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Tuesday, 17 June 2008

From Today's Papers - 17 Jun

Ajai Shukla: Finding the right bullies

Ajai Shukla / New Delhi June 17, 2008, 4:47 IST

The unseemly squabbling between the army and the DRDO over the Arjun tank invites a wider debate on how India must shape its mechanised forces. This vital branch of any military launches attacks into an enemy country, its tanks, armoured carriers and airmobile forces sweeping into the opponent's heartland, dislocating his planning and breaking his will to fight. If it came to war with Pakistan, India's three "strike corps", as these mechanised formations are termed, would not dally at the border. Their objective would be the towns and cities along the Indus.

As Lt. Gen. BM Kapur (Retired), one of India's more flamboyant strike corps commanders, loved to declare, "My corps has no tasks on the territory of India."

The key player in these strike operations is the main battle tank — the MBT in military parlance — which, for India, is the Russian T-72 and T-90 tank. The "bully of the battlefield", as the MBT has been called, must be a multi-faceted fellow. It must be highly mobile on roads and cross-country; it must have a capable, computer-enhanced gun to dominate the battlefield; it must be strongly armoured to protect its crew; and it must be self-contained, carrying ammunition and fuel for days of battle deep inside enemy territory.

In the late 20th century India could get by with its Russian fleet. Those tanks were cheap, rugged, effective, and faced simpler threats. Pakistan's tank fleet was outdated, its air force was not getting additional F-16s from the US and JF-17s from China, and the Dragon himself was a relatively benign blip on the threat radar.

But now India's tank fleet must cater for a wider range of threats than the Pakistan border, where 58 out of the army's 59 tank regiments are currently deployed. The entire northeast of the country — an 11,000-kilometre border with China, Bangladesh and Myanmar is allotted just one regiment of 45 tanks.

Though the Russian T-72s and T-90s are too heavy for the riverine and mountainous northeast, the army has dragged its feet for decades in identifying and procuring a lighter tank. China is flexing its muscles over the so-called Finger Area in North Sikkim, an ideal deployment area for a detachment of Indian light tanks. But the long-standing proposal for acquiring a brigade (three regiments) of light tanks for northeast India is still in the seminar rooms of the army; it has not yet been sent on to the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

When asked why, the army's Director General of Mechanised Forces (DGMF), Lt Gen D Bhardwaj, responded with a terse written statement: "The current fleet of tanks in Mech(anised) Forces (sic) is well equipped to execute operations efficiently in all types of terrain i.e. deserts, canal and riverine terrain. We are studying the proposal for a lighter weight tank for other terrains, specifically in the NE (northeast). This of course is a futuristic requirement."

Light tanks are needed also for India's amphibious forces, which protect island territories like the Andaman and the Lakshadweep archipelagos and offshore assets like Bombay High. The Hyderabad-based 54 Infantry Division is earmarked for amphibious tasks; the Indian Navy has built landing ships for tanks; it has bought the INS Jalashwa (formerly the USS Trenton) from the United States. But it hasn't bought the light tanks that will be launched from these ships — an essential component of any amphibious force.

Light tanks are required also for airmobile operations. India has one of the world's very few militaries with strategic airlift capability, its giant IL-76 aircraft able to drop a brigade of paratroopers onto objectives far from India. In November 1988, when Tamil mercenaries invaded the Maldives, two Indian battalions were dropped from IL-76 aircraft to restore peace. They did what was asked but if a parachute force were to encounter serious fighting, they would need tank backup that isn't there today. The IL-76 can just about carry one Russian MBT, but it cannot para-drop it. A light tank, which could be air-transported and para-dropped, is a critical need.

A light tank is also needed against the growing threat of urban terrorism. Currently, India's military, police and paramilitary forces use a variety of improvised vehicles, with armour-plates welded on, when they need fire support for operations in towns or cities. Lives would be saved by a light tank, which can drive and manoeuvre in twisty streets and elevate its gun to fire at terrorists holed up in higher floors. A cleft turret fitted onto a light tank would give India this capability.

The military's inertia on the light tank is matched by its foot-dragging over the heavy Arjun MBT. Compared to the 42-ton T-72 and the 46-ton T-90, the muscular 58-ton Arjun is just the right bully for a battlefield where tank killing is an increasingly popular activity. Its Kanchan armour (named after Kanchanbagh, Hyderabad, where it was designed) adds weight; but provides reassuring protection against enemy aircraft, artillery, attack helicopters, tanks, missile carriers and shoulder-fired rocket launchers, all of which are seeking to make their day by destroying a tank.

While the weight of the Arjun would be a liability in the canal-crossed plains of Punjab, it would be transformed into an asset in the open deserts of southern Rajasthan, where one of India's strike corps invariably operates. Equipping that formation with the Arjun would dramatically increase its punch. Such a decision would also provide the tank's designers with a clear idea of what strengths they must build into future variations of the Arjun.

Karzai Threat
Pakistan vows to defend territory
Afzal Khan
writes from Islamabad

Pakistan summoned the Afghan envoy to the foreign office and lodged a strong protest against Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s statement threatening to send his troops inside Pakistan to hunt down the Taliban.

The Afghan envoy was told that security forces in Afghanistan could take any action they wanted against militants in their country but not on Pakistani territory. Pakistan would not tolerate any such intrusion and would defend its territory.

Earlier in separate statements, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and foreign minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi repudiated the statement and vowed to defend Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

In the Senate, treasury and opposition members condemned the statement and voiced concern that Karazi was actually conveying American message to Pakistan. PML-Q leaders Mushahid Hussain and Kamil Ali Agha said Pakistan must give a firm response to Afghanistan and refuse to accept American pressure being steadily build up to operate inside Pakistani territory. Many senators called for a national conference on the issue to strengthen national unity against continued external pressures.

Claiming right of hot pursuit against the Taliban as they take refuge inside Pakistan, Karzai told a news conference in Kabul on Sunday that he would send Afghan troops to Pakistan’s tribal areas to hunt down Taliban commander Beithullah Mehsud and Mullah Omar. In London, US President George Bush virtually endorsed Karazi’s statement and said tribal areas inside Pakistan must not be allowed to become safe haven for the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda.

Gillani, talking to a TV channel, said: “We neither interfere in other countries’ internal affairs nor will we allow anyone to interfere in ours. He hoped that Karzai’s remarks would not reignite a blame game by Afghanistan.

While emphasising that Pakistan wanted friendly ties with Afghanistan, the Pakistani premier reiterated that the country would not tolerate any violation of its sovereignty. “Such statements will not help normalise relations between the two countries,” he said.

Foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi termed Karzai’s statement as “regrettable” adding that such “irresponsible and threatening statements” would undermine bilateral relations. He said both countries faced a common enemy.

Qureshi said it was time for both countries to close ranks in the fight against terrorism. The only way to win the war against terrorism and extremism was by showing “full respect to the territorial sovereignty and non-interference” in each others internal affairs. “Since the two countries were faced with a common enemy it was all the more necessary that Afghanistan refrained from making irresponsible threatening statements,” Qureshi said.

US copters intrude into Khyber area

Islamabad, June 16
Two military helicopters of the US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan intruded into Pakistan’s Khyber tribal region, triggering panic among local residents, reports said on Monday.

Local residents said the helicopters intruded deep into the Landi Kotal area of Khyber Agency, adjacent to Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province on Sunday afternoon and hovered over the town for more than 10 minutes.

This was the first intrusion by helicopters of the coalition forces into Khyber Agency, the Dawn newspaper reported.

The incident occurred almost a week after an air and ground strike by coalition forces on a Pakistani post in the adjacent Mohmand tribal area killed 11 Pakistani paramilitary personnel and 10 tribesmen.

The spy planes of coalition forces have increased their flights over Pakistan’s tribal belt since last week. Spy planes and fighter jets have also increased their flights over North and South Waziristan tribal regions over the past four days. Waziristan is the stronghold of Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud. — PTI

Gorshkov delay may mothball fighter aircraft
Shiv Kumar
Tribune News Service

Mumbai, June 16
Admiral Gorshkov, the aircraft carrier ordered by the Indian Navy from Russia, has been delayed by several years.

But the delivery of the MiG 29K fighter aircraft, ordered for operating on board the aircraft carrier, will begin soon.

Naval sources say that the aircraft may be used for training purposes or mothballed till the carrier, renamed INS Vikramaditya, is delivered.

As per the deal signed between India and Russia, the former agreed to buy 12 single-seater MiG-29K and four twin-seater MiG-29 KUB aircraft under the original $1.47 billion deal.

But typical of the bungling seen in the bureaucracy, the Russians were allowed to demand more for the aircraft carrier whose delivery was delayed due to a series of mishaps even while work on the aircraft went on as per the original schedule.

Naval sources say that the MiG 29K is as good as useless if for any reason India decides not to take delivery of Gorshkov.

But this has not deterred the defence establishment from proceeding with training crew and equipping the aircraft.

Sources say that the training facilities for the MiG 29 aircraft are being built at the Vasco da Gama naval base in Goa.

According to present indications, Admiral Gorshkov will be delivered not later than 2012, more than three years after the MiG 29K aircraft arrive.

India has already agreed to spend another $650 million but the Russians are demanding $1.2 million more.

Defence analysts abroad feel that the Russians may never deliver Admiral Gorshkov and may choose to deploy the aircraft carrier with its own navy due to the
changing geo-political conditions. It is not clear what would happen to the aircraft in that case.

The MiG-29K and the MiG-29KUB, to be delivered to India, are made by the MiG Corporation at its Lukhovitsky plant, near Moscow. Naval crews who would operate the aircraft are also being trained in Russia.

Reports that the US government was offering its Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier to
the Indian Navy has been dismissed as a hoax by the Indian naval chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta.

International defence publications had reported that the US was offering the carrier to India for free on the condition that it purchases the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets for deployment on board.

Defective ammo poses risk to troops
Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 16
The Army is reported to be holding a large quantity of “defective” air defence ammunition, which is posing a risk to the safety of troops and could also lead to monetary loss.

Three soldiers had been injured in firing tests being conducted to validate the warranty of the ammunition received, which had been imported in six consignments at a total cost of Rs 166 crore.

Investigations carried out by the Directorate General of Quality Assurance (DGQA) attributed the defects to metallurgical and manufacturing process discrepancy.

Army headquarters had declared the ammunition unusable and all holding depots and units were directed to raise a loss statement and dispose-off the lot.

The Army had bought 1.1 lakh rounds of air defence ammunition and the quality and inspection clause in the contract provided that if the stores did not meet the qualitative criteria, the vendor would replace the entire lot at his expense.

The DGQA had rejected the entire first lot of 10,000 rounds and 50 per cent of the third lot of 20,000 rounds, as these were found defective. All defects noticed during proof checks were critical in nature.

Meetings were held with the vendor and later re-inspection was also carried out. Instead of full replacement of the lot as mandated under the contract, the Army authorities and the DGQA agreed to the vendor’s proposal to replace only a “small number” of rounds identified as defective.

Terming the deviation from contract conditions as “irregular”, the Comptroller and auditor General in his latest report, has revealed that defective ammunition pertaining to the third consignment was still held by the Army posing risks.

Besides, close to 9,000 rounds of the first lot, valued at about Rs 14 crore were declared as a loss.

The matter was raised by the CAG with the ministry of defence, but the ministry is yet to respond to the issue.

Army chief raises pitch for space command

New Delhi, June 16
Citing China's rapid militarisation of space, Army chief Deepak Kapoor today raised pitch for establishing the much-delayed tri-services space command for persistent surveillance and quick response to any threat to India's assets in the orbit.

General Kapoor’s remarks came in the wake of India's defence establishment, shaken up after China demonstrated its capabilities to shoot down satellites in January last year, initiating counter measures to ward off anti-satellite (ASAT) threats.

Only last fortnight, defence minister A.K. Antony had announced the setting up of an integrated space cell at the integrated defence staff headquarters to act as a single window for military use and security of space resources, apart from performing the role of interface among the Army, Navy and Air Force, besides the Department of Space and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

“Chinese space programme is expanding at an exponentially rapid pace in both offensive and defensive content. There is an imperative requirement to develop joint structures in the Indian armed forces for synergising employment of space assets,” General Kapoor said, inaugurating a day-long training for Army officers on “space applications for military use” here.

“There is an attempt to try and militarise space. There are also agreements that space militarisation should be restricted,” General Kapoor told reporters on the sidelines of the seminar organised by the Army Headquarters' Perspective Planning Directorate and the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS).

Stating that the Indian Army recognised space as an emerging arena for important military applications, he told the seminar that space was being increasingly identified as “the ultimate military high ground” for battle space dominance.

He said space-based applications such as surveillance, intelligence, communications, navigation and precision guidance played a dominant role in recent conflicts.

However, the military usage of space in the Indian context was at a comparatively nascent stage, he pointed out.

“The Indian Army, which has a large user base, needs to expand its knowledge base about space applications and optimise space-based capabilities to the maximum,” he stressed. — PTI

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