Sunday, 26 March 2017

Three years after Modi rattled DRDO, little has changed



By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th March 17

In 2014, when Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi attended the annual awards ceremony of the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO), he jolted the self-congratulatory annual function by insisting on timely delivery and innovation.

Criticising what he termed the DRDO’s “chalta hai” (lackadaisical) attitude, Modi placed it under a scanner that led in early 2015 to the exit of Avinash Chander, then the DRDO’s well-respected chief.

Two and a half years later, that reformist impulse has vanished, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) no longer demanding performance from a DRDO that functions much as it did in 2014. On Friday, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, distributing annual awards to a DRDO, expressed happiness that “the DRDO is becoming an important instrument in the effort for self-reliance.”

This effusive praise came even though none of the three “indigenous products” handed over to the navy on Friday were path-breaking developments. The USHUS-2 submarine sonar system was only an improvement on the USHUS-1 that was fitted a decade ago in the navy’s Kilo-class submarines. Similarly, the “ring laser gyroscope” based navigation system has also been around for years.

Given this modest delivery, it appears incongruous that Jaitley awarded fifteen DRDO scientists with the “Scientist of the Year” award.

“The DRDO cannot treat incremental improvements to its own systems as breakthrough triumphs. Continuous improvement should be a matter of routine for DRDO systems”, says a serving navy admiral.

Nor is the navy impressed by Myanmar’s order for $37.9 million worth of the DRDO’s advanced lightweight torpedoes (TAL). It is hardly a secret the TAL is modelled on the A244S lightweight torpedo that Italian company, WASS, supplied the Indian Navy.

In 2014, Modi had tellingly criticised the communication gap between scientists who remained ensconced in their laboratories, and the soldiers on the borders. The PM wondered why the DRDO could not deliver simple but crucial items in a soldier’s personal gear, bringing down the weight of a water bottle from 300 grams to 150 grams, or developing lighter boots to reduce fatigue.

Yet, today, with the soldier’s personal gear as cumbersome and poorly designed as ever, Jaitley lauded “The role of those [scientists] who remain faceless and work in some important field.”

In 2014, Modi had suggested the DRDO empower younger scientists, starting with manning five of its 52 laboratories exclusively with scientists under 35 years of age. Yet, only lip service is paid to empowering younger scientists.

The PM had also criticised the DRDO’s endemic time delays in delivering equipment. He directed that, instead of re-inventing the wheel by designing indigenous versions of equipment already in service in advanced militaries, the DRDO should develop futuristic equipment before advanced countries did so.

Yet, the bulk of what DRDO works on --- such as the Tejas fighter, unmanned aerial vehicles, warship systems, artillery guns, the Arjun tank, etc --- all constitute equipment that has been in service worldwide for decades.

DRDO chief, S Christopher, claimed that the defence ministry had cleared orders of DRDO equipment worth 2.56 lakh crore rupees; with one lakh crore worth of orders cleared in the last two years alone. In fact, “clearing” a procurement is a preliminary step of the acquisition process, with the majority of clearances never actually resulting in an order being contracted. 

Friday, 24 March 2017

Japan commissions second aircraft carrier-sized warship: is increasingly Asia’s naval powerhouse



By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th March 17

The state-controlled Chinese media has sharply criticised the commissioning of Japan’s powerful new warship, which has the same name --- Kaga --- as one of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s aircraft carriers in World War II.

The original Kaga, which Beijing’s English language daily, Global Times, terms a “notorious warship”, was sunk by the US Navy in the Battle of Midway in 1942.

With Japanese Ship (JS) Kaga’s rebirth on Wednesday as a “helicopter destroyer”, Japan now has Asia’s only navy with two aircraft carrier-sized warships --- the Kaga and its predecessor, JS Izumo. The 248 metre-long Kaga is larger than the Indian Navy’s recently  decommissioned carrier, INS Viraat.

Additionally, Japan also operates two smaller helicopter destroyers, JS Haga and JS Ise, which are about the same weight class as the “Harrier carriers” that served the Italian, Spanish and Thai navies.

Beijing would also have noted last fortnight’s commissioning of Japan’s eighth Soryu-class submarine --- a massive 4,100-tonne vessel with air independent propulsion that many consider the world’s finest conventional submarine. With 11 older Oyashio-class submarines already in the fleet, Japan would have 23 submarines by 2021, when all 12 Soryu-class vessels are delivered.

Yet, the Japanese government, headed by the avowedly nationalist Shinzo Abe, still calls its navy the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF). However, with China aggressively enforcing claims to disputed islands and waters in the Sea of Japan, East China Sea and South China Sea, Tokyo is gradually dropping the pretence.

Reuters has reported that JS Izumo will shortly lead a JMSDF naval task force on a three-month tour of the South China Sea, which the news agency terms the “biggest show of naval power in foreign waters in more than 70 years.”

JS Kaga, like its forerunner, JS Izumo, currently has a compliment of just nine helicopters. However, each vessel can embark 28 small, or 14 large aircraft. The helicopter carriers are not fitted with catapults or ski jumps for launching fixed wing fighters, but they could function as aircraft carriers by embarking vertical take-off fighters like the F-35B Lightening II.

Tokyo has a contradictory position on the use of military force. Its pacifist constitution, imposed on a defeated Japan by a victorious US after World War II, explicitly renounces war. It limits Japan’s defence spending to just one per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and prohibits it from acquiring offensive weapons platforms like aircraft carriers (helicopter carriers are passed off as defensive platforms).

On the other hand, the US today sees Japan as an ally against a resurgent China. Washington backs unapologetically nationalist leaders like Abe, who argue for shedding the US-imposed restraint. When President Donald Trump argued for allies like Japan to bear more of the cost of their defence he was, in effect, arguing for scuppering Japan’s one per cent spending cap.

Yet the JMSDF, despite its spending restraints, is widely considered Asia’s most powerful navy, even beating out China. Even with the one per cent spending cap, Japan has announced a defence budget for 2017 of $43.6 billion, only marginally smaller than India’s $53.5 billion.

Unlike India and China, Japan’s army does not consume the bulk of the budget --- the navy and air force do. In contrast, India’s navy was allocated just 14 per cent and the air force 22 per cent of the defence budget.

Furthermore, Japan’s sophisticated shipbuilding industry, including giants like Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, churn out warships fast and cheaply. Japan’s latest defence budget reveals they will build a new Soryu-class submarine for $685 million (India’s Scorpene submarines, less than half the Soryu’s size, cost about the same). Japan is building a 690-tonne, Awaji-class ocean minesweeper for just $160 million, and has budgeted $210 million for a 2,900-tonne Hibiki-class ocean surveillance ship.

For over a decade, the US has cajoled India and Tokyo into closer naval cooperation. Last year, Japan formally became a participant in the annual Malabar naval exercise, making it a US-India-Japan trilateral exercise.


There are bilateral proposals between New Delhi and Tokyo for the supply of Japanese defence equipment to India --- a touchy subject, given Japan’s constitution. On the table is the Japanese maritime sea-plane, the US-2; and the Soryu submarine.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

India's ABM system: In the war on ballistic missiles, India plods along

Even as India crosses another milestone in missile defence, analysts warn against excessive optimism

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 22nd March 17

India’s most ambitious foray into missile development is the Defence R&D Organisation’s (DRDO’s) anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system, designed to shoot down incoming nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles fired from Pakistan or China at Indian cities.

This technologically challenging and controversial programme has made steady headway. On March 1, an interceptor missile, fired from Abdul Kalam Island in Odisha, detected and destroyed a simulated enemy missile when it was 15-25 kilometres above the earth. The DRDO has claimed full success in most of the dozen-odd ABM tests conducted so far.

ABM systems are controversial because they destabilise the nuclear balance between two adversary countries. When one adversary, e.g. India, deploys an ABM shield, it incentivizes the other, e.g. Pakistan or China, to build (and in a conflict, fire) more nuclear weapons to defeat that shield by swamping it with missiles. During the Cold War, the US and the Soviet Union guarded against this by signing an ABM Treaty that sharply restricted defensive measures on both sides. Pakistan already has the world’s fastest growing nuclear arsenal, with its Khushab reactor producing plutonium full-steam.

Then, there is the technological challenge of developing an ABM shield. Striking an incoming ballistic missile is as hard as hitting a bullet with a bullet. Depending upon how far the incoming missile is fired from, it would approach the target at 1,500-3,000 metres per second (the further, the faster). With the interceptor travelling at 1,500-2,000 metres per second, the two missiles would approach each other at a relative speed of 3,000-5,000 metres --- or three-to-five kilometres --- every second. Guiding the interceptor to the target missile, and exploding within a few metres of it, requires precision of the highest order.

In developing an ABM shield, the designers’ first decision is: at what stage of its flight should the incoming missile be engaged and shot down? Depending upon where it is fired from the incoming missile may have travelled just a few hundred kilometres (from Pakistan) or as much as several thousand kilometres (from China, or North Korea).

Whatever the distance, the missile would journey through three phases --- boost phase, mid-course or coast phase, and terminal phase. While an ABM system could be configured to shoot it down in any of these phases, each presents its own technological complexities.

Engagement profile

The boost phase is the most vulnerable stage in a missile’s flight trajectory, when it blasts off its launch platform and picks up speed, accelerating into space for 180-300 seconds, depending upon the missile’s range. This is when the missile travels at its slowest and cannot perform evasive manoeuvres or deploy decoys or counter-measures. The difficulty, however, is that, since the missile is at its launch pad, intelligence satellites would have to monitor enemy territory, to pick up indications of a launch. Then, in the short time available, the interceptor missile would have to be fired and travel all the way to the launch area.

Next comes the mid-course phase, in which the missile travels through space towards its target. This lasts just seconds for a short range ballistic missile fired from Pakistan; or as much as 20 minutes for long range ballistic missiles fired from several thousand kilometres away. Mid-course engagement provides a longer time-window for sensing, decision-making and engagement; and a shorter distance for the interceptor to travel.

However, ballistic missiles often release decoys in this stage, requiring the interceptor to differentiate between the decoys and the mother vehicle.

An example of mid-course engagement is the US interceptor missiles based in Alaska to shoot down Chinese or Russian ballistic missiles travelling towards the American continent. Beijing’s vociferous objection last month to US radars deployed in South Korea may have stemmed from Chinese concern that these would make it easier for the Alaska interceptors to target Chinese missiles.

The final engagement opportunity is in the terminal phase, when the incoming missile starts descending, re-enters the atmosphere and hurtles towards its target. “Terminal phase engagement” gives the ABM system maximum time for detection and decision-making and requires the interceptor missile to travel the least distance. The downside is that many ballistic missiles are programmed to carry out manoeuvres when they re-enter, making them difficult to target.

India’s ABM shield

An ABM shield has three functional components: First, a radar network that can detect enemy ballistic missiles as soon as possible after launch; and then track them along their flight path. While a ground-based radar’s range is limited by the earth’s curvature, a satellite-based radar can pick up a ballistic missile’s fiery plume as it is fired. The DRDO’s primary ABM radar is the Long Range Tracking Radar (LRTR), developed in partnership with Israeli company, Elta.

The LRTR is based on Elta’s EL/M-2080 Green Pine radar, which is the nerve centre of Israel’s vaunted Arrow ABM system. Separately, the DRDO is working on a satellite-based sensor that would be integrated into the ABM system, once perfected.

The second functional component of the DRDO’s ABM system is a sophisticated, computerised command and control system that plots and predicts the intruder missile’s flight path and assigns interceptor missiles to destroy it. With very little time available for humans to weigh choices, almost all decision-making relating to engagement choices is automated.

The third component is the interceptor missiles, of which the ABM shield has two different types. One is an exo-atmospheric (or “outside atmosphere”) missile called the Pradyumna, which intercepts the intruder while it is 50-80 kilometres above the earth. The other, called the Ashvin, is an endo-atmospheric (“inside atmosphere”) missile that intercepts the enemy ballistic missile at altitudes of 20-40 kilometres. They are normally fired together (in a “salvo”) to increase the chances that at least one missile will destroy the target.

After they are launched, guidance radar directs them towards the target; once in its vicinity, a “proximity fuze” explodes the warhead, damaging the intruder missile and warhead.

Range is a key determinant

Given how close India is to Pakistan, it takes just 5-15 minutes for the entire engagement, from launch to interception. A missile fired from a Pakistani launch site would take just 5-6 minutes to reach targets in north India, a few hundred kilometres away. Targets in south India, 1,500-2,000 kilometres away from Pakistan, take 10-15 minutes to reach. Paradoxically, being close to India is a disadvantage to Pakistan because the closer a missile is fired from, the slower it travels in its terminal phase, making it easier to intercept.

India’s ABM shield is geared to intercept missiles fired from up to 2,000 kilometres away. A short range Pakistani ballistic missile like the Shaheen 1A (Hatf IV), with a range of 900 kilometres, would have a warhead re-entry speed of about 2,000 metres per second, which Indian ABM interceptors can manage. The Shaheen-II (Hatf VI), with a range of 2,000 kilometres, would have its payload re-enter at 2,500-3,000 metres per second, which is just within the range of the Indian ABM system.

Pakistan’s longest-range missile is Shaheen III, with a range of 2,750 kilometres, which was developed to bring the Andaman & Nicobar Islands into range. The Shaheen III, like China’s longer-range missiles, cannot yet be intercepted by India’s ABM system. However, paradoxically, Pakistan’s lack of geographical depth means the Shaheen II and III cannot be used against north Indian targets like New Delhi, which is barely 1,500 kilometres from Pakistan’s farthest regions. To avoid overshooting Delhi, Pakistan would have to use the shorter range Shaheen I, which is easier to intercept.

Future of ABM

In 2011, former DRDO chief Avinash Chander told Business Standard that an ABM shield would protect the national capital within three years (“Delhi could have anti-missile shield by 2014”, August 29, 2011). Chander’s predecessor, VK Saraswat, had provided even more optimistic time-lines, raising concerns worldwide over the erosion of deterrence in South Asia.

Since then, the government has issued strict orders to the DRDO not to speak about the system. Currently, the development of the ABM system can be gauged mainly from reports of interceptor test flights and the move of radars to sensitive locations like New Delhi. Over recent years, two LRTRs were moved to Delhi and integrated into the Indian Air Force national surveillance network.

Even as the ABM system successfully crosses developmental milestones, analysts warn against excessive optimism and overblown expectations. In most nuclear war-gaming in the US, ABM defences have been overcome relatively easily by expedients as simple as swamping the defences with missile salvos, or with multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs), that are essentially several independent warheads fitted onto a single missile.

On January 24, Pakistan test-fired its new Ababeel ballistic missile, which it claimed was a MIRV system, “aimed at ensuring survivability of Pakistan's ballistic missiles in the growing regional Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) environment”. The cat and mouse game with missile defence seems set to continue.


Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Speculation in Washington about nuclear doctrinal changes by India


By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 22nd March 17

A day after Business Standard reported a new approach in New Delhi strategic circles to India’s use of nuclear weapons (March 20, “Will India nuke Pakistani cities, or go for its nuclear arsenal?”), the influential Washington D.C. think tank, Carnegie Endowment, discussed the same issue --- the possibility of an Indian “first strike” to defang Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

At the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference on Monday, a prestigious annual event at which important strategic policy chances are often signalled, a discussion took place on whether India was moving away from massive counter-value retaliation (i.e. nuking towns and cities) to counter-force targeting (i.e. nuking enemy nuclear forces and command structures).

Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, Vipin Narang, outlined a scenario in which a Pakistan-backed terrorist strike on India killed scores of civilians. New Delhi mobilised its three strike corps and attacked Pakistan. With the armour-heavy 21 Corps bludgeoning along, Pakistan ordered a “demonstration” strike with tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) --- its short-range Nasr missile batteries --- as a nuclear warning to India. New Delhi’s response, according to traditional Indian nuclear doctrine would then be “massive counter-value retaliation against Pakistani cities, leaving aside how credible or incredible that might be.”

But then Narang sprung the surprise. “There is increasing evidence that India will not allow Pakistan to go first. And that India’s opening salvo may not be conventional strikes trying to pick off just Nasr batteries in the theatre, but a full ‘comprehensive counterforce strike’ that attempts to completely disarm Pakistan of its nuclear weapons so that India does not have to engage in… tit-for-tat exchanges and expose its own cities to nuclear destruction.”

Narang pointed out that this dramatic change did not surface from “fringe voices”, but from former national security advisor Shivshankar Menon in his new book; and former chief of India’s strategic forces command, Lieutenant General BS Nagal, both of whom have questioned India’s traditional “massive counter-value retaliation”.

Narang pointed to a possible “decoupling” of Indian nuclear strategy vis-a-vis China and Pakistan. While retaining NFU and massive counter-value retaliation against China, New Delhi was considering a disarming counter-force strike against Pakistan.

Also in question was India’s longstanding “no first use” (NFU) policy, with Narang pointing out that it had been questioned at least four times already. First, India’s official nuclear doctrine, published in 2003, officially eroded the sanctity of NFU by invoking nuclear use against chemical or biological weapons. Second, in November, former defence minister Manohar Parrikar stated (later clarified to be in his personal capacity): “India should not declare whether it has a NFU policy”. Third, General Nagal, in his writings questioned the morality of NFU, asking whether it was possible for India’s leadership to accept huge casualties by restraining its hand well knowing that Pakistan was about to use nuclear weapons.

Fourth, Menon undermines NFU’s sanctity with this paragraph in his book: “There is a potential grey area as to when India would use nuclear weapons first against another NWS (nuclear weapons state). Circumstances are conceivable in which India might find it useful to strike first, for instance, against an NWS that had declared it would certainly use its weapons, and if India were certain that adversary’s launch was imminent.”

Said Narang at Carnegie: “Indian leaders can disavow all of this as personal opinions, but when a sitting defence minister, former Strategic Forces commander, and highly respected NSA all question the sanctity of NFU, it all starts to add up.”

Also quoted was Menon’s argument in his book that clearly indicates that strategy has shifted from counter-value targeting to counter-force strikes. Menon refers to counter-value targeting in the past tense, writing: “[T]he logical posture at first was counter-value targeting, or targeting an opponent’s assets, rather than counter-force targeting, which concentrates on the enemy’s military and command structures.”

Menon continues: “There would be little incentive, once Pakistan had taken hostilities to the nuclear level, for India to limit its response, since that would only invite further escalation by Pakistan. India would hardly risk giving Pakistan the chance to carry out a massive nuclear strike after the Indian response to Pakistan using tactical nuclear weapons. In other words, Pakistani tactical nuclear weapons use [or imminent use] would effectively free India to undertake a comprehensive first strike against Pakistan.”

Bringing these views together, it might not be Pakistan that first resorts to a nuclear strike in South Asia. Rather it could be India, acting pro-actively when it believed Pakistan was about to cross the nuclear threshold.

So far, there has been no reaction from New Delhi. In the past, any questioning of NFU or “massive retaliation” has evoked a swift quasi-official rebuttal.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

After a Pakistani TNW strike, India can go for Pakistan's nuclear arsenal: Former NSA Shivshankar Menon

Former NSA says “massive response” provides counter force option (Above: an Indian Agni-4 IRBM)

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th March 17

Former national security advisor (NSA) Shivshankar Menon has shed new light on an especially worrying aspect of India’s nuclear doctrine --- New Delhi’s barely credible promise of automatic, “massive” nuclear retaliation against any adversary that targets India, or Indian forces anywhere, with weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

The credibility gap in this strategy of “massive retaliation”, as pointed out by critics worldwide, is that it would cause carnage in the adversary’s towns and cities but leave intact much of his nuclear arsenal. With those surviving nukes (second-strike capability), the adversary would then wreak havoc on Indian towns and cities.

It is hard for New Delhi, globally regarded as a restrained power, to convince analysts and adversaries that it would knowingly trigger the catastrophic deaths of millions of civilians on both sides by responding “massively” to a far smaller attack --- even, a single Pakistani Tactical Nuclear Weapon (TNW) that killed perhaps a hundred Indian soldiers deep inside Pakistani territory.

Yet, India’s nuclear doctrine, promulgated on January 4, 2003, undertakes that “Nuclear retaliation to a first strike [by an adversary] will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage.”

Now Menon, in his recent book entitled “Choices: Inside the making of Indian foreign policy”, indicates that India’s threat of “massive retaliation” need not involve nuclear strikes against Pakistani urban centres (“counter-value”, or CV strikes). Instead, India’s “massive response” could take the form of targeting Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal (“counter-force”, or CF strikes), leaving that adversary with a greatly diminished capability of striking back at India.

In a key paragraph in his book, Menon --- who, as NSA, oversaw nuclear targeting policy --- analyses the meaning of a “massive” strike. He says: “There would be little incentive, once Pakistan had taken hostilities to the nuclear level, for India to limit its response, since that would only invite further escalation by Pakistan. India would hardly risk giving Pakistan the chance to carry out a massive nuclear strike after the Indian response to Pakistan using tactical nuclear weapons. In other worlds, Pakistani tactical nuclear weapon use would effectively free India to undertake a comprehensive first strike against Pakistan.”

Menon carefully differentiates between “first use” (which Indian nuclear doctrine forbids) and “first strike”, which --- in widely-accepted nuclear vocabulary --- refers to a disarming CF strike aimed at leaving an adversary without nuclear recourse.

Menon clearly enunciates the logic of a disarming CF strike: “India would hardly risk giving Pakistan the chance to carry out a massive nuclear strike after the Indian response…” In other words, India’s “second strike” (in response to a TNW against its forces) must leave Pakistan with little or no “third strike” capability.

But does a disarming counter-force strike (which Menon terms a “comprehensive first strike”) amount to a “massive” response, which Indian doctrine mandates? A senior Indian official asks: “Who says a “massive” response must necessarily be directed at CV targets?

Menon’s insights extend the focus of India’s second-strike well beyond counter-value targets to counter-force targets.

Contacted by Business Standard, Menon declined to elaborate, stating only: “India’s nuclear doctrine has far greater flexibility than it gets credit for.”

Menon’s book has been in print since November, but only now has this nuance been noted by Vipin Narang, a highly regarded nuclear strategist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This week, Narang tweeted: “Indian strategy following Pak tacnuke (tactical nuclear) use is neither proportional response nor massive retaliation. But [rather, it is a] disarming counterforce strike.”

Even so, serious question marks remain over how effectively, or whether at all, India can actually execute a disarming CF strike that takes out most of Pakistan’s nukes. Partly because of the possibility of Indian attack, Pakistan is building up its nuclear arsenal faster than any other country, running its Khushab nuclear reactor at full tilt to produce plutonium. It is currently estimated to have 120-130 nuclear warheads.

Especially difficult for India to target are Pakistan’s small, highly mobile TNWs that are basically truck-mounted, tube-launched artillery.

Furthermore, any impression in Pakistan of Indian counterforce strikes, or the fear that the nukes might soon be lost, would incentivize their early use --- the “use them or lose them” dilemma.

Indian public debate has traditionally focused on another aspect of our doctrine --- the commitment of “No First Use” (NFU) of nuclear weapons. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) questioned NFU in its pre-2014 election manifesto, before backing off quickly. Then, last year, former defence minister Manohar Parrikar raised questions over the need for NFU, before the BJP dismissed that as his “personal view”.


However, given Pakistan’s conventional military weakness in the face of a sudden Indian offensive under the “Cold Start” doctrine, Rawalpindi’s operationalization of TNWs, and its declared plan to use them early in a conflict, make India’s response a matter of life and death for millions.