air Force out of the ‘policy’ making bodies. The service HQs were left at the level that the British left them – that of being ‘attached offices’ of the Ministry of Defense. Even at the level of defense minister and service chiefs, exchanges on major matters of defense policy were few and far between.”
With a view to overcoming these problems, the Defense Standing Committee of Parliament backed the creation of a core group from an existing liaison forum to identify problem areas and “evolve a system of smooth mobilization and thereafter to meet the logistic needs of the Army.” 
But this was back in 2008-09, and it’s apparent that little has changed.
Within days of Gen. Singh’s letter becoming public, Antony called for a high level meeting between Defense Ministry officials and Army headquarters. But a vague official press note after the meeting simply said:
“During the meeting, Antony directed the Army to streamline its acquisition process in such a manner so that accountability can be fixed in case of any slippages. He also asked the officials of MoD and the Army to examine the possibility of compressing the time taken for technical evaluations and trials. He favored delegation of more financial powers to Service headquarters if it can lead to speedier acquisition of equipment, platforms and systems for the Services.”
Reading between the lines, though, there’s a simple message: give more financial power to service chiefs. As things stood, acquisitions of up to Rs 50 crore ($9 million) could be cleared by the chiefs and vice chiefs, while the defense secretary has had the authority to approve deals up to Rs 75 crore. India’s annual defense outlays of about $40 billion may pale in comparison with China’s official $100 billion-plus, but defense majors from across the globe have been flocking here trying to sell their wares. The problem has been that most big deals in the finalization stage, or even those that have been finalized, have become stuck in the final stages in part because Antony is ultra cautious in trying to reassure over the legitimacy of the acquisition process.
Still, the embarrassing national, and indeed international, headlines that Gen. Singh’s remarks prompted appear to have spurred the Defense Ministry into some kind of action, and it has asked for 14 strategic railway lines to be built along the border with China, and formed an “empowered committee” headed by the defense secretary to monitor “capability development plan on the Northern Borders.”
This committee has also moved to fast track efforts to provide equipment to India’s Special Forces, including advanced assault rifles, all-terrain multi-utility vehicles, GPS navigation systems and underwater vehicles. This comes on top of a range of items that have been cleared for immediate purchase, including two regiments worth of Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launchers, 10,000 Konkurs-M anti-tank guided missiles and 145 M-777 ultra-light howitzers, which cost $647 million and will come from the United States, theTimes of India reported last week.
Politically, at a time when the country has been wracked by one corruption scandal after another, Antony’s caution over the acquisition process has been understandable. But the upshot is that the military is consistently faced with delays and shortages of critical arms and ammunition. It’s this reality that makes a mockery of India’s aspirations of becoming an effective regional military power.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Why Monday's PIL in Supreme Court is Important

 In the on-going battle of perception about Army Chief Gen VK Singh’s standoff with the establishment, on Monday the spotlight will now once again be on the judiciary.

A PIL filed by former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral L Ramdas and six other eminent citizens, will once again be heard by Justice Lodha and Justice Gokhale—the same bench which had adjudicated in February on Gen VK Singh’s petition over his date of birth.

As we now know, the Supreme Court had side stepped the issue, preferring to arbitrate rather than take a call on what should have been a simple issue of the date of birth, and killed the matter one way or the other.

Their written order failed to give the Government the license to change VK Singh’s date of birth, because of which it cannot issue a legal retirement order for the outgoing Army Chief.

The system is today in a strange bind, unable to issue retirement orders (see this report in Outlook magazine: or sack Gen VK Singh for all his sins of commission and omission.

If the executive had acted decisively when it ought to have, matters wouldn’t have come to this pass.

Now the Centre has been forced to file a caveat asking the Court to hear its stand.

Why did the issue reach a stage where the executive will be forced to explain in open court its decision on an important matter such as appointment of the Chief of the Army Staff?

Why were the petitioners—some of whom have held Constitutional positions-- prompted to question the decision-making process?

Are they batting for Gen VK Singh, as some of us like to believe? Or are they looking at a larger issue by pointing out that this affects the integrity of the office of the Prime Minister as well as the Defence Minister of the country?

By being indecisive in the past, hasn’t the executive allowed the judiciary to now meddle in what should have been its exclusive domain of decision-making?

Such a development is not fair either to the incoming COAS or to future decision-makers when each of their decisions may be challenged in a court of law.

Will-nilly, the ball is now once again in the judiciary’s court.

Will it duck the issue? Or will it give a decisive verdict either way?

Beyond a point it is no longer about either VK Singh or Bikram Singh, but about the system whose basic decision-making ability has to be above board.

A fair hearing, whatever its outcome, then must put the issue to rest once and for all.

In the interest of the country, in the interest of our own future, we must then respect that verdict no matter what.

JJ Singh on Sino-India boundary dispute: Jumping the gun or testing the waters?

Former Army Chief and now Governor of Arunachal Pradesh, Gen JJ Singh created a bit of a stir last month by saying "India will have to move away from our position that our territory is non-negotiable," in context of the long-standing India-China boundary dispute.
He was speaking at a seminar in Itanagar. The proceedings of the seminar were first reported by BBC here (
Taking a cue from the BBC report, I contacted the Arunachal Pradesh Raj Bhawan and the Governor himself, but to no avail. Gen JJ Singh's staff kept insisting it was his personal opinion and should not be taken out of context but refused to react officially.
So on NDTV, I did a small report, followed by a discussion on Nidhi Razdan's programme, LRC. (Watch it here
The participants--not unusually--took their known positions. 
But the statements of the Governor had caught the establishment by surprise which explains why Gen JJ Singh was forced to issue a clarification on Friday in which he insists that those were his personal views which, to my limited understanding, is incorrect to say since a person holding a Constituional position, speaking at a public function, cannot have a personal view.
Be that as it may, the Press statement is reproduced in full, below. Judge for yourself whether JJ Singh was speaking out of turn or was he set up by the establishment to test the waters!

This press release is issued in response to the news clippings displayed on some TV news channels which have attributed certain comments on the resolution of Indo-China border dispute through give-and-take and the non-negotiable status of Arunachal Pradesh to His Excellency the Governor of Arunachal Pradesh. It is clarified that when read in the overall perspective, the comments have been quoted out of context and an impression different from what was conveyed has been created.
His Excellency’s views have been purportedly taken from a speech that he had made at an intellectual seminar which was organized by an academic forum at Rajiv Gandhi University, Itanagar on 8th and 9th March 2012. It was not a State function and His Excellency had categorically mentioned that these are his personal views on the subject.
Our relations with China assume great importance for the overall peace, progress and development of the region. We have an ongoing strategic and co-operative partnership in place which began with the historic visit of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to China in 1988 laying the foundations of a much more vibrant relationship between the two nations. The visit by Prime Minister Vajpayee in 2003 followed by the appointment of special representatives to solve the border issue has given a further thrust to the same.
Successive Governments at the centre, across the board and irrespective of party affiliations have always advocated a peaceful settlement of the border dispute in a pragmatic and mature manner, through mutual understanding and through dialogue to discuss the disputed areas. The question of dialogue will certainly imply discussion on certain disputed portions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), and as a starting point for such a dialogue, the acknowledgement of give-and-take principle has to be recognized. This is in context of the overall boundary with China, extending from Aksai Chin in the west to North-East India in the east and for the North-east India, the McMohan line should certainly be the keystone of the edifice. The perceptional differences between both sides on disputed pockets along the border should be discussed by Govt. representatives at the highest levels. We need to display the highest levels of diplomacy, statesmanship and statecraft in solving this long pending issue.

Raj Bhawan

20th April 2012.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

What Agni V test launch means for India

Now that the initial euphoria of the successful launch of India’s longest range missile (call it IRBM, ICBM, doesn’t matter) Agni V is over, congratulatory messages from Prime Minister downwards delivered, scientists and India’s strategic community must concentrate on the next steps in fully developing and operationalising the strategic deterrent asset.

As the Prime Minister said in a statement: “ I congratulate all the scientific and technical personnel of the DRDO and other organisations who have worked tirelessly in our endeavour to strengthen the defence and security of our country. Today's successful Agni V test launch represents another milestone in our quest to add to the credibility of our security and preparedness and to continuously explore the frontiers of science. The nation stands together in honouring the scientific communIty.

Without doubt Agni V represents a major technology breakthrough for Indian missile scientists but it will require several more tests before Agni V can be seen as a credible deterrence.

Although the full telemetry data will take some time to be evaluated, scientists have reported excellent results of the missile’s manouvrebility terminal guidance system. Indian Naval ships, stationed in the path of the missile’s trajectory would have record its journey and picked up all the relevant data.

 Built at a reported cost of over 25 million dollars, the 17  metres tall, 50 tonne Agni-V’s three stages were powered by solid propellants. 

It has a capacity to carry a nuclear warhead weighing over one tonne. 

While the missile is at least four years away from full induction in the armed forces, its successful launcvh has sent out a message to Asia and the world at large that India now has the capacity to manufacture and launch a highly complex system which only five other nations possess.

In Asia only China has the capability and better arsenal than India.

Agni V launch video, courtesy DRDO 
In any case, India should not aspire to match China missile for missile.

Agni V however will allow India to possess a credible N-deterrance which is what India is looking for given its No-First Use Nuclear doctrine.

Expectedly, Chinese commentators, or least some of them, have mocked the test. Global Times, the English daily from Beijing headlined the News item: "India being swept up by missile delusion" and went on to comment: “India should not overestimate its strength. Even if it has missiles that could reach most parts of China, that does not mean it will gain anything from being arrogant during disputes with China. India should be clear that China's nuclear power is stronger and more reliable. For the foreseeable future, India would stand no chance in an overall arms race with China.

On a day when India has crossed an important technology threshold, these comments are at best ignored.

Nations have national interests and each nation should act and behave by the dictates of its own national interest without bothering what rivals and neighbours are saying.

India should do exactly that.

Agni V launch video

 Courtesy: DRDO

Sunday, April 15, 2012

India's ICBM gets ready for launch

Come Wednesday and India may join a select club of countries that possess or are about to possess an ICBM (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile).

Hectic preparations are on for the launch of Agni-V missile that day from the Wheeler Island off  the Orissa Coast.
Designed and developed by India’s Defence Research And Development Organisation (DRDO) scientists, the three-stage missile the missile is scheduled to be launched from a road mobile launcher.
With a range of 5,000 km, Agni-V, once validated and inducted into the armed forces after several more tests couple of years down the line, will be India's longest-range missile which can carry a nuclear warhead.
Seventeen  metres tall and 50 tonnes in weight, Agni-V’s three stages are powered by solid propellants. It will have the capacity to carry a nuclear warhead weighing over one tonne, DRDO scientists have said.
The Hindu newspaper quoted Avinash Chander, Chief Controller (Missiles and Strategic Systems), DRDO, describing Agni-V's technology  as a “game-changer” for strategic options. Except the U.S., Russia, France and China, no other country had designed and developed this range of systems, he said.
Earlier last month, DRDO chief, Dr. VK Saraswat had told reporters that India will break into the exclusive ICBM club once the 50-tonne Agni-V is ready for induction by 2014-2015. The Agni series of missiles, including Agni V is crcucial for India’s defence vis-à-vis China since Beijing has upped the ante in recent times by deploying missiles in Tibet Autonomous Region bordering India.
DRDO is also aiming to operationalise a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) by 2013 and a missile shield for Delhi by 2014, Saraswat said.
''The K-15 SLBM is now getting ready for the final phase of induction after its two recent tests (from submersible pontoons) were successful...We have done over 10 flights of it so far,'' the DRDO chief said.
Once the 750-km-range K-15, and the 3,500-km K-4 become fully operational, they will be inducted onto India's indigenously-manufactured nuclear submarines. The first home grown Nuclear submarine, INS Arihant, scheduled to unmdertake sea trials this August, will need these SLBMs to complete what is called nuclear-triad.
After a rare faiulure of Agni III missile test is Agust 2006, the DRDO has been on a roll with the tests of the two-tier ballistic missile defence (BMD) system, designed to track and destroy incoming hostile missiles both inside (endo) and outside (exo) the earth's atmosphere, scheduled to be completed  by 2013. ''We will test the exo-atmospheric interceptor at 150-km altitude this year, which will be followed by an endo-atmospheric test at 30-km altitude,'' Dr. Saraswat said. 
All eyes are now on the launch of Agni V on April 18.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Why India should not even think of vacating Siachen


Today, 28 years ago, brave Indian soldiers climbed the icy heights of Siachen and established Indian Army's ascendancy on the strategically important glacier.

As the clamour for "demilitarisation" of Siachen gets shriller, its important to understand what it takes to be deployed on what is clearly the world's most inhospitable and highest battlefield 365 days a year.

I was lucky to get a glimpse of the tough life on the Siachen base camp and the Herculean efforts that the armed forces put in to retain an upper hand against Pakistan.

Strategic reasons apart, India should not even think of withdrawing from the glacier if only to honour the sacrifices made by our valiant soldiers over the past 28 years.

Here's a link to the film I made in 2007 and below it is the script for the film.


The Script:

Hello and and a very warm welcome to this special programme coming to you from the world's highest and coldest battlefield, Siachen. The guns may have fallen silent on the 76-km long glacier but the battle against the elements is unending. We travelled to what is clearly the world's most inhospitable battlefield to bring you a first hand account of how our brave soldiers continue to guard the icy frontiers against all odds. I am Nitin Gokhale.

Early morning at the Siachen base camp...newly inducted troops trying to come to grips with the skills of mountain climbing...

Each soldier who comes here... to be eventually deployed at heights in excess of 20,000 feet... HAS to start from scratch...

First... do this drill of climbing steep snow walls.... rising straight up with the help of crampons attached to snow boots.... ice axe in hand...
And then graduate to more difficult manoeuvres....

Over the next three weeks... these soldiers will train in various techniques needed to battle the treacherous terrain and harsh weather... where temperatures dip to as low as minus 60 degrees centigrade...

Although the new snow clothing and other vital equipment provide good protection... the army says there is no substitute for rigorous scientific training...

Says Maj Joginder Singh, Instructor, Siachen Battle School: " Every soldier who comes here, no matter how well trained, has to go through this specialised training since the survival techniques needed on the Siachen glacier are completely different from conventional needs."

Training is a sacred ritual... as the lack of it... can often mean death...
It has brought down weather-related casualties drastically... Consider the figures...

Between 1984 and 1994, 378 soldiers died in weather-related accidents
From 1995 to date (2007)... the number is less than half of that... at 179
In the current year (2007), there have been just two accidental deaths

A remarkable improvement... thanks to better medical facilities.... and use of state-of-the-art snow clothing...and equipment to overcome illness

Dr. Sarvananda: "We train everyone who comes here in the basics of surviving the high altitude deployment and the ways to avoid mountain sickness."

But as battalion commanders point out... it takes an Herculean effort by everyone... from doctors... trainers... and the soldiers themselves... to keep the momentum going... Little wonder then... that the bonding between officers and jawans on the Siachen glacier... is closer than anywhere else...

Col. AM Bapat, CO, 4/9 Gorkha battalion says: "The Commanding officer has an important role to play..he maintains optimum operational efficiency to motivate..loss of focus even for a moment can mean loss of life..the weather is the main have to share the sorrow, their joy, .. leadership counts in these places..leader's role is highlighted here..scientific training and administrative balance is required."

The guns may have fallen silent on the world's highest battlefield in the past four years... but the icy weather remains a constant enemy... and an enduring challenge...

And helping the army meet this challenge is the Field Research laboratory of the DRDO...Located at Leh, the FRL has deviced ways to make life comfortable for soldiers' deployed in these difficult conditions...

One of the oldest labs in the country, the FRL has developed techniques that allow a variety of non-indegenous crops to grow in the barren landscape of ladakh...this allows soldiers to get fresh vegetables locally instead of depending on supplies from the plains of also helps the local economy...

Dr. Zaman, director, FRL, Leh says: "We first experiment new techniques on our farms and then pass the technique onto the local farmers..this has helped us to reduce the length of the supply chain."

But agriculture is not the only field that the FRL deals in..after the kargil war, it found the mules were not able to withstand the harsh now it has developed this new breed.

Synergy between the FRL and the army deployed in Ladakh has ensured that there is a constant upgrade in the life of the soldiers deployed in these adverse conditions.

It of course takes a combination of scientific training, able leadership, appropriate equipment and the determination of our brave soldiers to ensure a near zero casualty at what is inarguably the world's most inhospitable battle terrain...

And then of course there's faith...

As Naik Subedar Narendra Singh, at the head of his platoon trudging back to the Siachen base camp would testify.

Tired to the bone... unshaven and unwashed for over 100 days.... after being deployed at a forward post... at altitudes over 18,000 feet... a hot bath and rest would normally seem top priority...for these jawans

But in Siachen... there is one ritual the soldiers perform before anything else... a visit to this temple... in many ways the presiding deity of the glacier...

Normally, such a group of soldiers returning from an assignment gives its final report to the commanding officer... informing him about the outcome of the mission....
But here... the final word remains with a soldier-turned-deity.... simply
known as OP baba...

Says Col Bapat:"Here the only religion is soldiering and no matter what faith all us belong to, we all come here pray and report to this in a common diety is what binds us all together."

Says Capt Tarun Tiwari: "We even did a havan at 19,000 feet, perhaps the highest havan in the world, to pray to OP baba."

Apparently some years ago.... a soldier named Om Prakash was deployed on the night he suddenly vanished... Since then.... every soldier.... be it officer or jawan... makes it a point to come to this place and draw solace...
Faith in this mythical OP Baba who may or may not exist is what sustains the Indian army on the Siachen glacier. Rightly or wrongly the simple soldier believes that the presiding diety of the glacier protects him from any adversity...

But to sustain deployment on the glacier, there is much more to do.

It's not yet 6 in the morning... but Lt Col RS Chauhan and his co-pilot are already into their second sortie...

Chauhan is the leader of the Army aviation team operating the fleet of Cheetah helicopters from the Siachen base camp...

Soldiers load vegetables, medicines, parachutes and clothes... The Cheetah is off to drop the supplies to one of the 100-odd camps...

Casualty evacuation is also a major task ...

A similar pattern follows with larger air force helicopters...

The Mi-17 is the lifeline for the Siachen glacier..all the forward posts are maintained by these choppers--rations, protective clothing, medicines, tents--everything has to be ferried by these helicopters

The load is calculated with precision... since at altitudes above 20,000 feet... the lifting power of even these powerful Russian-made helicopters gets diminished...

Officers like Maj Dinesh Raja... in-charge of supplies to the forward posts... prioritise what item goes to which post... and how much...

Raja is as much an essential part of the Siachen deployment as the average infantryman posted here... as without an uninterrupted and well-oiled supply chain... keeping vigil in Siachen is impossible...

 Says Maj Dinesh Raja: "This base maintains the entire northern glacier..we calculate the daily requirements....Nearly 45,000-50,000 litres of k oil is required very month in this area since temperature goes down to minus 60."

Helicopters get into action only at the final stage of a long and arduous journey... that begins from Chandigarh... and passes through Leh... and the 18,000-feet Khardungla pass... the highest motorable road in the world... before it comes close to the Siachen base camp.

No wonder it costs over 4 crore rupees a day to sustain Indian troops on the glacier... but given the strategic importance of Siachen... no one grudges the expenditure.

There is another aspect that is little known.

Army Aviation's Cheetah helicopter returning from one of its numerous sorties to the forward posts on the Siachen it lands at the base camp helipad, a group of soldiers rush towards the, not to evacuate a weather casualty but to empty the trash sent back by the troops deployed at heights in excess of 20,000 feet...

Like every other aspect of the deployment on the glacier, the Indian army takes this relatively new scheme to clean up the glacier very all non-bio-degradable waste is ferried down to the base camp whenever possible and then disposed of ...and there's plenty of it on the forward posts since most of the food stuff is tinned and nearly 50,000 litres of kerosene oil is shipped to the forward posts every month...

But waste disposal apart, the Army's 14 corps has also undertaken a massive Clean Siachen, Green Siachen campaign that seeks to have more trees and plants around the usually stark landscape

Despite the campaign, army officers say it is not easy to plant trees in a rain-deficient terrain...yet, the effort has won the army formation a Green governance award from the Bombay natural history society for conservation of fauna...

The relentless battle at Siachen--against weather, against environmental degradation against loneliness--continues 23 years after Indian troops first captured it on 13 April 1984.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A primer on MoD-MHA differences over AFSPA

Note: The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) is once again likely to discuss (debate?) the contentious Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act--AFSPA in popular parlance--later today. The standoff between the Defence and Home Ministries on this issue has been on for almost two years now.

Defence Minister AK Antony has resolutely backed the Army's stand point while Home Minister P. Chidambaram has supported--used--Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to try and dilute the provisions of the AFSPA. 

The CCS may or may not agree to any changes in the Act. But here's a glimpse of the main points of differences that the two ministries have.


QUANTUM OF FORCE USED                                                          

MINIMUM FORCE TO BE USED                                 


HANDING OVER SUSPECTS TO POLICE & MAGISTRATE WITHIN 24                                        

SEC 6    
REDRESSAL MECHANISM                                      

For additional reading here is the 2011 piece I wrote for Purple Beret magazine giving the Army's point of view on why it is premature to withdraw or repeal AFSPA. 

Jammu Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah may have announced his intention to lift or partially revoke the contentious Armed Forces Special Powers Act but the Army in Kashmir is very clear that the time is not yet ripe for rolling back the AFSPA even if there was relative peace in the state, in summer 2011. The Northern Command has pointed out the quiet months so far have been a direct outcome of the excellent synergy developed by the state administration and the security forces (SF) in formulating and executing the joint strategy against militants and their handlers in Pakistan. But intelligence inputs and internal assessment by various agencies suggests that infrastructure and the will to support proxy war by Pakistan is still intact. 

The Army feels that the separatists and radical or extremist elements in the state have consolidated their capabilities during the current deceptively calm summer. In the words of a senior General, "The time is not appropriate to dilute or revoke AFSPA from any part of the state. This will result in surrendering the operational advantage to the inimical elements, will be to our total disadvantage, and may cause a major setback to our attempts at restoring normalcy in the state and ensuring a peaceful 2012." And he gives several reasons for this assessment.

Retention of AFSPA

While there may be a comparative decline in terrorist violence, the number of terrorists killed and reduction in number of successful infiltration by terrorists during the current year is a reality, the number of attempts to infiltrate have only gone up since there is no change in the Pak ideology and will to support proxy war in J&K while showing it as an indigenous struggle. The infrastructure to support such a proxy war in terms of terrorist training camps, supply of weapons and ammunition, hi tech communication assets to continuously guide, monitor and motivate terrorists operations on Indian soil, fake currency racket, overt and covert support to terrorists and separatists groups operating in J&K are all intact and being regularly upgraded. A number of camps - 34 out of 42 training camps are active. Pakistan is in the process of reorganising camps in PoK to bring in deniability factor in abetting proxy war in J&K. Number of terrorists in training camps are approximately 2000-2500. The number of terrorists poised for infiltration are about 700-800 while the number of attempted infiltrations – 35 attempts by 230 terrorists. As per the MAC report 54 terrorists succeeded.

So one outwardly peaceful summer does not spell a return of peace to the state. Counter terrorist operations by the army are not restricted to the Line of Control but cover the entire area from the LoC where a terrorist initially crosses over to India, the sparsely populated areas adjoining the LoC where terrorists initially establish their reception areas and the hinterland with populated areas from where the terrorists finally operate and draw their support. Administrative support including convoys carrying Army personnel and stores moving to the LoC pass through urban areas in the hinterland and are vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Hence AFSPA cannot be applied in pockets of J&K along the LC while withdrawing the Act from the remaining areas, as is being advocated by Omar Abdullah. The Army has put forward many reasons why AFSPA should not be partially lifted at the moment.

The emergence of sanctuaries Lifting of AFSPA from urban areas / large towns in J&K will result in terrorists seeking shelter in such areas and rebuilding their bases. Eviction of terrorists from such built up areas sanitized after sacrifices by the army and police forces is likely to result in civilian causalities, damage to civilian property and a renewed cycle of violence. Tactical space once conceded to terrorists, will be extremely difficult to regain. If the Army is recalled to restore an adverse situation, restoration would be at a prohibitively high cost and manpower intensive.

Military Lines of Communication All Lines of Communication pass through population centre and have to be kept open at all cost. The Army garrison / strategic assets are spread over in population centres and de-notification will render them vulnerable to terrorist action and hence require separate security arrangements. Any action taken by the Army personnel in these areas will be governed by Ranbir Penal Code which does not confer immunity from arrest will further complicate the issue.

Intelligence Bases:

 De-notification of AFSPA will render the painstakingly established sound intelligence bases untenable. Army carries out seamless operations across districts of J&K. Partial revocation of AFSPA will hinder such seamless operations and hence, is impractical. While SF will operate within distinctly delineated boundaries in areas where AFSPA is applicable, same is certainly not true for terrorists. In addition, movement between AFSPA and Non AFSPA area makes chasing / tracking of terrorists difficult. In non-AFSPA areas, action by terrorists can be acted upon only as part of self-defense but not as coordinated operations such as Cordon and Search Operations (CASO), Search Operations etc.

Restoration of AFSPA 

Even if situation worsens in areas where AFSPA has been revoked, politically it is unlikely that the decision can be reversed/ or at best it will take months. Experience of Manipur is a pointer in this regard.

An argument to justify revocation of AFSPA is that violence parameters in the state of J&K are better than those in other states of the nation. This is specious if Army had not killed 55 terrorists attempting to infiltrate during this year alone, won’t the statistics have been different. Large number of weapons and warlike stores, IEDS etc have been recovered by the security forces under the provisions of AFSPA. The revocation of AFSPA from the State needs a concerted view of all organs of the State and Centre. A suggested way is to convert these areas into Police administered areas/ Police districts as was done for Srinagar initially without revoking AFSPA. Subsequently as the situation improves, while evolving the revocation, an exit strategy needs to be worked for gradual withdrawal of armed forces from the specified area leading to smooth transition.