Tag Archives: IAF

Manohar Parrikar: The affable yet loner Raksha Mantri whose heart was in Goa

“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.

US Secretary of Defence Dr. Ashton Carter addressing the India – US Joint Press Conference in South Block on Monday, April 12, 2016. Defence Minister Shri Manohar Parrikar looks on. Courtesy: Ministry of Defence, New Delhi

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.

Defence Minister Parrikar with PM Narendra Modi on board the INS Vikramaditya for the Combined Commanders Conference in December 2015. Courtesy: Ministry of Defence, New Delhi

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 Air Chief from January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2016, ACM Raha (Right) interacted closely with Parrikar. On August 1, 2014 ACM Raha took over as the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee which made him the senior most military commander for most of Parrikar’s term. Photo courtesy: Ministry of Defence.

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.


INDIA PAKISTAN TENSION: Deep dive examining the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and what it brings to the table

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.
Photo (1)
An Indian Air Force (IAF) C-130J Hercules special ops aircraft. Courtesy: IAF
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.
JF-17 Thunder of the PAF. Courtesy: PAF
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.
There is another interesting side.
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.”
The older PAF Mirage. Courtesy: PAF
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.”

PATHANKOT ATTACK: Armed forces did well to take on terrorists but govt’s defensiveness hurt morale says top commander

Air Marshal_S.B.Deo
Air Marshal SB Deo (retired) was the senior-most military commander on the ground when the Pathankot air force station was attacked by multiple terrorists in the wee hours of January 2, 2016.

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.

Jugal Purohit
BBC Correspondent Jugal Purohit

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.




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.

S-400 MISSILE DEAL: India stamps her feet and Washington’s blinking (for now)



It was an annual summit between the heads of states of two nuclear powers, two nations who’ve worked together through critical junctures in history.

Yet it was also a summit where expectations were fixated on one line.

And when that one line was there, in print, little else mattered.

The reference here is to the deal for five, Russian S-400 Long Range Surface to Air Missile systems for Indian Air Force (IAF). The contract for the supply of these systems was ‘concluded’ said point number 45 of the Indo-Russian joint statement. While the cost of the system is reportedly in excess of $5.4 billion, there was no official word.

‘The S-400 was offered to India not long after it was inducted by Russia in 2007. We should’ve moved on it some years ago.” 


For reasons we will go into a little later, Washington’s current crusade against Moscow is likely to land this deal and thereby India’s key interests in its crosshair.

Before proceeding, a little context will help.

The IAF, said to be the world’s fourth largest air force, is in dire straits.

While it must hold ‘at least’ 45 squadrons of fighter jets to defend India’s airspace (each squadron can consist of 17-18 fighter jets), what it holds is 31 ‘active’ squadrons. Indian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence, in its report in December last year was informed by the IAF that ‘as 14 squadrons of MiG 21, 27 & 29 (fighter jets) are due for de-induction in next 10 years, the present level of 33 squadrons will further go down to 19 by 2027, and may further reduce to 16 by 2032’. When it heard the response of the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the same committee remarked, ‘The issue of depletion in squadron strength has been taken up repeatedly by the Committee over the years. However, no concrete measure seem to be taken hitherto.’

Does it then come as a surprise that the IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa only on Wednesday termed the S-400 along with two squadrons of French Rafale jets, as a ‘booster dose’?

There is yet another side to the IAF’s predicament.

In the words of Ajai Malhotra, who was India’s Ambassador in Moscow between 2011 and 2013, “the S-400 was offered to India not long after it was inducted by Russia in 2007. We should’ve moved on it some years ago.  With there being no comparable choice available and with China also signing up for the S-400 system, it has become a necessity for us”.

Now let’s shift focus to Washington.

Smarting under what it believes was Russian meddling in the elections that brought Donald Trump to the presidency and acting with a burning desire to make Moscow pay, the US Congress last year brought in a legislation named ‘Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act’.

In fact on the day of signing it, he went on record to call it ‘seriously flawed’ and added, “As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress”.

What it does is to force the President’s hand in imposing five or more sanctions ‘with respect to a person the President determines knowingly, on or after such date of enactment, engages in a significant transaction with a person that is part of, or operates for or on behalf of, the defense or intelligence sectors of the Government of the Russian Federation.’

Malhotra’s successor in Moscow and currently the head of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), PS Raghavan contextualised it by saying, “CAATSA requires President Trump to say that India has reduced its dependency on Russia. But there is nothing to show that India has.”

If after determining that India’s actions do constitute a ‘significant transaction’, America’s Secretary of State and Secretary of Treasury initiate sanctions using Sec 231 of the Act, using Section 235 of the CAATSA, President Trump can waive or delay the imposition of sanctions.

To be sure, it is not an act that Trump signed happily.

In fact on the day of signing it, he went on record to call it ‘seriously flawed’ and added, “As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress”.

There is one more thing he said that day,a line which many pragmatists in Delhi and elsewhere are holding onto.

He added, “(CAATSA) disadvantages American companies…because those sanctions could negatively affect American companies and those of our allies”.

Speaking of the defence sector alone, ‘American companies’ that Trump referred to have benefitted immensely from their entry into the Indian bazaar.

modi putin
Data analysed by SIPRI shows that while the volume of Russian weapons export to India remained unchanged between 2008-12 and 2013-17, that of the US increased by a whopping 557 per cent in that period!

Unfortunately for India and fortunately for international defence equipment manufacturers, India has emerged an even stronger importer of weapons. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), between 2013 and 2017, India accounted for 12 per cent of the global share of imports, the highest for any country.


And the one country that has gained the most is not Russia but the United States.

Data analysed by SIPRI shows that while the volume of Russian weapons export to India remained unchanged between 2008-12 and 2013-17, that of the US increased by a whopping 557 per cent in that period!

Malhotra analysed, “Sanctioning India would meet neither Trump’s nor indeed larger US interests”.

Still no one wants to predict how Washington is going to react to a deal it did not want signed.

Observers however are firm – sanctions or no sanctions, when it comes to national security, India must protect her interests.

Malhotra said, “Let quiet diplomacy do its task of making the Americans better understand our position and appreciate our very genuine concerns. We may well take US views into account as regards Iranian oil, but will not do so in cases where our national security is involved”.

Even if the S-400 deal goes through with India unpunished, there are concerns about the long-term.

Raghavan remarked how US officials have more than once enunciated their desire to end India’s reliance on Russia. “After all, this is about selling major defence platforms to India. However, the level of technology that India gets from Russia, the US simply can’t give as yet, due to a variety of reasons,” he added.

Using acts like CAATSA, the US may want to make India move more firmly into its orbit which would basically mean making India more accountable and amenable to buying US platforms and moving away from Russia.

What must India do?

Raghavan offered the last word

“What the US needs to understand is India is in a very difficult position. We have to balance ties with China and Russia both on terms favourable to us, not the US. But you know, a deal is always possible”.

Isn’t that what Trump thinks too?

WARGAME GAGANSHAKTI: What is the IAF saying?

By Jugal R Purohit

New Delhi

In the early hours of Saturday, April 14, a fully-armed Sukhoi 30 – the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) frontline fighter plane – roared as it took off from the Kalaikunda air force station in West Bengal.

The Russian-origin combat aircraft was soon above Lakshadweep in the Arabian Sea before turning back to land at Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. Using mid-air refuelling, the Sukhoi, which can fly at a speed of 2500 kilometres per hour, demonstrated something any air force would give its right arm for – a reach of 4000km in a single flight.

But this did not happen in isolation.

Photo (3)
A Su30 undergoing mid-air refuelling during Gaganshakti 2018. Picture Courtesy: IAF

Consider this:

  • Between April 8 and 22, the IAF nearly shut all its training and pulled out nearly 1400 of its officers and 14,000 men for a wargame. Almost anyone fit to fly was directed to make themselves available.
  • In that period, nearly 1100 of its aircraft were specially deployed across the length and breadth of the country on ‘operational duty’.
  • So intense was the effort that fighter, transport aircraft, helicopters, Flight Refuelling Aircraft (FRA), Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) put together generated a staggering 11000 flights/sorties between them.

In conjunction with elements of the Indian Army and the Indian Navy, the IAF had mounted what many term as one of its biggest-ever exercise. They named it ‘Gaganshakti 2018’.

VIDEO: GAGANSHAKTI 2018 – IAF Presentation – http://indianairforce.nic.in/video-gallery/5

“If war were to happen tomorrow, we would like to be in a position where we can sustain a high tempo of operations. Gaganshakti 2018 was where we tested ourselves extensively and results were satisfying”, said an officer aware of the intricacies of the exercise.

While the exercise was initiated with a focus on India’s western borders, mid-way, the IAF re-positioned its forces on India’s eastern frontiers.

File Photo 1
IAF: In the mountainous terrain the movement of the troops from one valley to another is a challenging task. The redeployment of forces from one area of interest to another may at times take couple of days. Inter Valley Troop Transfer operations help to reposition the desired forces within a couple of hours. Picture Courtesy: IAF

The message was clear.

The IAF was publically practising for a two-front conflict.

Photo (2)
IAF: This assault included paradrop of 560 paratroopers, combat vehicles and GPS guided cargo platforms. The landing force was dropped behind the simulated enemy lines to soften up the likely resistance to our own armoured offensive. Picture Courtesy: IAF

But, there is more to the story.

World’s fourth largest air force, the IAF, is operating with 31 squadrons of fighter jets whereas it needs 45 squadrons.

Also, the IAF appears to be in deep financial trouble – from purchasing new equipment to maintaining the older one, the impact is pervasive.

Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, headed by veteran BJP leader Major General BC Khanduri (Retired) tabled its forty first report in Lok Sabha on March 13, 2018 (

  • (For 2018-19) Shortfall of Rs.6440 crore in the Revenue Budget is likely to impact the operational preparedness, ability to procure spares & fuel, apart from leaving gaps in training programs, serviceability of older systems and provision of basic amenities to the Air Force personnel.
  • …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.
  • …there appears to be a lack of sufficient sincerity towards capacity enhancement and modernization of the Air Force.
Major General BC Khanduri (R) is a BJP MP and a former chief minister

The report also reveals how the IAF from 2016 onwards was made to pay over Rs 2500 crore in customs duty, an amount which was to be reimbursed to the service but never was. In fact, out of its meagre resources, the IAF is set to further shell out Rs 1726.98 crore towards custom duties in 2018-19 too!

Indeed in the coming years, some of the earlier inked deals like the one for French fighter Rafale and American helicopter Chinook are expected to fructify. However, these are fruits of what has been inked in the past.

Yet, by the end of the next decade, the IAF will be left with a paltry 19 squadrons says the same Parliamentary panel.

An undated file photo of the J-20 released by Chinese state media XINHUA with the claim that these stealth birds had been commissioned earlier this year

A decade is all that separates a rapidly-modernising Chinese air force from the IAF which, as of now enjoys the upper hand in a trans-Himalayan encounter of the type Gaganshakti 2018 envisaged says Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (Retired), a veteran helicopter pilot.

“Today, we have better equipment, better support fleet and much better aircrew training. However if we cannot generate a top class next generation fighter in house in the coming decade, then it is anyone’s guess where India’s advantage will be”, he added.

It took the IAF nearly nine months to plan out Gaganshakti 2018. A conflict, however limited, may not provide such a cushion. The IAF is also mindful that the day they square off with China, Pakistan may jump in too.

“We have a task at hand. What we don’t have are the best tools. When will they arrive, no one can tell”, explained an officer.

He added, “With Gaganshakti 2018, we exercised our Plan B”.

KAMOV-226T: An air ambulance which is now the cure for IAF & Army’s chopper woes

Report appeared in MAIL TODAY newspaper dated Oct 16, 2016

VIDEO: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/video/kamov-226-t-make-in-india-siachen/1/788099.html



PHOTOS & VIDEO: Tracing the just-revived, magnificent Suryakiran of IAF – From Hunters to Kirans and now, the Hawk

Thunderbolts 1 Thunderbolts A-63-11

Asian Aerospace 2004 A selection of Images from the Olympus Photo Team at Asian Aerospace 2004  being held at Changi Expo center, Singapore. Scenes from the , air display and aircraft. Mandatory Credit  Olympus Singapore 2004 No reslaes, No Archives No Syndication
Asian Aerospace 2004
A selection of Images from the Olympus Photo Team at Asian Aerospace 2004 being held at Changi Expo center, Singapore.
Scenes from the , air display and aircraft.
Mandatory Credit
Olympus Singapore 2004
No reslaes, No Archives No Syndication

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