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Sunday, 2 November 2008

From Today's Papers - 02 Nov

Pay Row
Now, MoD lets down armed forces
Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 1
Even as a high-level committee comprising three Cabinet ministers is examining the four “core issues” that the armed forces have raised after the Sixth Pay Commission report was released, a fresh controversy has erupted. The ministry of defence (MoD) and the forces are at loggerheads again over salary related issues that have cropped up in the past one week.

It all started on October 20 when the MoD’s special instructions to implement the pay commission reached the forces.

To their dismay, the forces have now found some anomalies in the special instructions that were not there in the Sixth Pay Commission report approved by the Cabinet and notified by the government. Angered at being “short-changed”, the chief of personnel officers committee (COPOC) of the three forces has shot a letter to the MoD asking it to remove seven aberrations that include the dilution of the provisions of the pay commission as approved by the Cabinet and in some cases restore the deleted portions. These are separate from the four core issues being examined by the ministerial committee headed by Pranab Mukherjee.

The adjutant general at present heads the COPOC that also comprises the personnel officers of the Air force and the Navy. Out of the many serious anomalies, the key ones are: the dilution of the definition of the military service pay; the subversion of the definition of rank pay and the fixing of the initial pay scale for Colonels and Brigadiers at a level that is lower than what is due.

The foremost issue is of the rank pay that will result in a lesser hike in wages of all officers. The adjutant general has pointed out that the Fourth Pay Commission onward the rank pay is counted part of the basic pay. This is the government policy to club the two increases, thus affecting the quantum of house rent allowance, travelling allowance and DA. Under new orders, the MoD has delinked the rank pay from the basic pay. Hence, effectively reducing the HRA, travelling allowances and DA for each officer.

In case of the military service pay (MSP), the Sixth Pay Commission explains it as “?compensation for difficulties specific to military life”. The MoD in its latest orders to implement the pay commission report refers it to as a type of hardship allowance to “security forces” in forward areas. The personnel officers have questioned as to why the definition of the MSP has not been adopted from the pay commission itself.

Furthermore, on the MSP, the pay commission says that “in case of employees drawing the same grade pay, the priority (for status) should be on the total emoluments, including non-practising allowance for doctors and the MSP for forces”.

The personnel chiefs have pointed out that the MoD has said the MSP shall not be linked to status and rank.

The initial pay fixation for Colonels and Brigadiers was to be done as per scale “S-25” of the pay commission. Under the new instructions, the Colonels and Brigadiers have been given scale “S-24” that is applicable to a grade that is lower in the civil ranks. This means the initial pay of a Colonel will be reduced by Rs 1,300 while a Brigadier will lose Rs 3,000.

At defence meet, PM skips pay talk
2 Nov 2008, 0340 hrs IST,TNN



NEW DELHI: If the armed forces expected Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to announce the resolution of their "core demands" about their new revised pay scales, they were left sorely disappointed on Saturday.

During his address to the combined commanders' conference, the PM talked about India's quest for better relations with China and Pakistan — despite several problems and concerns — to ensure a peaceful and stable neighbourhood. Assuring the armed forces that funds would not be a constraint for their modernisation, he also said India would still be able to manage a 7-7.5% growth despite the global financial meltdown.

But Singh, said sources, skipped any mention about the 6th Pay Commission in his address to the top military brass, who feel that the extant parity of the armed forces with their civilian and paramilitary counterparts had been "destroyed" by the new pay scales.

Moreover, deciding that discretion was better part of valour, the government did not make the PM's speech or even excerpts from it public this time, as has usually been the norm over the years.

The armed forces, on their part, contend the committee of secretaries has actually introduced "far more serious anomalies" rather than resolving the ones present in the 6th Pay Commission report.

Moreover, they are now even more upset with the defence ministry for "changing the definition of rank pay" and "diluting the definition of MSP (military service pay)", among other things, in the special Army, Navy and IAF instructions issued in mid-October. Incidentally, the three-member ministerial committee is yet to finalise its recommendations about the "core demands" raised by armed forces.

The military has won back our admiration

Libby Purves: Commentary

I suppose that just after the war everybody knew a soldier. Or his mum, or wife, or orphaned child. RN and RAF, Wrens and WRACs were familiar and close to home. But the war had been hard and heartbreaking, something to move on from into a promised age of affluence, comfort and peace.

By the late Sixties the old sport of “making mock of uniforms” was back – Monty Python’s dim Colonels and RAF wizard-prangers, with handlebar moustaches and saloon-bar tremors, became staples of comedy. Gradually, over the decades, centralisation, shrinkage and technology had made the Armed Forces all but invisible.

Meanwhile, and I remember this well as a BBC Today reporter, senior MoD figures kept repeating confidently that “conventional warfare” was over because future conflicts would be nuclear. Infantrymen, rifles, house-to-house combat were all things of the past, except for a bit of peacekeeping.

So the emotional distance between the military and the population grew even wider. But then came a new age of soldiering: the Falklands, Gulf, Balkans, now Iraq and Afghanistan. The wars may be unpopular but the young men and women, returning hurt, maimed and weary, touch a raw nerve in our memories, stoked perhaps by films, novels and a school curriculum strong on the Second World War.

They arouse compassion and admiration – those who cheer the parades, support the charities and wear the poppy are no longer widely accused of “supporting war”, as they would have been 15 years ago. No politician now would dare to sneer, as Peter Mandelson did in 1997, describing the Guards, working soldiers, as “chinless wonders”.

And there’s another thing. In a wet, whiny, litigious, victim culture, the Services are pleasantly bracing to contemplate. When they stood in for firemen in beat-up Green Goddesses, we admired the briskness and bravery of our troops on home turf. When the Agriculture Ministry fouled up the BSE affair and carcasses had to be burnt in their thousands, the Army stepped in to do an unpleasant job with crunchy, well-organised dispatch. Watching the precision and faultlessness of royal funerals and the Jubilee, one commentator at least expressed envy: “Pity we can’t all commute to work every day by Royal Horse Artillery.”

Nor did it go unnoticed when a series of Service chiefs challenged the Government openly about its disorganised, cheeseparing, slipshod preparation for the war in Iraq, with no plans laid for the aftermath of Saddam’s fall.

Military values of service, briskness, sacrifice, comradeship, obedience and plain speaking are so far removed now from modern life that it draws us. Combine that with a pendulum swing and a growing sense of fairness, and you will have a crowd lining the streets for those who were once almost forgotten.

LiveFist Column: Is AVSC the Panacea?

http://livefist.blogspot.com/2008/11/livefist-column-is-avsc-panacea.html

By
AIR MARSHAL
Sharad Y Savur (Retd)
Former AOC-in-C
SOUTHERN AIR COMMAND

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was not convinced till 1962 that there was a need to expand the Armed Forces. When it was done, what followed was that young men in their hundreds (yours truly included) joined the Army (Emergency and Permanent Commissions) and the Air Force (Permanent Commissions only). Army and Air HQ must have been happy that the long awaited expansion was taking place but were they aware of what they were letting loose on themselves?

Perhaps, having served in WWII, a mass mobilisation would be followed by de-mobilisation scenario was visualised. It might have been forgotten that most of newly commissioned officers would serve for 20, even 40 years thence. IAF never had its 40 combat squadrons. The number of squadrons and other increased, many on paper, but did not keep up with the human tide. Fighter Squadrons (Sqns), each with between 10 to 14 serviceable aircraft, were flooded with anywhere from 40 to 60 often more, pilots. Transport aircraft Sqns had between 120 and 150 pilots to fly a similar number of aircraft. Often the junior-most officers were at the “disposal” (no pun intended) of the Sqn Adj. The best solution then was to attach these officers to different units away from their parent units – often for months on end. The Flt Cdr neither had the time nor the flying effort to keep them occupied. Fighter pilots flew as supernumerary pilots in transport aircraft (note the irony?) to meet the requirement of 12 hours a month to be eligible to draw Flying Bounty. The transport Sqn’s own pilots often flew as supernumerary to the 10th degree for their flying bounty. It was joke that the Il-14 (seating capacity 28), had 10 pilots as supernumerary pilots. Dispersion of pilots, lack of flying effort with resultant lack of job satisfaction was combined with dilution of authority, responsibility and accountability and de-motivation followed.

Add to this stagnation for till 1976 eligible officers were considered for promotion in their turn and placed in waiting lists – to be promoted when or if a vacancy arose before they superannuated. In 1978, the first signs of the problem of the influx started to show. So the first cadre review to increase the vacancies at the Select grade – Wg Cdr and above was proposed and implemented. It was to provide career progression to the 1963-1969 commissioned officers (known as The Bulge). Armed Forces got a large number of higher vacancies after sacrificing some lower vacancies, at the insistence of the Finance (Defence) – some sort of no loss, no gain basis (I cannot recollect the term used but it was quaint).

It was followed by the New Promotion Policy (NPP), also called Deep Selection Policy (DSP). DSP would consider all eligible officers in a seniority band for promotion against expected vacancies in the period April to March. The promotions were based on merit and not on seniority. It was reported that there were hiccups in the discussions, humourous suggestions. How could IAF have two Air Marshals in a Command HQ – the AOC-in-C and SASO? Should Vice Chief of Air Staff, AOsC-in-C Western Air Command and Eastern Air Command be designated Vice Air Chief Marshals? Promotion Boards (PBs) were conducted and officers selected by the PB placed in two separate lists - the Main Select List (sure to be promoted) or MSL and the Reserve Select List (RSL) – might be promoted in the eventuality of a vacancy arising (if some one from the MSL was medically unfit etc).

So the bulge started to move upwards (unlike what happens in real life). But the next hurdle was that the DSP was confined to Sqn Ldr to Air Cmde ranks. Air Cmdes were empanelled and cleared for promotion on “Minimum Performance Criteria” and medical fitness. Every Air Cmde waited for his turn that determined promotion – a mixture of the date of birth, seniority in the list, and the availability of a vacancy.

Around the time the Ajai Vikram Singh Committee (AVSC) was constituted in 2001, there came about a change in the promotion policy for Air ranks in the IAF. CAS discussed a New Promotion Policy (NPP) in January 2002 and it was approved by MoD and implemented in March 2002. It was intended to remove stagnation and accelerate promotion of air officers purely on merit. The NPP followed the same norms of PBs to provide career progression for Air Cmdes and AVMs by merit, but a separation policy was not included, perhaps intentionally. Most Air Cmdes and AVMs had between 1 to 2 years to superannuate in the ranks at first consideration or two attempts more at attaining the higher rank. Therefore separation would be more or less automatic, unless an air officer preferred to leave earlier. The CAS also encouraged any officer who wanted to leave the IAF to do so. Both actions resulted in addressing the issue of stagnation and upward career mobility.

The Army continued with its old policy – briefly, “be approved” for promotion and wait for a vacancy when one’s turn came up. The Navy professed that it had no problem of stagnation. In the meantime, in 2003 the AVSC forwarded its recommendations to the Govt. The first instalment of AVSC proposed vacancies were released in December 2004 by the COAS at the Army Day Parade, much to the chagrin of the CNS and CAS. It was to be the panacea for stagnation of Lt Cols and below and their equivalents. Much clamour followed on the timing and much else of the announcement. But lost in the dust of the clamour was whether the Armed Forces were diluting all that they held of value – responsibility, accountability, and izzat.

The Armed Forces were simultaneously clamouring for more officers as massive shortages in the Officer cadre were projected and reported. Let us step aside and consider – 1. Does a situation of 2001 still exist in 2004? 2. Is there some other method to ensure the career progression of deserving officers? 3. What would be the effect of such a large number of upgradations on the existing command, communications and reporting, more importantly the authority, responsibilities and accountability from which the Armed Forces derive their strength? 4. Finally, do the Armed Forces have the infrastructure to fit in these “upgraded” vacancies? Even as late as 21st October 2008, the RM is reported to have stated that there is a shortage of 11,119 officers in the Army, of 1359 officers in the Navy and 1352 in the Air Force. Have the Armed Forces taken these into consideration while accepting the increase to AVSC II levels?

The vacancies were identified prior to 2001 but how does it help the Armed Forces if the approval and release is in 2008? Weren’t at least 500 officers retiring per year from the 1963-69 batches? Weren’t the course after 1969 smaller – firstly because the Armed Forces needed lesser number of officers? And that led to the beginning of the shortages cycle – more superannuating from than joining the Armed Forces? AVSC II gives 1896 higher posts now - 20 new Lt Gen (+ 68 existing ones); 75 new Maj Gen (+216 existing ones); 322 new Brig (+ 866 existing ones) and 734 new Cols (+ 4288 existing ones); 4 VADM (+14), 14 RADM (+62) and 324 Cmde & Capts (+474); Air Mshls 6 (+14), AVM 21 (+52), Air Cmde 62 (+155) and 415 Gp Capts (+635). In all there will be 8789 officers of the rank of Col and above vis-à-vis 45000 officers’ cadre strength. Soon, will there be adequate numbers for the PBs to consider, say in 2 years when the last of the large courses retire? Promotion Policy states that the ratio of those considered vis-à-vis the vacancies has to be 3:1. So what happens when there will be more vacancies than eligible officers– another committee by another name?

It is going to be a glut of vacancies in the IAF because many squadrons have already been “number-plated” and more than 450 MiG-21 will be mothballed by 2010. The replacements will nowhere match these phase outs. So will the IAF be again in the 1969 situation with a difference – too many senior officers to preside over fewer junior officers who will have lesser number of aircraft to fly? Perhaps an otherwise obdurate bureaucracy must have been gently prodded into accepting the arguments and agreeing to the recommendations of the Armed Forces because there was a concrete precedent – the IAS and their creation of posts to accommodate as many as possible in every IAS batch at levels of Jt Secy and above.

Perhaps the Govt approval is linked to the fracas over pay anomalies, perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps the timing is good enough reason for speculation. Perhaps my pet bogey, that invidious CoS, precipitated the approval as a “decoy.” It obviously does not matter to the IAS whether they have 10 or more Secretaries in a Ministry. Most often, though interconnected, they operate in compartments. Look at the Finance Ministry (5) or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (3 +). Interesting isn’t it that there isn’t a Def Secy each for Army, Navy or Air Force? But the IAS also has a tacit command and control structure. Else, why is it that the IAS does not have two District Collectors? Why don’t they have two Chief Secretaries in the State? But the IAS did not object to many Directors General of Police (DsGP) - one who is the head of the police forces in a State and other DsGP (full-fledged) who preside over sundry portfolios like Jails, Vigilance, HQ, any of whom might be appointed chief of police at any time!

My unsolicited solution: - 1. Assimilate officers who are promoted into the system in a Career Officers’ cadre. They will be considered for promotion. 2. Select officers who are not promoted due to lack of vacancies but who have scored high in merit (7 or more in the ARs) to be placed in Professional Officers cadre. They will continue to be paid increments in salaries but will not be considered by PBs and will retire at the age of 55 years. 3. Severance for those whose report status (6 or below) entails their never being promoted in the 3 chances the NPP propounds. Severance must be started with PB-III onwards. It will leave enough officers to man the posts and depleted cockpit vacancies. Perhaps, as a “wise after retirement” air marshal, I can only caution the Armed Forces to show as much prudence in implementing the AVSC II as they did in not implementing the flawed recommendations of the CoS. Jai Hind.

P.S. Now, my unsolicited solution is ASS (for Assimilation, Selection, Severance) for two reasons -- since acronyms are the order of the day and also pre-emptively agreeing with what many serving officers will call me after reading this post.

(Air Marshal Savur retired in 2006 as AOC-in-C, Southern Air Command. A decorated transport pilot, Air Marshal Savur has flown several VIPs, including former PMs Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. He now lives and works near Bangalore.)

Militants, not India, Pakistan's Biggest Threat: Obama
By Arun Kumar

Washington
Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has said that the US needs to convince Pakistan's "fledgling democratic government" that its "biggest threat" is not India but militants within its own borders.

"Well, I am concerned about it," he told CNN in an interview Saturday when asked if he was worried about the stability of Pakistan under its new democratic dispensation with Al Qaeda seemed to be going after the new leadership.

"Now you've got a fledgling democratic government (in Pakistan). We have to support their efforts to democratize," Obama said.

"That means, by the way, not just providing military aid, it means helping them to provide concrete solutions to the poverty and lack of education that exists in Pakistan. So I want to increase non-military aid to Pakistan.

"But we also have to help make the case that the biggest threat to Pakistan right now is not India, which has been their historical enemy, it is actually militants within their own borders.

"And if we can get them to refocus on that, then that is going to be critical to our success not just in stabilising Pakistan but also in finishing the job in Afghanistan," he said.

"This was one of the problems with our previous strategy where there was a lot of resentment that built up as a consequence of our support of President (Pervez) Musharraf there who had squelched democracy," he said.

About Afghanistan, Obama said: "We're still going to have expenditures" there "because we need to hunt down (Osama) bin Laden and Al Qaeda and put them finally out of business."

About Iraq, he said winding up the war there could result in savings of about $12 billion, but it is not going to come straightaway.

"The war in Iraq, we can achieve some significant savings. It's not going to come immediately. I've said I want a responsible drawdown. We're still going to have to refit our military. We're still going to have to deal with rising veterans' costs," he said

"My hope is that we draw down that money over time, it's drastically reduced. But the point is that we're not going to be able to take that $12 billion and suddenly automatically apply it all to domestic stuff. We've got to take care of our troops," he said.

Army knew of blast plan
- Singh promises stringent action

A STAFF REPORTER

Guwahati, Nov. 1: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today promised that “effective steps would be taken against whoever is responsible for the dastardly act and if any country is involved, then the matter would be taken up with it.”

Nine blasts in Guwahati, Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon and Barpeta Road on Thursday had left 81 dead and over 300 injured in Assam.

Asked whether India would take up the matter of the blasts with Bangladesh, Singh told newspersons at Gauhati Medical College Hospital (GMCH) that it would not be proper for him to comment on the involvement of any country in the blasts as “proper investigation” was still on.

Accompanied by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Singh made a whirlwind tour of the city this afternoon.

He visited the blast sites and met the injured in the hospitals to express solidarity with the people of the state which had elected him to the Rajya Sabha.

Sonia did not say much, apart from asking officials about the blasts during her visits to the sites and talking to some of the injured in hospital.

During the brief interaction with reporters at GMCH, Singh dismissed Opposition allegations that his government was turning soft on terrorists.

“There will be no compromise on terrorism,” he said before winding up his visit and returning to Delhi.

The assurance may not have sparked much hope among the terror-stricken citizens, but some other promises made by Singh kindled hope among some of the injured.

Aparna Deka, a 35-year-old widow with three children who was assured a job by Singh during his visit to the GMCH, said: “I feel slightly better now that he has assured me a job”. Deka, who had lost her husband six months ago, sustained splinter injuries when she went to Ganeshguri to fetch medicine for her one-and-a-half year-old son.

Atul Chandra Medhi, a farmer from Mirza in Kamrup district who was critically injured in Thursday’s bomb blast and is undergoing treatment at the Mahendra Mohan Choudhury Hospital (MMCH), also prayed for relief.

“I have a wife and six children. My mother is bedridden and I am the lone breadwinner. I got injured when I went to the DC’s office on Thursday,” he said.

Nirmal Das, a resident of North Guwahati who is also undergoing treatment at the MMCH, said the Prime Minister’s visit “would be meaningless if we do not get any real help”.

The Prime Minister said an ex gratia of Rs 3 lakh — in addition to that announced earlier by the state government — would be given to the family members of those who died in the blasts.

At the chief judicial magistrate’s court blast site, the Lawyers’ Association, Guwahati, submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister. The lawyers alleged that the state government had failed miserably on the law and order front.

Singh assured them that everything possible would be done to prevent any such an incident in future and stern action would be taken against those involved in the blasts.

The lawyers demanded a compensation of Rs 10 lakh for those killed, Rs 3 lakh for the injured, Rs 5 lakh for those who had lost their cars and Rs 1 lakh for those who had lost their two-wheelers in the blasts.

As Singh left the CJM’s court for GMCH, a police vehicle escorting chief minister Tarun Gogoi’s convoy, which was following Singh’s convoy, overturned at Bhangagarh on G.S. Road, injuring two Assam police personnel.

The injured were identified as Monokanta Sangmai and Brajen Baishya, both havildars of the special branch of Assam police. They were rushed to the GMCH.

“Sangmai was admitted to the hospital. Baishya was released after first aid,” a police source said. The vehicle’s driver, Bhadreswar Gogoi, escaped unhurt. The source said the driver lost control when another vehicle ahead of him in the convoy suddenly slammed on the brakes.

Civil war possible in Pak if US attack continues: Sharif

Press Trust of India

Sunday, November 02, 2008 (Islamabad)

Former premier and opposition PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif on Saturday warned that if the ongoing US missile attacks on Pakistani soil were not stopped forthwith then civil war may break out in the country.

In a scathing attack on PPP-led federal government, he said both the government in Islamabad and the US are loosing public support due to the increasing missile strikes by latter on Pakistani soil.

"The US attacks on Pakistani soil have become a routine and a big challenge to the integrity and autonomy of the country," he said and expressed concern over the killing of innocent people in such attacks.

"If the ongoing US attacks on Pakistani soil were not stopped forthwith and the problems of the peaceful people were not resolved then civil war may break out," he warned.

Sharif's comments came a day after two missile strikes by US drones in Pakistan's lawless North and South Waziristan tribal regions killed 32 people, including Arab militants and an Al-Qaeda commander.

The former prime minister said the US missile strikes on Pakistani soil had raised questions about bilateral relations as they had continued even after a special session of Pakistan's parliament adopted a resolution opposing the attacks and despite the assertions of the US administration about respecting the country's integrity.

He urged the government to make it clear to the US that any war, whether it is against terror or for any other purpose, can be won only with the support of the people.

"Nowadays, the whole world is in the grip of defence, political, strategic, geographical and environmental changes. In such a situation, the growing threat of militancy and terrorism causes intolerance and economic instability, which is a big challenge for humanity," he said in a statement.

India Consults U.N. On Future Of Its Peace Mission In Congo

NEW DELHI, Nov 1 (Bernama) -- With Indian peace-keepers coming under fire in the raging battle between government and rebel forces in Congo, India is seriously weighing its options vis-a-vis its United Nations-sponsored mission in the war-ravaged African nation.

According to a report by Press Trust of India (PTI), India has also expressed "concern" over the latest developments in Congo, where three Army personnel, including a Lieutenant Colonel, were injured after being attacked with rockets in the course of a battle between government and rebel forces recently.

"We are very much concerned about the latest developments there. Because we are (caught) in between (government and rebel forces) now. It is a very serious development," Defence Minister A.K. Antony told reporters here, on the sidelines of the ongoing Navy Commanders Conference.

Asked if India was having a re-think about its peace-keeping role in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Antony said, "We have already taken it up with the United Nations for future course of action."

However, he did not elaborate on what were the options before India in the wake of its troops coming under attack and several other countries refusing to do the peace-keepers' role in the troubled northern Kivu province.

"Already I told you we are very much concerned about the latest developments there and that is why we have already taken up with the U.N. about the future course of our peace-keeping....we now have to proceed for the future," he said.

A Lt Colonel and two other personnel of Indian Army on a peace mission in Congo were injured when a contingent of U.N. troops came under attack during a battle between government and rebel forces in northern Kivu province on Sept 25.

Five rockets were fired on two armoured personnel carriers belonging to the Indian troops while they were maintaining security for civilians, resulting in injuries to the Lt Col and two other personnel.

In the wake of fighting between the government forces and rebels, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has issued an urgent appeal for an end to the conflict.

UN envoy in Congo, Alan Doss, also demanded more troops to be deployed in the region after heavy fighting between rebels and government forces in eastern Congo, close to the regional capital Goma.

Indian Army, which is the largest contributor to the 17,000-strong U.N. force, is expected to stop any advance by rebels, who have made significant progress in the last two days.

Indian troops were asked to deploy themselves from Goma to adjoining North Kivu province, after the Uruguayan battalion deployed in the region fled and the Senegalese troops refused to be deployed there.

Indian peacekeepers caught in crossfire in Congo

Surya Gangadharan

CNN-IBN

THE PROTECTORS: If India withdraws, Kivu's capital Goma could fall into the hands of rebels.

New Delhi: Indian troops, who are in Congo as part of the UN peacekeeping force, are caught between a weak government and rebel forces. Rwanda-backed rebel forces have surrounded 150 Indian peacekeepers and also half of the Uruguayan peacekeeping force attempting to secure eastern Congo.

"We are very much concerned about the latest developments there because we are (caught) in between (government and rebel forces) now. It is a very serious development," said Defence Minister AK Antony hinting at growing doubts over the future of India's peacekeeping mission in the Congo.

He did not spell out what options India was considering and if withdrawal of the roughly 5,000 troops from Kivu in eastern Congo was one of them.

If India withdraws, Kivu's capital Goma could easily fall, which would result in the entire mineral-rich Kivu passing into rebel hands.

It could well spell the end of the peace process put together with great difficulty by the UN. It is a fact which has been worrying visiting UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.

"I hope we will be able to contain the situation and see how we can implement and keep the ceasefire and dialogue," Ban ki Moon said.

But Indian Army sources dismiss the rebel threat to Goma. The Army described the rebels as a rag-tag bunch and say they can be eliminated if the orders are given by the UN representative.

At present no such orders have come and the troops are limited to monitoring the ceasefire, which forces them to disperse their troops in a number of locations rendering them vulnerable to rebel attack.

Another problem is the UN force commander quit last week saying the mission was too complex and a battalion of Urugayan troops pulled out of Goma two days ago without any explanation leaving the Indians the sole defenders of the city.

Fincantieri to build new fleet tanker for the Indian Navy

Written on October 31, 2008 – 8:19 pm | by Frontier India Strategic and Defence |

On the occasion of the international exhibition Euronaval – the most important trade fair for the defence industries currently in progress in Paris-Le Bourget – Fincantieri has announced the company has gained an order to build a fleet tanker for the Indian Navy.

Following previous orders to Russian industries, this is the first order for a surface vessel for which India has chosen a foreign company, Fincantieri, which competed to win the order against leading international players, especially from Russia and Korea.

The vessel, which will be built at the shipyards in Liguria, for delivery at the end of 2010, will be 175 metres long, 25 wide and 19 high and will have a displacement at full load of 27,500 tonnes. The ship will be powered by two 10,000 kW diesel engines which will enable it to reach a maximum speed of 20 knots and its propulsion system will feature an adjustable blade propeller. There will also be a flight deck on board for medium-heavy helicopters (up to 10 tons).

The ship will accommodate up to 248 passengers – crew and supplementary personnel. Equipped with double hatches, the vessel will be able to service four ships at the same time. In accordance with the new Marpol regulations of the International Maritime Organization concerning the protection of the environment, this will be the first ship of this type to be built with a double hull thereby improving protection of the fuel tanks and avoiding the risk of pollution in case of collision or damage.

Fincantieri has already built the “Sagar Nidhi” for India, an oceanographic vessel for the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) in Madras which was delivered at the end of 2007. In addition, in 2004 the company drew up two contracts with Cochin shipyard regarding the design of the engine, technology transfer and the provision of complementary services for the construction of the Air Defence Ship (ADS); activities are also in the process of being finalized for the sharing of the functional design and details of the propulsion system. The assistance stage at the Indian shipyard is about to start up shortly.

In order to better service the Indian area, Fincantieri has set up a permanent, representative office in New Delhi.

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