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.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Learning Wrong Lessons

Here's is Pravin Sawhney's column for this month

Longer the army remains enmeshed in CI ops, faster it’ll lose its conventional edge

By Pravin Sawhney

As August marks the 13th anniversary of the Kargil conflict (and ninth of the FORCE newsmagazine), it is fitting to reflect on the avoidable war. The immediate spur to do so, has been provided by the then chief of army staff, General V.P. Malik’s article in the Time of India newspaper (26 July 2012). His argument is that while troops had the spirit, they lacked the wherewithal (equipment and ammunition) to fight, and hence the high casualties. The entire blame has been heaped on the political leadership and callous bureaucracy who despite urgings by him did little on procurements. The general writes that ‘Pakistan surprised us strategically and tactically.’ He adds that, ‘the strength of a military force lies in the quality of its human resources, weapons and equipment, and its morale.’ Not once did he mention the army leadership’s role in the fiasco. I recommend the recently published General Colin Powell’s book: ‘It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership,’ to him; it could well be made essential reading for all defence services’ officers.

War is above all about leadership. This is nothing new that I am writing. My first lesson on joining the army more than three-and-half decades ago was on leadership, which means taking responsibility and not passing the buck. To my mind, Kargil was a failure of the army’s leadership attributable to its obsession with counter-terror operations (CT ops). While the army was embarrassed to have allowed the situation, where intruders dug themselves into Indian territory, to develop, it was hesitant to own up its egregious error. In the absence of the COAS who was away to Poland, his Vice-COAS, Lt. General S. Chandrashekhar approached the Air Headquarters to support them with gunship helicopters’ firepower without informing the government. He was so obsessed with CT ops that he could not think it would be a conventional war. (We reproduce our exclusive, the then chief of air staff, ACM A.Y. Tipnis’ first-hand account on the Kargil conflict that first appeared in FORCE October 2006 issue). Even today, the army does not admit to its leadership folly in the Kargil conflict. Were it to do this, the cardinal lesson would be driven home: The army’s primary task is conventional war and not CT ops, something it has come to believe, and ironically, relish. If any proof is needed, all one has to do is read General J.J. Singh’s autobiography, which FORCE has reviewed in this issue.

To understand why the army is hitched to CT ops, I need to start at the beginning, which was 22 years ago when Pakistan took India by surprise by its proxy war unleashed in Jammu and Kashmir in 1990. The then COAS, General V.N. Sharma is on record saying that he was prepared to retaliate with conventional war. Unfortunately, his army was not ready; Operation Pawan (Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka), Exercise Brass Tacks (against Pakistan), and Operation Trident (against China) had sapped the Indian Army. His successor, General S.F. Rodrigues, equally determined to teach Pakistan a lesson realised that the already fatigued army, without rest and relief, had to be inducted in large numbers in J&K to first restore the deteriorating internal situation. Pakistan instantly screamed from roof-top that the Indian Army had amassed troops on the Line of Control to start a war. To assure the world that this was not the case, I was asked by General Rodrigues (There was no television those days and I was defence correspondent with the Times of India newspaper) to travel along the Line of Control. I wrote a series of page-one articles exposing Pakistan’s lie; if anything, troops had been pulled inwards to assist in law and order.

By beginning 1993, the Valley was up in arms, the state police and administration had disappeared, and the Indian media was hysterically writing about ‘liberated zones’ in the Valley crawling with terrorists. The COAS-designate, General B.C. Joshi who was to assume office on 1 July 1993, was conscious that something drastic had to be done. Familiar with my writings, he called me for an extended meeting two weeks before he took command of the army (the meeting was arranged by his aide Lt Col. Anil Bhat, who became the army’s public relations officer). He told me that J&K could no longer be labelled a law and order situation. It was a proxy war by Pakistan, and he had decided to raise a large numbers of Rashtriya Rifles units (RR) for CT ops from within own resources, as he could not wait for government sanction. He wanted my support (I was defence correspondent with Indian Express newspaper), and assured me that the army would get back to its primary task soonest. From then on, the army’s focus was CT ops, and procurements for it became the priority; the internal situation had to be brought under control.

Needless to add, the army’s primary task suffered. While all COAS’ after General Joshi approached the defence ministry on equipment and ammunition deficiencies, replacement of obsolescent wherewithal and need for upgrade and modernisation for a conventional war, it was not done as doggedly as the other two services, the air force and the navy did. The argument being that as Pakistan was waging a successful proxy war it would not opt for the costlier conventional war. India, on the other hand, had decided to merely thwart Pakistan’s clandestine war; the need to teach a lesson to Pakistan was no longer being talked about.

The army’s CT ops were succeeding and by 1997 the tide had turned in its favour. The following year witnessed two major events: the May 1998 nuclear tests by India and Pakistan, and elevation of General Pervez Musharraf as Pakistan’s COAS in October. The implication of Pakistan’s nuclear tests was that the Indian political and military leadership were no longer on the same page: the former concluded that war had become too dangerous an option; and the latter, not being in the nuclear policy-making loop, reasoned that nothing had changed for it. The army remained fixated on CT ops, renamed counter-insurgency ops (CI ops) to win over the people to help fight terrorists better. Notwithstanding murmurs of human rights violations, the army was winning accolades; the directorate of public relations in South Block and media cells in various formations of Northern Army Command were busy giving out number of ‘kills’ each month. Killing terrorists with minimal human rights violations became the criterion for successful command.

Unlike the Northern Army Command which is an operational theatre, the Army Headquarters with more responsibilities was certainly thinking about procurements for a convention war as well. On taking over as the COAS in October 1997, General Malik ordered a non-field force review, to find out how much of the tail ratio (non-combatants) could be pruned without disturbing the teeth ratio (combatants). He concluded that the army could be reduced by 50,000 troops; the savings being utilised for modernisation. Though much bandied about in the media, this was an inconsequential step; the need was for a field force review (operational rationalisation) which in view of the growing numbers of RR units and formations should have been done. This was a mistake for which the army was to pay dearly during the Kargil war.

Between 1995 and 1998, as many as six operational brigades (about 24,000 troops) were sucked into CI ops, mainly in areas which were hotbeds of insurgency; these were Kupwara, Rajouri and Poonch. Little thought was given to the fact that these were Northern Army Command’s reserves; a fact which comforted the Pakistan Army planning the 1999 Kargil occupation. This was one reason for the Indian Army to lose more lives in Operation Vijay, because these soldiers took time to reorient themselves from doing CI ops to fighting a conventional war. There were two other reasons for the avoidable casualties: the northern command was unaware for a long time about the numbers of dug-in terrorists, and the extent of Pakistan Army support to them. Unlike what General Malik writes, the conflict was a failure at the operational level of war. The other reason was total panic at the higher military levels; defence minister George Fernandes was told by the army that terrorists would be cleared in 48 hours which he announced, without the army’s higher command assessing what it was up against. Troops were given impossible tasks and were lost. It was akin to the ‘charge of the light brigade.’ Now, if this is not the failure of army leadership, then what is? (It was the army and nation’s good luck that the Pakistan armed forces did not openly join the war).

Were right lessons learnt from the fiasco? No. The army decided it needed more RR troops and headquarters to separate forces on CT ops and conventional role. Moreover, the year-long military stand-off with Pakistan (Operation Parakram) in 2002 convinced the army that the political leadership had little stomach to fight nuclear Pakistan. The much bandied about Vajpayee government’s ‘coercive diplomacy’ was really a bluff called off by Pakistan. The November 2003 ceasefire and erection of the fence on the Line of Control in 2004 dulled the army’s edges further on its primary task. CI ops became the army’s mantra, providing it with two advantages: medals and glory; and promotional avenues with plenty of officers’ vacancies available in RR formations. The present army is a picture in contrast to what it was in 1990. The army is so entrenched in its new avatar that only a determined COAS or defence minister can bring it back to the reality of the two-front military threat staring in the face.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

General J.J. Singh plays it safe in his memoirs

By Ghazala Wahab

General Joginder Jaswant Singh has been bit of an oddity in the Indian military. While most Indian soldiers, irrespective of rank and service have been chary of the media, treating it as a necessary evil to be endured when completely unavoidable, Gen. JJ Singh, affectionately called Gen. JJ, has always courted the media fearlessly and with great enthusiasm.

As Chief of Army Staff (COAS) [and before that, as General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C), Western Command], he seemed to believe that publicity was publicity — it was neither good nor bad. This is the reason that when even ordinary officers went into spasms of anxiety at the whiff of a ‘negative’ report, Gen. Singh remained unflappable. He had a penchant for issuing statements at the drop of the hat and making headlines every alternate day. That led the grand old man of Indian journalism Khushwant Singh, to write that if he didn’t stop talking, he’d end up being a source of more ‘Sardar’ jokes. So rattled was the government of the day (used to mute chiefs), by his garrulousness, that apparently, he was asked to talk less with the media.

Gen. Singh might have tried to curb his instincts. But how do you hide a flamboyant personality? When he wasn’t speaking to the press, he was being photographed at glamorous events like polo tournaments, with Page 3 regulars. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to say he fashioned himself as something of a star. Someone who’d walk into a room and immediately draw attention to himself, whether intentionally or unintentionally. But there was never any doubt that he wanted to be projected in a certain way. Within a couple of weeks of taking over as COAS, this correspondent was granted an interview with the General and his wife, becoming the first guest of the first couple in the Army House. Not only did they speak extensively about themselves, about Gen. Singh’s achievements, his war wound (in Kashmir), about adopting children and so on — post interview, his office even supplied family photographs for the story. It appeared in the March 2005 issue of FORCE. He was a refreshing change from his predecessor, who did away with even the traditional Army Day press conferences during his tenure. But then, there is something called too much of a good thing. Some would say Gen. JJ Singh spoke enough for his successors too — they all remained squeamish about the media. Except Gen. V.K. Singh, who went ballistic towards the end of his tenure.

Gen. Singh is currently the Governor of Arunachal Pradesh. For someone as irrepressible as him, it was only to be expected that he’d write his memoirs and present them with the same panache he presented himself. His autobiography A Soldier’s General, published by Harper Collins, has already been released three-times over. It was released in Delhi on June 9, by the Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh; in Mumbai on June 23, by the Governor of Maharashtra K. Sankaranarayanan; and in London on June 25, by a British member of parliament Paul Uppal and the Shaheed Nanak Singh Foundation.

Talking to the press at one of the release functions, Gen. JJ Singh said that his book was simply a narration of his life, of events as he saw them. “There is nothing controversial in my book,” he insisted with a broad smile. Weeks before the book was released, one of his former aides cautioned that one should not expect too much from the book. “It is light-reading,” he said, suggesting it would neither be contemporary history nor a quick guide to national security.

Indeed, the autobiography is an accurate reflection of Gen. Singh’s personality, putting him not only at the centre of the book but at the centre of every event in it. In that respect, both the book and the author have been extremely faithful to one another. It’s another matter that Khushwant Singh, whose advice Gen. Singh sought before embarking on this literary journey — recently wrote that he’d advised the former chief not to praise himself too much. People get put-off by that, he’d said. But the General obviously didn’t take that hint.

Gen. JJ has an explanation for that. Addressing guests at the book release function in London (a video of the speech has been uploaded on YouTube), he said that he laboured hard over the format of the book. He realised that if he was to tell his story, it would automatically read like self-praise. But there was to be no escape. “Maybe, this is the reason why so many army chiefs do not write their autobiography,” he told the audience.

If so many Indian military chiefs have desisted from writing their autobiographies, then the reason has to be more than just reluctance to praise oneself. To my mind, there are three reasons why an autobiography should be written. One, the author is such a brilliant writer that he/she has the capability of turning even the mundane into a work of literature. Two, the author’s life has been unusually eventful, he/she has been witness to history in the making and has something useful to say. Three, the author has had a very close/personal association with the powerful and the rich (mainly the former) to enable him/her to write a kiss-and-tell tale. These three conditions eliminate the need for putting oneself at the centre of the book, even if it is an autobiography because one would write as a spectator, seeing things as they happened.

While reading Gen Singh’s autobiography, I wondered if it is really difficult not to succumb to the temptation of writing things like ‘I did this’. And ‘I told so and so that...’ The immediate reference that occurred to me, was of his predecessor four times removed, Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury, COAS from November 1994 to September 1997. His autobiography, called Officially at Peace, was published by the Penguin imprint Viking, in 2002. The book starts with Gen. Roychowdhury becoming the chief. He divides chapters on the basis of issues as he saw them. And not in a chronologically linear manner. Critical of the political leadership (he worked with four prime ministers starting with Narasimha Rao and finishing with I.K. Gujral) — which he always found indifferent to national security issues, Gen. Roychowdhury appears in the book primarily as a narrator. There are hardly any personal details, because he assumed readers wouldn’t really be interested. His autobiography reads like contemporary history, putting in perspective the Indian Army’s state in the mid-Nineties, its roles across theatres, state of war-preparedness (or lack of it) and the blanket blindness over nuclear issues. He narrates in great detail his meetings with various ministers, politicians and bureaucrats at various levels. His recounting of his first meeting with the minister of state for defence (whom he does not name) upon becoming the chief and his subsequent meeting with finance minister Manmohan Singh, pleading for more funds for army modernization, are both funny and eye-opening. Ironically, Gen. Roychowdhury is not a highly decorated officer. Like Gen. K Sundarji, he only has a Param Vishisht Seva Medal (PVSM) to his name. But this is not a review of his book.

Gen. JJ seems to have been hemmed-in by two self-imposed restrictions. First, he starts with the conviction that his has been an unusually remarkable life. For him, the fact that he is a third generation military officer and the first Sikh to become the chief, itself makes for an interesting story. Hence, this narration takes care of the first section, without any attempts at giving a perspective to the prevailing circumstances then. Or insights into the politico-social conditions. Or why being the first Army chief of Sikh descent, was a big deal. While Operation Blue Star finds no mention, the 1984 anti-Sikh carnage is dismissed in a paragraph — saying no violence took place in Jammu where he was posted.

Given that his grandfather was a sepoy in the British Indian Army (deployed in France during World War I) and his father was commissioned in the Royal Indian Army Service Corps before Independence, a more thoughtful narration could have added so much more depth to the book. His grandfather was injured in France and returned home because of his debility. Did it ever cross his mind whose war he was fighting, or for what reason? How did the growing pitch of the freedom struggle affect him? Were he and/or the people in his village, aware of it or not? Did he have any patriotic dilemma regarding loyalties? His father joined the service in 1943, at a time when the freedom struggle had reached a crescendo. What were his reasons for the choice he made? The idea is not to judge them for their choices. But to understand a narrative different from what one reads in history books.

Later on, the partition of the Indian military in 1947, after which his father came to the Indian Army, deserved more than platitudes like: ‘It was a time of great stress for my parents... The effect was traumatic as well as tragic in many cases, particularly for those soldiers and their families who happened to suddenly find themselves living in the wrong country.’ Taking the easy way out, he fills his narration by quoting from different sources, often fictional. For example, to give the readers a sense of India’s Partition, he quotes from Khushwant Singh’s ‘Train to Pakistan’. Or to establish that his ancestors probably (he is not certain) were Aryans, he quotes from a glossary on tribes and castes of Punjab and the Frontier provinces. To think that he had such rich ready-made material at home, (both his parents and his wife’s parents migrated from what became Pakistan) — borrowing narrative is nothing but intellectual laziness.

The second restriction is his choice of not writing anything ‘controversial’. As a result, he says nothing at all in his book. This is a huge let-down, considering he served in important positions during crucial times. During the Kargil conflict, he was Additional Director General of Military Operations (ADGMO). During Operation Parakram (when India nearly went to war with Pakistan on two occasions) he was Commander 1 Corps, one of the Indian Army’s strike corps. He subsequently went on to command the Indian Army’s prestigious Western Command, before becoming Army Chief. Yet, he writes about all these events quoting from press reports. As if he wasn’t privy to anything himself. His chapter on becoming Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (CSC) takes the cake. To describe India’s nuclear weapons’ capabilities across domains, he quotes from Wikipedia!

All this begs two questions. Who exactly did he write this book for? Is it for young soldiers, scholars of defence, general readers or merely for his extended family? Because there is nothing in the book, that is not already available in the public domain. Even details about incidents like the time he was shot near the Line of Control (LOC), or was nearly ambushed in Baramullah, frequently appeared in the media when he was the chief. Even I have written about these incidents way back in 2005!

Perhaps, nobody told Gen. JJ that writing a book isn’t like making a statement to the press. Unlike a media report, a book has a shelf life, hopefully longer than the life of the author. A book remains a reference point for the future; even those who didn’t know you learn about you through your book. Hence, I believe an autobiography should be very carefully thought through. Not only in terms of what you reveal in it but also what kind of image you convey through it. ‘Controversial’ is hardly the adjective one would use for an autobiography — it can be candid or cagey.

This raises the second question. What exactly is the purpose of this book? It is true that to some extent that the very act of writing an autobiography, smacks of self-aggrandisement. But surely it is up to the author to determine how high he wants to raise the bar. Whether he wants to gloss over crucial issues or take them head on. Instead of filling up the chapter on Kargil (during which he was the ADGMO) with press reports, he could have pointed out weaknesses in the Indian side, that led to the conflict. He could have discussed if it was a politico-military disconnect, that led to a severe loss of lives in the early days. Is it possible that Mumbai’s 26/11 happened because very few lessons were learnt from Kargil?

What feathers would Gen. JJ Singh have ruffled, if he had addressed allegations of human rights violations against the Indian Army? Instead of dismissing them by saying that ‘no violations occurred during my tenure.’ After all, the fact that violations have happened, is not a state secret. On the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), he says we should be open to the idea of incorporating humane modifications in it. But he stops short of suggesting what these could be.

And where he does dwell upon the much-bandied concept of the iron fist and the velvet glove, he draws parallels between the Indian Army’s operations in Kashmir and the United States/ North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is he by any chance suggesting that Kashmir is our Afghanistan? Is the Indian Army, God forbid, an occupation force in Kashmir?

His penchant for drawing parallels, leads him to draw one between himself and Pakistan’s Army Chief and subsequently its President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. The chapter Musharraf and I is the most embarrassing one in the book. The sad part is, it was completely avoidable — both Gen. JJ Singh and his tenure as chief, had nothing to do with Musharraf at all. The two didn’t even meet. Comparisons can never be fair. I would have been horrified if somebody was to compare me with anyone in the world. And here, Gen. JJ sets himself up for a comparison, concluding that he was a better chief. Musharraf’s tenure as Pakistan Army chief will be judged by his army. His tenure as President of that country (during which, in addition to getting Major Non-Nato Ally status for his country, he got the US to give nearly USD 20 billion as aid) would be judged by his country. Forget Gen. JJ, Musharraf in his autobiography does not refer to any Indian military officer; he only talks of the heads of the state. Even if Gen. Singh believed there were favourable grounds for comparison, this alone should have dissuaded him.

The only place where Gen. JJ Singh sparkles and goes beyond his chosen circle of comfort, is writing about Arunachal Pradesh, where he is currently Governor. Perhaps, it is his fondness for the place and its people. Or simply nostalgia (he served here as a young officer). But he writes about his tenure there with affection and sincerity. Had he marshalled this sentiment throughout the book, it would certainly have been a collector’s item.

A Soldier’s General: An Autobiography

General J.J. Singh

HarperCollins, Pg 356, Rs 799