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Archive | July, 2009

The Gorshkov Fracas

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) recently came down heavily on the MoD over the total and complete mismanagement of the Admiral Gorshkov/INS Vikramaditya deal with the Russians.  Gorshkov was decommissioned by Russia in 1996 and offered “free of cost” to India in 2004, if India would undertake to pay for necessary upgrades and refitting, then valued at $800 million.

As of January 2009, that cost was estimated to have increased to about $3 billion.  Gorshkov was initially projected to be delivered to the Navy in 2008; a year past the scheduled delivery date, we haven’t seen hide nor hair of it.

The CAG report highlights several key issues:

  • Gaps in planning and procurement of the aircraft carrier, whose need, first determined in the ’90s, was only translated into demand in 2004
  • Suspect decision making in the approval of acquisition, despite on-site Indian Navy inspection reports indicating dilapidated material state of the carrier.
  • Questionable vendor selection process in the awarding of the contract to Sevmash shipyard, which has no prior experience in repair and refitting of a vessel of the scale of Gorshkov
  • Lack of effective monitoring and supervision of the project, despite seemingly several layers of oversight and steering committees
  • Technological obsolescence, limitations in capabilities and omission of critical components of Gorshkov, including Close-in Weapon System (CIWS; which will only be only be refit after delivery in India, in 2017), Jet Blast Deflectors, and lack of quality control inspections of the flight deck’s arresting gear system
  • Dubious payments made to Sevmash, totaling about $30 million,

What was initially just a bad idea, has now morphed into a chaotic, unmitigated disaster. Make no mistake — if and when commissioned, Gorshkov will be famous for being the most exorbitant lemon floating in the Bay of Bengal.  China’s two locally manufactured aircraft carriers (of comparable displacement to Gorshkov), equipped with SU-33 (the “Flanker” navy variant) will be complete by 2015, at a total combined cost that only slightly exceeds that of Gorshkov.  In fact, the CAG estimates that a brand new carrier with similar displacement and weapon systems could be indigenously developed for no more than $ 1.14 billion.

Politically, AK Antony has made all the right noises, claiming that everything will be verified before ratifying Russia’s demand for additional money.  Even Adm. Sureesh Mehta came out swinging, presumably to take some of the heat off his bosses. But even he will be hard-pressed to deny the significant divergence between Indian Navy’s vision and current reality.

Realistically though, what does Antony plan to do once he “verifies” the gaping holes that are known to one and all? Walk away from the project? India has already sunk millions, with nothing to show for it.

Should the people of India expect a change in the way our leaders go about managing capital acquisitions, and will CAG’s report crack the whip on systemic mismanagement? Wishful thinking, I fear. After all, one must recall the scathing report that the CAG issued on contract terms, questionable payments and substantial delivery delays on the acquisition of  SU-30MKIs back in 2000.

Not much changed since then — if anything, things have gotten worse.  Everything considered, the SU-30MKIs are top-line aircraft, while Gorshkov is a buoyant lemon. And not much can be expected to change, if the political apathy of our babus for national interest and strategic foresight remains unchallenged.

So here we are. Ten years have gone by since INS Vikrant was decommissioned.  INS Viraat has been granted life-support extensions until 2013. India has already coughed up about 70% of the upgrade/refitting costs of Gorshkov to Russia (despite only 30% of work being completed), and faces the reality of being severely encumbered in its posture against an increasingly hostile and hegemonic China in the Indian Ocean.

As India grapples with the feasibility of equipping our would-be aircraft carrier with anti-ship missile detectors by 2017, China will be inducting two home-built 93,000-ton nuclear-powered aircraft carriers by 2020 — allowing it to project power beyond its shores and immediate region like never before.

Food for thought.

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Mock Outrage

The Opposition staged walkouts — twice in three days — over the Indo-Pak joint statement at Sharm el-Sheikh, and the End-Use Monitoring Agreement (EUMA) or the so-called “Blue Lantern” program, for high technology defense purchases with the United States.  Too often this “walkout” culture is misinterpreted as a reflection of a vibrant democratic process in India. The irony is this that it is anything but.  The farcical walkouts staged by the Opposition undermine their own role in the democratic due process of the country.

Challenging a government on decisions it takes requires actual work. And really, when have our babus ever been fans of work?  Why waste time gathering information, formulating a view and challenging  those opposed to it, when you can just shout someone down in Parliament and summarily extricate yourself from the proceedings in mock outrage?

EUMAs are required as part of satisfying the “eligibility” requirements of the United States’ Arms Export Control Act. At least one source from the Defense Cooperation Security Agency (DSCA) confirms that India has previously signed similar EUMAs with the United States as part of the sale of the C-130J “Super Hercules” transport aircraft and USS Trenton (INS Jalashwa).  However those were transaction specific EUMAs, which both India and the US hope to do away with via a general master products and services agreement (which is essentially what this latest “agreement” is), as defense trade between the countries increases.

But the UPA and the Obama Administration have delivered mixed messages on the scope of the EUMA — is it restricted to defense related high technology purchases only, or does it include all high technology  transfers, which would scope in the Indo-US deal?  If it is the latter, as Brahma Challaney suggests, Manmohan Singh has some explaining to do with his representation to the Rajya Sabha that the Indo-US nuke deal was governed only by the 123 Agreement, the Separation Plan and the safeguards agreement with the IAEA.

The brouhaha around the much denounced “physical inspections” clause per se is unfounded.  First, while the US retains the right to physically inspect equipment, India gets to decide on where and when this inspection can occur. Second, regardless of the scope of high technology transfers, India is under no obligation to purchase anything from the US if it doesn’t want to, if push comes to shove, not even nuclear fuel or ENR technology. Third, since when has a piece of paper come to mean anything in the world today?  In a worst case scenario, what are the US’s options if India refuses to allow physical inspectors or reneges on earlier promises? Censure? Embargo? Been there, done that. Move on.

The implications of an agreement to physical inspections is less of a concern.  What is concerning however is the complete absence of a democratic exercise that examines and challenges the government on important strategic ventures it enters into (or plans to enter into) during its tenure.  A level of involved discourse of the ’60s and ’70s has given way to rowdyism.  Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad Yadav took the cake as they marched out the LS in protest; lest it be forgotten, it was only last week that the latter had to be corrected that the issue he was addressing the House with unswerving confidence was in fact “Global Warming”, and not “Global Farming”.

Where are the checks and balances?  What if it turns out that the UPA has misrepresented a large extent of the obligations with regard to high technology transfers, including the nuclear deal that it has entered into on behalf of the nation? The only qualification necessary to storm out in fits of rage is to be equipped with a pair of legs.  Who holds the government’s feet to the fire, if not the Opposition?

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An Ignominious Climbdown

The joint statement issued by Manmohan Singh and Yousaf Raza Gilani talks of de-linking action on terrorism from progress on the composite dialog process between India and Pakistan.  After months of belligerence and posturing, this is how it all ends.  In a climbdown most ignominious.  From no dialog without action against 26/11 perpetrators, to a mandate to only discuss state sponsored terrorism, to a surrender so meek, it would make the Saddam that emerged from the hole look like Samson.

The sharm in Sharm el-Sheikh means “bay” in Arabic; perhaps, in their enthusiasm to renew composite dialog with Pakistan, India’s diplomats were remiss in accurately translating the term, taking it instead for its literal meaning in Hindi.  Pakistan no longer has any reason to do anything substantive with regard to bringing the handlers of the 26/11 carnage to justice.  The Hafiz Saeed drama will continue, and Pakistan will weave such a tangled web of contradictory statements on any potential point of progress, that it will have India and its media in coils for long enough for any resolution of the issue to be meaningless.

The text of the joint statement also mentions Baluchistan in name, a reference to Pakistani allegations on India’s involvement in secessionist movements in that province.  Clearly, full marks for thinking outside the box.  Why stop there — India should have acquiesced to a blurb about the Indian mission in Jalalabad and to insinuations about anti-national movements in Sindh, and the humiliation would have been complete.

To be clear, the resumption of dialog between India and Pakistan is important.  Not only is it important, it is the only available course of action to India, as The Filter Coffee has previously pointed out.  After the months of inertia that plagued India’s initial demand for no-strings-attached action on 26/11,  there could have been but one outcome on the composite dialog at Sharm el-Sheikh.

A resolution on this could have been achieved pragmatically and honorably, without the need to strike such a mind boggling compromise.  Vague cases will be made that this issue will be quietly addressed through backroom diplomacy.  But backroom diplomacy on an issue as critical as this, if not backed up by public pressure to act will yield nothing.  Sustainable pressure to act on the issue, both on the UPA and on the Pakistani government will be absent.

De-linking terrorism from composite dialog creates two isuses.  One, it raises questions on the credibility of the composite dialog process itself, when the issue that is front-and-center of India-Pakistani relations is specifically excluded from it.  And second, it will comfort the terrorists and their sponsors in Islamabad that India’s capacity for punitive diplomatic/military action against them in the event of mounting terror attacks on Indian soil is effectively zero.  Deterrence is about inducing the fear of retribution in response to an attack.  In the case of India, our deterrence capability on the issue of terrorism, whose credibility was low to begin with, is now null and void.

It is time Manmohan Singh came clean with the Indian public on how his government will address Pakistan’s propensity to use terrorism as an instrument of state policy against India.  190 civilians from 10 countries, including India, died on November 26, 2008 at the hands of terrorists who were recruited and trained in Pakistan.  What we expected at Sharm el-Sheikh was a reiteration of commitment from Pakistan (to act against terror aimed at India) and from India (to ensure that Pakistan’s committment is carried through).  What we saw instead was India’s abject, quivering surrender.

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Non-proliferation Doubletalk

The recent statement at the G-8 summit in L’aquila calling all non-signatories to “immediately” sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and banning the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technologies to non-NPT signatories, was perhaps unexpected, but not altogether shocking.  The statement comes prior to the visit of Secretary Clinton to India in August, who, like her husband before her, is a strong proponent of the regime, and of the necessity of bringing the pariahs — India, Israel and Pakistan — into the fold of the mainstream.

The symbolism should not be lost on India.  The country is quite self-sufficient in ENR technology, and for every member that refuses to play ball, there are others that are more than willing.  The statement doesn’t affect India’s quest for cost effective no-ENR-strings-attached nuclear deals with suppliers much — as Indrani Bagchi points out in her blog — but it does point to the unraveling of the non-proliferation agenda being prepared by the Obama Administration to be thrust down our throats.

India, therefore, should fully expect mounting international and US pressure to sign the NPT prior to the 2010 NPT RevCon.  Secretary Clinton will no doubt take the opportunity to raise the issue during bilateral discussions next month.  The Japanese, as notorious on the issue as they always were, have made repeated calls this year for India to sign the NPT as a non-nuclear weapons state.

Rajiv Gandhi in a speech at the Third Special Session of the UN in 1988 elucidated India’s stance on the issue:

We cannot accept the logic that a few nations have the right to pursue their security by threatening the survival of mankind…nor is it acceptable that those who possess nuclear weapons are freed of all controls while those without nuclear weapons are policed against their production.

This UPA administration has shown a remarkable ability to undo relationships and depart from the country’s long held positions with stealth and great haste.  This blogger hopes that the NPT issue will not fall prey to uninformed meddling.  India needs to make it very clear to Secretary Clinton and others like her championing the NPT cause, that the nation continues to harbor significant reservations on the structure and spirit of the regime that effectively prevent it from being a signatory.

It has long been India’s official position that India cannot and will not participate in a discriminatory regime that would seek to legitimize the possession of nuclear weapons by some nations, while denying similar rights to others. It has also been India’s stated commitment to universal global nuclear disarmament.  Signining the NPT would give credence to nuclear aparthied and provide currency to the notion that some countries have a greater right to self defence than others.

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