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Saturday, 8 March 2014

From Today's Papers - 08 Mar 2014

Navy takes a hit again; Commander dies in gas leak aboard INS Kolkata
Tribune News Service

Mumbai/New Delhi, March 7
A Commander (Lt Col equivalent) of the Navy died in an accident on board under-trial Kolkata-class warship INS Kolkata today while four civilian employees of the Mazagon Docks Limited were injured. The mishap occurred around 12.45 pm.

There was carbon dioxide leak on the warship. The gas is used as a fire retardant. As soon as the gas leak was noticed, Commander Kunal Wadhwa (42), a 1997-batch officer, and others tried to escape. Wadhwa reportedly fell into the engine as inhaling of carbon dioxide had rendered him unconscious.

Naval officials have not so far confirmed reports that the gas leak may have been caused due to an explosion. “Yard-701 (as INS Kolkata is known prior to its commissioning) had a malfunction, leading to gas leakage. One naval officer and some MDL personnel have been hospitalised,” the Navy said in a statement earlier in the day. The officer subsequently succumbed to his injuries.

An injured MDL employee has been identified as Aslam Kazi, 51. He is admitted to the ICU of a private hospital.

The accident has raised questions on the quality of material being used for building warships. MDL spokesperson Parvez Panthaky said, “During machinery trials, a malfunction in warship’s carbon dioxide unit lead to gas leakage.”
Yet another Navy mishap, a commander dies
 An Indian Navy officer has been killed in a gas leak on a ship under construction at the Mazagaon dock in Mumbai.

The officer, Commander Kuntal Wadhwa, died today after a malfunction in the ship's carbon dioxide unit caused gas to leak during machinery trials. The yet to be commissioned ship is one of three Kolkata class destroyers being built under the Navy's Project 15 A.
A Navy press release said the officer and some other personnel were affected and
had been hospitalised. It was later confirmed that the officer had died.

The warship is one of the most advanced vessels made in India and is fitted with state of the art weaponry and sensors.

Only last week, two officers were killed in a fire aboard a Navy submarine INS Sindhuratna, which had been refitted and was being sea-tested.

Navy chief Admiral DK Joshi had resigned owning moral responsibility for that and several other accidents in the last few months, including the blast that sank another submarine INS Sindhurakshak in August last year, killing all 18 sailors and officers on board
Do Not Ignore China's Defence Budget Hike

China’s biggest hike in military spending in three years, with its defence budget set to cross $ 130 billion in the coming year should make countries like India sit up.  While Chinese officials said the increase was in keeping with the size of China’s growing economy and in line with what most countries spend in terms of percentage of GDP, the 12.2 per cent hike is mammoth. China’s spending now dwarfs that of countries in the region, and is second only to the US, which spends over $ 600 billion on defence. Chinese military analysts explained the hike as a response to China’s challenges in the region, such as ongoing territorial differences with Japan over East China Sea islands, and recent disputes in the South China Sea. But it would be foolhardy to ignore that Chinese hegemonism could be a threat to India as well.

Though India announced a 10 per cent hike in military spending during the interim budget last month India’s effective defence spending in dollar terms actually fell from last year, down to $ 36.2 billion from $ 37.5 billion due to a weakening rupee. Besides, despite dire need of modernisation of the armed forces and the augmentation of military equipment, the defence minister seems oblivious to the need. What else can one make of the manner in which he caved in last year to the finance ministry diktat to cut spending by Rs 10,000 crore in the capital acquisitions for the Army, Navy and Indian Air Force, on the pretext of the economic situation being grim. The UPA government is guilty of jeopardising national interest by failing to upgrade vital Indian military equipment.

There is a yawning gap emerging in the conventional capabilities between China and India and this asymmetry is increasing by the day. Continued neglect of the modernisation of Indian armed forces and delayed acquisitions during the last 10 years of the UPA rule have made the challenge bigger for the next government.
Caught off guard yet again
The series of mishaps on our naval front have reopened the debate on how politicians and bureaucrats are playing havoc with our essential defence acquisitions

It is Defence Minister A K Antony and his senior officials who need to answer why modernisation of the armed forces has been given the go-by

As the Manmohan Singh government prepares to lay down office and pass the country’s reins over to a new government in May, one of its most disconcerting  legacies would be the lack of preparedness of India’s armed forces, which it would be bequeathing to the successor government.

The level of unpreparedness is reminiscent of 1962, when the Chinese struck on our borders and literally caught the country napping, as the political establishment refused to see the writing on the wall.

The series of mishaps on our naval front, the latest being on the INS Sindhuratna, in which two officer-sailors lost their lives and seven were injured, which precipitated the resignation of the Navy chief, Admiral D K Joshi, have reopened the debate on how politicians and bureaucrats are playing havoc with our essential defence acquisitions. The submarine, at 26 years old, had exceeded its life by four years even after refurbishment, the old batteries were in danger of giving way anytime and the cabling was in a dangerous state, prone to a disaster.

The cold reality is that the UPA government has totally failed to upgrade the ageing fleet of the Indian Navy, as well as vital equipment of other armed forces, to the level that even their immediate critical requirements are not being met for lack of funds and bureaucratic wrangling.

It is Defence Minister A K Antony and his senior officials who need to answer why modernisation of the armed forces has been given the go-by and the country has been left so under-prepared to deal with external aggression.

The fact of the matter is that even as the Army has been instructed to be prepared to fight a war on two fronts, acquisitions of desperately needed armour and artillery systems have been endlessly delayed.

Our Navy operates with death-trap submarines, the Indian Air Force has only two-thirds of the squadrons required, and our army functions without such basics as night-vision capabilities. Our missile armoury leaves a lot to be desired.

Leave aside armaments, for years we have not even been able to dredge Mumbai harbour so that submarines may move in and out round the clock; consequently, such movement is restricted to the high-tide periods – and is one reason why a sub scraped its bottom recently.

All three services face large-scale deficits of officers, because the armed forces’ pay scales and service conditions are not attractive enough to bring in talent.

Since 1952, the services have laboured under a dysfunctional government , “Rules of Business”,  which declares that the ministry of  defence, under the secretary, is responsible for the defence of India — not the armed forces. The ministry has the power to create innumerable hurdles in the path of each service getting financial approval for anything from a battery to a ship. There is good reason to believe that  the Sindhuratna was operating with overaged batteries, which let off vast amounts of explosive hydrogen, because the replacement batteries were locked in unpardonable red tape.

The recent INS Sindhuratna mishap, in which two officers were killed due to asphyxiation and seven were injured, was a classic case of paying the price for persisting with a ship that was no longer seaworthy, in callous disregard of safety norms. Repeated reminders to defence ministry mandarins to procure new submarines and in the interim, provide for replacement of the batteries of the existing ageing submarines, had fallen on deaf ears, even though batteries are indigenously made. So strong is the stranglehold of the bureaucrats, that their complacency knows no bounds. Their accountability is so loose that they get away with anything.

It is small wonder then that morale in the armed forces has touched a new low in recent years.

The mishap on INS Sindhuratna was the second major accident in the country’s ageing submarine fleet in the last six months. Earlier, INS Sindhurakshak, a Russian Kilo-class submarine like the INS Sindhuratna, had sunk at the Mumbai naval dockyard, killing three officers and 15 sailors, after a series of internal explosions in its fully-loaded weapons compartment on August 14, 2013.

The concern on the sorry state of preparedness for any eventuality needs to be addressed not because it has been raised by the chief of the third largest army of the world, but for safeguarding the country’s national security at a time when India’s neighbours, particularly China, is undertaking massive military modernization, with a defence budget which now officially exceeds $100 billion (India’s latest defence budget is $40.4 billion).

The building of the Scorpène class submarines is in progress within the country, but six submarines will join the Navy only by 2022. An immediate step that India needs to take could be the acquisition of two more nuclear submarines of the Akula class, on lease from Russia. The Russians are willing to lease a nuclear submarine, but considering the good relationship between the Russian and Indian navies, it might be possible to persuade President Putin to part with one more Akula, until the Indian indigenous building project catches up.

The only major navies still operating conventional submarines are China and Japan. The others have shifted to an all-nuclear submarine force and India should do the same. In the vast reaches of the Indian Ocean, the slow pace of transit of conventional submarines makes them a liability, which can only be overcome by acquiring larger numbers. A far more efficacious solution is the nuclear-propelled SSN, which is twice as expensive as a conventional submarine, but is far more effective.

The indigenous route to nuclear SSNs is some years away, since these require more powerful reactor plants than the missile-armed Arihant.  India’s submarine community also needs to deliberate on transiting to an all-nuclear submarine force. The government on its part, needs to help the Indian shipbuilding industry and the Department of Atomic Energy by looking for strategic partnerships involving the building of nuclear propelled submarines.

When the former Army chief, General V K Singh, while in office wrote a secret letter to the Prime Minister, which was leaked, highlighting the critical deficiencies in equipment, weapon systems and ammunition, there was a hue and cry. But over time, the reality has seeped in and there is deep concern in policy-making circles. There is no doubt that we need to pull up our socks. The sooner we do it, the better for the country which clearly faces a crisis today.
Why the UPA's tenure has damaged India's defence

The tenure of the UPA 1 and 2 has, I believe, been especially damaging for the Armed Forces and defence of the country. I'm saddened in making this observation as it gives me no delight to observe adversely on the armed forces. I do believe that the army, navy and the air force are jewels in the crown of India.

Field Marshal Chetwode's words are inscribed in the IMA:
The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time.
The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next.
Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time.

If I apply that criteria to this government, we have failed. On whose head do we charge these failings? In totality, the government is responsible but through it, it is the defence minister. I am very sorry to observe the visible decline in the morale and functioning began to appear visibly when Antony took the august office of minister of defence. It's depressing to cite all things have gone on. It is to Mr Antony's charge and distinction in which a serving Chief of Army Staff has taken the ministry which he serves, to the Supreme Court. As if that were not enough, we have yet another chief, Admiral Joshi, who has resigned.

I have learned that some 600 cases of wrongdoing have occurred in the working of which 100 have been entrusted to the CBI. I believe that we have demeaned the service by entrusting the cases of misconduct to the CBI, which , after all, is a by product of the Indian Police.

The greatest shortage in the Indian army is one of artillery. The problem is that our good Raksha Mantri has blacklisted all firms who could have supplied us with guns. The air force is steadily depleting in numbers of squadrons. Look at the navy. Mumbai harbour has not been dredged for three to four years. There was a shortage of submarines but he would not order in time. He is a minister for cancellations not a minister for defence.

Antony is a honest man. But honesty is of different kinds. Do you have honesty of purpose, conduct, sense of responsibility to your office? I have always said that Mr Antony is modest and meek and he has a great deal to be modest about.

It is the great misfortune of India that under the leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mr. Antony as defence minister, all the three service chiefs have either been insulted, demeaned or arrested. A former Air Force Chief, Air Chief Marshal Tyagi for the infamous VVIP helicopters. General VK Singh who took the government to the Supreme Court and now Admiral Joshi has had to resign. At least the Chief of Naval Staff exited honourably. This is a record of infamy which the UPA and the Defence Minister will carry on as a burden for as long as their sensibilities are about enough to recognise what a great wrong they have done to the armed forces and to India.

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