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Sunday, 1 May 2011

From Today's Papers - 01 May 2011

Happy Armour Day - 01 May

Relief to Army officers deputed to DGQA
Vijay Mohan Tribune News Service  Chandigarh, April 30 Granting relief to a section of Army officers who were placed at a disadvantage on being deputed to the Directorate General Quality Assurance (DGQA), the Chandigarh Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) has held that conditions of service cannot be altered retrospectively to the detriment of officers.  Allowing a petition filed by a Colonel, the tribunal has held that the new policy for permanent secondment to DGQA promulgated in April 2010 would not apply to officers permanently seconded prior to that date. Such officers would remain entitled to higher promotions as they were promised at the time of their secondment earlier.  The new policy provided that superseded and non-empanelled lieutenant colonels would now not be considered for permanent secondment and that the Special Merit Board (SMB) had been discontinued. The fresh policy stated that non-empanelled and superseded officers who had been granted permanent secondment in the DGQA in the past would only be granted one promotion to the rank of time-scale colonel and this clause would be applicable to those non-empanelled officers also who had already been promoted to colonel in DGQA.  The petitioner had contended that clauses of the policy were conceptually flawed because he was not a non-empanelled or superseded officer since he was a lieutenant colonel when he had been permanently seconded to DGQA and had not faced his fresh promotion board at all. Even the MS branch at the Army Headquarters had not declared any affected officer as finally non-empanelled or superseded. Further, he was seconded in April 2008 and was promoted to Colonel in DGQA in October 2008 as per the then existing policy and hence, the fresh guidelines which were for consideration of service officers for permanent secondment with effect from April 2010 could not be therefore retrospectively applied to him.  The new policy implied that officers already promoted to the rank of colonel (selection grade) much before issuance of the policy, who because of incorrect interpretation of the policy by the department, were looked at as superseded or non-empanelled, would be demoted to the status of colonel (time-scale) and their future promotions shall be barred. Time-scale colonels are lower in stature than selection grade colonels and they can be employed only against vacancies tenable by lieutenant colonels.
AK Antony to watch desert war games
A week before the Strike Corps exercise of the Indian Army can begin, defence minister AK Antony will be visiting Rajasthan to review the operational preparedness of the Army along the Western borders.  The fortnight long exercise of the Ambala-based 2 Strike Corps, under Western Command, is scheduled from May 8 in western Rajasthan, in which more than 10,000 troops will participate in war games. Elements of artillery and armoured columns are to participate in the exercise in which mobilisation time of troops during operations is expected to be tested, along with other war strategies.  Antony will be briefed by the general officer commanding-in-chief lieutenant general AK Singh at the Jaisalmer military station, about the operational preparedness and issues relating to the formation command. The defence minister is also expected to interact with the troops. A forward location visit is also on the itinerary.  Every year the three strike corps of the Indian Army carry out war game exercises and each of the three, the Bhopal-based 21 Corps, Ambala-based 2 Corps and Mathura-based 1 Corps, get their chance in turn.  Last year the Bhopal-based 21 Corps had its first ever war game based on nuclear biological chemical (NBC) warfare. The two-week war game would have elements from the Patiala-based 1 Armoured Div, Meerut-based 22 Div and the Dehradun-based 14 Div also called the ‘Rapids’. Though routine, these exercises put into practice, doctrines and tactics that would be used on a real battlefield.

Missing in action
Till a few years ago, the term "interoperability" was virtually missing from the Indian military's lexicon. Indian commanders learnt it in the flurry of joint combat exercises with US armed forces after the post-Pokhran-II thaw of 1998. Today, the Indian top brass flings the word "interoperability" about with as much ease as American generals.  But internally, the 1.13-million strong Indian Army grapples with a new buzzword: transformation. With Army chief General V K Singh leading the charge, the aim is to transform the world's second largest army, with a poor teeth-to-tail ratio, into "an agile, lethal, versatile and net-worked force, which is capability-based to meet future challenges". Gen Singh says the transformation must be 360 degrees and "enhance operational capability through reorganization, restructuring, force development and relocation." Those are big words, but the force is not all talk. The Army has conducted 13 transformation studies. These range from ways to consolidate strike capabilities and "flatten" HQs, to "synergising" all resources and revamping the Corps of Military Police. The results of the studies were pondered by the just-concluded Army commanders' conference in Delhi.  Some of the Army's new transformative concepts are already being "test-bedded" and Gen Singh has ruled that delays will not be tolerated. The "stipulated timeframes" for overall transformation, even though revolutionary in scope, are expected to fructify in the next year or two. Deadlines are "sacrosanct", Gen Singh has warned. Change is urgently needed. The Army needs to be transformed considering it is engaged on still-unresolved borders with two nuclear-armed neighbours, even as it tackles militancy in the hinterland. Altogether, the Army is said to face "a two-and-a-half front challenge".  In any case, India needs to build military capabilities that chime with its expanding geo-political aspirations and the vast expanse—stretching from the Persian Gulf right up to the Straits of Malacca—dubbed its "primary area of interest". What led to this much-needed re-think? It didn't happen overnight but its origins could loosely be traced back to the December 2001 attack on Parliament, which led the Army to launch the ponderous 'Operation Parakram', the 10-month-long massive forward troop mobilization along the western front.  Operation Parakram's lumbering mobilization of "strike formations" at the border launch pads took almost a month. That gave Pakistan time enough to shore up its defences and the US to pressure the then NDA government to back off. That was when the mood swung towards transformation, modernization and the "pro-active war strategy", loosely called the 'Cold Start' doctrine, which has rattled Pakistan no end. Ever since, the Army has worked to build the capability to mobilize fast and hit hard with self-contained and highly mobile "battle groups". It wants to be ready-and-out within 96 hours to ensure Pakistan does not have the time to prepare for counter attack.  The proposed transformation seeks to further hone this. A crucial element, for instance, is to bring together the Army's three principal offensive formations -- 1 Corps (Mathura), 2 Corps (Ambala) and 21 Corps (Bhopal)—under one operational strategic command. Gen Singh, in fact, says the Army wants to "re-organize and relocate to enhance and optimize operational capabilities both for plains and mountains", create "network-centricity", integrate logistics to support the "high tempo of future operations'' and enhance operational synergy with the Air Force and Navy.  Big words again but the subtext is clear. After decades of working to a Pakistan-centric strategy geared to battle on the plains, the Army now wants to also build its capability for offensive mountain warfare with China. Transformation also entails major force accretions and modernization for the eastern front, along with the simultaneous strengthening of capabilities on the western one.  The lessons have been learnt. A new South-Western Command was created as the Army's sixth operational command at Jaipur in 2005, falling between the Western and Southern Commands, to provide a greater offensive punch on the western front. Similarly, two new mountain warfare divisions centred around Zakama (Nagaland) and Misamari (Assam) have now been raised, with 1,260 officers and 35,011 soldiers, as well as spy drone bases, for the eastern front with China. An almost Rs 10,000-crore plan was cleared last year to for military infrastructure development in the North-East, with a new mountain strike corps and a third artillery division also on the anvil.  The Indian Air Force, much smaller than the Indian Army, is also taking steps to bridge the gaping military asymmetry with China. After Tezpur, it is now basing Sukhoi-30MKIs at Chabua (Assam), as well as upgrading eastern sector ALGs (advanced landing grounds) like Pasighat, Mechuka, Walong, Tuting, Ziro and Vijaynagar and helipads in Arunachal Pradesh. Plans are also underway to progressively base six surface-to-air Akash missile squadrons in the North-East to counter Chinese fighters, helicopters and drones.  So far so good. The problem is the Army's modernization is lagging, with critical deficiencies in artillery, air defence, aviation and night-fighting capabilities. India's lengthy and controversy-ridden military procurement process, coupled with the embarrassing lack of a robust domestic defence-industrial base, are an enormous problem in the planned modernization. But, most important of all is the operation of that term "interoperability" between the Army and defence ministry.

The new recruit: officers & almost gentlemen?
Every year, the Officers Training Academy at Chennai and the Indian Military Academy (IMA) at Dehradun jointly turn out more than 1,200 officers. In the last few years, the profile of most of the new officers has a strikingly common strand—they belong to small towns and villages. Many are the sons of naiks and havildars—non commissioned officers, who spent a lifetime serving under commissioned officers.  Defence analyst Maroof Raza agrees it is a significant change of profile for the Army officer. "Almost 80% of the officers joining up today are from a lower middle class or middle class background," he says.  Is the Indian Army becoming more meritocratic? Time was when the Army was considered the exclusive domain of erstwhile royalty and families who prided themselves on a tradition of soldiering. Observers say the changing demographic in the officer ranks indicates the increasingly heterogeneous nature of the world's second-largest army. This is also reflected in the recruitment of jawans, with practically every Indian state contributing a set number determined on the basis of its population and ethnic groups.  Clearly, the Indian Army is becoming more inclusive but some analysts complain its talent pool is shrinking. "When I look around, I see a number of officers who joined the Army as a last resort. They weren't able to get anywhere else, so they came here," says a serving major, who doesn't wish to be named.  Attracting—and more important, retaining—talent has been a problem for the Army for several years. This is thought to be the main reason it suffers a shortfall of officers. Many serving and retired officers say it is hard to advertise an Army job as attractive because it pays less than the private sector. Retired Colonel P N Khera, who edits the Delhi journal, Asia Defence News, points out that the Army's new inclusiveness is at least partly a product of its low pay. "We have the children of JCOs/Other Ranks, who are already exposed to the defence life and want to reach the level that their fathers couldn't," he says. Khera adds that "in terms of comfort level and pay scale, there are much more lucrative career options available now. That's why many officers' children don't join the services."  But what does that really mean? Do the children of Other Ranks automatically make for a poorer quality of officer? No one is willing to say so. Retired Brigadier M B Anand, who was military attaché to former Army chief Gen B C Joshi, insists that "our officers are among the best in the world". Anand declares that this is the result of " years of training". So what's the problem with having 'almost-gentlemen' become officers? Many old-school officers quietly suggest there are "adjustment problems", which no amount of training can overcome. A former Artillery major offers the sort of logic many put forward anonymously. "The sort of officers who now join up come from the smaller towns and villages. They are people who might not understand the intricacies of the 'dastoor' or practices of the old Army," he says.  The middle-class distaste at being "swamped by the masses" spills over into a crucial area for any fighting force— communication. A former captain says that "despite the training, there are many rough corners that need to be smoothed in many (new) officers. For instance, I worked under people who couldn't write a single straight paragraph in English to save their lives. It was very frustrating."  As an analyst, Maroof Raza has a ringside view of the Army that is changing as fast as India's economic contours. "Most people joining up today might not have gone to public schools. Many are not comfortable with English. But, the Army is not looking for such brilliance. They're looking for above average people – who, if given an order to go out and capture a hill, will go and do just that," he says.  The good thing now is the likely flattening of class divisions. A doctor in the Army Medical Corps says the class divide between officers and their men has to blur because many new officers are sons of jawans. "This was almost unthinkable in an officer-driven organization like the Indian Army earlier," he says. The change is slow but obvious.  Hindi is slowly replacing English as the preferred language. Parties in the officers mess now choose Bollywood rather than Western music. A serving major agrees that "in many small ways, we are slowly adapting a culture that is reflecting our homogeneity". So what does it all really mean for the Army? A former IMA instructor says it shows the Army is reflecting its adaptability and "will continue to march ahead with infusion of new ideas." He says the new officers should actually be seen as a highly desirable breed of men. They "have come up the hard way are extremely career-oriented. This will make the Army a much more professional outfit."

Premvir Das: Indo-US engagement at the crossroads
While the first formal ‘Minute of Defence Cooperation’ between India and the United States was signed in 1995, it was only after 2001 that any real interaction between the two militaries began. All three wings, the Navy, the Army and the Air Force, have carried out many joint exercises of increasing complexity. Defence procurement has also stepped up with purchases of a US Landing Ship, now INS Jalashva, and C130J and P8I maritime aircraft. Reports suggest that acquisitions of C17 aircraft for the Air Force and howitzers for the Army are under finalisation.  Difficulties persisting for several years over concluding the End User Verification Agreement (EUVA) were also resolved. Acquisitions that have been completed or almost done total $9 billion — no small achievement over just five years, given the history of the relationship.
Several Indian companies, including those involved in defence research and development, have been removed from the list of those those under US sanctions. In 2005, a fresh 10-year agreement of cooperation in the defence sector was concluded between the two countries. So, the relationship is in good shape, should be the obvious conclusion. If only things were so simple.  However, cooperation between the militaries is now threatening to plateau. Two, seemingly ordinary agreements, important to the American system but of little value to us, remain in the doghouse. These relate to communications security and logistics support (CISMOA and LSA). The former will enable a higher level of operational interoperability between ships and aircraft of the two countries and the latter, allow for book adjustments of costs incurred on ship/aircraft movements, fuel, rations and port charges.  Our position seems to be that we do not really need to get into the communications sphere, as we are happy with how things are; as for logistics, the context is unequal, as more US platforms will visit India than ours will go to the US. A better way of looking at these agreements is to get them out of the way if that satisfies the Americans, so long as there are no serious negatives. Keeping the issue alive is a needless irritant in the cooperation. The fear that these may be seen to be putting us in the American ‘camp’ is so naïve that it is laughable.  Defence cooperation has come some distance but the way ahead is not clear. Joint exercises and other personal interactions can take us only thus far. Acquisition of high-technology military hardware is important but can be sustained at the existing level of interface. So, should the engagement remain at this level, or is there need to take it further? This is the question that needs to be answered.  For more substance to be given to the relationship, a larger overview of national interest is needed. If a multipolar Asia is what India wants and a unipolar continent is what China seeks, then the US becomes a very important factor in our calculus. Its interests in Asia are enormous and it cannot let China assume a hegemonic role. Without ‘using’ the US, it is not possible for India to secure the Asia that it wants.  On another plane, none of its global aspirations can be met without the proactive support of the US — seats in the Security Council, on the high table of world trade, in groups controlling nuclear technology or in several other multilateral forums, fall in this category. The real question is whether a close engagement impacts adversely our relations with other countries — for example, Russia, Iran and Myanmar, even China, our core interests in South Asia and, indeed our concerns vis-a-vis Pakistan. These cannot be easily brushed aside but close scrutiny will show that while all these are manageable by us, the larger canvas is not.  In sum, close relations with the US are critical to India’s rise, first as an Asian power and then as a global player of consequence. If this is true, then defence cooperation between the two countries must be taken a few notches further. Its contours can be four-fold.  One, the existing military interfaces and acquisitions should be progressed apace, even if an American company does not get the contract for 126 aircraft for the Air Force, as seems likely; there will be more military procurements on line.  Two, both countries should be in sync on India’s interests in the Indian Ocean region and act in a manner that will sustain them; a permanent Chinese naval presence, possible only through base facilities in littorals, acts to the detriment of this position.  Three, maritime forces of both countries must act together in the campaign against piracy in the Indian Ocean.  Finally, India must be prepared to render military assistance in ‘out of area’ contingencies; on its part, the US must take punitive measures against acts of terrorism against India originating, even sponsored, from Pakistan.  We are at a crossroads. If we take the right road, defence cooperation will gather momentum and to our advantage. If not, it will soon run out of steam, to our detriment.

Indian Army chief to cut short tenure?
Squabbling among generals over the age of Army chief General VK Singh has plunged to a new low, with a case of crude impersonation and forgery emerging in Pune. Investigators are frantically trying to trace one Rafique Shaikh, who forged papers to show that General Singh was born in 1949 as part of what is seen as a plot to shorten the tenure of the army chief.  The certificate with a forwarding letter from a Member of Parliament was sent to defence minister A K Antony and circulated among media to muddy the waters over General Singh's age.  The Kirkee Cantonment Board in Pune filed a police case alleging that Shaikh forged General Singh's "birth certificate" to show that he was born in 1949 and not in 1951 -- the year of birth shown in the Army chief's class X certificate. R C Jagtap, Chief Executive Officer of Kirkee Cantonment Board, in his police complaint has said "Mr Rafiq Shaikh with malafide intention submitted an application to obtain a certificate for his son" and used it to create the purported birth certificate of Gen Singh.  The birth certificate manufactured by Shaikh was riddled with loopholes, with a non-existent maternity home as his birth place. But it brought out the resolve of vested interests and a faction in the Army to push Singh out by May 2012.  At the root of the controversy is what General Singh has for years called a typo in his application to the Union Public Service Commission for admission to National Defence Academy. The teacher who filed the application for Singh entered 1950 as the year of his birth instead of 1951 as recorded in Class X certificate. The Supreme Court has laid down that details in the Class X certificate are to be treated as the relevant date for all official purposes. The discrepancy resulted in two dates of birth for Singh in the Army's records. While the military secretary's branch recorded 1950 as the year of birth based on the UPSC form, the adjutant general's office maintained that it was 1951.  General Singh tried to get the anomaly rectified several times. Even the ministry of defence asked the Army to reconcile the records when the chief was being appointed a corps commander. Strangely, however, the divergence was allowed to persist.  A strong section in the Army as well as the defence ministry suspects that the controversy is now being exploited by vested interests hurt by some of the recent measures as well as patrons of some officers whose career prospects are better served by uncertainty over the succession order.  Defence Minister AK Antony has now stepped into the issue, in the wake of an RTI application, a law ministry opinion saying that Gen Singh's birth year should be 1951, and several media reports. He has asked the ministry to carry out fresh verification, with orders to "go by records" and not to give any opinions. The MOD finding will have to be approved by the Cabinet Committee on Appointments, a senior MOD source said.  A legal opinion given by the ministry of law and justice too has said that General Singh's birth year should be 1951. If this is accepted, then Northern Army Commander, Lt Gen KT Parnaik, would become the next chief in March 2013.  However, if the UPSC application showing 1950 as Singh's year of birth is taken into consideration, then Lt Gen Parnaik would be eliminated from the race and Lt Gen Bikram Singh, currently heading the Eastern Command, will take the baton after Gen Singh retires in May 2012.  Feuds among the Army brass are hardly unknown. But what differentiates the current bout is the lengths travelled by those wishing Gen Singh to retire early. Retired officers have been circulating Gen Singh's alleged birth certificates and select pages from documents, triggering suspicions whether heartburn over his tough actions are in play.  The measures taken by the Army chief on the Sukna and Adarsh scams have left behind a trail of bitterness, even generating a sense of betrayal.  Meanwhile, sources said investigation over the past 24 hours by the Pune police have failed to trace Shaikh. There was no one by the name at the address given by him (house No 28, Salisbury Park, Pune).  Investigators have recovered CCTV recordings from the Kirkee Cantonment Board office, and a woman clerk in charge of birth and death certificates has recognised Shaikh, or the person who pretended to be Shaikh, sources said. Shaikh had visited the office earlier too, and located birth details of an unnamed male child, born on June 9, 1949, with registration number 210, and claimed it was his son. He demanded the birth certificate for this child.  The lady clerical staff has told investigators that she gave a blank birth certificate in good faith to Shaikh. The certificate was later used to produce that of General Singh, showing his year of birth as 1949.

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