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Monday, May 29, 2023

US INDOPACOM’s Integrated Deterrence Strategy & Its Indian Component

Two retired senior Indian Navy veterans in the recent past have passionately made the case for fortifying the Andaman & Nicobar Islands for very good reasons. First and foremost is the China factor.

China currently receives 95% of its energy imports by sea, with approximately 80% of it passing through the Malacca Strait. Most of those supplies comes from the Middle East. Myanmar’s location on the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) presents a money-saving alternative route and strategic geopolitical advantage by avoiding the Malacca Strait, a major international shipping lane dominated by both the Indian Navy and US Navy. Energy resources can be shipped through the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal and transported to China from Myanmar through pipelines, cutting off 3,000km, reducing transport time by five to six days, and avoiding a potential confrontation with the US. China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) operates the Kyaukpyu liquids storage terminal, which is located in Rakhine in Myanmar. This liquids storage terminal became operational in 2013 and is owned by CNPC. The terminal, which is accessible by pipeline and sea, primarily stores crude oil. Myanmar also is a potential energy source for China, thereby reducing dependence on energy from the Middle East.

Presently, two of China’s top three countries for energy supplies are Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Myanmar boasts the most diverse energy resources among ASEAN members, with a total of 104 oil and natural gas blocks, 51 of them on land with the rest in the sea. According to 2017 data, Myanmar controls 0.3% (139 million barrels) of known world oil reserves, in the Salin Basin and in the seaside Yetagun Field. In addition, according to 2019 data, Myanmar has 0.6% (1.2 trillion cubic metres) of the proven natural gas reserves in the world. These reserves are located primarily in the Yadana, Yetagun and Zawtika areas in Moattama on the west coast of the country and the Shwe area in Rakhine. In addition, Myanmar has the potential to help China decrease its dependence on liquefied natural gas imported from the Middle East. According to 2019 data, China is second in the world in LNG imports. LNG is more costly than natural gas. Shipping also presents potential dangers from bad weather, pirates, and accidents. Currently, China imports natural gas through a pipeline connecting Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Russia. In 2016, subsidiaries of China’s CITIC Group Corp, including China Harbour Engineering Company won contracts for two major projects in Kyaukpyu—the dredging of a deep-sea port and the creation of an industrial area in an accompanying special economic zone. A US$7.3 billion deep-water port and $2.7 billion industrial area is now being built in a special economic zone at Kyaukpyu along the coast of the Bay of Bengal. The strategic town is the terminus of a $1.5 billion oil pipeline and parallel natural gas pipeline running to Kunming in China’s Yunnan Province.

Secondly, the projected International Container Transhipment Port (ICTP) at Galathea Bay of Great Nicobar Island of Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal has adequate space available for the berthing of warships belonging to the navies of the QUAD Grouping and offering them logistical support. It will thus fill a vital gap that now exists between Singapore and the eastern Indian seaboard and Trincomalee.

The ICTP will have the capacity to handle 16 million containers per year. Phase one of the proposed project will be commissioned in the year 2028 and will handle a capacity of 4 million TEUs. The project is expected to be complete with an investment of Rs.41,000 crore (US$5 Billion). The proposed facility is envisaged to be developed in four phases. When completed, the ICTP will be able to handle 16 million TEUs. The estimated cost for Phase 1 of the proposed transshipment port is around Rs.18,000 crore which includes the construction of breakwaters, dredging, reclamation, berths, storage areas, building and utilities, procurement and installation of equipment and development of port colony with core infrastructure is going to be developed with the government support.  The new port to be set up at an estimated cost of Rs.18,308 crore in the first phase. The ICTP will be situated at a strategic location midway between existing transhipment terminals (Singapore, Klang, Colombo etc.) and feeder ports. Around 40 nautical miles away from the Malacca Strait international shipping channel, which handles about 35% of the annual global sea trade, the new location offers a huge opportunity for setting up of deep draft container transhipment terminal at the Galathea Bay. With a natural depth of over 20 metres, the port could handle transhipment cargo from Indian east coast ports, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

However, it is highly likely that in the event of military hostilities between the US and China due to a Chinese military invasion of Taiwan, the naval enclave of the ICTP at Galathea Bay could will be at the receiving end of the PLARF’s DF-27 IRBMs carrying hypersonic glide-vehicles (HGV). The only defence against such a threat then will be either the Indian Navy’s projected NG-DDGs armed with endo-atmospheric LR-SAM interceptors optimised for ballistic missile defence (BMD), or land-based AAD interceptor missiles.

US INDOPACOM’s Integrated Deterrence Strategy & Its Indian Component

To fully understand what this all means, one requires an understanding of the  sequential chain of events, as detailed below.

April 2020: China’s latest Sky Map or digital maps showed parts of Arunachal Pradesh within its international borders. Sky Map is operated by Beijing’s National Surveying and Mapping Geographic Information Bureau. China’s earlier Sky Map was based on the 1989 edition. Since then China’s external boundaries changed following the border settlements with Russia and Central Asian countries. The last border settlement was with Tajikistan in 2011 when China got 1,158 square km east of the Sarekole Mountains. The area was added into Tashkurgan County in the Kashgar Prefecture of Xinjiang Province. (Tashkurgan was formally an Indian territory—a part of Shakgam Valley).

October 28, 2020: The 3rd India-US 2 + 2 Ministerial Dialogue was held, on the sidelines of which India and the US inked the BECA, the last of four foundational agreements for strategic ties. BECA stands for Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation. BECA, along with the two agreements signed earlier—the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA, signed on August 30, 2016) and the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA, inked on September 6, 2018 on the side-lines of the inaugural India-US 2 + 2 Dialogue)—completes a troika of “foundational pacts” for deep military cooperation between the two countries.

February 3, 2021: The USAF B-1B's first India turn came, for a fly-by on the inaugural day of Aero India 2021, escorted by the IAF’s Tejas Mk.1 L-MRCA, from the USAF’s 8th Air Force & Joint Global Strike Operations Center's 34th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron out of Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota. The USAF’s bomber forces integrated and operated with the IAF for the very first time.

May 3, 2021 The US Indo-Pacific Command (US INDOPACOM) unveilled its Integrated Deterrence Strategy. It includes having the best weapons systems and the latest technologies that make adversaries think twice. This includes development of tools that make use of artificial intelligence and quantum computing, for example. Integrated deterrence also includes new concepts of operation, the elimination of stovepipes between services and their capabilities, and coordinated operations on land, in the air, on the sea, in space and in cyberspace.

October 9, 2021: US Army Gen. James Dickinson, US Space Command commander, met with Ajay Kumar, India’s Defence Secretary, to discuss advancing US-India space cooperation in critical topics such as space situational awareness and responsible behaviour in space. Kumar received briefings on a variety of topics whilst at Peterson-Schriever Garrison, including current threats to the space domain by Brig Gen Gregory Gagnon, US SPACECOM Intelligence Director, and how the US partners with nations globally to develop a common understanding of the space domain and develop a space warfighting culture by Master Gunnery Sgt Scott Stalker, US SPACECOM command senior enlisted advisor. Kumar’s visit was the second recently by an Indian official. Gen. Bipin Rawat, India's Chief of Defence Staff, met with Lt Gen John Shaw, US SPACECOM Deputy Commander, on September 30.

December 2021: China's Ministry of Civil Affairs announced that it had standardised in Mandarin characters, Tibetan and Roman alphabet the names of 15 places in Zangnan, the Chinese name for Arunachal Pradesh. Compared with the first batch, the Ministry covered more places this time, including residential areas, rivers and mountain passes. The eight residential places in the second batch are Sªngkªzong and Daglungzong in Cona County of Shannan Prefecture, Mani'gang, Duding and Migpain in Medog County of Nyingchi, Goling, Damba in Zayu County of Nyingchi, and Mªjag in Lhunze County of Shannan Prefecture. The four mountains are Wamo Ri, Dªu Ri, Lh¼nzhub Ri and Kunmingxingzª Feng. The two rivers are Xªnyogmo He and Dulain He, and the mountain pass is named Sª La, in Cona County.

April 13, 2022: Rajnath Singh reached Hawaii on April 12, 2022 for a visit to the HQ of US INDOPACOM. On his arrival from Washington DC, Singh was received by Commander, US INDOPACOM Admiral John Aquilino. The US INDOPACOM and Indian military have wide-ranging engagements, including a number of military exercises, training events and exchanges. Singh visited the US INDOPACOM HQ, and the Pacific Fleet and the training facilities in Hawaii on April 13, 2022, before returning to India. He also laid a wreath at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific and visited the HQs of US Army Pacific and Pacific Air Forces, during his brief stay in Hawaii. In Washington DC, US President Joe Biden held a virtual meeting with Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi in the presence of Rajnath Singh, External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin. Later, the Raksha Mantri and External Affairs Minister had co-chaired with their US counterparts the 4th India-US Ministerial 2 + 2 Dialogue on April 11, 2022. A Joint Statement was issued after the dialogue. Before the 2 + 2 Dialogue, Rajnath Singh held a bilateral meeting with the US Secretary of Defence separately in the Pentagon.

May 19, 2022: US Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues Uzra Zeya met the Dalai Lama at his official residence at McLeod Ganj in Dharamshala. She visited the Central Tibetan Administration and held discussions with its leadership. She also visited the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile.

September 26, 2022: US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J Austin III welcomed Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar to the Pentagon today, following the Secretary’s productive phone-call with Rajnath Singh earlier this month.  Secretary Austin and Minister Jaishankar exchanged perspectives on a range of issues of shared interest, spanning recent developments in East Asia, the Indian Ocean Region, and the global reverberations of the Ukraine crisis. Against this backdrop, the two leaders reviewed priority lines of effort to deepen bilateral defence cooperation, as the US and India progress toward a more advanced stage in their partnership. Secretary Austin and Minister Jaishankar committed to expanding information-sharing and logistics cooperation to drive deeper operational coordination between the US and Indian militaries, i.e. make India an integral part of the US INDOPACOM’s Integrated Deterrence Strategy. They also discussed new opportunities for bilateral defence industrial cooperation in support of India’s contributions as a regional security provider, including the launch of a new defence dialogue later this year as the US and India work more closely together across space, cyber, artificial intelligence, and other technology areas. The two leaders underscored the value of the deepening collaboration between the US, India, Australia, Japan, and European partners.

January 30, 2023: in order to launch the next milestone in the US-India strategic technology and defence collaboration, Indian National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval was welcomed by his US counterpart Jake Sullivan at the White House. Doval arrived in Washington DC to attend the first formal talks on the Initiative for Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET). Doval discussed the iCET with his US counterpart Jake Sullivan at the White House. The NSA was accompanied by a high-powered delegation that included five prominent individuals: the Principal Scientific Adviser of India, the Chairman of ISRO, the Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister, the Secretary of the Department of Telecommunications, and the DG, DRDO. Doval and Sullivan formally launched the iCET in Washington DC. The US and India concluded the US-India iCET meeting and also decided to launch a new Innovation Bridge. The Indian Embassy in the US said in a tweet that the iCET reflects India-US convention of strategic, commercial & scientific approaches in the field of technology. The White House said in a statement that Innovation Bridge will connect both countries' defence startups. It said: both countries affirm that the ways in which technology is designed, developed, governed, and used should be shaped by our shared democratic values and respect for universal human rights. According to the statement, the two sides discussed opportunities for greater cooperation in critical and emerging technologies, co-development and coproduction, and ways to deepen connectivity across our innovation ecosystems. Also signed was the Implementation Arrangement between India’s Dept of Science & Tech and the US National Science Foundation.

What was not revealed was that Doval and Sullivan had agreed to evolve a ‘NATO + 6’ arrangement under which India would join the existing ‘Five Eyes’ grouping (that now comprises the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand) that will enable the collection and dissemination of SIGINT/ELINT data emanating from China in a seamless manner. To this end, a chain of SIGINT/ELINT data collection sites will be established in Ladakh, Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh, with India’s NTRO and the US National Security Agency (NSA) becoming the principal stakeholders. That was the reason why Ajit Doval had met with Senator Mark Warner and Senator John Cornyn, Chair & Member of the Select Committee on Intelligence and co-chairs of the India Caucus, at India House in Washington DC.

March 15, 2023: A bipartisan resolution was introduced in the US Senate to recognise the McMahon Line as the international boundary between China and Arunachal Pradesh. The bipartisan Senate Resolution sees Arunachal Pradesh as an integral part of India. It also “commits the US to deepening support and assistance to the region, alongside like-minded international partners and donors.” The US Senate commended the Government of India for taking steps to defend itself against aggression and security threats from China. Some of the Indian steps mentioned in the resolution include securing the telecommunication infrastructure, re-examining its procurement processes and supply chains and expanding its cooperation with Taiwan in public health and other sectors. The resolution said its purpose was to further strengthen the US-India bilateral partnership in defence, technology, economics and people-to-people ties. It also aims to promote US cooperation with India through the Quad, the East Asia Summit along with ASEAN and other international fora.

April 3 to 5, 2023: Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk visited India and held formal talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 4. India and China had “in 2012 reached an agreement that the tri-junction boundary points between India, China and third countries will be finalized in consultation with the concerned countries”. Further, point 12 of the 2012 ‘understanding’ stated that the 1890 convention was the “basis of alignment” of the India-China border in the Sikkim sector. However, China interpreted this to mean that the trijunction point had been settled, while India claimed that the phrase ‘basis of’ meant that the final settlement had not been reached. Just two years ago, Bhutan and China signed a ‘three-step roadmap’ for expediting talks to demarcate their land boundary. In his March 25 interview with the Belgian newspaper La Libre, Bhutan PM Lotay Tshering said that India, China and Bhutan were three “equal” parties to the negotiations for the trijunction. During that same interview, Tshering had also significantly said that the talks with China over demarcating the other sections of its boundary were at an advanced stage and could be finished soon. Now, Bhutan’s prime minister stated that they were close to demarcation. “After one or two more meetings, we will probably be able to draw a line,” he said. Since 1984, the officials of the two sides have held 24 rounds of talks over their disputed border. In the past, the Chinese have offered 495 sq km of territory in the northern part of the Himalayan nation to Bhutan. In return, they insisted that Bhutan give China 269 sq km of the disputed territory in the west—an area of rich grazing pasture, central to the livelihood of Bhutanese pastoralists. The Chinese have claimed four areas in western Bhutan: Charithang, Sinchulimpa, the Dramana pasture land and Doklam, the present bone of contention. Bhutan and China had the 11th Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on their boundary issues in Kunming, China, from 10 to 13 January 2023. Dasho Letho Tobdhen Tangbi, Secretary of the International Boundaries of Bhutan, led the Bhutan delegation whilst the Chinese delegation was led by Hong Liang, Director-General of the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Early April 2023: China released a third set of names in Mandarin, Tibetan and pinyin characters for Arunachal Pradesh, including two land areas, two residential areas, five mountain peaks and two rivers. 

April 5, 2023: The US reacted after China renamed 11 places in Arunachal Pradesh, which it claims as Southern Tibet. In a statement, the White House said that the US has recognised Arunachal Pradesh as an integral part of India and strongly opposes any unilateral attempts to advance territorial claims by renaming localities. This was a signal meant for Bhutan and an assurance to Thimpu that the US will be ready to militarily cooperate with India in repelling any Chinese territorial aggression against both Bhutan and India.

April 10, 2023: EX Cope India 23, a bilateral Air Exercise between the IAF and the USAF, commenced at Air Force Stations Arjan Singh (Panagarh), Kalaikunda and Agra. The exercise aimed to enhance mutual understanding between the two air forces and share their best practices. The first phase of exercise focussed on air mobility and involved transport aircraft and special operations forces assets from both the air forces. The USAF fielded an MC-130J of 1st SOS from Kadena, as well. The exercise also included the presence of Japanese Air Self-Defence Force aircrew, who participated in the capacity of observers.  USAF participants included the 374th Airlift Wing’s 374th Operations Group, 374th Maintenance Group, and the 374th Mission Support Group from Japan’s Yokota air base.

April 13, 2023: The next phase of EX Cope India 23 commenced at Air Force Station Kalaikunda. This segment of the exercise witnessed the participation of USAF B-1B bombers of the 28th Bomb Wing’s 34th Bomb Squadron from the Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota. F-15E Strike Eagles from the 336th FS from Japan’s Kadena air base joined the exercise subsequently. The IAF element included Su-30MKIs, Rafale, Tejas Mk.1 and Jaguar IS/DARIN-2 combat aircraft. The exercise was supported by aerial refuellers and AEW & CS aircraft of the IAF. The exercise concluded on April 24, 2023. This marked the first time that a B-1B Lancer has participated in an exercise with India, second time being in India in the last two months, and third time in two years that the 34th BS has flown and landed in India. The principal aim of this exercise was to convince Bhutan that the US will be ready to militarily cooperate with India in repelling any Chinese territorial aggression against both Bhutan and India.

Late May 2023: In a significant development ahead of Indian PM Narendra Modi’s visit to the US starting June 22, a powerful US Congressional Committee has recommended strengthening NATO + by including India. Currently, the NATO + 5, is a security arrangement that brings together NATO and five aligned nations—Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel, and South Korea—to boost global defence cooperation. Bringing India on board would facilitate seamless intelligence-sharing between these countries and India would also be able to access the latest military technology without much of a time lag. The House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the US and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), led by Chairman Mike Gallagher and Ranking Member Raja Krishnamoorthi, overwhelmingly adopted a policy proposal to enhance Taiwan’s deterrence, including through strengthening NATO + to include India. “Winning the strategic competition with the Chinese Communist Party and ensuring the security of Taiwan demands the United States strengthen ties to our allies and security partners, including India. Including India in NATO + security arrangements would build upon the US and India’s close partnership to strengthen global security and deter the aggression of the Communist Party of China across the Indo-Pacific region,” the Select Committee recommended. An initiative of the Republican leadership, the Select Committee is popularly called the China Committee. Indian-American Ramesh Kapoor, who has been working on this proposal for the past six years, said this is a significant development. He hoped that the recommendation would find a place in the National Defense Authorization Act 2024 and finally end up becoming a law of the land.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J Austin III will visit India in early June to advance discussions on bilateral defence cooperation. During his visit, he is expected to sign on to the formal ‘NATO + 6’ agreement under which India would join the existing ‘Five Eyes’ grouping (that now comprises the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand) that will enable the collection and dissemination of SIGINT/ELINT data emanating from China in a seamless manner. To this end, a chain of SIGINT/ELINT data collection sites will be established in Ladakh, Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh, with India’s NTRO and the US National Security Agency (NSA) becoming the principal stakeholders.

Also expected to be inked is an agreement between Boeing and India’s Economic Explosives Ltd under which both companies will co-develop a ‘desi’ version of the 150km-range Boeing/Saab Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB), which will navigate towards the target with INS navigation that is supported by a highly jamming-resistance GPS (NavIC receivers to be used). Since the system does not need a ballistic path toward the target it is possible to launch the GLSDB from a container, and engage targets 360 degrees without moving the launcher. GLSDB has the ability to fly non-ballistic trajectories and it manoeuvres to strike targets that cannot be reached by conventional direct fire weapons, such as reverse slope engagement. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Decoding A 1980s-Era Espionage Operation

Thus far, only one senior Indian Air Force (IAF) has gone public (see below) with a much-publicised espionage operation that had been mounted by the US in the early 1980s inside India.

In March 1983, India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB) finally had the proof it wanted. Singh was approached by AVM (Ret’d) Kenneth Larkins on March 20 and asked whether he would consider passing on classified manuals of USSR-supplied MiG-23MFs and MiG-25Rs in the Indian Air Force (IAF) inventory. On March 24, Singh informed AVM Raghavendran that the approach had been made and that Larkins had promised him Rs.30,000 for each manual. Singh was instructed to pass on a classified manual on the MiG-23MF’s avionics suite, which he did when Larkins visited him in his office at IAF Headquarters on April 3. On April 5, Larkins returned the manual along with a preliminary payment of Rs.10,000. When shown the details of the surveillance, Frank Larkins quickly confessed. His 10-page confession led to the arrest of two more members of the spy ring, Jaspal Singh Gill, a Delhi-based businessman and his employee, Lt Col (Ret’d) Jasbir Singh. He was recruited by a CIA operative who was an Attache at the US Embassy. He in turn recruited the Larkins brothers who were asked to recruit more people. The original CIA operative had left India in 1982 and handed over the network to Harry L Weatherbee, the CIA man named in Larkins' confession who was given 24 hours to leave India after the spy ring was busted in early November. On November 3, 1983 a posse of officers from the Special Branch of Delhi Police accompanied by IB sleuths quietly arrested Maj Gen (Ret’d) Frank Larkins from his Vasant Vihar house. AVM Kenneth Larkins was picked up simultaneously from his hometown of Lucknow just one week before he was scheduled to emigrate to Australia where his daughter lives.

However, it is now possible to connect two separate but related operations together, thanks to this book (see above) that was published early during the previous decade. From the contents of this book, one can safely infer that the wealth of information being supplied to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) since 1978 by Adolf Tolkachev, the Leading Systems Designer for the Scientific Research Institute for Radio-Engineering (Phazotron NIIR), was found to be too good to be true and consequently the CIA required a second source for confirming the authenticity of all the data that Tolkachev was providing. And that was the precise reason why the CIA launched a covert data-gathering operation in India by targetting those very weapon systems of USSR-origin that were then beginning to enter service with the Indian Air Force and Indian Army.

Over a six-year period (1978-1985), Tolkachev met with his CIA handlers 21 times on the streets of Moscow. Documentation supplied by Tolkachev by late 1983 had included: complete sets of engineering and technical data-packages of Phazatron NIIR’s Phazotron NIIR's N-003 Sapfir-23 X-band pulse-Doppler radar for the MiG-23MF, the 385kg N-019 Rubin RPLK-29/Sapfir-29 X-band pulse-Doppler radar with twist-cassegrain antenna and its successor, the NO19MP Topaz—both meant for the MiG-29B-12 and MiG-29B-13; complete sets of engineering and technical data-packages of JSC V Tikhomirov Scientific Research Institute of Instrument Design’s N-001 Myech/RPLK-27 X-band pulse-Doppler radar with twist-cassegrain antenna for the Su-27SK; complete sets of engineering and technical data-packages of the Zaslon RP-31/N-007 X-bnd PESA radar on-board the MiG-31; complete sets of engineering and technical data-packages of the Shmel 3-D radar for the Beriev A-50 AEW & CS from NPO Vega; and complete sets of engineering and technical data-packages of both 2K12 Kub MR-SAM family and the Buk-М1 MR-SAM. The Soviet news agency TASS announced on October 22, 1986 that he had been executed.

Detailed presentations on Adolf Tolkachev's espionage activities: