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Monday, 24 October 2011

From Today's Papers - 24 Oct 2011




Army copter strays into PoK, but no fireworks as govts stay calm

New Delhi reacts swiftly, gets in touch with Islamabad; 4-member crew back Ashok Tuteja & Ajay Banerjee Tribune News Service

New Delhi/Leh, October 23 India and Pakistan today amicably resolved what could have snowballed into a major crisis when Islamabad allowed an Indian Army chopper to fly back a few hours after it strayed 20 km inside Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) due to bad weather.  The Cheetah helicopter, carrying two pilots, a maintenance engineer and a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) from the maintenance wing returned to Kargil at 1805 hrs this evening, Army sources said.  Confirming that the helicopter and the Indian Army personnel were back, External Affairs Ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash said: “We greatly appreciate the manner in which Pakistan worked with us in resolving the matter”.  As soon as the Pakistan side confirmed that an Indian Army helicopter was in its custody after it violated the PoK airspace, New Delhi established contact with Islamabad at different levels to seek the release of the copter and the personnel aboard.  The Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) on the Indian side contacted his Pakistani counterpart while Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Sharat Sabharwal got in touch with Pakistan Foreign Ministry officials.  After Pakistani authorities investigated the matter and established that the chopper had indeed strayed into the PoK airspace and had not deliberately violated the Line of Control (LoC), the helicopter was allowed to return to India.  This was the first incident of its kind along the volatile LoC but the spirit with which the two countries settled the issue augurs well for the bilateral relationship days before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meets his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani in the Maldives on the sidelines of the SAARC Summit next month, sources said.  The helicopter had taken off from Leh and was headed to Bhimbat, around 250 km west in the Drass Sector, to repair another helicopter of the Army. The helicopter reportedly strayed across the LoC at 1317 hours because of bad weather and low visibility near the Shingyo River in the Drass sector. It entered the Gultari sector in the PoK where the personnel at an observation post asked the pilot to land the helicopter at Olding near Skardu in the Baltistan area.  The LoC in this area runs along a ridgeline, which is around 11,000-ft high. The pilots probably misjudged the alignment of the LoC because of bad weather. The Army aviation operates helicopters in the Himalayas for its administrative and maintenance needs.  The Army personnel aboard were identified as Maj Raja and Maj Kapila (both pilots), Lt Col Verma (maintenance engineer) and Naib Subedar Abilash Kumar.  Confirming that an Indian Army helicopter had been forced to land after it entered PoK airspace, Pakistan Army spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas said in Islamabad: “We are getting details and investigation is on. The more important thing is that the crew is in safe custody.”  Indian officials asserted that the helicopter’s landing in PoK was not a deliberate intrusion. After a thorough investigation, the Pakistani side reached the conclusion that the air violation was not deliberate and it was announced that the helicopter had been allowed to fly back to India.  Back


    The helicopter reportedly strayed into Pakistan because of bad weather and low visibility near the Shingyo River in the Drass sector     It entered the Gultari sector in PoK and was made to land at a helipad in Olding near Skardu     The pilots probably misjudged the alignment of the LoC because of bad weather


At high altitudes, weather is the biggest enemy

Vijay Mohan/TNS  Chandigarh, October 23 Threat from enemy bullets may not be the biggest danger for aviators negotiating the precarious mountains along the Line of Control (LoC) in the northern sector. Rather, it is weather that remains their biggest challenge.  The weather, experienced aviators say, can change within virtually no time in high-altitude mountainous areas like the Kargil and Siachen sectors, with heavy cloud formations and strong winds cropping up with little warning.  Flying in the mountains is solely dependant on visuals; pilots cannot rely on instruments or navigational aids. They have to constantly maintain visual contact with the terrain and landmarks. “Ground-to-map and map-to-ground, constantly checking map coordinates with terrain features and vice versa is the drill,” an officer said.  Though most helicopters are now equipped with GPS technology and pilots also have personal hand-held GPS devices, other radar coverage and navigational aids are not available in mountains. Pilots have to chart their course through valleys rather than flying over the mountains. The undemarcated and undulating LoC adds to the complexity of aerial operations.  Sources said in this case, it could be unexpected cloud cover or possibility of GPS link failure that could have resulted in the pilots deviating from the course. Bimbat, their destination near Kargil, is just about 2km from the LoC.  Helicopters like the Cheetah are not capable of flying through clouds. Aviators say that if bad weather or clouds are encountered, the pilots have to find a gap between them, which can possibly take them “from anywhere to anywhere”. Also if stuck in a gap, there can be little chance of turning back. As per standard operating procedures, a pilot lands wherever he sees a helipad in a clear area. “It is possible that the pilots were forced into a gap between clouds and had little option but to land where they did,” an officer said.  The aforesaid procedures for landing in adverse weather apply to civilian operators also. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation has stipulated that in the interest of passenger safety, a helicopter can make an unscheduled landing at any helipad without any adverse action being taken against pilots. In fact, a civilian helicopter carrying pilgrims had recently made such a landing at a highly restricted helipad in Jammu and Kashmir. The last known incident when an Indian aircraft had strayed across the LoC was about a year before the ceasefire on the LoC came into effect. A missile fired by Pakistani troops had hit an An-32 during its trial landing on the newly refurbished airstrip at Kargil. The then Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Air Command, Air Marshal VK Bhatia, though a fighter pilot, was reportedly at the controls of the transporter. The missile had hit one of the engines but the aircraft made it back to Leh.


Ex-Chief of Naval Staff Dawson dead

Tribune News Service  Bangalore, October 23 Admiral Oscar Stanley Dawson, AVSM, PVSM, the first ADC to the first President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad, died this morning after prolonged illness. He was 86. He was the Director of Naval Operations during the Indo-Pak conflict in 1971. His naval career spanned 41 years and was appointed Chief of Naval Staff in 1982. He also remained India’s High Commissioner to New Zealand.  The funeral service will be held at St Johns Church in Bangalore at 10.30 am on Tuesday and the burial will take place at Kalpalli Military Cemetery.


Withdrawing AFSPA Omar Abdullah’s recipe worth trying

Any decision to withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act ( AFSPA) from select areas in Jammu & Kashmir was unlikely to be uniformly hailed. Therefore, hours after the J & K Chief Minister, Mr Omar Abdullah, announced on Friday that the ‘draconian’ law would indeed be lifted from certain areas ‘within the next few days’, it came as no surprise when sections in the Defence Ministry as well as some of the political parties were quick to question the wisdom of such a commitment. While the separatists demanded that the protective provision be lifted from the entire state, sections in the armed forces pointed out that while the incidence of violence might have declined in the state, there had been no such decline in either infiltration or cross-border terrorism. Indeed, over 30 militants are said to have been killed in encounters during the last two months while Intelligence inputs speak of over 2,500 trained militants waiting in as many as 42 camps in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir to infiltrate into the Valley. Others have expressed doubts whether the Chief Minister was authorised to make the sensitive declaration and whether such a declaration could at all be made by him.  The issue is undoubtedly complex and delicate. AFSPA was first promulgated in 1958 and imposed on the North-Eastern states. It was extended to Jammu & Kashmir, excluding Ladakh and Kargil, much later in 1990. It allows the armed forces to open fire or otherwise use force on people suspected of militant activities; it permits the armed forces to enter any house or premises and carry out search operations; it authorises them to arrest without warrant anyone they feel is engaged in militant activities and, finally, it provides them immunity from legal proceedings. It has been argued that people in the Valley are opposed to the misuse of AFSPA in arresting, detaining or killing innocent civilians and its use or misuse by security agencies other than the Army. People have also pointed out the toll taken by the presence of the armed forces in the villages.  A final decision will undoubtedly be taken jointly by the state government, the Home and the Defence ministries and, of course, the armed forces. But while the latter does seem to have serious reservations about even partial lifting of AFSPA from the state, the Chief Minister’s prescription is certainly worth experimenting with.


Building ban near defence zones

Jorhat, Oct. 23: Dispur has directed town planning and civic bodies across the state not to allow construction of buildings within a 500-yard radius of any defence installation without obtaining no-objection certificates.  Sources said defence set-ups in state are on the verge of getting a major upgrade, because of which security in the areas near these installations would be of prime importance, and hence, the Centre had asked the state government to be strict while granting permission for construction of houses and buildings within a radius of 500 yards of any defence establishment.  Recently, the secretary of the state urban development department, M.U. Ahmed, told all town committees, municipal boards, development authorities and deputy commissioners that he had been directed by the government to notify them that they could issue building permissions in areas within 500 yards of any defence establishment only after obtaining an NOC from the latter.  He said defence authorities, after studying the design of the proposed building, had to issue an NOC, which had to be submitted to the civic, municipal or development authority of the area while applying for a building permission.  Ahmed said all authorities responsible for granting permission for construction of houses and buildings should strictly adhere to the relevant provision of the law as laid down in the Works of Defence Act 1903, under which getting an NOC was compulsory.  Sources said the urban development department had issued the letter in view of the fact that the practice of getting NOCs from defence authorities was not being followed in the state.  The directive assumes significance, as there are a number of defence establishments belonging to the army, Indian Air Force and paramilitary forces across the state, with many being set up during World War II.  The latest move comes barely a year after the Indian Air Force urged the district administrations to instruct civic bodies and development authorities not to grant building permission within a 100m radius of air force stations.  A restricted radius in case of weapons and explosive storage depots is 900 metres.  The said areas were declared restricted zones by a notification issued by the defence ministry.  Sources said upgrade of all defence installations in the region had been initiated, as China was becoming a major threat for India in recent times. The air force stations in Tezpur and Chabua have already been armed with Sukhoi aircraft recently.  IAF bases in Jorhat, Tezpur and Chabua have plans for expansion with the air force requesting the state government for acquisition of land early this year. The Shillong-based Eastern Air Command headquarters has written to Assam chief secretary N.K. Das requesting Dispur to expedite the land acquisition process. Top


Field evaluation trials of anti-tank missile soon

The field evaluation trials (FET) of MBDA Missile System's Pars 3 LR fire-and-forget anti-tank guided missile (ATGM), shortlisted alongside Rafael Advanced Defence System's Spike-ER for the Indian Army's weaponised Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) ‘Rudra,' is slated to get under way soon.  “We are waiting for the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited [HAL] to give us the schedule for trials. Hopefully, the dates will be finalised soon,” MBDA's Peter Meuthen told a group of Indian journalists at the company's facility at Fusaro, north of Naples, Italy.  MBDA is a four-nation European missile major eyeing a strategic partnership with India in defence development and production. Besides jointly developing a short-range surface-to-air missile (SR-SAM) with India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), it has offered close to a dozen of its tactical weapon systems to the Indian armed forces.  Pars 3 LR, according to Mr. Meuthen, is a high precision weapon system with a broad target spectrum. “It is highly effective against mobile and stationary targets equipped with latest armour protection; field fortresses; and bunkers besides other high-value targets,” he said.  Pars 3 LR boasts a maximum operational range of seven kilometres and is said to possess high jamming resistance. In salvo mode, it can fire up to four missiles in 10 seconds. The missile, in service with the German Army on its UH-Tiger helicopters, was live-fired at Vidsel in Sweden in April this year. “The successful firings matched all Indian operational requirements, but an Indian delegation could not witness it due to administrative reasons,” Mr. Meuthen said.  A Bangalore-based Indian company has been co-opted by MBDA to design and develop a twin launcher, a derivative of the quad launcher fitted on German Tiger helicopter, for the launch of the missile from ALH Rudra. “The twin-launcher has been developed by the Indian company and its production will be done there [in the event of the selection of Pars 3 LR in the competition].”  Simultaneously, MBDA has come out with an eight-missile configuration for the under-development indigenous Light Combat Helicopter (LCH). Pars 3 LR is also in contention to weaponise the 22 attack helicopters being acquired by the Indian Air Force to replace its ageing fleet of Mi-25. MBDA has proposed Pars 3 LR for the Russian MIL Mi-28 helicopter which competes in the IAF evaluation with the ‘Hellfire' anti-armour missile-equipped Apache AH-64 D manufactured by Boeing.


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