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Upping the media ante

Media should learn to exercise restraint over sensitive security issues. After all, war is too serious a business to be left to the media.

Maj Gen Shashikant Pitre (Retd.)

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Even as Indian Army in a major operation occupied the intimidating key commanding heights and completely surprised the Chinese, the role of the electronic media was distressing and astonishing, with many news channels going to town at a time when the nation is facing a conflict situation on its borders. Getting information about the security of the country is the right of every citizen, but it needs moderation and balance, or else it would be counter-productive.

After jostling for effective control over posts in the areas of Fingers on the north bank of the Pangong Tso lake, Galwan Heights, Patrol Points 14 and 15, Gogra and Depsang in the Eastern Ladakh since April 22, the Indian Army in a facile ‘coup de main’ operation occupied the intimidating commanding heights of Black Top, Helmet Top, Gurung Hill, Magar Hill, Rezang La and Rachinla on the south bank overlooking the strategic Spanggur Gap and Pangong Tso Lake on the night of 29- 30 August and completely surprised the Chinese. By this single manoeuvre, the Indian Army totally stalemated and effectively countered the traditional Salami Slicing stratagem of the PLA entailing vicious operational blackmail as usual.

The Indians had taken just one night to play their innings in response to the sluggish batting of the Chinese over the past hundred and thirty days. It had gained the IA a favourable moral ascendancy during any future dialogue that would be held between the opposing sides. The ball was now squarely in the Chinese court. The next move belonged to the PLA. However, that is not the purpose of this narrative.

The visual media channels literally went to town with the story. Pompous claims were made that the units of the ‘normally under the cloak’ Special Frontier Force (SFF) organisation, also called Vikas, had achieved this seemingly stupendous task. Throwing all rules of circumspection to the winds, the videos of training of the Vikas troops were fished out from the archives and were played with blaring background music and laudatory comments of the articulate anchors. There was no doubt that the SFF had played a stellar role and would get the credit when the situation stabilises, but where was the hurry to prematurely post-mortem the operation before it is over?

In any case, the IA had reportedly occupied a frontage of over twenty kilometres and seized about eight to ten major posts, if not more. Surely, it was inconceivable that the SFF would accomplish this feat by itself. It was evident that it required the strength and muscles of a major formation, which was by various accounts and analyses of the experts guesstimated to be of an infantry brigade plus sup- ported by complements of other arms and services. It is nobody’s case that the organisation and capabilities of SFF are close secrets from our adversaries. The detailed information pertaining to the Establishment 22 incepted in the wake of the India-China War of 1962 is available on Google by mere press of a key.

The exploits of SFF in Chittagong hill tracts in support of the Mukti Bahini or in Turtok area are well documented and are in the open domain. However, it is imperative that the details of the employment and deployment, and to an extent even its mention, of these special units must remain under a shroud till reasonable time lapses after the conflict. The secret missions always carry this ‘professional hazard’ as a part of their mandate not to be recognised and given their due credit till well after the event is over, the brusque savour of the media channels for the TRP notwithstanding. There is another nuance connected with it. The recognition of Tibetan struggle may seemingly be a gracious act and may help to intimidate the adversary, but it would present associated problems and prove to be counter-productive if the operation is to be wound up, when there is an agreement to return to pre-April 22 position or close to it, which is what India desires.

When the nation is facing a conflict situation on its borders, it is not only distress- ing but even astonishing, that there is a demand in the media to know details of every move, every alleged transgression or incursion on the border by the adversary. It cannot be denied that it is the right of every citizen in a democratic country like India to know every piece of information relating to the security of his country, yet it needs moderation and balance. It would be naive to expect every aspect of an ongoing operational situation to be revealed for public consumption instantly, particularly when the political systems prevalent in our two adversary countries permit them to reveal nothing. Rather, it would be immensely counter-productive.

The damage done by the news broadcast of a media channel when the troops were being landed on the roof of the Hotel Taj during the terrorist strike on 26/11, which was heard by the terrorists inside the hotel and in turn relayed to their mentors in Islamabad, is a fit case in point. The shindy raised on various channels to know where ‘exactly the Chinese have intruded’ during the period since April was bewildering. Due to the advanced digital surveillance technology which is now available in the public domain, claims and counter- claims on the information provided by the authorities were flagrantly debated.

t was sad to see some well- informed and erudite veterans of the Armed Forces, now media wizards, alleging that the Government and the Indian Army Authorities were ‘lying through their teeth’. The Author holds no brief for the Establishment but his common sense about the National Security earned during thirty-six years of soldiering ventures him to assert that in a developing security situation on the border or even within the country, there is no need to announce every ‘truth’ as it eventuates. Winston Churchill once said, “The truth in war is so important that it has to be guarded by many lies around it”!

The 24×7 live broadcasts on multiple media channels permit the arm-chair experts and the anchors to dissect every nook and corner of the operational plans and their execution at length. Strangely, they forget that they have not only the benefit of ample time at their disposal, which is a major deficit with the higher and middle-rung military commanders in the field, but they also have the benefit of the retrospective wisdom. Of course, there is nothing wrong in it. But it was confounding to find sophisticated and seasoned expert anchors questioning the soundness of operational plans with an evident nascence of the tactical aspects. It was amusing to listen to one of these expert anchors asking as to why the operation to seize the unheld peaks around the Spanggur Gap could not be taken up much earlier and whether we lost valuable strategic advantage and time by this delay. It should be under-
stood that occupation of any heights ranging between 15,000 ft and 17,000 ft is a complex operation which needs a detailed appreciation of all aspects involved.

The selection, briefing and movement of troops without any ‘giveaway’ have to be undertaken deliberately. The build-up of the administrative support is more time consuming, if the positions are expected to be held over a long period against the enemy reaction. The aspects of stocking of ammunition, rations, defence stores, reinforcement and a variety of other issues are to be planned for, the stores are to be moved in the vicinity of the objectives, all supporting arms are to be deployed and medical evacuation arrangements to be made. All operational and administrative arrangements are to be completed before launch- ing the operation and this requires time. But above all this, a military commander would undertake the operation at the place and time of his choosing. The anchor may have been blissfully unaware else he would not have made such a ‘piercing’ observation! Can a famous quote be reframed to say, “War is too serious a business to be left to the media”!

Major General Shashikant Pitre is an Indian Army veteran. He has commanded an Infantry Di- vision and was the Chief of Staff of Army Training Command.

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Defence

ANDAMAN & NICOBAR COMMAND CELEBRATES WORLD HYDROGRAPHY DAY

Ashish Singh

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Lieutenant General Ajai Singh, Commander-in-Chief Andaman & Nicobar Command (CINCAN) participated in commemorating the Centenary of the World Hydrography Day on Monday. The occasion is celebrated by the Hydrographic fraternity of the Indian Navy every year through a series of coordinated events at the respective Commands to spread awareness of hydrography and its contribution in ensuring safe navigation at sea as well as to showcase achievements and contributions of the Indian Naval Hydrographic Organisation. The theme for the event this year is “100 years of International Cooperation in Hydrography”.

The CINCAN appreciated the yeoman service by the Indian Naval Hydrographic Organisation in capacity building initiatives among littorals in the Indian Ocean Region through hydrographic surveys and providing world-class training to personnel from friendly foreign nations. The surveys help in augmenting the Sagarmala project under the NITI Aayog for the sustainable development of A&N Islands.

The Hydrographic Survey Unit at Port Blair under HQ ANC is responsible for the surveys around the A&N Islands and is fully equipped with state-of-the-art equipment for the conduct, analysis and preparation of reports of hydrographic surveys. HSU (PBR) participates in various joint operations with the Indian Army and Indian Air Force within the Andaman and Nicobar Command. The Unit has successfully conducted surveys for RCS 3.0 — UDAN, the prestigious Government of India project under regional connectivity by playing a vital role in identifying suitable seaplane landing sites at four locations in the Andaman group of islands at Shaheed Dweep, Swaraj Dweep, Hut Bay and Long Island, which will boost regional connectivity and tourism.

Indian Navy hydrography ships Sutlej from Southern Naval Command and Nirupak from Eastern Naval Command are currently deployed for hydrographic survey in Andaman and Nicobar Islands since April 2021. These ships utilise state-of-the-art Multi-beam Bathymetric Data Acquisition Systems to survey and update navigational charts of the A&N Islands. All Covid protocol measures were followed by the personnel present at the event.

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Defence

INS SHIVAJI ORGANISES VARIOUS ACTIVITIES TO MARK YOGA DAY

Ashish Singh

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The International Yoga Day celebrates the physical and spiritual prowess that yoga has brought to the world stage. While it is an important source of exercise and healthy activity, there are many benefits of practising yoga daily. This is a useful way to connect the body, mind, and soul in a way that exists for centuries. INS Shivaji undertook various activities towards the celebration of the International Yoga Day at Station Lonavla from 19 to 21 June. Keeping Covid-19 protocols in mind, a yoga workshop and seminar for personnel and trainee officers and sailors in the cohort group was conducted by a qualified yoga instructor.

As part of virtual yoga practice, yoga sessions were conducted for Naval personnel as available in the Namaste Yoga app launched by the Government of India. Personnel and families also undertook yoga sessions offered by the Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga at their respective residences. Quiz and essay competitions were conducted for trainee sailors to educate them about the importance of yoga in daily life. To enlighten the significance of yoga, home guidelines and a list of digital resources available in the open network were uploaded on the unit LAN/website. Towards awareness of daily yoga practice, banners with the theme “Be with Yoga, Be at Home” were displayed at prominent locations.

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Defence

NORTHERN COMMAND CELEBRATES YOGA DAY

Ashish Singh

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Amidst strict Covid-19 protocols, yoga camps were organised on the occasion of International Yoga Day on Monday in all Army formations and units of Northern Command across the entire UTs of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh including “Siachen Glacier”, the highest battlefield. All ranks & families attended the Yoga camps with great enthusiasm. A number of aasanas, pranayama, and dhyan were practised and their benefits towards health and in disease prevention were shared by qualified Yoga instructors.

The theme ‘Yoga for well-being’ with the aim to promote the holistic health of troops was emphasised. The Covid-19 crisis has caused psychophysical, emotional and physical impact on the people across all ages in the country. Our troops have been successfully kept shielded from such effects to a great extent as a result of practicing Yoga on regular basis despite all challenges. The celebration of International Yoga Day is a reminder for all ranks to incorporate yoga in daily routine for a happy and stress free life.

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Defence

HOW INDIAN NAVY CELEBRATED 7TH INTERNATIONAL YOGA DAY

Ashish Singh

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The International Day of Yoga was celebrated at Western Naval Command (WNC), Eastern Naval Command (ENC), and Southern Naval Command (SNC).

The International Yoga Day was celebrated at WNC, with all serving naval personnel including Defence Security Corps (DSC), the Military Engineer Services (MES), Defence Civilian Employees and their family members enthusiastically participating in the 7th International Day of Yoga on the theme ‘Be with Yoga, Be At Home’.

An online yoga session was conducted under the aegis of the Navy Wives Welfare Association (Western Region) for the naval community in South Mumbai to encourage all personnel and their family members to practise yoga regularly for bolstering their health and boosting immunity, especially in these trying times. Various asanas were demonstrated through digital platforms and replicated by the enthusiastic participants. Additionally, all sea-going units in the WNC also took part in celebrating the day by conducting yoga sessions at the unit level, both at sea and in harbour, with due observance of all Covid protocols. Yoga has been formally assimilated into the Navy’s physical fitness regime and had been found to be beneficial to men at sea given the paucity of space onboard ships.

The International Yoga Day was celebrated by all units under ENC, where naval personnel including Defence Security Corps, Defence Civilian Employees and their family members enthusiastically participated in the Yoga Day on the theme ‘Yoga For Wellness’ on Monday. All units under the ENC spread across the Eastern Seaboard from West Bengal to Tamil Nadu participated in various yoga-related activities.

All participants practised yoga asanas at their respective residences/units in accordance with the guidelines promulgated by released by the Ministry of AYUSH, Government of India with strict adherence to Covid protocols. The yoga sessions included standing and sitting yoga postures, pranayama — breathing techniques followed by meditation. Ships of the ENC on Mission Deployments at high seas across the Indian Ocean region participated in the Yoga sessions in the true spirit of Yoga Day.

International Yoga Day was celebrated at SNC, where Naval personnel including Defence Security Corps (DSC), The Military Engineer Services (MES), Defence Civilian Employees and their family members enthusiastically participated in the Yoga Day celebrations . Vice Admiral AK Chawla, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief (FOC-in-C), SNC and Mrs Sapana Chawla joined families of Southern Naval Command in a virtual yoga session.

Simple and easy to do asanas were demonstrated on a digital platform and replicated by the participants in accordance with the guidelines on the Namaste Yoga app and by the Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga at their respective residences. The yoga session included standing and sitting yoga postures, pranayama and breathing techniques. It was followed by meditation techniques, based on the common Yoga protocols released by the Ministry of AYUSH, Government of India. All units under SNC spread across different states of India also participated in various yoga-related activities. Special yoga-related quizzes, posters, essay competitions and lectures by yoga experts for adopting yoga as a way of life were also organised. Towards spreading awareness of daily yoga practice, banners with the theme were displayed at prominent locations along with the distribution of yoga mats with International Yoga Day logos to encourage more personnel to take up yoga.

Various ships under the Southern Naval Command on mission deployed at high seas across the Indian Ocean region and beyond, in the true spirit of International Yoga Day, participated in the yoga sessions. Vice Admiral AK Chawla encouraged SNC Parivar to practice yoga regularly and to make yoga a way of life.

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Defence

EASTERN FLEET AWARDS FUNCTION TO RECOGNISE OPERATIONAL ACHIEVEMENTS

Ashish Singh

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Fleet Awards Function 2021 was held to celebrate the operational achievements of the Eastern Fleet during the last year. Fleet Awards Function marks the culmination of the Operational Cycle of the Eastern Fleet and recognises accomplishments of the ‘Sword Arm’ of the Eastern Naval Command (ENC). Vice Admiral Ajendra Bahadur Singh, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief ENC was the Chief Guest at the event hosted by Rear Admiral Tarun Sobti, Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Fleet.

As compared to previous years, the Fleet Awards Function was held as a modest event with full observance of COVID protocols. The function culminated with the distribution of sixteen coveted trophies covering the overall spectrum of maritime operations. INS Sahyadri was adjudged as the Best Ship of the Eastern Fleet amongst Capital ships, INS Kamorta as the Most Spirited Ship for displaying indomitable spirit and grit whilst undertaking a plethora of challenging missions and Best Corvette trophy as won by IN Ships Kiltan and Khukri amongst Corvettes and similar classes of ships.

The year gone by was a challenging one for the Sunrise Fleet. Even as the COVID pandemic gripped the world, Eastern Fleet went about its operational responsibilities and maintained a forward active posture. Sustaining high operational tempo, the Fleet ships participated in numerous operations, exercises, and humanitarian assistance missions. The Eastern Fleet ships participated in several major bilateral and multilateral exercises such as Malabar-20, La Perouse, PASSEX with various navies and undertook Op Sahayam and Mission Sagar for delivery of HADR stores and Op Samudra Setu for evacuation of stranded Indian citizen from overseas. In the second wave of COVID-19 as Op Samudra Setu II, Eastern Fleet ships acted as the mainstay for enhancing oxygen delivery to the Eastern seaboard emphasising its role as a professional and credible force.

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Defence

AIR FORCE CHIEF ADDRESSES COMBINED GRADUATION PARADE AT IAF ACADEMY

Ashish Singh

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The Combined Graduation Parade (CGP) was held at Air Force Academy (AFA) Dundigal Hyderabad, marking the successful culmination of training for 161 Flight Cadets of Flying and Ground Duty Branches in the Indian Air Force. Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria was the Chief Guest and Reviewing Officer of the CGP, where he conferred the President’s Commission upon the graduating flight cadets. On this occasion, 6 officers from the Indian Navy and 5 officers from the Indian Coast Guard were also awarded ‘Wings’ on successful completion of their flying training.

The Reviewing Officer was received by Air Marshal R.D. Mathur, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Training Command and Air Marshal IP Vipin Commandant Air Force Academy. Chief of the Air Staff was presented with a general salute by the Parade on his arrival followed by an impressive march past. Highlight of the parade was the ‘Pipping Ceremony’ in which the graduating flight cadets donned their ‘Stripes’ and were awarded ‘Wings’ &‘Brevets’ by the Chief Guest. The newly commissioned officers were then administered the ‘Oath’ by the Commandant of AFA in the presence of the Reviewing Officer and other dignitaries.

After the ‘Pipping Ceremony’, the Reviewing Officer presented awards to the Trainees who had excelled in various disciplines of their training. Flying Officer Prajwal Anil Kulkarni from Flying branch was awarded the President’s Plaque as well as the Chief of the Air Staff Sword of Honour for standing first in overall order of merit in the Pilots’ Course; while Flying Officer Kritika Kulhari was awarded the President’s Plaque for being first in overall order of merit in Ground Duty branches.

The grand ceremony culminated with the newly commissioned officers stepping out in slow march to the traditional notes of ‘Auld Lang Syne’; as they received their first salute from the junior course. They then went past the Saluting Dias and passed through the portals of the Academy, symbolising the beginning of their journey in the IAF. Flypast by Pilatus PC-7 Mk-II, Hawks, Kirans and Chetaks as well as display by Sarang, Suryakirans & Akash Ganga Sky Diving team added colour and cheer to an impressive graduation parade.

IAF CHIEF’S ADDRESS TO THE COMBINED GRADUATION PARADE

Addressing the Parade, CAS commended the AFA and other Training Establishments for timely completion of the training despite severe Covid constraints placed upon the training infrastructure. He noted the significant milestone achieved by the Air Force Academy in achieving over 20,500 flying hours in the last one year – the highest ever in the Academy’s history. He said, “My congratulations also to the award winners for their outstanding performance during the training, and to the six officers from Indian Navy as well as the five officers from Indian Coast Guard for earning their coveted wings. Good Show and Keep it up. My special compliments on achieving this milestone and implementing significant enhancements in our training curriculum.”

Recognising the academy and parents, the CAS mentioned, “Indeed, this day is a great testament to the grit and determination shown by each one of you as well as to the yeoman contribution by the instructors. I take this opportunity to commend the efforts put in by all our Training Establishments and the faculty for guiding, mentoring and teaching; not only the fundamentals of being a Military Leader, but also instilling in you IAF’s core values of ‘Mission, Integrity and Excellence’. Living by these core values and preserving our glorious traditions through selflessness and sacrifice will be your sacred duty from this day on. Emphasising on the parents role, the CAS appreciated the role of parents during the Covid time. He said, “I would like to express my deep gratitude to all the proud parents who stood by their daughters and sons during an extremely rigorous training schedule. I am mindful of the fact that your wards did not come home during the term break and have been toiling non-stop in pursuit of their dreams. You – as their parents and their family – should be proud of the fact that your guidance, support and encouragement are here for all to see; as your children stand on the parade ground- resplendent in their blue uniforms and transformed into spirited and confident officers of the Indian Air Force. To all these graduating officers, I have this to say. In a short while from now, you will take your first steps into the IAF as Commissioned Officers. As you do so, it is essential for you to know where you are headed and the huge responsibilities that will come to rest on your young shoulders.”

CAS referred to unprecedented and rapidly evolving security challenges and reminded the young officers that they were entering the IAF at a juncture when a rapid infusion of technologies and combat capabilities was driving a monumental transformation in the Air Force. He also highlighted the change in operational methodologies and functioning with development and operationalisation of major automation and networking projects. He exhorted them to hit the ground running and prove their mettle once they reach the field; in order to exploit the state of art aircraft, weapons, sensors and technologies to their fullest. He highlighted, “IAF is undergoing a monumental transformation. Rapid infusion of niche technology and combat power in every facet of our operations has never been as intense as it is now! This is primarily because of the unprecedented and rapidly evolving security challenges that we face, coupled with a rising geo-political uncertainty in our neighbourhood and beyond. The last few decades have clearly established the critical role of Air Power in achieving victory in any conflict. It is in this backdrop that IAF’s on-going capability enhancement assumes tremendous significance.

Highlighting the IAF’s modernisation, The CAS said, “All of you are very fortunate to be joining the Air Force at this juncture. The Pilots will get to fly fighters carrying an array of potent standoff precision weapons and connected in networks. The transport and helicopter fleets are equipped with C-17, C-130, ALH, Chinook and Apache aircraft which are state of the art and capable of contributing equally effectively in war or HADR situations. Engineers will need to master e-MMS, which is one of the largest networked aircraft maintenance management systems in the world that we have established across diverse type of aircraft. Controllers will have to adapt to vectoring fighters in large formations using digitised and networked IACCS systems in the MAFI environment. Logisticians will use automation to drive procurement and resupply through totally automated and computerised networks on inventory management. All of you will be tied together with a completely paperless e-governance suite to enhance the efficiency of basic administration across the entire Air Force.”

Talking about the technology and futuristic warfare, the CAS informed the graduating cadets, “I have always believed that the generation you belong to is technologically adept and well versed with exploiting the digital space. Now is the time for you to prove it. I can assure you that the environment you will step into, when you cross these portals will not only challenge, but stretch your capabilities. You will need to hit the ground running and work hard to deliver what the Air Force expects of you. It was with this focus that B Tech degree was introduced compulsorily for the Air Force cadets in NDA and I am happy to note that 81 of the87 graduating officers from the Flying branch are B.Tech. I am sure this will facilitate rapid comprehension and exploitation of modern platforms, weapons, sensors and technologies. Notwithstanding all these advances in technology, as young leaders, you must know that IAF’s core strength is in “OUR PEOPLE” and you must always nurture this strength.

On the current pandemic situation, the CAS described the IAF’s role in it and said, “While maintaining operational readiness, IAF has also been proactively assisting in the national fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Proactive vaccination and strict COVID discipline within IAF enabled us to undertake all COVID tasks on a war-footing. IAF’s heavy lift capability was put into action for airlift of crucial COVID related equipment; wherein our transport fleet flew more than 3800 hours within two months in a huge effort across the globe and domestically to transport critical oxygen Tankers, and all related medical equipment and supplies. You all are joining the field that operates at this level, across the spectrum.” “It is also essential for all of you to bear in mind that as future leaders, you will stand shoulder to shoulder with your comrades in Olive Greens and Whites and prosecute integrated operations. You will be an integral part of this important transition in the years ahead”, the CAS concluded.

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