Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The nation wants to know!

Last year, when Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan were about to form a new political party, the duo had, in one of their frequent press conferences, distributed a set of papers that had collated a number of letters, emails and contract papers between an American Attorney C. Edmonds Allen and a known operative in defence circles--Abhishek Verma.

The spat between the two had resulted in several set of papers becoming public. There was no way of authenticating those papers and contracts. So despite possessing those papers, one was wary of depending on them for any news item. Today I dug out those papers from the bottom of the pile on my desk.

On Pages 114-117 of the document found an interesting detail. Photocopies of those four pages are placed in this blog entry.
You would wonder why:

Tonight a very popular news programme went berserk with its "new," "exclusive" and "explosive" investigative details that "unmasked" the sinister designs of Abhishek Verma and the deep inroads he had apparently made in the heart of Indian defence and political establishment in order to secure defence contracts for his foreign clients.

There was and is no way to confirm if the programmes mentioned in these pages were attended by the people that they list out. Even assuming that they attended these receptions and cocktails, the people purveying this news have been economical with the truth at best and downright untruthful at worst.

For this media outlet to say it has investigated and found these explosive details is... err... stretching the reality too far. I am wondering if the news outlet's reporters and its head honchos also investigated a certain MP mentioned in this agenda paper!

The nation may want answers every night, but the answers must come  through genuine leg work of journalists and not depend on handouts distributed by others, leave alone by a fledgling political party.

See, read and judge for yourself.

India's defence sector: from 'buy global' to 'go slow'

The Indian defence sector, forever beset with procedural delays and long trial periods in testing new equipment is now starting at further slowdown in decision-making following the AgustaWestland helicopter controversy last week, officers in the ministry of defence and the three service headquarters say.

Recent cuts in both its capital and revenue budget (capital budget is for buying new platforms and weapons and revenue budget funds service the recurring needs) running into Rs 14000 crore has put the defence ministry in a tight spot.

The new controversy in which middlemen are alleged to have pocketed up to 51 m Euros in the AgustaWestland deal to supply 12VVIP helicopters to the Indian Air Force, India's plans to replace its 1970s and 80s era equipment used by its three armed forces with modern arms sourced from wide ranging suppliers as against its over-reliance on the erstwhile Soviet Union and now Russian manufacturers has only serve to magnify Indian defence sector woes.

Defence Minister AK Antony warned on Tuesday morning: "Don't raise a doubt for every purchase. India has a volatile neighbourhood and the Indian military needs to modernize fast." But sources say the CBI probe ordered by the government in the AgustaWestland helicopter issue has turned India's acquisition process from "buy global," into  a "go-slow," mode. If AgustaWestland gets blacklisted or banned following the probe, many planned purchases would be in trouble.

The Indian Navy, among the biggest spenders on Defence acquisitions in the past five years is likely to be the hardest hit, sources say. Navy is in the price negotiation stage to acquire 16 Multi-role helicopters--MRHs under a plan to spen about 2 billion dollars on their acquisition.

In contention are Sikorsky and NATO Helicopter Industries (NHI), a consortium of AgustaWestland and Eurocopter among others. If Agusta gets blacklisted, then the 13-year old process will have to begin again. These helicopters are supposed to replace the 1990s vintage Sea King helicopters. These MRHs were to be deployed on different ships. Assigned to carry out multiple tasks, including the crucial anti-submarine role, these helicopters are to be used on the new ships that are either being built in India or imported from Russia. Without them even the latest ships are protection less.

Its not just the acquisition of multi-role helicopters that would be hit. The Indian Navy's has plans to buy 56 new Naval light utility helicopters and Agusta Westland was supposed to be competing for this tender.

Then there is the Army's requirement for 197 light utility helicopters hanging fire for the past five years

According to an estimate, India is planning to spend over 100 billion dollars in buying new weapons from the across the globe over the next decade.

India's original defence budget for fiscal 2012-13 was pegged at 36 billion dollars before Finance Minister P. Chidambaram forced a cut of 2.5 to 3 billion dollars owing to a huge funds crunch. Yet, by 2020, India's defence budget is estimated to climb to about 65 billion dollars.

But with at least four international firms from as diverse nations as Singapore, South Africa, Germany and Israel  having been banned for one wrong doing or the other, Indian Defence Ministry is fast running out of options to source its equipment from.

Although Defence Minister AK Antony lamented: "I am sad, in spite of taking all precautions ... we blacklisted 6 companies for bribery. I thought that will be a warning to everyone. Still, greedy people are working around the world," the grim reality is defence manufacturers across the globe have concluded that in India no contract can be won without paying bribes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The VVIP helicopters' procurement saga

For the Indian Air Force, the Augusta Westland controversy could not have come at a more inopportune time. 

Its has plans to induct 300-350 aircraft, including combat jets, transport aircraft and helicopters over the next decade. But the scandal that has erupted around supply of 12 VVIP helicopters is likely to cast a shadow on its plans, at least in the short run.

This is for the first time an Air Chief's name has cropped up in scam of any kind. Whether former chief Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi has received the bribe mentioned in the Italian prosecutors report will have to be proved after a thorough investigation both in Italy and India. In absence of any concrete proof I would like to withhold any judgement although ACM Tyagi has himself demanded a speedy probe and denied any wrong doing. 

The controversy has however stunned the air force fraternity.

Former Air Chief Air Chief Marshal PV Naik, speaking to me from Pune this afternoon said as much. He pointed out that the Air Force has never been involved in any scam before.  "I think all the IAF deals are very transparent. All procurement is signed through ministry of defence, finance etc," he pointed out.

 Although the defence ministry has not yet made it clear if the Rs 3750 crore deal with the Augusta Westland company will be scrapped or the deliveries of the remaining nine helicopters will be delayed indefinitely, ACM Naik was clear that any delay will be costly in terms of operational requirements.

"The helicopters should come to the air force as soon as possible. The IAF really needs it. The deal should not be delayed, according to me," he said. The probe can go on, he added.

Later talking to different sources in the government, I have tried to piece together the entire sequence of events in this long drawn out contract process. This is what I have managed to learn so far. There could be gaps in information though.

2000: Aware that Mi-8 VVIP helicopter fleet had only 10 years to go before being phased out, IAF suggests to the PMO and to the MoD that there is a need to look for suitable and modern replacement. The MI-8s are typical Russian product: sturdy, dependable but with very little comfort level to offer. 

(Air Chief Marshal AY Tipnis was the Air Chief then)

A request for proposal (RFP) is floated. Six companies respond. One of the key requirements in that RFP was the competing helicopters must be able to fly at altitudes around 6,000 metres with full load.

After trials, only one helicopter, Eurocopter's  EC 225 was able to fly at that altitude. 

In 2003, the IAF sent its evaluation report to the PMO. Brajesh Mishra, National Security Adviser (NSA) and Principal Secy to Atal Behari Vajpayee, asked the Special Protection (SPG) that guards the VVIPs for its comments. The SPG apparently said the EC-225 was not suitable because its cabin height was too short (at 1.39 metres) and that neither the VIPs nor the SPG personnel would be able to stand upright inside such a short cabin.

Mishra then wrote to ACM S. Krishnaswamy who had taken over from Tipnis in 2001 expressing concern on two points: A single vendor situation had arisen because of the specification that said the helicopters must be able to fly at altitudes around 6,000 m and that SPG's inputs were not taken. Having seen that letter briefly, I remember a couple of lines. It said, in parts: "It is unfortunate that SPG wasn't taken on board... I suggest you and the defence secretary work out the specifications in consultation with the SPG..." Mishra's point was the competition must be broadened and SPG's requirements must be met

So the Air Force in consultation with the SPG drew up the entire Air Staff Qualitative Requirement (ASQR) once again. That was in 2003 itself. The new specifications said the helicopters must be able to fly at an altitude of 4,500 metres and that its cabin must be at least 1.80 m in height.

Meanwhile, Air Marshal Tyagi took over as Air Chief in 2004. Hoever, it took the Air HQ and MoD's acquisition wing another three years to issue a fresh RFP. That was in 2006

The NDA government had been ousted. UPA was in power. The new RFP which went by the specifications finalised in 2003 was issued to six different vendors when Pranab Mukherjee was the Defence Minister.

Three companies--makers of Mi-172, Sikorsky which made the S-92 helicopters and Augusta Westland's AWA101-- responded to the RFP.

Meanwhile the MoD had put in place a new concept--the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP)--which lays down stringent rules and regulations. Under the DPP all companies that bid for contracts above 100 crore rupees have to sign an integrity pact which binds the companies to give an undertaking that no bribes would be paid or agents would be used in the contracts.

The Russian company that makes Mi-172 withdrew from the competition at an early stage refusing to sign the integrity contract!

That left Auguta Westland and Sikorsky in the race. By now this was late 2007. 

Fali H. Major, himself an ace helicopter pilot had meanwhile taken over as the Ar Chief after ACM Tyagi superannuated in 2007.

The evaluations and trials of S-92 and AW101 began ad continued over the next couple of years (2008-09). According to Air Force sources S-92 was found to be non-compliant on 4 counts: 

1. It could not reach 15000 feet without maximum power

2. Its 'hover out off ground effect' wasn't sufficient

3. Its drift down altitude was not meeting the requiremt

4. Missile airborne warning system wasn't up to the mark

Augusta Westland with its three engines was a bonus, according Air Force test pilots since one engine failure still meant it had two to fall back upon.

Some time in 2009, Air HQ sent its recommendation to the Defence Ministry and after all going through the stringent financial and technical requirements mandatory under the DPP, a contract was signed in February 2010.

By this time, ACM Naik was the Air Chief.

The first of the AW 101 arrived in India in late 2012. Two more followed in quick succession.

Even before the deliveries had started, reports had begun appearing in Indian media about some underhand dealing. 

Early this week the manure hit the fan and by now every one is an expert on who has got what and how much money has changed hands. 

Politics has also begun on the matter.

Over the next few days, the controversy will remain in the headlines.

Then we will discover some thing new to outrage over and move on.

Whether or not a former Air Chief received a kickback will remain a matter of investigation.

One is just hoping that this episode (and the last word is yet to be heard on this) will not further slow down India's overall defence acquisition process

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Perfidious attempt to give away Siachen is on

Outlook has a cover story on Siachen and Kargil. I have a column in it, pasted below.

The Wages Of Peace
Kargil was actually about Siachen. India must remember that.
Last July, sitting in Dras in the middle of a two-day celebration of India’s 1999 Kargil military victory, I was interviewing Lt Gen K.T. Parnaik, who leads the Indian army’s northern command. Among other issues, the general, one of the seniormost military leaders of the nation, spoke candidly of the 2010 unrest in Kashmir, the presence of Chinese troops in northern parts of Pakistan, India’s ongoing efforts to improve infrastructure along the China border and, towards the end of the interview, about the growing demands for the withdrawal of Indian troops from the Siachen glacier, the world’s highest battleground.

One sentence in the general’s elaborate answer to the question on Siachen struck me as particularly significant. “Don’t forget, Kargil happened because of Sia­chen. Why did they do Kar­­gil?” he asks. “If you per­­use their records, which are now out in the public, one of the major objectives of what they did in Kargil was to force us to vacate the Siachen glacier. Now, if that is their intent and that is their credibility, it is up to you to judge whether we should be really vacating the glacier or not.”

Seven months down the line, a former general of the Pakistani army, Lt Gen Shahid Aziz, who headed the analysis wing of Pakistan’s spy agency, the infamous Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in the summer of 1999 when the Kargil conflict was playing out, has confirmed what Parnaik said last July. Aziz has also blamed former president and military dictator Pervez Musharraf for having kept the nation in the dark on his pet project, the Kargil incursions. Undeterred, Musharraf has described the Kargil conflict as a huge military success. He says the Pakistani army would have “conquered” 300 square miles of Indian territory if then Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif “had not visited the US and succumbed to pressure from then US president Bill Clinton to withdraw Pakistani troops from Indian territory”.

Musharraf, unwanted in his own country and shunned by most senior military and political leaders there, is now using his erstwhile aides and confidants to shore up some support for his favourite operation. Col Ashfaq Hussain, a former aide to Musharraf, writes in his book Witness to Blunder that Musharraf himself crossed the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan in a helicopter on March 28, 1999. He spent a night on the India-controlled side to boost the morale of his troops.

In a recent conversation, Gen V.P. Malik, who was India’s chief of army staff during the Kargil conflict, admitted that Indian troops had received reports of Pakistani patrols crossing over into Indian side of the LoC sometime in February 1999 even as prime ministers Atal Behari Vaj­payee and Nawaz Sharif were discussing the peace process and Vajpayee was taking the bus ride to Lahore. He reckons that Musharraf, who had already planned the incursions into Kargil by irr­­e­gulars and troops, thought it fit to visit the forward areas immediately thereafter to reassure the troops that the operation he had enga­ged them in was indeed to continue as planned.

Whatever the reality, recent revelations from Pakistan have ensured that the Kargil conflict is back in the headlines again. The revelations have also triggered a new debate on who gained what and who lost what in the longest military engagement between India and Pakistan so far.

During Kargil, the Pakistanis had the advantage of high positions. Our troops had to throw them out inch by deadly inch.
Pakistan’s military planners are now weighing the real cost of the Kargil operation. For months, indeed years after Pakistani troops were evicted by the Indian army and the air force from the rugged heights of Kargil, the Pakistan’s military leadership has been in denial. It tried to maintain the facade that the intruders were mujahideen, freedom fighters really, trying to liberate Kashmir from India’s clutches and that the Pakistani military was merely providing those motley groups some moral support. In trying to keep up with the fiction, the Pakistani army even disowned its soldiers, refusing to receive their bodies. Irrefutable evidence, in the form of paybooks of regular Pakistani soldiers, their photographs and letters written by them to families, however, forced Pakistan to grudgingly accept that soldiers of its Northern Light Infantry were also involved in the intrusion into Kargil.

That a professional army could abandon its own soldiers so callously was shocking, but more embarrassing was the folly of launching an operation that seemed without any tangible political objective. Musharraf’s reckless and seemingly aimless military misadventure dented the Pakistani army’s stock considerably in global circles.
Did we succeed? Two cover stories that told the truth in war season
The Indian army, and indeed all other agencies tasked with providing intelligence, were initially caught unawares by the intrusion despite advance warnings and inputs by its frontline commander (see Outlook, Aug 2, 1999, and the subsequent coverage, right up to September 2000). That its young officers and soldiers fought back valiantly and wrested control of all the heights and peaks that the intruding Pakistanis had occupied is well documented. What is however not sufficiently discussed is the fact that even through his misadventure, Musharraf managed, in the long run, to extract quite a cost out of the Indian army.

Till the conflict broke out and ratcheted up the tension, the Kargil-Dras sector was held by a single brigade, of some 3,000 men.

Today, a full mountain division is deployed to keep vigil on the sector. The 8 Mountain Division, which will be celebrating its golden jubilee this year, was raised in the Northeast for counterinsurgency operations, before it was moved to the Kashmir Valley in the 1990s. It was rushed to the Kargil-Dras sector in the May-June 1999. Since then it has stayed on. Before the Kargil conflict happened, during the harsh winter months, the weather meant that many posts there would be vacated; the assumption was that the enemy troops would face the same problem and would prefer to withdraw. No longer.

Now, even in the severest of winter, the Indian army has to compulsorily hold those posts by stationing men there. Lt Gen Kishan Pal, who was the 15 Corps commander based in Srinagar and technically the man who led the Indian field formations during the Kargil conflict, believes that India may have won a tactical battle but lost strategically. In an interview to me in May 2010, Pal said, “Well, for 11 years I did not speak at all...I did not speak because I was never convinced about this war, whether we really won it.... We did gain some tactical victories, we regained the territories we lost, we lost 587 precious lives. I consider this a loss of a war, because whatever we gained from the war has not been consolidated, either politically or diplomatically. It has not been consolidated militarily.” In a way, the Pakistani military achieved an unintended result in tying down a full Indian army division in Kargil. The original Pakistani objective of cutting off communication and supply lines to Siachen, the Shyok and Nubra valleys in Ladakh, however, remains unfulfilled.

Having failed to wrest control of the Saltoro ridge, which dominates the Siachen glacier and acts as a wedge between the Chinese-controlled Shagsham valley and Pak-occupied Kashmir, a Track II attempt is being made to “resolve” and “demilitarise” Siachen and get India to withdraw troops from the Saltoro ridge.

By involving senior and not-so-senior retired Indian military officials in a backchannel dialogue and getting them to agree that Siachen, along with the Sir Creek dispute, is a low-hanging fruit in the India-Pakistan bilateral dialogue, a perfidious effort is currently on to get Siachen vacated through non-military means. The principle on which Musharraf launched Kargil operations has thus not been abandoned completely. The Indian establishment has, however, repeatedly failed to see through the Pakistani army’s designs. Many civil society activists in Pakistan, however, say all stakeholders, including the Pakistani army, now genuinely want peace with India. The question is: is the shift in the Pakistan mil­itary’s thinking a tactical or strategic one?

Hopefully, Indian political and military decision-makers, having learnt their lesson from the 1999 conflict, will wait to get a clear answer before reciprocating the peace overtures from Islamabad. This is the least that New Delhi owes to the young officers and men who sacrificed their lives through those months to reclaim the icy heights from intruding Pakistani forces and irregulars.

(The writer is NDTV’s security and strategic affairs editor and had reported the Kargil conflict for Outlook.)

Friday, February 1, 2013

Kargil, LoC and Gen Musharraf

Former Pakistani president General Pervez Musharraf, unwanted in his own country and shunned by his own fraternity there, is fighting a desperate battle for survival. Under attack from some of his own Army colleagues for having kept large parts of the Pakistani establishment in the dark over the Kargil operation of 1999, General Musharraf through his aides and confidantes, is making new revelations about the 1999 India-Pakistan conflict.
On a TV programme aired on Geo TV on Thursday night, a former Pakistani colonel revealed that Musharraf had crossed the Line of Control in March 1999, a couple of months ahead of the actual Kargil conflict, which lasted two months.   Colonel (retd) Ashfaq Hussain alleged that General Musharraf entered 11 km inside Indian border to survey the area.
In his book ‘Witness to Blunder’, Colonel Hussain has written that Musharraf  himself crossed the LoC in a helicopter on March 28, 1999 and spent a night on  the Indian-controlled side.  
General VP Malik, who was the Indian army chief during the Kargil war, told NDTV: " The Indian Army had reports that the first Pakistani patrols had crossed over into Indian side of the LoC some time in February even as Prime Ministers Atal Behari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif were discussing the peace process and Vajpayee had taken the bus ride to Lahore.  Gen Musharraf, who had already planned the incursions into Kargil thought it fit to visit the forward areas immediately thereafter to assure the troops that the operation was going ahead as planned. It is therefore possible that Musharraf went there in March 1999 but whether he crossed the LoC or not, I cannot say."
In his book, Colonel Husain says the Kargil 'misadventure'  was masterminded by Major General Javed Hassan, General Mehmood and General Aziz. They made then president Musharraf agree to the plans, which later lead to a limited conflict between India and Pakistan.
However, General Musharraf, in an interview to Pakistan’s Geo TV,  said the Kargil conflict was a huge success militarily. He claimed that the Pakistani Army would have "conquered" 300 square miles of India, if  then prime minister Nawaz Sharif had not visited the US and succumbed to pressure from  then US President Bill Clinton to withdraw Pakistani troops from Indian territory.
Clearly nearly 14 years after the conflict, Kargil continues to make headlines.