JAYANT SINHA: They are innocent. They are extremely poor. From our party, from my side, we supported them because they were wrongly convicted by the court and jailed. So, the party helped them, I supported them and because the party had supported them and many others too did, they wanted to thank us all. They came to my residence. I, mind you, did not go to their residence, they came here. I’ve in fact never been to their residence. And to answer your question as to why I never visited the residence of the Mariam Khatoon, the wife of the lynching victim, I want to say that if she had come here or if anyone from their side had asked me for support, I’d have definitely supported them. I support everyone who asks me.
REPORTER: This is a case of religion motivated communal killing and I want to put this very straight to you – let’s assume tomorrow a similar opportunity comes up and a similarly-charged accused comes to your doorstep, will you again garland him or her?
JAYANT SINHA: I do not garland anyone nowadays for the simple reason that under such circumstances, people tend to misuse such opportunities. The optics of doing something like this in itself appear wrong. And for this, as a point of principle, I do not garland anyone.
REPORTER: You said that you had helped the accused. Can you clarify what was the nature of the help you rendered to the accused and also – did you extend any help to the widow of the victim Mariam Khatoon?
JAYANT SINHA: The families of the accused asked me to get for them a good lawyer. They also said it would be nice if we could also pay the fee for the lawyer. And since so many people had supported them financially including members of the party and I had also supported them because of the member of the party was involved in the case and was in need of support since he comes from extreme poverty. So as to help that person who is from the party, we in the party decided to do what was asked of us. Our monetary support went in directly as the fee for the lawyer Mr Tripathy (defence laywer).
Now let’s talk about Mariam Khatoon – she has in the past through media has cast aspersions on my government and my work. Let it be. I have discussed her case with the administration and seen to it that her rights are not violated and she gets what she ought to. This, to my mind, would be justice for her as well.
WHAT DID MARIAM KHATOON SAY?
He can help those who in broad daylight killed someone! Destroyed an entire family! If he (Sinha) really wants to make a difference, let him get my son a job within a month. Then is when I will believe that he has helped me. I want to make one thing clear – whatever Sinha is claiming he did for me by talking to the administration or anyone else, I reject that claim.
TIMELINE OF THE CASE:
– 29 June, 2017
Alimuddin Ansari was lynched by a mob in Bazatand, Ramgarh in Jharkhand
– 16 March, 2018
11 of the 12 named accused are convicted by Fast Track Court in Ramgarh
– 21 March, 2018
Life imprisonment to all convicted accused
– 29 June, 2018
Jharkhand High Court granted bail to 8 of 11 convicted in Alimuddin case. Case to be heard
On February 18 this year, even as the scale and intensity of the Pulwama attack was being studied, a quiet yet significant decision was taken inside the South Block, the seat of India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD).
In a first, the MoD’s Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) – a giant, government-run industrial set up tasked with supporting India’s armed forces – was provided a Bulk Production Clearance (BPC) to produce 114 of the first-ever, self-made, 155mm x 45 calibre artillery gun, the ‘Dhanush’.
Towards that today, the Indian Army stands to receive the gun in a formal ceremony to mark the ‘hand over’.
Before we plunge into the depths of why this is a far-reaching decision – let’s study the background a bit.
India’s first televised war, more famously known as the Kargil war of 1999, holds an enduring image which is key to understanding the Dhanush story.
Spread across the mountainous terrain were batteries of tall Indian Army artillery guns, spitting out round after round onto the icy peaks in the hope of evicting Pakistan-backed intruders. They were the Bofors – often used as a metaphor for allegations of corruption in defence, a name that also stands for what targetted artillery fire can achieve.
Dhanush owes its existence to the Bofors saga and an intriguing set of circumstances.
The stepping stone was an incomplete set of ‘Transfer of Technology’ (ToT) document from the 1980s when India purchased 410 pieces of the imported Bofors gun. Allegations of corruption in the purchase of the gun meant that the subsequent developments became somewhat of a no-go territory.
Somewhere in this deep freeze came the Kargil war.
If the war showed what artillery can achieve, it also exposed how outdated India’s firepower was as Bofors – a 39 calibre gun which used 155mm ammunition – had a range of merely 29km. Technology had decisively moved to 45 calibre which yielded a extended range.
India’s efforts to upgrade the Bofors gun though successful could not take its range beyond 30km.
Finally in October 2011, the MoD cleared the path for the development of Dhanush.
Producing the gun and supplying it to the Indian Army was linked to the success the Dhanush achieved.
Since November 2012, Dhanush prototypes (now 12) have been tested in varying climatic conditions and terrain. According to the OFB, the gun has fired a total 4599 rounds in the deserts, the plains and near the Siachen base camp.
There were questions over the ability, pace and quality of the programme. To add to its woes, in 2017, the Central Bureau of Investigation began probing allegations pertaining to the use of low-quality Chinese parts in the gun’s manufacturing.
However, the Bulk Production Clearance received by Team Dhanush on February 18 has to be seen as the successful culmination of development and the initiation of production for the Dhanush.
So what is it that the Dhanush brings to the Indian Army?
Operations are not automated
Has a computer on each gun & can be fully automated and networked
Can only fire older ammunition
Can fire older as well as next generation ammunition
Imported system and dated technology
Designed and built in India with over 80 per cent of its spares available locally
Weighing nearly 13 tonnes and costing Rs 13 crore a piece, the Dhanush is a self-propelled gun with ability to shoot and scoot, so as to avoid a counter attack. Apart from a truck towing the gun, Dhanush can travel nearly 5km per hour on its own steam.
Senior Director at the Jabalpur-based Gun Carriage Factory (GCF) Rajeev Sharma, who has been associated with the Dhanush project since 2012 said, “Beginning with 18 guns which we will deliver to the Army by December 2019, our aim is to complete all deliveries before the end of 2022”. He added, “The future for Dhanush will grow even before delivery of these 114 Guns is completed. The Army’s decision to successively graduate towards the155mm family of artillery gun systems means that the scope for Dhanush to grow is truly there.”
Bringing an incomplete ToT document to this stage today has lent confidence to the effort which was shepherded by the OFB, the Indian Army and allied organisations. However, given the scale and complexity of the gun, stabilising a production line and ensuring support to the army will be a totally different ball game.
Though in the words of former Director General (DG) Artillery in the Army Headquarters, Lieutenant General PR Shankar (Retd), the Dhanush will emerge as India’s mainstay.
And yet it is only one of the several artillery projects nearing fruition.
Last November saw induction of the initial lot of 145 M777 A2 Ultra Light Howitzers (155mm x 39 calibre guns) which weight less than 4.5 tonnes and can be quickly deployed in just about any terrain. Along with the M777 A2, also inducted were ten K9 Vajra tracked, self propelled guns (155mm x 52 calibre) which can be used in deserts as well as plains. A total of 100 such K9 Vajra guns will eventually become a part of the Indian Army.
“During the Kargil war, the Indian Army merely deployed 22 Bofors guns. Now imagine the added firepower that a Dhanush can bring to bear on the adversary. Add to that the trajectory of India’s artillery corps where we are on the cusp of some radical and cutting edge platforms. I wouldn’t hesitate in saying we are sure to emerge as a global force to reckon with. What makes it even better is the fact that most of these developments are indigenous, not imported”, he added.
Q: Can you tell us about the background work which went in within the DRDO to achieve this capability that the Prime Minister spoke about today.
A: First of all, this is excellent team work which has happened. Integrating the capabilities of the long range missile systems and anti-ballistic missile defence kill vehicle, then modifying and upgrading it to be able to hit satellites where the speeds can go as high as 12 km/second was been the primary challenge. The team demonstrated the perfect hit with their first test itself.
Well, DRDO has been working on long-range missiles and ballistic missile defence and today both of these programs have matured. We’ve used the booster which is the first stage of the long range missile that drives the missile far and the kill vehicle of the ballistic missile defence programme.
By merging them and giving them the capability to intercept a fast moving satellite – this is what we have achieved today. It is a very big step in enhancing India’s security.
It has been a year and a half long effort in which this has happened.
BBC MARATHI BULLETIN:
Q: So you are saying that till recently India did not have formal Anti Satellite Programme for its scientists to work on?
A: We never had a formal ASAT programme.
BBC TELUGU TV BULLETIN:
Q: Why did India demonstrate this capability in the Low Earth Orbit? What is the significance?
A: The goal was to demonstrate how a fast moving satellite could be intercepted at any stage. Towards that it was necessary to select a satellite that has the capability to move all around the earth. Also we wanted to make sure that the debris from our test did not pose any problem since the debris after such an explosion remains in space. It was thus required to be done in low orbit so that the debris can get removed and destroyed by the earth’s atmosphere.
The other aspect is that 90 per cent of all satellites are in the orbit between 300km to 1200km, especially military satellites that focus on image gathering or electronic intelligence or communication. They are all in the same range. So we were keen to show the capability to take any satellite down.
If we had hit a satellite in the ranges of beyond 700-800km the debris caused out of that would’ve lasted last for decades and would’ve become a hazard for any new space mission. There is effort going on to control the debris. The Chinese ASAT test created massive debris which is still orbiting the earth.
BBC GUJARATI TV BULLETIN:
BBC HINDI TV BULLETIN:
Q: Your predecessor at DRDO said back in 2011 that India had this capability. Why should this day then mean so much?
A: It is one thing to have a capability. We may have engines, components but to build a working vehicle is another thing altogether. Capability to technology and technology to product is a process and today I am happy that DRDO could convert our capability to product.
Q: Will India need more tests to validate her capability?
A: As I see it, after our direct hit, we don’t need any more tests now.
What is important now is to convert our demonstration into concrete deployment. We need a strategy on that going forward, what resources we will have, what resources will need to be diverted. Space security as a concept needs to be understood. Today thanks to this test we can begin a conversation around this.
What you must understand is that this test gives us the capability for very long range missile interceptions which are travelling at similar speeds of 6-7km/second in the exo-atmospheric region at distances which are 200-300km away.
So finally if you again take the Chinese example, they had the first test in 2007 and as I understand their anti-satellite weapons are now they are getting deployed. So I think the process (for India) will take 5-10 year depending on how many resources we are able to allocate.
Q: Is India really at par with US, Russia and China or do they have anti-satellite weapons which have longer ranges?
A: Ranges in this domain are inconsequential. Our boosters can go beyond 2000km. AGNI V is now 5000km capable as you know. To kill any satellite, the seeker in the final stage lasts for 5-10 seconds and we have shown that. Thus more not tests are required. We can always simulate to generate scenarios and improve ourselves.
Q: Is there the possibility of India’s actions inviting adverse international reaction?
A: There is no such treaty that India has violated. I am not expecting anything adverse from the international community. For every country space is a vital segment of survival. After all, only recently the US has created a space command. What our tests show is that India takes space as a holistic segment of defence where there are intelligence satellites, recce satellites, this weapon and we are developing the capability to deploy satellites at short notice.
As against what China did, the debris from our test will vanish in three months.
Without violating anything we have proved ourselves so we need not fear anything.
Former Director General of DRDO and Scientific Advisor to Raksha Mantri, Dr AvinashChander, is an eminent Missile Scientist and the Chief Architect of the Long Range Ballistic Missile System AGNI. He Envisioned and evolved the Strategies for Long Range Missiles and led the design and development of AGNI series of Missile Systems – AGNI A1, A2, A3, A4 and A5 providing cutting edge, decisive Strategic Weapon systems to the Armed Forces, leading to the Successful development of the Nation’s pride, ‘5000+ Km range AGNI 5 Strategic Weapon System’ propelling India to join the elite club of five advanced nations.
“The first rule in the defence ministry” a senior bureaucrat once told me, “is learning how to defend yourself.”
But Manohar Parrikar, the IITian politician, whose career in Delhi as India’s 36th defence minister commenced with the winter of 2014, was slated to do much more than ‘self defence’.
In fact, he aimed at a ‘course correction’ after the ministry was helmed by Congress leader and former Kerala Chief Minister AK Antony for eight years — a period that saw several controversies concerning procurements and senior appointments.
Parrikar began with promises of faster decision-making, enhanced transparency, increased self-reliance in terms of defence manufacturing, and a sound policy framework to support the above-mentioned goals.
He made a serious attempt at walking the talk, indeed.
So focussed he was on the finer details, that I’d often hear senior officers talk about how Parrikar could engage them on matters that were fairly technical. From my sources I learnt that he’d take files home and study them. It would not be an overstatement to say that he toiled and earned the respect of the armed forces in the time he was their Raksha Mantri.
Among other things, his tenure saw an ugly One Rank One Pension (OROP) agitation leading to the scheme being operationalised, the signing of the Rafale contract, the cross-border strikes with Myanmar and Pakistan, the unveiling of the Defence Procurement Policy 2016, as well as attempts at major defence reforms which didn’t exactly take off.
Yet, his term ended in merely 28 months. March 13, 2017 was his last day as the country’s defence minister.
Following an election verdict that saw the BJP lose the majority in his home state, Parrikar chose to cobble up a coalition and crown himself the chief minister.
Later, speaking to his staff, I learnt that he had, in private, dropped enough hints about wanting to leave Delhi. “He was a loner in the national capital,” said an official who did not wish to be quoted. While Parrikar’s love for seafood is indeed documented, what isn’t is his taste for distinct cuisines. Especially on his tours abroad, his stay would confess, he’d be more than willing to try out newer preparations. His time in Delhi was hardly fruitful from that point of view. “He had lost four kilos in those two years, as he could neither find good fish nor adapt to the tastes here. While he made up for a non-existent social life in Delhi by putting in extra work hours, his heart was in Goa,” said an official who did not wish to be named.
I first saw him in 2010 or 2011, inside the Goa Legislative Assembly.
With his shirt out and floaters on the floor, he’d sit cross-legged and rather comfortably in his chair as the leader of opposition. For anyone covering those heated sessions inside the Goa Legislative Assembly when the state’s mining sector was in the eye of a storm in 2011, Parrikar’s demeanour stood out.
Elections were due next year, and Parrikar, who did win them and subsequently became the chief minister, was not going to let a juicy controversy pass.
I was told that he was keen to share material, provided it was ‘off the record’. That was when I first met him on a rainy afternoon at the gate of the assembly complex.
As I stood waiting for him, my eyes searched for his convoy. So when a small red car pulled up by my side, I didn’t even bother checking, until someone called out to me from inside. It was him.
Surprised, I got in the car and we drove past the security.
I’ve met many politicians who have an army of people hanging around their offices and homes. That day, Parrikar had none. The key to his office was inside his pocket. He opened the door, switched on the lights and we chatted.
That he did not let his simplicity become the victim of the office he held was visible even when he moved to Delhi as the defence minister. Unlike others who’d seek large bungalows for themselves and separate accommodation for their staff, Parrikar’s entire private staff – literally airlifted from CMO in Goa – would stay inside his Akbar road residence.
This is not to say the man didn’t have his failings.
Like any other politician, when he wasn’t keen to take on questions, he’d play really hard to get.
I particularly recall instances when I made several attempts to question him, but ended up being frustrated. He was not keen to take questions during the mining inquiry; likewise when he was the defence minister, and controversial decisions regarding the OROP agitation and the surgical strikes had been announced.
Also, in his zeal to unleash witty one-liners, he’d often end up attracting controversy.
Once, he inadvertently passed on some details about India’s nuclear submarine, INS Arihant, to me and another journalist. Realising what a scoop it was, he immediately requested we hold the information as it may hurt an aspect of the programme! There were many occasions when he’d say something controversial, then add that he was being misquoted. The journey from his juicy statements to his shell and back were several and given the office he held, provided fodder to his critics.
Yet, there was also the lighter side to his one-liners.
“You are more interested in TV coverage,” Parrikar shot back at Congress MP Jyotiraditya Scindia who was distracting him as he was reading out his statement inside the Parliament on the Pathankot terrorist strike in 2016. Years before, in 2012, when I met him after he became the chief minister, he pointed to a statue of King Shivaji prominently holding a sword. Confused, I asked about the reference and he said, “I placed it before my desk so that anyone who develops the wrong kind of ideas inside this office is kept in check,” he added.
In the last twelve months, his public appearances became limited.
From the time he was detected with pancreatic cancer to his demise, he lived a public life and yet, in none of his utterances admitted to suffering from it. Why he chose what he did remains a mystery.
Few know that Manohar Parrikar had a fear of heights. And yet, as he departs, he has secured a high place among the pantheon of Indian politicians who could effortlessly connect with the masses.
AIR CHIEF MARSHAL ARUP RAHA (R): Procedures and negative remarks on file did not deter Parrikar from doing what was needed
As the Raksha Mantri, he was very efficient, intelligent and sharp. We found him approachable, open and hard-working.
What I found it very interesting was that he’d be the only person in the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) – Defence Ministry’s highest decision-making body – who would go through each and every aspect of those briefs we made very, very thoroughly. Not that the others wouldn’t do it but he’d do it extremely thoroughly.
I used to wonder how he managed getting through so many pages of briefs and understand it, analyse it and come well prepared.
Mathematics was his strong area. He’d remember numbers and calculations instantaneously. The pace of his mental calculations was such that we’d be left behind many steps.
Observing him one realised he wasn’t ready to get bogged down by procedures.
Defence acquisition process in our country moves very slowly. Our system is process-driven and seldom goal-driven or goal-oriented. He changed that.
Whenever we told him that so and so projects were languishing for so many months and years and that he needed to do something, he would actually tell his staff and other stakeholders to put their remarks on file and send the file up as quickly as possible so that he could consider it.
Most stakeholders, to my mind, didn’t really understand the impact of defence acquisition from the strategic, diplomatic, operational and other angles. They’d always look at it as a commercial event. But he did not. He looked at it from the viewpoint of strategic need, need of capability building and was ready to give his comments on file, positive comments, despite so much of negative remarks.
He would pick up the case for the armed forces even if the finance ministry did not agree. He would insist that the case be taken to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) since he was confident that he would argue it before CCS and get the approvals. I admired that quality of his.
If he was convinced of a purchase, he would push it to the end and steer it through. Procedures and negative remarks on file did not deter him. He did not mind standing alone.
For example when we made the case for acquisition of fighter aircraft, when we gave him the presentation he understood the issue so clearly. Thereafter he himself took up the challenge to convince the highest authority. Towards that he himself gave the presentation. We were all there but he himself did the presentation to show how important it was. Rafale was one of the cases, there were others too. He made it a personal mission. Normally the officers in charge of departments or chiefs or vice chiefs would do such presentations but for this, he did it himself. That kind of involvement I haven’t seen.
In July 2016, the air force lost an An-32 transport aircraft which was ferrying 29 armed forces personnel from Tambaram in Chennai to Port Blair. Despite our best efforts for nearly two months, this aircraft could not be traced. Back then I recall he’d be very, very concerned. He sought an explanation almost every day which I used to give him. He also kept checking if we had kept the families informed and updated. He kept seeking feedback to improve the system and that revealed a very humane approach.
The attack on the airbase in Pathankot was another major event that I recall with him. My senior staff on the ground wasn’t keen to take him everywhere inside the base for reasons concerning safety but he wouldn’t have any of it. He insisted on seeing everything. He was a brave man.
His contribution was also felt on the One Rank One Pension (OROP) and 7th Pay Commission anomalies. He was determined to solve the issues. Had his suggestions been accepted completely then the outcome would have satisfied everyone.
Parrikar was keen on defence reforms. He ordered a lot of work to be done via committees. I know he was keen to get a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) in place but one must understand that defence reforms can not come in one day or a few years. Armed forces are just one of the stakeholders. There are a lot of vested interests and you can’t merely implement reforms in armed forces alone. People remain silent on those other aspects while pushing reforms in armed forces. There are too many pulls and pushes and vested interests. Had he remained our Raksha Mantri, I sense that he would have pushed things around.
Visiting them for first time on April 13, 1948 in Risalpur, Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah told members of the then Royal Pakistan Air Force (RPAF), ‘Pakistan must build up her air force as quickly as possible’. Intriguingly, he added, ‘It must be an efficient air force, second to none and must take its right place with the army and the navy in securing Pakistan’s defence’.
Seventy one years after he spoke, today the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) finds itself under the spotlight and the circumstances are hardly ordinary.
The air forces of India and Pakistan have engaged since India declared her airstrike in Pakistan’s Balakot in the early hours of last Tuesday, the efficacy and enormity of which Pakistan has contested. When seen in the context of what has ensued, it made the contest the very first since the two countries went nuclear over two decades ago.
Touted as the fourth largest in the world, the Indian Air Force (IAF) with 31 fighter squadrons (one squadron has 17-18 jets) – 11 squadrons short of what it is sanctioned to hold – is numerically some distance ahead of the PAF which claims to hold 20 such squadrons.
But such comparisons don’t tell the entire story.
A bit of background does.
The Royal Pakistan Air Force in a somewhat bitter recap of its early days in its official history states, “It (India) denied the then Royal Pakistan Air Force (RPAF) even the officially agreed small portions of weapons, equipment and aircraft allocated by departing British as its legitimate share. Much of what was eventually received from India was inoperable. Crates of equipment contained nothing but scrap and waste.”
This nascent force’s journey commenced with flying supply missions in aid of the Pakistani effort in Kashmir in the 1947-48 conflict with India.
During the wars fought in 1965 and 1971, both the PAF & IAF were heavily engaged. That both forces have recognised numerous gallant actions of their members in these operations reveals the extent of those engagements.
Today, the PAF’s cutting edge comes from two primary aircraft – the US-made F-16 and the more recent Sino-Pak collaboration , the JF-17 Thunder. The F-16 is a single engine, fourth generation fighter that was painted in the PAF colours for the first time in 1982.
In comparison, the JF-17 was recently developed as a ‘light-weight, all weather, day/night multi-role fighter aircraft’ between Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC), Kamra and Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation (CAC) of China. This single engine fighter is slated to become the mainstay of the PAF in the years to come. In the process it will replace older aircraft like the French Mirage jets.
Going forward, the PAF is in the process of indigenising aircraft building and developing an advanced version of the JF-17 including a fifth generation fighter. However little has been heard or seen on that front.
The PAF, which hinges on three geographical commands based in Peshawar, Lahore and Karachi apart from an Air Defence Command in Rawalpindi and a Strategic Command in Islamabad, claims to have ‘an automated network of Air Defence Radars, complex maintenance facilities and an elaborate administration setup’.
These claims came under heavy strain in May 2011 when the US Navy Seals successfully conducted a twin-helicopter raid from Afghanistan to deep inside Pakistan – in Abbottabad – to eliminate Al Qaida chief Osama Bin Laden. That the PAF could not detect the intrusion in time raised may eyebrows.
Offering a rather unusual insight into the peculiar circumstances the PAF finds itself in,last year the well-known, California-based think tank, RAND Corporation said, “The policy decisions of PAF are determined by the CoAS (Chief of Army Staff), with the input and guidance of the Chief of Air Staff. Therefore, the final decision maker for air power policy is not the Chief of Air Staff, but the CoAS.”
How seriously is the PAF dented by the weight that the country’s army brings to bear?
Author and former Director of Air Operations PAF, Air Commodore Kaiser Tufail (retired) said, “There is no air force in the world which has everything it wants. Budgetary support in some ways is never enough, isn’t it? But I would disagree with anyone who says the PAF does not get its due.”
Explaining the PAF’s evolution he said, “PAF to my mind has had a three-phase existence so far. First was until the time Pakistan became a republic from a dominion. PAF then would operate second-hand equipment. Thereafter, the second phase was when Pakistan joined CENTO (Central Treaty Organisation) & SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organisation. This in the run up to the 1965 war against India saw massive induction of American airpower into PAF whether in terms of F86 Sabre or F104 Star Fighter. Then every second pilot in the PAF would train with the USAF, such was the level of cooperation.”
The third phase began when after the 1965 conflict Pakistan was subjected to sanctions.
He added, “This phase saw us diversify and that quest continues even today”.
Across Pakistan’s eastern border, some in the IAF feel that PAF hasn’t been able to evolve.
Air Marshal SB Deo (retired) who hung up his boots as the Vice Chief of the Indian Air Force last year said, “PAF is trying to play catch up with us. Their pilots are not too bad but to my understanding the PAF has been hobbled by budgetary constraints. They do have a larger number of AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control Systems) when compared with the area they defend however about their efficacy, am not very sure. PAF’s posture is increasingly turning towards China vis a vis upgrades and firepower”.
Does the IAF then underestimate the PAF?
No said Air Vice Marshal Arjun Subramaniam (retired), military historian and an IAF fighter pilot.
He cautioned against judging the PAF on the basis of the Balakot strike alone. “The kind of strike that India launched, to my mind, a lot of top of the line air forces would have had difficulty averting. Credit is also due to the IAF for target selection and calibrated response.”
Elaborating on the PAF’s specifics, he said, “While I do not doubt the efficacy of their air defence network, to my understanding, their F16 suffers from a suboptimal suite and the JF-17 is not battle proven platform.”
In defence, Tufail noted, “Today’s PAF has fewer types of aircraft, easier thereby to maintain. Since we faced a bigger and numerically superior adversary in the form of IAF, we were highly disciplined”.
Addressing the PAF’s association with China, he added, “(it) does not come with any strings attached. Thus whether it is the JF-17 Thunder or future programmes possibly even a 5th generation aircraft, we are on the right track and mind you, we are increasingly producing our own equipment and at rates which are faster.”
Having landed there hours before the terrorists struck and stayed after they were neutralised, Air Marshal Deo had a view of the counter-attack which few did. After hanging up his boots as the Vice Chief of the Indian Air Force last year, the distinguished air warrior who is also a FCL (Fighter Combat Leader) and a “Cat A” Qualified Flying Instructor with over 3800 hours opened up on his experience to BBC’s Jugal Purohit.
The interview was conducted at Nagpur.
Q: The third anniversary of Pathankot attack is upon us. If you can tell us something about your role, your memories of what you saw.
A: By attacking an airfield, you are talking it to an entirely different level. Pathankot is situated in Punjab, not in J&K, not in any kind of disputed territory and airfields were never meant to be protected the way you are protecting your borders because airfields are in our territory and we are protecting the airfields only against aerial threat. So from that angle, it is a soft target and to this day I keep wondering why was the government on the defensive on Pathankot attack. It was a job well done.
Q: What in the government’s response made you feel that they were on the defensive?
A: I really don’t know. There was a very concerted media campaign that pulled out things that were thirty years old, people getting at GARUDs (IAF special forces) saying GARUDs are bad, GARUDs are this and that. For God’s sake you ask the army about Garuds! They’ve won one Ashok Chakra, (many) Kirti Chakras, Shaurya Chakras and…the government really didn’t have to be on the defensive. Let’s talk about Lt Col Niranjan (NSG officer who was killed by an IED on a dead terrorist’s body), the kind of press he got, its treason man! I can’t imagine and the rumours that he was taking a selfie! The GARUDs were hurt very badly. They came to me and said look at the kind of stories that are being leaked.
Q: It would have helped the morale had the govt not been that defensive?
A: Yes, it would have. Definitely. Government to my mind did not have to be on the defensive. Pathankot was a well handled operation. An airfield is a target rich environment. In an airfield there is so much to be attacked, there is fuel, aircraft and we managed to protect all that.
Q: Did you have a discussion with the govt over them being defensive and the impact it had on the men?
A: I did discuss, there were occasions. But the GARUDs proved themselves in Kashmir. It left me with little to say actually.
Q: How do you want people to remember Pathankot?
A: It was a job well done. Lessons have been learnt and I hope for Pakistan’s sake that something similar won’t happen again. Because if it does then Pakistan will have to pay a far heavier price than it did during the surgical strikes.
Two lessons that we learnt from Pathankot – one is a technical lesson which we always knew but something like Pathankot had to happen perhaps. That lesson is that 5.56 mm ammunition calibre of guns is of no use in such situations. Terrorists coming here are like rabid dogs, having pumped themselves with steroids and injections, they have lost fear and don’t expect to be looked after and want to keep pressing the trigger. We need ammunition that can kill, not merely injure.
Second concerns the perimeter security of bases. You will say three years have gone and what has happened but making a system like the Integrated Perimeter Security System (IPSS) foolproof and thereafter ensuring you follow all norms of procurement, it takes a while. And this is the first system that we are trying. So while I agree that it has taken longer than it should but still it is on track. So once such a system comes in and it is deployed at bases then you are far more certain that there will be no intrusions.
Q: NIA says terrorists were left undetected near the Military Engineering Services (MES) sheds where there were dilapidated sheds, some vehicles…
A: Let me tell you what their plan was. Their plan was to get out from there (MES sheds). Get to the vehicle yard, pick up a vehicle and drive inside. And once you have a vehicle with you and that was what we were worried about, that when you are inside a vehicle you can quickly move from place to place. They could have created havoc inside. So it was very important to isolate them and also to ensure that they were not in the technical area (where aircraft and vital assets are stored). We didn’t know where they were. So the first thing we did with the help of the army was to sanitise the technical area. That helped us a great deal. Once we were sure that they were not in the technical area we kept the airfield open, the NSG could fly in. Thereafter the army which has a lot of experience, withdrew for the night. They said they didn’t know where the threat could be. Even they could’ve been under threat. In fact the NSG wanted to split their resources and they had a discussion with us and decided to stay at the airfield only.
Q: If their plan was to take a vehicle and go around, the terrorists had one full day (they entered on January 1 and were detected on January 2 as per the NIA). What kept them from doing what they wanted to?
A: The time to attack is always the wee hours of the morning. So they have come all the way and they reached us by 4am and by then the base is sort of awake thus making it not the right time to attack. The right time is an hour or two earlier. And they need to rest so that they could prepare for a fight. So tactically, what they were doing was correct by waiting for the right time.
Q: So the terrorists waiting and planning in a way helped the IAF buy time too.
A: Absolutely yes. We had a C130 aircraft airborne. I had the UAVs flying. Our communication worked well. We were getting a live display of whatever the UAV was seeing sitting in our control room. So that helped us.
First information of a possible terrorist attack came to me at 3 ‘o’ clock in the afternoon as the C-in-C (Commander in Chief, Western Air Command) and I got this from the chief of air staff (CAS) who was speaking to the NSA (National Security Advisor) and at that time we had the intelligence to show that yes, the airfield could be one of the targets. In fact when I reached there, there was still some of vacillation among authorities there whether it is a law and order issue or actually a terrorist issue till the time I clarified that if somebody cries wolf ten times then ten times you need to stand up – that is one lesson we have learnt.
Well I was there to take stock of the situation since it had come from the highest of quarters and I had to satisfy myself and I would have gone back the next day if there was nothing but its just that when I was there the shooting started. So once the shooting starts then I can’t go back. It looks very bad and and honestly for me it was a very exciting experience. I had a first look at how our young people fight and that was the most heartening thing.
Q: If you had issued instructions for the base to prepare assuming the terrorists had already sneaked in then why were the DSC men unarmed?
A: I agree with you. They should have been with weapons. They should not have come out in the open. If they just been under lock down. There would have been fewer casualties. It would have helped had they gone into a lockdown properly.
Q: How do you explain an operation where we don’t know how many terrorists there were?
A: Things are always very uncertain.
Q: How many terrorists were there in reality? If there were four then they were killed on Jan 2 and if there were six, which the NIA investigation does not there were, then we kept on the operation on for long.
A: NIA knows best, I really don’t know. Only a scientific inquiry can establish.
Q: We were told firing happened. Forces retaliated.
A: We did feel then that there was somebody inside but then strange things happen when you are under fire.
Q: Do you feel that perhaps there were some terrorists who may have escaped
A: No possibility of that. I don’t think so.
Q: When the Pakistani investigators were allowed inside Pathankot, was the air force consulted?
A: We were consulted. We made sure we broke the wall. They didn’t get to see anything else that they couldn’t have using Google.
Q: How do you see the impact of the Rafale on IAF and armed forces going forward?
A: Yes. Pace of acquisition will become slower. Defence preparedness will be compromised and we will also end up paying more for the delay that occurs.
Q: Far from bringing out cleaner process, you feel the impact of this controversy will be negative.
A: Yes. I can’t fault the procedures. They are sometimes far too pedantic. We should encourage people to take clean decisions.
REPORTER’S TAKE: WHY PATHANKOT STILL HAUNTS INDIA?
Air Marshal SB Deo’s words provide a much needed understanding of what unfolded behind the high walls of the air force station at Pathankot in those critical hours.
Arguably the operation was a tactical success.
However it came at a steep price.
Three years later, the shadow of Pathankot continues to haunt the policy makers.
Barely five months before Pathankot was breached, a high-profile terrorist attack was carried out in Dina Nagar in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district. This attack, at a driving distance of less than 30km from Pathankot, should’ve been enough to put the counter-terrorist mechanism into action.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) in its charge sheet mentions that ‘four heavily armed terrorists infiltrated into Indian territory on 30.12.2015 from Pakistan, after illegally crossing the Indo-Pak border through the forest near the Simbal Border Outpost of the Border Security Force’. That they could not be confronted till 0235hours of January 2, 2016 raises questions about India’s preparedness. The NIA suggests that the terrorists after infiltrating the airbase post 4am on January 1 rested, made multiple calls to their relatives and handlers and could hide undetected for nearly 24 hours. Astonishing!
Another question concerns the number of terrorists who actually targetted Pathankot. If you ask the NIA, the number is four. The then defence minister, Mr Manohar Parrikar after touring the base following the attack had said, ‘NIA will confirm the presence of six terrorists’. Three years after, Air Marshal SB Deo remained unsure. Did some of the terrorists who attacked Pathankot managed to flee? Or was there an incorrect estimation made about the number of terrorists?
While describing the two terrorists who he claimed were the last to be eliminated, Mr Parrikar said they were armed not with AK-47 rifles but with pistols and grenades.
A parliamentary panel had hinted at Indian narco-syndicate facilitating the terrorists’ entry and journey into Pathankot. That was an issue left unaddressed.
While terrorists are supposed to not follow a pattern and throw up surprises, surprisingly, after Pathankot, many military bases in India have been attacked – Nagrota, Sunjuwan and Uri among others. What does this show?
Similarly the sequence of events at the airbase remains muddled. While all stake holders agree that the air force’s Garud commandos were the first to engage the terrorists, the then Defence Minister Mr Parrikar inside Parliament had said thereafter the NSG took the fight. However, the General Officer Commanding Army’s Western Command Lieutenant General KJ Singh under whose purview the Pathankot region fell said it was the Army and not the NSG that took on terrorists!
Pakistan which initially had shown support in investigating the case at its end, sent its Joint Investigation Team to India between March 27 – April 1, 2016. While the NIA claims it was provided with all elements including a visit to the air base, reciprocal cooperation has remained a non-starter.
India’s allegations against Pakistan whether it concerns terrorism or drug trade emanating from the latter into the former are not new. Yet, about 12km of the total 558km-long international border that the state of Punjab shares with Pakistan has been left unaddressed. Being riverine territory, erecting fences may not be possible but technological solutions have to be found.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) was approached for its comment but chose not to respond.
Before we ride into the world of numbers and compare budget data, two lines by historian Geoffrey Blainey will help understand why this matters.
“Wars usually end when the fighting nations agree on their relative strength, and wars usually begin when fighting nations disagree on the relative strength”, he wrote.
For India, sandwiched between China and Pakistan, two closely aligned, nuclear-armed adversaries with whom India has fought wars and continues to have outstanding issues, the security environment is unlike what any other country faces.
And we are not even touching upon myriad internal security challenges yet where the intervention of the military cannot be ruled out.
A perception of weakness or degradation of military capabilities can trigger a military misadventure as past conflicts have proven.
It is in this environment that India’s million-plus armed forces seek better and increased resources.
Let’s rewind now.
At the end of government formation in May 2014, the Narendra Modi government lacked a full-time defence minister. Arun Jaitley, who was also the finance minister would handle the defence portfolio it was said. Many spun it around to say this would help the defence forces since by default the defence minister would have the keys to finance ministry.
How has the script played out?
On July 10, 2014 Arun Jaitley delivered the first budget of the present government and allocated Rs 2,33,872 crore – nearly Rs 5000 crore more than what the UPA did in its final budget presentation in February 2014 which was a roughly 9 per cent hike on the defence outlay from 2013-14.
The first full budget of the present government was delivered on February 28, 2015. Budget to budget, the defence outlay announced worth Rs 255443 crore was a hike of nearly 9 per cent.
When presenting the union budget on February 29, 2016, Jaitley did not mention defence spending! While this raised eyebrows, it was later revealed that defence spending was pegged at Rs 2,58,502 crore – a mere 2 per cent growth over what was announced a year ago. Not surprisingly on December 15, 2015, Prime Minister Modi, addressing the Combined Commanders Conference on board the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya said, “At a time when major powers are reducing their forces and rely more on technology, we are still constantly seeking to expand the size of our forces. Modernisation and expansion of forces at the same time is a difficult and unnecessary goal.”
On February 1, 2017, the finance minister announced Rs 2,74,114 crore as the defence budget. Seen plainly against the year before, the increase in the budget was barely 6 per cent. Writing for the defence ministry-funded Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), Laxman K Behera, a research fellow termed it ‘grossly inadequate’.
Last year on February 1, the finance minister allocated Rs 2,95,511 crore for defence – an 8 per cent hike from the budget of the year before.
In his maiden budget speech, finance minister Piyush Goyal said, “Our Defence Budget will be crossing Rs 3,00,000 crore for the first time in 2019-20.” Fine print revealed the total allocation to be in excess of Rs 3,18,847 crore – an eight per cent hike.
So was the NDA a better government when it came to providing the defence forces the resources they needed or was the UPA better?
Amit Cowshish, former Financial Advisor (Acquisition), Ministry of Defence said, “Between the two, the trend has hardly changed. The gap between what is projected as requirement and what is provided has been there for nearly 15 years. At different points that gap has widened or reduced but not filled.”
When viewed from the perspective of serving armed forces senior officers or parliamentarians (including BJP leaders) defence budget under the Modi government has remained a sore point.
Here’s what some of them have said.
‘As a percentage of the GDP has fallen but in real terms our budgets continue to grow and we have been promised that budget will be made available. We would have liked it to grow at a faster pace but there are competing demands and we are conscious of that.’ – Admiral Sunil Lanba, Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) in November 2018
‘…defence expenditure at 1.56% of GDP was at the lowest level since 1962 when India-China war was fought. In the current geo-political scenario, a country of the size of India cannot afford complacency…’ – Estimates Committee under senior BJP leader and MP, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi on July 25, 2018
‘…the Budget of 2018-19 has dashed our hopes and most of what has been achieved has actually received a little set back. Committed liabilities of 2017 which will also get passed on to 2018 will further accentuate the situation.’ – Vice Chief of Army Staff to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence in March 2018
‘…percentage share of Air Force budget has declined considerably during the last few years…Allocations made under the capital head for the Air Force, which is largely accountable for modernization budget of the Service, has consistently plummeted. In the year 2007-08, it was to the tune of 17.51 per cent of the total defence budget and has gone down to 11.96 per cent in the year 2016-17.’ Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence in March 2018.
This piece first appeared on BBC HINDI news site on February 1, 2019