Media Watch –– Midweek–14 Dec 2000

Light Combat Aircraft (LCA)

IDC had reported earlier this week about the UK Defence Secretary Geoffrey Hoon’s Delhi visit. He is now about to clinch the mouth-watering US$ 1 billion AJT deal for the 66 Hawks –– 115 with co-production at HAL. This spells good business for India's aviation industry, especially around Bangalore. UK has gone out of its way by pleading with USA and Bill Clinton to waive off sanctions for the supply of 169 Seaking and Sea Harrier spares, to make the deal go forward. IDC also learns that UK are supplying selected spares to Pakistan.

However, it needs noting that a South African order for Hawks is already in BAE's hands, hence our young trainee pilots will have to wait at least 2 years for this ‘lead-in fighter’ to come to India.

The IAF and George Fernandes have been in favour of the Hawk. The mind set of the IAF top brass has always been for the best. Hence their preference for the Hawk over the French twin engine Alpha Jets. The Alpha Jets are immediately available off the shelf at half the cost and are in use by six advanced countries including Thailand. Assembly in India, which could have also helped in our LCA taking off the ground, was also offered. UK cannot do that. The Alpha Jet will be in operation around the world for many years to come.

It is well known that the aircraft air-frames are a strong component in fighter aircraft and there have been few accidents on their account. As per La Fontaine and Abdul Kalam Committee reports, most accidents are human failure (80%), bird hits and technical failure. The IAF Chief has gone on record in saying that the 21-year old MIG-21s airframes are still good for a mid life upgrade for 130 planes which has just begun. Yet the 12-year old technology of Alpha Jets is not good enough!

IDC respect this judgement with only a small rider –– at what cost??

In 1991 when India's Air Chief was in Singapore and India signed a Defence MOU with that city state, it was common knowledge that the US had offered the F-5 fighter plant and planes to India for a song. But it was turned down for the same reason that the plane was old and not good enough for the IAF, and India would roll out the LCA in five years or would buy newer planes.

The Air Chief of Singapore, who later came to India and flew the MIG-29 at Pune, commented that he had flown the F-5 for ten years and it was a great air-frame with new avionics –– "India must be rich because even we in Singapore cannot afford new fighters all the time".

Tiny Singapore with just 4 million people has a US$ 4 billion budget. India's foreign exchange reserves were then down to US$1 billion and it had to pledge its gold. On the other hand Singapore banks were lending Indian banks at 6% overnight rates to meet the latter’s commitments.

Now to the LCA –– here is what the Project Director of the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), Bangalore, Kota Harinarayana had to say on 24 Dec 1995. "India’s first-ever indigenously built light combat aircraft (LCA) prototype will complete all tests by the end of next year. The first two fly-by tests planned for mid-96 will use a General Electric engine. From the third flight onwards, the native Kavery engine will be fitted on to the aircraft".

"Similarly, the third and fourth test flights will carry radar and weapon systems respectively", said the director. "An aircraft design software package called ‘autolay’, a spin-off of the LCA programme, has been handed over to Computer Vision, the largest US company specialising in mechanical software services, for marketing worldwide".

Harinarayana also said that more than 300 industries, 50 research laboratories and 20 academic institutions across the country worked on a mission-mode approach to accomplish the LCA project.

Now five years later, some Rs. 2500 crores have been spent on the project and we still have a statement that the LCA will fly by the end of the year (2000).

Finally, we say the above because foreign defence companies keep close watch on the capabilities and progress of DRDO and other Indian defence manufacturers. The US, Italian, French and British aviation companies have helped our LCA and ALH projects. With their reps visit HAL, they may come to know the true status of every project. Now media reports indicate that the British have offered the EURO FIGHTER and the French have offered the RAFALE. It does appear that the British and French are bending over backwards to bag the lucrative Indian contracts.

The 18 SU-30 (lets call them twin seat SU-27s for the time being) with the IAF are not frontline and media has been reporting teething problems with them. The version India needs is the SU-30 MK I, which will take some years to materialise. The IAF has to plan long term if the smaller LCA does not fructify, as its technology also will soon become out dated.


George Fernanades is happy with the state of Ramazan cease-fire and said that against some 50,000 arty shells which were being fired across the LOC daily, the rate has come down to almost nil. IDC wonders if the figure is correctly quoted in the media. PTI reports that 2 Army men including Major Maninder Singh were killed when militants stormed an army camp in Baramulla district in north Kashmir early on Tuesday 12 Dec.

IDC feel for the Armed Forces who as guardians without a say are keen on the impasse with Pakistan being resolved early. But our policy makers found no time to even debate it in the Parliament because of the Babri Masjid issue hogging the centre stage. IDC analysis reveals that the ARMY is not in the policy loop, which has naturally to be political in laying down what India wants as the bottom line, to move forward to resolve the matter.

Now comes a path breaking statement from the Pakistani Ambassador Ashraf Jehnagir Qazi who says that India should set modalities for talks, as Pakistan was willing to abide by all bilateral agreements with India including the Lahore declaration. IDC sees this as a challenge to our policy makers. The examples in Ireland, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka and Palestine where insurgency rages, indicate that talks move forward only when the two sides lay down their bottom lines, or at least one side states its demands. In most cases the larger party puts some of its leading cards on the table and involves a third powerful party whom they can trust. 

Is our view logical ? How can we move forward unless at some stage Pakistan is involved?

Watch this space and we await comments from our readers which have been flowing in.

Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)

IDC was hoping for the RAW, which is deeply involved with India's foreign policy, to get a non police officer/outsider as its head for the sake of its rejuvenation. However, media just reported that Vikram Sood has been nominated for the post. He is from the 1966 batch of the Postal Sevices and joined the Research Analysis Service (RAS ) and later he became a part of RAW. IDC wish him well. As in the past most of the out-going RAW Chiefs have been made Governors, look out for Mr A S Dullat for a similar sinecurial appointment.

Bofors - Hindujas and Defence Agents

After legal wrangling, the three Hinduja brothers, SP, GP and PP have been summoned by the Court in the Bofors case. The brothers have been told to appear in the court of special judge Ajit Bharihoke on January 19, 2001.

The CBI will have to prove that the money Hindujas received into McIntyre and other accounts was for the Indian Bofors Guns. In the impending legal battle, the brothers seem to have some cards up their sleeve, as they have done arms deals in Iran and elsewhere too. Incidentally the Hindujas were actually the agents for the HDW submarines meant for Iran, which finally came to India when the Shah was dethroned. It is well known that the commission was 7% for the Indian submarines, but it is still to be proved who got it. It is an uphill if not impossible task in arms deals to pin down the recipients, because all commissions are covered up if they are not legal. In arms deals, lubrication is the name of the game and commissions are the lubricant. Hindujas were Indian citizens at that time so the Rajiv Gandhi–Bhatnagar edict that disallowed Agents from the defence deals will be applicable. However, now they are UK citizens and so talk of extradition in the media has begun. IDC can say with confidence that India some times makes unique policy without regard to world experience, which is destined to fail. The TELECOM refund of fees and the Power sector escrows are examples, but the removal of agents to facilitate the Bofors deal was a farce. Now agents are the travel facilitators and deals with Russia are secret.

Watch this space on 27th December.


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