Under-defended India - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 22 August 2013

Under-defended India

The Akash missile, mounted on a T-72 based self propelled launcher

by Ajai Shukla
23rd Aug 13
(Slightly abridged version in Business Standard today)

The disastrous explosion in Mumbai that sunk INS Sindhurakshak, one of India’s 14 conventional submarines, and damaged another is a body blow to India’s depleted underwater force. A third submarine lies in Visakhapatnam, crippled by a decade-old attempt to overhaul it. At any given time, the navy can only muster 7-8 submarines. The 30-Year Submarine Construction Plan, sanctioned in 1999, planned to quickly build 24 submarines, but not one of those has entered service.

Meanwhile, the navy’s plan to field three aircraft carriers remains a pipedream. When INS Vikramaditya gets here from Russia, it will be more than five years late. The vintage INS Viraat is to be decommissioned by 2018-19, when Cochin Shipyard delivers the INS Vikrant. The navy continues to dither over the specifications of the Vikrant’s successor. The defence ministry silently watches.

Also languishing are Project 15A and 15B for building six destroyers in Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL) and Project 17A for seven frigates. They are delayed by the navy’s decision to do “concurrent engineering”, that is developing advanced Long Range Surface-to-Air Missile (LR-SAM) alongside the construction of the warship. But with the LR-SAM delayed, the warships are delayed too. This isn’t global best practice by any means; proven systems should be used on new platforms.

Indian Air Force (IAF) planning is even more lamentable, with just 36 fighter squadrons today, against an authorised requirement of 39.5 squadrons. Worse, in 2015, when 8 squadrons of MiG-21s and MiG-27s are due to retire, to be replaced by only four squadrons of Sukhoi-30MKI and a single squadron of Tejas LCAs. In 2017, another 6 squadrons of MiG-21s will retire, creating a fresh crisis. None of this is a surprise; these dates have been known for a decade. The Tejas LCA, now on the cusp of completion, would be a cheap and capable replacement; instead, the IAF has lobbied relentlessly for expensive foreign aircraft.

Consider: The cost of 126 Rafales is some $18 billion; 250 Indo-Russian fifth-generation fighters will cost $30-35 billion; and 100-odd Sukhoi-30MKI will cost $10 billion. Add another $10 billion for C-17 Globemaster III, C-130J Super Hercules and replacing the Avro; $3-4 billion for trainers; and $10-15 billion for the light, utility and combat helicopters currently being procured. That takes the IAF’s aircraft purchases to $81-92 billion over the next 10-15 years. If the IAF condescends to buy a few squadrons of Tejas LCA, its shopping list will kiss $100 billion.

This wish list is an unaffordable fantasy given the IAF’s modernisation budget is $5.7 billion this year. And, given that an aircraft’s purchase price is just 20-25% of its life-cycle cost, the MoD should have warned the IAF off costly foreign procurement and towards indigenous design, development and manufacture. Instead, there are pro forma statements, like “whatever our brave soldiers need for defending the country will be made available.”

Tokenism also suffuses the unnecessary announcement about strengthening the China border by raising a new strike corps and several tank brigades. Instead of tackling the key weakness on the border --- poor roads that prevent the army from moving --- the government has thrown Rs 70,000 crore at the problem. But a strike corps is useful only if it can deploy rapidly.

India’s defence crisis runs far deeper than a shortage of warships, aircraft or divisions. In the absence of a strategically aware opposition, academia, media and public, the government and the military are not called to account for their titanic misspending of lakhs of crores. During peacetime, pro forma statements can paper over the voids. But when the rubber hits the road, as it did in 1962, capability alone will matter.


  1. Shuklaji,
    Excellent analysis & bang on target. The period between 2000 to 2010 is referred to as the 'scam decade' which has resulted in total halt of defence modernisation. This very fact is known to Pak-China, thats why they get such opportunity to disturb India knowing India can't go for full scale war.

  2. Ajay, thank you once again, but what is the use? If only the youth would revolt like in the other parts of the world and throw these Baboos out, once and for all.

  3. Ajai, who exactly is responsible for this mess? The forces or MoD and MoF? Please don't club the forces together with the bungling sarkari fools, whose side you so candidly wish to take these days.

  4. Taking pride in being relegated to Antonys poodle? What have they promised you? Tell us about the deal you have struck with 'them'.

  5. Very nice article. It seems the miltary and Mod today don't want to prepare to fight, instead they just want to spend. One should wonder if its the percentages playing...

  6. Come to think. Of what use is our Nuclear weapons capability if it can not be used to reduce our defence hardware procurement?

    I suggest we can save 100 billion in procurement and another 400 billion in maintenance by going back on our promise of "No First Use" against Nuclear Weapon States.

    Being a renegade has its own advantages. This will be a small price to pay. Who can blame us for using a strategic resource for a strategic objective? I can assure you, no country, for just the hack of it, will like to, as Indians would say in vernacular "Touch our Tail"

  7. @Ajai sir

    A few things

    For the depleting sub numbers

    It will be much better idea to cancel P75I and increase the number P75 Scorpene subs to 18 with first 6 currently left alone and next 6 being AIP powered (provided Stirling AIP is selected and money on DRDO/NMRL AIP is stopped, which is probably a waste of public money).

    By the time the last batch of 6 P75 Scorpenes enter production it will be time for the 1st P75 scorpene for upgrade/refit, this is the time when we can try and add a VLS missile firing capsule / module into it and test it, if its successful then remaining 5 of the first batch of P75 Scorpenes can be added with missile firing capsule / module and with the facility of AIP module as addon already there in 2nd batch Scorpenes, the 1st batch of 6 P75 scorpenes will have immense potential.

    Once that is done the 3rd batch of P75 Scorpene can easily include AIP and missile firing modules.

    Similarly when it will be time for 2nd batch of P75 Scorpenes (AIP powered) to be upgraded then we can add the missile firing modules in to them (which would have been successfully tested by then, if opted for).

    This will mean that all 18 scorpenes will eventually be AIP powered and missile firing subs.

    Believe me if this pattern is adopted then not only we will be able to develop a wide knowhow on sub building but eventually the cost incurred for P75 will be recovered.

    Once that is done India could refocus on making Type 209 SSK, 12 in all (on whose ToT we have sat long enough) with missile & AIP modules with more indian elements (india made steel), much the same way as we are now doing with the Bofors guns. This way we can touch 30 sub by 2030

    This doesn’t include SSN/SSGN/SSBN the total number whose number should be about 15

    A carrier is a big ship & to decommission INS Viraat will be harsh I suggest we can use it as LPD/LPH till 2030 till our own LPD/LPH arrive

    For the IAF

    I believe it will be much better to club the C130J-SH need and avro replacement need together and go for C130J-SH together, start making them in India (100 in all)that is much practical since who on earth in pvt sector will set up a greenfield project just to make 56 planes to replace the avros
    Stop development of HTT40 (waste of public money) and go for PC7s in all stage 1 as no air force uses 2 different stage 1 trainers and partly on stage 2 training as well since IJT 36 wont be in the scene for next 10 yrs

    Most importantly focus should be on inducting more no. of LCA mk2 and not mk1 which is a under powered jet and can never be useful in combat

    These are my views anybody listens to them or not is their wish


    Joydeep Ghosh

  8. Lack of strategic thinking and tactical execution is palpable in the military and in the MoD. But then the MoD in particular is manned by those who have no experience or core competence in defense matters. The whole structure is rotten and it starts from the top - exactly what is the current Defense minister’s core competence in getting this job other than his loyalty to the party high command and a corruption free saintly public image? To be fair his predecessors have not been better either. Indian society in general is not knowledgeable in this area. Examples abound - allowing our western neighbor to develop nuclear weapons has given them the impunity to terrorize India. Weren't the Generals and the mandarins in south block aware of the massive infrastructure build up over three decades in Tibet? India's imported army and air force don't stand much of a chance in a protracted war with our eastern neighbor. The navy will perhaps acquit itself better. When the rubber hits the road next time it will be lambs to the slaughter like 62 and the eagles will find that they can’t replace their borrowed feathers when they need them the most.Wars are won or lost long before the first bullets are fired. Under defended? Might as well call it undefended.

  9. What we need is a dictatorship for a while. Get our house in order. Straighten out the bureaucrats, toughen the military, tame the politicos, the works.

  10. My Solution for IAF plans:

    PAK-FA/FGFA - Cancel it (save $35 billion)

    Jaguar: Retire them and cancel the upgrade program. (Save $2-3 billion)

    Mig29: Cancel upgrade and decommission. (save $2 billion + LCC)

    Mirage: Cancel upgrade and decommission. (save $4 billion + LCC)

    Tejas - Cancel it and focus on SIXTH GENERATION AMCA AND AURA! (about $4 billion over 10 years and then the rest)

    AMCA and AURA: Get them ready for service by 2027 and 2020 respectively. (Development costs only. Acquisition of AURA will cost some $20 billion 2020 onwards)

    Su30MKI - Cancel additional orders. And consider retiring others early, say 2027(save $10 billion plus LCC of the ones decommissioned)

    Rafale - Increase order to 300+ and lobby for partnership in the project and get as much work share to India as possible. Export the fighter jointly with a more competitive price. The French aerospace industry is in decline anyway, they need the help. This will keep French production to 26 a year and an Indian factory can make 32 a year and both can still run for a decade. ($40 billion)


    F35 - Become joint partner and order 300+. Do this if they provide good industrial benefits to India. ($40 billion)

    Super Herc: Increase numbers to 30+. No need for all the specialist equipment on all planes, just 16 of them need the jammers and stuff. ($6 billion)

    C-17: Increase numbers to 20+. (10 billion)

    Avro Replacement: Increase number to 76+ so as to make local production possible. (2 billion)

    Helicopter orders: CANCEL, ONLYArmy needs them. (Save $ Billions in purchase, LCC and manpower cuts)

    Existing helos: Decommission. (save billions in LCC and downsizing of manpower)

    Chinook: Let this be the only Helo with IAF. Increase to 100+ and initiate local production, IAF should get heavy lift role. (4 billion)

    Apache: Cancel. Only Army should get these. (Save $1 billion)

    A330 MRTT: Increase to 20+ (3 billion)

    AEW&C: 10-15 ($8 billion)

    Airbases: Close down some of the smaller airfields as you decrease the number of fighters to 300-400.

    MAFI: Invest in better air defence and hardened shelters. (say $5 Billion, no idea)

    This will cost FAR LESS THAN $100 billion and keep IAF and domestic industry busy till 2027. It will also make us the second most powerful air force in the world. Much more capable, modern and flexible than PLAAF, Russia etc. We will have more air power than UK, France and Germany combined. Not bad for a country with a much smaller economy and still developing.

  11. The thing is India is an un-balanced mess. For any nation to be superior, it has to first master its resources and manage them efficiently. Resources include number of people. For a country with population the size of India, and meagre resources, the distribution and allocation of these resources will always result in infighting, especially in a flawed democracy such as India, the political leadership of which is very poorly-defined. Armed forces, as is suggested in strategic thinking, is the weapon of last resort. For a rapidly multiplying nation (especially of those who cannot sustain their multiplications), this creates an economic imbalance. The well-off are forced to feed the useless. When this happens, ofcourse the priorities for the armed forces and other developmental activities will suffer. Hence the first order of business is to strictly curtail the production of human beings for all residents of India. Only then can we plan for development. Unless all political groups addresses this issue, India will always be dragged down by the weight of its population. One way to cut this flab and make it productive is to use WW2 Soviet style mobilization and swarm the enemy borders with train-loads of such unproductive resources, a tactic which Pakistan is using in Kashmir very effectively. Again, all the trouble starts with a poorly defined political leadership. Indian political process is highly opaque and messed up, with elected politicians actually subverting the mandate on which they were elected. And more often, setting a totally different agenda than the promises they make. Only a political revolution will help clean up 1950's India for the new millennium, until then we are doomed. Unfortunately I don't see a leader capable enough to lead such a revolution. Anna Hazare was one such, but he bargained with the devil.

  12. Well researched article showing off the 'Emperor in his new clothes'. Even that is not enough to shame him.

  13. Great article as usual Ajai sir, but the armed forces is not the only one to blame here. The DRDO should be held responsible for holding on to timelines.

  14. India will be importing weapons for next billions years, with the condition that india exists.

    If defence forces do not have confidence in Indian educated engineers or researchers; why should the rest of indian (non defence personal), have faith in its defence forces?

    Ultimately, why should we have faith in Indian govt. system.

  15. Air Force is a technology intensive force. Unfortunately, all the latest technology is only available abroad and that is why we are forced to buy weapon systems from foreign nations. Even in our day to day life, the products that we use, right from the toothpaste to the smartphones are wholly or partly foreign. Every time you buy these things, royalty goes abroad. Should we, then , start using Dantmanjan and throw away our Tablet phones. It is very easy tp preach 'Swadeshi', but next to impossible to practise. In my considered opinion, it is time to stop wasting money on DRDO, HAL , and others. Our pilots need machines to deliver weapons accurately, and not showpieces. How can you ever compare Rafale to Tejas?

  16. Colonel Shukla:

    You forgot to mention the AMCA. How much will this cost?

  17. Every cloud has a silver lining, provided that you learn from your mistakes and take lessons from the past experiences. Its heartbreaking to see that our priced possessions like Submarines and more than that the men manning such equipment are lost due to such tragic instances. But for me, what is more painful is to see that even though the sub sank in a few feet of water it is taking weeks to salvage. What if such godforsaken accident would have happened in deep waters. How long would it take to salvage the vessel, and more importantly save lives. The obvious question that comes to ones mind is that Do we have the means to rescue men in such a situation, or are we still ignoring our lessons? Its human to err, but its always smart to learn from such errors. What has happened has happened, lets take lessons from these mistakes and swear not to let it happen again. Ajai Sir request you to shed more light on this subject.

  18. I am not criticizing the Indian Navy, But can anybody in Navy justify the purpose of purchasing Air Craft carriers since Independence? So far as my knowledge goes Air Craft carrier is required if India has plans to attack a country far away from our main land and the fighter planes have no range to go and bomb enemy locations and come back safely. I do not think India will ever think of attacking a far away country. Instead of spending billions of dollars for purchasing second- hand Air Craft Carriers, the Navy should have purchased more number of submarines and warships to tackle China. I am not against developing our indigenous Air Craft Carriers to show our strength. Air Craft Carrier is only a status symbol like Indian middle class families owning cars when there is no parking space and the roads are congested .

  19. Can't blame anyone. Everyone works for what matters for him/her - WIIFM - What Is In It For Me.
    A politician has only two WIIFMs in any matter - votes for the party and more avenues for illegally acquired money to pour into own/party funds.

    As for objection from service Chiefs to cockeyed plans, it is too weak. I suppose their WIIFM is a good post after retirement.

  20. Idiotic comments from Parthvader and Rajesh Snehi aside, the current scenario is primarily due to the propensity of the armed forces to prefer imports over indigenous equipment.

    Especially the IAF and Army must be sensitized to the merits of indigenous development, and be made to work collaboratively with DRDO on all existing and new projects.

    The Armed forces must show some pragmatism and common sense.

    1. nice comment the only sensible comment in this article

  21. With the rupee in freefall one wonders the fate of defence deals in negotiations. Case in point, M-MRCA; the puchase price must be going through the roof if transactions are as per current exchange rates.

  22. @ abhiman
    do you know how DRDO has hamstrung India's Defence preparedness? Whenever the forces are in need of something, they interject by saying that they will make it cheaper and better. So instead of buying the thing off the shelf ( let's say a certain type of High Explosive artillery ammunition , a vital thing for any Field Army) they delay and then delay some more and finally after many years' time overrun and crores worth of cost overruns, there is a substandard product that hardly matches up to the the product that was available off the shelf at a tenth of the cost ten years ago. Meanwhile, the same product has improved and our adversary has it in their inventory so they can kill us more efficiently while we struggle with the outdated product that DRDO lumps it with .After all, it is 'Indigenous'. To top that the Ordnance Factory takes a huge order of the ammunition and never delivers on the quantities, nor does it deliver on time. So our levels of ammunition remain scarily low (maybe that's why we talk of swift short wars - we just don't have ammunition enough to last us a long-drawn one !).
    SO wake up and smell the coffee !

  23. Anonymous @ 27 Aug 16:26:

    Firstly, DRDO has never had any "veto" over armed force's procurement decision. The analogy given by you is has one precedent widely reported by the media : the Trishul missile.

    In the late 1990s, the navy tested the Israeli Barak missile system, which actually failed in some parameters. Dr. Kalam, the then DRDO head requested the Navy to wait for the Trishul, because it was at the same stage of development as the Barak was then. Yet, in 2000, the Navy went ahead and purchased the Barak (its now a scandal involving an ex-Navy Chief and some politicians).

    Its another story that the Israelis licked the Barak's problems by mid-2000s, whereas the Trishul -- despite a string of successful tests -- had to be shelved. This is because the world over, passively guided missiles like Trishul were being replaced by actively guided ones.

    The point of this anecdote is that DRDO NEVER had any veto over the armed forces' procurement. In fact, its always battling against the import-loving Army and Air-force (and PSU monopolies like HAL, OFB and BEML who too earn lots of foreign commissions; think TATRA trucks), foreign arms-agents, and the influence of foreign governments to beg the armed forces to induct its equipment.

    Also note: Akash is now being inducted by the Army & the Air Force in the thousands, and so is the AAD/PAD Ballistic missile defence system. This was possible because unlike Trishul, both Akash and AAD/PAD use active guidance in their terminal phase.

    And no, the DRDO did NOT force them down the armed forces' throat. They were approved only after a series of very stringent tests lasting many years and decades (in case of Akash). Otherwise, the forces had started salivating over US-made Patriots and Russian S-400s but were convincingly won over by the DRDO.

    Example 2: The IAF expressed interest over the Mirage-2000-V after the Mirage-2000 proved itself to be valuable in the Kargil war.

    Fast forward 12 years later. The Tejas-like Gripen and Su 30-like F/18 Super Hornett were also in contention, proving that the IAF had thrown the concept of "medium fighter" to the winds. It was simply salivating at all the latest toys other countries had to offer. Were it not for Arunachal and Ladakh, I'm certain the Chinese J-10 too would've been given a red carpet (pun intended).

    Now, the Tejas Mk-2 is estimated to be inducted by 2015-16 (an order for 99 GE-F414 engines has already been given). It shall be very similar to the Gripen NG, and F-16 C/D in conventional combat, minus only the ability to carry nukes (for that we have Sukhois anyway).

    So, should the IAf spend god-billions on importing the Rafale, or should it spend a fraction of it to get the Tejas Mk.2 off the ground ? You decide.

    Idiocy of the IAF aside, the moral is once again that DRDO cannot force the IAF to induct Tejas. IAF is doing whatever it wants by way of MRCA and at its own sweet time.

  24. Ajay Shukla's analysis is good for people who prefer negative thinking in every area of defence services.

    Since all the services maintain silence and cannot challenge Shukla on his analysis, it stays supreme.

    Everything is not as bad as some times Ajay Shukla paints. In last 8 years about $40 billion worth of military hardware has arrived in India. If MMCA is approved sooner and other aircraft carriers join the force in ten years together with scorpene submarines then why are the analysts running so scared. Chinese have already acknowledged their vulnerability in Malacca Straits. India rules supreme there.

    There is only one point which is worth consideration that road infrastructure at the border has been mishandled. I still give government a bit of a benefit of doubt. Chinese tricked unsuspecting Indian leaders that border is quite and They (Chinese) need road infrastructure to keep Tibet under control. When the Indian leaders realized the Chinese duplicity they began building roads. It is much harder to build on Indian side than on the Chinese side. Resources are lesser in Indian side.

  25. We still need boots on ground. Indian army needs Of artillery and heavy weapons like anti material rifles can easily met by local design and manufacture. Here is where we have created institutions with accountability to anyone.

  26. One more thing: No other air force has this concept of light-medium-heavy fighters. Except IAF.

    The USAF consists of only F-15 and F-16 combo. F-15s are for deep strikes, while F-16s are for patrol, air-superiority and CAS.

    Similarly, Russia is trimming its air-force to have only Su-30 and variants as the deep striker (to counter F-15s), and MiG-29 and its variants as the counter to the F-16.

    Even China is solidifying to Su-30 and its (ill)legal variants for deep strike roles, and the J-10 for F-16-type roles. In fact the J-10 may be called Asia's F-16.

    True, that China still has hordes of J-7s. And like the IAF's MiG-21s, they're being phased out. But unlike the IAF's MiG-21s they're NOT going to be replaced. And no, the JF-17 is also not going to replace them. Thats only meant to be exported to Pakistan and other nations.

    Medium sized countries like France, Pakistan, operate only F-16 or Rafale type of jets. PAF is phasing out its J-7s and Mirage-7s and shall keep a fleet of only F-16s and JF-17s. To avoid sanctions from Uncle Sam, it shall induct the Asian F-16 i.e. the J-10.

    So, why does the IAF want this light-medium-heavy combo ? Unlike the more pragmatic Chinese Air-Force it has developed some sort of nostalgia and affection for the MiG-21. Not that its "bad", but its unwanted in the current scenario. There is nothing called as a "point-defence" fighter. That role can be taken care of by a good SAM network.

    The MiG-21 was the product of an era when jet engines of post-WW2. The US had fielded the Starfighter to which the Soviets responded with the MiG-21. Today, the US does NOT field advanced jets of the range-payload specs of a Starfighter. Neither is Russia building or fielding anymore jets of the range-payload specs of a MiG-21.

    So, why oh why does the IAF need MiG-21 type of fighters even in the 21st century ? This, when neither USAF, Russia and even Chian -- our main adversary -- are not going to field fighters of its capability at any time in the future ?

    Ideally, the IAF must only field Su-30s and Tejas fighters. That's it. Su-30s will execute deep strikes inside enemy territory, whereas Tejas' can do air-superiority, CAS, escorting Su-30s and interception.

  27. ajai,
    in your latest frenzy of service bashing, you have omitted one key issue - where are these fancy toys that DRDO promises?
    Tejas has been on the "cusp" of development for the last 24 years, sir. The reason that the IAF is short of aeroplanes is that it had faith in the timelines promised by DRDO /HAL and waited faithfully.
    Now that it has no foreign aeroplanes and no Tejas, you want to kick them for poor planning?
    You are either amazingly naive in your understanding of defence procurement in this country (which I don't believe) or some of the conspiracy theories circulating about whose is bankrolling you have some truth in them.

  28. to broadsword

    sir,please provide details in near future about naval kaveri engine, akaash mk2 sam,how much indegenisation done for scorpenes.


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