The Filter Coffee

Foreign policy, strategic affairs, defense and governance

Aero India 2009: The Drama Continues

Aero India 2009 kicked off in the Garden City on February 11, 2009, with firms from 25 countries showcasing their hardware in a quest for the supposed multi-billion dollar contracts that the Indian military is going to hand out in the years ahead. Defense Minister AK Anthony was on site, claiming confidently that there was no question of scaling down the defense budget in times of economic recession. He’s right. There’s no question about it, because scaling down the defense budget is already a foregone conclusion.

The fact that a country with the third largest armed forces in the world and a GDP growth of 7.1% amidst global economic downturn would peg its defense budget at a beggarly 1.98% of GDP is a colossal embarrassment. Compare that against China’s defense budget (4.7% of GDP), or even that of Pakistan’s (4.5%), whose revenue consists almost exclusively of dole money from the US, China and Saudi Arabia.

Worse, an inefficient defense procurement mechanism has resulted in a dearth of military hardware and parts, so much so that even the abysmal defense allocations of previous annual budgets have not been fully utilized. Given the circumstances, the rational reader will be justified in questioning why there should be an increase in defense budget allocation at all.  The procurement bottleneck notwithstanding, this biennial aero-drama in Bangalore continues unabated, with many firms eying that lucrative $9 billion, 126 multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA) deal intended to replace the Indian Air Force (IAF) backbone MiG-21 “Flying Coffin” aircraft.

The only problem being that the Defense Ministry has harped on about this proposed phase-out since 1998. American firms Boeing and Lockheed flaunted their F/A-18s and F-16s respectively in the hopes of hitting the motherload, while Russia rolled out the MiG-35 “Fulcrum-F”. France and Sweden threw their lot into the race with the Dassault Rafale and JAS-39, respectively. However, 11 years, 3 administrations, and 5 defense ministers later, India is still to decide on the vendor, much less enter into price and/or technical negotiations with anyone. Meanwhile, our air force faces critical shortages, most noticeable in the sharp reduction of the number of squadrons from 39.5 to about 30 within a span of seven years.

IAF also faces a shortage of advanced jet trainers (AJTs), with only about 20 of the expected 35 Hawk AJTs being currently operational. The most pressing shortage that can’t be outsourced to foreign service firms is in trained pilots — the headcount is currently 400 below par. About the only (relative) success story has been the (almost) on-time delivery of Israeli Phalcon Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) last month. The AWACSs will be mounted onto IL-76 transporters and will give the IAF the ability to detect missile movement deep within enemy territory.

Israel’s ability to translate demand into delivered product on schedule is a promising sign and indicative of a reliable long term supplier. That Israel has been fairly resistant to Beijing and Washington’s earlier protests against providing India advanced technology is also a good sign. At Aero India’09, Israel demonstrated its third-generation AWACS (called “Conformal Airborne Early Warning and Control System”, or CAEW) which have already been inducted into the Israeli Air Force in 2006.  The wildcard in the Indo-Israeli military equation is India’s political leadership, which shows neither the urgency to plug gaping defense holes, nor the capacity for strategic thought.

In conclusion, while the Surya Kiran’s aerobatics may light up the skies of Bangalore with mesmerizing tinges of saffron, white and green, this biennial platform is meaningless if the Defense Ministry isn’t willing to commit to an overhaul of its procurement mechanism, maintain a well trained and motivated yoke of pilots, and put its money where its mouth is with regard to defense budget allocation.

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Filed under: aero india, Bangalore, Defense Forces of India, Indian Air Force, Politics, World, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Terrorism in India: A Cold Analysis – Part II

(Also see: Terrorism in India: A Cold Analysis – Part I)

In the first part of this two-series article, I reviewed the government’s response to the November 25, 2008 Mumbai Terror Attacks, specific intelligence and coordination failures between State and Central agencies and armed forces, the political fallout in the aftermath of the attack, and the government’s responses to addressing an impotent internal security apparatus. In this article, I will examine what needs to be done by the government of India if it wants to demonstrate that it is committed to securing the lives of its citizens.

In response to the terror attacks, the Indian government is planning to increase the headcount of the National Security Guard (NSG) and establish centers in Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai.  The second item on the government’s plan of action involves establishing a Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) along the lines of the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Based on the “Combating Terrorism” report issued by the Second Administrative Reforms Committee, the FIA will be established as an agency of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and will be responsible for investigating federal crimes, including organized crime, terrorism, sedition, trafficking in arms and human beings, etc.

What else can India do? The past couple of days have made it particularly painful to watch Indian news channels or read Indian newspapers. Uninformed jingoism, poor grammar and unhinged newscasters have made following the coverage of the aftermath truly agonizing. On Times Now, for example, I was never quite sure if I was watching news coverage of the terror attacks or a trailer for Mission Impossible IV. If the media is to be believed, the Indian army is about to launch punitive assaults on Pakistan any time now. I hate to break this to them, but their mouths are writing checks their government can’t cash. India will not fight Pakistan, because to do so would be to write your own death certificate, along with that of Pakistan’s. Does this mean we lie down and take a kicking? Not necessarily. If India is serious about the security of its people, here are things that it should do:

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Filed under: 11/25/2008, black cat, commandos, Congress I, homeland security, India, Indian Army, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Laskhar-e-Toiba, let, Mumbai, Mumbai Terrorist Attack, National Security Guard, nsg, Pakistan, POTA, prevention of terrorist acts, south mumbai, taj, Terrorism, unlawful activities prevention act, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cry, the Beloved Country

Bomb blasts wrecked havoc in Indian cities in '08

India’s three year honeymoon is over. Terrorism is back in the spotlight, as is communalism. These two elements of violence are interlinked in a vicious circle.  Communal violence unleashed by the BJP’s dogsbodies alienates an already alienated minority.  The sense of alienation, rightly breeds resentment. Resentment breeds vindictiveness, which in turn could manifest itself in the form of terrorism. BJP’s venomous agenda is clear, both at the state and central levels. They live to insight communal tensions in the country, even in places where such things have been unheard of, such as Karnataka. I have always maintained that Bangalore is the most liberal metropolitan city in India, even more so than Mumbai, where nutjobs like Raj and Bal Thackeray appeal to the mob mentality to attack anything un-Marathi. Yet, the recent attacks on churches in Bangalore, not coincidentally under the watch of Karnataka’s first ever BJP administration is very concerning.

That all of this is happening while Kashmir is burning and bombs are exploding everywhere, shows the signs of a cauldron that has long been simmering, going unnoticed by the beneficiaries of the Brave New Economy. It took a seemingly minor incident (the Amarnath board issue) to trigger off massive demonstrations, riots, and renewed calls for azadi in Kashmir. In the midst of all this, that hideous serpent Arundathi Roy, decided to chime in by calling for the independence of Kashmir. She needs to explain what plans she has to save the Hindus in Jammu or the Buddhists in Ladakh from impending slaughter following the independence that she’s fighting for.  I’m yet to see what she has to say about PoK. Does it merge with J&K, thereby creating a seamless state where terrorists west of the LoC can socialize and exchange notes with those east of the LoC on how best to blow up the Parliament? I’m not saying there shouldn’t be any debate over Kashmir’s independence – that’s an issue for another day. I’m questioning, as I always do, her sanity, for adding fuel to the ongoing fire.

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