Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The Indian Missile Shield: Nothing to be Baffled About

This is a unedited draft of my guest post on Saurav Jha's blog on IBNLive

Recently, India Today magazine carried a column by Manoj Joshi that was very critical of the DRDO's ballistic missile defence (BMD) program. Joshi argued that the DRDO chief's claims about the BMD shield being ready after just six tests, in what appear to be controlled conditions, were unrealistic; that a project of such strategic importance lacked proper direction from the outset; and even questioned the need for such a system in the Indian context. The article is so full of inaccurate assumptions, misleading remarks, and false statements, that it’s hard to know where to start refuting them. But I thought it would be useful to rebut some of his more outrageous claims.

False Argument #1: India's missile shield is not ready for deployment.

To be fair, Joshi doesn’t state this explicitly, but drives the reader towards this conclusion by questioning the adequacy of the tests the missile shield was subject to. This, is spite of the presence of  multiple credible sources in the public domain that attest to the fact that the entire BMD system has been subject to full-up tests, in its "final user configuration". Moreover, the column's title leads one to believe that the government is indeed 'baffled' over the DRDO chief's claim, although Joshi presents scant evidence to show that this is indeed the case. Even the ubiquitous 'unnamed sources' that usually form the basis of such theses are conspicuous by their absence.

False  Argument  #2: A Prithvi missile launched from a distance of 70 km can in no way mimic the flight profile of a 2000 km range missile.

This is incorrect. As long as the inbound reentry-vehicle comes in at the correct angle and terminal velocity, it matters not for a terminal phase BMD system whether it was launched from 2000 km away or 70 km away. And there is no reason a Prithvi's trajectory cannot be modified to mimic that of an intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) in the terminal phase. The day the DRDO builds a Sprint/Spartan type system, there shall be no alternative but to test it against "proper" long-range missiles. But to the best of my knowledge, they aren't building a Sprint/Spartan right now, so why use an expensive Agni as a target when a much cheaper (and convenient) Prithvi will suffice?

False  Argument  #3: "With nuclear weapons around, only a shield that will guarantee blocking every single missile is the only one worth having".

This one claim is perhaps the most puzzling of all, and demonstrates a very limited understanding of how ballistic missile defences are supped to work. If India deploys even a marginally effective BMD system, it will seriously limit an enemy country's nuclear strike options and impose excessive costs on them should they decide to build more warheads and delivery vehicles to neturalise India's advantage.

Let me explain what I mean by building a hypothetical scenario. Suppose that the continent of Westeros is in the midst of a cold war, with the Starks of Winterfell facing off against the powerful Lannisters of Casterly Rock. The Lannisters are known to possess a limited number (say forty) of nuclear warheads mounted on ballistic missiles. At most, that means they can hit 40 targets, if Lord Tywin decides to target each missile against a different city. To counter it, the Starks decide to put into operation a BMD shield to cover the North, Riverrun, and the Vale of Arryn. Let us assume that this shield has a rather poor anticipated kill probability of 80%. How do the Lannisters respond? The easy way out would be to assign multiple missiles to a smaller number of targets. They select eight of the most important targets and assign five missiles to each in the hope that at least one of those five will make it through. Almost at once, the Starks' BMD system has protected 32 targets, thousands of lives, and tons of precious resources without having fired a single shot. This is called 'virtual attrition'. The Lannisters may well decide to enlarge their arsenal to 200 warheads and missiles and get back their earlier effectiveness numbers, but there is every chance that this will be either impossible or terribly expensive. And the moment the Starks give their system a minor upgrade to increase its effectiveness to 90%, they (the Lannisters) will be back to square one, requiring another 200 missiles to restore the status quo. The economics of the competition are loaded in favour of the Starks -- an ABM system is expensive to set-up, but it can be expanded and upgraded at a fraction of what it would cost the Lannisters to build more missiles and warheads and then set up the infrastructure for their deployment, maintenance, and upkeep.

Applying the lessons of this scenario to India tells me that inflicting a bit of this same virtual attrition on Pakistan's nuclear arsenal wouldn't be a bad thing at all. Several well-meaning analysts consider a nuclear war 'unthinkable' and see a war as 'lost' as soon as the first nuclear warhead goes off. In the process they end up advocating an all-or-nothing approach to national defence makes very little strategic sense. One expects pragmatic policy-makers to be made up of sterner stuff. It is their job to make the nation as secure as possible, to rationally think about nuclear war, to devise strategies to win it if it takes place, and ensure the continued functioning of the state after the dust has settled. And rational thinking dictates that given a choice between losing, say, Delhi alone versus losing Delhi and Jaipur, the correct decision would be to save Jaipur, no matter how much it offends some. Sitting around twiddling thumbs and calling either "unthinkable" is NOT an option.

False  Argument  #4: "None of the DRDO's claims have been verified by third parties, say, any of our armed forces. In contrast, China's January 2010 test was authenticated by the Pentagon".

This is a dishonest line of argument, comparing the user evaluating an indigenously developed weapon system with a foreign defence department secretly observing a test being performed by another country. The two are hardly equivalent! We do not know whether the Chinese system was verified 'independently' by their military. As for the Pentagon, its statement only states that American satellites detected an interception. There is little to indicate that it verified the operation of every little component of the system: the search, tracking, and fire control radars, the communications system, the command and control system, and so on. Surely, the users' representatives from the Air Force and Army a user team from the Indian Army, present at Wheeler Island at the time of the test, got to examine the operation of the entire system in more detail than a few foreign satellites observing a Chinese test?

False  Argument  #5: "the system will be ready for "two places", presumably Mumbai and Delhi. But what about Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Lucknow and the rest of the country?"

The deployment in two places is only supposed to be an initial deployment. Every new weapon is deployed in phases, and there is no reason the BMD system should be any different in that regard. In fact, setting it up in several cities at once without it being given a thorough shakedown would be the far riskier option, strategically and economically.

False  Argument  #6: Building a missile shield would force Pakistan to build "field greater numbers of missiles with nuclear weapons", compromising India's interests.

In support of this suggestion, Joshi quotes Air Vice-Marshal (retd.) Kapil Kak: "For an unstable and fragile state like Pakistan, India's BMD could indeed be destabilising, as this would substantially reduce the value of Pakistan's nuclear and missile arsenal, tempting it to increase the same." My reposnse to this is, yes, it may be so but why is destabilisation necessarily a bad thing? Pakistan has more than once pronounced its willingness to use nuclear weapons if war breaks out, and hasn’t shied away from protecting terrorist entities it actively supports with these weapons. Short of a direct threat of unprovoked nuclear war, the situation is already about as unstable as it could get for India. Now with the Pakistani economy in doldrums, wouldn't it make sense for India to "destabilise" the strategic equation by forcing Pakistan to pour more money and resources into an arms build-up it cannot afford?

Acknowledgements: I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to Rahul M, Nitin V, and Dr. Sanjay Badri-Maharaj for contributing their considerable knowledge and views, and their assistance in critiquing this rebuttal.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Post on Livefist: F-35: Should India Really Ride The Lightning?

The recent statement by a United States Department of Defence official, that the US would be willing to discuss a possible sale of the F-35 Lightning II to India, or even consider bringing India into the ambitious programme as a partner, has generated a lot of attention in the Indian media. While this is not the first time the F-35 has been offered to India, the timing of this fresh pitch is interesting. Coming six months after the two American contenders vying for the lucrative Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) contract -- the F-16 and F/A-18 -- failed to make the Indian Air Force (IAF) shortlist, and just days before the bids by EADS Cassidian and Dassault were opened, many perceive this as an attempt by the US and Lockheed-Martin to work themselves back into the equation.
Sections of the Indian news media – both print and electronic – have called for the F-35's consideration in the MMRCA tender itself (and some have called for an outright purchase) resulting in a new round of teeth-gnashing over a topic that has stretched over a decade. In a column on LiveFist, my friend Aditya and I explain why we don't think the F-35 for India is a very good idea.

Friday, September 23, 2011

My Article in The Alpha Stories: Assessing Indian and Pakistani AEW&C Acquisitions

This is an updated draft of my analysis published in the May 2011 issue of The Alpha Stories, a magazine on the Indian Armed Forces. To read the original article, click on the image below.

The motive behind this essay is not to do a one-to-one comparison of Indian and Pakistani Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) options, but to understand the requirements that led to the decisions by both air forces on what aircraft to acquire as well as the operational scenario they will likely be used in.

It first needs to be understood that airborne radar is not the be-all and end-all of air warfare that it is thought to be. Rather, it is a system that overcomes several limitations of ground-based radar systems, by eliminating terrain shadows, increasing range (line of sight increases with altitude), and offering relative safety from attacks on account of its mobility and agility. The latter ability also permits rapid redeployment of the system at the most critical sector – but more on that later. Also, it is important to note that the radar itself is but one part of the system. Of equal importance are target interrogation and identification systems, electronic support measures, data processing computers, communications devices, command and control systems, and so on.

There are essentially two approaches to AEW&C – the first is to put everything into the aircraft, making it a stand-alone system capable of managing a large air battle by itself. This makes it very expensive, but it can be deployed anywhere on very short notice. This is why the E-3 Sentry and the A-50EI, with its Phalcon AEW&C system, cost so much. The other way is to merely put the radar on the aircraft, and use a dedicated datalink to transmit the information to a station on the ground that contains all the other facilities. This makes the package much cheaper, and in some cases more powerful – because ground-based data processing and battle management facilities are not restricted by the size and payload of the aircraft. However, the system is effectively undeployable, as it has to always operate in conjunction with a ground based system. The E-2 Hawkeye and Saab-2000 AEW are of the latter type.

So why did India and Pakistan choose to buy the A-50EI and Saab-2000 AEW respectively? The answer lies in both, their strategic needs, as well as their evaluation of how an aerial war in the subcontinent would be fought. In the late nineties, the Indian Air Force (IAF) achieved a quantum leap in its capabilities with the induction of the Su-30MKI. For the first time, it found itself with not only a decisive advantage over Pakistan, but also with the ability to take on and defeat the PLAAF. Whether it came to air superiority or deep interdiction tactical bombing, neither the PAF nor the PLAAF has anything in their inventories that could compare with it. At some level, I believe even the IAF was taken aback by the fearsome capabilities it had acquired! Procurement of force multipliers like tankers and AEW&C systems was the next logical step. And as far as AEW&C went, a system like the A-50EI AWACS was the obvious choice. It was inherently better suited to the offensive war the IAF was preparing to fight against Pakistan, most of it inside Pakistani airspace. On account of its deployability, it would be able to move forward with the IAF as it systematically destroyed the Pakistani aerial assets and their air defence network. At the same time, existing interceptors (MiG-29/MiG-23/MiG-21) and the ground-based air defence network were considered sufficient to deal with Pakistani attacks. On the other hand, in a war against China, The AWACS could be quickly deployed to plug gaps that were bound to arise in ground-based radar coverage and communications owing to attacks by Chinese fighters and surface to surface missiles. Moreover, it would be able to better isolate Chinese axes of attack and effectively concentrate numerically inferior IAF assets to intercept them, thus making more efficient use of sparse fighter resources. And lastly, because of the elimination of terrain shadows (which is especially important in the Himalayas) and superior target discrimination, it would be able to detect cruise missile attacks early, enabling point-defence surface-to-air missiles to focus along specific threat axes, as well as allowing more time for personnel and systems on the ground to seek shelter and aircraft to scramble from their bases. The DRDO AEW&C, a smaller system mounted on an Embraer EMB-145 airframe was likely designed to augment the A-50EI. Flying far forward of the A-50EI “motherships”, they would form the forward nodes of an airborne battle-management network where the latter assumed the command and control function.
Now let’s look at the technical reasons behind the IAF’s choice of the radar and airframe. The service leased a Russian Beriev A-50 for trials in 2000, but its marked inferiority to its Western counterparts and the purportedly high price the Russians were asking for it seems to have led to its rejection. The hunt for a suitable AEW&C system came to an end when Israel offered the far more advanced and modern EL/M-2075 Phalcon, and the US State Department expressed willingness to allow the transfer. The choice of the airframe to mount the radar on, however, seems to be puzzling at first. Airframes designed for civilian use are inherently better suited to AEW&C duties than high-wing military transports like the Il-76. Their rugged design is ideal for the tactical and strategic transport role, but in the AEW&C role, all this does is make them heavy and “draggy”, reducing fuel efficiency and time on station. However, the Il-76 came with distinct advantages. The airframe, the radome, and the mounting for the radome on the airframe had already been developed and tested. Plus, the fact that the Il-76 was already in service with the IAF offered obvious logistical advantages. It is a little more difficult to figure out the reason why the EMB-145 airframe was chosen for the DRDO AEW&C. There is very little information available on the topic, but there are very few airframes that have been tested with a radar antenna similar to the one developed by the DRDO, and it is likely that the Brazilians, apart from offering the cheaper solution, were more open to integrating their airframe with the Indian radar.

In contrast, the PAF’s strategy in the face of the overwhelming numerical and technological superiority its opponent enjoys has been to fight a defensive air war. For this purpose, the Saab-2000 with the Erieye radar is a fine choice. The Pakistani short range defence system is highly sophisticated, and lends itself well to integration with such aircraft. As volume search and target acquisition radars start being put out of action by IAF attacks, the Erieye could quickly link up with Sector Operations Centres (there are four) and plug gaps in coverage while flying safely inside Pakistan airspace. For example, the Erieye can directly link up with the Giraffe radar’s C3 system, which itself is integrated with RBS-70, Mistral, Stinger and Anza missiles, and keep fighting even if the radar itself is put out of action. Coupled with the mobility of the air defences, this would give Pakistani defences a shot in the arm and the ability to inflict severe attrition on a low-level attacking force. Strategic redeployment is a problem, but is not considered a pressing need since the PAF expects to fight a war only along one front.

While Pakistan’s purchase of an AEW aircraft was obviously a response to the Indian acquisition of the A-50EI, it is far from being a knee-jerk reaction.  Rather, it is a well thought-out procurement that was done after a thorough appreciation of the vulnerabilities of the Pakistani Air Force and air defence network. It maximises the strengths of this network, and addresses exactly those weakness that the IAF hopes to exploit with the quantum jump in capabilities it has acquired after the Kargil War. And is affordable to boot

For more information about the magazine, subscriptions, and contributions, please contact the editor at

Thursday, July 14, 2011

On Terrorism and the Apathetic Mango Indian

A little background on this piece: I wrote a large portion of the post that follows a little more than three years ago, shortly after the blasts in Jaipur that claimed anywhere between sixty and eighty lives. Then, as you no doubt remember, India was being hit by terrorist bombings with alarming regularity, the attacks claiming civilian lives Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and other major cities. Naturally, this prompted scores of armchair experts (yours truly included) to unleash their outrage across blogs and social networking websites in India, and propose a whole range of solutions to solve the terrorist problem once and for all. I wrote this argument in response to some friends who, like many others, argued that the ‘common man’ simply didn’t care about terrorism unless it affected him directly, and this callous attitude only encouraged politicians to shy away from taking the ‘hard decisions’ (read defensive measures, targeted assassinations and reprisal raids) required to tackle terrorism. I didn’t quite agree with that sentiment, and contended that this callousness would actually work to our benefit in the long run. I still think that much of what I wrote then is still relevant today.

I was driven to dig it up post it here owing to the blasts that rocked Mumbai yesterday, and the kind of response they generated amongst Indians who post regularly on the web. I do not intend to offer a ‘silver bullet’ to solve the terrorist problem, or make the presumptuous claim that I understand the problem in its entirety. The most I expect to achieve is to spur another lively discussion on the issue. Indeed, I’m not even sure my analysis is entirely correct, and look forward to reading what others have to say about it.

India has been at the receiving end of jihadi terrorism for at least three decades, if not more. Yet many still tend to think of terrorist strikes in conventional military terms. Their ideas on fighting the problem, then, are a product of this thinking. Imagine the classic case of a general war between two countries. A military attack by ‘Country A’ to sabotage a communications centre, bomb a dam, or destroy a logistics hub will have palpable physical and material effects which will adversely affect the ability of ‘Country B’ to fight. If this continues, ‘Country B’ will stand a good change of facing strategic defeat. However, ‘Country B’ will respond in two ways: it will take measures to defend itself against such attacks, and launch similar attacks on targets inside ‘Country A’. This is a textbook case of fighting fire with fire.

On the other hand, a terrorist attack is intended to be an attack on the *mind* – on the very psyche of a large population. The Islamic terrorist expects the attacked country to retaliate by attacking training camps, going on a witch-hunt against all Muslims (including its own citizens), and spending ridiculous sums on defensive measures that seldom work, even if an attack they were supposed to defend against actually happens. If the terrorists fail to achieve that, the attack has little tactical or strategic value. What’s more, they generally don’t have a backup plan do deal any other reaction (or lack of one). Suddenly, their elaborately constructed schemes come crashing down.

When Israel was attacked by Hezbollah in 2006, it went to war in Lebanon and achieved precious little. Today, that country has borne the brunt of so many terrorist attacks, that the entire population lives on edge. Of course, there is no denying that the way the Israeli leadership displays serious pluck by taking the battle to the enemy and retaliating against attacks. And no doubt, if you are an Israeli citizen, this is a tremendous morale booster. Yet, it bears pointing out that these Israeli achievements were only tactical victories; their long-term impact on its security is probably negligible.

When the United States was attacked on September 11, it went into a minor recession. Because 3,000 people died! Don’t get me wrong, 3,000 dead in a single strike is a massive number, but is it big enough to physically affect the economy of a whole nation, leave alone one that is as big, powerful, and decentralised as the USA? The country lost thirty-five times more people due to “unintentional injuries” in the same year, and that had no effect on the economy and psyche of Americans. But 9/11 made America rush headlong into two wars it had little chance of winning. Not just that, but ridiculous amounts of money were spent fighting these wars. The cost of the Iraq war alone has exceeded $500 billion. Global oil prices have spiked from $20-ish a barrel to $135 as I write this. The cost of petrol is severely affecting Americans. On the horizon looms an economic crisis that has the potential to throw the entire global economic system out of whack, yet it gets scant attention. And for all this effort, it is not as if the terrorists have gotten any weaker! They’ve just lost a few mud huts and a few foot-soldiers to a $1,000,000 cruise missile. They haven’t lost much ground, they aren’t facing a shortage of fresh recruits, and the certainly aren’t low on morale. So who do you think is winning here?

Visit any American airport today and observe the security system there – it is absolutely top-notch stuff. But it is a drain on the economy, it is a nuisance to passengers, and will never be used as intended, because terrorists will refine their tactics faster than the TSA can react. What's more, these measures only tell the terrorist that he is succeeding. It tells him that the population, for all their defiance, is afraid of him.

Compare this to how good ol’ Bharat Mata reacted to the Mumbai train blasts. The government made some politically correct noises, a few yahoos on the internet (Moi being a prominent the rabble-rouser) huffed and puffed and demanded retaliation, and soon enough, everyone pretty much forgot about the whole thing. Mumbai’s economy was not affected one bit, leave alone the economy of the country. The average Indian did not become a paranoid wreck who teetered on the edge of a nervous breakdown and lost his marbles every time a motorcycle tyre blew up on the road. The Mumbai local trains were still full of people rushing to get to work, NOT worrying whether the next bomb would rip them apart. Now, we lost “only” 300 people in Mumbai, but do you think the reaction of the populace would have been different had 3,000 died? Each time we are attacked, we respond with the usual indifferent “ho-hum”. So what exactly did the jihadis gain? Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

I might sound like a horrible person when I say this, but it is this callous and insensitive chalta-hai attitude that is the best weapon we have against the jihadis. Pakistan doesn’t have unlimited resources to continue sponsoring terrorism against India forever. Every young man who wastes his life having wet dreams about destroying “those evil yindoos” is a drain on the economy (actually, he is twice a drain, given that he could have been productive, yet is a drain; the e-con-omists call this ‘opportunity cost’, if I’m not mistaken). We don’t have to fight them, we only have to outlast them. And given our superiority in population and resources, we WILL outlast them by simply ignoring them. (Aha! We are now playing to our strengths!) We aren’t losing money, we aren’t losing people at a rate that is even close to significant, and we aren’t losing territory - you need tanks, soldiers, and artillery and other such expensive thingamajigs to capture territory.
We can, of course, retaliate. But only if the attacks make us gain more than we lose. We needn’t go after the leadership – you kill one terrorist leader, there is another just itching to get into his boots. It isn’t a job that requires rare brilliance or intelligence. It requires a half-decent brain and loads of bloodthirstiness. These attributes, as you can imagine, are by no means rare. And if there are no leaders, the group splinters into cells that either join another group or act independently (which makes them tougher to eliminate). If we are to hit back, we will have to take a bottom-up approach. It is simpler, cleaner, and is good for our morale. Eliminate their supply chain, take out their foot soldiers, and slowly, you will see the results. If we have to hit the people at the top, target the real puppet-masters – general officers in the Pakistani military and their assets. If that doesn’t put lead in their boots, nothing else will! But this is just a stray thought. As I said, I’m not in the silver bullet business. Anymore.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

My Column on Livefist: A Response to Ashley J Tellis’ Assessment of the MMRCA Down-Select

Dr. Ashley Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has written a commentary for FORCE Magazine, in an attempt to explain in some detail the reasons why two American aircraft – the Lockheed-Martin F-16IN Super Viper and Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet – vying for the Indian Air Force’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) contract worth an estimated Rs. 42,000 crore, failed to make the down-select. While the piece is a must-read, owing to the plethora of facts, figures, and new information presented, the analysis itself falls short on several counts. In a column on Livefist, I attempt to refute some of his arguments.

Read the entire post on Livefist...

Dr. Tellis has also responded to the piece, in which he seeks to "set the record straight."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Demise of Osama bin Laden – Some Observations from an Indian Perspective

On the face of it, it would appear that the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of US forces is a very important milestone in the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, perhaps signaling a reversal in the deteriorating American fortunes in the region. The reasons are not hard to understand. For one, it serves to boost the flagging morale of a population and military frustrated by their inability to conclusively win the war. Also, the way the operation was planned and conducted was an unambiguous show of decisiveness and strength by the United States. For a country that over the last few years seemed to have been put on the back foot in Af-Pak, hampered by directionless leadership and clumsily stumbling from one strategic setback to another (the latest being the Raymond Davis episode), the news could not have come at a better time. And lastly, it provides at least a semblance of justice to the families of the people who died in the 9/11 attacks. However, the long-term strategic implications of this event are almost zero, and may even exacerbate the security situation in Afghanistan. It is worth remembering that in the last five years, bin Laden had been reduced to a nobody, his presence inconsequential to the events unfolding in the region. While bagging him now does present the United States with a small victory, it is of little solace when the country has already lost the real prize – a stable and pliable Af-Pak with the United States shaping policy and events to further its long-term security interests. The tide of the war now seems to have shifted decisively in favour of Pakistan’s military-jehadi complex, and this event provides the Obama administration with just the excuse it needed to make a face-saving exit from the theatre. At the same time, Pakistan, and by extension, China, are perfectly positioned to fill the power vacuum this would create – putting them to control of the most important real estate in the continent and the gateway to Central Asian energy and mineral deposits.

In the short term, this event is sure to have repercussions for India, none of them positive. The brazenness with which the US military penetrated Pakistan’s well-defended air-space, that too by launching a successful intrusion near the heart of Pakistan’s military establishment, is sure to massively demoralize the junior and middle ranks of the Pakistani military. Additionally, having cast themselves as the sole defenders of the Islamic Republic from the designs of the crafty Americans and Indians, this very public failure of the Pakistani military is bound to affect the Pakistani population’s confidence in it. Indeed, just a few months back, it would have been unheard of for a junior officer to caustically utter “I am ashamed of what happened in Abbottabad” before the all-powerful Army chief, with the latter struggling to come up with a reply better than “So am I”, leave alone the ISI chief having to undergo a humiliating excoriation at the hands of the country’s parliament. At a time of such weakness, it would make perfect sense for the military leadership to make a play to regain its prestige and power, by seeking a definitive and public victory against a universally accepted enemy. And unsurprisingly, India stands out as a unique and enticingly soft target, the hatred for which runs deep in the Pakistani psyche – perhaps to the extent that it transcends the internal fissures in Pakistani society. One therefore hopes that the Indian leadership is taking measures to prevent a devastating terrorist strike in India, and is making preparations to deal with one when it occurs.

Speaking of terrorism, there is no reason for Indians to go overboard in rejoicing at the death of bin Laden. Indeed, he was a terrorist, but at no time was he an enemy of India except in the broadest ideological sense, and never really a particularly dangerous one. His support for the jihadi terrorism in Kashmir amounted to little more than lip service, and Al Qaida hasn’t been known to operate in Kashmir in any substantial capacity. At this time, it would do Indians well to remember that figures like Masood Azhar (a convicted terrorist, unlike bin Laden), Hafiz Sayeed, and hundreds of others walk free in Pakistan, spew hatred at India at every opportunity, and are not exactly averse to backing it up with action. The threat that Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed represent to India and Indian citizens is multiple orders of magnitude greater than what Al Qaida ever did. When these gentlemen are dispatched to meet their maker, we would have a real reason to celebrate. In the meanwhile, we are only doing a disservice to our country by acting oblivious to the fact that these people are safe under the protection of an enemy state, while celebrating the death of someone who was little more than an icon of Islamic terrorism for the West.

On a related note, it is worth noting we are, and not for the first time, seeing certain quarters (including some in Pakistan) refer to the ISI’s so-called perfidy in hiding Osama and sheltering terrorism. I think it is high time we stopped swallowing as truth the tosh about a “rogue ISI” or “rogue elements within the ISI” as independent entities. It casts the Pakistani state as an innocent body and allows it to pursue terrorism as a state policy with impunity, while all the blame is conveniently shifted onto a non-existent chimera. The ISI is made up of officers on deputation from the Pakistani military, it is no more "independent" than the Pakistani Military Engineering Service. To claim otherwise is just plain absurd.

As a final point, I feel it is high time the government revisited India’s approach in Afghanistan, and came up with a viable long-term strategy to secure her interests in the region independent of American designs and future actions. Until now, India’s strategy Afghanistan has been dependent on a significant US/NATO presence in the country, and her activities have been decidedly cautious, low-profile, and limited to providing aid and assistance with the country's rebuilding. While this may have been a plausible approach in the formative years of Afghanistan’s reconstruction, it makes little sense in the long-term, especially if India has to play a larger role in the region. This dependence has allowed Pakistan to play havoc with India’s plans, and also enabled the US to pressurise India to make compromises in Afghanistan. Ideally, this should not happen; if there is any geo-economic issue on which Indian and American interests align completely, at least for the foreseeable future, it is the question of who controls the Af-Pak region. However, it would be naïve for the Indian government to discount the United States propensity to sell its partners short for the sake of questionable short-term gains. A case in point is the suggestion in some circles in the US government that Pakistan’s concerns about Indian presence in Afghanistan are justified – implicit in which is the assumption that India’s activities in the region are far from benign, and that terrorism against NATO forces emanating from Pakistan would decline if India decreased her presence in the region. If the government of India wishes to truly secure Indian interests in the subcontinent, it will have to take positions and pursue lines of action that are not necessarily in line with America’s objectives in the region, and it will have to do so in the face of severe pressure from America and her allies. Further, it is important to understand that these actions and positions need not be held hostage to notions of righteousness or commitment to what was earlier said in public.

And finally, yes, I finally seem to have rid myself of that damned writer’s block, and hope to write more often!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Why the Right to Bear Arms Won't Help During a Terrorist Attack

In the aftermath on the November 26 terrorist attacks on Mumbai, there has been a growing tendency among some quarters to call for a relaxation of gun laws as a method of dealing with future attacks of this kind. These suggestions, howsoever well intentioned, are utterly misplaced. While it is easy for the layman to view the Taj incident as a simple firefight with two sides shooting at each other with the hope of getting a kill, in reality it is far more complicated.

While such opinion pieces wax eloquent on how guns serve only to “disarm peaceful and law-abiding people”, they always forget one important point. Using a firearm effectively requires marksmanship skills of a high order, and more importantly, firing discipline. When professional soldiers squeeze the trigger, they do so only when they are sure their target is an enemy combatant and not a civilian, and that too when they have a clear shot at their target. Moreover, the whole team works as a well-oiled machine so that their backs and flanks are not exposed to fire from other quarters (these terrorists are trained to occupy several strongpoints with overlapping fields of fire). And commandos train very hard for such situations, day in and day out to the point that they can practically read each others’ minds.

This is where the civilian falls short. I’m pretty sure that a majority of the people who buy firearms can barely hold them properly, leave alone shoot straight and exercise fire discipline. Imagine what would have happened if fifty such people had been in the Taj and Oberoi. The attackers did not go around with neon signs on their heads identifying them as terrorists; in civilian clothing, they looked pretty much like other civilians. And in the pandemonium at the Taj/Oberoi, a dangerous mixture of fear and adrenalin would have led to civilians with firearms shooting at each other as well as at unarmed civilians. Even if they had shot at the terrorists, there is a high likelihood that they would have missed and ended up killing more civilians.

That is not all. When the time to storm the building would have come, how would the NSG positively make the distinction between the attackers and civilians? After all, any person in civilian attire and a gun in his hand could have potentially been a terrorist. This would have caused needless and potentially fatal distractions, and led to the deaths of more civilians (both armed and unarmed) as well as commandos.

Therefore, the argument that gun control laws need to be relaxed so that the citizens can protect themselves is a non starter. A gun can be bought off the shelf, training and discipline cannot. And in the absence of the latter, the former is the proverbial “Bandar ke haath mein talwar” – instead of solving the problem, it only creates more chaos and leads to unnecessary loss of life.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Megh, a friend of mine, posted this poem in the "Indian Army" community on orkut.
An Ode to Sam Manekshaw

On the first bough of IMA did he bloom,
Later to weave his name through history’s untiring loom.
A “Royal Scot” and the gem of “Frontier Force”,
Destiny pampered our Sam as Her favourite horse.
At Burma we almost lost him decades ago,
It did not please a bit his Benefactress though
And thus She ordained- “Let him live long
And spur the nations with his valour’s song”

Then he arose, with a halo newly gained
And fortunes of nations with élan he reigned.
For millions was he an angel of freedom
Moony Tyrants could never match his rhythm
And the History of a landmass had to alter
For how could Destiny let her darling falter!
The rulers hailed him and plebeians cheered
And there stood he who nothing had afeared.

To cite Padma Bhushan and Military Cross
Against this Destiny’s child is rather gross
For he rose above these honours mortal
And entered with pride the divine portal
Beyond which lies a life which ends never
And where for the likes of him are sung forever
The odes of Victory and joy and valour,
Immortalizing their endeavours stellar.

Today he lies still in the no-mans land
Where Life and Death on either sides stand.
May who claims him treats him befittingly
And let him see nothing but mirth and glee.
He has resided in our minds and hearts,
Lord, let not him endure Pain’s deadly darts.
If he has to depart, as per the pitiless divine law,
Let not his beautiful and mighty mind suffer any thaw

For here is our beloved-
Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw.

Shiv Aroor writes,
The man is made of the stuff they make football helmets from. Hard as nails. A real survivor. Over the last four years, he's been "critical" at least four times, and he's pick-axed his way back from the brink like the real fighter he is. Prayers.

A great soldier, a true patriot, and an inspiration to us all. The nation will be grateful to you forever.

Rest in peace, Sir!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Karan Thapar's Hatchet Job on Sam Bahadur

The sight of Indian mediawallahs going ga-ga over “flamboyant” and “dashing” Pakistani Generals is hardly anything new. But when Karan Thapar joined the bandwagon, it came as a bit of a surprise to me. Because Thapar is no fool, or so I used to believe. His interviews with politicians and other big wigs are at times, simply brilliant. So when he readily bought into Gohar Ayub Khan’s ludicrous allegations about Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw being a Pakistani spy, I smelled a rat. Calling Ayub an “officer and a gentleman”, and going weak in the knees at how “dashing” and “suave” he was, was certainly not what I expected from this “aggressive interviewer”. Was this the same Karan Thapar who had taken Arjun Singh and Renuka Chaudhary to the cleaners? If so, why were there no tough questions doubting Gohar’s credibility? After all, he is known for being corrupt to the core, and is regarded as something of a joke in his own country. Why was this one statement, “Why would a man lie to his own diary” the only proof Thapar needed to believe in what is an obvious attempt to sell a rag nobody would otherwise have given a second look? Why did he not notice how, if Pakistan lost in spite of having access to India’s war plans, Ayub was nothing but a blithering idiot? On the other hand, why was he baiting Field Marshal Manekshaw relentlessly? It almost seemed that he had a score to settle. This piece in “The Week” by R Prasanan cleared things up.

The troubling fact is that, though no one in India has ever accused Manekshaw of being a traitor, many have been jealous of his rise through the 1960s. The Army Headquarters in the 1960s was virtually divided into two groups, as has been brought out in the various accounts of the 1962 and 1965 operations. Nehru's defence minister Krishna Menon was grooming his own coterie, the most prominent among whom was B.M. Kaul whom he appointed commander of IV corps in the east. Menon also appointed the pliable Gen. P.N. Thapar to succeed K.S. Thimayya (whom Menon hated) as Army chief.

Thimayya's favourites-mainly Lt-Gen. S.P.P. Thorat, J.N. Choudhuri and Manekshaw-were sidelined during the Thapar-Kaul days. Thorat, who was a contender for the chief's post against Thapar, retired as a lieutenant-general. Thapar and Kaul also tried to block Manekshaw's promotion by instituting a frivolous inquiry against him.

The fortunes of Choudhuri and Manekshaw looked up after the Thapar-Kaul duo goofed up the 1962 war. Thapar resigned forthwith, and was succeeded as chief by Choudhuri. Thapar later managed an ambassadorship in Afghanistan. It is said, Thapar's Kabul appointment papers were the last papers signed by Nehru. Kaul had to quit in disgrace; he was succeeded by Manekshaw as IV corps commander.

So there we have it! Thapar does have a bone to pick with Field Marshal Manekshaw! He makes it a point to mention that he is a general’s son. What he conveniently leaves out, is the fact that he is the son of an officer who was popular with the likes of V.K. Krishna Menon for obvious reasons. An officer whose incompetence probably lost India the 1962 war against China. An officer who had tried to create hurdles in the way of Manekshaw’s promotion. As Prasanan rightly points out, “Thapar has the distinction of being the only Army chief who had to quit in disgrace. And Manekshaw has the distinction of having been the most successful chief ever.”

Karan Thapar fails to see the irony in the words he uses to describe Ayub Khan – “As a general’s son I can tell you they don’t make them like this any more!” Good thing too, Mr. Thapar! If they don’t make them like your father anymore, India is surely in good hands!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Interviews with Admiral Arun Prakash

Shiv Aroor has published a series of insightful interviews with Admiral Arun Prakash, who he rightly refers to as “one of the most articulate and admired military chiefs of our time” on his blog:

Admiral Arun Prakash on the China Threat:

“Our dilemma vis-à-vis China is two-fold. On the one hand, we need to moderate the school of thought within the political establishment (encouraged no doubt by exhortations from the Left), which focuses exclusively on China's declarations about her “peaceful rise”. Indulging in a great deal of naive self-delusion, this school points to the ongoing dialogue and the dramatic increase in bilateral Sino-Indian trade, which is pushing the US$20 billion mark, as proof of China's good intentions.

On the other hand, our strategic establishment has to make a hard headed assessment and find answers to three straight questions before we decide on the future course of Sino-Indian relations: What is the rationale behind China's "string of pearls" strategy through which she has assiduously and neatly encircled India with states which are either her clients or beholden to her for economic and weapons related assistance?”

Admiral Arun Prakash On The New Indo-US Strategic Partnership:

“In international relations you cannot go wrong if you proceed on the basis of two premises: It is not altruism but self-interest that invariably motivates nations. There are no free lunches, and a price will one day have to be paid for everything. And, when you negotiate in the big league, you should be prepared to play hard ball.”
Admiral Arun Prakash on What Platforms The Future Indian Navy Needs:

“Navies have, for centuries, been accepted and used as instruments of diplomacy and state policy. Therefore, unlike the other Services, they derive their raison d’etre not merely from a nation’s maritime security, but from its larger economic interests and geo-political aspirations.”

Admiral Arun Prakash on DRDO, Obsolesence and Self-Reliance:

“We were fortunate that the seeds of a self-reliant blue water Navy were sown by our farsighted predecessors when they embarked on the brave venture of undertaking warship construction in India four decades ago. Since then, our shipyards have done very well to have delivered more than 85 ships and submarines, many of Indian design, to the IN.”
Admiral Arun Prakash on the Need For Nuclear Submarines:

“I must convey with all the emphasis at my command that in India’s case nuclear weapons are NOT meant for war-fighting. In fact they must not even be thought of as “weapons”, but as “political instruments” of state policy to be used to deter an enemy from contemplating a nuclear attack, and if required for persuasion, coercion, or compellence.”

For the full interviews, head over to LiveFist - this material is solid gold.