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Tuesday, 18 February 2014

From Today's Papers - 18 Feb 2014

Nod to one rank-one pension
Tribune News Service
New Delhi, February 17
In election mode, the Congress-led UPA Government today formally announced the much-awaited one rank-one pension (OROP) scheme for retired soldiers, benefiting some 46 lakh families of retired and serving servicemen in the Army, the Navy and the Indian Air Force.

Sources said the decision was based on ground realities. BJP’s prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi has been critical of the delay in announcing one rank-one pension scheme. It would have figured prominently in the BJP manifesto. “A lot of thinking has gone into this and it was decided that it was worth taking the step”, a functionary explained.

Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram, while presenting the interim budget for the year 2014-15, today said: “The government has accepted the principle of one rank-one pension for the defence forces. The decision will be implemented prospectively from the financial year 2014-15. Officials said the formula had been accepted and the pensions would be revised accordingly. The hike would be anything between Rs 8,000 and Rs 10,000 per month.

The formula for OROP is: “Uniform pension to be paid to the defence forces personnel retiring at the same rank with the same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement, and that any future enhancement in the rates of pension be automatically passed on to the past pensioners.”

At present, there are two groups of the retirees -- the ones who retired before January 1, 2006 and the ones who retired after this date. Pensions vary and in some cases senior officers get lesser pensions than their juniors. A Colonel, who retired before the January 1, 2006 gets a pension of Rs 26, 050 while a Colonel retiring in 2014 gets Rs 34,000.

Chidambaram added, “The requirement for 2014-15 is estimated at Rs 500 crore and I propose to transfer a sum of Rs 500 crore to the Defence Pension Account in the current financial year itself.”

This could mean that retired soldiers and the widows could get increased pensions even before the forthcoming polls. There are some 24 lakh retired soldiers, 6 lakh widows of former soldiers and a serving force of about 16 lakh personnel.

Top MoD officials explained, “This is based on the forecast made by the ministry and without any estimates. Hence, Rs 500 crore is a provisional allocation. The contours of the scheme will be worked out over the next few weeks and more money will be given”.

The sum announced in the Budget today falls short of the projected Rs 1,300 crore by the Ministry of Finance to the Rajya Sabha Committee on Petitions.

Maj General Satbir Singh (retd), Vice-Chairman of the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement, said, “If the government has accepted the formula of OROP, we welcome the step. However, it must explain Budget allocation.”

The formula

    Uniform pension to be paid to defence personnel retiring at the same rank with the same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement. Any future enhancement in pension to be automatically passed on to the past pensioners

The anomaly

    At present, there are two groups of retirees — those who retired before January 1, 2006 and others who retired thereafter
    Pensions vary. In some cases senior officers get lesser pension than their juniors
    The pension of a Colonel, who retired before January 1, 2006 is Rs 26,050
    A Colonel, who retired in 2014, draws a pension of Rs 34,000
    The decision will be implemented prospectively from 2014-15

Contours of the scheme will be worked out over the next few weeks. Rs 500 crore is provisional allocation. The exact figure will be known in due course.

A Ministry of Defence official

It is good news. I heartily welcome the decision.

Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Haryana CM

It was debt the nation owes to those who served the country. Step was long overdue.
Defence budget up by 10%
Raised to Rs 2,24,000 crore, but has fallen in GDP terms to 1.74%
Tribune News Service
New Delhi, February 17
The Union Government announced a hike of 10 per cent in its defence budget for fiscal 2014-2015 commencing on April 1. Of this, Rs 89,588 crore will be for capital that is for new, projects, equipment and acquisitions.

Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram, while presenting the interim budget today, said the defence budget will be Rs 2,24,000 crore for the next fiscal, 10 per cent more than this fiscal’s Rs 2.03,672 crore and will account for 12.70 per cent of the total government spending. The present fiscal ends on March 31, 2014.

Lack of money in the coffers gets reflected in the capital allocation. In the ongoing fiscal, the original allocation was Rs 86,740 crore under the capital head. This was cut by Rs 7868 crore mid-year and the money was transferred to meet day-to-day expenses such as fuel and salaries.

This year’s increase in capital is only a growth of 3.28 per cent over the original allocation, while the Ministry of Defence has had to raise the day-to-day running costs by 14.95 per cent.

In the Rs 89,588 crore capital outlay, the Finance Minister has focused on Naval fleet that has been given Rs 12,856 crore, Army heavy vehicles Rs 2128 crore, IAF aircraft Rs 16,271 crore , another Rs 16,155 crore for ‘other equipment’ of the Army and Rs 15,532 crore for the IAF.

This is largely for guns and ammunition and new air defence systems. It also reflects the focus of the forces in the forthcoming year.

Part of the hike will be off-set by the change in rupee-dollar exchange rates. With several of the acquisitions being through the import route the Dollar, which now trades at Rs 61 in exchange, will have an effect. Last year, when the budget was announced, the dollar stood at Rs 54.90 - a difference of Rs 6 in one year. Next year’s budget in dollar terms will be US $ 36.4 billion.

New Delhi’s surge of 10 per cent still leaves it way behind China’s budget announced in March 2013 at $112.6 billion. China is yet to announce its next year’s budget. Japan announced its 2014 defence budget in December 2013 and pegged it at $45.86 billion.

It falls short of the percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). It will be 1.74 per cent of the GDP. This year, the share was 1.79 per cent and for the previous fiscal that ended March 31, 2013 the share of defence spending in the GDP was 1.9 per cent. Successive standing parliamentary committees on defence had recommended the allocation to be raised by at least 3-3.5 per cent of the GDP to modernise the forces.
 Spying: Court puts Navy official on trial

New Delhi, February 17
An Indian Navy official has been put on trial by a Delhi court for allegedly conspiring with Pakistani agencies and passing them sensitive documents regarding establishment of armed forces. The court framed charges against Chand Kumar Prasad under provisions of the IPC for conspiring and the Official Secret Act (OSA) and fixed March 15 for recording prosecution evidence in the case.

The provisions of the OSA for which Prasad, who was arrested from New Delhi Railway Station in 2010, has been put on trial entails a maximum of 14-year jail . The court said perusal of the chargesheet showed that the charge of spying was made out against him.

The court rejected the contention of Prasad that he was the sole accused in the case, so he cannot be charged with criminal conspiracy. — PTI
Pakistan: The turmoil within
The government's counter-insurgency policy lacks cohesion
Gurmeet Kanwal
Since his re-election in May 2013, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has struggled to cope with the rising tide of internal instability in Pakistan. Pakistan's half-hearted fight against the remnants of al-Qaida and the home-grown Taliban like the TTP and the TNSM, fissiparous tendencies in Baluchistan, continuing radical extremism in the urban areas like Karachi, creeping Talibanisation in the heartland and the floundering economy are symptomatic of the nation's gradual slide towards becoming a 'failed state'.

Despite facing the grave danger of a possible collapse of the state, the Pakistan government's counter-insurgency policy lacks cohesion. The latest manifestation of the lack of will is the commencement of a peace dialogue with the Taliban, even though the Taliban are willing to talk only on the assumption that the introduction of Sharia will replace democracy in Pakistan. The latest attempt at peace-making is contrary to the wishes of the Pakistan army.

Hurt by a series of Taliban successes in “liberating” tribal areas and under pressure from the Americans to deliver in the “war on terror”, in the initial stages the Pakistan army had employed massive firepower to stem the rot. Fighter aircraft, helicopter gunships and heavy artillery were liberally employed to destroy suspected terrorist hideouts. This heavy-handed firepower-based approach without simultaneous infantry operations failed to dislodge the militants but caused large-scale collateral damage and served to alienate the tribal population. Major reverses had led to panic reactions, including the hurried negotiation of “peace accords” that were invariably broken by the militants.

On September 5, 2006, the government of Pakistan had signed a "peace accord" with the tribal leaders in the North Waziristan town of Miranshah. The salient points of this rather surprising agreement included the following: the government agrees to stop air and ground attacks against militants in Waziristan; militants are to cease cross-border movement into and out of Afghanistan; foreigners (understood to mean foreign jihadists) in North Waziristan will have to leave Pakistan but "those who cannot leave will be allowed to live peacefully, respecting the law of the land and the agreement"; area check-points and border patrols will be manned by a tribal force and the Pakistan army will withdraw from control points; no parallel administration will be established in the area; the government agrees to follow local customs and traditions in resolving issues; the tribal leaders will ensure that no one attacks law-enforcement personnel or damages state property; tribesmen will not carry heavy weapons, but small arms will be allowed; militants will not enter agencies adjacent to North Waziristan; both sides will return any captured weapons, vehicles, and communication devices; the government will release captured militants and will not arrest them again; and, the government will pay compensation for property damaged and deaths of innocent civilians in the area.

The terms of the Miranshah peace accord were humiliating for a proud professional force to swallow. The accord is reported to have led to the payment of large amounts of money for “damaged property” — sums that went indirectly to the militants. The US and its NATO allies were taken completely by surprise by the accord that allowed the militants to make peace with the Pakistan army and gave them the freedom to use the NWFP and FATA areas close to the Afghan border as safe havens to attack the US and NATO forces. The militants soon broke the cease-fire as well as the peace accord. In October 2007, the Pakistan Government entered into a peace agreement with the terrorists in the Swat Valley as militancy there was spinning out of control. This accord too did not last long. All these accords clearly showed that the Pakistan army and the Musharraf-led government of the day had no clear strategy to counter the growing menace of Taliban-al Qaida insurgency in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa (NWFP) and FATA.

Soon after he became Prime Minister again, Nawaz Sharif adopted a new counter-terrorism policy. Titled National Counter-Terrorism and Extremism Policy 2013, it focuses on eliminating terrorist networks through counter-insurgency operations based on accurate intelligence, in coordination with the police and the prosecution of captured terrorists. According to the Express Tribune, “the five-layered counter-terror policy seeks to dismantle, contain, prevent, educate and re-integrate.” “The policy “calls for building the police capacity and following up on the military action in an extremist bastion with a broad strategy focused on development work and economic revival.”

The new policy calls for periodic re-assessment of the terror threat by the National Counter-Terrorism Authority, measures to plug sources of funding and better management of the western border to prevent the ingress of militants. The policy proposes to review education in Pakistan, including the madrassa system. Re-integration and the rehabilitation of captured and surrendered militants is also part of the new policy. All of this is unexceptionable, but the policy appears to have been discarded in favour of appeasement and attempts are once again under way to broker peace.

It has now been reported that the Taliban Shura has finalised a 15-point agenda for talks with the government. The major demands of the Taliban include the imposition of Sharia law in courts, the withdrawal of the army from the tribal areas and handing over control over them to the local forces, the withdrawal of criminal charges and the release of Taliban and foreign fighters from jails, suspension of Pakistan's relations with the US, halting of US drone attacks, compensation for the loss of life and damage to property in drone attacks, job offers for the families of drone attack victims and the introduction of an Islamic system of education in schools.

It is now well understood that governance, development and security are three ends of the counter-insurgency triangle and all must proceed in close synchronisation for a counter-insurgency campaign to be waged effectively. Unless the Pakistan Government adopts a comprehensive national-level approach on fighting the Taliban and allied groups that are threatening the cohesion of the state, the eventual break-up of Pakistan may become inevitable — with disastrous consequences for the region.
Armed forces get 'one rank, one pension': Rahul Gandhi, Narendra Modi both have something to say
After decades of struggle, the forces have finally got one of their key wishes just before the national election - one rank, one pension.

The ruling Congress hopes that the announcement in Finance Minister P Chidambaram's interim budget today, driven by Rahul Gandhi's open support for the demand by ex-servicemen last week, will win it the support of lakhs of soldiers ahead of the polls, due by May.

Mr Chidambaram said the defence budget had been hiked by 10 per cent, and Rs. 500 crore would be allocated for implementing the 'one rank, one pension' rule.

Mr Gandhi called the media to "thank the Prime Minister, the government and Soniaji (Gandhi)". He added, "Our soldiers should feel that their government supports and backs them. It is our duty to help them. This is our sentiment. They fight for us on the borders and mountains, we thank them for it." The decision arms the Congress vice president with a major sop as he goes to Uttarakhand on Saturday to address a rally of ex-servicemen.

Not long after his statement came this tweet from Narendra Modi: "I welcome the decision on One Rank, One Pension for our servicemen. Belated wisdom finally dawns on our 'hard working' UPA ministers."

The "one rank, one pension" rule means that retired soldiers of the same rank and length of service will receive the same pension, regardless of when they retire. Currently, pensioners who retired before 2006 draw less pension than their counterparts and even their juniors.

There are 14 lakh serving and 24 lakh retired military personnel in the country and they have been courted by both the Congress and the BJP.

Narendra Modi has repeatedly reached out to the forces in his campaign speeches.  At an event last month, he had regretted, "We have lost so many soldiers in wars, but there is no war memorial."

The "one rank, one pension" demand has seen many protests by former soldiers; many decorated veterans have returned their medals and some have even gone on hunger strikes to fight for it.

It didn't take the Centre much time to announce that it had accepted the demand after Rahul Gandhi met a delegation of ex-servicemen on Friday and assured his support.
One rank, one pension gets nod
A 10 per cent increase in the defence budget will take military spending in India to Rs 224,000 crore up from Rs 203,627 crore allocated in the budget for 2013-14 that ends March 31. While Rs 89,588 crore has been set aside for acquisitions by the armed forces, Rs 134,410 crore will go into the payment of salaries and pensions and other expenses.

While the overall defence budget figure would suggest the armed forces have not returned money left unspent, a closer look at the figures reveal modernisation of the forces has taken a hit.

The Budget estimate for capital for the three services was Rs 86,740 crore in 2013-14. However, the revised estimate — that is, what was actually spent — was Rs 78,872 crore. This means nearly Rs 8,000 crore was left unspent.

According to Laxman Behera of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, the money was diverted to meet revenue needs — that is, pay and allowances of the Indian armed forces which have gone up from Rs 102,322 crore (BE 2013-14) to Rs  118,728 (RE 2013-14), an increase of Rs 16,400 crore. So most of the 10 per cent increase in the budget has gone to meet the pay and allowances increase in the armed forces. In 2014-15, the pay and allowances of the armed forces will amount to Rs 127,082 crore.

There has been some increase under the head ‘stores’. This accounts for exchange rate fluctuations. While this is not sizeable, it is avoidable.

Behera says the modernisation needs of the Indian Navy are saturated but the Air Force has taken a major hit. He says, the shortfall in the outlay for the Air Force is nearly Rs 5,200 crore. In a year when the Air Force has to place orders for the complement of Medium MultiRole Combat Aircraft (MMRCA), a shortage of funds makes no sense. He says that the effective increase in the defence budget is 9.98 per cent but the increase in modernisation budget is no more than 3.5 per cent.

However, the most innovative — and potentially most costly — feature of the defence budget was the acceptance in principle of one rank, one pension (OROP), which was mooted by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi just two days ago.

Although Finance Minister P Chidambaram announced that he was putting aside Rs 500 crore to finance OROP, the consensus among defence administrators was that even conservatively, the aggregated cost of OROP across the forces and ranks would be anything between Rs 3,000 and Rs 4,000 crore, not counting arrears. This does not include the administrative cost of calculating OROP and will require a veritable army of accounting staff.

OROP means persons in the same rank — regardless of the date of retirement, the last pay drawn and the number of years  served in a rank — will be entitled to the same pension. Typically, after a 10-year wage revision done via the Pay Commissions, a Major General may have put in anything between 32 and 35 years in service. However, the last pay drawn and DA (both of which are computed while calculating pension) could vary wildly, depending on how long he might have stayed in that rank.

“The case of every soldier is different. The Indian defence forces have 30 lakh pensioners. Even feeding that data in a computer is a mind-boggling task, let alone working out each case,” said Lt Gen HS Bagga, former Adjutant General in the Indian Army who has worked on OROP in the past. What Gen Bagga suggests is partial equity — five year blocks in which people in the same rank could be given the same pension. Otherwise, he says, an army of people will be required just to address the administrative issues arising out of OROP.

However, political reactions to OROP were generally favourable, with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi upholding it as the most important element in the Budget.

The Congress party obviously feels the move could have electoral gains, especially in constituencies that have a big section of ex-servicemen.
US military exercises in Asia meant to send a signal to China, say experts
The Pentagon has airmailed Beijing a belated and unsubtle message for the recent Chinese New Year – by parachuting in Pacific combat troops into the Asia Pacific.

After more than a decade of wars in the Middle East, 2014 is the year in which the U.S. officially starts re-orientating its military focus to Asia as Washington aims to counter the military build-up by China.

The U.S. fears America’s regional allies will suffer instability as Beijing flexes it muscles – including developing ballistic missiles designed to take out the U.S. Pacific fleet.

This past weekend, as part of the annual multinational joint exercise known as Cobra Gold, the U.S. dropped a crack airborne task force into central Thailand. They were the first U.S. boots on Asian soil since the official change in military and foreign policy posture.

    “It’s sent a message in terms of our capability of combat to our allies concerned about those who threaten peace and stability to the region.”

- U.S. Army Col. Matt McFarlane

The drill was to seize and secure an airfield at Lop Buri, 90 miles north of Bangkok, amid a humanitarian disaster. The exercise involved 400 parachutists from 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, known in military shorthand as 4-25, based at Fort Richardson, outside of Anchorage.

With the U.S. and Thailand leading Cobra Gold, commanders and analysts say the strategic aim of the exercise was to demonstrate to Beijing’s communist leadership how fast and effective the U.S. can be in supporting its Asian allies, all of whom lie in a tight arc around China -- from India and Nepal through Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia to South Korea and Japan.

“It’s sent a message in terms of our capability of combat to our allies concerned about those who threaten peace and stability to the region,” said Army Col. Matt McFarlane,  4-25’s commander, speaking to Fox News by phone from Lop Buri.

“We’re an established contingency force for when there’s an operational requirement to get a large amount of force combat power anywhere at any time [in the Asia Pacific] and to reassure our allies we can be there to support them.”

The presence of U.S. troops on the ground in what China considers its backyard will be unsettling for Beijing, say military analysts, because it resents America's 60-year dominance of the Asia-Pacific.

“It’s a powerful message that the U.S. is putting boots on the ground because they have the entire U.S. military standing behind them. Every country in the region recognizes that,” said retired Gen. Jack Keane, a national security analyst and former acting U.S. Army chief of staff.

“We’ve put parachuting forces into places and taken an amount of risk before and the U.S. will continue to do that,” Keane added.

As Cobra Gold got under way, one Chinese military official gloatingly told state media that Beijing’s “regional military impact […] cannot be ignored” – which is why the Chinese are participating in the eight-nation exercise for the first time this year

Their invitation is viewed as an attempt for all sides to gloss over the thorny issue that the drill is partially targeted at Beijing, which has been increasing its military spending at more than 10 percent annually.

Skeptics view China’s presence as a token gesture; its contingency sent to Cobra Gold comprises a mere 17 observers, compared to the 9,000 U.S. troops involved. Those observers are not participating in the live-fire drills, jungle survival training, amphibious landings and warplane formations.

Despite official downplaying of the underlying politics behind Cobra Gold, there is growing alarm among U.S. defense leaders over China’s military advance, particularly its deep strike capability.

Beijing has been quietly developing an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) that can strike U.S. aircraft carriers and other vessels at a range of 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers). It is estimated that the missile can travel at Mach 10 (4-5km/sec) and reach its maximum range in less than 12 minutes.

The U.S. fleet has nothing to repel firepower of that magnitude, prompting lawmakers to join in calls for a rapid development of new systems to intercept the ASBMs.

China’s advanced missiles -- and its provocative claims to Pacific land and airspace – are viewed in Washington as intimidation towards the U.S. and its allies and as part of China’s regional power grab.

“We are going to have to have early defenses against ballistic missiles if we’re going to remain dominant in the western Pacific,” Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., told Fox News at the Reagan National Defense Forum held in California in November.

Until those systems are developed, 4-25’s involvement in Cobra Gold stands out as a critical line of tactical capability because it is the only airborne brigade the nation has covering the Pacific. It is also emerging as one of the most versatile brigades in the U.S. military.

The U.S. has become used to fighting insurgency-based warfare in the desert and mountainous terrains of Iraq and Afghanistan.

4-25’s unique area of operation stretches from Asia’s rainforests to the Arctic Circle, presenting challenging conditions the U.S. hasn’t fought in since Vietnam right through to the deep-cold hazards of protecting U.S. claims to oil underneath the northern ice cap.

“This mission in Thailand is the very start of that,” said LTC, Alan Brown, spokesman for U.S. Army, Alaska. “4-25 helps spearhead the combat readiness for America’s new Asia posture because their geographic reach extends more than any other over such diverse and extreme terrain and weather conditions.”

The brigade can deploy infantry soldiers anywhere in the region within 19 hours from “the phone call to being on the ground.” It is supported by a Stryker brigade, whose tactical vehicles can be flown in to bolster the advance forces within two to four days.

In military parlance, its combat readiness is considered part of America’s standard battle rhythm. And, as the brigade’s additional training with their Thai colleagues is intended to show this weekend, it doesn’t mean that America would need to enter into a fight in the Asia Pacific on its own.

“If we do get into some kind of conflict or rapid engagement in the Asia Pacific,” added Brown, ”then the U.S. is going to do it in full lockstep with its partner nations.”
Night User Trial of Agni-I to be Conducted on Tuesday

India is heading for a historic day on Tuesday when user trial of an Agni series missile by the armed forces during night will be conducted. Though in 2009, an attempt was made to fire Agni-II in the evening, it had ended in a failure as the missile could not meet the mission parameters.

With logistic support from the DRDO, the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) of the Indian Army is slated to conduct the much awaited evening trial of 700-km plus range surface-to-surface nuclear capable ballistic missile Agni-I from the Wheeler Island off the Odisha coast.

A reliable source told ‘The Express’ on Sunday that the weapon in its operational configuration would be test-fired between 7 pm and 8 pm on Tuesday.

However, defence officials fear that the downpour triggered by an anti-cyclonic system developed in northwest Bay of Bengal may prove a dampener. The test range has been experiencing rainfall since Saturday night and the forecast has been that rain and thunder shower may occur in next 24 hours.

“We can fire the missile as per the schedule if we get a dry weather throughout Tuesday. We are ready and the missile has already been integrated. While the range integration has been finished, the tracking systems have been put on place. The mission depends on the favourable weather condition,” said a defence official.

On November 23, 2009, the first ever night launching of Agni-II ended in failure as the missile failed to achieve the pre-coordinated mission parameters. The weapon faltered just before the second stage separation and behaved erratically deviating from its coordinated path.

Defence sources said there were considerable improvements in its re-entry technology and manoeuvrability since Agni-I’s first trial. As the missile has already been inducted in the Army, this test will reconfirm the technical parameters set for the user.

This will be a limited stock production (LSP) series test of Agni-I, which has been randomly selected from a bunch of missiles in the production lot. The Agni-I is an antiquated short-range and surface based ballistic missile in the Agni series.

Compared to its longer range cousins, its height is 15 metres and it is powered by both solid and liquid propellants which impart it a speed of 2.5 km per second. The missile weighs around 12 tonnes and can carry both conventional and nuclear payload of about 1000 kg.

The missile was first test-fired on January 25, 2002 and since then several trials have been conducted. It is designed to bridge the gap between indigenously built short range Prithvi, already deployed in the army, and medium range Agni-II that has a range of more than 2,000 km.

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