Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Telegraph: Us disarms Indian ship

An article by my friend and colleague on the defence beat Sujan Dutta:

New Delhi, March 14: India bought its second-largest warship, the INS Jalashva, from the US after signing away the authority to use the vessel in the event of a war. It has also granted an unprecedented right to the US to board and take an inventory of the ship’s capabilities whenever it wants to.

The acceptance of a “restrictive clause” in the contract for the ship — it cost about $50 million (around Rs 202 crore) — is political dynamite in India. The Left has been suspecting that India is bending, if not breaking, convention to accommodate US interests as it pursues closer military relations with the Pentagon.

By the navy’s definition, a warship is a “sovereign piece of territory in the seas”. But the US has been granted the right to embark the ship even after selling it to the Indian Navy.

In accepting the Pentagon’s condition that the ship should not be used for “offensive deployment” but only for relief — such as after the Tsunami of December 2004 — the Indian Navy has given up its right to use the vessel for the purpose for which it was built by the US Navy itself.

This damning capitulation of the Indian Navy to conditions imposed by the Pentagon was revealed in a close reading of a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CA 5 of 2008) tabled in Parliament today. The report does not name the ship, identifying it only as ship ‘X’ before its induction into the Indian Navy and ship ‘Z’ after it joined the fleet.

It, however, describes it as a “landing platform dock commissioned in a foreign navy in 1971”. The Jalashva — called the USS Trenton when it was in service with the US Navy — is the only vessel that fits the description. It joined India’s eastern fleet in September 2007 and is based in Visakhapatnam, the headquarters of the Eastern Naval Command.

“These issues are all valid and have been raised before,” Admiral (retired) Arun Prakash, who was the Chief of Naval Staff when the Jalashva was contracted, told The Telegraph this evening.
A landing platform dock is used for evacuation — like the Trenton did during the Israeli-Hezbollah war of 2006 in the Mediterranean — and for offensive action like landing Marines from the sea to attack an enemy and capture hostile territory. The ship is a troops-carrier and is capable of taking within its hold armoured vehicles and tanks.

The Jalashva’s six embarked SH-60 helicopters are capable of being used both for surveillance and attack. The Indian Navy intends using its small landing craft to transport its marine commandos (Marcos) in stealthy offensive and sabotage missions.

The CAG report is explicit on India’s acceptance of the restrictive clause, however.

“Restrictive clauses raise doubts about the real advantages from this deal. For example, restrictions on the offensive deployment of the ship and permission to the foreign government to conduct an inspection and inventory of all articles transferred under the End-Use monitoring clause of the Letter of Agreement (LOA). Given that the ship is of old vintage, Indian Navy would remain dependent upon foreign-based support,” the auditors wrote.

The Indian Navy also bought the ship without physically verifying its state even though it had run its life and was being de-commissioned by the US Navy that found no further use for it, the CAG report has highlighted. The Indian Navy’s biggest ship is the Viraat.

The CAG report’s focus is on the irregularities in the purchase of the Jalashva. The CAG’s remit does not include an examination of the political circumstances of a defence deal.

Last month, six of the Jalashva’s crew died after a gas leak on board the vessel during a drill in the Bay of Bengal. A naval board of inquiry is investigating the cause of the leak but prima facie reports have pointed to a defect inherited by the Indian Navy.

The US offered the ship to India in September 2004 under its Excess Defense Article (EDA) programme through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route. The USS Trenton was due to be de-commissioned in September 2006. The Indian Navy was convinced “on the basis of a joint visual inspection with the foreign navy (September 2005) that the LPD would meet its requirements for the next 12 to 15 years”, the CAG report noted.

But it pointed out that the non-negotiable offer of the US was accepted without a rigorous technical evaluation.

7 comments :

Ankur said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ankur said...

Infuriating stuff to hear about. I simply cannot believe that the Indian Navy - possibly the most forward-looking and modern of the armed services was so desperate to get this apparent piece of junk.

So some detailed thoughts on the geo-polotical situation and other plus sides (like specific future projects with the Pentagon) would be appreciated to understand the purchase. The Indian Navy is many things, but stupid is not one of them.

Either way, thank goodness for the CAG, and to LiveFist picking up on these major issues which were simply never reported. More of the same, please!

Mihir said...

126 Super Duper Hornets anyone?

Kanan Saurabh said...

I agree with Ankur.
The Navy-wallahs are not stupid. Could it be because the Indians want to learn how to make and handle a ship like that?
50 mill is not a big price and that must have tilted the balance... Its about the price of a Mig-21!

Anonymous said...

kanan,

you hit the nail there.

For all the people making noises here, what they don't realise is that everything that US will sell us, whether they have a clause of not using it in a war or not, they have us by our balls either way cos they can easily stop sending the parts for maintenance during those crucial times. Thats why I am not a big fan of buying US stuff myself.

But this Navy purchase is different, they give us for $50 Million a platform that is 2nd largest after Aircraft Carrier Virat. This gives us the ability to train our sailors to handle and come up with strategies to use it. Secondly, in a peace time we get a platform to help large number of people in one go, it took us 3 warship to evacuate the people whereas it would have taken us 1 Trenton to do that. Third and most importantly we get to study the design and be able to make our own Large Amphiobious platforms. All this for $50 Mil which we will probably use for another 10-15 years.

And if it comes to a war and its that crucial to use it, we will probably use and worry about the consequences later, clause or no clause.

Anonymous said...

guys have not fully understood how we r operating INS jalashwa, Forget about CAG they cannot even tell from where they r getting spares for other ships and at what price. Comparing that with this US Ship expenditure it's nothing. Also, everything can be re engineered and we r doing it all in india to make spares of this ship. so dont worry about capabilities of this ship. it is one of the best , infact best steam ship right now in india.
now about the Question of US barring us for its military use,guys anyone of u know about GPS. Every system in india uses that, GPS is fully controlled by US of A. so ....in case of waR GUESS WHAT CAN HAPPEN...feeling something...no.. ASK CAG AND ALL THE ABOVE GUYS WRITING HERE.

Anonymous said...

IF AT ALL INDIA use uses it for offensive purpose what will US do ? take it back or shoot it down ? and it costs less than one SU 30 MKI. So better use it for training and make 5 copy's of it.