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DSA is as much yours, as it is ours! (October 2016)

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Anniversary issues have generally been occasions to rejoice over progress made, recount events and developments, and prepare for what is yet to come. And it is something largely followed here as well. But this anniversary issue is different for it comes in the wake of a deep tragedy, followed upon by an announcement of some military significance. So, the anniversary mood is somewhat tempered, as it ought to be in the circumstances. After all, no one can be ignorant or indifferent to the prevailing national mood.


The death toll from the terrorist attack on the Army camp in Uri is high by any standards. Probably, the death toll is the the highest in a single action in Jammu & Kashmir in more than a decade. Of course, it is not comparable to the losses suffered by the Dogra Regiment in Manipur last year, but then, that is a different terrain and pattern of terrorism. Because J&K is connected to Pakistan’s policy of exporting terror as a tool of diplomatic and military pressure, the reverberations from attacks like Uri are greater. Every loss of life is regrettable, but what also matters is the manner in which military lives are lost. And for that reason, the losses from Uri find greater resonance nationwide.

Responses to military losses are not to be determined on the streets of India but in the cold and calculating world of operations room. All responses have the capability of drawing continual actions, so all decisions have to be deliberately calibrated. Nothing knee jerk needs to be done. The nature of response may well be at great variance with the method adopted in the terror strike in the first place. After all, playing to the gallery is the essence of terrorist actions, but need not be for cold statecraft.

This is why the long winded deliberations and negotiations over the recently announced Rafale deal merit greater attention. Price negotiations, for what is undoubtedly a very expensive purchase, took a long time. Even as India was chipping away at the total figures initially quoted, France remained very keen to sell. So, as is obvious, both sides come away with something from the deal, for they seem pleased with the final outcome. It is a moot point whether a total of 36 aircraft makes operational and logistical sense, and this will remain a matter of debate for a long time to come.

What matters foremost is how the Indian aerospace industry benefits from the offsets and the much touted strategic partnership with France. Any technical and design inputs from France must be welcomed if they improve the domestic Tejas programme and help in the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft for which India has committed a large sum of monies. Certainly, a lot more needs to be done and the experience of France into these projects are welcome inputs. In case, they are on offer in the first instance. If not, then the long term costs of the Rafale project need to be analysed more deeply.

After all, the monies spent on the Rafale are enormous. By far, the largest India will be spending on a single item in double digit numbers. Some of these funds would go a long way in taking care of equipment and technologies that make India’s border safer and save the lives of its soldiers. Even if it is the largest arm, the average infantryman remains under equipped in terms of protection, communication, mobility and to a point, firepower. The same holds true for the Rashtriya Rifles, which undertakes infantry type of operations. The choice of equipping the soldier rests with the priority accorded by the service headquarters primarily and the Ministry of Defence, secondarily.

Service headquarters tend to favour big ticket items over daily essentials, for they make news. As Rafale has done, this would not have been the case if the Air Force had brought some critically required item like air defence radars.

Welcoming the decision to re-arm the Air Force shouldn’t take the focus away from other critical deficiencies. After all, the defence and security of the country is a complex web of men, their tools, the hardware in use and the software that drives the whole game. In all aspects, native Indian genius needs to flower.


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