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Tuesday, 9 December 2014

From Today's Papers - 09 Dec 2014

Deal for BrahMos 'Mini Missile' Likely During Vladmir Putin's Visit
India and Russia are likely to ink a key deal for the joint development of a BrahMos 'mini missile' during the visit of Russian President Vladmir Putin later this week.

Official sources said that a tripartite agreement in this regard is likely to be signed between DRDO, NPOM lab of Russia and BrahMos Aerospace.

The new missile will have a speed of Mach 3.5 and can carry a payload of 300-kg up to a range of 290-km. In terms of size, it will be about half that of the present missile, which is around 10-metres long.

The missile can be integrated with different platforms, including submarines and the Fifth-Generation Fighter Aircraft.

Putin will land in Delhi on December 10 and fly out within 24 hours.

BrahMos Aerospace, an Indo-Russian joint venture firm set up in 1998, feels that the new missile would be inducted into the services by 2017 and there would be a huge market in India, Russia and friendly foreign countries.

The BrahMos missile can be launched through land, air, ships and submarines.

While the Army and Navy have already started inducting land and sea-based BrahMos missile systems, the air launch variant is set for trials soon.

India had last year successfully carried out the maiden test firing of the over 290 km-range submarine-launched version of BrahMos supersonic cruise missile in the Bay of Bengal, becoming the first country in the world to have this capability.

The BrahMos missile is fully ready for fitment in submarines in vertical launch configuration, which will make the platform one of the most powerful in the world.
Army recruit gets disability pension
The regional bench of armed forces tribunal, Chennai, has directed the defence ministry and Indian Army to pay disability pension to a 33-year-old invalidated recruit, who had undergone training for 11 months and 28 days. The Army had sacked him after detecting that he was suffering from a kidney disorder in 2003. Petitioner Tatarao Vankala, 33, of Srikakulam district in Andhra Pradesh, submitted that he was enrolled in the Indian Army as a recruit on April 20, 2002. During training at the Madras Engineer Group Centre, Bengaluru, he fell sick in January 2003 and was referred to the command hospital there.

He submitted that he was diagnosed with autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease. He was invalidated from service on April 16, 2003 after 11 months and 28 days of service under rule 13 (3) III (iii) having been found medically unfit for further service. And his disability was assessed as 40 per cent for life. His appeals were rejected in March 2008 and August 2010.

A letter dated October 19, 2010 sent by under secretary, ministry of defence, stated that his disorder was considered as ‘neither attributable to nor aggravated by military service’. The petitioner contended that he was recruited after vigorous physical tests and medical examination.He was not suffering from any ailments and there was no history of hereditary disease in his family.

The disorder was caused by strenuous training and, hence, attributable to or aggravated during the military service.In its reply, the Army submitted that while undergoing basic military training, the petitioner was found to be suffering from the disease. The medical board recommended that he be invalidated from service. The contention of the applicant was baseless.

The bench, comprising judicial member Justice V. Periya Karuppiah and administrative member, Lt General K. Surendra Nath, said the disease was aggravated due to military service. Since the petitioner had been invalidated out of service, he was eligible for the provision of broadbanding of the degree of disability from 40 per cent to 50 per cent for life, in accordance with existing provisions on the subject. The bench directed the authorities to pay him the disability pension within three months.
The Indian army is fast losing its morale
Whilst all eyes have been on how the new government steers the legislative agenda during its first full parliamentary session, it is what the new defence minister has said in answers to members' questions within the first few days of the session that should have come as a bolt from the blue to the lawmakers.

Reportedly, the Indian Air Force has lost 32 aircraft in the last three years along with 13 persons (presumably all pilots) in accidents this year alone. The navy has suffered 24 major and minor mishaps between January 2011 and November 2014, including the sinking of submarine INS Sindhurakshak last year and a torpedo recovery vessel just recently. Together, these have resulted in the loss of lives of 22 officers and sailors, with four still missing.

The bad news, unfortunately, is not limited to these operational losses alone. It extends to the sensitive and vital domain of morale, reflected in the number of suicides. For the period commencing 2011, the army has lost 362 soldiers, the IAF 76 airmen and the navy 11 sailors, all to suicides. In addition, during this period, there have been 10 cases of fratricide within the army. Further statistics also point to an alarming shortage of officers in the fighting ranks of the armed forces - of lieutenant colonel and below - with the army short of 7,764, the navy 1,499 and the air force 357 officers.

The muted reaction to these revelations from amongst our lawmakers, the political pundits or indeed the loud electronic media is symptomatic of a deeper malaise. It is difficult to fathom whether this neglect stems from the gravity of this state of affairs not being fully absorbed or our antipathy in general to matters pertaining to the armed forces and national security. Either way, the inevitable conclusion is that India does not need external enemies to defeat its armed forces; collectively, our institutions are doing that work for them pretty well.

To fathom this decline, the proverbial fish rotting from the head comes to mind and even a cursory look at the entire edifice of national security would reveal that Parliament, which stands supreme, rarely spends time on substantial debates on civil-military relations, national security or the state of the armed forces. Successive governments have paid little heed to recommendations of more than one committee to revamp the archaic higher defence organization and have not been held to account by the legislature.

In spite of facing two nuclear neighbours with whom we have unresolved border issues and many counter-insurgency commitments within the country, the government's rules of business place the responsibility of defence of the country on the shoulders of the defence secretary. For all practical purposes, the armed forces headquarters continue to be treated as subordinate and 'attached offices' of the ministry of defence, notwithstanding a recent cosmetic re-designation to 'integrated' headquarters.

Next in the pecking order come the service chiefs who, to those they command, are not just their lawful commanders but embodiment of all that the profession stands for. The respect and honour accorded to the chiefs by the nation adds to the izzat and iqbal of those under their command. It is this pride that contributes to an intangible quality called morale, a quality vital for the success of any fighting force. Three recent examples of how we have treated our commanders would actually make for enlightening case studies in national governance for those of our leaders who aspire to govern and those administrators who, in our warped management of defence, exercise total control over the armed forces with no accountability.

When the VVIP helicopter scandal broke, one amongst the many caught in the slipstream was an erstwhile air chief with a supposed allegation that he had altered the technical requirements to the benefit of the supplier. Without pre-judging the outcome of any investigation, the ministry of defence should have publicly clarified in unambiguous terms that within the system and processes, no single person, irrespective of rank or status, can alter such requirements and that due processes were indeed followed in the case in question.

Recently, a navy chief resigned accepting moral responsibility for a series of mishaps in his service. The unholy haste with which his resignation was accepted and the curt ministry of defence announcement, shorn of the courtesy of expressing regret and recognizing his distinguished service to the nation, lends credence to a view expressed by a predecessor that the government had driven him into resigning by attacking him and demanding explanations. Indeed, in a television interview recently, the erstwhile chief rued with a smile that even he was surprised at the instant acceptance of his resignation by the defence minister.

While these cases relate to ineptness and insensitivity in the way the service chiefs are treated, another case appears to have an element of politics thrown in. A former army chief had run-ins with the government prior to retirement and joined Anna Hazare's movement within months of shedding his uniform. That he was taken into the fold of the principal Opposition party prior to elections, leaves unanswered questions about the line demarcating politics and the military. Should a chief or a commander not wait for a healthy cooling-off period before joining high-profile civil movements or politics? Should political parties themselves not follow a code of ethics of not inviting these men until after a respectable cooling-off period?

The above examples are intended to provide a backdrop to higher defence management issues, the proverbial head of fish, contributing to the deteriorating state of morale in the armed forces. The following examples would illustrate the slippery slope we are encountering at the very sharp end.

The example of Jammu and Kashmir is a case in point. It is no secret that an unfriendly neighbour continues its proxy war with the avowed objective of inflicting a thousand cuts. It is also a fundamental military principle that use of the military in aid of civil authorities should be kept to the barest minimum because prolonged use in a police role dilutes its primary ethos. Whilst the army unfailingly and faithfully continues to do a job not to its liking or choosing, it is often the target of not only separatists, but also political parties and human rights activists.

In the unfortunate incident of the killing of two civilians at an army checkpoint recently, the army has stated that the car did not stop at two checkpoints and broke through the third barrier when it was shot at, killing two occupants. The resulting disturbances and the temptation to use this issue to denigrate the army, and perhaps score electoral brownie points, certainly seem to have got the army on the back foot.

A reputed national daily in an editorial patronizingly asked "Why do soldiers patrolling civilian areas in Kashmir shoot to kill, so easily? The answer, in five letters, is AFSPA." Dramatic though this statement is, perhaps the writer could have asked an even more relevant question. Why is it that areas of the state continue to be considered "disturbed areas" by the civil administration even after decades? Further, if the writer had taken the trouble to study case histories of the 362 army suicides that the defence minister referred to, it would perhaps have emerged that the stress of prolonged deployment in counter-insurgency duties is a contributing factor to this stressed reaction, resulting in the lack of judgment and collateral damage.

Clearly, the army found itself on the back foot and after an inquiry, indicted nine soldiers including a junior commissioned officer for this shooting. But the larger questions remain. The political leadership must ponder why it has put military men on counter-insurgency duties for such a prolonged period? And the army must ponder whether it expects its soldiers to be quick or dead when they are faced with split second life and death decisions in judging a friend from a foe?

This example is not to be mixed with cases where either human rights violation has taken place or fake encounters committed. These are cases of lack of discipline and need to be dealt with firmly, counter-insurgency or not. The army, more than any other institution, will make sure that lack of discipline is not tolerated.

The last straw is a recent report revealing that some wives of army aviation pilots have formed an army wives' agitation group with the purpose of wanting, what they consider, the archaic Chetak and Cheetah helicopters to be phased out as there have been 191 crashes involving these in the past two decades with 294 fatalities. Reportedly, they even have plans to meet the defence minister and the prime minister. This is a new low in the history of national security.

That the armed forces have been made the whipping boys of all and sundry is all too obvious. That this is now beginning to affect the fighting potential of the armed forces is more than evident from what was tabled by the defence minister in Parliament. What though is disturbing is a trend that has never been in evidence in the past - the hint, however remote, that some among the uniformed fraternity are beginning to question their commitment to unlimited liability in the line of duty. Clearly the new defence minister, the prime minister and Parliament have their task cut out. Time is a luxury they can ill afford.

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