Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Losing the island, again

I've always been a little suspicious about the ostensible big-brother attitude that New Delhi always just stops short of espousing in the subcontinent. Sometimes, we're "prisoners of democracy", but most of the time, it's just straight-backed political weakheadedness. Yesterday, the Air Tigers of the LTTE pulled off a ridiculously audacious bombing of an airport near Colombo mission in a tin-can monoprop. This could actually have been funny if people hadn't been killed in the attack, nor a country shaken violently into reality mode. But that's a different matter altogether. Obviously, the only question is how a tiny little plane strayed so far out from Venni without being picked out by air defence batteries just south of the LTTE airstrip. Was it plain denial that the SLAF's only interceptors, the Kfirs were not scrambled to chase the damn thing back? But this has a lot to do with India. For starters (and probably less importantly), the pair of BEL INDRA radars that protect the airport were a gift from New Delhi last year. Both radars, reportedly, were down for repairs and maintenance at the time.

In the last few years, India has watched helplessly as Sri Lanka has stretched its hands out to Pakistan and China. In March last year, in a move that shocked our military planners, Sri Lanka sent a comprehensive arms wishlist fo Pakistan. The real sting was that a similar list has been sat upon by our South Block mandarins for years, with no action. That's the point -- our country has never had a concerted policy on Sri Lanka. Internal sensitivities, mostly those of the DMK, have systematically handed what should be an ally, on a platter to our more troublesome neighbours. The wishlist sent in March to Islamabad from Colombo included two UAVs, 100 cluster and fuel air bombs for SLAF Kfirs, 20 laser/precision guided bomb kits, 30 deep penetration bombs, 500 80mm rockets with fuel air explosive warheads, 10 Bakhtar Shiken anti-tank guided missile launchers, 300 tandem warhead missiles, 1,000 radio sets, 5,000 mortar bombs and 250 night vision goggles. In addition, it wanted Pakistan to send maintenance and repair teams to overhaul the T-55 tanks and C-130 transporters. Pakistan, as you could well imagine, has seized the opportunity already and processes are underway for the transfers to take place.

The last big transfer made by India to Sri Lanka was the INS Sarayu, an offshore patrol vessel gifted to the Lankan Navy in 2000 and since rechristened the SLNS Sayura. I had a chance to get onto this remarkably souped up ship in January 2006 at Port Blair during the multinational Milan 2006 exercise. An SLN Commodore on board told me at the time that Sri Lanka had aske for at least one more vessel for deep water patrolling in the Bay of Bengal -- possible a missile corvette. This, however, has not been addressed. This, of course, was just days after an LTTE Sea Tigers suicide dinghy killed 13 sailors aboard a Lankan Navy vessel. New Delhi was reminded that Sri Lanka needed more equipment. The wishlist to India included all of the items on the list sent to Pakistan, and in addition, overhaul and spares for MiG-27s and An-32s, AK-630 deck-based guns and ammunition, bomb guidance kits and infantry combat vehicles.

Shortly after the President's Fleet Review in Vizag in February last year, a US Navy officer got onto INS Viraat and the battle group sailed South-West to rendezvous with the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, and the two battle groups carried out a complex exercise 60-miles off the South Coast of Sri Lanka. Lankan authorities were, apparently, not in the loop about the level of the exercise (the Indian Navy later said it was supposed to have been a simple pas-ex, but escalated into a full-fledged dissimilar air combat and over the horizon firing war game!). This ticked off the Lankans plenty, because the very next month, they had shot off their wishlist to Islamabad. Obviously the two may not be connected, but it's clear that the incident made something snap. India had to quickly get to grips with things, and rapidly transferred a long delayed pair of INDRA radars for air defence at the airport outside Colombo.

But things have moved ahead even more now. Last heard, Pakistan has offered to transfer a squadron Chendu F-7s or Mirage-Vs which will be excess assets once the JF-17s and new F-16s start delivery. More than anything else, the wishlist has instilled a huge feel-good factor in Pakistan's military and government. The sense of being asked for help has to be heady and it doesn't come often. Is it too late to do something?


Abhiman said...

Mr. Aroor, although the sale of military equipment to Sri-Lanka has been suspended due to political compulsions, the following aid packages, schemes and programmes that have been pledged to Sri-Lanka by India (highlighted by the Indian High Commission to Sri-Lanka) will not only "offset" India's refusal to sell military equipment, but will make Sri-Lanka a strategic partner :

Some excerpts are as follows :

* In July 2006, India evacuated 430 Sri Lankan nationals from Lebanon, first to Cyprus by Indian Navy ships and then to Delhi & Colombo by special Air India flights.

* Sri Lanka has supported India’s candidature to the permanent membership of
the UN Security Council.

* India is active in a number of areas of development activity in Sri Lanka. About one-sixth of the total development credit granted by Government of India is made available to Sri Lanka. Lines of credit: At present three credit lines are operational: US$ 100 million for capital goods, consumer durables, consultancy services and food items, US$ 31 million for supply of 300,000 MT of wheat and US$ 150 million for purchase of petroleum products. Another line of credit of US$ 100 million is now being made available for post-tsunami rehabilitation of the Colombo-Matara railway.

* Other important projects in bilateral economic cooperation are: a 500MW coal-based thermal power plant at Trincomalee by NTPC, oil & gas exploration in Mannar blocks of Sri Lankan waters by ONGC and upgradation of the Colombo-Matara railway by RITES-IRCON.

* The Prime Minister has announced a grant of Rs 100 Crs for tsunami related rehabilitation projects in Sri Lanka. A number of development projects are also implemented under ‘Aid to Sri Lanka’ funds.

* Health Projects: Construction of a 150-bed hospital at Dickoya, supply of equipment and renovation of OT at Dickoya, upgradation of the hospital at Trincomalee and a US$ 7.5 million grant for setting up a Cancer Hospital in Colombo. (Projects recently been implemented: Donation of medicines to the hospital in Point Pedro, supply of 4 state of the art ambulances, a cataract eye surgery programme for 1500 people and donation of equipment to hospitals at Hambantota and Point Pedro.

* Training: A training rogramme for 465 Sri Lankan Police officers has been commenced in Dec 2005. Another 400 Sri Lankan Police personnel are being trained for the course of ‘Maintenance of Public Order’.

* A major part of the training of Sri Lankan Armed Forces, i.e. upto 53%, is carried out in India. There has been a significant increase in the number of training slots offered to Sri Lankan armed forces personnel in recent years. For 2006-7, the allotted slots are 870 with 545 for the Army, 216 for Navy and 109 for Air Force. In 2005-06, 977 courses were offered; and for 2007-08, courses requested are 2579 with 1208 for Army, 518 for Navy and 853 for Air Force.
Besides this, there is continued cooperation in terms of exchange of visits and cooperation between Navies. Indian Coast Guard extended assistance to Sri Lanka in containing oil spill off Galle in Sept 2006.

Thus in my view, regardless of a few million dollars of arms sales that were forfeited to Pakistan, the above mentioned co-operations exceed over many hundreds of millions of dollars and will strengthen the relations between India and Pakistan much further.

Thank you.

Reference :

Shiv Aroor said...

abhiman, all the points you mention are perfectly valid. obviously a few measly arms gifts isn't going to really tip the boat. on the other hand, Lanka has begun to get a lot of its stuff from china and pakistan. that means a lot for india, no matter what the size of the transfers are. and arms transfers carry more symbolic and strategic meaning than virtually anything else, especially for a conflict ridden nation like SL.

Abhiman said...

Mr Aroor, one of the major reasons why Sri-Lanka is requesting arms-sales from Pakistan is because most of the Sri-Lankan equipment are variants of Pakistani equipment :-

1] The Al-Zarrar tank of Pakistan is only a quantum upgrade of the T-55 tank (similar to the Ajeet being an improved Gnat fighter).
Thus, Sri-Lanka has requested Pakistani technicians for repair/overhaul and reburbishment of its T-55 tanks.

2] The Kfir is a local Israeli copy of the Mirage-II or III fighters of France; since PAF operates Mirage-III fighters, Sri-Lanka has requested munitions and technical assistance for the integration of these munitions into the SLAF Kfir fighters.

3] As known to me, Sri-Lanka has procured Chinese anti-tank weaponry. The Baktar-Shikan is the Chinese HJ-8 (Red Arrow-8), which has been renamed in Pakistan. Sri-Lanka ordered baktar Shikan launchers as the dimensions are the same.

4] Pakistan operates C-130 transport planes, which may be the reason of requesting technical assistance on the same.

It may be noted that requests for MiG-27 overhaul (and spare also because it is licence produced in India), An-32 and infantry combat vehicles were not sent to Pakistan.

I may also point out an error in your article, that the radar that was supplied to Sri-Lanka by India is the INDRA radar (Indian Doppler Radar).

Thank you.

References :

Notes :
* The Al-Zarrar is an upgraded Chinese Type-59, which in turn is a licensed version of the Soviet T-55 tank.

* Some Israeli literature on Kfir refers to one customer as a "Classified Air Force", instead of the name of the country. It is known that it is the SLAF. Because of the threat of LTTE strikes, it may be that there is reluctance on the part of Israel to assist SLAF. It may be highlighted that as per a book by an Israeli army or intelligence officer, LTTE cadre have been trained in Israel by the Israeli establishment (like India did, and which resulted in an assasination of Mr. Rajiv Gandhi).

Shiv Aroor said...

granted, abhiman. in that case, why did the wishlist sent to india in 1999 include all the items on the list sent to pakistan in march 2006? i have copies of both lists. the pak list is a subset of the india list.

Mihir Shah said...

Abhiman, good analysis there!

An interesting tidbit - it is said that the Israelis were training the SL Army and the LTTE at the same time and with just a few kilometres separating their bases. This wasn't known to either the SLA or the LTTE. Once, while on a cross country run, the two almost ran into each other - leaving the Israelis very very uneasy!

Abhiman said...

Mr. Aroor, in my view it may be unlikely that BAktar-Shikan launchers and upgrades (and also spare parts) for C-130 Hercules planes may have been included by Sri-Lanka in its request to India; else I think that there may have been an error or a gross mis-estimation on the part of SRi-Lankan planners.

Sir actually I now found that the T-55 tanks are in use by the Indian Army also, although they are being phased out. Thus, Indian assistance on SLA T-55 tanks may have been expected.
However, although at the preclusion of "keeping my earlier stand", I think that Pakistani expertise in the maintenance of SLA T-55s may be better than India's.

But here onwards, although keeping the spirit of my argument the same, there may also be many other factors in these developments that may actually be to India's favour.

As per a report, the Sri-Lankan military had requested PGMs from Pakistan for its Kfir fighters. Pakistan is reported to possess the H-4 and H-2 PGMs of South-African origin that were to be launched from its Mirage-III fighters.

The following is from a JDW news report :-

"While it is not possible to confirm all details of the H-4 programme, Pakistan is long thought to have fielded a standoff precision-guided weapon system akin to the Raptor series of powered glide bombs developed in South Africa.

The Raptor family was developed by Denel (Kentron) under the codenames H-1, H-2 and H-3 from the late 1970s onwards. It is known that Denel has undertaken integration studies for the Raptor with the....Mirage aircraft.

In my view, this cannot be termed as a loss to India, because India does neither operate Denel PGMs as nor Mirage III planes.

Now the question may arise as to why did Sri-Lanka not directly deal with Denel to integrate PGMs on the Kfir fighters. It may also be unclear as to why deep penetration bombs and tandem warhead missiles were ordered, because they would undoubtedly be used equipment, as Pakistan is not known to manufacture the same. OEMs could directly have been approached in these cases.

As per a news report (later in this comment) one possible explanation may be that Pakistan offered extremely high amounts of commissions and bribes to Sri-Lankan authorities for these deals. Pakistan itself acted as a conduit in sourcing these equipment, thus escalating their price even further.

Other than a market for its arms, more importantly it got influence into what is termed as "India's backyard".
However, the benefit for India may be that Pakistani supplies to Sri-Lanka have been complete failures.

The following is from an excerpt from an article in the tamilcanadian dated Dec. 2006 :-

"....the bombs procured at high cost are falling, to borrow the analogy one expert prefers, like stones from mid air on the targets. The electronic fuses are faring no different. At least 200 of the 500 electronic fuses failed to ignite and the supplier had to reluctantly ferry back home the whole consignment and provide replenishment through a chartered A-32 transport plane, going by what is being said in low whispers. "God only knows if the specially flown material will work", rues a Lankan source.

Like in most defence deals in the sub-continent, the Sri Lankan government’s arms purchases have a kick back angle. It is said that defence suppliers, agents and their points’ men are laughing all the way to their banks in safe tax havens. The whole exercise of shopping for military hardware and spares is slowly emerging as an embarrassment to Colombo.

Colombo’s shopping list right now is General purpose bombs (MK-80 series), fuses (AB-103, AB-100, AB-100 variety), cluster bombs like 250 Kg pre-fragmented, fuel air bombs, deep penetration bombs, Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), ammunition for tanks, small arms and its ammunition. This order is worth $ 30 million. Some of these items will be up for repeat orders.

Sri Lanka is also looking for ‘refitted’ tanks (22 Al Zarar) besides armoured vehicles and jeeps. The order for tanks alone is valued at 80 million dollars.

And this is what Pakistan did since Sri Lanka buys are more than the value of total Pak defence exports in a year, which is at present pegged at $ 200 million. Defence trade sources say, Islamabad is going the extra mile to help Colombo by sourcing the supplies from Ukraine and a few other Central Asian Republics.

For instance spares' supplies of $6.9 million made to Lanka in the last few weeks were said to have been actually sourced by Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT-Pakistan) from Ukraine. Pakistan is making a huge profit even after paying heavy kick backs and hefty agent commissions. Profit in the HIT deal was a cool $ 3 million.

WHY COLOMBO ITSELF DID NOT GO SHOPPING TO KIEV IS UNCLEAR. Sri Lankan officials claim they had scouted around the world but very few were willing to supply what they urgently need.

Cluster bombs have turned out to be duds while 200 of the 500 electronic fuses have been defective and hence of no use. Several others are either of substandard quality or second hand items.

Thus, from the above article it may be clear that Indian planners need not have to "worry" about Pakistani ventures into the Sri-Lankan defence market, because it has been a failure. Anyway, India's non-military aid to Sri-Lanka is very large which may not hamper relations between India and Sri-Lanka.

Thank you.

References :
1]"Pakistan conducts second test firing of H-4 missile
ROBERT HEWSON Editor, Jane's Air-Launched Weapons
London". http://www.pakdef.info/forum/showthread.php?t=8231



Abhiman said...

To my previous comment I may add that Sri-Lankan overtures to Pakistan for its defence supplies is apparently a massive military scam, and has less concern to "reprimand" India for its refusal to supply non-lethal arms to Sri-Lanka.

Some further references :

1] Pak bribes Lankan officials to sell defective arms. http://www.tribuneindia.com/2006/20061224/

2] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1634172.cms

amrita said...

This is the first time I'm coming to Live Fist, but I'm definitely coming back...excellent stuff