From missiles being tested to naval exercises and QUAD and BECA, Defence sector saw quite some action. Team Salute bring you the lastest news.
QUAD & BECA: STRENGTHENING TIES
Lt Col Anil Bhat, VSM
Two decisions of India, announced in October 2020, marked its major shift in policy of not only not annoying China, but instead strengthening and extending capacities of its armed forces against China’s perpetually expansionist moves.
On October 20, 2020, India re-invited the Australian Navy after 2007, to join up for maritime exercise Malabar 2020, thereby completing the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue). Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat declared that India wanted the Quad to ensure Freedom of Navigation (FoN) and Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). “It (the Quad) is a good arrangement which will ensure that in the IOR and all other oceans around, there is complete FoN without fear of any other nation trying to singularly dominate the oceans,” he said.
The recent approval of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), between India and the US by the Indian cabinet on October 27, 2020, is considered a major move by India to further step-up its strategic partnership with the US. The stage was set by the visit of US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E. Biegunon October 13, 2020, and his discussions with External Affairs and Defence Ministers, S. Jaishankar and Rajnath Singh. Thereafter, their discussions in turn with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Mark Esper during the 2+2 meet in Delhi and signing of the BECA mark India crossing yet another Rubicon with the US.
This happened after much hesitation, because after six months of a series of unprecedented events in East Ladakh, raising the level and quantum of deployment of Indian Army and Air Force to match that of Chinese PLAA and PLAF, the fact remains that China has more fighting men and machines than India. While the fighting spirit of Indian armed forces is decidedly better than their Chinese counterparts, but numbers do matter.
And with China continuing with its military expansionism, it is high time to convey to it that although India is quite capable of taking on China by itself, it has decided to join a strong strategic partnership. China always wanted to deal with India going it alone. It never wanted India to join up with the US but now that it has China will have to stew in its own juice, so to speak.
BECA, for geo-spatial cooperation is essentially a communication agreement proposed between the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency of the US Department of Defence and India’s Defence Ministry, which will allow India and the US to share military information including advanced satellite and topographic data such as maps, nautical and aeronautical charts and geodetic, geophysical, geomagnetic and gravity data. While most of the information shared will be unclassified, the pact includes a provision of sharing classified information with safeguards to prevent it from being shared with any third party.
With China continuing with its military expansionism, it is high time to convey to it that although India is quite capable of taking on China by itself, it has decided to join a strong strategic partnership.
During the ongoing Ladakh standoff, since early May 2020 Indian Defence Ministry felt the lack of requisite satellite data on Chinese military exercises in Tibet as PLA troops directly moved in for the Ladakh standoff that caught India unaware. BECA will allow US armed forces to provide advanced navigational aids and avionics on US-supplied aircraft to India. Sharing geospatial intelligence with the US through BECA will boost Indian military’s accuracy of automated hardware systems and weapons like cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and drones. Also, it is a key stepfor India when it comes to acquiring armed drones such as MQ-9B from the US.
To counter growing Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region, the two countries have also been stepping up their engagement with Australia and Japan, the other two members of the ‘Quad’.India and the US having already signed threekey foundational agreements—General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) in 2002, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016 and Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) in 2018, covering areas of security and military information, compatibility, logistics exchange and communications stood India in very good stead in reacting to China’s post-pandemic military misadventure in East Ladakh.
Since India’s most serious and longest stand-off since early May 2020, India and the US intensified under-the-radar intelligence and military cooperation to an unprecedented level. After Pompeo called up Jaishankar in the third week of June, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval was in touch with the US NSA, Robert C O’Brien, while Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Mark A Milley was in touch with Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat. Also, Esper called up Rajnath Singh in the second week of July.
These exchanges no doubt enhanced information-sharing between security, military and intelligence branches of the two countries. The cooperation includes sharing of high-end satellite images, telephone intercepts, and data sharing of Chinese troops and weapons deployment along the 3,488 km Line of Actual Control(LAC).The capability of India’s armed forces got enhanced with some American equipment.
The armed forces used at least five American platforms at the LAC—C-17 Globemaster III for military transport, Boeing’s Chinook CH-47 as heavy-lift helicopters,Boeing’s Apache as tank-killers, P-8I Poseidon for overland reconnaissance, and Lockheed Martin’s C-130J for airlifting troops.
During the 2+2 meet in Delhi, Pompeo and Jaishankar discussed a wide range of issues ranging from addressing the shared challenges of the Wuhan virus, collaborating on vaccine development, responding to regional security issues and economic prosperity, according to the US State. While the visit of Pompeo and Esper to India’s recently built National War Memorial (NWM) for wreath-laying made for good optics, what was more significant was Pompeo’s specific references to his thinking about Indian Army’s 20 soldiers killed at Galwan while paying tribute at the NWM and his earlier criticism of China and Pakistan. In contrast, and not surprisingly, neither Singh nor Jaishankar mentioned China by name at the joint news conference
BECA is expected to elevate the India-US strategic/defence partnership to an unprecedented mega level. It is one of the agreements that the US usually signs with its closest partners as it allows interoperability of armed forces and exchange of sensitive information of up to even classified nature. The US reportedly has one of the largest defence satellite networks which includes spy satellites, GPS satellites, and other specific intelligence satellites like communication intelligence (COMINT) and electronic intelligence (ELINT) satellites.
These satellites continuously provide the US with immense amounts of geospatial data which can give minute-by-minute updates on Pakistani or Chinese military movements. In October 2018,Indiainked an agreement worth USD 5.43 billion withRussiato procure fourS-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile defence system, the most powerful missile defence system in the world ignoring the CAATSA. The U.S. threatened India with sanctions over India’s decision to buy the S-400 missile defense system from Russia. That was then. Now, with India having signed as high an agreement as BECA on October 27, 2020, will US impose sanctions on it? It does not appear likely.
Since Indian Army’s responses at Galwan on June 15-16 and at Kailash Ridge on the South bank of Pangong Tso on August 29-30, 2020, the Chinese Communist Party and PLA combo has been livid and frustrated. After 53 years since the 1967 Sikkim skirmishes, it was at China’s behest that firearms were not used by both armies in managing the LAC. Differences in perceptions of the lAC were to be resolved by discussion/dialogue only.
A single exception was the brutal torture killing of four Assam Rifles riflemen at Tulung La on October 20, 1975 . On September 6-7, 2020, PLA in frustration following Indian Army’s occupation of Kailash Ridge, approached one of the positions and fired some rounds in the air. They were convinced by Indian Army, including Tibetan special troops to go back, which they did.
The latest developments of India completing/joining the Quad and BECA, have only made the CPC-PLA combo madder than ever before. While talks are on between the two countries to enable a drawdown of forces in Eastern Ladakh, the prognosis for such move back of forces from both sides does not appear to be likely. Not only must Indian Army not vacate the commanding positions on Kailash Ridge, but instead, should further occupy whichever other heights that it can right up to Arunachal Pradesh. While keeping a sharp eye on the movement of Chinese forces, India should open all issues with China, right from its occupation of Tibet, to Aksai Chin and all other tracts of Indian Territory.
INDIAN NAVY TEST FIRES ANTI SHIP MISSILE
On 30 October, the Indian Navy successfully test-fired an Anti-Ship Missile (AShM) from its Guided Missile Corvette, INS Kora. “Anti-ship missile fired by Indian Navy’s Guided Missile Corvette INS Kora hits the target at max range with precise accuracy in Bay of Bengal. Target ship severely damaged and in flames,” the Navy tweeted. The Indian Navy also released pictures showing the missile hitting the target ship and flames rising up in the sky.
The firing was carried out as part of a drill to demonstrate combat preparedness. The latest firing follows the successful launch of an AShM in the Arabian Sea from Chamak-class missile boat INS Prabal (K93) a week earlier. Constructed at Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE), Kora-class guided missile corvette were outfitted at Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL).
The ships are 1,350t guided-missile corvettes. Earlier, the DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation), has successfully flight tested the anti-submarine warfare system Supersonic Missile Assisted Release of Torpedo (SMART). In 2019, the DRDO had also launched the anti-ship version of the supersonic BrahMos cruise missile.
AIR LAUNCHED VERSION OF BrahMos MISSILE
On 30 October 2020, the Indian Air Force also successfully test-fired an air launched version of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile from a Sukhoi fighter aircraft in the Bay of Bengal, thus showcasing its growing combat prowess. The missile was fired from a Su-30 MkI aircraft, which hit the designated target ship with pin point accuracy and sank it.
The Su-30 fighter aircraft was from the Thanjavur based Tiger Sharks Squadron. The fighter had taken off from a frontline air base in Punjab, and it was refuelled in mid air. From there it was directed to its intended target which it successfully destroyed, after flying for over three hours and covering a significant distance. The aerial version of the missile was earlier successfully test fired from a Sukhoi fighter aircraft in May 2019.
BrahMos MISSILE TEST FIRED FROM INS CHENNAI
Adding further to its capability, the Indian Navy successfully test fired the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile from the indigenously-built stealth destroyer INS Chennai, with the weapon hitting a pre-designated target in the Arabian Sea. The Brahmos missile has land, sea and air variants and all of them have now been successfully test fired.
As per a statement released by the Indian Navy, “The missile hit the target with pin-point accuracy after performing high-level and extremely complex manoeuvres. BrahMos as prime strike weapon will ensure the warship’s invincibility by engaging naval surface targets at long ranges, thus making the destroyer another lethal platform of Indian Navy”.
The missile has a top speed of Mach 2.8 and once launched, cannot be countered by any known defence system. The naval version can hit a target at a distance of 400 km which greatly enhances the capability of the Indian Navy. The configuration of the existing missile was tweaked to enhance its range. This became possible after India’s induction into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in June 2016. INS Chennai can carry 16 BrahMos missiles in two eight-cell vertical launch systems, besides other sophisticated weapons and sensors.
Malabar Naval Exercise 2020
The first phase of the Malabar 2020 Naval Exercise was conducted from 03-06 November 2020, with all the four countries of the Quad, viz, India, Australia, Japan and the United States. The exercise, carried out in the Bay of Bengal, was restricted to sea phase. It was conducted in “zero contact” format considering COVID19 pandemic.
During this phase of the exercise, complex and advanced naval exercises including surface, anti-submarine and anti-air warfare drills, cross deck flying, and weapon firing exercises were carried out. This was the 24th edition of the Malabar naval exercises, aimed to display “high-levels of synergy and coordination” based on their shared values and commitment to an open, inclusive Indo-Pacific and a rules-based international order.
This year, for the first time, the Malabar exercise saw the participation of all the four quad countries, viz India, Australia, Japan and the United States. From the Indian Navy, the participating units were the destroyer INS Ranvijay, frigate INS Shivalik, offshore patrol vessel INS Sukanya, fleet support ship INS Shakti and submarine INS Sindhuraj. In addition, advanced jet trainer Hawk, long-range maritime patrol aircraft P-8I, Dornier maritime patrol aircraft and helicopters also participated in the exercise.
The United States participated with USS John S McCain (guided-missile destroyer), Australia with Her Majesty’s Australian Ship (HMAS) Ballarat (long range frigates) with integral MH-60 helicopter and Japan with Maritime Self Defence Ship (JMSDF) Onami (destroyer) with integral SH-60 helicopter.
The Malabar exercises started in 1992 as a bilateral exercise between India and the United States. Japan joined in as a permanent member in 2015. Now in 2020, with Australia also joining in, all the four Quad countries are participants in Malabar exercises.
According to Australian defence minister Linda Reynolds, Malabar 2020 marked a milestone opportunity for the Australian Defence Force (ADF). “High-end military exercises like MALABAR are key to enhancing Australia’s maritime capabilities, building interoperability with our close partners, and demonstrating our collective resolve to support an open and prosperous Indo-Pacific,” she said.
Exercise Samudra Shakti
India and Indonesia carried out their second bilateral exercise, Samudra Shakti in the Bay of Bengal in the first week of November 2020. For the exercise, the Indian Navy deployed its anti-submarine warfare corvette INS Kamorta. Indonesia deployed its warship KRI Usman Harun,a multi-role corvette.
The joint exercises include, manoeuvres, surface warfare exercises, air defence exercises, weapon firing drills, helicopter operations and boarding operations.KRI Usman Harun arrived at Visakhapatnam on November 4 to participate in the second edition of Ex ‘’Samudra Shakti’’.
The harbour phase of the exercise was conducted for two days on November 4-5. This included professional interactions in the form of subject matter expert exchanges (SMEE), cross deck visits, simulator drills, planning conferences, sports fixtures and social interactions. Indonesian Ambassador to India, HE Sidharto Reza Suryodipuro, witnessed some of the activities of the harbour phase at Visakhapatnam. The sea phase was thereafter conducted for two days.