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Thursday, 14 May 2015

From Today's Papers - 14 May 2015

Ahead of PM visit, China says no overnight fix for border dispute
Beijing, May 13
On the eve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit, China today played down expectations of any breakthrough in resolving the vexed boundary dispute, saying though it will come up during his talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, it cannot be resolved overnight.

"We are looking forward to the visit", Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told media here, commenting on Modi's three-day visit starting tomorrow from the historic city of Xi'an where he would hold informal talks with Xi on a host of issues, including the progress made on the boundary dispute resolution.

"The boundary question is an issue of common concern and will be covered in the discussions. Both sides are willing to resolve the boundary dispute at an early date and we have made great efforts to that end", Hua said.

She said, "The early resolution of the boundary questions meets the aspiration of people from both sides and we all know that boundary question is a leftover from history and it can not be resolved overnight. "But both sides are willing to stay in communication with each other on this question through the Special Representatives mechanism and through the other border issue related mechanisms and progress has been made in this regard," she said.

Hua said China was willing to stay in communication with India to strive for "mutually acceptable, just and reasonable settlement" to the boundary question. "Pending the final settlement, we will make joint efforts to maintain peace and tranquility at the border areas. I think this will serve the common interest of both sides", she said. "We have a consensus that (Modi’s) visit will give a further boost to the development of bilateral relationship". — PTI
Two militants arrested for Tral attack
Tribune News Service

Srinagar, May 13

The J&K Police on Wednesday claimed to have arrested two militants involved in a grenade attack in the militancy-infested Tral town of south Kashmir in December last year. The attack had left four civilians dead and nearly two dozen pedestrians injured.

The police has blamed Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad and pro-Pakistan Hizbul Mujahideen for the grenade attack in the main market of Tral on December 5.

“All the available sources supported by technical intelligence were utilised and after painstaking efforts the Awantipora police succeeded in cracking the mysterious case by identifying a joint module of the JeM and Hizb involved in the incident and the two were subsequently arrested,” a police spokesman said.

The arrested militants have been identified as Suhail Majeed Bhat of Noorpora and Gulzar Ahmad Dar of Nagbal in Tral. The police said during questioning the militants revealed that they were working for the local Jaish commander Adil Pathan and Zakir of the Hizb.
North Korea ‘executes’ defence chief with an anti-aircraft gun
Seoul, May 13
North Korea executed its defence chief by putting him in front of an anti-aircraft gun at a firing range, Seoul’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) told lawmakers, which would be the latest in a series of high-level purges since Kim Jong Un took charge.

Hyon Yong Chol, who headed the isolated nuclear-capable country’s military, was charged with treason, including disobeying Kim and falling asleep during an event at which North Korea’s young leader was present, according to South Korean lawmakers briefed in a closed-door meeting with the spy agency on Wednesday.

His execution was watched by hundreds of people, according to NIS intelligence shared with lawmakers.

It was not clear how the NIS obtained the information and it is not possible to independently verify such reports from within secretive North Korea.

“The NIS official said it had been confirmed by multiple sources. It is still just intelligence, but he said they were confident,” Shin Kyoung-min, a lawmaker and member of the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, who attended the briefing, told Reuters.

Experts on North Korea said there was no sign of instability in Pyongyang, but there could be if purges continued.

Kim had previously ordered the execution of 15 senior officials this year as punishment for challenging his authority, according to the NIS. In all, some 70 officials have been executed since Kim took over after his father’s death in 2011, Yonhap news agency cited the NIS as saying.

“There is no clear or present danger to Kim Jong Un’s leadership or regime stability, but if this continues to happen into next year, then we should seriously start to think about revising our scenarios on North Korea,” said Michael Madden, an expert on the country’s leadership who contributes to the 38 North think tank in Washington.

Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea specialist at Dongguk University in Seoul, said the regime could “reach its limit” if Kim’s purges continued. “But it’s still too early to tell,” said Koh.

The lawmakers said Hyon, 66, was executed at a firing range at the Kanggon Military Training Area, 22 km (14 miles) north of Pyongyang, according to the NIS.

The US-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea said last month that, according to satellite images, the range was likely used for an execution by ZPU-4 anti-aircraft guns in October. The target was just 30 metres away from the weapons, which have a range of 8,000 metres, it said.

Hyon was said to have shown disrespect to Kim by dozing off at a military event, the Seoul lawmakers said, citing the agency briefing. Hyon was also believed to have voiced complaints against Kim and had not followed his orders several times, according to the lawmakers.

He was arrested in late April and executed three days later without legal proceedings, the NIS told lawmakers. — Reuters
Defence ministry clears projects worth Rs 25,000 crore
NEW DELHI: The defence ministry on Wednesday night cleared several major long-pending stalled projects worth over Rs 25,000 crore, including the Rs 11,929 crore one for 56 medium transport aircraft by the Tata-Airbus consortium, Rs 2,900 crore for 145 American M-777 ultralight howizers and Rs 3,000 crore for around 200 Russian Kamov light utility helicopters.

The defence acquisitions council, chaired by defence minister Manohar Parrikar, also cleared the acquisition of two Boeing 777-300 (extended range) aircraft from Air India for the dedicated use by President Pranab Mukherjee and PM Narendra Modi as the Desi Air Force One, as was first reported by TOI earlier this week. The two wide-bodied aircraft will now be reconfigured for the VVIPs, which will include a an executive office and bedroom, and then fitted with advanced self-protection suites to jam and defeat hostile incoming missiles and encrypted satellite communication facilities by Boeing.

In terms of sheer money, the biggest proposal to be cleared was the Rs 11,929 crore mega project for the Indian private sector to supply 56 medium transport aircraft to the IAF despite there being only one bidder, the Tata-Airbus consortium, in the fray. As reported earlier, the dominant view in the defence establishment was that the green signal should be given to the Tata-Airbus venture since its technical and commercial bids were submitted in a competitive environment, with the other seven contenders backing out for one reason or the other.

The project, under which the first 16 aircraft are to be bought from the foreign original equipment manufacturer and the rest 40 to be manufactured by the Indian Production Agency (IPA) within eight years, is meant to encourage the Indian private sector to enter into the domestic military aerospace sector. Incidentally, it was the Modi government's first DAC in July — then headed by Arun Jaitley - which revived the Avro replacement project after it was put on hold by the UPA-II regime last year due to strong opposition from the powerful PSU lobby and ministers like Praful Patel, as reported by TOI earlier. The other big takeaway was the long-pending Rs 2,900 crore deal with the US government for 145 ultra-light howitzers, which are to be acquired for the new Army divisions being raised along the border with China.

The direct government-to-government deal had been stuck due to high costs and a non-compliant offsets proposal offered by artillery manufacturer BAE Systems. The Army, however, has been for long been demanding 155mm/39-calibre light-weight howitzers, with a strike range over 25-km range. Such howitzers can be swiftly air-lifted to "threatened high-altitude areas" along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China, which has the military infrastructure in place to swiftly mobilize troops and equipment to outnumber Indian forces by 3:1 there.

The DAC also cleared the initial construction planning process for the country's second aircraft carrier, the 65,000-tonne INS Vishal, as well as the Rs 2,700 crore acqusition of nine systems of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile for three Talwar-class stealth frigates and three Delhi-class destroyers. Developed jointly by India and Russia, the missile flies at Mach 2.8 or almost three times the speed of sound. The Army and Navy already have the BrahMos missiles, which are also to be soon tested from a Sukhoi-30MKI fighter.
 A wasted year
[ May 13, 2015 12:50:00 ] High amongst the reasons why almost a third of India voted the Bharatiya Janata Party to power a year ago was the carefully presented image of a party that would safeguard national defence and pay attention to a long-neglected military. After years of decision paralysis under the United Progressive Alliance defence minister, A K Antony, the BJP promised a robust revival, with its election manifesto promising dramatic changes to invigorate the military. "The BJP recognises the importance of identifying a clear road map to address the issue head-on, with radical systemic changes," declared the party"s manifesto. Yet little has changed during the BJP"s year at the helm. Were the military to go to war today, it would still be hamstrung by a dysfunctional and divided command structure that inhibits tri-service cooperation. While fighting as single services rather than an integrated whole, the army, the navy and the air force would face familiar shortages of equipment, including artillery guns, helicopters, night-vision devices, fighter aircraft, anti-submarine capability and even army jawans" personal equipment. Despite sloganeering about "Make in India", there are no actual policy changes that might erode our unenviable status as the world"s biggest arms buyer. Alongside paying lip service to indigenisation, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar sacked the well-respected head of the Defence Research and Development Organisation, leaving this crucial engine of domestic production headless for over three months now. Meanwhile, the long wait continues for policies that bring private Indian defence companies at least on a par with foreign companies -- repeatedly promised but not yet delivered by Parrikar. A worrying shortage of junior officers still blunts the combat capability of all three services, especially the army. The many soldiers who could die as a consequence would continue to have their names engraved on a war memorial that pre-dates independent India. There is growing resentment within the reliable BJP constituency of ex-servicemen, with the long-standing demand for "one rank, one pension" still undelivered, despite repeated promises. On the positive side, the defence ministry is gradually realising what this column has long argued -- that India"s limited defence Budget has no place for grandiose schemes like adding a mountain strike corps to an already bloated army, or buying 126 Rafale fighters for a budget-busting Rs 90,000 crore. Parrikar has also accepted the need for a tri-service chief to coordinate between the army, the navy and the air force, which would eliminate the wasteful duplication of capabilities and synergising combat power. Also welcome is his announcement that the Indian Air Force would buy 10-12 squadrons of Tejas light combat aircraft to replace the MiG-21. Still, the defence minister has adopted half measures instead of moving decisively. Instead of scrapping the MSC entirely, or keeping it intact by scrapping one of the three mechanised plains corps, Parrikar has inexplicably cut down the MSC to one-third of its size. This is like economising on scissors by buying just one blade. A mountain corps with just one infantry division cannot generate the combat momentum needed for making deep inroads into enemy territory and would, therefore, lack a strategic rationale. The same logic would apply if the tri-service chief turns out to be a compromise solution -- the four-star first-amongst-equals that the Naresh Chandra committee recommended, rather than an authoritative five-star chief of defence staff recommended in 2001 by a Group of Ministers. Responsible for long-range planning but lacking operational authority, a four-star defence chief would constantly run up against the fact that the two go hand in hand. Perhaps the most damaging compromise solution of this year (in fairness, it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi"s decision, not Parrikar"s) was the purchase of 36 Rafale fighters from Dassault, apparently to compensate the French aerospace company for cancelling the tender for 126 fighters, which Dassault was poised to bag. Having earlier said on Doordarshan that 126 Rafales would have cost about Rs 90,000 crore, Parrikar has now told The Economic Times that buying just 36 Rafale fighters has saved India Rs 60,000-65,000 crore. That means the IAF is paying Rs 25,000-30,000 crore for 36 Rafale fighters bought in "flyaway condition", or Rs 700-830 crore an aircraft. This is no cheaper than what India would have paid for the 126-fighter purchase, even though the latter would have come with manufacturing in India and significant technology transfer. Parrikar has justified this by pointing to a 50 per cent offset that Dassault would be liable for, which he says would benefit India"s defence industry. In fact, since Dassault would have been liable for offsets even in the 126-fighter contract, India has paid as much for off-the-shelf Rafales, without the benefit of "Make in India". To put in perspective the staggering price India will pay for the Rafale, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is charging the IAF Rs 358 crore for the Nashik-built Sukhoi-30MKI fighter, less than half the cost of the Rafale. It is supplying the Tejas LCA Mark I for Rs 160 crore apiece, which means each Rafale will cost as much as four-five Tejas fighters. Another loss of this wasted year has been the combined failure of two defence ministers -- Arun Jaitley and Parrikar -- to put in place policies that would enable private defence firms to take up the slack in equipping India"s military and reducing import dependence. On the day that Parrikar first occupied the defence minister"s chair last November, it took him no more than five minutes to declare that swift decision-making was his "speciality" -- a reminder he has served up several times since then. He has repeatedly promised a new defence procurement policy that would expedite acquisitions and a new blacklisting policy that would not scupper India"s procurement options by banning numerous vendors. In Goa, on December 27, he promised private defence firms a new "Make" procedure by end-January, which would subsidise the development of defence equipment by Indian companies. He has boldly declared that he would allow arms companies to appoint agents in India, subject to regulation. Yet none of these policies have seen the light of day. It may well be that Parrikar is held back by a moribund bureaucracy and by a military so mired in internal squabbles that it has forgotten how to think strategically. Even so, he has just four more years to demonstrate leadership and deliver the kind of operational readiness that lakhs of crores spent annually should buy. Otherwise the charges of "policy paralysis" that the BJP has rightly levelled at the Congress could fly in the opposite direction in the run-up to 2019.

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