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.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Pakistan’s JF-17 Thunder – An Analysis

On March 23 2007, two JF-17 “Thunder” fighters took to the skies for the first time in Pakistan as a part of the Pakistan Day celebrations. Touted to be Pakistan's first home made fighter, the JF-17 is expected to be the Pakistan Air Force's frontline fighter well into the future. With this article, I’ve made an attempt to examine the JF-17 in the Indo-Pak context. But first, some background information on the program.

The program began in 1986 as the Super-7, when China signed a $550 million deal with Grumman to modernise its fleet of J-7 (MiG-21s manufactured in China under license) fighters. The United States ceased technical assistance following the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, and the project almost ground to a halt. However, Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation (CAC) managed to keep the program alive with its own resources, as the FC-1. The project got a new lease of life in 1999, when Pakistan and China signed an agreement to “jointly” develop and produce the FC-1 with both countries contributing 50% of the funds. Russia’s Mikoyan Aero-Science Production Group provided technical assistance. The FC-1 (Designated JF-17 “Thunder” by Pakistan) was supposed to be a lightweight all-weather multi-role fighter, which would replace Pakistan’s fleet of Mirage-III, F-7, and A-5 aircraft, whose safety record is going downhill by the day. The Pakistani version would sport a Western avionics suite, which included the Italian Galileo Avionica Grifo S7 radar, a variant of which is already in service with the Pakistan Air Force on its F-7 fighters. It would be powered by one Russian Klimov RD-93 turbofan. The “Aviation Week & Space Technology” magazine reported in November 2006 that “Pakistani officials expect the first contract for 16 aircraft (split equally with China) to be awarded next year, with deliveries as early as 2007. A full-rate production contract would follow around 2009. Initially, Pakistan will provide 58% of the parts, but that is supposed to increase gradually to 100%.” The overall Pakistani requirement is expected to be around 150 fighters.

Although the Pakistanis tried to demonstrate with the Pakistan Day flypast that everything was tickety-boo, this is far from the truth. The Western avionics are nowhere to be seen, and supplier decisions do not appear to have been made. Radar integration, a challenging job under the best of circumstances, seems to have run into problems. The task is complicated in no small part by the lack of space available in the JF-17’s radome. It is now widely claimed that the first batch of Pakistani JF-17s will be equipped with Chinese avionics and radar. The weapons package is yet to be finalised. While China is expected to push its PL-9 dogfight missile and the yet untested SD-10 beyond visual range air to air missile, the South Africans have reportedly offered their A-Darter and T-Darter missiles. In January 2007, the head of the Russian Defence Ministry's International Cooperation Department, Colonel-General Anatoly Mazurkevich, announced that Russia had “denied China the right to supply its JF-17 fighter aircraft powered by Russian RD-93 engines to third countries, asking it to sign an end-user certificate for the engines”. In Indian circles, this was taken to be a total Russian denial., a Chinese military website reports that while five RD-93s have been purchased to power the prototypes, an agreement on the further purchase and re-export of the engine is still pending. To make things worse, the Chinese have yet to make any firm commitments, and appear to have lost interest in inducting the FC-1, preferring the more capable J-10 instead.

Given development time-frame and mission profile, comparisons between the JF-17 and India’s “Tejas” light combat aircraft are inevitable. But similarities, if any, are merely superficial. The Tejas, meant to replace India’s massive fleet of MiG-21s, is a wholly different project as far as technology is concerned. Its airframe, made of advanced carbon fibre composites, is light years ahead of the Thunder’s all-metal airframe. The ADA, HAL, and NAL invested considerable time, effort, and resources in its development, and came up with what is arguably one of the finest airframes in the world. The same goes for the Tejas’ aerodynamics which, because of the compound delta-wing, extensive wing-body blending, and low wing loading are superior to those of the Thunder, which has a more conventional layout along the lines of the MiG-21, the F-16, and a rejected Soviet light fighter design. As far as flight dynamics and control go, the Tejas, with its relaxed static stability and quadruplex, full authority fly-by-wire digital flight control system, is far more advanced than the Thunder, which still features conventional controls (fly-by-wire exists only for pitch control). The Tejas then, is a state of the art combat aircraft which will be India’s first step towards self-reliance. Program wise, it is more comparable to the Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale, considering not just the technology involved, but also the scope of the project. In the light of this argument, its longer timeline is hardly surprising. But the Thunder, despite Pakistan’s best efforts to package it as “indigenous”, is anything but. Pakistan’s contribution to the design and development of the project is close to nothing. Even today, the plane does not sport any Pakistani systems. It is at best a cheap and low/medium-tech Chinese aircraft that Pakistan can mass produce. As Siva, a contributor on Bharat Rakshak points out, the JF-17 is more comparable to the HJT-36 Sitara intermediate jet trainer – since both have an all-metal airframe, conventional controls, and an externally sourced engine. And the Sitara was developed even faster than the Thunder.

This is not to say that the JF-17 is a bad aircraft. It will serve a very important purpose by giving Pakistan valuable experience in fighter aircraft manufacturing. It will help Pakistan rid itself of dependence on American weapons. It will give the flagging Pakistan Air Force a shot in the arm by beefing up numbers and providing it with decent beyond visual range combat capability. Dismissing it as “worthless” would be nothing short of stupid. My friend and aviation enthusiast Kartik sums it up beautifully: “If the Pakistanis integrate even a medium performance radar and use the SD-10 with it, it is a big threat to the Indian Air Force – just look at the MiG-21 Bison to see what an underestimated fighter can turn out to be. The Sukhoi Su-30K was also found to be a poor aircraft when the IAF first evaluated it, and then after all sweat and toil put into getting its avionics in place and the thrust vector controls, the Su-30MKI is a completely different beast! I somehow fear that the JF-17 shouldn’t prove to be a fighter that makes the Fulcrums, Mirages, Bisons almost on-par or just a little superior. Which is why the IAF needs a true fourth generation fighter to stay ahead – both airframe wise as well as avionics wise.”

Shiv Aroor has also posted this article on his blog.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Enter the Republican Guard

The pictures of the 10th Parachute Regiment jogging down Rajpath while chanting some slogan on Republic Day left me stunned. Till date, such hoo-haa drills were the sole preserve of the Pakistanis and other Middle Eastern riff-raff. Why, oh why, have we decided to emulate the cartoon-like antics of the crappiest of chest-thumping Armies? Armies that have an impeccable combat record only against innocent women and children? Armies that have been taken to the cleaners time and again by real soldiers?

The Indian armed forces always always spoke softly and carried a big stick. It was in keeping with this trend that the ridiculous goose-stepping at Wagah was done away with. So what in God’s good name were the concerned authorities trying to achieve with this jumping-jack tamasha?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

2006: The Year Russia Schooled The West

I found the following article on The eXile, which is a Moscow based... uhh... "newspaper" (for want of a better word). The views expressed do not necessarily coincide with my own. But the staff at The eXile has done a helluva job! A must read, this article is!

This past year was a watershed both for Russia and for Russia's detractors alike. As they used to say after 9/11, "everything's changed." Although not exactly how the West imagined it.

For the first time since Mikhail Gorbachev launched his doomed Perestroika reforms, Russia returned to its rightful place as the White World's Bogeyman, annoying the living shit out of every self-righteous, sexually-frustrated Western missionary with its mixture of menace and mo'. Playing up its new role as something like a cross between Bugs Bunny, the Tasmanian Devil, and P Diddy, Russia is now officially "confident," the biggest sin a country could possibly commit if said country attained its confidence while mooning the West.

In this end-of-the-year issue of The eXile, we look back at 2006: The Year Russia Schooled The West. And looking back at each major event as if it was a university course, we issue Russia its bestest, and most-annoyingest, report card ever.

Below is Russia's report card in each subject in which it competed with The West. We at the eXile hope that by reprinting this report card in an open and transparent manner, that the lessons learned will assist all of us in the New Year.

Read further...