Action at Defence Ministry at last
Bigger challenges need to be faced
FOR over a quarter of a century the Indian Army has desperately needed artillery guns. But no matter how hard it tried it couldn't get them. One reason for this, of course, was the aftermath of the Bofors scandal, which became the standard excuse of all concerned not to take any decision at all. There was an element of disingenuousness in this posturing. For, despite the commissions worth Rs 64 crore distributed to the still unnamed beneficiaries, the Swedish gun served this country superbly during the Kargil war. Ironically, it was at the peak of this fight that the Army discovered to its dismay that it was running out of ammunition because of the obsession of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to blacklist all suppliers it suspected or disliked. Ultimately, we had to buy the ammunition from South Africa at thrice the normal price. Even this made no difference to the civilian bureaucracy in the MoD and its political bosses. Indecision remained the ruling doctrine of both. Sadly, A. K. Antony, a very fine man with an enviable reputation for personal probity, who has been the longest-serving Defence Minister so far, became the biggest hurdle to decision-making. By doing nothing he was sure of retaining his image as "St. Antony".
Against this bleak backdrop it is greatly to be welcomed that within a few days after his appointment as Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has ended the paralysis over the procurement of artillery guns by clearing the decks for acquiring 814 long-range mounted artillery guns to fill a serious gap in its equipment and, therefore, in its overall capability. The cost will be Rs 15,570 crore. The deal was approved after a serious consideration at a Defence Acquisition Council meeting that Mr Parrikar presided over for the first time. He also said that the DAC should meet oftener than it has done so far even if its agenda is rather short. My first thought on hearing this was that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should have handed over the Defence Ministry to the former Goa Chief Minister while forming his Cabinet on May 26. Mr Parrikar has laid down that that the acquisition of artillery guns — like all future procurements — will take place within the framework of the Prime Minister’s “Make-in-India” concept.
While the Army will buy 100 guns off the shelf of the foreign vendor, the remaining 714 will be manufactured here. Global tenders will be floated soon, and the Indian manufacturer will have to "tie up" with the selected foreign vendor for building the gun. Several Indian companies such as the Tatas, Larsen & Toubro and Kalyani, as well as the public sector Ordnance Factory Board have already produced prototypes of 155mm, 52 calibre guns. They are all likely to take part in the bid.
So far, so good. But the real point is that the defenders of the country's freedom and frontiers will be greatly handicapped in discharging their duty until the makers of policy on national security attend to the fundamental task of reforming the higher management of the defence system. Civilian control over the military is, of course, the basic principle in every democracy. Indeed, even in China the doctrine of the “Party controlling the Gun” has prevailed since the time of Mao Zedong. The present Chinese President, Xi Jinping, has reinforced it. But in a democracy like India the civilian supremacy does not, and must not, mean the supremacy of civil servants. It is long overdue that the Indian armed forces — absolutely apolitical, unlike the armies of some of our neighbours — should be liberated from the stranglehold of the generalist babus of the MoD. In recent years when a service chief informally and politely told the then Prime Minister that he and his two opposite numbers regretted that they were not asked to be present at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), the reply he got was: “Well, you were represented by the Defence secretary”! This pattern has to end.
One thing that the Modi government does not need to do is to appoint a commission or committee to suggest what to do. There is a heap of sensible reports on the subject that are gathering dust. The report of the Kargil Committee — headed by this country's strategic guru K. Subrhamanyam — had, among other things, made a strong case of having a Chief of Defence Staff. The Atal Behari Vajpayee government took it seriously. A Group of Ministers, chaired by L. K. Advani, endorsed the suggestion. At the last minute, while accepting all the GoM's recommendations, Atalji held over the one on the CDS. He made no secret of the fact that he had consulted former President R. Venkataraman and former Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao, both of whom had been defence ministers in Congress governments.
Seven years later, the Manmohan Singh government appointed the Naresh Chandra Task Force on revamping the entire external and internal security setup. Realising that there still was much resistance to having a CDS, it suggested a step in the right direction: the appointment of a permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee with a fixed tenure of two years. This was a vast improvement over the existing arrangement under which the most senior of the three chiefs acts as chairman of the CSC also until his retirement. He neither has enough time for inter-Services matters because he has to run his own service too, nor a long enough tenure. In one case it lasted precisely 30 days. The permanent chief, according to the Task Force, would not interfere with the operational matters but handle all inter-Service issues, including determination of priority in the matter of acquisition of weapons and equipment. Most importantly, the permanent chairman would be able to supervise the Strategic Command more effectively than has been happening since 1998. Over to Mr. Parrikar.
IAF’s first transport squadron turns 70
Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, November 26
From airlifting the first Indian troops to Srinagar in 1947 for defending the Valley against the onslaught of Pakistani raiders to specialising in employing modified transport aircraft for bombing missions, it has been an eventful flight for the IAF’s first transport outfit, No.12 Squadron, as it turns 70 this week.
Raised initially on Spitfire fighters in 1945 at Kohat (Pakistan), the squadron was re-equipped with Dakota transport aircraft in September 1946, opening a new chapter in the then Royal Indian Air Force’s history. Just two days before Partition, the squadron moved from Chaklala, now in Pakistan, to Agra.
The following months saw the unit, being the only transport squadron, carrying out daring and intense flying to battle zones in Srinagar, Poonch and Ladakh, maintaining the vital air bridge, bringing in supplies, evacuating people and ferrying VIPs. Also known as “Yaks”, the squadron later switched over to the US made C-119 Packet aircraft and then on to the Russian AN-32 during the late 1980s.
“The squadron was heavily committed for Operation Meghdoot in Siachen as well as Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka, tasked for airlifting the spearhead elements during the launch phases as well as logistically sustaining the forces later,” Wg Cdr CS Grewal (retd), who has served three tenures with Yaks, said. “Earlier, during the 1971 Indo-Pak war, our Packet aircraft were part of the para-drop over Tangail in the eastern sector,” he said.
Presently based at Agra with Gp Capt Amit Pushkar as its Commanding Officer and Ari Marshal GP Singh as its Commodore Commandant, the squadron’s current roles include specific bombing missions, routine transport and communication duties as well as disaster relief operations.
BSF goes hi-tech to check infiltration
Shaurya Karanbir Gurung
Tribune News Service
New Delhi, November 26
The Border Security Force is using Underground Sensors (UGS), a "laser wall" and "smart fencing", a system comprising modern surveillance equipment, along the unfenced areas of the India-Pakistan border to check infiltration.
The developments came to light on the sidelines of the BSF's annual press conference held on the force's 50th anniversary. The BSF was constituted on December 1, 1965, and the force claims that they are currently the world's largest border guarding force.
"Smart fencing" has been developed by the BSF's Research and Development (R&D) team, while the UGS and the "laser wall" have been procured. About 85 per cent of the India-Pakistan border is fenced, while about 70 to 80 kilometre along the border in Gujarat remains unfenced, according to the BSF.
"Fencing is not in some areas, because of the non-acquisition of the land for it,” said BSF Director General DK Pathak.
He said there had been no infiltration by militants along the International Boundary (IB) in Jammu for three years.
The UGS is placed two to three feet below the ground. "When a person steps over it, the UGS sends an alarm to the screen of the system at the control centre. The person who is watching the screen sends someone to examine what has caused the alarm to go off," said a BSF source.
"Smart fencing" consists of three surveillance equipment - the LORROS, Battle Field Surveillance Radar and Hand Held Thermal Imagers. "The company commander sitting at his office can examine if anyone is approaching the zero line (the International Boundary) and has crossed it. It has been installed along a four kilometre stretch along the IB in Punjab and an equally long stretch in Jammu," said Pathak, adding that "laser wall" was being used along the IB in Jammu. "If anyone passes through the wall, it sounds an alarm," he said.
The new gadgets
Underground Sensors are placed two to three feet below the ground. "When a person steps over it, the UGS sends an alarm to the screen of the system at the control centre," said a BSF source
Smart fencing consists of three surveillance equipment. "The company commander sitting at his office can examine if anyone is approaching the zero line (the International Boundary) and has crossed it," said BSF Director General DK Pathak
Laser wall is being used along the IB in Jammu. "If anyone passes through the wall, it sounds an alarm," Pathak said
UAV crashes in Bhuj, probe ordered
Ahmedabad, November 26
An Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) of the Indian Air Force used for surveillance, presumably on the international border, crashed on the outskirts of Bhuj town, the district headquarters of Kutch in Gujarat today.
A Defence department spokesman while confirming the mishap said the unmanned remote-controlled vehicle, Heron, crashed near Mankuva village, 40 km from Bhuj. He said the exact reason behind the crash could not be ascertained and it would be known only after the court of inquiry ordered into the crash presents its findings. Kutch District Superintendent of Police DN Patel said no casualties on the ground were reported in the crash.
The UAV was acquired by India from Israel at a cost of Rs 80 crore. Heron is a medium-altitude unmanned aerial vehicle developed by Malat division of Israel Aerospace Industry and is capable of long endurance operations.
Air Force Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, Cost 80 Crore, Crashes in Gujarat
Bhuj, Gujarat: A Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) of the Indian Air Force, used for surveillance, crashed today on the outskirts of a village near Bhuj town in Gujarat's Kutch district.
"IAF's Heron UAV which was used for surveillance in the area, crashed near Mankunva village, about 40 kilometres from Bhuj town in Kutch," Defence PRO at Ahmedabad, Wing Commander Abhishek Matiman told PTI.
The cost of the Heron UAV is approximately Rs. 80 crores, the official said.
"The reason behind the crash will be known after a court of inquiry gives its findings. As the UAV was remote-controlled and there was no person in it, the exact reasons behind the crash are not yet known," he said.
According to Bhuj Superintendent of Police D N Patel, there was no casualty reported due to the crash in Mankunva village near Bhuj town.
Heron is a medium-altitude unmanned aerial vehicle developed by Malat division of Israel Aerospace industry. It is capable of medium altitude long endurance operations of up to 52 hours' duration.
It was acquired by India from Israel.
BEL delivers upgraded air defence system to army
State-run Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) Tuesday delivered the first upgraded Schilka air defence weapon system to the Indian army, three years after it signed the contract following evaluation of the prototype system in March 2011.
"Schilka is an all-weather, self-propelled, tracked, low-level air defence weapon system and its upgraded version has search-cum-track digital radar, with electro-optical fire control system," the company said in a statement.
Army's Director General, Air Defence, Lt.Gen. V.K. Saxena received the first Schilka from BEL chairman and managing director S.K. Sharma at a function here.
"The army has given clearance for bulk production of the enhanced weapon system, whose main engine, auxiliary engine, integrated fire detection, suppression system, nuclear, biological and chemical filter and communication system have also been upgraded," the company said but did not specify the number of the weapon system to be rolled out.
An air-conditioner has also been provided in the Schilka cabin for the comfort of its crew.