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Monday, 31 December 2012

From Today's Papers - 31 Dec 2012
Defence Ministry saw unprecedented happenings in 2012
 2012 was an unprecedented year for the Defence Ministry as it had a prolonged stand-off with former Army Chief Gen VK Singh over his age issue and a truck-deal case and was dragged to the Supreme Court. The selection of France's Dassault Rafale for the 126 combat aircraft deal, India's entry into the elite club of nations with intercontinental ballistic missiles with the launch of Agni V, induction of nuclear submarine INS Chakra into the Navy and stand-offs between officers and jawans in several units also made headlines.

The year began with Gen Singh becoming the first serving chief of the Army to approach the apex court over his age issue on January 16 - only a few hours after the Army Day celebrations got over. He was seeking a change in his date of birth from May 10, 1950 to May 10, 1951, which if accepted would have given him 10 more months in office.

Though the battle over the age issue ended in February after the apex court rejected his plea, Gen Singh continued to trouble the establishment after he claimed that a retired Lt Gen had offered him a bribe for clearing a file for procuring Tatra trucks for the army. Defence Ministry AK Antony immediately ordered a CBI inquiry into the charges.
The next bombshell came in the form of a leaked secret letter by Gen Singh to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in which he had raised serious questions about the military preparedness of the country. The matter rocked the Parliament proceedings and there were several demands in both the Houses for sacking Gen Singh.

In his last few days in office, Gen Singh was also accused of apparently attempting to upset the future line of succession in the Army when he put Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag, who is expected to head the force at the end of 2014, under a promotion ban for a failed intelligence operation. It was ensured that these actions were corrected soon after the taking over of Gen Bikram Singh as the new Army Chief on May 31. Assuming office, Gen Bikram Singh made it clear that he would not let controversies of the past come in his way when he said, "a car is driven by seeing ahead through the windscreen, not through the rear-view mirror... whatever has happened should be left behind."

In the last seven months, he has been busy ensuring that the Army is out of the headlines and working towards addressing modernisation issues facing the force and is credited for restoring high-level of trust between the Defence Ministry and the 1.3 million-strong force.

The other main issue facing the Army was about the stand-offs between officers and jawans at several places including Nyoma in Ladakh, Samba in Jammu and Kashmir and Gurdaspur in Punjab. The Defence Ministry and the Army have both taken several steps to restore the officer-soldier relationship along with ordering inquiries and probes to check the indiscipline.

For boosting the strategic prowess of the country, DRDO successfully carried out the first test firing of the 5,000-km range Agni V ballistic missile in April. The successful launch helped the country to join the elite club of nations including the US, Russia, China, France and the UK with the capability to launch such long-range missiles.

For the Indian Air Force, the big moment came when the government chose the French-made Dassault Rafale combat aircraft as the winner in the multi-billion dollar 126 multi-role combat aircraft (M-MRCA) tender. Though the Dassault Rafale deal is yet to be finalised as the government is still holding commercial negotiations with the French firm, the announcement saw a more than six year-race between six global firms for the contract come to a virtual end.

The year also saw the IAF losing its control of attack choppers when the Defence Ministry decided in favour of the Army saying all future combat helicopters would be for the ground force. However, it has managed to retain the medium-lift choppers, which were also demanded by the Army. The medium-lift chopper fleet received a major boost with the induction of new Russian-origin Mi-17V5 choppers in the force at several locations.

For the Navy, the biggest moment in the year came when it inducted the leased Akula-II CLass nuclear submarine now rechristened INS Chakra in its inventory in April as a significant progress was being made in the indigenous programme in this regard. The INS Chakra has been leased to India by Russia for 10 years and will help India to train its crew for operating on indigenous Arihant-class submarines.

Its operational preparedness suffered a set back when Russia informed that due to a mishap in the boiler section of the Admiral Gorshkov - undergoing retrofitting there, the aircraft carrier would be delivered only by the end of next year against the scheduled date of December 4. However, induction of indigenous and foreign-built guided missile destroyers an frigates helped the Navy to maintain its readiness.

The Navy also saw Admiral DK Joshi taking over as its chief in August. His comments on possibility of India sending troops to South China Sea to protect Indian interests drew global attention recently. In the field of sports also, defence forces won laurels for the country when Subedar Major Vijay won a silver medal at the London Olympics in the 25 m pistol shooting event. Though the minister gave him a cash reward of Rs 30 lakh, his demand for being given a commissioned officer's rank in the Army is still pending.
Army to relax tattoo norm for tribal recruits
AIPUR: Relaxing its tattoo policy to an extent to encourage tribal youth from Naxalite areas of Chhattisgarh to join the armed forces, Indian army has allowed tribals with certain forms of 'Godna' — the ancient tradition of permanent tattoo — to take part in its recruitment rally scheduled to be held at Rajnandgaon from January 7. Army is conducting a recruitment rally between January 7 and 14 for youths from across the 27 districts of the state.

A government spokesman said the army headquarters has relaxed few norms of its tattoo policy for the scheduled tribes. Besides considering youth with permanent tattoos on arms and backside of the palm, tribal candidates with the tattoos on face as per local tribal traditions would also be considered for recruitment after detailed examination of the tattoos. As per Bastar tribal tradition, tribals have spiritual concept that ornaments are human made and are mortal and they also consider the tattoos as a permanent ornaments for women. Tribal men also use the tattoos as it is believed that they are the only ornament that remains with them even after death.

Paraglider causes mid-air scare for Prez jet
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 29
In an event that has yet again exposed the country’s fragile air defence architecture, a maverick paraglider flew close to President Pranab Mukherjee’s plane, causing a mid-air security scare.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots of the Communication Squadron - who fly VVIPs - reported the unusual occurrence to their headquarters in Delhi.

IAF sources confirmed the incident saying, “It occurred around 10 am yesterday and yes, the pilots have reported the matter.” The incident occurred on December 28 within minutes of the President’s Boeing 737 having taken off from Hyderabad for Chennai.

The startled pilots of the VVIP plane noticed a paraglider at an altitude of 4,500 ft and just 300 ft right of the plane.

The pilots radioed back to the air-traffic controller (ATC) at Hyderabad if a paraglider was in its knowledge.

The ATC at Hyderabad was not aware of the para-glider. Aviation rules do not permit paragliding activity within a distance of 5 nautical miles of an airport.

The IAF has been asking for strict rules for such adventure sports and securing of unused airstrips - some 100 littered across the country.

Sources said the security lapse has been taken very seriously and a check is on to verify if any IAF or Army radars had picked up the para-glider.

The IAF, Navy and Army have radars on its bases which pick out flying objects, but the sweep of these radars does not cover the entire land mass of the country.

Unlike northern parts of the country, which are dotted with IAF or Army bases, the southern peninsula lacks that kind of intense radar coverage while the Navy along the coastline remains focused sea-wards.

The inquiry will try to ascertain the identity of the paraglider. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) will be part of the overall inquiry.

India’s air defence’s weakest links are the vast tracts of central India and the Deccan plateau as these have no long-range radar coverage, no air defence guns and almost no unmanned aeriel vehicles (UAVs).

Sources said the revelation of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) having trained some 150 fidayeen (suicide bombers) to launch air-borne attacks on Indian cities using motorised paragliders will be kept in mind during the probe.

Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal, who was deported from Saudi Arabia in June, had told interrogators about the LeT plan to launch air-borne attacks. Jundal was a member of the group that gave telephonic instructions to gun-totting attackers of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. Jundal told investigators in August that he got to know of the LeT’s plans when he, in 2010, visited what he referred to as the "jumbo jet room". This is the huge house in Karachi where LeT plans aerial and sea route attacks on India.

Jundal has talked about 150 parachutes sealed in boxes and said that a man called Yakub reportedly told him about plans to attack Indian cities using the air route.

It was in 2010 - ahead of the Commonwealth Games - that Indian security agencies warned of air-borne attacks and the IAF trained the Delhi Police in spotting air-borne objects. Yakub is believed to be in touch with David Coleman Headley - another planner of the Mumbai attacks. Headley, a Pakistani-American, is lodged in a prison in Chicago.

India, Pak mull N-CBMs to reduce trust deficit
Ashok Tuteja/TNS

New Delhi, December 28
India and Pakistan are believed to have considered a series of nuclear CBMs, including the possibility of Islamabad joining global talks on the Fissile Material Cut off Treaty (FMCT), at the seventh round of expert level talks on the issue between the two countries here today.

The FMCT talks at the Conference on Disarmament (CoD) in Geneva can move forward only by consensus. Therefore, Pakistan ought to be on board for concluding the talks.

Pakistan has so far refused to join the talks, arguing that any deal must also require India to reduce its existing stockpile. Islamabad also claims that India's nuclear initiative has made things much difficult for it. India, on the other hand, has taken the stand that if the existing stockpiles were to be made part of the negotiations at Geneva, the proposed deal would no longer remain the FMCT and rather become the nuclear weapons convention. The two sides also considered fresh CBMs in a bid to lower the level of trust-deficit.

The Indian delegation at today's meeting was led by D B Venkatesh Varma, Joint Secretary (Disarmament) in the External Affairs Ministry while the Pakistani side was headed by Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Additional Secretary in the Foreign Ministry.

The talks, which were held in a cordial and constructive atmosphere, focused on review of implementation and strengthening of existing CBMs in the framework of the Lahore MoU, as well as possibilities for mutually acceptable additional CBMs, a joint statement said.

Book to highlight DRDO’s public friendly face
Tribune News Service

Bangalore, December 28
“What is the point in launching high technology missiles like Agni and BrahMos when the common Indian is still dying of dengue or malaria spread by mosquito bites?”, cynics often ask such questions to run down Indian achievements in the field of defence technology.

Vijaykumar Dillibabu, a young scientist of Bangalore-based Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) lab Gas Turbine Reasearch Establishment (GTRE), has a written a book to answer such critics.

“The DRDO not only makes missiles but has also developed mosquito repellent creams, bio-toilets and light weight calipers for public use”, mentions the book written by Dillibabu. Aptly titled ‘Missiles and mosquito bite’, it is a collection of essays written by Dillibabu addressing the central question, that is, does India has world class brain? It has essays on the benefits of R&D in defence technology. The book also includes an interview with Sivadhanu Pillai, CEO, BrahMos, recollecting his association with former President APJ Abdul Kalam.

Ex Indian army Major says political solution key to Sri Lanka
Ashok K. Mehta, a former Major general of the Indian Army, says Tamil Nadu politics willy nilly is once again on the verge of rocking India-Sri Lanka relations at a time when Colombo is basking in the glory of its spectacular military victory in 2009 when New Delhi and Chennai had acquiesced to a military solution.

In an opinion written for the Economic Times, Mehta says the military has legitimised President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s overwhelming majority rule both at the centre and in the provinces with the opposition reduced to a non-entity and kingmakers Sri Lanka Muslim Congress made irrelevant except in the Eastern province where it was wooed by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the ruling alliance to form the government.

He says the military success has transformed soldiers into national heroes and Sri Lanka one of the safest countries in the world. Three years on, all the 3,00,000 Internally Displaced Persons are resettled, 5,000 sq km of area demined, 1,80,000 acres of cultivable paddy land recovered and $2.5 billion committed for development of the North.

He also said that of the 12,000 former LTTE combatants who surrendered or were captured, only 383 have not been rehabilitated due to delay in their deradicalisation programme. Following demilitarisation of the LTTE, the North has been consciously demilitarised by relocating 28 infantry battalions to the South and East, altogether some 21,000 soldiers taken out.

Similarly, high security zones in the North, especially around Palaly Airfield, have been shrunk. Central Bank of Sri Lanka governor Ajit Cabral is singing praises of the military for reduction in inflation and returning the country to an 8% growth path though currently it has dipped to just above 6%.

But this is compensated by the spectacular growth of 27% in the North with reconstruction prospects soaring on account of renewed business and investor sentiment and influx of tourism alongside a spurt in livelihood and vocational avenues for the rehabilitated.

For the first time in 30 years, the North will have an opportunity to grow and thrive if the current mood and investment continue. At the Army-organised Colombo conference in August this year about post-war recovery, Governor Cabral waxed eloquent about Sri Lanka’s peace dividend, quoting extensively from Ruchir Sharma’s bestseller, Breakout Nations.

Sharma has predicted that with the civil war over, Sri Lanka is irreversibly poised to join the breakout countries, destined to sustain high growth rates. By 2014, Sri Lanka is likely to overtake India registering the highest growth rate in the region. The process of mending shattered relationships between the two communities will ensure economic reconciliation.

One of the trusted aides of President Rajapaksa, Cabral is the brain behind reviving economic activity in the North. He said: “When we opened banking facilities in containers in the North, people excavated their cash which was so dirty that we had to resort to ‘money laundering’.

However Mehta says for Sri Lanka, to really break out political reconciliation including power-sharing and accountability will be vital to sustain the euphoria of the military triumph.

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