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First five IAF Rafale jets reaching India today

Ashish Singh

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India took a significant step in strengthening air power and defence preparedness with the first five Rafale fighter aircraft, built by Dassault, flying out from Merignac airbase in Bordeaux, France, to India on Monday. This also marks a new milestone in the strong and growing India-France defense cooperation. The Rafale aircraft will cover a distance of nearly 7,000 km from France to India with air-to-air refuelling and a single stop en route in UAE. They are scheduled to reach India on 29 July 2020.

In accordance with the contract, Indian Air Force pilots and supporting personnel have been provided full training on aircraft and weapon systems by Dassault. Further batches of Indian Air Force personnel will continue the training over the next nine months.

The first Rafale fighter was handed over to the Indian Air Force (IAF) in October 2019 in a ceremony attended by the French Minister for Armed Forces Madame Florence Parly and the Indian Defence Minister Mr. Rajnath Singh. Delivery of ten aircraft has been completed on schedule. Five will stay back in France for a training mission. The delivery of all thirty six aircraft will be completed on schedule by the end of 2021.

The Rafale aircraft will cover a distance of nearly 7,000 km from France to India with air-to-air refuelling and a single stop en route in the UAE.

India’s Ambassador to France Jawed Ashraf was there to see off the Rafale aircraft on Monday. He said that the long awaited and much needed two squadrons of Rafale would add great strength to IAF and our defence capabilities. He met the Indian Air Force pilots and wished them a safe flight to India. He congratulated them on becoming the first Indian pilots to fly one of the world’s most advanced and potent fighter aircraft and wished them success in meeting the nation’s expectation of playing an important role in India’s defence. He also thanked French Air force for support and Dassault for delivering the aircraft on schedule despite the ongoing pandemic crisis. Éric Trappier, Chairman Dassault Aviation and Air Commodore Hilal Ahmad Rather, the Air Attaché to France, were also present on the occasion apart from other officials.

 India and France have a long history of cooperation in fighter aircraft, which includes India›s acquisition of French Toofanis in 1953, then Mystere, Jaguars and the Mirages. In a gesture of friendship, the Government of France will send an aircraft with medical equipment and experts on 26 July to support India›s efforts against the Covid-19 Pandemic.

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Defence

CCP taking over Nepal: Oli is just the tip of the iceberg

While Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s recent behaviour is the most visible part of the CCP’s growing influence in Nepal, there is far more that needs to be recognised.

Ashish Singh

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The ongoing political crisis in Nepal has caught the attention of the world. The casual observer may be forgiven for dismissing it as an isolated incident, caused by the internal fault lines in Kathmandu’s ruling political dispensation. This is both an incorrect and a dangerous assumption, since it overlooks the radical changes which are being pushed in Nepal by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). While PM K.P. Sharma Oli’s recent behaviour is the most visible part of the CCP’s influence in Nepal, there is far more that needs to be recognised.

Ever since the Nepal Communist Party led coalition regained power in Kathmandu in 2018, the CCP has unleashed a multi-pronged strategy to bring the Himalayan nation under its absolute control. The trademark Chinese strategies of ‘debt trap through development’ and ‘territorial salami slicing’ have been supplemented by overt ‘political interference’ and ‘social engineering’. In the last two years alone, the effects of this all-out effort have been felt by the people of Nepal across their country. This is an example of the CCP using its Sun Tzu inspired playbook for ‘winning without fighting’, and it is vital that the people of Nepal as well as all stakeholders in Nepal’s future, realise the gravity of the situation and act before it is too late.

The principal manifestation of China’s interest in Nepal is the Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network. 20 projects associated with this Network were signed between the two countries, as part of the Belt and Road Initiative when Xi Jinping visited Kathmandu in October 2019. Xi’s visit was the first by a Chinese Head of State in 23 years and underscored the growing importance of Kathmandu in Beijing’s plans for South Asia. Interestingly, the centre piece of this Network is a Kathmandu-Kerung railway line, which is estimated to cost 2.3 billion USD. This approximates to 10% of Nepal’s GDP – how the project would ever become economically viable remains unclear. If anything, the major quantity of trade carried would be from China to Nepal, which in time, would exacerbate debt issues for the latter. Echoes of Sri Lanka’s Hambantota experience loom large in this case!

 The minor territorial disagreements between India and Nepal have drawn much political attention in recent weeks. This issue will undoubtedly be addressed bilaterally in the days ahead. In the same period, PM Oli has quietly ceded 36 hectares of Nepalese territory to China. This has been caused by CCP’s unilateral constructions on rivers in Tibet (Autonomous Region), regardless of the impact on lower riparian nations. In Nepal’s case, changes in the routes of rivers have changed the defacto border at 11 locations in just two years. In addition, the Rui village of Nepal found itself becoming a part of China recently… leaving the 72 Nepali families there stranded in a foreign country! There has been no official pushback from Nepal on these aspects.

Mount Everest has been a major source of tourism for Nepal over the last several decades. However, with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the peak has been closed for a few months now. The CCP immediately seized the opportunity to ‘capture the peak’, which lies close to the border between Nepal and Tibet (Autonomous Region). Recently, a team of scientists and surveyors sponsored by the CCP climbed the peak from the Tibetan side to identify suitable locations for the Chinese 5G network. A Chinese daily also claimed that the peak, called Qomlangma in Chinese, lies in Tibet. It has long been a strategy for the CCP to gradually change the status quo by renaming a feature, developing it, and thereafter claiming full ownership. This has been seen in multiple locations in the South China Sea and an effort is definitely being made to gradually seize ownership of the world-famous mountain, which has long been a source of pride and revenue for the people of Nepal.

Socially conditioning the citizens of Nepal for greater control by Beijing is also underway. The most overt action has been the forceful implementation of ‘Mandarin’ classes in Nepal’s schools. While this has been disguised as a ‘trade-off’ for payment of teachers’ salaries, it is undoubtedly an attempt to enhance Chinese influence over the population. Moreover, Chinese tourists in Nepal have steadily grown over the years, and have become a mainstay of the tourism sector. Weaponisation of tourism by Beijing has already been seen in South Korea, and the potential impact of this on Nepal’s economy provides significant power to the CCP.

The CCP has used this power effectively to gradually step up its influence on the Nepalese Communist Party (NCP). A series of interactions and ideological exchanges have taken place in recent times. According to some observers, the CCP aims to gradually shift the NCP’s political ideology towards the recently formulated Xi Jingping Thought. This would allow the Chinese Premier to become the ‘de facto’ leader of the NCP (like Mao had been for some Communist parties in the region) giving the CCP near absolute control over Nepal.

Implementing this strategy has required very nimble and strong local effort, which has been made possible by Hou Yangi, Beijing’s Ambassador at Kathmandu. Hou, who has previously served in Islamabad, has established unprecedented ties with the senior political and military leadership of Nepal. She is said to have complete access to the Prime Minister, Chief of Army Staff as well as the Ministers of Defence, Foreign Affairs, Tourism, etc. Hou has also established a huge social media following in Nepal and has recently also been seen as instrumental in drawing Chinese tourists and trade to Nepal in large volume.

In the last week of April 2020, when PM Oli was nearly removed from office by the ruling alliance, Hou met with leaders of all political factions in a series of closed door, intense meetings which ultimately allowed PM Oli to cling on to his chair. It is understood that the core message of these interactions was — “if we remove Oli, then India wins… which is unacceptable”.

Such overt and aggressive political influence would undoubtedly have raised objections from the political class and the media. However, local media houses have allegedly been warned off from such reporting. It is alarming how the political representation of the proud Nepalese people has been quietly and comprehensively subjugated by the CCP.

Beijing has made it no secret that it views itself as the leader in Asia and seeks to establish a hierarchical structure with itself at the apex. The implications of these ambitions for the people of smaller countries like Nepal, could be significant. Oli’s anti-India stance highlights how effective the CCP has been so far… and how the ancient cultural, traditional and civilisational relations between our two nations are being eroded. It is essential that the people of Nepal, as well as India and all other nations which have a stake in the future stability of the region, realise the extent of the CCP’s expansionist plans and act now, in concert, to safeguard the future of the Himalayan nation.

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Defence

New appointments in Western and Central Air Commands

Air Marshal V.R. Chaudhari is the new Western Air Command Chief; Air Marshal autonomous free flight D.K. Patnaik becomes the Central Air Command Senior Air Staff Officer.

Ashish Singh

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Air Marshal V.R. Chaudhari has been appointed as the new Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Western Air Command, Indian Air Force (IAF). The Air Marshal took over command from Air Marshal B. Suresh. Air Marshal V.R. Chaudhari was commissioned into Fighter Stream of the IAF on 29 December 1982 as a Fighter Pilot. In a distinguished career spanning nearly 38 years, the Air Officer has flown wide variety of fighter and trainer aircraft in the inventory of IAF. He has a flying experience of more than 3800 hrs, including operational flying on MiG-21, MiG-23 MF, MiG 29 and Su30 MKI fighter aircraft.

During his illustrious career in the IAF, the Air Officer has held numerous important appointments. He was Commanding Officer of a frontline fighter squadron and has also commanded a frontline Fighter Base. As an Air Vice Marshal, he held the coveted appointments of Assistant Chief of Air Staff Operations (Air Defence), Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Personnel Officers) at Air HQ Vayu Bhawan. As an Air Marshal, he held the appointment of Deputy Chief of the Air Staff at Air HQ Vayu Bhawan. Prior to his present appointment, he was the Senior Air Staff Officer, Eastern Air Command. The Air Marshal is an alumnus of the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington. In recognition of his distinguished service, the Air Marshal was awarded Vayu Sena Medal in January 2004 and the Ati Vishist Seva Medal in January 2015.

Air Marshal D.K. Patnaik

Meanwhile, Air Marshal Dilip Kumar Patnaik has been appointed as the new Senior Air Staff Officer (SASO), of Central Air Command (CAC), Indian Air Force (IAF). The Air Marshal was commissioned into Fighter stream of the IAF on 8 June 1984 as a Fighter Pilot. The officer has flown wide variety of fighter and trainer aircraft in the inventory of IAF. He has a flying experience of more than 2500 hrs including operational flying on MiG-21 and Mirage-2000 fighter aircraft. He was also a Mission Commander on Searcher MK-II & Heron Aircraft with nearly 800 hours on type.

 During his illustrious career in the IAF, the Air Officer has held numerous important appointments. He was Commanding Officer of a frontline Fighter Squadron and has also commanded a frontline Fighter Base. As an Air Vice Marshal, he has held the coveted appointments of Chief Staff Officer (Air Vector) at HQ Strategic Forces Command and Assistant Chief of Air Staff Operations (Air Defence) at Air HQ Vayu Bhawan. Prior to assuming the present appointment he was Commandant of the Prestigious College of Air Warfare. He is an alumnus of Defence Services Staff College and done the Higher Air Command Course. In recognition of his distinguished service, the Air Marshal was awarded Vayu Sena Medal (Gallantry) in Aug 99 and Ati Vishist Seva Medal in Jan 2020, by the President of India.

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Defence

VSR700 prototype performs first autonomous free flight

Ashish Singh

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The prototype of Airbus Helicopters’ VSR700 unmanned aerial system (UAS) has performed its first free flight. The VSR700 performed a ten-minute flight at a drone test centre near Aixen-Provence in the south of France. This is a significant step in the programme following the first flight in November 2019 when the prototype was tethered to comply with regulatory requirements.

 To enable this free flight, Airbus Helicopters implemented geofencing, a virtual perimeter, which enabled and justified a flight clearance from airworthiness authorities for free flight. The flight test programme will now evolve to progressively open the flight envelope. “The free flight achieved by the VSR700 is a major step leading up to the sea trials that will be performed at the end of 2021 as part of the de-risking studies for the French Navy’s future drone,” said Bruno Even, Airbus Helicopters CEO. “Thanks to the French PlanAero, the programme will make full use of two demonstrators and an optionally piloted vehicle to develop and mature the technical and operational aspects for successful UAS operations in a naval environment.” The VSR700, derived from Helicopteres Guimbal’s Cabri G2, is an unmanned aerial system in the 500- 1000 kg maximum takeoff weight range. It offers the best balance of payload capability, endurance and operational cost. It is capable of carrying multiple full-size naval sensors for extended periods and can operate from existing ships, alongside a helicopter, with a low logistical footprint. This VSR700 prototype has evolved over the last nine months since its maiden flight. The programme implemented the geofencing function, as well as a Flight Termination System allowing the mission to be ended if necessary. Modifications have equally been performed to the air vehicle, alongside autopilot software evolutions and updates, as well as structural modifications and reinforcements.

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Defence

Western Air Command chief B. Suresh retires

Ashish Singh

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Air Marshal B. Suresh, Air Officer Commanding-inChief, Western Air Command, Indian Air Force, superannuated on 31 July 2020 after an illustrious career spanning nearly 40 years. The Air Marshal was commissioned as a Fighter Pilot in the Indian Air Force in the year 1980. An alumnus of the Rashtriya Indian Military College, Dehradun and National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla, the Air Marshal is a ‘Sword of Honour’ recipient from the Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment. The Air Officer did his post graduation from the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington and from Cranfield University, Shrivenham, UK.

 Air Marshal Suresh is a highly experienced Fighter Pilot and has flown a variety of aircraft. During his distinguished career, the Air Marshal held a number of coveted Command and Staff appointments. He commanded a Fighter Squadron which specialised in maritime and night air strikes and was deployed along the western border during the Kargil conflict. Before taking over the appointment of Director Operations (Joint Planning) which is responsible for Tri-service coordination, he commanded Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment. The Air Marshal has commanded one of the largest air bases of the IAF in the western sector as an Air Commodore. He was also the Air Assistant to the Chief of Air Staff. As an Air Vice Marshal, he held the important appointed of Assistant Chief of Air Staff, Operations (Air Defence) for nearly four years, wherein he was also the Air Force member of the Tri-service Joint Operations Committee (JOCOM).

Widely acclaimed as a strategist and tactician of repute within Air Force circles, he is credited with having been the mastermind behind IAF’s superlative performance during Exercise Cope India 2004 – the first International bilateral exercise with the United States Air Force, held after a gap of nearly 40 years. He was again nominated as the ‘Exercise Director’ for the first ever bilateral exercise with the Republic of Singapore Air Force – Ex SINDEX 2004 – where once again, the IAF excelled. The role played by the Air Officer in ensuring IAF’s recognition internationally as a force to reckon with was acknowledged by awarding him the Presidential award of Ati Vishist Seva Medal (AVSM). He, as a Group Captain, was one of the youngest recipients of the Presidential Award.

After being promoted to the rank of Air Marshal in 2014, he was appointed as the Senior Air Staff Officer (SASO) of Western Air Command wherein he brought about remarkable improvements in the operational orientation and battle readiness of the Command with increased synergy with the three associated Commands of the Indian Army viz – Northern Command, Western Command and South Western Command. As Air Officer-in-Charge Personal (AOP) at Air Headquarters, his decisions and foresight left a significant impact. He was instrumental in initiating online conduct of Air Force Common Admission Test (AFCAT) and Scheduled Test for Airmen Recruitment (STAR) – the recruitment examination for officers and airmen respectively.

The Air Marshal was the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Southern Air Command prior to his appointment as Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Air Command. Under his leadership, Southern Air Command grew exponentially in capability and functionality. The entire ‘Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) efforts during the Kerala floods in 2018 were spearheaded by Southern Air Command under his leadership. This was one of the highest intensity HADR efforts undertaken by IAF in recent history.

During his tenure as the AOC-in-C Western Air Command, he ensured a high state of operational and security preparedness and laid the foundation for the induction of the formidable Rafale fighter into the IAF. He has also been instrumental in operationalisation, both by day and night, of IAF’s new inductions viz., Chinook heavy-lift helicopter and Apache attack helicopter. In a first of sorts, airfields in Ladakh sector were operationalised for night fighter operations, thus giving a tremendous boost to 24X7 capabilities of IAF.

 The Air Marshal is a highly decorated officer having been awarded Vayu Sena Medal, Ati Vishisht Seva Medal and the Param Vishisht Seva Medal in recognition of his distinguished and dedicated service to the Nation. He was also appointed as Honorary Aide-de-Camp to the President of India.

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Defence

Tribute to the fallen soldiers at Tulihal Airport in Imphal

Ashish Singh

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To honour the supreme sacrifice made by Havildar (GD) Pranay Kalita, Rifleman (GD) Methna Konyak and Rifleman (GD) Ratan Salam of the Assam Rifles, who laid down their lives in the line of duty on 29 July 2020 in Manipur, a wreath-laying ceremony with full military honours was organised at Tulihal Airport, Imphal, on Friday. During the solemn occasion, wreaths were laid to pay homage to the fallen soldiers by N Biren Singh, CM of Manipur, L Shushindro, MLA, LM Khaute, DGP- Manipur, Brigadier DS Shishodia, Dy IG Assam Rifles (South), Brig Deepak Joshi, Commander, 9 Sector Assam Rifles and Col Prashant Misra, Col ‘A’ 57 Mountain Division.

They were killed in action on Thursday in an ambush laid by the PLA, a Manipur based insurgents group near India- Myanmar border. The sacrifice of the fallen soldiers hailing from Manipur, Nagaland and Assam, truly represents the idea of unity in diversity – the strength of our nation and the Assam Rifles. Assam Rifles remains committed to the security of the nation and will continue to uphold it’s ideals in it’s pursuit to defeat secessionist forces.

Havildar (GD) Pranay Kalita, a resident of Barpeta, Assam, is survived by his wife and two daughters, while Rifleman (GD) Methna Konyak, a resident of Mon District, Nagaland is survived by his wife and daughter. Rifleman Ratan Salam is a resident of Kakching Makha Leikai, Manipur and he has left behind his wife and two sons. They were dedicated, brave and courageous soldiers of the Assam Rifles. The nation salutes their supreme sacrifice made in the highest traditions of the Force in service of the nation. In this hour of grief, the Assam Rifles stands firm in its solem commitment to ensure the welfare of the families of the fallen soldiers.

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Defence

DIAT develops medical bed isolation system for Covid-19 patients

Ashish Singh

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In current pandemic, due to continuous increase of Covid-19 positive patients, the requirement of number of beds are increasing day by day. Defence Institute of Advanced Technology, (DIAT) in Pune has developed ‘Aashray’, the Medical Bed Isolation System to combat Covid-19 by stopping/ minimising the spread of virus/ infection released by the patient. This is a low cost, reusable solution to maintain proper isolation of Covid-19 patients by creating suction /negative pressure near exhale, and further filtering and disinfecting the aerosol.

Bed Isolation System envelopes are made up of specialised material and manufacturing process with transparent and translucent 7.5(l) ×7(w) ×6.5(h) ft3 size supported on medical grade materials structure. The product is modular and portable in design and can be suitable for different requirements such as institutional, hospitals and home/ individual quarantine. The envelope is reusable as it is antibacterial&anti-fungal and can be sanitised.

Each envelope is capable of housing one set of bed, table and chair along with some walking space. The width of the envelope can be adjusted as per the availability of space. Envelope is opaque up to 3ft from bottom to maintain privacy of the patient. The entire envelope is maintained at a low pressure (suction) with adjustable flow rate to restrain spread of virus/ infection inside the hall/ ICU. Each envelope is connected to the main duct equipped with UV light and filter circuit of Pre, fine and HEPA filter (recommended for medical application) and suction blower. The cross flow of air from top of the envelope towards the main duct is regulated (with a flap valve) as per comfort conditions of the patient. The virus/contaminants are continuously sucked through the duct and accumulated at the filters which are projected with UV light. The suction blower throws the filtered and contamination free air to outside environment. As per prototype manufacturer (M/s Cleancore Solutions Pvt Ltd. Bhosari, Pune) the cost of the setup for a unit of 10 beds is 1 lakh approximately and for home quarantine will be 15,000 for single bed.

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