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Saturday, 9 April 2016

India eyes 40 US drones
New Delhi, April 8
India is in talks with the US to purchase 40 Predator surveillance drones, officials said, a possible first step towards acquiring the armed version of the aircraft and a development likely to annoy Pakistan.

India is trying to equip the military with more unmanned technologies to gather intelligence as well as boost its firepower along the vast land borders with Pakistan and China. It also wants a closer eye on the Indian Ocean.

New Delhi has already acquired surveillance drones from Israel to monitor the mountains of Kashmir, a region disputed by the nuclear-armed South Asian rivals and the cause of two of their three wars.

As defence ties deepen with the US, which sees India as a counterweight to China in the region, India has asked the US for the Predator series of unmanned planes built by privately held General Atomics, military officials said.

“We are aware of Predator interest from the Indian Navy. However, it is a government-to-government discussion,” Vivek Lall, chief executive of US and International Strategic Development at San Diego-based General Atomics, said.

The US government late last year cleared General Atomics’ proposal to market the unarmed Predator XP in India. It was not clear when the delivery of the drones would take place.  — Reuters
IAF: Tale of deficiencies & mismanagement
Dinesh Kumar
With the retirement pace fast exceeding the replacement rate, the Indian Air Force faces an ageing aircraft fleet. Shortfalls in squadron strength apart, the IAF is plagued by a long list of ailments reflective of bad planning which is adversely impacting India’s air- power capability.
The fighter squadron strength of the Indian Air Force (IAF), the world’s fourth largest, has fallen to 33, nine short of the sanctioned strength of 42.Translated in numbers, the shortfall works out to 144 aircraft; 162 if the trainer version is included.

This declining strength has understandably led the IAF to publicly acknowledge that fighting a “two-front collusive war” (with China and Pakistan) has resultantly become difficult. Ideally, the IAF would like to expand its fighter fleet to 45 squadrons to be able to fight a two-front war. Instead, the worst is yet to come with the projected decline expected to touch a low of 25 squadrons by 2022, which is just six years away. Reason: the retirement pace of the IAF’s ageing aircraft fleet is fast exceeding the replacement rate.

And yet ironically, at the same time, the IAF’s fighter pilot-to-cockpit ratio has declined to less than one pilot per aircraft (0.84) against a sanctioned strength of 1.25 in contrast to 2.5 of the Pakistani Air Force. Thus the IAF is afflicted by both lesser fighter aircraft and a pilot shortfall. But the story does not end here. The IAF remains plagued by a long list of ailments reflective mainly of bad planning and mismanagement.

The IAF’s most modern aircraft is the Russian-origin Sukhoi-30 multi-role fighter first inducted almost 20 years ago in June, 1997 with all other fighter aircraft being 26 to over 40 years old. Of the 272 Su-30s contracted for raising 13 squadrons, the IAF until March 2015 had inducted 204 of these aircraft. Despite it being the most recent induction, the current 10 squadrons continue to be hit by low serviceability, shortfalls in performance and deficiency in manpower. For example, for over two years between 2007 and November 2009, 31 Su-30s remained grounded due to frequent snags in its fly-by-wire system. The serviceability record ranged between 55 and 60 per cent and the shortfall in flying effort between 31 and 43 per cent from 2005 to 2010.

Earlier, in January 1995, following delays in the development of the Tejas, the light combat aircraft (LCA) under indigenous development since 1983, India contracted upgrading 125 Soviet-origin MiG-21 Bis fighters. Although these were upgraded and re-inducted between 1998-99 and 2007-08, the harsh reality is that the upgrade is neither completely successful nor comprehensive. Serviceability remains low with a high percentage of aircraft grounded due to non-serviceability of spares. Even the on board radar’s performance remains unsatisfactory. Only 43 per cent of the aircraft have self-protection jammers, leaving the remainder aircraft vulnerable to enemy radars and electronic warfare threats. Between 2004-05 and 2008-09, the serviceability ranged between 41 and 51 per cent, while 23 and 37 per cent aircraft remained grounded.

A bizarre example of bad planning and carelessness pertains to the highly sophisticated and expensive airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft bought at a cost of Rs 5,042 crore and inducted between September 2009 and February 2012. Shockingly, for two years these aircraft were parked in the open despite the risk of degradation of radar performance and an adverse impact on the radome’s surface smoothness. Reason: the hangars had not been built in time despite the contract being signed almost six years earlier in March 2004. And so, in May 2010 disaster struck with all four engines of one of the AWACS getting damaged in a gale storm rendering it unserviceable for almost four months (May 7 to August 25, 2010). Miraculously, the sophisticated Israeli radome did not get damaged.

The AWACS, which functions as an “eye in the sky”, is a major force multiplier and strategic asset. Seven years since its induction, the AWACS continue to have a record of low serviceability and under-utilisation due to restrictions on take-off weight due to limited runway length, unavailability of fighter aircraft to accompany it, periodic unserviceability of sub systems and a 50 per cent pilot shortage who in turn are untrained for air-to-air refuelling (AAR) despite specially fitted AAR pods costing Rs 654 crore to enhance the aircraft’s range and flying endurance. In 2013, 61 of the current 103 Soviet-origin vintage An-32 transport aircraft were grounded because facilities for extending the technical life and overhauling of the aircraft could not be established in time. Serviceability of the seven types of Soviet-origin Mi helicopters that constitute 60 per cent of the helicopter fleet fluctuated between 45 and 75 per cent, while shortfalls in achievement of flying tasks ranged between 47 and 67 per cent between 2003 and 2009. About 80 percent of the IAF’s two Mi-25/35 attack helicopter squadrons have already completed their prescribed life.

The IAF hopes to make up for the shortfall by inducting the “indigenous” Tejas, purchasing 126 multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA) and co-developing a fifth generation fighter (FGFA) with Russia. But once again, the reality is hardly encouraging. The Tejas, running over a decade behind schedule, is still awaiting final operational clearance even though it is already heavily compromised following as many as 53 permanent waivers and concessions that have markedly reduced its operational capability. There are serious deficiencies in its electronic warfare capability and, as such, the Tejas in its current form does not meet the IAF’s requirements.

As for the MRCA, the government for now has decided to settle for just 36 French Rafale fighters which is 90 short of the IAF’s requirement, while the FGFA still remains in the discussion stage. Unless the government takes serious notice, it is evident a reversal of the grim situation is unlikely in the near future. Shortfalls in squadrons apart, the government is unable to efficiently manage even what it has. India’s air power remains compromised.
Modi Has Won Round 1 Against Pak Army. He Must Keep At It.
Nothing is what it ever seems in the India-Pakistan relationship, not even when new beginnings are made, like in the case of India accepting the presence of a Pakistani ISI officer as part of the Joint Investigating Team or JIT that visited Pathankot.

Even the fact that the Pakistani establishment (read, its all-powerful Army and intelligence agencies) is now trying to trash the JIT visit to Pathankot is not really new. After all, no one in Delhi seriously expected Rawalpindi (where the Pakistani army and ISI headquarters are located, a few kms away from the capital in Islamabad) to reciprocate the compliment by giving an Indian team access to Masood Azhar, the head of the Jaish-e-Mohammed terror group which Delhi believes masterminded the Pathankot attack.

The fact remains that Pakistani army chief Raheel Sharif continues to run Pakistan's India policy (as well as other important relationships like Afghanistan, China and the US), notwithstanding Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's firm and unwavering belief that Pakistan has no option but to improve ties with its large neighbor, India.

So when Prime Minister Narendra Modi "dropped in" on Christmas at Raiwind, Nawaz Sharif's home just outside Lahore, to wish him on his grand-daughter's wedding, the alarm bells must have rung loud and strong in Rawalpindi. The incredible truth - which any casual visitor to Lahore will strongly vouch for - is that despite 70 years and several degrees of separation, the ordinary Pakistani citizen craves the return of normalcy with its "hamsaaya mulk" or "fellow nation", meaning India.

The conspiracy theorist will point out that the Pathankot attacks may have been an attempt at sabotaging Nawaz Sharif and Modi's fresh exertion of peace. While the seriously seditious analyst - and there are a few on both sides of the border - has come to the conclusion that the horrendous blasts in Lahore's Gulshan-i-Iqbal park on Easter were aimed at not only destabilizing the Sharifs (Nawaz's brother Shahbaz is the Chief Minister of Pakistan Punjab), but also so weakening the Pakistani PM that he becomes an ineffectual interlocutor with Modi's India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in New Delhi in May 2014 (AP photo)
This is where a story in a Pakistani paper on Indian engineers visiting Ramzan Sugar Mills in Pakistan's Jhang district becomes interesting. It is common knowledge that the sugar mills are owned by Nawaz Sharif's family. The report goes on to add, "Sensitive departments will conduct an investigation into the visits by using the record of cellular phones of the Indian visitors who were hosted by the Ramzan Sugar Mills during the last eight years..."

By leaking a story of Indian engineers overhauling the Sharif family-owned sugar business, it is clear that the Pakistani establishment is aiming to paint the Prime Minister and his family as being easy on Indians. From there, it's a short haul to pointing out, as the Pakistan Today newspaper did this week, that "the JIT report has concluded that the Indian authorities had "prior information about the attackers" and that India used the attack as a tool to expand its "vicious propaganda" against Pakistan "without having any solid evidence to back the claim".

Predictably, Indian government sources were acerbic in their reaction, pointing out that the JIT had actually collected evidence in Pathankot in accordance with a Pakistani law which applies to Pakistani citizens committing offences abroad.

A five-member team from Pakistan visited the Pathankot air base that was attacked by terrorists in January this year (PTI photo)
Truth is, the tone and tenor of the Pakistan Today report isn't new at all. In the wake of the Mumbai attacks, some Pakistani journalists had the gall to suggest that the attacks had been carried out by Indian intelligence agencies - although, fortunately, that charge didn't go far, as other Pakistani journalists courageously exposed the fact that Ajmal Kasab was a Pakistani citizen and belonged to Faridkot village in Depalpur tehsil of Okara district in (Pakistani) Punjab.

So what is the Pakistan Today report trying to do today? Remember, the story has been leaked in the wake of the capture of alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Yadav, who has been accused of trying to destabilize Balochistan. It is clear that Pakistan's security agencies are trying to build a case of moral equivalence between the Mumbai attacks and between Kulbhushan Yadav's alleged misdeeds on the one hand, and on the other trying to show that the Nawaz Sharif family continues to hire and break bread with Indian engineers.

This blatant attempt at undermining Pakistan's elected Prime Minister has been underscored in two important ways. First, the Pakistan army's amazing successes with its Zarb-e-Azb operations in the Waziristan region against the Taliban (despite the fact that thousands of civilians have been killed in collateral damage) has shown to the people that the Army has the capacity and willingness to go after terrorists. Second, the naming of the Nawaz Sharif family in the Panama Papers gives credence to the belief that the fabulously rich Sharifs don't think twice before parking some of their wealth in offshore accounts.

Meanwhile, the omnipresent noise in the India-Pakistan relationship continues. Pakistan High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit was at first quoted as saying on Thursday that the bilateral peace process was suspended, except that it turned out later that he never meant what he said. As for Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal and the Congress' Anand Sharma, attacking Modi on his Pakistan policy seems par for the course, especially since elections in Punjab are less than a year away.

The truth is that Modi has already won the first round in this particular chess game between The People Vs the Generals. By risking a complete about-turn in his own and the RSS belief that Pakistan is the "enemy", which is to pursue an opening-up between the two nations, the Prime Minister must now take the long view. If he were to unilaterally open up trade and travel links over the next few months before he attends the SAARC summit in Islamabad in November, he will have succeeded in up-ending the Generals at their own game.

US Defence Secy announces major changes before India visit
US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter indicated the cyber command would become a full-fledged combatant command

Just before a three-day visit to India that starts in Goa on Monday, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has initiated far-reaching changes in America's military command structures to ensure it remains a globally effective force.

Unlike India, where a proposal for a tri-service chief of defence staff (CDS) remains on the back burner and military command structures almost never feature in top-level discussions, Carter has ensured attention from President Barack Obama himself. Obama spent Tuesday afternoon in discussions with Carter's military team - including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) General Joseph Dunford, top US combatant commanders from across the world, and senior Department of Defense (DoD, or Pentagon) officials. Their discussions of threats, strategies and budgets continued over dinner.

Just before that presidential meeting, Carter, speaking at a Washington DC think tank, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, publicly outlined his proposed changes to the 30-year-old Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, which mandates America's current military structure. The US Congress will be required to approve these changes before they are implemented.

Carter indicated the cyber command would become a full-fledged combatant command; rejected a proposal to reduce the number of combatant commands; and ruled that America's nine combatant commanders (COCOMs) would continue to report directly to the Defense Secretary and the president.

The Goldwater-Nichols Act distributes US combat units worldwide between nine combatant commands, each commanded by a COCOM - a four-star general with a mix of army, navy, air force and marine corps units under his command.

Goldwater-Nichols places COCOMs directly under the Defense Secretary. The CJCS remains outside the operational command chain, functioning as an independent military advisor to the Defense Secretary and president, advising on overarching issues of global force deployment, roles and long-range planning.

The Pentagon's Unified Command Plan distributes the globe between six geographical COCOMs - Africa Command (USAFRICOM), Central Command (USCENTCOM), European Command (USEUCOM), Northern Command (USNORCOM), Pacific Command (USPACOM), and Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM). Separately, three functional commands look after Special Operations (USSOCOM), strategic (nuclear) forces (USSTRATCOM), and strategic transportation (USTRANSCOM).

India's military structure has far less inter-service coordination. Except for the small Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC), there is no joint service command. Instead, 17 separate army, navy and air force theatre commanders (India has no marine corps) report to their respective service chiefs. In the absence of a tri-service chief, each service chief functions in his own silo. A three-star chief of integrated defence staff provides the fa├žade of jointmanship, but he is largely powerless before the three service chiefs.

Interestingly, India, which lies within the area of responsibility of USPACOM, has asked the Pentagon for formal linkages with USCENTCOM, which is associated with areas to the west of India, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and West Asia. It is possible that USPACOM headquarters in Hawaii, and also USCENTCOM headquarters at Tampa, Florida might each have an Indian liaison officer posted.

Carter's most far-reaching proposal is to make the Cyber Command a full-fledged combatant command. Pointing out that cyberspace was a battleground as important as the traditional domains of air, land, sea and space, he said: "That is why our budget increases cyber investments to a total of $35 billion over five years, and why we should consider changes to cyber's role in [the Pentagon's Unified Command Plan".

Next, Carter nixed the long-standing proposal to reduce the number of geographical commands by merging North and South America into a single entity; and, similarly, place Europe and Africa under a single command. Experts had wanted this in order to reduce senior management personnel by 25 per cent.

Carter, however, has pointed out that geographically distinct commands served a purpose - to cater for "their distinct areas of emphasis". Instead, savings could be made "by integrating functions like logistics and intelligence and plans across the joint staff, the combatant commands and subordinate commands."

Next, Carter rejected a proposal for COCOMs to report to the CJCS, rather than to the President and the defense secretary. Explaining this, he stated: "(I)n today's complex world we need someone in uniform who can… [advise the defense secretary]… about to where to allocate forces throughout the world and where to apportion risk to achieve maximum benefit for our nation. And the person best postured to do that is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff."

In February, Carter had issued the 2017 Defense Posture Statement, which identified five evolving challenges for the US. Two related to great power competition and "full-spectrum warfighting". The first was the evolving challenge that Russia again poses in Europe, after a quarter of a century; and, second, the aggressive rise of China in the Asia-Pacific. The Russian threat remains subordinate to that of China, with the Defense Posture Statement explicitly stating that Obama's 2012 rebalance to Asia will continue, "to maintain the regional stability we've underwritten for the past 70 years… in this, the single most consequential region for America's future".

The other three challenges include deterring North Korea by placing US forces in the Korean peninsula; deterring Iranian aggression against US allies, especially Israel; and to counter terrorism, especially the rise of ISIL.

Underlining the shift from the counter-terror and counter-insurgency operations that tied down the US in Iraq and Afghanistan for fifteen years, the Defense Posture Statement notes: "We will be prepared for a high- end enemy-what we call full-spectrum. In our budget, our plans, our capabilities, and our actions, we must demonstrate to potential foes that if they start a war, we are able to win, on our terms."

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