Tuesday, May 13, 2014

on Prime Minister's India Visit and India-Japan Strategic Partnership....

Here's an analysis of mine on Prime Minister Abe's visit to India as the Guest of Honour at this year's Republic Day function on January 26, 2014. Japan has been clearly the flavour of the season as far as India is concerned. Japanese defence minister Itsunori Onodera was in New Delhi few weeks before that for consultations with his counterpart on how to strengthen and coordinate relations between the two sides in the security arena. In one of their rare visits, the Japanese Emperor and Empress were in Delhi in December.

With both India and Japan acknowledging the need to strengthen bilateral defence and security ties, a major chunk of the attention is likely to be on maritime security and anti-piracy efforts. While these are by no means unimportant facets of bilateral cooperation, more significant will be the role of India and Japan in shaping the Asian strategic order. Both the countries have a common and shared perspective on the Asian framework, even as it is an emerging one.

For the full article, click here.

Having said that, Defence Minister Onodera's visit focused on some of the tactical and policy issues for enhancing the level and pace of India-Japan bilateral cooperation. Cooperation between the two navies has been an on-going affair, but what has been low on the radar until now have been the links between the air forces of the two sides. This was given some emphasis during the recent visit with the two sides agreeing to encourage more staff exchanges and coordinate the possibility of staff talks between the Indian Air Force and the Japan Air Self Defence Forces as well as exchanges of test-pilots, professional exchanges in the field of flight safety and between two transport squadrons of the two air forces. Also agreed upon was promotion of exchanges on UN Peace Keeping operations between various Japanese agencies (such as the Japan Peacekeeping Training and Research Centre, Joint Staff College (JPC), Central Readiness Force of Japan Ground Self Defence Forces and the Indian Army's Centre for UN Peacekeeping (CUNPK), and expert-level engagements on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and counter-terrorism between Indian Army and Japan Ground Self Defence Force. On the naval front, there were agreements on joint exercises between the Indian Navy and the Japan Maritime Self Defence Forces on a regular basis (with the Indian Navy to visit Japan this year). Some of the other aspects that were decided during Onodera's visit included visit to Japan by India's defence minister later this year and a decision to undertake high-level visits on an annual basis, conducting of the third 2+2 dialogue and the fourth Defence Policy Dialogue (Defence Secretary level).

While a rising China factor is undoubtedly an important consideration for both India and Japan as they strengthen their cooperation, the two have been careful not to invite Chinese wrath and thus have not made a mention of China in any of their statements. However, as mentioned above, there are any number of areas including freedom of navigation, anti-piracy, uninterrupted commerce, safe energy corridors and an inclusive Asian strategic framework that are becoming important to both India and Japan.

One of the key areas of potential cooperation is an arms trade relationship between the two sides. Japan's lifting of a historic ban on export of arms under the policy guidelines issued in December 2011 has provided abundant opportunities for India and Japan to strengthen defence cooperation. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's decision is something that came about with a lot of prodding from Japanese industry, which have been keen on getting its share of the growing defence market pie. Given that Japan is a sophisticated naval power in the region with advanced technologies and weapon systems, the reversal of the ban will make it free to enter into agreements for joint production and co-development of systems with their select partners. Obviously, the decision has had its share of domestic criticism in Japan, with many viewing it as Tokyo potentially moving away from its post second world war pacifist posture.

As for India, even prior to the decision by Prime Minister Noda on lifting the ban, there was a Japanese proposal to sell New Delhi a multi-role amphibious aircraft, the US2, suitable for SAR (Search and Rescue) operations. The aircraft is significant for both the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard to undertake humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in addition to more important search and rescue missions. A Joint Working Group (JWG) was put in place in May last year to work out the modalities of cooperation and the possible induction by the Indian Navy. The JWG is also studying the possibility of joint production, operation and training on the US-2i aircraft. Despite the Japanese inclination and the Indian interest, the deal has not been signed yet. Discussions on this were expected to be stepped up, with hopes that a deal would be announced during Prime Minister Abe's visit, but this now seems unlikely. Sources now suggest that the second meeting of the JWG will take place in Japan this year and no decision is likely beforehand.

Meanwhile, there are other systems and platforms on the offer list, including electronic warfare equipment and patrol vessels among others. Given India's general aversion to buying defence items off the shelf, Japan has gone the extra mile offering India the option of establishing joint ventures with Indian partners, both in the public and private sector. However, the Indian reaction so far has been subdued.

India has to get much more long-term and strategic in its defence diplomacy. While Tokyo made its intentions clear and official, New Delhi's reaction has been less than forthcoming. On the US-2, India responded to Japan's offer to supply the aircraft by asking the Japanese company to follow the usual route of tenders. Accordingly, in response to the Indian Navy's Request for Information (RFI), there are three companies in the fray - Japan's ShinMaywa, Canada's Bombardier and Russia's Beriev. While open tendering and transparent processes are to be encouraged, this is not how strategic ties are built. Japan's offer of the US-2 was a strategic message that India missed, just as it did earlier with the MMRCA decision.

Even as the alliance relationship with the US is key to Japan, Tokyo has understood and acknowledged the need to strengthen relations with India and other like-minded democracies. The idea of an 'arc of democracies' has been a pet theme of Prime Minister Abe. The quadrilateral initiative among India, Japan, Australia and the US was also an initiative to forge closer security ties among these countries. A diamond initiative was talked about by Abe during his campaign days last year.

What do all these mean for India-Japan relations and the larger Asian strategic framework? Japan's interest in defence trade with India is not entirely driven by commercial angles. While commercial factors are an incentive, a closer strategic partnership with Asian neighbours has become an important priority for Japan. In addition to the general concerns over the rise of China, Tokyo also has unresolved border and territorial issues with China. In the current context, the simultaneous rise of three powers - India, Japan and China - is a perfect design for conflict and rivalry. It does not help that China has had prior disputes with both Japan and India.

Both Tokyo and New Delhi want to create a stabler Asian order by redefining partnerships in the region. Can India and Japan take the lead in this regard and form a concert of nations that would bring about balance of power in the Asia-Pacific? The role of small and medium powers such as Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, and South Korea is significant. India and Japan have to be able to offer stable options to an aggressive China.

Monday, May 12, 2014

GSLV success: A major technology boost

Here's an analysis of India's successful GSLV launch conducted on January 05, 2014. This puts India in an exclusive club of five countries - the United States, Russia, France, Japan, and China. Given the complex nature of this technology - the use of rocket propellants at extremely low temperatures, as the ISRO Chairman Dr. Radhakrishnan remarked, "only a few in the world have mastered it."

For the full article, click here.

With the launch of GSLV-D5, India’s indigenously developed cryogenic engine upper stage technology has been proven for the first time, a major feat of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The proven technology demonstrates India’s ability to launch heavier payloads into geostationary orbit. Cryogenic technology is significant due to the thrust gained through burning every kg of propellant that is far higher in a cryogenic engine, which gives the thrust to carry heavier satellites into orbit. In the flight of GSLV-D5, the ISRO also launched a communication satellite GSAT-14 into the Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO). The test was a make or break situation for the ISRO after two successive failures in 2010 and a mission cancelled in 2013.

India had undertaken so far seven GSLV launches, including three failures and one mission cancelled hours before the launch. Previous failures included problems such as fuel tank leakage, the mission centre losing control of the rocket with it deviating from predicted flight path, among others. Therefore, the January 5 successful launch is a matter of technology demonstration and a major boost for the Indian space community.

India’s cryogenic journey has been a long one, going back to the 1980s. In December 1982, a Cryogenic Study Team was established that studied all aspects of the technology and questions such as whether India should develop or buy the technology from outside were examined. In 1983, the team submitted a report that recommended developing the engine capable of generating about 10 tonnes of thrust indigenously as against procuring it off the shelf. In addition to the exorbitant cost to buying from elsewhere, export control mechanisms such as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) that denies transfer of such technologies were also contextualising factors in India’s decision. However, in 1991 after a great deal of indecision, Government of India entered into a deal with the Soviet Union for procuring two cryogenic flight stages and the technology to make them in India. The sale of such technology was seen as a violation of the MTCR commitments made by the Soviet Union and thus the deal was scrapped.

In addition to the prestige factor of being part of an exclusive club of countries that have the proven cryogenic engine technology, the GSLV-D5 launch is important from a commercial and strategic perspective. The growing satellite launch market has a huge commercial angle. So far, this market is dominated by the French and the Chinese to an extent. Given the growing number of countries entering the space domain for a variety of missions from socio-economic and development to military functions, the number of satellite launches is likely to go up significantly in the coming years. India should not lose out opportunities in this ever-growing lucrative foreign satellite launch market.

From a strategic perspective, the successful launch of the GSLV means it is self-reliant in the area of satellite launching, including heavier satellites. This also means that India will not have to depend on foreign agencies to carry their heavier payloads. Without a successfully tested indigenous cryogenic engine GSLV, many of India’s future missions would have been affected by delays. India already has a series of satellites including include GSAT-6A and 7A, two remote sensing satellites, GISATs and the GSAT series including GSAT-9 ready for launch in the near future. Chandrayaan-2 and India’s interplanetary and manned moon missions will also have a huge boost. While India has not faced any serious issue of reliability as far as foreign launchers are concerned, being self-sufficient in this area is significant in addition to having more cost-effective, cheaper options at home.

So far India has used its tried and tested Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles (PSLV) although these do have a weight limitation of just over one tonne. A PSLV can carry 1600 kg satellites in 620 km sun-synchronous polar orbit and 1050 kg satellite in geo-synchronous transfer orbit (GTO). On the other hand, a GSLV offers India the ability to launch satellites weighing 3.5-5 tonnes.

1. N. Gopal Raj, "The Long Road to Cryogenic Technology," OpEd, The Hindu, April 21, 2011, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-long-road-to-cryogenic-technology/article397441.ece

India's GSLV Launch: A Major Milestone for ISRO...

India's GSLV launch in January 2014 has been watched with a lot of interest as well as apprehension given what happened in 2010 and 2013. However, it is clear that s successful launch of GSLV will place India in the same league as a handful of countries as far as the technological sophistication is concerned. Currently, there are five countries - the United States, Russia, France, Japan, and China - that have demonstrated the cryogenic engine upper stage technology in order to launch heavier satellites in geostationary orbit. India will become the sixth nation to design and develop this sophisticated and complex technology.

For the full article, click here.

After two successive failures of its Geostationary Launch Vehicle (GSLV) launches in 2006 and 2010 and an aborted mission in 2013, India's endeavour to launch another GSLV on January 5 is being watched with both hope and apprehension. Though the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has done several trial tests for the launch of GSLV-D5, there is apprehension because of what happened in 2010 and 2013.

A successful launch of GSLV will place India in the same league as a handful of countries as far as the technological sophistication is concerned. Currently, there are five countries - the United States, Russia, France, Japan, and China - that have demonstrated the cryogenic engine upper stage technology in order to launch heavier satellites in geostationary orbit. India will become the sixth nation to design and develop this sophisticated and complex technology. The GSLV-D5 rocket will carry on board the 2-tonne GSAT-14 satellite capable of delivering communication services in the area of tele-medicine and tele-education. On December 28, 2013, the Mission Readiness Review (MRR) team and the Launch Authorisation Board (LAB) cleared the GSLV-D5/GSAT 14 launch for January 5 and thereafter the rocket was shifted to the launch pad.

The three-stage rocket, with solid, liquid and cryogenic stages, is "a very complex system compared with solid or earth-storable liquid propellant stages due to its use of propellants at extremely low temperatures and the associated thermal and structural problems", according to the ISRO. Cryogenic technology is significant because the thrust gained through burning every kg of propellant is far higher in a cryogenic engine, which gives the thrust to carry heavier payloads into orbit.

Starting in April 2001, India has so far carried out seven GSLV launches, including three failures and one aborted launch. Past failures have included problems such as deviation from the predicted flight paths soon after the lift-off. The attempt in 2013 had to be called off hours before the lift-off as they detected a leak in the fuel tank of the liquid second-stage in pre-launch pressurisation phase of the vehicle.

This time around, ISRO Chairman Dr. S Radhakrishnan and the engineers appear confident of having rectified many of the problems faced in the previous missions. There have been several committees set up to study in detail the cause of failures and accordingly remedial measures have been taken. For instance, they have used an entirely new fuel tank. Apparently, the earlier leaked-prone fuel tank was an old stock, procured four years ago and also the aluminium alloy, Afnor 7020 that was used in the making of the tank tends to develop cracks over a period of time. The booster turbo pump, that ran into problem twice previously, had used different materials that contracted differently at low temperatures, which has been rectified now by using a single material. Similarly, the issues of contamination with the propellant acquisition device procured from Russia have been addressed and this time around, the device is manufactured in India. There has been refurbishing of the casing of the rocket as well.

Tomorrow's attempt will be significant both from the commercial and strategic perspectives. In addition to the large number of domestic satellites ready to be launched using the heavier launch vehicle, a successful launch will also mean India's ability to cash in on the large lucrative foreign satellite launch market.

Given the ever-increasing reliance on space assets for a variety of missions from socio-economic and development to military functions, the number of satellite launches will spike significantly in the coming years. China has already captured a sizeable chunk of this market even though India offers much more cost-effective launches, which in fact have been its strength.

India's tried and tested Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles (PSLV) have a weight limitation of just over one tonne. A PSLV is capable of carrying 1600 kg satellites in 620 km sun-synchronous polar orbit and 1050 kg satellite in geo-synchronous transfer orbit (GTO). A GSLV on the other hand will offer India ability to launch satellites weighing 3.5-5 tonnes.

A successful launch with the indigenous cryogenic engine will go a long way in making India self-sufficient in the area of satellite launching. Large tonnage carrying capability is important in the domestic context since it will no longer have to depend on foreign rockets to carry their large satellites. Chandrayaan-2 is a case in point. Other satellite launches planned include GSAT-6A and 7A, two remote sensing satellites, GISATs and the GSAT series including GSAT-9. Relying on foreign carriers has had reliability issues in addition to the cost factor as these have proven to be more expensive options.

Military Diplomacy: Time for India to Go Proactive, my article published in The Diplomatist...

Here's an article of mine, wherein I make case for India to effectively use military diplomacy in its conduct of diplomacy, published in the year-end special edition on Indian Diplomacy (December 2013).

Today military diplomacy is construed as one of the essential tools in the pursuit of a nation’s foreign policy. This would mean utilisation of all defence activities and platforms including exchange of international military personnel, visits of ships and aircrafts, engagement of the civil, military bureaucracies and defence ministers, military training and exercises, regional and global defence meetings and forums. India, however, has been shy of using military diplomacy as an active tool in its diplomacy. What is not clear is whether this has been a deliberate attempt on India’s part or more a result of bureaucratic and political inertia. However, India has to become proactive in using military diplomacy in furthering its own national interests.

What Is Military Diplomacy?
Diplomacy is broadly described as the art and practice of pursuing a nation’s foreign relations, and military diplomacy is defined as the conduct of foreign policy by the men in uniform or even the civilian defence departments. As mentioned earlier, this involves military exchanges and accordingly these are categorised under heads such as defence exchanges to include joint training with the militaries of foreign countries.

While this broader definition has come to be used by a considerable number of countries, China, which has used military diplomacy in an effective manner, defines it from a narrower perspective, to say “foreign affairs work performed by defence institutions and armed forces.” (Matsuda Yasuhiro, “An Essay on China’s Military Diplomacy: Examination of Intentions in Foreign Strategy,” NIDS Security Repors, No. 7, December 2006, p. 3.) Yasuhiro, one of the prominent scholars on the subject, quotes Chinese authors who have differentiated military diplomacy from political or regular diplomacy by stating that military diplomacy is “all diplomatic activities relating to national security and military diplomatic activities.” (Yasuhiro quotes Yang Songhe, Junshi waijiao gailun (Survey of Military Diplomacy), Junshi yiwen chubanshe, Beijing, 1999.)

It may be true that military diplomacy does not differ in significant terms from the regular diplomacy in its content given that visits, meetings, exchanges, negotiations, participating in international conferences, treaty signings and exchanges of diplomatic documents are important aspects of military diplomacy. The difference lies in the fact that these would be conducted primarily by men in uniform or otherwise civilians in the defence ministries and that the content would have a large role for the military. However, these functions will form an important part of the larger foreign and security policy goals and ideals dictated by the political leadership. Broadly, military diplomacy has the following objectives: training of one’s own military for any emergency situation, strengthening of ties with other countries, sales of weapons and military technologies, and more importantly establishment of a sphere of influence as also learn a lot about foreign militaries, their way of working, their equipments through direct interaction with such organizations. The exercises are also big opportunities for signalling and messaging about a nation’s security interests and challenges to the foreign countries. If one were to look at the now routine SCO-China military exercises, which started way back in 2007, China announced that it intends to fight the three evils of terrorism, separatism and extremism. Despite Russia’s wariness and apprehensions of a rising China, it has been an active participant in these exercises. The exercises were also part of the Chinese efforts to limit the US influence in these countries, as much as an effort to strengthen bilateral and multilateral dealings with these countries. These exercises have also provided an opportunity to understand other militaries’ organizational ethos, culture, philosophies, strengths and weaknesses and most importantly get a sense of the other military’s modernisation processes. Forums like Shangri-La Dialogue are also becoming important conduits for conducting military diplomacy.

The major aspects of military diplomacy include military and strategic level undertakings including defence consultations and strategic dialogues, arms transfers, regional activities, including state to state military protocols, opening of military bases, participation in bilateral and multilateral military exercises, professional military education exchanges, including Track 1.5 and Track II dialogues besides cooperation in non-traditional security areas, like sending armed forces to counter-terrorism exercises, UN Peacekeeping operations, disaster management operations. Military diplomacy also includes: exchange of military attaches, visits by military delegations, military study abroad, participation in international arms control and disarmament programmes, arms import and export, and military assistance to friendly countries.

Military Diplomacy – India
India has been lagging behind in using military diplomacy as an effective tool in its diplomacy. But this has been changing in the last few years. India has recognised the crucial importance of military diplomacy to strengthen this beyond the narrow traditional level of bilateral joint exchanges to include multilateral exercises in our neighbourhood and beyond and also to engage in arms sales. Traditionally, this aspect of arms sales has been left to our neighbours such as Pakistan and China, who have been active in promoting this aspect of diplomacy and thus gaining greater influence beyond their immediate neighbourhood.

India’s participation in the quadrilateral exercises with the US, Japan, Australia was one of the major demonstrations of India taking big steps in this regard. In addition, India has enhanced its defence ties with some of the Southeast Asian countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore, who have been prompting an increased role and presence of India in Southeast Asia over the years. Signing of a defence cooperation pact with Singapore in 2004, for instance, drastically changed the fabric of New Delhi’s defence ties in the region. The manner in which the Indian Navy was able to quickly respond, first on its own, sending 35 ships, and later joined by the US, Japan, Australia in ensuring rapid response and relief, post-Tsunami 2004 was a spectacular display of the soft power aspects of India’s military capabilities. As part of its military diplomacy in Southeast Asia, India (as also Japan) has also been active in stepping up the maritime capabilities of key countries, particularly in meeting the challenges of piracy, sea lanes of communication (SLOCs). These have included regular regional and bilateral dialogues on the safety of SLOCs, coordinated patrols, port calls by ships, training of naval officers in Indian military institutions, and intelligence sharing particularly on maritime affairs. India has also been pursuing several trilateral partnerships in this regard including the US, Japan, India framework.

As regards India’s joint military exercises, India has been fairly active. For example, the Indian Navy has conducted exercises with navies of several friendly countries, including with the French Navy (the Varuna Exercise(s)), the British Navy (the Konkan Exercise(s)), the Russian Navy (the Indra Exercise(s)), the MALABAR series with the US Navy, SIMBEX with the Singapore Navy, Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces and the Chinese PLA Navy among others. Taking India’s Look East Policy forward, India has intensified its engagement with the ASEAN nations. In December 2012, the India-ASEAN relations were raised to the level of a strategic partnership, in recognition of the security and strategic interests that are gaining a greater say. Similarly, Indian ships have also made regular port calls in Israel, Turkey, Egypt, Libya, Greece, Oman, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, South Africa, Kenya, Qatar, UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait. Initiatives involving the IBSA countries (India, Brazil and South Africa) have been on since 2008 – the first joint naval exercise, IBSAMAR I was held in 2008; a second one in 2010. The IBSA series of exercises has been of a sophisticated nature involving live-fire drills, radio compatibility and Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) exercises as well as anti-aircraft and anti-terrorist drills. Additional measures to strengthen military-to-military cooperation are being explored, especially given the issue of piracy on both the eastern and western coast of Africa. These challenges have also prompted this group to take up issues of ocean governance and freedom of navigation. Unlike the BRICS, the IBSA has far greater potential for military cooperation given that these countries do not share any history of conflict with each other.

In dealing with some of its neighbours, for instance, India has been much more pragmatic than idealistic. India has also been moving closer to Vietnam, with an eye on the rising China factor for both the countries. New Delhi has paid closer attention to Hanoi’s needs, particularly in enhancing its air and maritime capabilities. It has offered huge aid and assistance on both these fronts. In addition, India has also considering the idea of forging closer military ties with Myanmar given the growing Chinese reach in that country. While India along with China had come in for criticism for its proposed arms sales to Myanmar, India-Myanmar military-to-military relations have been warming up. All the three Indian service chiefs had visited Myanmar in the past one year – a sign of the closer bilateral ties and a sign of India gaining greater comfort in pursuing military diplomacy. Despite the apparent close ties with Beijing, Myanmar’s Navy Chief Vice Admiral Thura Thet Swe was in India for closer military cooperation with India. This visit secured higher number of slots for the Myanmarese military officers in Indian military installations, in addition to higher number of air force officers, especially helicopter pilots, to be trained in India. The Indian Shipyard will also be constructing at least four Offshore Patrol Vehicles (OPV) for use by the Myanmarese Navy. In the recent years, Myanmar had procured 105 mm artillery guns, mortars, armoured personnel carriers (APVs) and rifles from India.

Compared to even a decade back, India has made taken major strides in pushing military diplomacy to a new level. Even as that is the case, it has to do more in order to gain influence and leverage, both closer to home and far. India has not only increased the nature and intensity of its military interactions with others but has also strengthened its reach by increasing the number of military officers posted abroad as Defence Attaches and military advisers. Through woken up late to the idea, India is beginning to get a firmer grip on effectively running military diplomacy.

Arms Sales Should be A Big Part of Military Diplomacy
While there have been several important considerations including technological, economic and commercial, India has shied away from pursuing arms sales as an important aspect of its military diplomacy. However, a more critical consideration should have been the strategic considerations, which is to prevent China or Pakistan from gaining particular advantage in spheres of Indian influence and concern.

Accordingly, India should have considered sale of arms and such other items including the Brahmos cruise missile and the INSAS small arms systems to a number of countries who have been on a look-out. Regarding Brahmos, since it was jointly developed with Russia, there have been issues to work out with Moscow before India could make deals. However, these are problems that can be ironed out if India acknowledges the need to do so. For instance, Brahmos has been looked at with keen interest in South Africa, South Korea and Vietnam. Commercial considerations coupled with strategic interests in all of these three countries should be significant drivers pushing India in this direction. Similarly, several smaller western African countries have shown interest in India’s INSAS small arms systems.

India could consider other weapon systems for export purposes such as the Dhruv – the Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH). Dhruv, being a multi-role new generation helicopter, produced by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., is believed to have a variety of capabilities, including heliborne assault, logistic support, casualty evacuation, reconnaissance and training, besides its utility as air observation post. Dhruv has appeared in a few international air shows including the 2007 Paris Air Show and potential buyers have been identified as well. HAL entered into deal with Chile to sell six; two to Bolivia, among others. India’s ship-building capabilities are considered fine. Until now, India has been building destroyers though it is also building its own aircraft carrier. India builds whole range of smaller boats, ships, frigates, missile boats, patrol boats, and OPVs. Southeast Asia will provide itself as potential buyers given the nature of challenges faced by the countries in this region.

Among non-lethal weapons, India could possibly sell trucks, other military vehicles and radars. India is already selling trucks to the Malaysian Army; other military vehicles to some African countries and air defence radars – Indra - have been supplied to Sri Lanka. While the effectiveness of the Indra radars has been debated, they nevertheless serve some limited purpose.

Military diplomacy, conducted as part of India’s overall diplomacy, will act as a significant catalyst in strengthening its ties with friendly countries. Successive joint military exercises with a range of nations would further deepen the content and form of bilateral ties. India needs to pursue military diplomacy much more aggressively in order to create a strategic space for itself in India’s own neighbourhood, before losing out to Beijing and Islamabad that have been cashing on India’s lethargic approach in this arena. Keeping in mind larger strategic interests and not just commercial ones, India needs to step up arms transfer relations with important countries.

However, if India has to succeed in this arena, it has to create a strategic industry with significant private sector participation. Private sector participation that could boost India’s own defence sector will also be in a position to drive a profit-driven business if India’s arms export policy is revamped. India has to craft an innovative policy that will minimise delay and red tapism that have been a curse with our state-owned enterprises.

Revamping India’s arms export policy would also involve keeping up to date with the global export control lists such as that of the Waasenaar Arrangement and Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) Guidelines, which could also go to strengthen India’s own candidature in to these groupings.

India's Mars Mission: A Mere Show of Capabilities?, my OpEd in the Global Times...

Here's another OpEd I wrote on India's Mars mission and this was published in the Global Times (China). Despite the cost-effectiveness of India's Mars mission, there have been several questions raised on whether this was necessary given that India has several challenges in the developmental domain. It is indeed true that India has serious issues nevertheless there are several important reasons for conducting such missions.

For one, while India has poverty and developmental issues, it also has to develop its scientific and technological base. It would be foolish to suggest that India should ignore scientific and technological advances until all developmental issues are resolved. Two, space is a vital aspect of India's security. India does not live in a benign neighborhood and it has had to balance between its development and security needs. No major power can afford to ignore the importance of space technology for its military needs. Three, given its experience in the nuclear arms control area, India has to come to understand the importance of crossing a certain technological threshold if it wants to sit at the high table.

For the full article, click here.

India successfully launched a Mars mission, the Mangalyaan, on November 5. The mission is a major demonstration of India's technological capabilities, and a reflection of the growing competition in the Asian space race.

At $73 million, this is one of the most cost-effective Mars missions. But the political and security considerations are also important. Being the first Asian country to conduct such a mission must also have been an important factor in India's calculations.

Despite being one of the most cost-effective missions yet, questions have been raised as to why India spends money on such efforts when it is faced with dire poverty and developmental issues at home.

There has been criticism, both in India and outside, about the waste of resources on spectacle while developmental needs remain unmet.

It is undoubtedly true that India has significant developmental challenges on which it needs to spend money and effort. Nevertheless, there are at least three important reasons for conducting such missions.

First, while India has poverty and developmental issues, it also has to develop its scientific and technological base. It would be foolish to suggest that India should ignore scientific and technological advances until all developmental issues are resolved.

High technology projects such as the moon mission in 2008 and now its Mars mission are important both for technology development as well as to motivate the scientific community and the general populace.

Space technology and assets are needed for everything from communications to weather forecasting. No nation, especially a developing one, can ignore such technologies. But such technologies and capacities cannot be developed without also developing India's space capabilities in general, which is why the Mangalyaan is important.

Space is a vital aspect of India's security. India does not live in a benign neighborhood and it has had to balance between its development and security needs. No major power can afford to ignore the importance of space technology for its military needs.

India has launched its first dedicated military satellite for the Indian navy, in recognition of the increasing geopolitical and military rivalry in the Indian Ocean. Staying in the space race is thus an important consideration for India because it affects other aspects of India's security.

There are increasing worries that space itself might become a direct security threat. The threat of the militarization of space is gaining greater momentum. And the idea of establishing an Indian aerospace command has been gaining greater traction.

Given its experience in the nuclear arms control area, India has to come to understand the importance of crossing a certain technological threshold if it wants to sit at the high table.

In the nuclear arena, India did not conduct an atomic test in the 1960s even though it had the capacity to do so and therefore found itself left out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and various other aspects of the NPT regime.

Today, world powers are debating a regime to regulate outer space activities. India cannot let itself be left out of any space regime as happened over nuclear weapons.

But in order to be heard in the discussions of any new rule-making effort, India needs to demonstrate its capabilities in space research and technology, something that the Mangalyaan amply did.

India's space program was not originally driven by big ambitions. As noted by Vikram Sarabhai, one of India's space pioneers, India did "not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned space-flight."

But this has changed. India is no longer as poor and backward as it was in the 1960s when Sarabhai spoke. The increasing intensity of international competition means that India needs to show off its abilities once in a while.

Geopolitics of India's Mars mission, my OpEd in The Wall Street Journal....

It has been more than six months since I updated my blog. I thought I will get serious with my blog at least from the beginning of a new year but it has been more hectic than before. There have been couple of different projects that I have been part of as well as coordinating, which have been exciting and challenging but they clearly took a lot of my time as they involved a lot of travelling, meeting and interactions with experts, key stakeholders. Now that I am done with most of the travel for these projects, I hope I will have more time at hand at my blog back on track.

November 2013 was big for India. India's Mars mission undertaken on November 05 was a matter of pride, in terms of technology demonstration. But the Mars mission, called Mangalyaan, was also a reflection of the growing competition in the space domain, especially in Asia. Also to be the first Asian country to conduct such a complex mission must have been an important factor in India's calculation. The fact that India managed to do this mission in a cost-effective manner at around $ 75 million, a fraction of the cost incurred by other spacefaring powers, added to the pride factor.

Here is an OpEd that I wrote in November, one for the Wall Street Journal.

In the Asian Wall Street Journal OpEd, I argue that India did not enter the space domain with big dream projects but the key objective was to bring about change in the socio-economic and development domains through greater utilisation of science in particular, and space utilisation in particular. However, as things have progressed over the decades, there have been challenges, new compulsions which have necessitated India to focus on showcasing of its abilities every now and then.

Full article is given below.

India’s space program did not begin with big ambitions. Vikram Sarabhai, one of the original leaders of the Indian space program in the early 1960s, said that India did “not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned space-flight.”

Even if we take Mr. Sarabhai at his word, India’s maiden mission to Mars, set for lift off today, shows that things have changed.

Firstly, it provides an indication of a growing space race between India and China. Fielding its Mars mission before China has reached the Red Planet is clearly a big factor in Delhi’s calculations. China attempted a Mars orbiter mission in 2011, piggybacking it on a Russian Mars spacecraft, but that failed to leave Earth’s orbit.

Setting off to Mars is a demonstration of India’s technological capabilities and an attempt to join the US, Russia and the European Union in successful interplanetary exploration before China.

The mission is not without its critics, including some former officials of Indian Space Research Organisation, India’s space agency, who argue that it is a waste of money, especially in a country where so many live in poverty. It is unlikely that critics will get much of a hearing.

India claims that its missions are much cheaper than similar ones elsewhere, with this attempt costing $73 million, about a tenth as much as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration spends on comparable programs.

The bread or gun argument is real for India, but the country doesn’t live in a benign neighborhood and the security imperative also requires it to focus on those capabilities which can prepare it for the challenge presented by its location.

India’s security compulsions are becoming a more compelling driver for its space program. Countries around the world have so far used space for so-called passive military applications such as communications and reconnaissance but there is a growing trend towards ‘weaponizing’ outer space.

The U.S.’s Prompt Global Strike program, which includes using long-range missiles and hypersonic vehicles that will transit through space, has created the impression that it plans to weaponize space. This could provoke reactions from Russia and China and set off a broader arms race in space.

China’s anti-satellite test in January 2007 served as a wake-up call to India about the challenges that exist in its neighborhood. The test sparked a new debate, both within the Indian security establishment and the larger Indian strategic community about the country’s traditional policy against the militarization of space and put pressure to develop its own anti-satellite system. While India is yet to demonstrate such capability, the scientific establishment has made it amply clear that they have the technological blocks ready should there be a political decision to do so.

One indicator of Indian concerns about the nature of the space race, is the likely establishment of an Indian aerospace command. Many of the key global powers such as the U.S. and Russia have such commands, India does not. While the Indian government has been debating the issue for close to a decade, there are indications that it is moving forward with the proposal. In 2008, India established an Integrated Space Cell under the aegis of the Integrated Defence Staff. The cell has functioned well in coordinating between the military, the Department of Space and ISRO.

India also launched the first dedicated military satellite this August for its navy, reflecting a gradual shift in the country’s approach to security. The maritime communications satellite is a necessary tool for the marine force as the competition for the Indian Ocean, particularly with China, gradually gathers pace.

From the outset of its space program, demonstrating technological pride and capability has always been an important consideration for India. No less so today. But the Mars mission is as much about demonstrating India’s capabilities as a force in space, as it is about scientific skill.