Sunday, January 3, 2016

Attack on Pathankot AFS: Quick Assessment

A quick summary and assessment of events basis whatever I’ve come across in the media. I’ve also added my comments along with it.

The terrorists entered India on the intervening night of December 31 and 1st January. Some news reports have claimed that the Innova was ARRAINGED to pick-up the terrorists from across the border. It was after the vehicle broke down/had a flat that terrorists hijacked the SP’s vehicle and made way away with it.

[Comment: Now, this is the FIRST most curious part of the whole event. And IMO, points towards the use of drug smuggling network to facilitate the strike. It is quite possible that the Innova was arranged for picking up the terrorists by facilitators on Indian side. When the Innova broke down, the terrorists made a call to their handlers and appraised them of the problem.

It was because of this call that SP was activated. I’ve convinced that the SP is a key player in the drug smuggling network. He was most probably asked to facilitate movement of some ‘smugglers’ – the fact that he decided to use his own car shows that instructions came right from the top on Indian side. One of the news report talks about a local political leader involved in harbouring the terrorists. I would not be surprised that the same person activated the SP and got him to personally facilitate the movement.

And that is why, while the terrorists killed the driver of the Innova car, they did not kill the SP, which should’ve been the normal course of action. That is because they were confident that he would not give away their plan. But it seems when the SP realized that the people he had picked up were not your garden variety smugglers but terrorists, he fabricated the story of ‘army personnel’ having kidnapped him and all that…I think he tried to send across the message as clearly as possible w/o compromising himself. And this is where we lost the crucial time.

This act of arranging the second transport after first broke-down and that too by activating a very high value asset like SP again points to the fact that Pathankot AFS was always the target. Unlike earlier Gurdaspur or Sambha attack, focus was maintained and every effort made to reach + attack the target. Here I would like to go with the theory that since Mi-25 to be gifted to Afghanistan are from Pathankot based squadron, Pakistan Deep State wanted to really drive home the point]

The SP was ‘kidnapped’ at around 3:30am on January 1st and the base was attacked 24hrs later at about 3:30am – 4:00am on 2nd January.

[Comment: While no news report talks about where exactly the SP was ‘kidnapped’, the road distance could not have been more than 50km by any stretch. In fact, it should’ve been lesser. The million dollar question is where did the terrorists hide in the intervening 24 hours? 

Again, I refer to news report about some local politician giving support to these men. It is highly likely that terrorists moved as close to the target as possible before the alarm had gone off. And the SP vehicle was off the road pretty soon after the ‘kidnapping’ drama. 

As I said earlier, the road distance is low, the roads are very good and the vehicle would’ve been at the hiding destination in under an hour. It is quite likely that SP himself drove them to a pre-designated point where someone else took over. And terrorists hid for next 18-24 hours.]

The base was attacked from the southern end where a river/canal exists the base.

[Comment: I request people to have a look at Google Earth map of the base. This place is 6+ km (as the crow flies) from the National Highway 15 which links Gurdaspur to Pathankot. And to reach this point, you need to navigate village roads (if coming by vehicle) or navigate open fields/ground between villages in the area. 

I would wager that someone dropped them as close as possible to this point – this is because the assault point seems to have been chosen with lot of planning and powers-that-be would not have wanted the terrorists to lose their way and end up assaulting from some other position. GE shows there is a gate and entry point to base from this side and road leading up to.

I think these fellows were dropped not more than 1 km away from this point. Again, points to deep local help and the sheer desperation from Deep State to launch this strike. Another important point – the first set of targets to come up when you enter from this point is the magazine area, the hardened aircraft shelter (HAS) lie further ahead. Quite possible that these terrorists had planned to take hold of one of these and make large fire-work]

Security being beefed up at the Base and presence of Army SF and NSG.

[Comment: After the alert was sounded at around 4:00pm – 4:30pm on 2nd January, it seems NSA had moved the Army SF and NSG components to Pathankot AFS. But my assertion is that this was done not from the purpose of securing the base but for AFS to act as node for reacting to situation anywhere else in the region. 

The actual act of securing the base consisted of inducting 2 x infantry platoons to secure the technical area. The big question remains – why was not a whole infantry battalion inducted to secure the entire premises? I know we used TA battalions during 1999 and Op Parakaram to secure bases]  

High casualties on our side.

[Comment: I think the terrorists used the same tactic as used in the attack on army base in Uri. They might have attacked in two teams. While the QRT reacted to the first set of attackers, the second set could’ve ambushed the QRT or follow-on forces which rushed to the spot. I would not be surprised if DSC and Garuds were caught in a cross-fire. 

Loss from NSG could be because of throwing men at the problem to quickly take out the terrorists. Again, it is plausible that terrorists took hold of one of the magazines and had to be neutralized quickly. No news about involvement of Army SF – quite possible that NSG was asked to lead the operation with Army SF on standby as back-up or for handling other contingency, if required. 

And the C-130J in the air could’ve been the same aircraft which ferried NSG from Delhi to Pathankot – So, the brave chaps got it airborne even as fire-fight was happening on the base!]

Saturday, January 3, 2015

IAF Re-Equipment Imperatives: An Analysis

The issue with respect to declining number of squadrons in Indian Air Force has gained prominence over last couple of years. Recently, we have had news about IAF having presented a scenario to GOI about squadron strength declining to a dangerously low number in mid-20s before the end of this decade. While the part about squadron strength reaching about 25 Squadrons by 2024 seems to be a wrong conclusion drawn from right information set, we do have an issue about IAF undergoing massive change, or requiring to undergo massive change, over 2015-2024 period.

I’ve tried to assess the situation basis whatever information is available in public domain and see where we stand. If anyone has contrary/additional information, please feel free to add. I will modify the analysis accordingly.

1. Current IAF strength: 

We first take a look at current strength of IAF across various a/c type; this will serve as a basis for understanding the transition requirement. I’ve mentioned each squadron operating a particular a/c type along with total squadrons operating the type given in parenthesis.

a. Mig-29: 28, 47 and 223. (3)
b. Mirage-2000: 1, 7 and 9. (3)
c. Jaguar IS/IB: 5, 14, 16, 27 and 223. (5)
d. Jaguar IM: 6 (1)
e. Mig-27 UPG: 10 and 29 (2)
f. Mig-27ML: 18, 22 and 222 (3)
g. Mig-21 Bison: 3, 4 , 21, 23, 32 and 51 (6) - [ 23 Squadron is a tentative entry; confirmation either way would be helpful]
h. Mig-21bis: 26 (1)
i. Mig-21M/MF: 17, 37, 101 and 108 (4)
j. Su-30 MKI: 2, 8, 20, 24, 30, 31, 102 and 220 (8)

Total operational Squadrons: 36

2. Others: 

This refers to Squadrons which are either partially operational, number plated or about which I don’t have full information. 

a. 15 Squadron: Formerly, a Mig-21bis Squadron. Either the a/c have gone to other squadrons for upgrade to Mig-21 Bison standard or it is under conversion to Su-30MKI
b. 35 Squadron: The Squadron which had taken over the last set of Mig-25R after 102 ‘Trisonics’ Squadron was number-plated. It operates only 1 x flight of Mig-21 M/MF. Interestingly, it was the first EW Mig-21 Squadron. Formerly, operated the Canberra.
c. 45 Squadron: Earmarked as first Tejas Squadron. Formerly operated Mig-21 FL.
d. 221 Squadron: Last Mig-23BN squadron which was number plated in 2009.
e. 106 Squadron: Formerly operated Canberra in photo-reconnaissance role. An a/c from this squadron famously landed back with a sidewinder stuck in its wing in 1999. Supposed to operating HS 748 Avro now. 
f. 52 Squadron – The ‘Suryakiran’ squadron. Which I think was earlier a fighter conversion unit cum combat squadron.

If we take only the first four entries above, IAF has on its ORBAT 40 fighter squadrons. And apart from active squadron, IAF needs to find a/c for these squadrons as well. 

3. Replacement requirement: 

Basis the information shared above about active squadrons in IAF service, we try and understand the replacement requirement. It is my understanding that the replacement can be broken down in two phases. Phase 1 (2015-2020) deals with a/c which have not received any upgrade and will need to be phased out as they’re reaching end of their life. Phase 2 (2020-2025) will cover those legacy a/c which have received upgrades and can soldier on till 2025 period.

a. Phase 1 (2015-2022)

i. Mig-21bis: 1
ii. Mig-21M/MF: 4
iii. Mig-27ML: 3
Total: 8 squadrons.

b. Phase 2 (2022-2027)

i. Mig-21 Bison: 6
ii. Mig-27UPG: 2

Total: 8 squadrons.

• Apart from above, IAF needs a/c to resurrect four number-plated/partially equipped squadrons. Therefore, in all, IAF will require replacement for a total of 20 squadrons in next 10-12 years.
• However, in the immediate future, IAF will require replacement for at least 8 squadron worth of a/c. 

4. Induction schedule: 

Let’s look at the potential induction schedule which can help to arrest this decline and assist in conversion. This section also helps to understand the place which Tejas Mk-1 and Tejas Mk-2 along with MMRCA have in the entire scheme of things.

a. Phase 1 (2015-2022)

i. Su-30MKI: Till date 8 of the planned 14 squadrons have been converted to Su-30MKI. That leaves us with balance 6 squadrons which are to be inducted over 2015-2022 schedule. While the original induction schedule for 272 contracted Su-30MKI was till 2018, this is running behind schedule. 

As per the latest CAG Report on HAL, as against 112 a/c (from contract of 140 a/c) which were to be delivered till 2013, only 81 have been delivered. So, there is a short-fall of 31 a/c in this contract itself. After accounting for these 31 a/c, HAL has to deliver 95 more Su-30MKI over next 3 years. Which is unlikely to happen unless some of local produced a/c are replaced with direct imports. So, this schedule is slated to go into 2020-2021 territory.

ii. Tejas Mk-1 : 2 x Squadrons

iii. MMRCA: 1 x Squadron

Total: 6+2+1 = 9 Squadrons.

The above should take care of Phase-1 of retirement in coming 2015-2022 period. However, what needs to be understood is that retirement and induction will not be in syn. While the Squadrons will be number-plated in groups (2 -3 squadrons per annum), the induction will not happen in the same manner. For example, HAL has a peak production rate for Su-30MKI at 16a/c per annum. Neither is MMRCA delivery timeline clear. And Tejas Mk-1 production is yet to get established.

Consequently, IAF will see a serious dip in Squadron strength over next 5-7 years. Especially in the 2017-2020 period when bulk of Mig-21 M/MF and Mig-27ML will be retired. 

b. Phase 2 (2022-2027)

This is where the MMRCA and Tejas Mk-2 become absolutely important. 

i. MMRCA: 5 x Squadrons
ii. Tejas Mk-2: 4 x Squadrons

Total: 5+4= 9 Squadrons.

5. Conclusion: 

a. Even if above mentioned induction schedule happens with clock-work precision, IAF would have managed to reach a Squadron strength of only 38 Squadrons by 2027.
b. I think we now know how the 2+4 structure for Tejas Mk-1 and Tejas Mk-2 comes into play in the IAF scheme of things.
c. I expect to Tejas Mk-2 number to rise by a minimum of 2 more squadrons and more than likely to reach a total of 08 squadrons (from present four).
d. 2017-2022 is a very crucial period; don’t be surprised if we order more Su-30MKI off the shelf from Russia to make up for production short-fall. HAL has done that in the past for the 81 a/c which it has delivered.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Indian Tank Ammunition Scenario -KE Penetrators


Tanks employ two main types of ammunition to defeat armor of opposing tanks. One type is called HEAT (Hi-Explosive Anti-Tank) while the other is called APFSDS (Armor Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot). Russian have introduced anti-tank missiles being fired from the main gun of T-90 tanks and the same concept is also being introduced in Mk-2 version of Arjun MBT. However, this capability is yet to see widespread usage; one school of thought says this capability has been introduced to cover for relatively lower performance level of Russian anti-tank rounds. But we digress.

While HEAT rounds rely on molten jet traveling at very high speed to defeat armor, APFSDS ammunition uses only Kinetic Energy to defeat armor.

Wikimapia provides a pretty detailed overview of these types of rounds. Please see the link here:

India recently placed an order for 66,000 of these rounds from Russia and if news report(s) are to be believed, we’re being charged 3x-4x times the original price of these rounds. This acute short-fall in the ammunition of this type was brought to fore in the letter written by previous Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General V. K. Singh.

Such rounds are basic requirement of armor warfare and if a country which maintains one of the largest tank fleets in the world still imports such ammunition, then it points towards something really wrong somewhere.

With the aim to understand the scenario with respect to APFSDS ammunition in India, I did some research on the topic. The findings of this research form the content of this post. All the information has been takes from internet; main source of information are reports by Comptroller and Audit General from 1994 onward. 

Primer on APFSDS

It is not the objective of this post to undertake review of technical literature on the subject of KE Penetrator. However, to get some overview of the subject we use the help of pictures and graphics available on the internet.

Components of APFSDS

This excellent picture below shows the complete APFSDS Round and its components. From left to right:
  • Sabot with Penetrator encased within. You can make out the grooves through which Sabot is connected with Penetrator.
  • Penetrator with fins at bottom. The black colored front section is the ballistic cap of the penetrator.
  • Cross section showing placement of Sabot Shot within the APFSDS Round.
  • Complete Round.


The picture below is that of a Sabot Shot – one can see the Sabot surrounding the Penetrator. The cut-away in lower picture clearly shows the grooves trough which it is connected with the penetrator. This Sabot shot is encased in the Combustible Cartridge Case (CCC). 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Artillery Divisions in Indian Army - An Analysis-Part 2


In last post on the topic of artillery divisions in the Indian Army, I tried to spell out my understanding on the philosophy behind having artillery division and the likely equipment profile in current scenario.

Another aspect of the artillery divisions in the Indian Army which has not yet been answered satisfactorily is their composition – or, Order of Battle (ORBAT) of these artillery divisions. There are various assumptive ORBATs on the internet in this regard. In my opinion, they don’t provide the correct picture – especially, considering the conclusions which I have reached on the equipment profile of these artillery divisions.

Therefore, in this post I have tried to assess the actual composition for an artillery division – to the best extent possible. This analysis is based on piecing together tidbits of information from open sources about brigades which actually form part of these formations. I will quote information source along with the analysis. This, I think, should provide a proper framework for analysis of artillery division(s), their composition and equipment profile.

41 ‘Agnibaaz’ Artillery Division

While researching on the topic of artillery divisions, I came across information which gives some insight into the composition of 41 Artillery Division. I will be using the same as template for illustrating the current topic. I am assuming that other artillery divisions would also broadly follow the same pattern – save for modifications to cater for specific tasks.

In the last post on artillery division, I had surmised that the division consists of mix of Tube Artillery, Rocket Artillery and Missile Regiments – with Tube Artillery being the largest component.  Therefore, it is expected that the division will have separate brigade(s) which will hold Tube Artillery, Rocket Regiment and Missile Regiment.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Artillery Divisions in Indian Army - An Analysis-Part 1


The Indian Army saw advent of its first Artillery Division in the form of 40th Artillery Division, which, if I remember correctly, was raised in late 90s. Since then, Indian Army has raised two more such formations with fourth artillery division having been cleared by Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) to be raised under Eastern Command.

Not much literature is available (at least I have not come across any) in public domain on the philosophy behind raising dedicated artillery divisions or their composition. Information in form of article(s) may well be buried in issues of magazines dealing with professional military matters in libraries of various think tanks and army training colleges – but out of reach of mango people like me.

As is generally the case with military matters in India’s case, one needs to read material available for other countries and see how much of it makes sense in India’s case. This extrapolation without doubt has errors but then, one works with what one has.

In this blog post, I've tried to answer (to myself and other with enough time to waste on these matters) two questions:

1. Philosophy behind raising dedicated artillery divisions.
2. Indicative equipment profile of artillery divisions

I will try and assess the composition of an artillery division in separate post.

While (a) is based on reading material available for other armies, (b) is based on open source analysis of information (which I will quote). If anyone reading this post has additional information which can be shared on public forum, please do. If there are mistakes, please feel free to point them out.

Artillery Division – Why?

The central question surrounding the formation of an artillery division is – Is it simply an amalgamation of artillery brigades under a higher command HQ or is it a maneuver formation in its own right? Which further leads one to ask is whether the constituent brigades be parceled out as per the requirement or will the formation be used a single cohesive entity to work in tandem with mechanized formations?

[Please see a lively discussion on the topic dated 2002 in Bharat-Rakshak Forum (BRF) archives -]

Now, each Corps HQ in Indian Army has an Independent Artillery Brigade under its command. Cannot one or two more such (I) Arty Bdes be simply added under the command of senior most artillery officer in the Corps HQ? What is the requirement behind raising a dedicated formation?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Update: More Images-IA Canal Crossing Operations

Happened to come across some more images of Indian Army undertaking canal crossing operations. These are also from various exercises conducted by the IA over last couple of years.

1. T-72 entering the bridge over a canal.

2. BMP-2 crossing  the bridge over a canal. You can see the pontoon bridge has been tethered to the home and far bank of the canal. In case of a bigger water body, they would have required the use of the boats which form part of the whole PMS Pontoon Bridge System. The pic above and below are from exercise Hind Shakti-2009.

3. BMP-2 crossing the canal. The water body in the image looks similar into which BMP-2 can be seen entering in the first image of original photo-essay on canal crossing operations.

 Source (1, 2&3):

4. Infantry/Engineers waiting to cross over to the far bank of the canal. One can clearly see the raft. The tank will provide the fire-cover. I once remember seeing a video of IA on YouTube which showed a small body of engineers crossing over, followed by BMP-2 on their power and some T-72 tanks snorkeling over to the far bank. This seems to be a standard SOP to secure a lodgement across a water obstacle.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Indian Army - Canal Crossing Operation-II


In the previous post, I had presented a photo essay on  the canal/water crossing operations as practiced by the Indian Army during various exercises. To undertake such operations, right kind of bridging equipment is of utmost importance. In this post, I've tried to compile information about the bridging equipment of the Indian Army. In addition, we also take a look at videos of river crossing operations which show the sequence of various events.

Water obstacles crossing 

From what I've seen, such water obstacle crossing enterprise can be broadly divided into following components:
  • Secure the home bank of the canal.
  • Amphibious assault(s) across the water body to establish a lodgement and subsequently, a  larger bridgehead. The far bank of the water obstacle needs to be secured so that bridge can be put across and uninterrupted communication channel established. Needless to say, the forces which cross over need to be strong enough to first overcome the defenders and then guard against counter-attacks. These amphibious operations are undertaken by Infantry mounted on Infantry Combat Vehicles (ICV) like our BMP-2, in rafts of various kind and Main Battle Tanks (MBT) suitably modified to undertake such operations. Artillery support to suppress/eliminate the defenders and counter-battery fire is a must. In addition, air-support is required to keep away the enemy air-force as well as to suppress/eliminate enemy's defenses and forces in the area. Self Propelled (SP) Air Defense systems like Tungushka and Akash SAM mounted on T-72 chassis are used to provide AD cover.
  • Bridging operations - Once the bridgehead has been established, a bridge of a suitable type is put across the water obstacle. The main body of troops can then cross over and dash towards the main target(s). The support troops and vehicles forming the logistic chain follow thereafter to sustain troops fighting in the front.
Rest assured, such major crossing operations will receive every bit of love and attention from the enemy. The enemy will try to foil any such crossing and the event where he cannot do so, he'll try to delay the operations as much as possible. The fate of a major operation, battle or even the war may depend on the success (or otherwise) of such planned crossings. The enemy will bring to bear every possible asset under his command on such an operation by Indian Army.


Check these videos to have a look at the anatomy of such water obstacle crossing operation(s).

(a) Video 1 - Russian Army River crossing exercise.

The sequence of events in the video might not be correct. However, you can observe the following:
  • Infantry crossing over in BMP-2 ICVs. The BMP-2s can be seen firing their co-axial machines guns while still in water. I haven't manage to find a video of BMP-2 firing its main 30mm canon during amphibious crossings.
  • A strong body of tanks crossing over using the snorkeling method. Combined with Infantry+ICVs, these will constitute the main force to secure a lodgement and beat back initial counter-attacks.
  • You can also see a flight of Mi-8s crossing over the river; these can be used to insert infantry or special forces behind the enemy's defenses on the far-bank of the river and assault these defenses from the rear.
  • The ubiquitous Mi-24 gunships can be seen in the video giving top cover to the forces crossing over. In any major crossing, these gunships will be used to suppress/neutralize enemy defenses on the far-bank as well take out enemy forces in deep.
  • One can also see the Su-25 'Frogfoot' in action. In my opinion, the role of Su-25 in our case will be carried out to limited extent by Mig-27s.
  • One can also see amphibious ferry vehicles carrying trucks across the river.
  • In the final section, the Russian Army engineers can be seen putting together a pontoon bridge which is steered in place by tug-boats.
  • Once the bridge is put in place, the main body of troops can be seen crossing over, including a  ZSU-23-4 or 'Shilka'. These are used to provide AD cover to the troops.
In my opinion, what is missing is tanks providing direct fire support from home bank of the canal to forces crossing over.