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Sunday, 4 January 2015

From Today's Papers - 04 Jan 2015

Pak unleashes heavy fire along border; 2 jawans, woman dead
Ravi Krishnan Khajuria/Majid Jahangir

Tribune News Service

Jammu/Srinagar, January 3
Two Army jawans and a woman were killed as Pakistani troops targeted villages and security posts at various places in Jammu and Kashmir since last night, triggering migration of hundreds of people from some border areas.

The Army said Pakistani troops violated the ceasefire along the LoC near Kanaya Post in Tangdhar sector on Friday evening.

“A rocket propelled grenade, fired from across the LoC, exploded resulting in a major fire in the area. In the blaze, two jawans were killed and two others, including a BSF man, were wounded,” an Army spokesman in Srinagar said. “The two injured were shifted to 92 base hospital in Srinagar for treatment,” he said.

Along the International Border, a woman was killed and nine other civilians were injured as Pakistan shelled several forward villages and 15 border outposts of the BSF with 82 mm mortars in Samba and Kathua districts.

The fresh ceasefire violations have triggered fear and uncertainty among border villagers. Nearly 1,700 villagers, mostly women, children and elderly have fled their homes to take refuge in 12 camps set up by the state administration.

The deceased woman has been identified as Toshi Devi, wife of Som Raj of Manguchak village in Samba. Her 14-year-old son Rahul was seriously injured in the mortar attack.

BSF IG (Jammu Frontier) RK Sharma said the situation along the International Border was tense but under control. “Pakistan is targeting our civilian areas with 82 mm mortars. It’s an act of cowardice. We have issued an advisory to the administration and people telling them to stay indoors or move to safer zones,” said Sharma.

The IG said the BSF was retaliating strongly to the fire. “We are certainly not targeting their civilian areas but we are retaliating in equal measure. We are not going to tolerate any nonsense from them,” he said.

He said around 9.35 pm on Friday night the Rangers started shelling and firing at Indian posts and villages prompting the BSF to retaliate strongly. “The intermittent gun battle between the two sides went on through the night and on Saturday morning they (Rangers) again rained mortars on forward villages, he said.

The BSF IG confirmed presence of ultras in groups of five to eight across the border. “There are 50-60 ultras waiting to sneak in. Their strategy is to keep firing heavily and try to push ultras to this side,” he said.

Kathua DC Shahid Iqbal Choudhary said 1,170 persons from forward villages have been moved to eight relief camps. Samba DC Mubarak Singh said: “Over 500 people have been moved to relief camps.”
Pak violating ceasefire despite friendship offer: Rajnath

Rajnath Singh, Home Minister

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 3
Home Minister Rajnath Singh today said India had been offering its hand of friendship, but Pakistan was repeatedly targeting Indian border villages.

Speaking to the mediapersons on the sidelines of a BJP function, he said, “Pakistan is our neighbouring country and we want good relations with all our neighbours. Pakistan should stop ceasefire violations.”

He wondered why Pakistan was continuously indulging in ceasefire violations, despite having suffered badly every time.

“While we are offering our hand of friendship to Pakistan, it is continuously indulging in ceasefire violations. We made a beginning by inviting Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the swearing-in of Prime Minister Narendra Modi (in May 2014), who shook hands with him offering not just friendship but also hoping to unite hearts. Despite that, Pakistan is indulging in ceasefire violations repeatedly,” he said.

He said India has taken all necessary steps to strengthen security to ensure there is no repeat of a 26/11 incident.

“We have strengthened our security on all fronts,” he said, adding that security arrangements would be in place as usual for Republic Day where US President Barack Obama will be the chief guest in Delhi.

Pakistan troops have indulged in heavy mortar shelling and firing on several Border Security Force (BSF) posts along the Indo-Pak border in Jammu and Kashmir’s Samba and Kathua sectors since last night, leaving a woman dead and several injured.

Rajnath Singh yesterday instructed the BSF to retaliate in adequate measure.
Crew of Pakistani Boat That Blew Up Didn't Look Like Fishermen: Coast Guard
Gandhinagar:  The Indian Coast Guard (ICG) today said suspicions were raised about the identity of the crew of the explosives-laden Pakistani boat intercepted by them, as they did not look like fishermen and carried no nets.

The Coast Guard said they followed standard operating procedure (SOP) while intercepting the hostile boat, which as intelligence inputs suggested, had set sail from the port city of Karachi from Pakistan for some "illicit transaction".

The maritime law enforcement agency reiterated that the vessel was set on fire by its crew members, causing it to explode and later sink. The incident took place about 365 km off the coast of Gujarat's Porbandar in the Arabian Sea on the intervening night of December 31 and January 1 after a hot pursuit by the Coast Guard.

"We saw four men on the boat, they were nowhere looking like fishermen, they wore T-shirts and half pants, and this raised suspicion on our side," Coast Guard Commander (North-West Region) Kuldip Singh Sheoran told reporters.

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A search operation is on for the bodies of the crew members and wreckage of the vessel, he said.

"Multiple Indian intelligence agencies are jointly investigating the incident and they will go to the bottom of it," he said on being asked if the occupants of the boat were terrorists.

"We received intelligence input at around 8.30 in the morning (of Dec 31) about the suspicious boat. We dispatched our Dornier aircraft and ship in that direction and by 1 in the afternoon, we had positively identified the ship," he said.

"At around midnight, our vessel 'Raj Rattan' reached near the boat and tried to stop it by following standard operating procedure. But, instead of surrendering, the boat started moving in a zig-zag way and switched off the lights. We chased it for about one-and-a-half-hours.

"After the hot pursuit, we fired warning shots, but the boat did not stop. We fired more warning shots. After some time, the crew of the boat set it on fire and later it sank with them (occupants)," the Coast Guard officer said.

He added they had no information on reports that that there were two other suspicious boats in the high seas.

The Coast Guard Commander said they have increased vigilance along the Gujarat coast after the incident and also in view of two upcoming high-profile events in the state - Pravasi Bharatiya Divas and Vibrant Gujarat Summit.

"We are alert round-the-clock, but due to these events, we are on extra alert. Our ships and aircraft are doing their job of patrolling the sea," he added.
Wireless intercepts indicate ‘terror’ boats were in touch with Pakistani army
NEW DELHI: Electronic chatter shows that two Pakistani fishing boats, one of which sank after being intercepted by the Coast Guard in the Arabian sea in early hours of January 1, were in frequent touch with Pakistan army and Maritime Security Agency of Pakistan through a "contact".

Sources privy to the wireless intercepts, which led technical intelligence agency NTRO to alert the Coast Guard, claimed that the "contact" also talked to someone in Thailand on a frequent basis.

It was around 8.30am on December 31, that the Coast Guard received the first intercept about two "suspicious boats" headed towards Indian waters from Keti Bandar near Karachi. The Coast Guard then launched a Dornier reconnaissance aircraft, apart from diverting patrol vessel ICGS Rajratan towards the area.

One fishing boat was "positively identified" by the afternoon, while the other could never be traced. Then followed the "hot-pursuit" of the intercepted trawler with ICGS Rajratan firing warning shots at it, which finally ended in the boat sinking — with four people on board — around 365km from Porbander early on January 1.

Crew talked of 'finishing task'

"While the first boat was sinking, another intercept from the second boat talked about it heading back after finishing its task. They could have been involved in a mid-sea transfer of arms and ammunition," said a source.
The intercepts strengthen the official view in New Delhi that the fishing boats were on a sinister mission. On a day when Pakistan accused India of trying to tarnish its image by orchestrating the "drama", maintaining that no boat from Karachi had gone to the open seas around that time, defence ministry here stuck to its guns that the "rogue vessel" was carrying some explosives.

The ministry said that those aboard the boat were thwarted from carrying out "a possibly dangerous mission" in "a well-coordinated operation" between NTRO and Coast Guard. "The four people on board either went down with the ship or jumped into the sea after setting it afire," said an official.

But India is taking no chances. With the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas and Vibrant Gujarat events slated to kick-off from next week, the security vigil along the long Gujarat coastline has been stepped up in view of continuing intelligence inputs about terror threats emanating from the sea.

Even as defence minister Manohar Parrikar was briefed on the wireless intercepts and the entire operation, defence ministry officials dismissed questions on whether those on board the Pakistani fishing boat were actually terrorists or just smugglers and if disproportionate force had been used to stop it.
"It was rogue boat, which repeatedly ignored warnings to stop, switched off its lights and tried to speed away in an area where Pakistani fishing vessels do not usually come. It's easy to raise questions about the operation but can one imagine what would been the consequences if the boat had managed to evade the security net," said an official.

Then, of course, there were the specific intelligence inputs that the boat was on some nefarious mission towards the Indian shores. "The Coast Guard regularly intercepts Pakistani fishing boats when they come into our waters without shots being fired or people being killed. This vessel, however, behaved very suspiciously. No fishing nets were down, neither were the people dressed like fishermen," said the official.

Moreover, Pakistani fishing boats usually operate in areas around the Sir Creek region, rarely if ever venturing into where the mysterious boat was intercepted on January 1. While it will be difficult to connect all the dots behind the conspiracy, with the boat sinking to the seabed, several agencies are now jointly investigating the incident to get as many details as possible.
Finally, Mountain Guns for India

A long-delayed Indian Army program finally gets the go ahead.

In late November, the Indian Army’s artillery breathed a sigh of relief when the government gave clearance to a Rs. 15,570 crore ($2.5 billion) project for mountain artillery guns. The news came just a month after the Indian government cleared 80,000 crore worth of defense project deals. The guns to be purchased are 155 mm/52 caliber with a range of 40 km and will be part of the “Buy & Make India” program. At present, there is a plan to acquire 814 guns for the Indian Army. While 100 guns would be acquired off the shelf, the remainder of the 714 guns would be made in India.

This is a major boost to the Indian Army’s artillery, which has not acquired guns since the Bofors’ scam in the 1980s. India had already cancelled the acquisition of self-propelled 155 mm/52 caliber guns on the grounds that they failed to meet requirements. The only progress that was made in artillery was an upgrade to the Russian 130 mm/39 caliber M46 guns to 155 mm/45 caliber, which increased the range from 26 km to 39 km.

A ban on South Africa’s Denel had adverse repercussions for the progress of the Indian Army’s Bhim Artillery Project, an indigenous project under which Denel proposed to install a 155 mm gun on the Indian-made Arjun tank chassis. Now, though, given the government’s fast-track approach to procuring weapon systems for the Army, Air Force, and Navy, there is reason to believe that other lagging projects of the Indian Army’s Artillery could be about to get a boost. This haste in decision-making regarding defense procurements is due to the new government’s desire to “clear a backlog of defense orders” in order to provide an impetus to India’s military capability and boost its defense preparedness. China and Pakistan are already enhancing their artillery strength and India cannot afford to be left behind.

Several Indian companies are vying for the Army’s artillery project, namely TATA, L&T, and Bharat Forge, which can either develop the guns completely or build the guns in collaboration with a foreign firm. For instance, L&T has entered into an agreement with France’s Nexter Systems to offer the guns, while Mahindra Defence has joined with BAE systems. In August 2014, reports came in that India had lifted its ban on South Africa’s Denel company while in November 2014, India has also lifted its ban on Israeli Military Industries (IMI) and intends to plan for the future possibility of manufacturing ammunition for its 155 mm guns.

As New Delhi considers national security to be of “paramount concern” for the government, addressing the bottlenecks and hurdles in the defense procurement process will ensure that the “pace of acquisition is not stymied.” In July 2014, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley raised the foreign investment limit that can be contributed to the domestic defense industry from 29 percent to 49 percent in the hope of attracting more of its main arms suppliers in order to “reshape the defense industrial base dominated by state firms.” Under the new government, India has boosted defense spending by 12 per cent.

India’s decision to clear the 155 mm/52 caliber guns will no doubt lend momentum to the Indian Army’s artillery modernization program, and could cause foreign firms to “revisit their strategies” for the Indian market. It is clear that India is now keen on moving towards self-reliance with state-of-the-art equipment, rather than just buying complete systems from foreign firms.
Modi Magic: Active DAC good news for Indian defence

Bengaluru, Jan 1: The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) has become more active since the Narendra Modi government came to power. The high-level body chaired by the Defence Minister has already taken some major decisions, much to the relief of the armed forces. Most importantly, the DAC has been meeting on a regular basis, fast-tracking crucial decisions.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had signed off Year 2014 by saying that the DAC had cleared deals (projects) worth Rs 78,000 crore in the last few months. "In this, Rs 65,000 crore alone is under the ‘Make in India' category," he had said. The decision to hold regular DAC meetings has been seen as a positive step by many who are closely monitoring India's defence matters. Jaitley set the tone While handling the twin-post of Finance and Defence, it was Arun Jaitley who had decided to revitalise DAC. He had even a taken a jibe at the UPA regime, which had a shoddy track record of holding DAC meetings. "The DAC has been meeting every month and hope this practice continues, unlike during the previous government," Jaitley told in November last. "Since I became the minister, the DAC has been meeting every month and I hope the practice will continue," Jaitley had said. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) in its annual performance release claimed that the DAC has cleared proposals worth over Rs 1.50 lakh crore alone in a single year. "Most of the equipment and platforms, cleared by the DAC, will be manufactured in the country, either by the public or private sector entities, through collaborations and tie-ups with foreign manufacturing companies," the MoD statement said. DAC becoming vibrant, a good sign: Matheswaran Air Marshal M Matheswaran (Retd), former Deputy Chief of the Integrated Defence Staff (Policy, Planning and Development) and currently an Advisor to HAL, says that the DAC has become vibrant under the Modi regime. "The DAC meetings have become very regular now, which is a welcome move. Defence Minister Parrikar seems to be serious in conducting DAC and I am happy to see that the current regime is fixing the meeting dates in advance," Matheswaran, a leading think-tank on India's military matters told OneIndia. Matheswaran said that the government's decision to increase the FDI in defence to 49 per cent has been the highlight of year 2014. "I am also inspired to see the PM pulling up DRDO and DPSUs for non-performance. Accountability is the key," he said. He said through the ‘Make in India' the government has made its intentions clear to help the private sector. "I would want to see some action on this front now," Matheswaran added. DRDO will have a lot more to offer: Tamilmani DRDO Director-General (Aeronautical Systems) Dr K Tamilmani told OneIndia that the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) will have a lot more to offer in the coming years. "The aeronautical cluster has done matured technology development over the years. The success of Nirbhay subsonic missile is a pointer towards our complete command over a variety of new-age technologies," Dr Tamilmani said. He said the DRDO will be happy to join hands with more private industries to build a vibrant eco system in the country. "The industry and user should be together from day one," Dr Tamilmani said. He said the Rustom UAV can be used by the Indian Coast Guard to monitor the international waters. "It is ideally suited to see whether our fishermen are crossing their boundaries. The way-point navigation will be handy for the Coast Guard," the top scientist said. Private sector wants more changes In an exclusive interview (set to be published soon) to OneIndia recently, B V R Mohan Reddy, Founder and Executive Chairman of Cyient, an engineering, network and operations solutions company headquartered in Hyderabad, said that the MoD should create a conducive environment for private companies to do business. "We are keen to do business with Indian defence organizations. But lots need to change in MoD," says Reddy. Major recent decisions by DAC Decided that all the 384 light-utility helicopters (LUHs) needed by the Army and Air Force to replace the existing Cheetah/Chetak fleets will be made in India with foreign collaboration. To build six submarines in India at a cost of about Rs 50,000 crore and to purchase over 8,000 Israeli anti-tank guided missiles and 12 upgraded Dornier surveillance aircraft. Acquisition of 22 Apache attack helicopters and 15 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters from the US will continue. Approved the purchase of Integrated Anti-Submarine Warfare Suites (torpedo decoys and active towed array sonars) to be fitted on seven stealth frigates and four destroyers, which are to be built in India. Approved proposals for Rs 4,444 crore, including the purchase of four survey vessels at Rs 2,324 crore. The all powerful DAC As reported in these columns earlier, the DAC was set up in October 2001 following recommendations from Group of Ministers (GoMs) on ‘Reforming the National Security System.' The need for DAC was felt post-Kargil conflict and this high-level body is chaired by the Defence Minister. Other members include: Minister of State for Defence, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Naval Staff, Chief of Air Staff, Defence Secretary, Secretary Defence Research & Development, Secretary Defence Production, Chief of Integrated Staff Committees (HQ IDS), Director General (Acquisition) and Deputy Chief of Integrated Defence Staff. The main aim of the DAC is to fast-track procurement process of the armed forces by optimally utilising the available budget.
Women Officers March in to Salute President Obama

NEW DELHI: It’s a march to women’s empowerment.Rajpath will have a tryst with history during the Republic Day Parade this year. US President Barack Obama, the chief guest at the Parade, will get a salute from a contingent of 150-odd women army officers who are participating for the first time. The idea for inclusion of a woman officer contingent into the Republic Day parade came from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office to display the growing role for the women officers in the armed forces.

Also, in the process of making the parade a spotless event, New Delhi is also looking minutely into the marching styles followed by the tri services. A top official of the Ceremonial Division of the Ministry of Defence which organises the parade pointed out that tri services do not march in a similar way.

Recently, in a path-breaking move, the Modi-led NDA government has cleared the Indian Army’s proposal to offer permanent commission to women officers, which gives them a bigger role in units like Intelligence Corps, Signals Corps, Ordinance Corps, Army Service Corps and Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Corps. Unlike countries like the US, Israel, Australia, Sri Lanka and Sweden, where women officers serve in combat roles, India has not opened combat field to women officers. At present, women can join the army as short service commission officers and get posted in less-critical branches such as Judge Advocate General Branch, Army Medical Corps and Military Nursing Service.

Indian Army allowed women as officers for the first time in 1992 when they were introduced as Special Entry Group for four years, which extended up to 14 years in 2004. Even the extended service cannot promote a woman officer up to the rank of a Colonel, which is mandatory to be the commanding officer of the unit.

Earlier, woman officers had even moved the court seeking permanent commission and command. The previous government had set up a high-level committee to examine the possibilities of allowing woman officers permanent commission and command. Military experts believe that the major fear of the Indian military in allowing woman into active combat is hostage situations involving woman officers.

A new controversy has generated in the process of giving the parade a perfect look. It’s about how high the Indian armed forces—the Army, Navy and Air Force—should raise their arms while marching past President Pranab Mukerjee and Obama on the Republic Day. It was observed that the Navy and Air Force’s marching contingents swing arms above shoulders and stamp their feet. But for the Army, the arms should only swing up to the shoulders in front and should be parallel to the waist belt on the swing back. Also, the officer leading the contingent should not stamp his feet at the saluting dais before giving the “eyes right” command.

In an attempt to make into the same grid, the Indian Army has cited the rule book—the Defence Services Ceremonial Regulations, 1961—which says that the troops and officers taking part in the parade are not supposed to raise their arms above the shoulder while marching.
Govt brings in new procurement rules to speed up defence deals

The government is about to finalise a proposal that will allow foreign companies to appoint authorised representatives for negotiating defence deals. The move aims to rid New Delhi's dubious network of agents who are illegally paid hefty commissions to swing arms contracts.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said on Tuesday evening that the new proposal, along with a revised procurement procedure to accelerate arms acquisitions, will be rolled out by February.

Parrikar had talked about legalising arms agents soon after taking charge, underlining the priorities of the Narendra Modi-led Central government.

Weeding out corruption from defence contracts is one of the biggest challenges, as no government has found a way to prevent arms agents from walking away with loads of illegal money every time they help in clinching a deal. The Modi government recently terminated a contract for procuring eight minesweeper vessels, needed desperately by the Navy, after it was found that a South Korean vendor had hired a local automobile dealer as an agent.

Parrikar said that there is nothing wrong in a foreign company having an authorised agent for negotiating contracts. The government will make it easier by asking firms to declare its authorised agent and give an undertaking that the person will not be paid commission for swinging a contract. It can pay the representative a fee for the services.

This is the second attempt to regularise agents in arms contract. It was first attempted during the NDA government in 2001 when agents were asked to register but none agreed, as they feared taxmen will hound them.

Existing procurement rules have room for firms to appoint an agent but the norms are ambiguous.

Hiring a commission agent is banned in India but it has not prevented foreign firms from using their services to access decision makers in the government.

Another key of the new procurement rules will be clarity on blacklisting a firm involved in corrupt practices. The previous government followed a policy of blanket ban while dealing with the violator and its subsidiaries but it hampered modernisation of the armed forces as many firms offered other specialised products.

An example was the blacklisting of Italy's Finmeccanica group after kickback allegations in the supply of VVIP helicopters to the IAF. This stalled critical procurement of helicopters for the Army and the Navy.

The new government is open to engaging in controlled business with the blacklisted firms to avoid any adverse impact on the modernisation process.

The government has already walked the talk on this aspect by allowing state-run BEML to procure spare parts for the Tatra trucks from the company Tatra UK, which was banned by the UPA after graft allegations.

The government has decided not to deal with the British subsidiary of the company but allowed spares to be procured from the original vendor as the trucks were key components for the armed forces.

A major push will be given to the defence public sector undertakings, which have lagged behind in supporting the hunger for modernisation of the armed forces.

Parrikar said by mid-2016, one can expect a major turnaround of the defence firms with massive augmentation of their capacity.

The Modi government's "Make in India" initiative is most relevant for the defence sector, which has the potential to absorb technology to meet the requirement of the armed forces. It could move towards setting up a defence industrial base in the country, which is non-existent at the moment.

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