Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Arjun MBT Video from NDTV

Ajai Shukla of NDTV recently did a story about the Arjun MBT from Avadi, Chennai (at the Heavy Vehicles Factory of the OFB) about the planned comparative trials between the Arjun and the T-90S of the Indian Army. Being a former Armored Corps Officer of the Indian Army, I can think of few better qualified persons to report about the tank.

However, past reports and opinion pieces from Shuklaji have not been as generous to the Arjun or DRDO. These views, backed by his qualifications should be taken seriously. Stronger views have been expressed on his blog ([1], [2]). Obviously, supporters of the Arjun and defence enthusiasts were quick to contradict his views, with strong and passionate responses, not all necessarily based on fact and scientific analysis.

There has, of course been a general suspicion towards Defence reporters, considering the large number of highly inaccurate (and often downright scurrilous) reports that have emanated from various quarters, aided by 'anonymous sources', 'army officials' and 'retired officers'. It doesn't help when we have a mushrooming of anti-DRDO reports that emerge just before significant milestones are being reached in the programs- Trishul, Akash, Agni-III, Tejas, and now, the Arjun. Many times, these are ladled with gratuitous amounts of sensationalism & hyperbole. Worse, the information is often quite old, and downright false. Thus, it was quite a shock to see Shuklaji's piece.

When I first saw the report, my first impression was that it was Vishnu Som (an excellent and objective Defence Correspondent) reporting it. Imagine mine (and quite a few other's) surprise when we saw that it was from Ajai Shukla himself, and, even more surprisingly, it was actually complimentary to the Arjun. Shuklaji did this exclusive piece with obvious glee, and certainly seemed to treat the Arjun like his own pet dog.

One wonders what has changed in the Arjun that made him change his opinion about it. After all, he has been a vocal opponent of the Arjun project, and has often called for its closure, or a thorough revamp. Perhaps his seniors at NDTV had clear instructions on what to report, but given his expertise in the field, this seems unlikely. Probably DRDO allowed access to the Arjun on the condition that he did not denigrate it, a slightly more likely prospect. Still, AS is too shrewd to not allow his opinions to slip into the report.

The most likely reason, and indeed, the one I hope is true, is that the Arjun has come full circle, and has shed all its previous problems, and has now truly become a world-class tank worthy of joining the Abrams, Leclerc, Merkava and others, and standing tall among them. Lets hope that next month's trials prove it right. A report by AS about his personal feelings about the Tank would be eagerly awaited.

The tank itself is quick and nimble far beyond its weight and size. The stabilized gun looks impressive, as does its state-of-the-art Hydropneumatic suspension. It sure looks to kill, and in a month, we'll know whether it is as good as it looks.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Religious Census of army stopped

The MoD has decided not to go ahead with the religious census of the Indian Armed forces.

This information was provided by A.K. Antony in the Rajya Sabha in a written reply to Syed Azeez Pasha in Rajya Sabha today (16 May). (The information can be found at
the Defence Ministry website under press releases).

The ministry wrote:

Armed Forces have a secular and apolitical character. Recruitment to the Forces is based on merit and is open to every citizen of the country without any discrimination on the basis of their case, creed, religion or region. All the personnel from all communities and regions work together without any distinction on the basis of caste, creed or religion. Therefore, it was not considered desirable to supply any data relating to particular religious community in respect of the Army as it would have affected the ethos and cohesiveness of the forces.
This is good news, and the leadership and soldiery of the armed forces will surely heave a collective sigh of relief.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that the government has interfered with the affairs of our Armed Forces. It started with Nehru, when 'loyal' officers were handpicked and promoted, at the expense of experience. The debacle in 1962 was partly a result of this crony-ism. Subsequent governments have tried to dabble in the workings of the army. This has partly stemmed from a fear of the Armed Forces, especially considering the dictatorships that have come to power in the region, an ambition of the politicians to control the army, and make it do their bidding (like they wish to do with most of the country's machinery) and their use of it for their own political ends.

This has mostly not had any lasting or deep effect on the Services, who have grudgingly adapted to them, or shrug the netas off and forgotten their actions.

However, last year's order of the UPA government, in its pursuit of 'secularism' and efforts to woo the minorities set off a veritable flood of bottled up discontent from the Forces, retired officers and generals and Commentators, who saw this as the political machinery's blind attempt to pander to their constituents without caring about the long-term effect on the Army. This order threatened the Army's ethos more than Nehru's policies, the 1962 war, or Bluestar. If implemented, this would have destroyed the secular and moral fabric of the Indian Army, where people of all regions, communities, castes and colours have ought and died together, protecting us.

Col. Athale wrote an excellent piece in Rediff.com about this issue:
After its projects to change Indian history to 'secular' history, the United Progressive Alliance govt seems to have launched a project to make the army 'secular'.

It is undoubtedly true that the number of Muslims in the Army is less than their proportion in the population. This is a historical legacy as the recruitment of Muslims in the armed forces in pre-Independence India was concentrated in Punjab, North West Frontier and Balochistan, all part of Pakistan today.

A similar argument can be also made on the basis of region. The states of Orissa or Gujarat or even Andhra Pradesh are not represented in proportion to their population. To assume any bias on this basis is to see evil where none exists.
He concludes:
Many former and serving soldiers believe that this data collection is the thin end of the wedge of introducing religion or caste-based reservations in the armed forces.

The Sachar Committee's bias has been clearly shown by their reliance on foreign research. It is time the government prohibits the Sachar Committee from dealing with the armed forces.

This does not mean that the government should not ask the army to conduct an exercise as to why the proportion of Muslims or Christians or Gujaratis is less in the armed forces.

Finally a counter question to the Sachar Committee: What is the proportion of Muslim employees in Muslim-owned companies like Wipro and Cipla? If it is less than their proportion in population, do we take it that the Muslim owners of these companies are also against the minorities?

Is there no limit to 'vote bank' politics, for the sake of which a government is prepared to destroy the efficiency and cohesion of its armed forces and jeopardise the nation's security?
Omar Khalidi, author of the controversial book, Khaki and Ethnic Violence in India, which reportedly sparked off this controversy has also given his views on this issue (see

The government's present stance is a 180 turn from Sonia Gandhi's views last year. Perhaps they realized that their quest for 'equality' and votes would harm them in the long run. Or perhaps the top Brass of the Forces decided that enough was enough and decided to make their views clear. Yet, the interference in Army affairs continues. The Supreme Court's spate of orders regarding Army affairs is another example. The armed forces are not all rosy themselves though. Rampant abuses of power, corruption and questionable policies are rife, and do warrant attention and action from the Courts and the Government. However, this must not be an excuse for increased bureaucratic control of our Armed Personnel, and there must be synergic efforts to improve the workings of the Forces. Else, we will see another 1962, and the people in charge would not know what to do.

For now, the Armed forces are safe. Yet, complacency is not an option. Else, there won't be an Army to help out during calamities and Riots. Instead, we may end up seeing Jawans fighting each other and joining the mobs like policemen have repeatedly done. That would be the end of the Indian state as we know it, and the end of the 250 year old institution that is the Indian Army.

As Chalmers Johnson says in Eugene Jarecki's documentary, 'Why we Fight'; "The price of Liberty is eternal vigilance". We must be vigilant.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Return of the Exiled Warrior part 2

Here is the report about the Arjun MBT from India-defence.com, regarding the facts from the 15th Standing committee on defence.

The complete report may be found from the Official Lok Sabha site at

The excerpts of the report from

The following are excerpts of the response of DRDO and the Ministry of Defence to the 14th and 15th Standing Committee on Defence regarding the development, progress and present status of the Arjun Main Battle Tank (Arjun MBT):

-- Technical issues in the Gunner’s Main Sight and Gun Control System have been resolved. Suitable modifications have been carried out in these sub-systems on the initial five tanks of MBT Arjun by DRDO, the agency involved for conception and development of the project;

-- DRDO has conducted successful evaluation and handed over five tanks to the Army on 20th Jun 2006;

-- Between February and March 2007, DRDO and the Indian Army conducted Joint Receipt Inspections (JRI) of up to 29-40 Arjun MBT's;

-- Price comparison between 60 ton Arjun MBT and 50 ton T-90S not viable due to inherent difference;

-- Firing accuracy of Arjun MBT far superior to T-90s or T-72s, can engage targets at 2500 meters;

-- Production model of Arjun MBT costs Rs 16.80 to 17.20 crore per system;

-- Power pack, Gunner’s Main Sight and Track are imported components, which work out to 58% of the cost per tank; I

-- Import content can be progressively reduced with increased production orders;

-- Indigenous Gunner’s Main Sight (IGMS) enables the crew of the tank to engage targets under static and dynamic conditions by day and night with enhanced hit probability;

-- Indigenous production of power pack through license production is feasible with enhanced production order for Arjun MBT considering the economy of scale;

-- Arjun MBTs been driven for over 60,000 kms and fired more than 8,000 rounds, no defects detected;

-- DRDO's involvement to cease after OFB produces 30 Tanks, DGQA to take over;

-- Heavy Vehicle Factory (HVF) to produce 50 tanks a year from 2009 onwards;

Return of the Exiled Warrior

The DRDO has chosen its names well. They are always beautiful and evocative, deep in mythological significance (of which, we have no dearth) and give a good indication of the thing in question. There are the missiles, Agni, Prithvi, Akash, Trishul and Nag. Then, there is the Tejas, Marut, the Simhika Sonar system (Simhika was a demon who lived in the sea between Lanka and India, and swallowed Hanuman, an apt name) & co.

Into this group now comes the Arjun, with his bow (tank gun), Gandiva, and backed by Bhishma (T-90). Ironically, the Arjun has, like its mythical counterpart, had to battle not just Bhishma for recognition, but a whole armyfull (pun intended) of doubters and enemies. It has had to go into exile for a long time (almost as long as the Pandavas). But now, its time to return from the wilderness. and the Arjun surely has got people talking. And scared.

After ironing out the problems in the Arjun, the DRDO has confidently put it through its paces... made it fire over 8000 rounds, and travel over 60,000 km, without incident. It was confident enough to give 5 Arjuns for testing to the Army, and another dozen for the recently concluded Ashwamedh Exercises in Rajasthan, where it faced off against over a hundred T-90s and T-72s. And reports seem to indicate that it performed well.

Now, latest reports indicate that the Arjun will make a splash later this year at Army testing, and will be inducted in numbers by 2009. This was revealed to the 15th Standing Committee on Defence by MoD and DRDO officials. A full excerpt of the conversation will be put up late. The good news about the Arjun has been coming in the past few months with increasing frequency and intensity. There were the reports of a revolutionary new Armor that had been developed by DRDO scientists, which even US is interested in. Then, there were the reports of the effectiveness of the Arjun Armor, the cleaning up of all the problems that the Arjun had before, and the Ashwamedh reports.

It is disappointing, though not unexpected that the Media has not taken this up with its usual gusto. But of course, for a media that has made money by bashing the DRDO, why should this good news be reported. Of course, there haven't been many official statements and reports about this. And since when has the media needed official statements to tear the DRDO to pieces? How many reports have we seen that have quoted 'unnamed officials' or 'retired officers'. The same media that reported the IJT crash at Aero India with such 'Schadenfreude' was unnaturally quiet when the first production LCA made its maiden flight. We can expect the same for the Arjun. The DRDO, on its part, is ignoring these reports and continuing its work with a vengeance, letting its actions speak for itself.

The good news hasn't gone unnoticed. The defence enthusiasts on the myriad fora that pay attention to the DRDO's good work are ecstatic about the spate of successes- the PAD, Brahmos, Agni-III, LCA, and now, the Arjun. Some newspapers and web journals too are reporting the good news. As reports are pouring in about problems in the T-90 (most of them, the same problems that the Arjun faced), its becoming clear that the Arjun is not the fiasco that it was called for the past 15 years, but is shaping up to be a tank that will match the best in the business, and go further.

It was said that when Arjuna and Krishna blew their conches, Devadatta & Panchajanya, all who heard it trembled and enemies feared for their lives, while their allies found courage and hope. As the Arjun is thundering towards induction, the conch roars are growing louder, and those who thought less of it are thinking again, and those who will face it are scurrying for answers.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Bangladesh's nuclear dreams: Will India oblige?

A recent report on Zee News has stated that Bangladesh has asked for India's help in setting up a 600MW nuclear reactor in its quest to generate 1500 MW of nuclear energy to meet the current shortfall.

(the report may be found at http://www.zeenews.com/znnew/articles.asp?aid=369904&sid=SAS)

Whether it is in India's interest to oblige remains to be seen. There's the Indo-US nuclear deal that is yet to finish the marathon. The fact remains that every step that India takes will be watched very very closely by the members of the NSG, all of whom must be convinced that it is in their interest to supply India with technology and material. There is also the fact that India is not a part of the Nuclear structure. A small step like this would be quickly seized upon by the Non-proliferation ayatollahs as a sign of Indian 'nuclear proliferation'.

Then, there is the general Western mistrust of nuclear power in the hands of a muslim country. The Euro-centric world-view is a carryover from the age of Empires, and will take some time to get over. The delay and debate in making Turkey an EU member is a prime example, as is the continuing crisis in East Asia.

Yet another reason to think carefully is the pitfall of over-enthusiasm on the part of the government. Although it would appear that helping out Bangladesh would cement our influence, that may not be the case, and may be counter-productive in the long run.

The previous NDA regime did greatly improve relations between India and the world, and in a sense, helped smoothly usher India into the nuclear age, as a confident, if sometimes gawky member of the Nuclear club. However, it neglected the surrounding smaller countries that are crucial for Indian influence in the South Asian and Indian Ocean region. Problems in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Maldives were ignored.

The UPA government has quietly repaired the bridges that had rusted during the BJP days. It has improved relations with Burma, quietly eased problem in Nepal (remember Karan Singh's trip to Kathmandu), and reiterated the warm relations with Male and Bhutan. Relations with Pakistan have been solidified. Most of these have been built on the foundations the NDA laid in the early part of its second tenure, but forgot to build upon.

Still, to assume that Bangladesh is a friend and ally would be sheer folly. A country where the leaders use the canard of Indian Imperialism and anti-Hindu rhetoric to garner votes is to be handled cautiously and pragmatically. Nuclear cooperation indicates a close relationship, which we certainly do not have.

On the contrary.

We must remember that Bangladesh is a close ally of China, which is building a port and railways, supplying weapons and aid. Pakistan's ISI has started using Dhaka as a nice launching base for operations that it is unable to do from the west. This is not Hydel or Thermal energy we are talking about. It is nuclear power, technology that can easily be misused, and something that takes years to develop. why would India give up the technology that has been developed by it and risk our painstakingly built expertise in Reactor design to espionage from Pakistan and China (a very likely possibility).

Bangladeshi stability is another worrying factor. Islamists are gaining momentum, and a disturbing trend of terrorism has taken root in Bangladesh. Persecution of Hindus is regular, established and even condoned. Then there is the matter of Support to ULFA and other NE rebel groups, which has remained a thorn on the Indian state. Massive infiltration of refugees (for want of a more appropriate term) still continues, and firing by the BDR continues.

Dhaka's repeated stonewalling of the Oil pipeline from Myanmar has also irritated New Delhi. Under all these circumstances, is it wise to offer our technology to Bangladesh to satisfy its energy needs, especially when it continues to stymie ours? Probably not.

And yet, there may be many valid and excellent reasons to go ahead and help Dhaka. If we don't supply, then China will. This project would be a great way of creating influence in the country. it would also be a nice way to validate our local designs. It might also work well as a bargaining chip. As for the above issues, there will always be the argument that India must not ignore or antagonize Bangladesh but work with it and move it away from China and Pakistan's sphere of influence. Most of the other problems can be worked out. Personally, this seems to be an acceptable preposition, albeit a risky one, with doubtful long-term benefits for us.

Can we use this opportunity to bridge our discords with Dhaka and usher in better relations? Yes, we can. But it would require us to give up some of our prejudices and previous positions, and take a leap of faith, while requiring the same of Bangladesh. For that, we must be firm.

It might work if our Policy makers ignore Gandhi and Nehruvian idealism for some hard-nosed realpolitik, and invoke Sun-Tze. We must be benevolent towards our neighbour, but it must be aware that our patience is not granted, and if angered, we will act forcefully. Unfortunately, that has rarely happened in the land where we can lose thousands to terrorism and yet only come up with a condolence note.

In the Beginning, there was a void!

Welcome to new friends, hello again to old ones....

.... For someone who doesn't really write too well, I guess I'm crazy to start a blog. I am. So I'll type some stuff up as and when I can or wish. If you are unfortunate enough to stumble on this page, Its OK (psst.... leave NOW!! This guy is Crazy!). For those who have actually typed in the address and wanted to visit it, welcome again (Check into the nearest shrink asap).

All of you, have a nice day, a nice week and a nice time.

Cheers & Cheerio.