Monday, December 3, 2012

Engaging Kashmir Youth

FORCE's Ghazala Wahab was invited by Indian Army's Srinagar-based 15 Corps to deliver a talk on how the Indian Army can engage with the Kashmiri youth. This was part of the seminar on youth empowerment. Here is Ghazala's paper:

This is a difficult subject primarily because of the limitations on both sides of the divide – the army and the Kashmiri youth.

The Army’s Limitations

One, Kashmir is a political problem and not a military problem. Hence, both the management of the problem and the resolution has to come from a political process. Whether we do it within the country or engage with our neighbour — that’s a different subject. The army can only play the role of a facilitator by keeping violence down; so that there is room for the political process. The more army expands its role, more vulnerable it will render itself to allegations of having vested interests.

Two, despite army’s exemplary (non-military) contribution to the state of J&K, through its ‘Winning Hearts and Mind’ programmes and Operation Sadbhavana, the army at the end of the day remains an instrument of State’s (read Union government) policy. As a result, the animosity towards the State (remember, Kashmir is a political problem stemming from the animosity towards the state) is channelled through its more visible instrument which is the army. So, anything that the army does is always viewed with a degree of cynicism and suspicion. Additionally, as army moves into non-military areas, more it hampers the political process, because this gives fodder to the perception that India holds Kashmir through force. The army must perforce be as invisible in populated areas as possible for a resolution to come about.

Three, the army primarily started the Sadbhavana programme to put into place an intelligence grid. Hence, one of the earliest relationships that it forged with the people was a transactional one. People usually do not forget these things, and in Kashmir especially, memories go very far. So whenever the army would start any process, irrespective of the nobility of its purpose, there will always be wariness, which will limit its scope and to a large extent prevent the army from reaching the people who can actually make a difference.

Kashmiri Youth’s Limitations

One, the Kashmiri youth is the product of their history. A Kashmiri youth or even a person in his early 20s was either born in or after 1989. These, nobody can deny, were the darkest years in Kashmir. Even if this person has not personally suffered, he or she has grown up seeing close family members, neighbours or friends suffer. Mostly, at the hands of the Indian security forces which, in popular perception, translates into the Indian Army. Now, even if this young man or woman wants to build his or her future, the shared history of his community is the burden he/she must bear. For them, to engage with the Indian Army for their own betterment would be a betrayal of the sacrifices made by their family, friends or neighbours. After all, a sense of martyrdom is not exclusive to the uniformed forces.

Two, Kashmiris, especially the youth, suffer from a persecution complex. And with some justification. They face regional and religious profiling in other parts of the country. Not only that, even within the state, they are made acutely conscious of their inferiority simply because the opposite side holds power. Hence, they feel psychologically compelled to acknowledge as superior even those who may be unequal to them in terms of education or social hierarchy. This puts a psychological pressure on them to huddle together among their own and view the others or the so-called superior force with fear if not loathing.

To give an example from yesterday, the state administration belatedly realised on Thursday afternoon that Friday was also the 8th day of Muharram. Anticipating trouble they ordered curfew to be imposed on Friday in six police station areas of Srinagar. But the schools were not informed, some of which were conducting examinations. I had an appointment across the Jhelum, where there was no curfew. As vehicles were not allowed, I took the lane behind my hotel to cross the river via the foot bridge. But J&K police and the CRP personnel had put up the barbed wires at the bridge to restrict movement. Standing on the right bank of Jhelum, I saw school girls and boys screaming their lungs out demanding to be allowed to cross as they had an examination. The men in uniform were screaming back, trying to frighten the school children with their lathis. I was beyond rage. Whose fault was it? If the curfew had to be imposed, why weren’t schools asked to close down? At that moment, I could completely identify with the impotent rage of the school children. How do you engage with them? A young girl at the barbed wire was trying to talk with one of the CRP personnel in fluent English. She foolishly believed that her education and knowledge of English had empowered her. But how long before she realises that education is not power in her state? A mere danda is.

A connective factor here is that years of strife have robbed Kashmiri youth of education and other avenues of growth. So, academically and in terms of human resource development they are far behind their counterparts in the rest of the country. This is the reason that one sees the spectacle of long queues of job aspirants — some as qualified as graduates — at the army’s recruitment rallies for PBORs. The problem with this is that when you study high enough to get through the college, your and your family’s expectations from you increase. You expect to get into a white collar job and not work with those who have just scraped through class 10 or 12th. You may accept the job for economic reasons, but disillusionment with the society and the education system fills you with bitterness. A bitter person is a dangerous person. He is full of angst, which can be directed towards anything or anybody.

Engaging with youth is easier said than done. And here is the challenge

Like most of South Asia, Kashmir is also facing a youth bulge. I believe almost 60 per cent of the state’s population is under-30. If you further dissect these age bracket, then the proportions of early and mid-teens are larger. This, all social scientists accept, is a dangerous age to be. The children, especially the boys have to deal with all sorts of adolescent issues, whether they are physical, emotional or psychological. They are impatient, short-tempered and easily persuaded. This is the age group which is most susceptible to exploitation because the hormones are raging and they need an adrenaline rush.

Sensible adults try and direct the hyper energies of the children into productive areas. Unfortunately, in Kashmir, a lot of parents may not be sensitive to this because of their own personal, political as well as economic traumas. Driving around the old parts of Srinagar, I have myself seen young boys idling along the road sides. They have nowhere to go. Their homes have just enough space for them to sleep quietly in one corner at night. In the day time they simply cannot stay at home because the space is required to perform several household functions. To my mind, this is the most volatile and vulnerable group. If engaged correctly, they can be a great force multiplier. If engaged in a cavalier manner, they can turn against you. And if ignored completely, they can become tools in somebody else’s hands.

With these inherent limitations, what can the Indian Army do?

The first question that comes to mind is why does army wants to engage with the Kashmiri youth when it is not its job. I would think that there could be two reasons to do this.

One, to improve army’s image among the youth; and

Two, to fulfil what could be called the Army’s Social Responsibility, something akin to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

If this is correct then the way forward comprises two roads: the easy and the well-trodden. And the unpaved track which may or may not yield success.

The easy and the well-trodden road is what the army has been doing so far. Youth empowerment centres, computer classes, coaching classes for higher education, vocational training centres, sporting events etc in its areas of comfort. All these are hit and run programmes with no follow-up. Perhaps, no one even keeps a track of what happens to the students who participate in these centres or programmes. Sure, you cannot do this because you don’t have the man-power. In that case outsource these, or enter into some kinds of MoUs with local universities or respectable NGOs.

The unpaved track would be to engage with the urban youth, because these can be the potential opinion-changers. This may even lead to questioning of the so-called ‘Sentiment’ in the Valley. And the army does not have to show its overt presence in the Valley to do any of this. Here is my wish list:

  1. The army, through various organisational headquarters, can institute a number of scholarships in urban schools, colleges and Universities. While some of these can be named after local Kashmiri heroes, some can be named after even military heroes. These scholarships should enable the students to study in some of the better institutions in the rest of India. In fact, the students ought to be given the option of even opting for a military institution if they so desire. This way, they will be able to see the other side of the uniform.
  2. The army frequently takes group of students from smaller Kashmiri towns or villages on a ‘Bharat Darshan’ or sight-seeing tour. Similar tours could be conducted, again in urban areas, but this time not to see Taj Mahal and Rashtrapati Bhawan, but to military institutions like the NDA, IMA, INA or the AFA. The student profile should be mid- to late-teens so that such visits have an inspirational and aspirational value. In fact, instead of touch and go, a system could be instituted whereby the students spend a few days at these academies, maybe during a break or something when accommodation arrangements could be done. Or sponsor a group of youngsters during Passing Out Parades at different academies.
  3. Motivate, sponsor or build yourself, SSB training or coaching centres. 10 Kashmiri PBORs will not have the impact that one officer can have. Mentor and nurture the officer cadre drawn from Kashmir.
  4. Institute in collaboration with private players sporting academies or clubs. Everyone talks of Kashmiri’s passion for cricket. How come no Kashmiri finds himself in the national team? Especially today, when there is a test team, a one-day team, a T20 team and God knows how many more. I could be wrong, but I haven’t heard of a Kashmiri player even in IPL. Last year, the army organised a Kashmir Premier League tournament. When so much money was spent on that, why couldn’t you get senior cricketing heroes or officials from mainland India who could adjudge the best players and offer them scholarships to learn cricket from the best coaches in Delhi or Bombay. Ditto for football. In fact, engage with the South American footballer’s Academy in Srinagar (don’t remember if he is Brazilian or Argentinian). I believe he even takes kids abroad for youth tournaments.

These are random ideas. The main question that remains, however, is that, is this really the army’s job? I’d say no. It is the state government’s job, followed by the Union government. But because the people of the state have suffered so much in the last two decades, maybe they can use as much help in rebuilding their broken lives as they can get. After all, they cannot remain slaves of history forever. But because of the inherent limitations of the army, I feel the best bet for the army would be to work as much through the private sector as possible. You can generate ideas and offer security. Let the private players be the executors of those ideas. This way you can probably reach out to a much larger section, than you would be able to if you were to do this on your own. Sure, credit would be hard to come by; but if it is change that you are looking for, that would be the price for it.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Operation Geronimo

Now that the American journalist Richard Miniter claims in his book that the US government briefed Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani on Operation Geronimo almost six months before the operation, here plugging the FORCE comment written within days of Osama bin Laden’s killing. Even as the best analysts went to town gleefully castigating Pakistan Army’s incompetence, FORCE insisted that Geronimo couldn’t have been planned without its connivance. Pakistan Army gave up OBL because it no longer had any use for him.

Osama Bin Laden and Beyond

With Afghanistan in his pocket, Kayani agreed to bin Laden’s dramatic killing

By Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab

To look forward beyond Osama bin Laden, it is essential that the present be known. This is the hard part, as both the United States and Pakistan, equally complicit in the bin Laden killing plot, are hiding more than revealing. While stakes for both are high, the Pakistanis hold better cards in the aftermath of bin Laden exit. For the US, it was important to kill bin Laden in as spectacular fashion as he did the 9/11. This would boost US’ chances of getting its boys home from Afghanistan earlier than expected. However, the condition was that the Pakistan Army could not be trampled upon. This is the reason for the song and dance by US President Barack Obama and his key advisors absolving its dubious partner of insincerity.

In his opening announcement on bin Laden killing, Obama did not forget to mention Pakistan’s cooperation in counter-terrorism. His chief counter-terrorism advisor, John Brennan, while standing before cameras within 48 hours of bin Laden killing, refused to accuse Pakistan of anything; much out of context, he noted that Pakistan, since 9/11 had captured and killed more terrorists than any country. Once the domestic heat built upon the Pakistan Army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani and his ISI buddy, Lt. General Shuja Pasha for complicity or incompetence, the US National Security Advisor, Tom Donilon decided to forego his Sunday holiday on May 8 and appeared on five of six US talk shows. He hammered the single point that the US had no information to suggest that Pakistani security establishment knew of bin Laden’s whereabouts in their midst.

Regarding incompetence, the US has put out stories of their radar-evading helicopters and brilliant human-intelligence that led to bin Laden. This theory has been seconded by former Pakistan Army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, who disclosed that Pakistani air defence systems on the Afghanistan front are weak if not non-existent. Contrary to the Abraham Lincoln wisdom that you cannot fool all people all the time, the US and Pakistan seems to have pulled the feat, at least for now. However, FORCE, which has followed the story, has a different view of what happened. With minor variations on details, we believe that the Pakistan Army (ISI is a part of it, and not an independent entity) has sold a stone for a precious diamond; Osama bin Laden had not only outlived his usefulness, but was an impediment in the follow-on plot of reconciliation with the Taliban in Afghanistan. He had to be dispensed with.

While it may be true that the US got a vague lead on bin Laden six months ago through a Guantanamo detainee, it could not have zeroed-in on to bi Laden’s house in Abbottabad without Kayani’s complicity. The story about CIA hiring a neighbourhood house to watch bin Laden’s activities is simply incredible. It would also be wrong to suggest that Kayani succumbed to the US pressure to confirm bin Laden’s abode; had he wanted he could have moved bin Laden and his entourage to another place. Osama bin Laden was moved to the military cantonment under Kayani’s (then, ISI chief) watch six years ago, to be used as a triumph card subsequently against the US. Another reason was to maintain a watch and hold on the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, the leader of the Quetta Shura, who had sacrificed Afghanistan for bin Laden’s friendship. During the protracted banishment, once friends, bin Laden and Mullah Omar drifted apart ideologically. Osama bin Laden propagated global Jihad while Mullah Omar was fighting to regain Afghanistan from the US (reports emerging after bin Laden’s killing clearly suggest that the two had not communicated since years).

Washington, with overstretched military capabilities amidst a recession, and with NATO allies threatening to quit the war, wanted an honourable exit from Afghanistan. The way out for the US was to have a reconciliation government (Hamid Karzai and Taliban) in Afghanistan, an invisible US military presence to keep the Taliban and Pakistani misadventures in check, and to be part of a regional assistance effort for Afghanistan. While Pakistan has an essential role in the formation of the reconciliation Afghanistan government, the CIA with proven predator capability and in cooperation (whatever possible) with the ISI would maintain US intelligence footprint in Pakistan. It is not a coincidence that the US overall forces commander, General David Petraeus will be the new CIA chief.

Four recent events settled the Afghanistan chessboard with the US, Pakistan, Taliban and Karzai as key players. The first was the unprecedented April 16 meeting in Kabul in which Kayani and Shuja Pasha took Premier Yusuf Raza Gilani to meet President Karzai. Until now the two sides were talking separately with the US; it was time to settle Afghanistan, politically and from security perspective, face-to-face. Once the future of Afghanistan was agreed in which both Karzai and Mullah Omar would have prominent roles, it was time to free senior Taliban leaders from captivity. Within days, news came of the Kandahar jail break-out where 450 Talibans helped themselves to freedom. This was assurance for Mullah Omar that he was onboard. These developments pleased Kayani so much that the usually reticent Pakistan Army chief could not suppress his glee during his April 23 visit to Kakul Military Academy; stone throw from bin Laden’s house. His remarks that Pakistan had broken the back of terrorism sounded out of context on that day. The final event was curtains for bin Laden. To make it dramatic, the US insisted that bin Laden had to die in his present house; he could not be shifted elsewhere. With so much in his pocket, Kayani agreed. He could not be unaware of the risks he was taking; his own and his army’s reputation was at stake. After all, he would have delivered Afghanistan to Pakistan.

It will be a while before frayed nerves in the US and Pakistan calm down. The US Congress needs to know why an unreliable ally should be rewarded, just as Pakistanis are asking hard questions about the holy cow, its army. The coming months will see a lot. The formation of the Afghanistan reconciliation government, the announcement of a quick US drawdown of troops from the war zone, financial and military assistance for Pakistan, and release of US armed drones for the Pakistan Army to name a few. Where does this leave India which has invested over USD1.3 billion in development in Afghanistan and had hoped that the US military presence would remain in the war torn country long enough for a regional effort to emerge. The latter will still happen, but having been fence-sitters, India will be sidelined by Pakistan, China and Iran for the regional role in Afghanistan.


Key words: Osama bin Laden, Barack Obama, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Afghanistan, Shuja Pasha, ISI, Global Jihad, Abbottabad, US-Pakistan relations

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Pressure on the Ground

FORCE Bangalore correspondent Atul Chandra was invited by CVRDE to visit the Arjun tank facility at Avadi. Here is his report.

Avadi, Chennai: After more than three decades of development, India’s Arjun Main Battle Tank (MBT) has literally emerged like a phoenix from the ashes, surprising even its most sceptical observers. Last year, the Arjun outgunned the Indian army’s T-72 and T-90 MBT’s, when trials were conducted with the respective units putting up their best tanks and personnel.

FORCE visited the Combat Vehicles Research & Development Establishment (CVRDE) for an exclusive insight into the programme. We learnt that while the Arjun Mk-2 is substantially improved and more capable than the Arjun Mk-1; it is too heavy, limiting areas where it can be deployed by the Army. And that renders it unsuitable for the army’s operational requirements for a Main Battle Tank (MBT). According to P Sivakumar, Director CVRDE, “the weight of the Arjun prevents it from being deployed in all the areas required by the Army”.

Keeping this in mind, the Arjun Mk-2’s improved performance seems to have put the Army in a spot. What does one do with a tank that is fast, can shoot accurately on the move and is relatively well protected but is too heavy to be deployed in the deserts near the Pakistan border as a replacement for the T-72 or T-90? Paradoxically, while the tank itself has demonstrated high speed and mobility, its weight precludes it from being able to operate anywhere the army wants it to. The Arjun Mk-2 will weigh around 67 tonnes and this fatally limits the tank’s operational effectiveness for the Indian Army.

The tank is too heavy to be deployed across the border with Pakistan. It is unable to effectively traverse terrain filled with natural and/or artificial obstacles. Or areas criss-crossed with rivers and canals. That rules out most places in Rajasthan, Punjab and the mountainous terrain of the J&K sector.

This has forced the army to identify areas where the Arjun can safely be deployed and its operational units based. This probably means the Arjun will not fight alongside the T-90s and T-72s. It will certainly not be part of the Indian Army’s strike corps formations, as it could get bogged down in unfamiliar terrain. This runs counter to the philosophy of armoured formations, which are designed for mobile offensive operations deep inside enemy territory. Unlike the T series tanks that have been airlifted to high altitudes like Leh and even out of the country, the Arjun cannot be airlifted by the IL-76 and C-130 J transports of the Indian Air Force (IAF). The C-17 Globemaster to be inducted by the Indian Air Force (IAF) has a maximum payload of 75 tonnes — insufficient to airlift the 67 tonne Arjun Mk-2 with attendant support equipment.

During this correspondent’s visit to the CVRDE facility at Avadi in Tamil Nadu, it was evident that despite the best efforts of its highly committed team of designers and scientists, the Arjun is unlikely to ever be ordered in significant quantities by the Indian Army — which fields close to 3,500 tanks in its Order of Battle (ORBAT). The total orders for the Arjun as of today are 240 (124 Mk-1 and 116 Mk-2). For the Army, ordering more tanks would result in it having to devote more resources — something it seems loath to do.

As things stand presently, the first Arjun Mk-2 will roll off the production line at Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) Avadi, two and a half years (30 months) after the order is placed. With the orders likely to be finalized towards the end of the year, the first Mk-2 tank will enter operational service in 2016. With HVF Avadi looking at a production rate of 30 tanks a year, all 116 tanks will be delivered by 2020. If work on the Future Main Battle Tank (FMBT) begins now in right earnest, then the first tanks could be ready for operational service circa 2025. Until then, the army would rather soldier on with its T-90 and upgraded T-72 tanks, which in any case have the required infrastructure in terms of training, manufacture and overhaul.

The major improvement in the Arjun Mk-2, is its missile firing capability from the gun barrel. This was demonstrated in 2004, with Israel Aerospace Industries’ (IAI’s) Laser Homing Attack/Anti Tank Missile (LAHAT). But the tank did not have an integrated Laser Target Tracker (LTT) at that point of time. That is now in the final stages of inspection and is being demonstrated to the user. The army has also asked for more types of ammunition on the Mk-2. This includes Thermobaric rounds and Penetration cum Blast rounds that will be developed in India. Thermobaric warheads create a sustained and intense pressure wave, which can be used against bunkers and hardened targets, while causing minimum damage to the surrounding areas. The army has also asked for two types of practice rounds, including blank rounds for ceremonial purposes. These will also reduce wear and tear on the barrel during training. In terms of protection, the Mk-2 will have full frontal Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) and since commonality was desirable, it will use the same structuring as the T-series. The Defence Research & Development Organization (DRDO) is re-developing the explosive element, which is currently Russian, with better protection capability. It is being developed at the High Energy Materials Research Laboratory (HEMRL). This will be used for the Arjun, T-90 and T-72 tanks. Active Protection Systems (APS) that help evade attack — both by confusing enemy sensors (soft-kill) or by physically destroying incoming warheads (hard-kill) — will also be incorporated on the Mk-2.

The Israeli ‘Trophy’ system is being considered for the Mk-2. There will also be a mine plough to deal with pressure based mines, magnetic mines and tilt based mines. The driver’s seat on the Mk-2 is now suspended from the roof, compared to being fixed to the floor on the Mk-1 — this provides better mine protection capability. With the Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) and mine plough together weighing 3 tonnes and additional add-ons expected, the MK-2s weight is expected to increase from 62 tonne to 67 tonne. The suspension has been re-designed to handle 70 tonne. To cater to complaints of track shedding, the revised tracks will have an increased horn length (19 mm) and the wheels have become slightly bigger. The tracks are imported from Germany but the rest is indigenous. The engine will remain the same on the Mk-2. With the original power pack on the Mk-1, the final drive catered to a top speed of 72 kmph. For the Mk-2, the final drive has been changed by increasing the reduction ratio from 4.4 to 5.3 and the top speed is now reduced 58.5 kmph but the torque and the force available at the contact between the track and the road has increased which can cater for the increased weight. Despite the increased weight, CVRDE claims that the acceleration is better than the Mk-1, while fuel efficiency remains the same.

The Arjun Mk-2 programme also suffered a severe setback with the unfortunate demise of senior scientist G K Kumaravel a few months ago. Kumaravel died in a road accident, while at Pokhran for trials of the Arjun Mk-2. He was heading the Arjun programme and slated to take over as Director, CVRDE in the future. He had played a crucial role in the developments and system integration of the Arjun MBT Mk II. The Arjun programme will now be led by V Balamurugan. The biggest problem being faced by the Arjun and a fate that is shared by almost all other indigenous programmes, is the small numbers ordered — that precludes investment in the required production and tooling. Sivakumar told FORCE that “Greater numbers are essential for reducing the price, establishing the process, good quality control mechanisms and continuous consistency in production”. This is also the reason he says that orders are a must. The Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) has not been producing Arjun MBT’s for two years and lot of the know-how is being lost.

While officials at CVRDE say the Army has been happy with the performance of the Mk-1, FORCE learnt that non-availability of spares is a continuing problem — the usage of spares was greater than anticipated. There have been complaints of track shedding, though CVRDE officials say that’s caused by inexperienced drivers who’re used to the T-72 and T-90. The 120 mm tank gun has been proved on the Mk-1 series and today, the Arjun barrel offers better life when compared to the T series of tanks. There have been barrel issues on a few tanks and a committee is looking into the matter, according to CVRDE officials.

The process of obtaining replacement spares is time consuming, since there are a number of agencies involved. Limited production numbers further exacerbate the problem. Director Sivakumar told FORCE that steps were being taken to tackle this problem and “unlike the Mk-1, where orders for the tank and the Engineering Support Package (ESP) were handled separately, in the Arjun Mk-2 this will be done simultaneously. That will reduce the time taken for delivery of the required items”. According to him, production has improved dramatically and an Israeli firm is now working on computerization of the line.

Meanwhile, the Indian Army is struggling to maintain its ageing fleet of T-72 MBT’s. While the T-72 was acknowledged to be one of the finest Russian tank designs, the ageing tank fleet is now increasingly difficult to maintain. Its small size and cramped turret make it difficult to incorporate the latest technology — like fire control systems, night vision and electronics. Unfortunately for the Army, the T-90 has not proved to be as sterling a performer as its predecessor. A number of glitches have come to the fore and production at HVF has been slow to take off. Russia has also refused to transfer technology related to metallurgy for T-90S gun barrels and armour plates to the HVF.

Despite all that, the Arjun outgunning the T-90 and T-72 in comparative trials, is akin to the Light Combat Aircraft ‘Tejas’, defeating the F-16 in a dogfight! The units that took part in the competition put up their best tanks and crew. The Arjun managed to fare very well. Army sources have freely admitted to FORCE, that there is a mind block with regard to the Arjun, by those who have operated the T series tanks. But they also admit that the Arjun is appreciably more modern in comparison to the T-72 & T-90, in many respects. For example, the Arjun can fire almost twice the number of rounds the T series tanks can, from its main gun.

The Arjun Mk-2 in many ways is what the Arjun Mk-1 should probably have been. Tragically, total orders for the Arjun over the next decade are unlikely to exceed 400 to 500 units including the 240 already ordered, plus other variants like the Armoured Repair and Recovery Vehicle (ARRV), Catapult 130 mm Self Propelled Gun and SP-155 gun chassis. The last refers to a tracked base that was to be mated with a Slovakian gun, in collaboration with Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML). That proposal has already run into rough weather. It remains to be seen if the army will accept such indigenous offerings or prefer to go abroad for proven systems, which can be inducted quickly and in meaningful numbers, to arrest the alarming decline in its armoured and artillery capability.

What is however clear is that continued production and development of the Arjun must be allowed to continue, if critical design, development and production know-how is not to be frittered away. It is also essential to keep the production line functional — through manufacture, repair, overhaul and upgrades, till the Future Main Battle Tank (FMBT) programme begins to gather steam. Keeping this in mind, it is likely that the DRDO will be able to prevail on the army for a few more orders, to enable low-rate production to continue. It is imperative that the DRDO and the Army move faster on the FMBT programme, to ensure that it is ready in time to replace the T-72.

In all, the army’s armour profile through 2015-2020 could comprise of approximately 1700 T-90S, 1800-2000 upgraded T-72M1s, and 250-500 Arjun’s. Surely, prospective orders for the FMBT, which at the very least would be for 1000-1500 tanks, are incentive enough for this to be taken up as a national project. This futuristic tank is unlikely to cost less than Rs 50 crore a piece — the total orders would be worth Rs 50,000 to 75,000 crore.

Training Tools

Simulator Based Training on Arjun

The Arjun also features a state of the art simulator facility for training of drivers and crew. Canada-based simulator manufacturer CAE developed and delivered the initial suite of Arjun tank training systems, to efficiently and cost-effectively train the driver, gunner and commander in the Arjun tank. The Arjun tank training system offers: standalone training for the driver and gunner; turret level training for the gunner and commander; integrated tank level training for the gunner, commander and driver; troop level training, by networking Arjun tank simulators to rehearse troop tactics, movement and joint operations.

CAE’s Arjun tank training system comprises a CAE Medallion-6000 visual system, with a detailed, realistic external environment view of actual tank operations. It also has a sound simulation system, which produces sounds heard during tank operations, synchronised with the motion and visual cues in the training device. There’s a simulation host system for software management and software sub-systems to simulate tank behaviour in real-time operations. Also on offer are content rich geo-specific databases; an instructor station to conduct training exercises & offer evaluation solutions; an Interface Electronic Unit (IEU) to provide a link between tank crew controls and simulation software; and networking, to connect the Arjun driving and turret simulators.

The driver trainer for the Arjun is mounted on a six Degree-of-Freedom (DOF) motion platform. It faithfully emulates the interior cabin of the tank. There is also the Arjun turret simulator, to replicate the interior of the gunner and commander stations. Mounted on a six DOF motion platform, the Arjun turret simulator features a 220 degree by 40 degree open hatch visual display, to provide trainees with the high-fidelity visual cues required for gunnery training.

Fists of Iron

Future Main Battle Tank

The quest to indigenously design and develop a Future Main Battle Tank (FMBT) by the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), must be accorded the status of a national project, if it is to succeed. The prize could be a minimum order of at least a thousand tanks, to replace the Indian Army’s T-72 tanks, starting 2022.

It is more likely that the FMBT will be ready only around 2025. DRDO will require at least a decade to have the first examples ready for trials and then roll out production variants a few years later. While the estimated development cost of Rs 5,000 crore might seem large, the investment would pay itself back many times over. An order for 1000 FMBT’s would be worth Rs 50,000 crore (Rs 50 crore per piece) over two to three decades. It would boost indigenous Tier-1 and Tier-2 industries involved in the programme.

The FMBT at present is expected to be a highly mobile Main Battle Tank (MBT) in the 50-55 tonne class. It would have the latest technology, like advanced materials to keep the weight down, a smooth bore 120 mm main gun capable of firing missiles and advanced munitions, a modern, high powered engine (1800 hp) with state of the art transmission, suspension and running gear. It will incorporate a high level of crew protection, through use of next-generation Active Protection Systems (APS) to supplement its armour protection. It will also provide a high level of situational awareness to the crew through sensors, data links and the ability to operate in a networked battlefield.

While the Army has asked CVRDE to refrain from talking about the programme, work has already begun on the engine development — a good sign for the programme. Interestingly, companies like Renk and AVL have refused to provide consultancy for engine development. The development of the 120 mm smooth bore main gun will also provide its own challenges, in terms of design and weight. Keeping in mind the Israeli involvement in the Arjun programme, it is very likely that Israeli companies will play a vital role in the development of the FMBT.

CVRDE has gained considerable experience in tank design and development with the Arjun and Arjun MK-2 upgrade. Designing a 50 tonne tank with the features demanded by the Army, will be an extremely difficult task. However many of the parts of the FMBT are likely to be indigenous — such as the power pack, suspension and running gear, 120 mm smooth bore main gun, explosive reactive armour (ERA) panels, communication and data link sets. Facilities would have been set up by then for either joint production, or license manufacture of night sights, targeting and fire control systems etc.

‘At Present, the Army has Decided to Induct 118 Arjun Mk-2 Tanks Instead of 124’

Director, CVRDE, Dr Sivakumar, gives us the low-down on the Arjun programme

What is the status of the Arjun Mk-2 programme currently?

The Arjun Mk-1 with a total of 89 improvements decided upon with the Army, is called the Arjun Mk-2. These 89 improvements have been made not only keeping in mind the concerns and issues faced on the Arjun Mk-1 tank but also to cater for future requirements of the army. At present, the army has decided to induct 118 Arjun Mk-2 tanks instead of 124. This is the result of a policy decision that will see the war reserve for all armoured regiments in the future being reduced by three. And so, two regiments of Arjun Mk-2 will be short of six reserve tanks. The indent for 118 tanks is almost in the final stage.

The army has said that it will decide if it is satisfied with the Arjun Mk-2, only after the trials (which began last month and are expected to go on for two to three months) are completed. The Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) will require 30 months (2.5 years) from the placement of the order, for the first batch of Arjun Mk-2 to be delivered to the army. The Mk-2 will incorporate all that we learnt while battling issues with the Arjun Mk-1, in terms of production, performance, quality etc. CVRDE is working to ensure that whatever problems were faced by the Mk-1 will not be repeated in the Mk-2. Based on the Mk-2 programme, we have formed a core committee called the Arjun Core Committee that will monitor the progress of the Arjun Mk-2 on a monthly basis. All the stakeholders starting from the DRDO, the Directorate General of Quality Assurance (DGQA), the Corps of Electronics & Mechanical Engineers (EME) and the users, are present on the committee and we have obtained excellent support from all the stakeholders.

What are the major changes in the Arjun Mk-2?

The Arjun Mk-2 will see the tank weight increase from 62 to 67 tonnes, as a result of specific requirements from the user — which include additions such as the track width, mine plough and Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) on the glacis plate, as well as the front of the turret. These two requirements alone will add three tonnes to the weight of the Arjun Mk-1. Along with other additions, the Mk-2 is expected to top out at 67 tonnes. We decided after studying the power pack (MTU engine with RENK transmission), that it is excellently suited for Indian desert conditions. We have steadily made this engine and transmission more and more rugged over the last many years, besides improving things like the air filtration system and cooling system.

Hence, we have convinced the user that the same power pack, with a new final drive using a higher reduction ratio, can be used for the Arjun Mk-2. This was proved to the Army last year, when we drove 1350 km with the power pack modified to this standard and simulated weights of up to 66 tonne. We converted production vehicle P-1 into Mk-2 with 53 improvements, to obtain feedback. This tank took part in an exercise last summer that lasted almost two weeks, with temperatures of 46 degrees. We have improved the suspension — to provide the same life to components despite the increase in weight. To cater for this new suspension, we have developed a new hull for the Arjun Mk-2.

The Mk-2 variant is now capable of firing missiles, which was not possible in the Mk-1. We had already proved the LAHAT missile as a standby. We are now integrating it on the Mk-2. Apart from that, the Mk-2 will feature a remote controlled weapon system atop the turret. In Mk-1, this required the loader to come out and fire the weapon. The Mk-2 will have an improved commander’s panoramic sight with night vision, hunter killer capability between the commander, gunner and loader. Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) which is not present in T series tank is present. It has been enhanced from 4.5 kW to in excess of 8 kW for the Mk-2. With regards to the Chassis Automotive System, we have digital communication systems, advanced navigation systems etc. We have increased the track width, to ensure that the ground pressure remains the same in spite of the increased weight.

What is the status of the Arjun Mk-1 at present?

The Arjun Mk-1 received orders for a total of 124 numbers. The two regiments equipped with 45 Arjun tanks each, are the 43rd armoured regiment and the 75th armoured regiment at Jaisalmer. The Arjun is fully operational with these two regiments now. The balance 34 tanks will be used to meet the Army’s BRIC requirements and these are spread across the Corps of Electronics & Mechanical Engineers (EME), war reserve, training establishments, DRDO/DGQA etc. Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) Avadi has dispatched 116 Arjun Mk-1 tanks. The remaining eight tanks will be delivered over the next five to six months.

Most of the spares for the Arjun MBT were consumed during the various trials. We are now working to ensure availability of fresh spares. The other part is the Engineering Support Package (ESP) for the Arjun which includes spares, training and training aids. This is being done in parallel. As far the Arjun Mk-1 is concerned, about 90 percent of its tasks are complete.

What is the cost of the programme till date?

Each Arjun Mk-1 costs Rs 20 crore plus. Each Arjun Mk-2 with all improvements will cost approximately Rs 34 crore. The Arjun Mk-1 programme cost approximately Rs 360 crores. With that money, we made 11 prototypes and 15 pre-production series tanks and the required spares. This included the cost of creating the production line. We are looking at a number of variants based on the Arjun platform, such as Armoured Repair and Recovery Vehicle (ARRV) which is close to finalization. We are also looking to use the Arjun chassis to mount a Russian 130 mm Catapult gun, which was earlier mounted on the Vijayanta chassis. We will also be competing for the Indian Army requirement for a self propelled, tracked gun. We will offer a Slovakian 155 mm gun mounted on the Arjun along with Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML).

We have also built the Arjun Bridge Laying Tank (BLT) but the Army says it may not be required. The cost per tank will certainly go down if we get more orders. This will help reduce the import content as well. The Mk-1 has nearly 60 percent imported content and even though there is a lot of value addition being done, the import content will remain the same for the Mk-2.
Since the size of the order is small, no foreign company is willing to offer Transfer of Technology (ToT). I feel that if the Mk-2 is ordered by four regiments, then the import content could go down to 43 per cent and further down to 25 per cent if orders are placed for a total of six regiments. The lifecycle costs of the Arjun will be much cheaper than other tanks. The programme has also been able to offer numerous improvements to a number of indigenous programmes and armoured vehicles in service with the army.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Seven Days in China

Pravin Sawhney at the Great Wall of China

FORCE Editor Pravin Sawhney spent a week in China at the invitation of the Chinese ministry of national defence. In Beijing and Shanghai, he met officers from PLA Army, PLA Navy and PLA Air Force, plus members of Chinese press. Here are his 10 takeaways from the visit

Beijing/Shanghai: It took me some time to figure out who had invited me on a week-long visit to Beijing and Shanghai. The call came from the first secretary, press section at the Chinese embassy in New Delhi. When told by my office that I was in Munich, he called me there. Extending the invitation on behalf of the All China Journalists’ Association (ACJA), he asked me to join a group of ‘senior Indian journalists’ to visit China. The proposed dates did not suit me, so in less than 48 hours the Chinese graciously altered their dates by a week.

Two things struck me as unusual. Why did the ACJA not invite me directly and why were the dates changed to accommodate me? When I asked the Chinese press officer about the programme, he spoke about the opportunity to meet with Chinese military officials and visit defence installations. The detailed itinerary, he said, was being worked out and would be provided on arrival in Beijing. I had never been to China and here I was being offered the opportunity to meet with Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) officials. That I was excited is putting it mildly. I have been working on China for years and my first book: ‘The Defence Makeover: 10 Myths that Shape India’s Image’ published in 2001, long before the Indian government woke up to the military threat, listed ‘China is not a military threat’ as the foremost myth successfully perpetrated by New Delhi.

My maiden visit to China from June 17 to 22 was a success and here are my 10 takeaway observations:

·                     Months before the visit of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to India in December 2010, China decided to unilaterally announce its perception of the border, making any further negotiations on border resolution impossible. For this reason, at the 15th round of Special Representatives (SR) talks held in Delhi on 17 January 2012, both sides signed the ‘Border Mechanism Framework’ for stability on the Line of Actual Control. The two foreign offices had established formal means to keep the border peaceful. Against this backdrop, Colonel Guo Hongtao, staff officer of the Asian affairs bureau, foreign affairs office, Ministry of National Defence (MND), who had participated in the Special Representatives (SR) talks on border resolution, told me with an air of finality: “China’s border with India is 2,000km long”.

·                     China has indicated that its claims on the disputed border are more complex than are understood in India. “Indian security forces have made more intrusions in 2011 into Chinese territories (disputed border) than we Chinese have made into India,” said Major General Yao Yunzhu, director of the Centre of China-America Defence Relations, PLA Academy of Military Sciences. She was seated next to Colonel Guo Hongtao during the long interaction with us (visiting Indian journalists) at the Ministry of National Defence (MND) in Beijing. In another interaction, the deputy director general, information department, ministry of foreign affairs, Ma Jisheng, went a step further and asserted that: “All reports (in Indian media) of Chinese ingressions are false.”

·                     China says that the complex border resolution should not come in the way of overall bilateral relations, especially trade. “As both sides have agreed to have peaceful borders, the (Indian media) focus should not be on the border issue,” General Yao said. In another meeting, another day, Ma Jisheng cautioned, “There are HIGH difficulties in border resolution. I believe the issue will be resolved with time.”

·                     There is an extraordinary consistency in what the PLA (MND) officials and diplomats (ministry of foreign affairs) say on the disputed border issue. Unlike in India, not only is the PLA authorised to speak on the politically sensitive border issue, it has an extremely important, if not the leading role in this policy-making.

·                     There were repeated suggestions for the Indian media to exercise overall restraint when talking about China so as not to impede improvements in bilateral relations. The lead in conveying this was taken by senior editor, Zhu Shouchen, executive secretary, member of the board of leadership, ACJA. He spoke at length about the ‘code of conduct’ followed by the ACJA. Most of the Chinese media are members of ACJA organised in 494 media committees under six major regional centres, across China.  Each regional centre contributes a vice-chairman to the Board of Leadership of ACJA. The ACJA has three tasks, namely to train journalists, teach them to abide by the code of conduct and facilitate foreign journalists in China. Any lingering doubts on Chinese media and journalism were cleared by senior editor, Wang Lan of the multi-billion dollar Wen Hui group in Shanghai. The code of conduct, she said, meant journalism with Chinese characteristics. “My media group is open to healthy criticism of the government on health, education and science and technology matters,” she said with a smile. Earlier, a senior editor at the China Daily newspaper office in Beijing admitted that a government constituted board cleared every evening what news would go into the paper.

·                     China is conscious that as a (the) risen power, constantly on the global radar, it needs to open up and be transparent. This has been accentuated by an inter-dependent world shrunk further by the information revolution. The world’s focus on China is clearly in two areas: defence and diplomacy. China opened its State Council (council of ministers) Information Office in 1990, established the foreign ministry’s Press Information Office in 2001 and set-up the Ministry of National Defence (MND) spokesperson system in 2008. Both the state council and foreign ministry information offices that we visited are grand buildings with posh facilities and extremely competent staff. I was told that there are nearly 700 foreign journalists living in Beijing alone. The daily regular press briefing (packed with foreign journalists) that I attended could well have been at the US state department, the only reminder that it was Beijing was the Chinese spokesperson speaking native language through a translation gadget provided on each desk.

The chief information officer at the State Council Information Office, Xi Yanchun was a bright and attractive lady in her thirties (she told us) who had worked in the US media for four years when she was offered the present position. She has been in this position since 2002 and was happy to talk about China’s public relations system. “Before 2002 there were no press conferences and the news releases, if any, were ad hoc. There was no mechanism,” she recalled. “Now, this office does a variety of things, from press releases to organising press conferences and briefings, to interviews and replies to emails and of course publicity on the internet,” she said. With a pause and smile she added that it was still difficult to get officials to understand the importance of media interaction. The staff under her has increased and many people have been sent to the US and the UK for ‘internet training.’ She admitted that after the foreign ministry and MND opened their own information offices, few journalists come to the state council information office. “Those two offices are considered important,” she added rather ruefully.

·                     All the Chinese officials I spoke with agreed that Wei qi (pronounced way chee) is the most popular intellectual game in China as opposed to Chess in the rest of the world. More as an afterthought, one PLA officer said that many Chinese now play both games with equal interest and ease. At one of the official dinner banquets I attended, another PLA official told me that in today’s world, it is difficult to hide capabilities. What Wei qi teaches is the art of hiding intentions, which should never be disclosed. Explained by Henry Kissinger in his book, ‘On China’ Wei qi is about strategic encirclement as opposed to Chess which seeks a checkmate with head-on collision. Later, spending some time by myself in a Shanghai popular market, I discovered that no shops kept chessboards, but Wei qi was readily available.

Kissinger provides a keen insight into the two games in his book. ‘If Chess is about decisive battle, Wei qi is about the protracted campaign. The Chess player aims for total victory. The Wei qi player seeks relative advantage. Chess teaches the Clausewitzian concepts of centre-of-gravity and the decisive-points, the game usually beginning as a struggle for the centre of the board. Wei qi teaches the art of strategic encirclement. Where the skilful chess player aims to eliminate his opponent’s pieces in a series of head-on clashes, a talented Wei qi player moves into empty spaces on the board, gradually mitigating the strategic potential of his opponent’s pieces. Chess produces single-mindedness; Wei qi generates strategic flexibility.’

Once we finished discussing Wei qi, I found that all of us had been presented with two slim booklets titled ‘The Wisdom of Sun Tzu’ and ‘The Great Wall’ by the MND information office in a small gift bag. Sun Tzu is about China’s distinctive military theory which is in harmony with Wei qi. The central message of Sun Tzu, I remembered, is to develop strategic thought that placed a premium on victory through psychological advantage and preached avoidance of direct conflict. The Great Wall of China suggests that China has no expansionist designs. This was mentioned to me by a PLA officer at another official dinner. He added that the Chinese fight in self-defence only when their core interests are affected.

·                     The Chinese view colonial rule, (which started in the mid-nineteenth century with the Opium wars and ended with the arrival of Mao’s communist China), when China was subjugated by Britain, France, Russia and later Japan, as a period of deep humiliation. During the visit to the National Museum in Shanghai, our guide dwelt on the humiliations depicted in a series of paintings. But this was not the real point they wanted to drive home. Speaking in English, the museum guide and our language interpreter compared China and India under colonial rules. Unlike all Chinese, many Indians believe that the colonial period had ‘many positives’ about it, they averred.

China, we were told, sees itself as the ‘Middle Kingdom’, conveying the notion of China’s centrality in global affairs and the importance of both national unity and the need to recover territories, purportedly lost during the subjugation period, now called core interest areas. Probably, this is a reason, why all Chinese officials we met during the visit spoke only through the language interpreter, a pleasant freelancer called Liu Non, when making official points even when they understood and spoke good English. An added benefit of speaking through an interpreter is that the person gets more response time to a query; this may help in thinking up a credible rather than the real reply.

·                     All PLA officials I met were reluctant to talk about Pakistan, which has been indicated as China’s bilateral relationship. The need, they said, was for India and China to have more bilateral cooperation and openness. However, without asking, PLA officials in command positions spoke about the West and the US in particular as their enemy. For instance, during the visit to 1 armoured regiment (brigade) outside Beijing, the commanding officer, senior colonel (brigadier) Su Rong said that during simulation training, the home forces are depicted in red colour, while the enemy is shown in blue. With a grin, he pointed to a soldier practicing simulation shooting and said the tank he was seeking to destroy was the US Abram.

He did not stop at this and decided to drill his point further. The PLA soldier, he boasted, can fight better with a fourth of the food eaten by a US soldier. And unlike the US which dropped nuclear bombs, Chinese soldiers will fight only in self-defence. Interestingly, the three military installations we visited — the PLAA (PLA Army) 1 armoured regiment headquarters, the PLAAF (PLA Air Force) 24 air division outside Beijing and the PLAN (PLA Navy) Shanghai naval garrison — were new and grand constructions. If indeed the PLA has such good defence works for its middle-level command headquarters, it conveyed an eloquent sense of generous finances being spent on acquisitions and capabilities.

·                     All presentations emphasised on the PLA ‘making progress towards “information-isation”, which it hopes to complete by 2020.’ Explained, this means total networking of all sensors, communication & reconnaissance systems and platforms, with computers at each level. To test the waters, I casually mentioned that Indian senior military officers (especially army officers) aren’t comfortable using computers. Colonel Yang Yujun, the Deputy Director General of the information office, MND was quick to tell me that senior PLA officers do not suffer from this handicap. “All officers are comfortable with computers,” he asserted.

However, in private, a senior PLA officer in a lighter mood conceded that many PLA generals were also uncomfortable with computers, in which junior and middle rank officers are adept. If this is indeed true, will the new generation of PLA officers, which understands equipment and ‘informationised’ operations better, have a larger say in defence policy making as well? And will they be more assertive? I wonder.

The answer to who had actually invited us was provided by the itinerary. The invitation was from China’s ministry of national defence (MND) and the All China Journalists’ Association (ACJA) was merely the front. This was probably the first time that the MND has invited Indian journalists for a peek into the enigma that is the PLA. After the visit, the first secretary, press section of the Chinese embassy sent me a message expressing hope that the Indian military would consider a reciprocal interaction. The visit was China’s attempt at transparency in defence matters.

The last thing I wondered was why had the MND invited four Indian journalists with such dissimilar understanding of the subject? Surely, they would have done homework on the invitees’ backgrounds?
Instead of focussing on PLA’s perspective on various issues, a lot of time was spent by my colleagues asking questions which could make page-one stories for newspapers back home. For example, what do you say when an Indian journalist who’s been covering defence for a Hindi newspaper for over three decades, asked the Shanghai naval garrison commander what he thought of the INS Shivalik’s combat capabilities (It had recently come port calling there). All the poor fellow could say was “The ship was clean and tidy and I understand it has stealth capability”. Talking through the interpreter, this ate unnecessarily into the allocated time.