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India Arming To The Teeth

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India’s quest to modernise its armed forces into a lean, mean fighting machine continued in 2011, with a few critical deals materialising and several others facing time overruns.

During the past 12 months, India finalised the purchase of some important military equipment, such as 10 Boeing C-17 Globemaster III heavylift cargo planes from the US and the upgrade of 51 Mirage-2000 combat planes initially by the French manufacturer and later in India.

These apart, India got the delivery of six Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules medium-lift cargo planes from the US and entered into an agreement with Russia for licensed production of 42 more Sukhoi SU-30 MKI combat jets at the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) facility in India.

What’s more, India is on the verge of finalising the winner of the “mother of all deals” for 126 combat planes for the Indian Air Force (IAF) that is expected to cost over $20 billion if an additional 63 aircraft are bought. A decision is expected in January 2012.

India also added teeth to its underwater warfare capabilities by obtaining a nuclear powered submarine on lease from Russia from this month.

The C-17s that India signed up for in June will cost $4.1 billion and would be delivered from 2013 to 2015. The importance of this plane for the IAF can be gauged from the fact that it can carry a payload of 75 tonnes and can land on airstrips of just over 1,000 metres.

A tactical and strategic airlifter, the C-17 can land combat-ready troops in remote locations or airdrop them directly where needed. The C-17’s ability to back up allows it to operate from narrow taxiways and congested ramps.

The Mirage-2000 upgrade deal, entered into with French firms Thales and Dassault in July, is worth $2.4 billion, and will help in enhancing the technical-operational capabilities of the 51 planes the IAF has in its fleet.

The upgraded Mirages, inducted in the 1980s, will also get new weapon systems including the French MBDA’s MICA aerial combat and interception missiles. It will improve not only the avionics of the combat planes but also their fighting capabilities and increase their life by another 20 years at least.

The C-130J planes will help India to carry out special forces operations to take on enemy targets inside their territory with precision and in quick time.

The four-engined turboprop has a minimum crew of three comprising two pilots and a loadmaster and can carry 64 fully-geared troops or 20 tonnes of cargo. It can touch speeds of 700 kmph and can take off from landing strips of about 1,000 metres.

During Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Moscow earlier in December, India signed a fresh deal with Russia for producing 42 more Sukhois at HAL that will take the IAF’s fleet strength of the planes, now licensed manufactured in India, to 272. At present, India is operated over 120 of the Sukhois.

The potent air dominance fighter will provide a lethal edge to the IAF, as it has the capability to carry nuke-tipped missiles too.

In April, India also down-selected European consortium EADS Cassidian and French Dassault as the two remaining contenders in the 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) tender and sent the other four vendors packing.

With that and the opening of the EADS and Dassault commercial bids in November, the tender has entered the final stage and the winner of the deal is expected to be announced in January 2012. The 126 planes will be the replacement for the Soviet-origin MiG-21s that India had begun inducting in the 1960s, as these ageing planes are to be phased out of the IAF by 2015.

The MMRCA deal was expected by the end of this year, but it will take another month or so before coming through, all because of an investigation at the beginning of the year into a file relating to the commercial bids of the vendors going missing and later found at a Delhi roadside.

Among the defence deals that were expected but did not fructify was that for the M777 ultra-light howitzers from the BAE Systems stable, 145 of which India wanted to buy from the US under the foreign military sales route. But after a portion of the guns’ field trials were leaked, the order faced a time overrun in view of an investigation ordered by the defence ministry into the leak.

Some of the other deals, expected this year but which did not materialise included the finalisation of the tender for 22 attack helicopters which was reportedly won by Boeing’s Apache Longbow; the completion of the tendering process for 15 heavy-lift helicopters that is also in its final stages, and the 197 light utility helicopters for the army and the air force, the fate of which is not known yet and could take a long while for a decision.

India also failed to sign a deal for IAF’s basic trainer requirement of 75 aircraft. The Swiss Pilatus PC-7 was finalised as the winner of the tender, but a final deal is yet to be sealed, which may come about only in early 2012.

Among the capacity-builders the Indian armed forces obtained this year were the indigenous stealth frigate of the Shivalik class, INS Satpura, that was inducted in August; commissioning of the fleet tanker, INS Deepak, in January that can carry supplies to Indian warships sailing far away from the mainland so they are in operation mode for months; and induction of over 100 upgraded AN-32 medium-lift Soviet-era transport planes.

India also placed an order with a Sri Lankan shipyard in October for 80 fast interceptor craft for its newly-raised Sagar Prahari Bal that is tasked to protect coastal strategic assets of the country.

It also signed a contract with a South Korean shipyard for building eight minesweepers that protect the harbour fronts from being mined by enemy submarines.

This year also saw the Defence Research and Development Organisation testing the 3,500-km range Agni-IV in November, apart from a score of missiles such as 2,000-km range Agni-II and Shourya short-range ballistic missiles that provide India a significant second strike nuclear weapons capability.

All these missile tests were in preparation for putting India in the over 5,000-km range inter-continental ballistic missile league and DRDO plans and prepares to test the Agni-V, which has this capability, in early 2012.

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SOUTH ASIA

Pakistani Anti-graft body wants travel ban on Nawaz Sharif, kin

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Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog has asked authorities to place ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law on the Exit Control List to prevent them from leaving the country.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) sent a formal request to the ministry of interior. The interior ministry officials confirmed that the NAB wrote that names of Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar should be put on the Exit Control List (ECL), which listed individuals not allowed to leave Pakistan.

The NAB argued that as the trial of the three nears its conclusion, it is feared that they would leave the country.

Earlier, a similar request to place name of finance minister Ishaq Dar on ECL was not accepted, allowing him to go to London and never return.

Sharif, 68, and his family this week filed an application with the accountability court seeking a fortnight’s exemption from personal appearance from February 19 onwards to let them go to London to see Sharif’s ailing wife. Three cases were filed against Sharif and his family last year, including Avenfield properties, Azizia & Hill Metal Establishment, and Flagship Investments.

Maryam and Safdar are accused only in Avenfield properties case. The NAB had filed two supplementary references against Sharif, his sons Hasan and Hussain regarding Al-Azizia Steel Mills & Hill Metal Establishment and Flagship Investment cases.

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Pakistan “breaches obligations’ on nuclear arms reduction, UN court told

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The Hague: Pakistan is violating its “obligations” to the international community by failing to reduce its nuclear arsenal, the Marshall Islands told the UN’s highest court on Tuesday.

The small Pacific Island nation is this week launching three unusual cases against India, Pakistan and Britain before the International Court of Justice.

Majuro wants to put a new spotlight on the global nuclear threat, its lawyers said yesterday, by using its own experience with massive US-led nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s.

“Pakistan is in breach of its obligations owed to the international community as a whole,” when it comes to reducing its nuclear stockpile, said Nicholas Grief, one of the island nation’s lawyers.

Islamabad and its nuclear-armed neighbour India “continue to engage in a quantitative build-up and a qualitative improvement” of their atomic stockpiles, added Tony deBrum, a Marshallese government minister.

DeBrum warned that even a “limited nuclear war” involving the two countries would “threaten the existence” of his island nation people.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

In 1998, the rival neighbours both demonstrated nuclear weapons capability.

The ICJ’s judges are holding hearings for the next week and a half to decide whether it is competent to hear the lawsuits brought against India and Pakistan — neither of which have signed the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

A third hearing against Britain — which has signed the NPT — scheduled to start on Wednesday will be devoted to “preliminary objections” raised by London.

The Marshalls initially sought to bring a case against nine countries it said possessed nuclear arms: Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States.
Israel has never admitted to having nuclear weapons.

But the Hague-based ICJ, set up in 1945 to rule in disputes between states, has only admitted three cases against Britain, India and Pakistan, because they have accepted the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction.

Pakistan’s lawyers did not attend Tuesday’s hearings.

It did however file a counter-claim against Majuro’s allegations saying “the court has no jurisdiction to deal with the application” and insisting that the case is “not admissible”, said ICJ President Ronny Abraham.

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Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus

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Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus

New Delhi: Bangladesh is likely to drop Islam as its official religion following a series of attacks on people from other faiths in the country. The country’s Supreme Court is hearing a plea challenging the status of the official religion of the country to Islam.

Bangladesh, which was declared a secular country after its formation in 1971, was declared an Islamic country following a constitutional amendment in 1988.

According to a report in the Daily Mail, the plea has challenged the declaration of Islam as the national religion of the country.

The move is being supported by leaders from the minority communities like Hindus, Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.

Bangladesh has 90 per cent of Muslims, 8 per cent Hindus and remaining constitutes Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.

In last month, a Hindu priest was hacked to death following an attack on a temple in Panchgarh district. Two others were seriously injured in the attack. There have been several lethal attacks on writers and bloggers.

According to a report in the Independent, Islamist groups Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh and Ansarullah Bangla Team are believed to have carried out at least seven attacks on foreign and minority people in Bangladesh in the past year.

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