April 16, 2006 — drsubrotoroy
A Modern Military
First published in The Statesman
Editorial Page Special Article
April 16 2006
THE first line of defence in a major modern war is the air force, and any air force is only as good as its pilots. A small number of determined pilots once beat Goering’s Nazi armada in the skies over the English Channel. The good, indeed excellent, news for Indians is that our air force’s fighter pilots and frontline military aircraft now have been internationally benchmarked and are being recognised as first-class. Objective assessments are becoming available of the joint exercises the IAF held with the United States Air Force in 2004 and 2005 in Alaska, Gwalior and Kalaikunda. Though there were mixed Indo-US teams during several exercises, on balance the Americans admitted being surprised and even defeated by the IAF’s aircraft, technical skills and tactics. The IAF literally “defeated” the USAF in the sense Indian “gun cameras” shot pictures of their opponents far more often than vice-versa thus indicating “hits”; and the IAF certainly destroyed for all time all the expectations the Americans may have had about exercising with an inferior fighting force. To be sure, American apologists have made several political and technical points since then. One of the cheapest is that the American squadrons sent were not top frontline squadrons whereas the IAF had sent its best. Another has been that the USAF literally wished to “throw” a fight because they have wanted American legislators to fund the super-advanced F-22, and one way to help do that was by getting the IAF’s Russian aircraft to “beat” American F-16s. Of more substance is the point that the IAF imposed a requirement of “old-fashioned dogfights”, which in this missile age means aircraft being within “visual range” of one another. Current USAF strategy relies more on “Beyond Visual Range” (BVR) capabilities where aircraft never get to see the enemy but launch their air-to-air weapons based on instructions, for example from advanced on-board instrumentation or from airborne controllers in Airborne Warning and Control (AWAC) aircraft. The Americans also use “fire-and-forget” missiles in this BVR warfare which they did not bring to the joint exercises with India. Lastly, American AWACs did operate in the Indo-US exercises but as a neutral party assigning targets to pilots from both air forces; this was the first experience Indian pilots had of working with AWACs and by American accounts they outperformed their counterparts despite lack of familiarity with the technology. However, in an actual war, the AWACs and other devices would have been used to jam or destroy an adversary’s communications, and India has no capability in that.
Even so, in most encounters between the USAF’s F-16s and F-15 C/D Eagles, and the IAF’s Sukhoi-30 MKIs, MiG-27s, MiG-29s, and even the refurbished MiG-21 Bisons, Indian pilots apparently came out winners. One American commander said: “We try to replicate how these aircraft perform in the air, and I think we’re good at doing that in our Air Force, but what we can’t replicate is what’s going on in their minds. They’ve challenged our traditional way of thinking on how an adversary, from whichever country, would fight.” And the USAF’s Chief of Air Combat Command, General Hal M. Hornburg told USA Today that as a result of defeats in the mock combat exercises with the Indians he felt: “We may not be as far ahead of the rest of the world as we thought we were”. As in case of the Bofors gun, despite the corruption scams surrounding the deal-making, the Sukhoi-30 has apparently been a sound military purchase.
If the competence of our pilots and their aircraft is the good news, the bad news has been their failure of morale. The IAF’s pilots in droves have wished to quit because of “poor working and living conditions”, family-separation, and a “culture of sycophancy” promoted by the top brass which has made it difficult for them to work or even to stay motivated. In 2002-2004, 263 pilots were allowed to seek premature retirement; in 2005, only 8 out of some 200 have been allowed (one of whom got an MP to support him). The High Court has ruled in favour of the Air Force that when the nation spends untold millions in each pilot’s training, he/she is required to fulfil his/her obligations in turn. Premature retirement cannot be given by the Air Force on “compassionate grounds” to everyone who might ask for it. The new commercial airlines also seem very alluring to both young pilots and older commanders Perhaps an exit strategy needs to be devised whereby Air Force pilots wanting to quit and join the private sector may be allowed to do so ~ once they have agreed to repay the Air Force a reasonable fraction of the millions that have been invested by the country in their training. If we extrapolate these kinds of facts in different directions, a modern picture of desirable Indian weaponry, armed forces and doctrine can begin to be sketched. The first step must be an objective assessment of military threats faced by the country. We have only one declared adversary with aggressive intent against us, and that is the military and political elite that has ruled over Pakistan for almost 60 years. For sake of argument, let us ask if we have any other identifiable external enemies. We might imagine China to be an enemy because of the border war decades ago but there is in fact no plausible war scenario with China today. There may be conceivable threats but hardly any large ones from Bangladesh, Nepal, Burma, the Tamil Tigers, Indonesia, or Iran. As for Afghanistan, we have our Pakistani cousins to thank for having unwittingly buffered us from the turmoil there over three decades, although of course the Pakistani establishment tried to use that chaos to its advantage against India. There are some traditional threats of a special nature from insurgencies in the North-east but these too are amenable to political and diplomatic resolution. If we are vulnerable anywhere from an unknown quarter it is to a modern air-sea attack of the kind launched against Iraq twice recently and being threatened upon Iran now. Indeed our new American friends had themselves “gamed” a scenario as early as 1990-1991 of such an air-sea assault taking place upon India. Assuming we come to resolve our difficulties with Pakistan over Jammu & Kashmir reasonably (cf. Solving Kashmir, The Statesman 1-3 Dec. 2005 republished here), what India comes to need from a military standpoint is a compact, first-rate airforce, a defensive naval capacity based on nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed submarines (the era of grandiose vulnerable aircraft carrier battle groups is over), and some short and intermediate-range missile capacity of the kind we have in fact been developing. Jungle warfare, counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism may be the new specialised areas required from ground troops, though of course traditional artillery and armoured corps will likely have to be developed and retained indefinitely until such a time as Pakistan becomes a peaceful and healthy nation-state, which may be a long time yet.
Most important of all though, we need a supply of young fighter pilots of the kind who defeated the Americans in the war-games, young submariners willing to go to sea for ever, young soldiers like Batra, Hanifuddin, Kalia and the other heroes of Kargil who are prepared to dedicate their minds, bodies and souls for their compatriots if the need ever arises. For that to happen, the Army, Navy and Air Force must not merely cut all the corruption, sycophancy, fat, waste and moral turpitude in the senior ranks of their organisational structures, but political statesmen must arise to lead and motivate the whole polity itself with an inspiring yet realistic vision of India’s future, and one which remains consistent with our national ethos of ahimsa. A paradox has come to be revealed in our young warriors being excellent and yet their morale and motivation being low. The fault lies not with them but with those who purport to lead them.
April 6, 2006 — drsubrotoroy
Is America close to breaking its pledged word?
First published in The Statesman Editorial Page, 6 April 2006
Ayatollah Khomeini was the Ho Chi Minh of Iran. Ho was both a communist and a Vietnamese nationalist, but America’s Presidents from Eisenhower to Nixon failed to see the latter. Khomeini was both a devout Shia Muslim and an Iranian nationalist yet America’s Presidents from Carter to W. Bush refused to see his Revolution being as much about Iranian nationalism as about creating an Islamic Republic. As a general rule, Western countries allow for nationalism among other Western countries but not among non-Western countries. Immanuel Kant’s dictum of treating everyone as an end in himself/herself and not as a means towards one’s own ends, is applied in intra-Western international relations but often not when the West deals with others. But Indians did not have to be communists to sympathise with Vietnam’s struggle against first France and then America, and Indians do not have to be Shia Muslims to sympathise with Iran’s struggle against an impending Anglo-American aggression. The opaque Manmohan- Montek deal-making with America on behalf of India’s people may need to be set aside in such a context — while it might benefit several dozen businesses on both sides and several hundred bureaucrats may become even fatter with bribes, it may have next to nothing to do with any dimension of India’s national interests.
US pledge 1981, policy 2006
On January 19 1981, the Government of the United States signed what came to be called the Algiers Accord, the first point of which stated: “Non-Intervention in Iranian Affairs: The United States pledges that it is and from now on will be the policy of the United States not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran’s internal affairs.” This was part of a comprehensive truce between Khomeini’s Iran and the USA in regard to the war-like conditions then prevailing between them. That pledge now seems about to be broken. British newspapers reported on April 2 2006 that the Blair Government is holding “secret talks” with its own Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Defence Intelligence and others to discuss “an American-led attack, designed to destroy Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear bomb… if Tehran’s leaders fail to comply with United Nations demands to freeze their uranium enrichment programme.” This is despite the British foreign minister saying last month “that a military attack against Iran was ‘inconceivable’”. America’s “National Security Strategy” dated March 16 2006 states the policy clearly: “We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran. For almost 20 years, the Iranian regime hid many of its key nuclear efforts from the international community. Yet the regime continues to claim that it does not seek to develop nuclear weapons. The Iranian regime’s true intentions are clearly revealed by the regime’s refusal to negotiate in good faith; its refusal to come into compliance with its international obligations by providing the IAEA access to nuclear sites and resolving troubling questions; and the aggressive statements of its President calling for Israel to ‘be wiped off the face of the earth’. The United States has joined with our EU partners and Russia to pressure Iran to meet its international obligations and provide objective guarantees that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes. This diplomatic effort must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided. As important as are these nuclear issues, the United States has broader concerns regarding Iran. The Iranian regime sponsors terrorism; threatens Israel; seeks to thwart Middle East peace; disrupts democracy in Iraq; and denies the aspirations of its people for freedom. The nuclear issue and our other concerns can ultimately be resolved only if the Iranian regime makes the strategic decision to change these policies, open up its political system, and afford freedom to its people. This is the ultimate goal of U.S. policy. In the interim, we will continue to take all necessary measures to protect our national and economic security against the adverse effects of their bad conduct. The problems lie with the illicit behavior and dangerous ambition of the Iranian regime, not the legitimate aspirations and interests of the Iranian people. Our strategy is to block the threats posed by the regime while expanding our engagement and outreach to the people the regime is oppressing.“
In one scenario, America will make a surprise cruise-missile attack on Iranian buildings “suspected” of producing biological weapons. If the Iranians respond in any way other than total submission, it will be sufficient to launch a major bombing of Iran’s military facilities using B-2 bombers based in Diego Garcia, England and other American bases, possibly using nuclear “earth penetrating” weapons to attack underground facilities. Of course it is not impossible the British and Americans are merely setting up a bluff to scare the Iranians into complying without a fight, but the existence of aggressive war plans and preparations cannot be doubted.
Now it is possible the Americans will say they are not bound by the pledge made in the Algiers Accord in January 1981 to not intervene in Iran’s affairs. In breach of all diplomatic law, 66 Americans had been taken captive by Iranians seizing the American Embassy on November 4 1979. Six others escaped with the help of the Canadian and Swedish embassies. Of the 66, 13 women and black Americans were released two weeks later; one man was released due to ill-health in July 1980. The remaining 52 including two women and one black American were released on January 20 1981 by the terms of the Algiers Accord just before Ronald Reagan took over as President of the United States. Eight American military personnel were killed on April 25 1980 in a failed attempt to rescue them. The official designations of the 52 (who had been held captive for 444 days) included 10 military attachés; 6 “communications and electronics specialists”; 8 political and administrative officers, and 12 diplomatic/consular staff. In addition there were 12 guards and 4 others. Even if the US Embassy in Tehran was a den of spies as the Iranians claimed, the Revolutionary Government could have ordered them all to leave and to have ended diplomatic relations in accordance with international law. What explained Iranians’ anger for them to have violated international law so brazenly? That was the age before terrorism, and nor was Iran a player in the conflict between Israel and the Arabs.
Iran’s anger stemmed from having felt being used by Britain, America and Soviet Russia for half a century before the 1979 Khomeini Revolution – from having been merely means towards their ends in violation of the Kantian dictum. It was almost as if Britain and America had said to Iran and the entire Middle East, “We invented the internal combustion engine and the automobile which uses it, and we also discovered the petroleum that runs it; the mere fact you happen to sit on this petroleum does not make you own it; we own it too and we will take it by force whenever necessary.” During the Cold War, the USSR followed suit, and now after the Cold War has ended, the new Russia is a Western ally in the same kind of attempted domination over non-Western countries like Iran (or Pakistan and India, who get sold a lot of useless weapons to fight each other with).
Mossadeq the democrat
Specifically, if the January 1981 Algiers Accord was signed by the USA under duress, the Iranians could say that Iran had been cheated into signing the 25 year agreement of September 1954 with an international oil consortium led by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Iran would receive 50% profit on all Iranian oil exported, after paying the AIOC ₤25 million in compensation for having nationalised it in 1951 under the democratic government of Mohammad Mossadeq which had broken off diplomatic relations with Britain. Mossadeq was overthrown by an Anglo-American coup détat in August 1953, and replaced by the compliant General Fazlollah Zahedi and Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Arthur Millspaugh, an American invited by the Iranians to help their public finances, once wrote: “Persia cannot be left to herself, even if the Russians were to keep their hands off politically. …Persia has never yet proved its capacity for independent self-government.” Millspaugh’s 1925 book titled America’s Task in Persia seems to have remained the handbook of Western policy towards Iran. Khomeini’s Revolution was its antithesis.