By Rajeev Sharma
India faces military threats both from China and Pakistan. Pakistan is manageable, though one can never be complacent. The cracking pace with which China has been beefing up its military muscle is well known. But what is the Indian government doing? What specific steps the Indian government took in 2010? The Indian government has been hauled over coals by defence experts for not doing enough in terms of modernization of its defence forces. This article attempts to discuss some important things that the Indian armed forces did in the year just gone by, though the list is by no means exhaustive. Six entities – Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indian Coast Guard, Defence Research and Development Organization and Ministry of Defence – have been discussed in some detail.
Indian Air Force
China has consistently been increasing its defence expenditure by ten per cent year on year for past over two decades. Though India did not use its air force in the 1962 war with China, the IAF is slowly and gradually trying to ensure that China is not able to repeat the humiliating history. The Indian Air Force ended the year 2010 with its eyes set on beefing up its aircraft fleet, weaponry and infrastructure in an attempt to catch up with China which is still way ahead of IAF in every respect. With an eye on China, India opeothrationalised an Advanced Landing Ground at Nyoma at an altitude of 13,300 feet, close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh and A K Antony became the first Defence Minister to land at this airstrip on June 26.
The IAF added a brand new airfield at Phalodi in Rajasthan, which can host all types of aircraft in the IAF’s inventory, and also constructed a new parallel runway to the one existing at the Air Force Station, Gwalior, capable of operating all types of IAF aircraft. Perhaps, the biggest addition of the IAF in 2010 was the delivery of the first of the six C-130J-30 Super Hercules military transport plane to the IAF by Lockheed Martin at a function in Marietta, Georgia on December 16. The other five planes are to be delivered to India in early 2011. The over one billion dollars Super Hercules deal is just one of the many big ticket acquisitions that the IAF is going to make in the next few years. Besides, the IAF acquired AFNET, a state-of-the-art gigabyte digital information grid. The AFNET, dedicated to the nation by Antony on September 14, is managed by the Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS). The dedicated network links all ground-based and airborne sensors, air defence weapon systems and command and control nodes and also paves the way for the release of radio spectrum for civilian telecom use.
The most important achievement of the Indian Army in the year 2010 was the successful pre-induction test firing of the Agni-3 missile in February, which immensely fortified India’s defence capabilities vis a vis Pakistan and China. The 17-metre- long missile can carry a 1.5 ton nuclear payload to a distance of 3,500 kms, which means that it can effectively cover the whole of Pakistan and large parts of China. The missile achieved textbook precision, attaining a maximum altitude of 350 kms and withstood temperatures in the range of 3,000 degrees Celsius during its flight.
On the indigenization front, the Army decided to place an order for an additional 124 Main Battle Tanks MBT Arjun Mark-2 after successful grueling desert trials in the first quarter of this year. This is over and above the existing order of an equal number of MBT Arjun Mark-I placed with the Heavy Vehicles Factory, Avadi. For years, the Indian Army has been plagued by the problem of shortfall in its Officers Cadre. The one million- strong Indian Army presently has around 36,000 Officers as against a sanctioned strength of 47,000. It took an important step in addressing the issue as the apex decision-making body on security and strategic issues, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), headed by the Prime Minister, approved its demand for setting up the second Officers Training Academy (OTA) at Gaya in Bihar. The Gaya OTA will be only the second such academy in the country after Chennai. Its initial cost will be Rs 360 crores and is expected to start functioning by June 2011. The Academy will groom 250 cadets initially and the number is expected to go up to 750 once it peaks up.
Of all the three armed services, the Indian Navy, which has been in the forefront in ensuring coastal security ever since terrorists struck Mumbai from the sea route in November 2008, boosted its all-round capacity the maximum in the year 2010. The IN stamped its robust blue water presence across the Indian Ocean Region, bolstered capacity with induction of force multipliers like MIG 29K and the INS Shivalik and launched a large number of warships, including the INS Tarkash stealth frigate in Russia and INS Shakti fleet tanker in Italy.
Defence Minister AK Antony inducted the air dominance fighter Mig-29K into the IN at INS Hansa, Vasco da Gama, Goa on February 19. The 4th generation multirole fighter jet equipped with Beyond Visual Range (BVR) and guided anti-ship Missiles and smart bombs will eventually berth on the INS Vikramaditya, the Gorshkov aircraft carrier, when it is likely to be delivered in 2012. On April 29, Antony commissioned INS Shivalik, the first of three indigenously designed and built stealth frigates, at Mumbai. The frigate, which will be the mainstay of the Naval fleet in the first half of this century, is equipped with Combat Management System, CMS-17, manufactured by the Defence PSU Bharat Electronics Limited, Ghaziabad. During the year two Water Jet Fast Attack Crafts were also commissioned, taking the total to eight of ten ordered.
Tarkash, the second of the three to follow on Talwar class stealth frigates being built by Yantar Shipyard, Kaliningrad, Russia, was launched on June 23 and will join the IN fleet in the second half of 2011. The SAM missiles-equipped warship will carry the Brahmos missile in vertical launch mode, giving it 360 degrees maneuverability. On October 11, the INS Shakti, second of the two Indian fleet tankers being built by Fincantieri, was launched at Genoa, Italy. The first, INS Deepak, is undergoing advanced sea trials before delivery to the IN. On April 1, INS Chennai, the third ship of Project-15A, was launched at Defence shipyard Mazagon Docks, Mumbai. Armed with Brahmos, the new ships of the Project-15 class will pioneer the IN’s foray into sophisticated multifunction radar system.
During the year the IN also obtained approval to induct six submarines under Project-75 India and four Landing Platform Dock (LPDs) ships under the ‘Buy and Make Indian’ clause. The IN also concluded a contract to buy four additional P-8Is, taking the total number of the US-origin maritime aircraft ordered to 12. The IN, being the nodal agency for Coastal Security among all maritime stakeholders, established four Joint Operations Centres at Mumbai, Kochi, Visakhapatnam and Port Blair. Besides the Coast Guard and the state Marine Police, other agencies including the Customs, Intelligence Bureau and Ports Authorities are all networked with these centres. Also, each coastal district has been placed under an Area Operations Centre for coordinating coastal security activities.
Indian Coast Guard
Since the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, the Government has been strengthening and modernising the Indian Coast Guard which, along with the Indian Navy, has the prime responsibility to ensure that terrorists are not able to infiltrate into the country through the sea route again. As part of this incremental progress, the ICG witnessed the maximum expansion in capacity and capabilities in 2010.
The Government approved setting up of 14 new Indian Coast Guard Stations (ICGS), a massive one-time addition considering that the number of existing ICGS across the country’s vast coastline is 28. The new ICGS will come up in Pipavav and Mundra in Gujarat, Ratnagiri and Dahanu in Maharashtra, Minicoy and Androth in the Lakshadweep Islands, Karaikal (Tamil Nadu), Nizampatnam and Krishnapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, Gopalpur (Orissa), Kamorta and Mayabunder (Andaman and Nicobar Islands) and Kolkata and Frazerganj (West Bengal). Five of the 14 were commissioned during this year itself. The ICGS Hutbay in Andamans was commissioned on January 28, ICGS Murud Janjira in Maharashtra on September 30, ICGS Veraval in Gujarat on October 2, while ICGS Minicoy was commissioned and DHQ-12 at Kavaratti in Lakshadweep Islands inaugurated by Defence Minister A K Antony on December 24.
The state-of-the-art new generation Offshore Patrol Vessel, ICGS Vishwast was commissioned by Antony at the Defence undertaking Goa Shipyard Limited on March 17, while ICGS Samudra Prahari was commissioned in Mumbai on October 9. Built by ABG Shipyard Limited, Surat, it carries the most advanced and sophisticated pollution response equipment to fight oil spills. The 95-meter-long ship can also embark a helicopter. Besides, two Coast Guard Air Stations and a Divisional Headquarter at Kavaratti in the Lakshadweep archipelago were also approved. During the year, the ICG inducted seven vessels including an Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) and a Pollution Control Vessel (the first PCV of its kind in Southeast Asia) and also signed contract for acquisition of 12 Dornier Surveillance Aircraft on March 30, four each to be delivered by the Defence PSU Hindustan Aeronautics Limited every year beginning 2012. The ICG also took delivery of six of the 17 Elta Radars under various stages of procurement. The installation of the first two Elta radar systems on the Dornier was completed this year, with the flight acceptance trials due to be undertaken in January 2011.
It could have been a fantastic year for the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) with a string of big ticket achievements but for a high-profile failure in the fag end of 2010: the failure of the December 10 maiden launch of nuclear-capable Agni-2 Prime missile, which fills the gap in the range between the 2000-km Agni 2 and 3500-km Agni 3. Earlier in the year, the test launch of India’s new Advanced Air Defence (AAD) Interceptor Missile, capable of destroying hostile missiles, had failed on March 15. The DRDO did not give up despite this reversal and conducted the fourth in a row successful test of the Interceptor Missile, in endo-atmospheric mode at an altitude of 15 kms, at the Interim Test Range (ITR), Chandipur in Orissa on July 26.
The DRDO added many feathers to its cap in 2010: the Light Combat Aircraft Tejas inched closer to its induction in the Indian Air Force passing stages to finally take wings, the unveiling of the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) which took its first flight on March 29, and the Armed Version of ALH Dhruv and the Main Battle Tank Arjun finally getting bulk orders. The Government also initiated a long-awaited restructuring of the DRDO to make it leaner and give fillip to private sector participation.
The indigenously designed and developed LCH is laced with Forward Looking Infra Red Imaging Technology, Laser Range Finder facilities for target acquisition under all-weather conditions and data link for network centric operations. The 5.5 ton capacity helicopter is due to get its Initial Operational Clearance in December, 2011. The Armed Version of ALH Dhruv, ALH Weapons System Integrated, ALH-WSI, was developed by HAL and is presently undergoing integration trial for armament and electro-optical systems. It is equipped with Forward Looking Infra Red and Thermal Imaging Sights Interface, a 20 mm turret gun, 70 mm rocket pods, Anti-Tank Guided Missiles and Air-to-Air Missiles. The first LCA Navy, NP-I, rolled out from the hangars of HAL, Bangalore on July 6, ready for the phase of Systems Integration Tests leading to Ground Runs and Taxi Trials with the first flight due to take place in 2011.
Another important development was the Government approval for restructuring of DRDO on May 13, following recommendations made by the Committee headed by Dr. P Rama Rao, former Secretary, Department of Science and Technology. Aimed at boosting Defence Research and encouraging the private sector to participate in the vast Defence Production and R&D efforts, the proposals envisage establishment of the Defence Technology Commission to be headed by the Defence Minister and likely to be functional in February 2011.
Ministry of Defence
The Ministry of Defence posted a string of major achievements in 2010 like the testing of AGNI-2 by the Strategic Forces and start of construction for the Rohtang Tunnel, but its image was severely dented by two real estate scams – Sukhna land in Darjeeling district of West Bengal and the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society in Mumbai. The Army completed a Court of Inquiry into the Sukhna Land Scam at the directions of Defence Minister A K Antony which found six officers blameworthy and censured four others, including three of General rank, for attempting a lease agreement with a private developer for 71 acres of land near the Sukhna military station. Antony also ordered a CBI probe into the Adarsh Society scam and the CBI on January 2, 2011, claimed to have found evidence that some army officials and bureaucrats had indeed forged and manipulated documents. The Adarsh Society was originally meant to be a six-storey structure to house Kargil war heroes and their kin, but ineligible people, including top officers of the armed forces, politicians and bureaucrats became members and the Society building itself was later illegally extended to 31 floors.
The Strategic Forces Command (SFC) of the Integrated Defence Staff, which handles the country’s nuclear weapons assets, honed its skills with successful tests of the Agni missiles. Other major events included the starting of digging work for the ambitious Rohtang Tunnel in Himachal Pradesh and implementation of Joint Doctrines. The SFC successfully test fired the Agni A2 Missile from Wheeler Island on May 15. With this test the SFC carried out successful launch of all three versions of the Agni in three months. On November 25, the SFC launched the medium range Agni-I. National Advisory Council Chairperson Sonia Gandhi laid the foundation stone of the 8.8 km-long Rohtang Tunnel at Manali on June 28. Expected to be completed by 2015, the Tunnel will be a step towards making the Leh-Manali Highway an all-weather road. The Rohtang Tunnel is the 18th Project of the Border Roads Organisation, which celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 2010.
In other major developments for the year 2010, the National Defence University got the go-ahead signal from the Union Cabinet on May 13. The National Defence College, New Delhi, College of Defence Management, Secunderabad, National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla and the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington are proposed to be brought under the ambit of National Defence University, Gurgaon, without dissolving their autonomy. Three Joint Doctrines, one for Sub-Conventional Operations, another for Electronic Warfare and the third for Maritime Air Operations, were promulgated on February 9. These are aimed to prepare the armed forces for battle space as future wars would be fought also in cyberspace. Air Chief PV Naik released two more Joint Operational Doctrines, one for Perception Management and Psychological Operations and another for Air and Land Operations on June 16.
The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist-author and a strategic analyst. He can be reached at [email protected]