This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

A Prediction that, thankfully, failed


There is a hoary old tradition in Indian government circles. Except in those cases where recruitment is on the basis of national level or state level competitive examinations, there is almost every time a little comedy played out. Advertisements are posted in the papers, applicants short-listed, called for interview, and all the time everyone in the swing knows who’s going to be selected ultimately. The entire interview process is, basically, eyewash. And the “victorious” candidate is never the best. Well, of course he isn’t. If he was, there would have been no need to rig the interview in the first place.
Nowadays that tradition is about to step out of government appointments and into the military sphere.
It’s been years since the Indian Air Force (IAF) – for whom I used to work till eleven months ago – expressed the need for a multi-purpose fighter (Multi Role Combat Aircraft, MRCA, as they call it). Whether they actually need such a fighter is a different issue; right now, though, they are basically dependent on variants of the 1960s vintage MiG 21, which is in the process of being upgraded so it can hang on for a few more years. The MiG 21 was supposed to be replaced a long time ago by the Indian indigenous fighter, the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas. But the LCA is so far behind schedule that it’s yet to even begin production, and it’s so far from Indian that even its engine has to be imported. The Indian Kaveri engine that was supposed to power it shows no signs of ever being made. Most damning of all, the IAF itself has obviously lost all interest in the LCA; it had been arm-twisted by the government into placing a farcical order for twenty aircraft, none of which is anywhere near being made yet, but in the meantime needed a real replacement. Meanwhile its real strength has dropped to some 29 squadrons, allegedly insufficient for it to perform its duties. That is, if you agree that it needs any new planes at all – which is a point I shall get back to in a moment.
So the Indian government short-listed six aircraft manufacturers for the contract to supply 126 combat aircraft: Dassault Aviation of France for the Rafale, RAC MiG Corporation of Russia for the MiG 35, Eurofighter GmbH for the Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab of Sweden for the JAS39C Gripen, and …very significantly … Lockheed Martin and Boeing for theF 16 Block 60 and F/A 18 Hornet respectively (both US). The cost of this contract is – hold your breath – ten billion dollars.
I wonder how many schools and hospitals that could create, how much damage to the environment could be reversed?     
I might as well say right now that in my opinion at least three of these six – Dassault, Saab, and the Eurofighter consortium – have been included just to make up numbers. No one’s even talking seriously about any of them. So we come down basically to the MiG 35 and the two American aircraft. And things get interesting at this point.
Remember this – the buying of a fighter doesn’t mean just the buying of the aircraft itself. It means the need to set up an entire infrastructure and support system, for repair, servicing, even for refuelling and so on. In order to economise, you know, nations try and make their aircraft (and other equipment) as far as possible compatible with the same set of tools and equipment. Just as you’d probably prefer to buy a car your local garage could service rather than something exotic nobody in your town had ever seen before. Get my point?
OK. So, since virtually our entire air force inventory is of Russian and French origin, all systems are configured for servicing Russian and French aircraft. Now you’d think that common sense would dictate that you stick to those manufacturers whose equipment you’re already using, whose aircraft are equipping your squadrons, whose tools you’ve stockpiled, right?
Right. If you have sense, that is.
Unfortunately, that’s precisely the sort of thing you can’t depend on inIndia.
And that’s why the two American aircraft are included in the list. Hell – you’d even have to get a new set of spanners to service the damned things.
And now let me make my prediction: the Indian government has already decided to select the Lockheed Martin F 16. All the rigmarole over trials and selection procedures are a gigantic farce.
Would you like to know how I arrived at that conclusion?
First. Our air force doesn’t really need any more planes of this type. We already have two highly capable multi-role combat aircraft, Sukhoi’s Su 30 MKI and Dassault’s Mirage 2000. We don’t need any more planes of this type to replace retiring aircraft simply because there is never going to be a big war again where they can be used. Wars – even bush-league wars - are incredibly draining on resources, as the US is discovering in Afghanistan and Iraq. The capitalist class that rules India these days isn’t involved in defence production enough to make any serious money out of it. So that class has no interest in going to war. Even a direct attack on India, if it ever came, isn’t going to provoke an all out war. All there might be is a lot of posturing and sabre-rattling, but, depend on it, no fighting (for example, Operation Parakram of 2001-02).
If there is a war at all, it’ll be a minor affair of strictly limited geographical area, where the Sukhois and Mirages might not even have to be used. If they are used, they would be more than good enough to do the job required.
So, since there is no risk of ever going to war again, there is no risk in buying equipment that can’t be digested and absorbed easily, that will require a separate system for maintenance, that might turn out to be unusable junk in the long term. You get what I’m talking about. Thecapabilities of the aircraft selected don’t matter at all, since it is never, ever, going to be used anyway.
Second. If at all we need aircraft, what we need are dedicated counterinsurgency (COIN) planes – slow flying, heavily armed and armoured aircraft of an entirely different type from the MRCA our air force is determined to procure (examples are the A10 Warthog or the Sukhoi Su 25). However, COIN planes are relatively cheap and where there is less money being thrown around there’s less chance that some of it might find its way into someone’s pocket. So, although back in 1999 (during the Kargil "war" against Pakistani troops) everyone was groaning about the dearth of COIN planes in the IAF’s inventory, nobody has mentioned them again afterwards.
Third. This government is, as I said, ruled by the capitalist class. No Indian government these days is its own master, hasn’t been for a decade and a half. Earlier it used to be the Ambani family that used to run India – and these days it’s Ratan Tata. Tata is openly pro-American and a strong supporter of the Nuclear Deal. And the Americans know very well how much influence he wields. So, when there was an air show in India earlier this year, Aero India 2007, they made sure that hegot joyrides in both planes – and came down babbling about how he enjoyed the rides.
Fourth. The higher reaches of the military are absolutely rotten through with corruption and are completely susceptible to government pressure (in any case it’s only politically “reliable” officers who get to the top positions). So whatever is right for the Air Force isn’t necessarily what it will say is right for it. There’s no point saying that “this is what the IAF says is right.” I recall watching (in 2004) an American air force delegation given a free hand to tour parts of the Indian Air Force regional command headquarters here. They were allowed to photograph whatever they wanted and go wherever they wanted – even to areas out of bounds to Indian airmen without special clearance.
Fifth. If our current government has a foreign policy at all, it can be summed up in one sentence: suck up to the Americans at all costs. This is more than obvious at every stage. The government no longer even makes any serious attempt to deny it. To make the Americans happy, of course, any and all means are OK. Not so Russia or France– they are only our friends, not the Masters of the Universe (and Franceunder Sarkozy is showing signs of backsliding, too).
Sixth. The Indian middle class couldn’t care less about what happens to its tax money (insofar as it pays any) so long as it can buy its LCD televisions and snazzed up cars. The Indian Middle Class is a topic in itself. I could go on and on…
So, the imperatives of the situation are: no big war; a lot of money going around; capitalist backing; government support; and personal pro-Americanism.
There is no reason the American planes would even be on the short-list unless they were to be chosen, for the reasons I outlined above. So, the IAF is going to select either the F 16 or the F 18.
Now, I believe we can narrow it down further. It’s going to be the F 16.
Firstly, unlike the F 18, production of the F 16 is winding down (it is no longer in production for the USAF) and jobs might be lost without the Indian order. Just as India, to please Britain, bought Westlandhelicopters in the late seventies so that that company got a new lease of life. The Westlands were such junk they never even got into proper service and were all scrapped. But who cared so long as India made Maggie Thatcher happy. Making Bush happy is all this government cares about.
Then, Boeing can be “compensated” by major orders for commercial aircraft, so even if it doesn’t get the F 18 order, everyone stays happy.
Naturally, there is one more “advantage” to buying American aircraft. If the Americans – as they have many times before – impose sanctions to twist India’s arm, there will be an excellent argument in favour of giving in to American demands – “or else our equipment would be useless.”
India’s defence minister, AK Anthony (a very short man who had a police officer dismissed for referring to him as “shorty” during a conversation on police radio) said the deal will be completely transparent. Right. Everyone knows how transparent it will be, with the papers and the television channels paid to support one point of view and misinformation carefully fostered. Already the right wing media refers to the MiG 21 as “flying coffins” and deliberately confuses it withall MiGs. I can assure you that you’ll find a lot of anti-MiG articles in the newspapers in coming days.
You understand that sucking up to America is all these people care about. Even if American bombs were to be raining down on Delhi, they would still be trying to suck up to Washington.
This is why any and all invaders were able to rule this country as and when they wished.

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