Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Doing the honourable thing

Adm DK Joshi has resigned on Wednesday evening as India's navy chief, taking responsibility for a series of mishaps and errors of judgement by captains of various ships over the past seven months. He has done the honourable thing as a true military leader should do but very few have had the moral courage to actual go through with.

Cynics have suggested that relations between him and the Defence Ministry had plummeted to a new low as he was seen to be underplaying the bunch of accidents much to the annoyance of the ministry mandarins and therefore Adm Joshi had no choice to quit.Although, as many would point out the fault should lie with the commanders on ground, the Flag-Officers Commanding-in-Chief, the navy's two operational commands on the western and eastern seaboards. Like a true leader, Adm Joshi however took the blame upon himself.

Wednesday morning's accident on the submarine INS Sindhuratna off the coast of Mumbai in which two officers are listed as 'unaccounted' for till the time of writing this one hour short of midnight on Wednesday, came as a last straw and Adm Joshi decided to take the moral responsibility as any military leader worth his salt would do!

What came as a surprise however was the immediate acceptance of the resignation by Defence Minister AK Antony. It was as if the Defence Minister was more than happy that someone was stepping up and taking it on the chin so that he would be spared of any blame coming right to the top in the defence ministry! Many questions need to be asked of the minister and the civil servants working under him for not holding the hand of the armed forces and meeting their requirements in time. 

It is no secret that India's submarine arm has seen its strength getting depleted rapidly but despite a comprehensive and viable submarine accretion plan being presented to the government in 1999--15 years ago--no new acquisition or accretion has happened thanks to government apathy and disinterest. Yes, the navy has made mistakes. Yes, maintenance has been a bit of problem. Yes, young officers have made errors of judgement. But for all their sins of commission and omission, each and everyone in the uniform has paid the price by either getting sacked or removed and barred from any further promotion.

In contrast, has anything happened to the DPSUs and their non-performing assets? Has any Joint Secretary (Navy) been taken to task for not speeding up acquisitions or meeting deadlines for timely delivery of platforms? Has a defence secretary ever come under scrutiny for delays and dilatory tactics? Has Mr Antony, who only wants to preserve his 'lily white reputation' of probity and integrity, ever admitted that his risk-aversion has led to India's defence modernisation being at least a decade behind schedule?

No Sir, the babus may be the ultimate decision makers on what to acquire or not (remember according to allocation of Business Rules and transaction, it is the defence secretary, and not the three service chiefs who are responsible for the defence of India!), but the fall guy in case of delays and errors has to be someone from the forces!

As the story of Adm Joshi's resignation came in, I made some half a dozen random calls to serving and retired officers to gauge their reactions; I also received a dozen odd calls from serving officers in different ranks, mostly from the navy--understandably so--angrily seeking answers to the sudden development. To most it was a bolt from blue; some were cynical but across the board everyone was angry with the unfairness of it all."The Chief has done the honourable thing a military leader is expected to do and we are happy about it. but what about others up the chain?"They were dismayed that there would be no accountability sought from the political executive and the bureaucracy for a sustained neglect of India's armed forces.

As I stood in front of the camera tonight on prime time, all these thoughts swirled in my mind. Given the limited time available on TV, I tried to articulate as many as possible but as tomorrow comes, many more questions will be and should be raised. For tonight it is sufficient to say:

                                                               Salute Adm Joshi!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

One Rank One Pension not enough to quell anger and frustartion among faujis

If the Congress-led UPA government had thought it would be able to woo the large fraternity of faujis with the One Rank One Pension sop, announced in the interim budget by Finance minister P. Chidambaram, it is perhaps mistaken because a great deal of resentment still  prevails among serving officers of the three armed forces over a glaring disparity that the government has failed to remove since 2008.

The disparity concerns status and pay scales of senior military officers in comparison to officers of organisations like the BSF, CRPF, ITBP, Defence Accounts, Ordnance Factory Board and civilians in the Military Engineering Service and General Reserve Engineering Force (GREF). All these organisations are clubbed under a cetegory called 'Organised Group A Services.' All of them work closely with the military on a day-to-day basis, building critical bordfer infrastructure, launching joint operations and maintaining accounts, to name just a few.

Till 2008, there was no problem in day-to-day functioning between the military and officers of these services.

Since 2008 however, a dissonance has set in. That year, the 6th Pay Commission allowed Organised Group A ervices Officers with 19 years of service to be treated equivalent to joint secretary level officers of the IAS. This ruling gave the Organised Group AServices Officers a head start over much senior military officers since the government determines seniorty by grade pay. The new ruling allowed these officers to get a grade pay of Rs 12,000 in 19 years. In the military the grade pay of Rs 12,000 is granted to major generals, who pick up the two-star rank after 29 years of service--a huge gap of a decade!

This has created huge functional problem of command and control in joint cadre or multi-cadre environment where military officers have to work with the officers of the Organised Group A Services. For instance, a Brigadier (with 27-28 years of service) working with engineers from MES or GREF in Kashmir, north-east or Rajasthan is considered junior to officers in these orgainsation who may have done just 20 years of service since their grade pay is higher than the brigadier!

The civilians, now as much conscious of their rank and status as their military counterparts have been refusing to obey orders from military officers senior to them in number of years of service but considered junior because of the lower grade pay.

All representations by the armed forces to the government since 2008--when the 6th Pay Commission was implemented--has fallen on deaf ears. Despite a united stand taken by by the three service chiefs and despite the Prime Minister setting up a high-powered committee of secretaries, this issue remains unresolved.

And what is the logic of not granting what is called in technical terms, non-functional ugrade or NFU? Because the government of India says Defence Officers are NOT part of Organised Group A Service.

So what are they: They are simply  ‘Commissioned Officers’.

Senior officers in the military point out that they lose out on two counts: One, they don't get higher grade pay until much later and two, they are now deemed junior to much younger (in service) officers.

On the contrary, granting NFU to defence services will remove the disparity and widespread resentment.

Why should Defence Officers get NFU?

Because of the following reasons :

None of the Org Gp A service faces as much stagnation as the Armed Forces officers because of its pyramidal structure. Almost 97 per cent of military officers retire at the levels below Joint Secretary / Maj Gen. 

Traditionally, since independence, there has been a broad parity between the Class 1 / Gp A offrs of Civil Services and the Defence Services officers which has been acknowledged by different Pay Commissions in their reports. 

In such a case,the differential behaviour of the 6th Pay Commission not only disturbs the financial parity, it pushes down the military in status. In fact, now Sub Inspectors of CRPF/BSF/ITBP too have have an edge over militry officers since they too will retire with the salary of Addl Secretary /Lt Gen, if they get promoted as Asstt Comdt / DSP in 8 yrs. All this has added to the frustartion and increased disgruntlement leading to demoralisation among military officers. 

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Monday, February 10, 2014

India’s Rising Regional Military Engagement


Sometime in the latter half of 2013, the top brass of the Indian military had a short but effective brainstorming session with other stakeholders in the national security architecture. The participants were drawn from the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) which functions directly under National Security Adviser (NSA) Shiv Shankar Menon, senior officials from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), the Research and Analysis Wing or RAW, India’s external intelligence agency and of course the Ministry of Defence. The main agenda: how to further India’s interests in the immediate and strategic neighborhood through effective use of India’s military.

For the past decade, India has been receiving increasing requests for joint exercises and training slots from what are described as “Friendly Foreign Countries” in the bureaucratic parlance of South Block, the colonial style building that houses both the defense ministry and the external affairs ministry. Considering these requests, a review was called for. At the end of the high-level meeting, a six-point formula for stepping up the nation’s military diplomacy was finalized.

Specifically, the officials decided to: leverage the military element of national power towards the furtherance of the national interest; contribute to the national security environment by developing a shared confidence amongst the armed forces; strengthen defense relations to promote India’s influence in the region; establish a presence commensurate with India’s strategic interests and the comfort level of the host nation; assist friendly foreign countries in developing defense capabilities consistent with India’s security needs; exploit India’s presence in UN Missions to further the national interest.

Many of the elements in the policy are part of India’s ongoing engagement with its friends and neighbors, but the fact that a reiteration was considered necessary signifies renewed interest in making full use of Indian military’s standing across the world.

One of the first decisions flowing out of the new thinking was to post defense attachés in the Central Asian Republics. Accordingly, three new attachés have been placed in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in the past three months. These three countries are of particular immediate interest because of their proximity to Afghanistan, currently in the middle of an uncertain transition. By posting defense attachés, India wants to make sure it remains engaged with the military leadership there as it has done for years with Tajikistan, another country that borders Afghanistan. In fact, after initial difficulties, India has helped Tajikistan build an air base at Ayni, besides intermittently basing some of its own Russian-sourced helicopters there. A 60-bed, state-of-the-art hospital built by India is manned by military doctors and paramedics at Ayni, and is seen as a major Indian contribution in Tajikistan. The new Indian defense attachés are expected to offer similar, if smaller projects to the other Central Asian Republics.

But it’s not just about placing military officers in friendly countries. New Delhi also plans various joint exercises that keep strategic interests in mind. In 2012-13, India was perhaps the only country to have conducted joint drills with all P-5 countries—the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. While many of the exercises—like the Yudh Abhyas series with the U.S. and Exercise Ajey Warrior with the U.K.—are part of a long-term engagement, India is increasingly focused on offering its expertise to its immediate neighbors too. In keeping with that policy, Indian forces have conducted joint drills, maneuvers and exercises with Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, as well as with Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Living in the shadow of an increasingly assertive China, most ASEAN and East Asian nations want New Delhi to be a counterweight to Beijing. Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and, particularly, Vietnam and Myanmar, have time and again asked New Delhi to help them both in terms of military training and weapons supply.

On a four-day visit to India last July, Myanmar’s navy chief, Vice Admiral Thura Thet Swe held wide-ranging consultations with top officials from the Indian Ministry of Defence. Apart from increasing the number of training slots of Burmese officers in Indian military training establishments, India has agreed to build at least four Offshore Patrol Vehicles (OPV) in Indian Shipyards to be used by Myanmar’s navy.

The Indian Navy, far larger than its Vietnamese counterpart, has been supplying critical spares to Hanoi for its Russian origin ships and missile boats. However, New Delhi is now more open about supporting Hanoi. Last year it offered a $100-million credit line to Vietnam to purchase military equipment. The money will be used to purchase four patrol boats.
Then there is the renewed closeness between India and Japan. When Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to India in the last week of January there was more than usual interest around the world because Abe has not hidden his intention of stitching together a broader alliance in Asia, not necessarily directed at China but certainly designed to balance its rapid rise. Not surprisingly, one key element of the joint Indo-Japan statement was preserving maritime freedom and respect for international laws in Asia. New Delhi and Tokyo reiterated their commitment “to the freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce and peaceful settlement of disputes based on the principles of international law.” In the context of the rising tension between China and Japan over the disputed island and Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, the reiteration is important.

For the first time the two countries have decided to step up their defense cooperation. Japan is at an advanced stage of talks with India to sell the ShinMaywa US-2 amphibious aircraft. If that goes ahead, this will be the first Japanese defense export since World War II. New Delhi has also invited Tokyo to participate in the annual Exercise Malabar held between the U.S. and the Indian navies. Last time Japan—along with Australia and Singapore—joined the maritime man oeuvre in 2007, Beijing protested vehemently. Seven years down the line, China is unlikely to react as vociferously, at least judging by the measured response emanating from Beijing to this new India-Japan tango.  It is certain, though, that New Delhi’s new thrust to push military cooperation more vigorously as part of its diplomatic outreach will be watched keenly around Asia.