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India’s ‘Quadratic’ Equations

It can’t be business as usual for India. On the global stage, the country needs to have the confidence of making hard choices based on its interests. We must get our ‘Quad-ratic’ equations right.

LT GEN PR SHANKAR (Retd)

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India has reinforced the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with 35,000 troops. It is considering banning more Chinese apps. Chinese entities are being excluded from—telecom, railways, non-essentials, infrastructure and more. Our stance against the Chinese is hardening. The question is: Should we continue to do it alone or as part of the Quad? Needs a logical examination.

In the article “Quad 2.0 and Tianxia”, it was brought out that China is waging an intensifying multi-domain war. Despite India being in the forefront to contend it, our external environment is fast deteriorating.

The three-pronged Chinese threat: First, China is trying to settle the LAC as per its perception with a Nine Dash Line approach—do what you may, we will do what we want. Reports of deployment of troops in the Central Sector are surfacing. The direct threat is explicit. Second, the threat through Nepal and Pakistan is transparent. The PLA hand behind the recent attack on our troops in Manipur is suspected. Myanmar is being pressurised to join the BRI. Bangladesh is veering sharply towards China. Bhutan is under pressure on the Sakteng issue. The indirect and insidious threat is manifesting in increasing proportions. Third, the recent Iran-China deal reduces Indian influence in West Asia and constricts our gateway to CARs. With Iran and Pakistan in its lap, Afghanistan falls into the Chinese plate. An alternative CPEC axis via Gilgit Baltistan-Afghanistan-Iran opens up. China gets to control Gwadar and Chabahar. Chinese dreams of a twoocean superpower seem real. This puts our IOR strategy at greater risk. Overall, the Chinese footprint is expanding exponentially.

Two-toned Pakistan: While dealing with an impoverished Pakistan of 200 plus million radicalised people headed by an ineffectual government, we must contend with the supra national Pakistani Army (China-funded) with regained “Strategic Space” in Afghanistan. The threat from Pakistan hereafter could also be a Chinese one. These two tones will get more complex and jarring.

Internal dimension

Reality check: Internally our status is tight. Lack of political consensus or internal strength even when China is at the gates is disturbing. The future political landscape appears fractured which China to exploit. Coronavirus is raging unabated. While coping with health issues, the effect on the economy is debilitating. The industry is working at 30% efficiency. Our economy will not rebound soon. In a couple of years, we might stabilise if we decouple successfully from China, attract relocation and make Aatmanirbharta a great success. Our strength will grow only thence. Our defense establishment is off track. Lack of budgets, inability to procure, fast track imports during every conflict, lack of long-term focus or priority, bureaucratic ineptitude and many more issues will constrain capacity building. OFB unions going on strike when war is imminent! Still amending DPPs and procurement rules? Oh bureaucracy! Our ‘neighbour first’ policy is in tatters with China being ‘first’ with all our neighbors. Overall, the mirror on the wall suggests that India cannot tackle China on its own. It might hold it off now. But just that. There is no Cinderella story around.

Options: What are the options available to keep China at bay? First, go alone. Only feasible when India’s comprehensive national strength relative to China improves. Second, form an alliance or partnership with Southeast Asian Nations who are also affected by China. A sort of “Chini Peedith Samaj”. Even if it is done, the combined heft cannot stop China. India cannot sail into the South China Sea for glory. The others are not strong to come to our rescue. Third, join the Quad. That needs examination and understanding.

Quad equations

US: India and the US are the largest democracies with increasing interest convergence on bilateral, regional and global issues. The Indian American community is a thriving US ethnic group of increasing consequence. India-US bilateral relations have matured into a “global strategic partnership”. We have a major civil nuclear cooperation agreement. We are major defence partners. The India-US Defence Relations framework has culminated in the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Association (LEMOA) and Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA). We conduct more bilateral exercises with each other than any other country. Progressively, we are getting more defence equipment from the US. Most importantly we have a common adversary. Only India and the US can take on China in a military confrontation.

Japan: Indo-Japanese religious and cultural relations date back to the 6th century through Buddhism. Prominent Indians associated with Japan include Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore, J.R.D. Tata, and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Bilateral ties have been singularly free of any kind of dispute—ideological, cultural or territorial. The ubiquitous Maruti Suzuki transformed India in the 1980s. Japan has always stood by India including bailing it out during the balance of payments crisis in the 1990s. Indo-Japanese relations have grown stronger with time. India and Japan have a Special Strategic and Global Partnership (2000) and have inked the India-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA in 2011). Put it simply. Japan has been India’s trusted friend. The Quad is Japan’s initiative. Japan and India are the only countries with territorial disputes with China.

Australia: Indo-Australian ties date back to the Commonwealth. Notwithstanding this, the relationship was lukewarm since both countries existed in separate strategic spheres. Ties in cricket were greater. China’s rise has driven both towards greater cooperation. We entered into a Strategic Partnership in 2009. Worsening ties have forced Australia to completely reassess its relationship with China. At the same time Australia and India entered into a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership recently.

The Equation: The Quad nations are democracies with which India has historical equations. We have common economic and security interests. India has an ongoing 2 plus 2 dialogue with a comprehensive strategic partnership with all the countries. Converting this multilateral arrangement into a formal/ semi-formal Quad arrangement is the next step. Till recently India did not commit fully to the Quad since it had a border relationship and deep economic ties with China. However, the changed geopolitical equations make India potentially one of the strongest pillars of the Quad. If the Quad has to be of substance India needs to play a big role. The talk that the US will use India and will let it down is self-serving sanctimony. If India wants to join the Big League, it should learn to play in it. It should have the confidence to look after its interests in any condition. The Quad is not an IndiaUS deal. It is four nations supporting each other with each stabilising the others.

Quadratic solution

The effect: Quad nations have already conveyed unequivocally that Chinese assertiveness has limits. Space for China to scare smaller nations into submission is reducing. India taking on China militarily and enhanced US presence in the South China Sea has emboldened Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines to declare that Chinese claims in the South China Sea are illegal. Their resolve to get involved with decoupling and relocation from China is apparent. Militarily, the worst case option for China is a two front situation. The current situation allows the Quad to refine and develop scenarios to tackle China militarily in future also. While land forces need not come to aid for each other, the air and naval forces can. A couple of air and naval exercises (which are on the cards) are good enough for China to get the message. Very importantly the Quad gives a framework for military cooperation in communication, logistics’, intelligence and strategic movement.

Economic framework: The opportunity value of an economic framework is far greater. Indian economy can only revive if it becomes a base for relocated manufacturing and be part of the global supply chain. Quad is an ideal platform for that since it is a combination of raw material, manufacturing, consuming and innovating nations. Also, China is not a country which is endowed with resources. Resources and raw materials come from outside. Quad enables leveraging this capacity collectively. It also gives India the counter leverage in the neighbourhood. There is already a talk of Quad Plus with Vietnam, South Korea and New Zealand joining in. Taiwan will automatically come in to increase the economic weight. So the economic angle is taking shape and will be heavy. It will spill over to the regional nations and EU eventually.

Diplomacy: The US, Japan and Australia have come out openly to support India. Strong Australian support is clearly the Quad effect. Something unheard of in the past. The pressure on China on issues pertaining to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang can only come through a joint diplomatic effort.

‘Quad-ratic’ format: The Quad can operate in three formats. It can carry on as an ‘Informal Grouping’ as of now. One can see certain coordinated actions and reactions on play. However informal groupings can be divided and dissipate due to trivial factors. They are suboptimal. The Quad can become an ‘Alliance’. A very big ask for all countries in the pandemic situation. The middle path is a ‘partnership’ with a formal framework and a consultative mechanism for dialogue and action. Yet each country can retain a degree of freedom to pursue its other interests. The middle path of a ‘partnership’ suits all including India the best at present.

The crunch

Whatever has brought India this far will not take it where it wants to go. The point of diminishing returns has arrived. ‘Change of Course’ will have to be more than rhetoric. Can we do business as unusual? On the global stage, India needs to have the confidence of making hard choices based on its interests. Look at it from any point of view: Do we have a better choice? We must get our “Quad-ratic” equations right.

Lt Gen P.R. Shankar was India’s DG Artillery. He is highly decorated and qualified with vast operational experience. He contributed significantly to the modernisation and indigenisation of Artillery. He is now a Professor in the Aerospace Dept of IIT Madras and is involved in applied research for defence technology. His other articles can be read on his blog www. gunnersshot.com.

Defence

Dragon is in for surprise from India

China needs to be reminded of ground realities of Ladakh, which is characterised by High Altitude Area to Super High Altitude Area terrain demanding extraordinary standard of physical endurance, a quality which reportedly is lacking in PLA soldiers who are mostly hailing from urban areas.

Lt Gen Dushyant Singh (retd.)

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India-China border tensions flare up

The old proverb, “Empty vessels make the most noise” fits aptly on Hu Xijin, editor- in-chief of Global Times (GT), China. Following the Foreign Minister-level talks, Xijin tweeted that “PLA is prepared to strike against Indian troops.” He went on to add that PLA was ready to strike a heavy blow to Indian troops. The statement was followed by a series of articles indirectly threatening India to acquiesce to Chinese stand or else face the consequences which would be detrimental to Indian interests. Some excerpts from a GT article are, “India has no chance of winning the LAC war.” Likewise, another ex- tract from the same article reads, “We must remind the Indian side that China‘s national strength, including its military strength, is much stronger than India’s… If a border war starts, India will have no chance of winning.”

Selective memory

China needs to be reminded of ground realities of Ladakh region, which is characterised by High Altitude Area (HAA) to Super High Altitude Area (SHAA) terrain demanding extraordinary standard of physical endurance, a quality which reportedly is lacking in PLA soldiers who are mostly hailing from urban areas. While the Chinese media continues to target India through information war by highlighting their victory over India in 1962, it fails to recollect the humiliating defeat of 1967. PLA suffered 340 killed and 450 injured at the hands of Indian Army. In comparison, 88 Indian Soldiers were killed in action and 163 injured. Also, it has glibly blanked out the severe blow inflicted by Indian Army on PLA soldiers in Galwan clashes. As per US intelligence reports, 35 soldiers including several officers of PLA were killed/injured in the incident. Some sources peg this number at 45.

The Fallacy of Type 15 Light Tanks: It has been flaunting its light Tank Type 15 as the game changer in Ladakh but seems to have overlooked that tanks are of very limited value in the rugged HAA and SHAA mountains. Light footed all pervasive Infantry with its missiles and rockets will play merry hell with the thinly armoured so called light tanks of China. Every fold of the ground in the Indus and Spanggur valley will become an obstacle for the Type 15 tanks. We must also not forget that it is a challenge to operate and maintain these tanks at SHAA of Ladakh due to the extreme cold climate. It is no brainer that India has an edge over China in this domain as well. Moreover, Type 15 tanks weigh 33 tons and when fully loaded would touch 35 tons. By no stretch of imagination, they can be termed as light tanks. The slow moving tanks will be dead ducks for our infantry men. Further, India also has been able to induct its T72 and T90 tanks in the region. Moreover, we must not forget that Type 15 tanks of the Chinese do not have any battle experience unlike the Indian T 72 and T 90s. Combination of Infantry and T 72 will cause havoc in the Chinese camp for sure.

Battle Hardy and Seasoned Indian Troops: Someone also needs to re- mind the Chinese of the fate PLA met in Vietnam in 1979. When faced with battle hardened soldiers like that of India and Vietnam, Han soldiers predominantly hailing from urban areas will wilt under pressure. The Battle of Pork Chop Hill with Vietnam seems to have faded from the memory of PLA Commanders. Chinese do not seem to consider that Himalayas have a way of teaching a lesson to armies that disregard its might especially when confronted with highly spirited, motivated and battle-scarred soldiers from India. Battle worthiness of Indian soldiers is unmatched in comparison to China. Indian Army has been fighting an ongoing proxy war with Pakistan for the last three decades in J&K. It is successfully operating on the highest battlefield of the world Siachen since the mid-80s and fought three successful wars post 1962. Its valour on the super high altitude Kargil Mountains where even walking is a challenge leave aside fighting with full battle loads remains unmatched by any army in the world. What makes the Indian army stand apart from the others is its strong regimental spirit, absolute loyalty towards the nation and never say die spirit. On the contrary, chocolate soldiers of China have never seen a conflict since 1979. That India will win easily is a foregone conclusion which is not based on nationalistic rhetoric but on irrefutable and logical military arguments enumerated in succeeding paragraphs.

Logistics infrastructure

Estimated Current Force Levels: As per some open source reports, China has amassed over two Divisions in the Sector. Further based on the reported movement of vehicles in the last few weeks opposite the Ladakh Sector, we may safely assume that China would enhance the numbers to 3 to 4 Divisions. It has also inducted additional tanks, artillery, and aircrafts opposite us. However, are they prepared logistically? We also need to consider that China does not mobilize such large troops in this sector as a matter of regular practice. They were forced to do so as a reaction to an unexpected level of resistance displayed by the Indian Army digging its heels duly supported by national leadership which did not buckle down to Chinese pressure. Hence, there would be a need to undertake logistics preparation before the troops can be launched into operations. Is the available time – frame and the exist- ing infrastructure adequate to undertake a pre-winter operation extending into the harsh winters of Ladakh? A dispassionate analysis of Chinese logistics capability will provide the correct answer to this question.

Availability of Roads and Logistic Staging Areas: China has built six logistic bases that support the Ladakh Region along the sole road artery [G219] that feeds the region. These are starting from the north Zaidullah [Can support two Divisions], Dahong Luitan [Can support two Divi- sions], Rudok [Can support one Division], Shiquanhe [Can support one Division], Kangsiwar [Can support one Division] and Noh [Can support one Division].

These logistic bases are connected by radial roads emanating from G219 to nine forward staging areas. The forward staging areas are starting from the North, TWT, Piu, Khurnak Fort, Dorje Kunjam, Maldo, Gar Gungsa (GordZong), Tashigang and Nupuk. These staging areas are 80- 150 km from the main road artery G219 and capable of supporting two Brigades to a Division. From the forward staging areas, multiple roads are available to support the forward troops. On the face of it, the logistic infrastructure appears flawless and well planned. However, a careful analysis will reveal several constraints in the Chinese logistics supply chain.

Firstly, the entire logistics is based on a single road artillery G 219. Further, large distances lead to greater turnaround time upto these mother depots. Hence, they need greater time to stock. Secondly, G 219 though claimed by China to remain open throughout the year, as per some defence experts is prone to major closures sometimes extending to 10 to 14 days due to harsh weather conditions during the winters. Thirdly, while the connectivity between the forward staging areas to forward troops is good, the forward staging areas themselves are connected by mostly single roads from G 219. This restricts the Chinese logistics supply chain between mother bases on the G 219 and the Forward Staging areas. Fourthly, the nine forward staging areas are a choke point and ideal targets for IAF to disrupt their supply chain. Fifthly, it also necessitates sequential application of forces along these radials. On the other hand, India has multiple connectivity to the Ladakh sector now. Although these roads close during winter, with construction of the Atal tunnel and another all- weather road from Darcha to Leh, this problem has been permanently taken care of. Further roads forward of Leh have now been upgraded and are open throughout the year. These roads only see closure for a very – very short duration due to heavy snowfall. In addition, the Indian air heads in the Ladakh region remain operative almost throughout the year.

Forward Road Connectivity: China has developed five laterals in its most vulnerable and highly sensitive Aksai Chin area. First being to Depsang Plains (areas of PP 10, 11, 11A, 12 & 13). Second to Galwan Valley (PP 14). Third to Hot Springs/Gogra (PP 15 & 17A). Fourth to Pangong Tso North Bank (till Finger 4) and fifth to Pangong Tso South Bank (almost till opposite of Finger 4, where an additional road from Rudok to Spanggur also exists). India with its revised policy is hastening rapid border
infrastructure development. Activation of the DBO airfield and completion of the DSDBO Road, and connectivity in other sectors is unsettling the Chinese. The Chinese see the development of our border road infrastructure as a threat to Aksai Chin. In short, it is advantage India when we superimpose our better fighting capability both by ground forces and the AF.

Air Bases: Seven active air bases are located in Xinjiang and Tibet that will come into play for operations against India. These are Hotan, Gar Gunsa, Kashgar, Hoping, DkonkaDzong, Linzhi and Pangat. Reports suggest that all these airbases have been active in the recent past suggesting that China is still short of being fully ready to take on India in a conventional face off for the time being. Further, given the altitude of these airfields fighters as well as the transport aircrafts will suffer a major load penalty. On the other hand, Indian Aircrafts will take off from air fields located in the plains and would be able to deliver greater TNT on the Chinese. Adding to the problem of high altitude are the large distances of Chinese air bases from the forward staging areas, which will pose a serious challenge in maintaining the forward troops. India on the other hand will operate over shorter distances with forward air heads being much closer to the forward troops. So what India lacks in numbers is compensated in better operating conditions and capabilities? China is conscious of this differential and hence eager to seek a diplomatic solution to the current face off, a fact substantiated by its eagerness to seek RM and EAM level talks with India during the SCO summit to resolve the current face off.

Weapons Equipment and Armaments: The common perception created by numerical data may give an impression that China has an edge on this issue. However, India has been quietly working towards building its stocks and making up its deficiencies to sustain a conflict in harsh and active winters from the time current face off commenced with the Chinese. It has been taking steps to make sure that our troops are fully geared and equipped to face the challenges posed by an adversary blinded by simplistic numerical comparisons.

Game not over till last ball

India is a peace-loving nation and firmly believes in peaceful growth of the entire world in the spirit of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. But if forced to go to war it will not hesitate to fight as it is geared to meet all contingencies. While India and China may not be at par in overall comprehensive national power calculated by social scientists and inter- national relations scholars, intangibles such as human factors, dedication, commitment, and local conditions have the potential to alter the outcome of a military conflict. Locational advantages, external support, terrain and weather conditions if exploited well by a country will produce unexpected results. India enjoys that advantage in Ladakh and its leadership at the national level and military at the operational level is will- ing and fully geared to do so. In comparison, Xi appears driven by personal ambition of being the next great leader of China after Mao even if it means putting his country in danger of losing its hard earned position in the comity of nations.

Lt Gen Dushyant Singh (retd) has served in varied terrains and theatre of operations, in India and in the UN as Military Observer. He has commanded an Infantry Battalion, Brigade and a Division in Jammu and Kashmir. He is currently Professor Emeritus Defence Studies at Gujarat Raksha Shakti University.

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Defence

Indian Army cares for its bravehearts

Ashish Singh

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We don’t know them all, but we owe them all.

Braveheart Late Sub Gandhi Ram Rajbongshi of Assam Regt hailing from Mangaldoi in Darrang District lost his life while serving the nation along the northern borders on 18 December 2000, leaving behind his wife Pabitri Rajbongshi along with a 15-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son. The complete responsibility of upbringing of the family was onto the shoulders of Pabitri Rajbongshi who took on this responsibility as a challenge and acted as an iron lady. She single-handedly raised both her children and helped them pursue their education in the best of schools and colleges possible. Subsequently in the year 2011, her elder daughter Geetanjali got married while her son was still undergoing schooling. In 2018, again a tragedy struck this brave lady of Assam when her son met with a bike accident on 13 June 2018.

The injuries sustained by her son Gagan Rajbongshi were severe and he was hospitalised for over a month for undergoing various minor operations and also facial re-constructive surgery. The total cost of his treatment was around Rs 12 lakh. Pabitri Rajbongshi, as strong as ever, again took over the responsibility of the family and helped her son by providing him the best medical treatment possible. The family wanted to claim the medical expenditure from government but was unable to receive any financial help as they were not registered and availing the ECHS facility.

At this time of need, the Indian Army rose to the occasion, in accordance with its commitment to ensuring welfare and social security of veterans and “veernaris”; the local Indian Army unit en- sured release of one-time grant of Rs 5 lakh from Army Central Welfare Fund (ACWF) to help and support Pabitri Rajbongshi. This reflects the bond which still exists within the organisation, always looking after the ones who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this nation and never ever forgets their sacrifice.

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Defence

Laser Guided ATGM Successfully Test-fire

Ashish Singh

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Laser-guided Anti Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) was successfully test-fired from MBT Arjun Tank at KK Ranges, Armoured Corps Centre and School (ACC&S), Ahmednagar, on Tuesday. In these tests, the ATGM success- fully defeated a target located at 3 km. Laser-guided ATGMs lock and track the targets with the help of laser designation to ensure precision hit accuracy.

The missile employs a tandem HEAT warhead to defeat Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) protected armoured vehicles. It has been developed with multiple-platform launch capability and is currently undergoing technical evaluation trials from gun of MBT Arjun. Armament Research & Development Establishment (ARDE) Pune in association with High Energy Materials Research Laboratory (HEMRL) Pune, and Instruments Research & Development Establishment (IRDE) Dehradun have developed the missile.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh congratulated DRDO for the successfully test firing of the Laser Guided Anti Tank Guided Missile from MBT Arjun at KK Ranges. Secretary DDR&D & Chairman DRDO congratulated DRDO personnel and industry on the successful test firing.

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Defence

INDIA AND AUSTRALIA ALL SET TO KICK OFF NAVAL DRILL IN INDIAN OCEAN TODAY

Ashish Singh

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The Indian Navy is scheduled to undertake a Passage Exercise (PASSEX) with Royal Australian Navy (RAN) in the East Indian Ocean Region from 23-24 September 2020. The exercise would involve participation of HMAS Hobart from the Australian side and Indian Naval Ships Sahyadri and Karmuk. In addition, an Indian MPA and helicopters from both sides would be participating in the exercise.

 The exercise, aimed at enhancing interoperability, improving understanding and imbibing best practices from each other, would involve advanced surface and anti-air exercises including weapon firings, seamanship exercises, naval manoeuvres and Cross Deck Flying Operations. PASSEXs are regularly conducted by Indian Navy with units of friendly foreign navies, whilst visiting each other’s ports or during a rendezvous at sea. This exercise being conducted in the East Indian Ocean Region, reflects the growing strength of Indo-Australian bilateral relations as comprehensive strategic partners, particularly in defence cooperation in the maritime domain. 

The exercise, which is in keeping with the strong bond shared by the two navies, would be another step towards strengthening IndoAustralia defence relations and the continued efforts of both Governments to work closely to enhance safety and security of the global commons in accordance with international regulations. The two navies have built a robust relationship through regular exercises such as AUSINDEX conducted biennially. In the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, the exercise would be conducted strictly as a ‘noncontact activity’ and would not involve any physical contact between the participating personnel of the two navies.

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DRDO conducts successful flight test of ABHYAS

Ashish Singh

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Successful flight test of ABHYAS — High-speed Expendable Aerial Target (HEAT) — was on Monday conducted by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) from the Interim Test Range, Balasore in Odisha. During the trials, two demonstrator vehicles were successfully test flown. The vehicle can be used as target for evaluation of various missile systems. 

Abhyas is designed & developed by Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), DRDO. The air vehicle is launched using twin underslung booster. It is powered by a small gas turbine engine and has MEMS based Inertial Navigation System (INS) for navigation along with the Flight Control Computer (FCC) for guidance and control. The vehicle is programmed for fully autonomous flight. The check out of air vehicle is done using laptop based Ground Control Station (GCS). During the test campaign, the user requirement of 5 km flying altitude, vehicle speed of 0.5 mach, endurance of 30 minutes and 2g turn capability of the test vehicle were successfully achieved. 

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Defence

CORPORATISATION OF OFB: HIGH TIME FOR REAL ACTION

The Ordnance Factory Board is a national strategic asset with eroded roots. It needs a rebuild. If the rebuilding is done effectively, India will benefit immensely.

LT GEN PR SHANKAR (Retd)

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The OFB is similar to the Boeing 737 Max aircraft which was flying with the wrong software and ultimately crashed… — Anonymous

The recent ‘barrel burst’ of the 155 mm ATAGS gun during trials sets the entire development process back by a couple of years. This is not a first-time occurrence. It happened earlier during the development of Dhanush and trials of other guns. In most cases the cause was defective OFB ammunition. In all such cases, procurement processes were set back by two to five years. We did not have the fighting capability for that period. We acquired that capability later at a higher cost. We lost out operationally and financially. Such accidents earn us a very poor international reputation. One foreign vendor even refused to do any trials with OFB ammunition unless each round was X-Rayed. The OFB is now internationally synonymous with poor quality. If  70 lethal accidents per year occur with OFB ammunition such a reputation is natural. This underscores the point that it is high time for corporatisation of the OFB. 

The government has repeatedly stated that it wants to increase defence exports.  One of the main items of defence export is ammunition. However the poor quality of OFB ammunition and its reputation precludes export. As a result, no one will be prepared to buy other associated main equipment also. The general opinion in international circles is that dealing with OFB is like burning your fingers. In case the ‘Quality’ situation and reputation are not salvaged through verifiable reform– bye bye Exports! Our PM and RM should not have a doubt about it. 

 Let us look inwards. Some time back, there were a lot of accidents in Artillery. Faulty  ammunition was suspected. Sure enough, preliminary investigations revealed that some of the mechanical fuses produced by the OFB, were fully armed even when the setting was at ‘safe’. DGQA which is also under the DDP passed these fuses. Hence when guns were fired with defective ammunition, the barrel would burst immediately. It was like Russian roulette since we did not know which fuse was defective out of the lakhs of fuses which were held. It was just lackadaisical assembly and production of fuses amounting to criminal negligence.  In all there were about eight hundred of such defective fuses. If the problem was not rooted out through an elaborate process despite OFB objection and obfuscation, we would have potentially lost eight hundred guns. That is about 1/3rd of our Artillery. In addition to loss of life and limb of trained manpower there would be compensation involved. For the entire period of that investigation and rectification, which lasted years, a complete lot of that ammunition was kept aside and not available for operational purposes. Hence our operational capability went down. During the course of that investigation some of the shells had to be destroyed due to expiry of shelf life. Some ammunition had to be destroyed prematurely. To replace destroyed ammunition we had to put in new orders prematurely, at a greater cost due to inflation. Hence the total costs involved were cost of destroyed equipment in accidents, cost of replacement equipment,  cost of injury to manpower,  cost of training new manpower,  cost of destruction of ammunition and of new ammunition. To all this one can add the administrative costs of prolonged inquiries and investigations. Loss of operational capability is beyond cost. It affects national security. The overall multiplicative loss could be up to five to ten times.  Such cases are not limited to one kind of ammunition. It extends to all kinds of OFB ammunition – Air Defence, Artillery and Tank ammunition without prejudice. To that extent, the OFB has been spreading misery to all Arms impartially. If an Army has to stop firing of weapons due to defective ammunition then the situation is beyond alarm.  No nation can afford such neglect and profligacy. Just on this score, the OFB system needs major reform. The issue of ammunition accidents is a matter of record, often reported  and can be verified. I would also like to add that we have not had so many losses due to enemy action as we have had due to negligence and poor quality of the OFB. That is also a matter of record. A tongue in cheek remark once made to me by a junior officer was – if there is OFB around, who needs an enemy? 

 Take another example. Three 155 mm Guns were approved for induction into the Army almost simultaneously. The M777 ULH, The K9 Vajra and Dhanush. The first two are completing their delivery on schedule and are vying for repeat orders. They are being deployed or being contemplated for deployment in Eastern Ladakh. Serial production of Dhanush, a self-acclaimed  flagship program of OFB, has not even commenced. In fact, at some point of time, OFB, had given up in favour of an imported system. Corruption or lack of pride or both?  This is despite the fact that orders were assured and all support was given for the project to succeed. Deficiencies were accommodated /overlooked so that an indigenous system fructifies. However the OFB has remained OFB — UNRELIABLE. They have belied that nations trust in them. If the government is even remotely serious about Atma Nirbharta, a Dhanush Integration Centre should be put in place separately for production of the Dhanush 155 mm on a fast track basis. The structure should be out of the ambit of the current OFB and can be brought back after Corporatisation. I had recommended such a mechanism five years back when I was in service. In fact, late Mr Manohar Parrikar had even approved the concept and was keen on it. It will be there somewhere gathering dust in the MOD files. What is the use of OFB when it cannot produce a gun based on a 35 year old TOT, to defend the nation in a crisis? Equally, the MOD cannot just put out an import ban on 155 mm guns and sit back and wait for a proven failure like OFB to deliver goods. That is a dream in a dream. 

 Such a state of affairs represents a deep systematic malaise. It is not fixing one single problem. It needs a major systematic correction in ethos, leadership,  professionalism, accountability and integrity.  These issues need to be pump primed.  Despite many earlier efforts at internal reforms nothing much has changed.  The feedback I received on my earlier articles indicated that both the workers and the management are living in a self-denial bubble. At times the feedback was quite vicious and personal. The present OFB system is past its shelf life. Continuing with it is reinforcing failure. I also see a number of articles by distinguished senior veterans who are also of the opinion that the OFB is now a relic of the past and goes against every vestige of Atma Nirbharta. The accident with the ATAGs gun just proves the point. The MOD should start the corporatisation process post-haste so that the nation is not fooled anymore.  Every officer and official whether in or out of government feels unanimously that the reforms initiated by the government are minimalistic in nature. Many feel that OFB should be broken up into verticals and privatised. To that extent, the current Government is being soft on the OFB. However, it is good that the government has appointed KPMG as a consultant to prepare the road map for the intended corporatisation. I seriously hope it succeeds and the process is taken to its logical conclusion.

  Judging from the reactions of trade unions, they will impede the work of the consultant. Also the officers of the IOFS cadre will not cooperate with the consultant. Both these groups feel threatened by corporatisation. It is a piquant situation where the management and workers are on the same page to thwart reform. The government must think through this carefully. If needed certain ordinances can be passed to press home the case. Also, it is fully possible that the recommendations of the consultant are frozen like all the other committee reports before this. Internal subversion of such nature and political cold feet is also fully on the cards. 

I would like to reiterate issues from my previous article.  OFB is a huge strategic asset. It has tremendous strengths. Our workers are experienced. Its transformation will take time. It should be done deliberately, in phases, with care. Reform should be as per our conditions, culture and practices which have strengths. There is considerable pre-corporatisation groundwork required.  Certain structural changes can be carried out even before the consultant comes into the scene through an Implementation Committee. The Board can be given financial powers equivalent to other DPSUs. The OFB can start functioning under clearly visible and foreseen verticals. The Financial advisory and audit system and the QA system can commence change. People who wrote previous reports on reforming OFB are still in circulation. They should be brought into the scene to assist KPMG. All stakeholders must be part of the reform. Reluctance of workers seems to be the fear of the unknown. A major problem of the OFB is the disconnect and insensitivity to users. A greater connect between the Services and the OFB must commence. 

While corporatisation of OFB is mandatory, there is a strong case for the DDP (MOD) to be also reformed simultaneously. Unless the MOD is also reformed, the OFB will not get the right message. The present structure of the DAC, where the Secretary DDP is also its member is tantamount to insider trading. A couple of Defence Secretaries who were also Secretaries DDP also conceded that there was a conflict of interest in the current arrangement. That is an open secret. Hence a few fundamental steps are needed. Firstly, the DDP should be a bespoke organisation away from the MOD. The UK follows such a system. I had written about it three years back.  In UK, the Defence Equipment and Supply Organisation(equivalent of DDP) has been converted into a ‘bespoke trading entity’. Its  ‘unique freedoms’  allows it to operate in a more business-like manner to address root causes of cost and schedule overruns which emanate from an overheated equipment budget, an unhealthy relationship between the requestor and the deliverer, insufficient skills and management freedoms. It is now operating as an Arm’s Length Body from the rest of the UK MoD. Secondly the DGQA should be placed under the DMA. For reasons beyond sanity the Government continues with the DGQA under the Secretary DDP. It only enlarges the scope of insider trading and match fixing. OFB being given orders on nomination basis should reduce progressively whether it is corporatised or not. In fact it should be made to compete on an open tender basis with the market on certain items. TOT to OFB should be banned. The MOD (finance) and the Financial Advisory system needs a drastic review. They have simply not been able to control the rampant overpricing mechanisms of the OFB. In fact they might have contributed to it through connivance. The mere reform of the OFB alone won’t do. We should go the whole hog if we are serious. 

The OFB is a national strategic asset with eroded roots. It needs a rebuild. If the rebuilding is done effectively, India will benefit immensely. However any rebuilding is possible only if the MOD is also suitably reformed concomitantly. Most importantly we must put a timeline if we are serious about the affair.

 Lastly, I put out the question of ‘Corporatisation of OFB’ in the social media. The answers were reassuring. My query and some answers are there for everyone to see. First, there was only one negative reply. Everyone else wanted corporatisation. Second, there were serious and knowledgeable views from the common people. Third, the respondents were from a wide cross section and were not all experts or armed forces officers. Fourth, it is high time for Corporatisation of OFB. It should be pressed home. 

 Lt Gen P.R. Shankar was India’s DG Artillery. He is highly decorated and qualified with vast operational experience. He contributed significantly to the modernisation and indigenisation of Artillery. He is now a Professor in the Aerospace Dept of IIT Madras and is involved in applied research for defence technology. His other articles can be read on his blog www. gunnersshot.com.

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