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Monday, 4 June 2012

From Today's Papers - 04 Jun 2012
ACs to give tank crew respite from heat
Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 3
For tank crew, clad in black overalls and ensconced in the metallic confines of their war machines, there could soon be some respite from the scorching desert heat. The T-90 tanks are being upgraded with environmental control systems and additional auxiliary power units (APU).

This would not only improve operating conditions for the crew, but also protect sensitive electronic equipment that was defect-prone due to high temperatures that prevail in the Indian sub-continent.

A request for information issued by the Directorate General Mechanised Forces (DGMF) at Army Headquarters earlier this week states that the Indian Army is in the process of upgrading the T-90 fleet and a large fleet of T-90 tanks would be required to be fitted with Environmental Control equipment along with APU. The DGMF has sought a response from prospective vendors by June 20.

The bulk of the tank fleet is deployed for operations along the western border that is characterised by plains and desert terrain, where ambient summer temperatures touch 50 degrees Celsius. This not only adds to crew fatigue, but damages sensitive opto-electronic equipment like fire control system and thermal imaging sights, much of which is of Russian origin and designed for operations in temperate climate.

The T-90 is the Army’s latest acquisition that began entering service about a decade ago and there have been reports of some critical sub-systems malfunctioning due to heat. With non-availability of suitable imported replacements, the Army was forced to go in for local innovations to meet operational requirements. Some of these innovations have been successful and highly economical.

The Army is reported to have about 650 T-90s equipping 14 armoured regiments, with plans to equip 21 regiments with this tank. Assembly of T-90 tanks at Avdi near Chennai has also commenced.

The environmental control systems and APU are expected to be mounted outside on the tanks’ turret, with only the cooling units and ducts inside the compartment to direct cool air at the crew stations and the electronic systems. The APUs would also be used to power critical systems like ballistic computer, gun control system and sights, radio sets and navigation equipment in the “silent mode” when noise producing engines are switched-off to maintain stealth.
Pipeline geopolitics
India needs to get it right
by Zorawar Daulet Singh

India spends over $400 million each day on oil imports, which account for 70 per cent of its oil consumption. For a country facing such high import dependence in its growth trajectory, one would expect securing reliable and long-term supplies would be at the forefront of our development and foreign policy agenda. And yet, Delhi seems to be expending diplomatic and political resources in a direction that would baffle even the most optimistic of observers. Last week, the Union Cabinet affirmed India’s participation in the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) 1,700-kilometre pipeline, which envisages a flow of gas from Central Asia into the Indian heartland.

While in a December 2010 inter-governmental agreement, Afghanistan and Pakistan have committed to the security of the pipeline, the transit zone involved in the TAPI case is now widely aknowledged as the most tumultuous region in the world. In Afghanistan, though the Kabul regime has received extensive international aid and military support, it is by no means assured that state capacity will acquire a threshold that can ensure the uninterrupted flow of a strategic resource like natural gas across 735-kilometres of southern and western Afghanistan, ironically, the hotbed of Pashtun resistance.

In Pakistan, the problem is magnified because state capacity is both weak and has been compromised by an ideology that is repulsed by the idea of interdependence with India. Further, the most vital institution – the Army – that would underwrite the security of the 800-kilometre transit route is nurtured by a strategic culture that strives to acquire new leverages vis-à-vis India. To place India’s energy security in the hands of an institution that has rarely been bound by international agreements would be strategically irresponsible.

So, why is this project being pursued? Perhaps, it serves to underscore India’s hope for a seamless flow of resources across the greater South Asia region. It might also be good public diplomacy as India exudes the right notes for a region condemned to irresolvable territorial conflicts. Indeed, the US State Department spokesperson summed up US interest in this project: “You’ve got new transit routes, you’ve got people-to-people links, you’ve got increased trade across a region that historically has not been well-linked, where there have been historic antipathies which are now being broken down by this positive investment project.”

Few can dismiss such grandiose rhetoric. But to assert that the TAPI pipeline “is a perfect example of energy diversification” as the US official did, is going too far. What it actually reflects is America’s dual strategy to break the Russian monopsony on Central Asian gas and prevent the flow of Iranian gas eastward.

The pursuit of energy security is a serious endeavour and cannot be driven by or become hostage to ideological or optimistic projections of international politics. Surely, there are other more benign means to test the prospects of Central-South Asian camaraderie? A two-way flow of less strategic merchandise and people could be a start.

If energy security is a national concern, Delhi should be pursuing a geostrategy that is based on a more sensible comparative assessment of the potential lines of communication to the energy-starved Indian heartland.

The severing of India’s natural lines of communication to the resource wealth of Central and West Asia was one of the great tragedies of Partition. In many ways, India’s post-1947 foreign policy has struggled to overcome the geopolitical consequences of Partition after which India became a prisoner of geography unable to forge continental geoeconomic or geopolitical links with its western periphery and beyond. Fortunately, peninsular India has historically always provided options to craft maritime lines of communication between India and the world. Indeed, over 90 per cent of India’s trade and all of its oil imports rely on maritime transportation networks. Thus, it is only logical for India to explore maritime energy routes.

In 2009, the Gas Authority of India (GAIL) entered into a Principles of Cooperation agreement with the South Asia Gas Enterprises (SAGE) to explore the technical viability of laying a deep-sea pipeline from West Asia across the Arabian Sea to India. According to SAGE, the cost of a pipeline from Oman to India, a project first studied in 1995, would be $4 billion (TAPI is estimated to cost $8-10 billion). The gas tariff would also be lower since transit or security costs become negligible. Oman’s access to the Arabian Sea makes it a natural export hub for gas-rich states like Qatar, Turkmenistan and Iran. A direct coastal pipeline from Iran to India is not only technically challenging, given the depth and turbulence of the Indus Canyon, but would also require Pakistan’s acquiescence since it would traverse near the latter’s exclusive economic zone.

In March 2011, the Union Petroleum Minister stated in the Rajya Sabha that “so far technical feasibility of the (Oman-India) project has not been established” and “not much progress has been made since” mid-2009. Has India’s inability to de-hyphenate its Tehran ties from its US-policy reduced the attractiveness of this project?

Russia’s strategy of systematically investing in routes that bypass politically volatile or unfriendly transit states can serve as a lesson for India. In 2005, Moscow and Berlin came together to collaborate on a project that sought to overcome the financial and geopolitical costs of transiting large volumes of natural gas through Central and Eastern Europe. Until recently, 70 per cent of Russian gas was transiting through Ukraine and Poland. The 1200-kilometre Nord Stream sub-sea pipeline network, which became operational in 2011, has directly connected Eurasia’s largest energy supplier to the economic heart of Europe through the Baltic Sea.

India’s proximity to energy-rich West Asia is a geopolitical advantage that most nations can only aspire for. Lines of communication, however, do not just arise spontaneously but are always the outcome of sustained political, economic and even military commitment to specific routes that are deemed stable and relatively inexpensive to sustain. This is the essence of geostrategy. Moreover, advancement in offshore technologies and high hydrocarbon prices has made deepwater pipelines a viable proposition. Finally, the growing capabilities of the Indian Navy will only complement a political initiative to pursue a sub-sea link between West Asia and India’s west coast.

It would be absurd if public diplomacy that is apparently guiding Delhi’s calculus on TAPI deflects attention from the more urgent need for a secure maritime energy line of communication to India’s economy. A subsea pipeline deserves more than a perfunctory assessment.
City woman scales Everest in Indian Army expedition
Twelve years ago, when Goregaon resident Prachi Gole-Taneja signed up for a basic mountaineering course at Manali to enjoy the snow and get away from sweltering Mumbai heat, she had no idea she would scale Mount Everest one day. On May 26, Captain Prachi Gole-Taneja, 28, successfully
scaled the Everest, the highest peak in the world at 8,848 meters above sea level. She was part of the Indian Army Women Everest Expedition 2012, the first ever all-women team to achieve the feat from the Nepal side, the traditional, but tougher route.

In 2005, through the first Everest expedition with women army officers, two women had reached the peak from the Tibet side.

“I was on the top of the world and we had 100% success rate with no casualty or injuries. Only when Sagarmatha (Mt Everest) wishes to see you, can you do it,” said an excited Gole-Taneja, from Kathmandu where she is enjoying a break with  the other team members.

In May, six deaths were reported from other expeditions due to rough weather.

In all, 21 members, including support staff such as sherpas and technical staff, had accompanied the seven women officers.

Gole-Taneja was the first one from her family, full of doctors and engineers, to join the army or attempt anything adventurous.

After initial apprehension, they are proud and relieved at the same time about her feat.

“I used to be very scared to watch the Mt. Everest videos, which she would watch at home. I knew it is a matter of life and death out there. Now that she has conquered it, I want to see them. I could not have asked for more in life,” said Surekha Gole, her mother, a pre-primary school principal, who is in the US at present.

“Our mother always taught us to get some title in front of our names and not just be a Mrs. I didn’t have any academic ambitions, but did well in the National Cadet Corps in college. That’s why I decided to join the army,” said Gole-Taneja, who completed her training from Chennai in 2007 and is currently posted in Kashmir.
First satellite for armed forces to be ready in a month
NEW DELHI: The armed forces are finally set to get their first-ever dedicated military satellite, a naval surveillance and communications one, as part of their long-standing quest to effectively harness the final frontier of space.

The geo-stationary naval satellite has "already been shipped out'' for its launch that will take place "within a month or so", government sources said.

A not-too-subtle indicator of the space event in the offing was also the creation of a new post of assistant chief of naval staff (communications, space and network-centric operations) at the Navy head-quarters over the weekend.

Though tight-lipped about the "over-the-sea" satellite's launch, the Navy on Sunday said Rear Admiral Kishan K Pandey, a communications and electronic warfare specialist, had taken over as the new ACNS (CSNCO) in keeping with its endeavour to transform from a "platform-centric Navy'' to a "network-enabled Navy''.

The satellite, with an over 1,000 nautical mile footprint over the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) stretching from Africa's east coast right till Malacca Strait, will enable the Navy to network all its warships, submarines and aircraft with operational centres ashore through high-speed data-links.

There is an urgent need to keep real-time tabs over the rapidly-militarizing IOR, where China is increasingly expanding its strategic footprint, as well as on troop movements, missile silos, military installations and airbases across land borders.

The long-delayed naval satellite is to be followed by ones for the Army and IAF for "over-the-land use''. In absence of dedicated satellites, the armed forces have so far depended on "dual-use'' Indian satellites as well as lease of transponders on foreign ones for their navigation, communication, surveillance and reconnaissance purposes.

There are around 300 dedicated or dual-use military satellites orbiting around the earth at present, with the US operating over 50% of them, followed by Russia and China.

China, in particular, is pursuing an extensive military-space programme that even extends to advanced ASAT (anti-satellite) capabilities with "direct-ascent" missiles, hit-to-kill "kinetic" and directed-energy laser weapons.

DRDO, on its part, contends it can quickly fashion ASAT weapons, if required, by marrying the propulsion system of the over 5,000-km Agni-V missile tested recently with the "kill vehicle" of the almost-ready two-tier BMD ( ballistic missile system) system it has developed.

But India is still some distance away from effective ASAT capabilities. The government is also not yet willing to establish a tri-Service Aerospace Command on the lines of the Strategic Forces Command which handles nuclear weapons.

The naval satellite is a step in the right direction. The Navy has already tested the "ship-end'' of the new space era dawning through the massive Tropex (theatre-level readiness and operational exercise) held in January-February. The network-centric operations were tried with both the Eastern and Western Fleets, backed by fighters, spy drones and helicopters, out at sea.
Technology in Tatra trucks ‘outdated’: MoD-CBI team
A joint team of the Ministry of Defence and CBI, which recently visited the defence PSU, BEML, at four locations near Bangalore, has found that an “obsolete technology” was being used for manufacturing Tatra trucks.

The four-member team visited BEML plants at Bangalore, Mysore, Kolar Gold Fields and Palakkad.

The joint team included three colonel-level officers from Defence Procurement and Wartime Equipment, MoD. The team will shortly submit a detailed report.

Sources said the indigenisation target of Tatra trucks, as agreed upon in the documents signed in 1987, 1997 and 2003, have not been met so far. According to the contracts signed by BEML with Tatra Sipox, it was agreed upon that more than 80 per cent of indigenisation of the trucks should have been completed before 2003. It has been learnt that the cabin, backbone tube and half swing axle being used in the trucks are still being imported. The axle and backbone are being supplied by Slovakia and the cabin by Czech Republic. “According to terms of agreement, Tatra Siphox, UK, is responsible for procurement of these items which form nearly 60 per cent of the trucks being supplied to the Army,” said a senior official.

The technology used in these trucks is ‘obsolete’, and when the BEML signed a new agreement in 2003, they agreed for a 10-year-old expertise, said sources. The 2003 agreement was signed after BEML CMD V R S Natarajan took over the company.

The team also examined some BEML officials at different plants to understand the transfer of technology. The agency has learnt that transfer of technology was part of the original agreement between BEML and Czech company Tatra, the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) for supply of the trucks, in 1986. However, Natarajan signed the new contract and is alleged to have misled the defence PSU into signing a fresh agreement in 2003 with UK-based Tatra Sipox, an intermediary firm and not an OEM.

The MoD-CBI team examined the contracts between BEML and Tatra. Sources said the team has sought details regarding parts assembled by BEML in manufacturing of trucks at the Palakkad unit. The trucks are being manufactured for the past two years, said sources.

The CBI registered a case on March 30 into the alleged irregularities in procurement of Tatra trucks and named Vectra chairman Ravinder Rishi and unnamed officials of the MoD, Army and BEML. The FIR said undue benefit was given by BEML to Tatra when the former paid in euro instead of US dollars, resulting in a loss of nearly Rs 4 crore to the government.

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