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Defence Forces In 2008: BREAKING FRESH GROUND, By Col (Retd) PK Vasudeva,21 Jan 08 Print E-mail
 Defence NotesNew Delhi, 21 January 2008  Defence Forces In 2008BREAKING FRESH GROUND

 By Col (Retd) PK Vasudeva, PhD

(Prof ICFAI Business School)

 It is heartening to note that India will continue its military tango with the US in full flow in 2008 despite opposition from the Left Front. The threat from the terrorists, Naxalites, unrest in Pakistan and the Chinese claim over Arunachal Pradesh have rightly made New  Delhi think strategically and carry out war games with the US and other friendly countries.


The Defence Forces will hold war games with countries like China and Russia during the year. The exercise with China will be held in India this time as a reciprocal gesture after the first-ever military exercise between the two countries successfully concluded in Kuomintang in December 2007. The two countries carried out counter-terrorism exercises at a low scale, a healthy sign that both are trying to understand each others modus operandi. However, this does not in any way mean that India will lower its guard against the Chinese claim on Arunachal Pradesh.  


Military manoeuvres will also be held with the UK, France, Seychelles, Mongolia, Maldives, Singapore and Thailand during the year. But the sheer scale of India’s military engagement with the US dwarfs all other such endeavours. The Armed Forces of both the countries have held around 50 joint exercises in the last 6 to 7 years to build "inter-operability".


The Left parties see a sinister design in all these exercises with the US. It even warned the UPA Government that the US was using India to build up a security cooperation arrangement in the Asia-Pacific region to "contain" China. However, senior officers from the defence services pooh-poohed such claims. "The US is the only super power in the world at present. We get exposure to their defence strategy, operational tactics, high-tech weaponry, and the best practices in such exercises", said an expert.


As smaller countries with a rising economic profile seek to strengthen their military capabilities, India has quietly discovered a new role for itself that can create big stakes for Indian diplomacy in the years ahead. With countries like US, Russia and now China seeking to dominate the traditional military suppliers market, India has broken fresh ground to emerge as an exclusive "defence service provider".


Although nascent, India made some significant forays last year to link up with smaller countries in South-East Asia and West Asia to build partnerships for the broader strategic objective of gaining more access to ports along the Arabian coast, Indian Ocean and South China Sea.


Moving beyond the idea of conducting periodic joint exercises, New Delhi shifted gears when it for the first time agreed to lease a training base — Kalaikunda airbase — to Singapore for few months in a year. Similarly, the artillery range in Deolali (Nasik), too, will be made available to Singapore under another agreement this year. In return, India will be paid for the facilities.


The whole plan fell into place when New Delhi realized that Singapore was facing a genuine problem in training its military personnel. Given that a bulk of the Singapore Armed Forces is drawn through conscription, training can be carried out only for few months in a year when the personnel can take leave from their main employment. Being a small country, it has been looking for fresh avenues of training as its infrastructure is limited by sheer lack of space. India proved to be viable option. It also, suited Singapore politically compared to a Japan or China.


Importantly, New Delhi has offered its high-quality training institutions and infrastructure to several of these small countries with enough financial resources who are keen to invest in a country that does not politically constrain them. In return, India builds stakes at various levels as more and more India-trained officials occupy key posts. Also the Navy is always on the lookout for access to more ports in these areas.


As China looks to spread its wings, India is looking to matching up, but in a different way. For instance, nearly 50 Vietnamese officers have been trained in Indian military institutions for the past two to three years. The Defence Minister, A K Anthony, who recently visited Vietnam, agreed to India training the Vietnamese Army for peacekeeping operations. Hanoi wants more specialized training and is looking for spares with technical help for its anti-submarine ships.


For the last two years, a batch of Indonesian Army personnel is training at the Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School, Warangte. Faculty members have been sent to the Indonesian Staff College to train selected officers. Jakarta is also looking at HAL for maintenance of its Sukhoi fleet. In Malaysia, Indian pilots are being deputed to train their pilots on the SU 30 MKI aircraft and its ground and technical crew is currently under training in India.


Among the West Asian nations, Qatar sent a high-level team to India last month which visited several defence locations. The purpose was to hire firing ranges for its artillery and mechanized forces. Qatar has also requested for fixed seats in the higher military educational institutions. Oman too, has sent 12 officers to train at the Naval Academy this year and the number is likely to increase. In return, India has got berthing facilities and docking rights in Oman along with permission to keep "warlike stores".  Moreover, New Delhi feels that if its plans with Qatar and Singapore work out well, then the model could lead to major strategic gains, apart from the economic benefit.


The Defence Forces have chalked out 5 joint combat exercises with the US forces this year. The military engagement with Washington will kick off in April-May with the "Vajra Prahar" counter-terrorism exercise in India during which the Special Forces from the two countries will match their "unconventional warfare" skills against each other. The "return" Vajra Prahar exercise will be held in the US in August-September. Around the same time, six Indian fighter jets, two transport aircrafts and an IL-78 mid-air refueller will be at the Nellie US Air Force base at Nevada to take part in the world-famous "Red Flag" exercise, the training ground for the NATO air combat forces. The IAF participation in this exercise will cost around Rs 80 crore.


India and the US will hold a "command post" exercise "Yudh Abhyas" with special focus on counter-terrorism operations in Alaska in October-November. Just before this, the navies from both the countries will hold the 14th round of Malabar exercise in the Indian Ocean. Incidentally, the 13th Malabar exercise held in the Bay of Bengal in September 2007 had led to strong protests from the Left Front, more so because the war games had been extended to include close American military allies like Japan and Australia, who are part of the US-led trilateral security cooperation in the Pacific region.


While the Left has not managed to stymie such exercises, it has certainly forced the UPA Government to put on hold the impending security arrangements with the US like the Logistic Support Agreement (LSA), Maritime Security Cooperation Framework (MSCF), Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and Container Security Initiatives (CSD) which are essential for the country’s defence and security against terrorism, hostile neighbours and for safeguarding national unity and integrity.


Clearly, in the interest of national security, the UPA Government should defy the Left Front and go ahead with all the defence agreements with the US including the controversial nuclear deal.  ---- INFA

(Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)


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