Fortnightly Review & Analysis: Defence, National Security and Terrorism (Vol 2 Issue IV)

February 16 -28, 2017


Indian Navy Conducts TROPEX 2017

The Indian Navy’s Annual Theatre Level Readiness and Operational Exercise (TROPEX 2017) was conducted on the Western Seaboard from 24 January 2017 till 23 February 2017. The exercise saw participation of over 45 ships from both the Western and Eastern Naval Commands of the Indian Navy, including the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, five submarines including the nuclear powered Chakra, 50 Naval Aircraft, 11 ships from the Coast Guard, troops from the Army and 20 aircraft from the Air Force including Su 30s, Jaguars and AWACS. The exercise was carried out with elements of the Army and Air Force taking part and was intended to test the various facets of war-fighting and joint combat capabilities of the armed forces to respond to given threat situations. The exercise also included the conduct of a large scale ‘Out of Area Contingency’ in an island territory, which saw participation of all three services and their special forces.

The conduct of such a large scale exercise involving all the three forces assumes great importance in the current geopolitical context, especially with the recent increased activity of the Chinese Navy (PLAN) in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The perchance of the Chinese to challenge the status quo, as witnessed in the South China Sea, could very well extend to the Indian Ocean if they find their interests being compromised. The PLAN is in the midst of the largest expansion, of both capabilities and capacity, in its history. The IOR is a stated area of interest for the PLAN, more so as the Sino-Pak nexus manifest itself in PLAN deployments for the ostensible protection of shipping off Gwadar, as part of the CPEC. The Indian armed forces, especially the Navy, need to continuously upgrade their capabilities and capacities to meet this emerging threat which can complicate the security situation in the IOR.

Aero India 2017

The biennial Aero India was conducted at Air Force Station Yelahanka on the outskirts of Bengaluru from 14 – 18 Feb 17 jointly by the Ministries of Defence and Civil Aviation. It saw participation from more than 740 Indian and global companies with demonstrations by 72 fighter aircraft in the run up to selection of the multi-role combat aircraft for the Indian Air Force. Mostly only joint venture agreements and memorandums of understanding were announced between overseas defense companies and Indian entities. A number of foreign companies also entered into partnerships with domestic businesses to stay connected to the Indian market, which is likely to see future big-ticket tenders being awarded to domestic companies under a much-awaited MoD policy.

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Kalyani Strategic Systems Limited signed a memorandum of understanding to incorporate a joint venture company in India for expanding their presence in the Indian defense market and to build, market and manufacture specific air defense systems and lightweight special purpose munitions. IAI also signed a cooperation agreement with Dynamatic Technologies Limited for the production, assembly and support of mini Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) in India. Raytheon of the United States signed a memorandum of understanding with Tata Advanced Systems Limited to engage in co-production of Stinger air defense missile components. Thales of France and state-owned defense giant Bharat Dynamics Limited signed an agreement to assess opportunities for transfer of technology of the flagship Star Streak missile capability to India. Private sector Larsen & Toubro and MBDA of France signed an agreement to set up a joint venture to develop and supply missile systems to meet the growing requirements of the Indian armed forces.

The Aero India has been successful in bringing India on to the radar of big multi-national defence firms. The Indian defence market is expected to grow with predictions of about $ 100 billion in the next decade or so. The number of joint ventures finalised at the current event indicates the willingness of the multi-national firms to leverage the present Government’s ‘Make in India’ policy. However, the absence of major deals at the event also shows the hesitation in these manufacturers to enter into something more substantial due to the absence of clear policy guidelines, especially regarding the strategic partnerships visualized in the Defence Procurement Procedure of 2016.

The Government has as yet not announced the outline and the policy for Strategic Partnerships which has been in the works for more than a year despite examination of the issue by a number of committees. Major projects like the acquisition of the multi-role combat aircraft for the IAF and submarines for the Navy are hanging fire leading to perceptible capability gaps in the combat potential of the Armed Forces. The Government will have to overcome the bureaucratic lethargy so endemic to India if it is to leverage opportunities like the Aero India for upgrading the capabilities of the Armed Forces.


Situation in Mosul, Iraq

The ongoing military campaign against Daesh in Mosul in Iraq gained further momentum during the second half of February. After a partial victory in retaking eastern neighborhood of Mosul in late January, on 19 February, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) launched the offensive to flush out Daesh militias from western part of Mosul. ISF focused on “isolating” the militants by destroying important exit routes and concentrated their activities in south and southwest of the city. The advancing Iraqi forces backed by US fighter jets and drones, in a major a breakthrough, captured Mosul airport on 23 February. The seizure of this airport gives the ISF coalition, control of two large airfields in the vicinity of Mosul, which would be useful in the upcoming operations.

The forces faced several mines, barricades, trenches and tunnels which were laid and used by Daesh fighters. Amidst this development, there is a growing debate over the plight of the civilians who are trapped inside the city. International organizations remained concerned about the potential humanitarian crisis, particularly related to aid not being able to reach both eastern and western Mosul as security forces closed some of the access points. Therefore, there is an urgent need for a workable solution to prevent this issue from getting severe. Meanwhile, Daesh fighters are apparently facing coordination problems due to which they could not strike back as fiercely as expected. They are likely to take to guerilla warfare, posing threat in the country. Analysts believe that Daesh can not be written off as yet. They have the ability to “regroup its command and logistical hubs”, even though they are seemingly in decline.

Daesh Claims Terror Blast in Pakistan

On 17th February, Pakistan witnessed one of the deadliest terror attacks when a suicide bomber struck Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine in Sehwan in the southern Sindh province. Over 100 people, including women and children were killed and over 200 injured. Daesh has claimed responsibility for this brazen carnage. In a statement released through its news agency, Amaq, it was described as a strike against “Shiite gathering”. In the recent past, similar attacks on Shiites were allegedly carried out by this outfit in collaboration with Pakistan-based terror organisations. The target and the location were very identical to those of Daesh-conducted attacks in some of the West Asian countries in the recent times. Analysts suspect that Pakistan can emerge as a fertile ground for Daesh to spread its tentacles and brew further sectarianism within the country. Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, authorized Pakistani armed forces and related law enforcement agencies to “eliminate the enemy”. In the operations that followed, more than 130 suspected terrorists have been killed and over 350 arrested as part of a nationwide crackdown. Amongst the high-value targets, one was the hideout and weapons depot camp allegedly belonging to Jamaat-ul-Ahrar’s commander.

Commenting on the incident, the prestigious Pakistani newspaper, Dawn, went on to say that “IS’s brutal rule in parts of Iraq and Syria and its existence in Europe have attracted world attention but its push eastward, particularly to Pakistan, has largely gone unnoticed”. These words of caution, particularly considering the ever deteriorating security situation inside this country, need to be taken seriously with the possibility of this terror group gaining greater influence in the country. Punjab (in Pakistan) is increasingly considered as a place for recruiting “sectarian militants”. As it is, Daesh, as a brand, is now being courted by local outfits to, not only in Pakistan, but also in other parts of the world.

Daesh’s Declining Financial Wealth

Since early 2014, when Daesh announced its presence, its fast-growing financial wealth (along with territorial possession) was one salient features that captured the attention of not only other terror outfits but also the foreign fighters who travelled to Syria and Iraq. During the initial days, it collected large sum of money out of petty crimes and bank robberies. After capturing Mosul’s central bank, Daesh reportedly looted 500 billion Iraqi dinars, ($ 425 million) and its total worth grew to approximately $ 2 billion (in 2014). It was accordingly considered “world’s richest terrorist group”. This got further boost when they captured large oil fields in Syria and Iraq. The oil seized from these fields was sold at a discounted price of $ 25 to $ 60 per barrel, as against the market price of around $ 100 then. Total profits from such sales were over $ 3 million a day.

However, due to the coalition military campaigns in Syria and Iraq, Daesh has significantly started to lose these natural resources and most of the illegal trade routes were destroyed by the security forces. This has resulted in the decline of its financial wealth and by 2016; it is assessed to have dropped down to approximately $ 870 million (annual revenue). The details of its current financial status are available in a study report on this issue released by the London-based think-tank International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR) during mid-February, 2017. With the intensification of military crackdown in Syria and Iraq, this decline will become more acute and Daesh will find extreme difficulties to rebuild its financial stability as it was a couple of years ago. In all likelihood, the outfit will resort to its previous tactics - smuggling and extortion.


Five Naxal Sympathisers Convicted in Chhattisgarh

On February 28, 2017, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Special Court at Bilaspur, convicted and sentenced five Naxal extremism sympathizers with ten years of imprisonment each. The Court founds the accused guilty of acting as couriers of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and of supplying explosives to the Naxalites. This is the first verdict by the NIA special court based in Chhattisgarh.

Government Clarifies Stand on NSCN-IM Pact

In a statement issued on February 28, 2017, the Central Government clarified that it has signed only a framework agreement and not the final accord with the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM). The issue was raised in the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Union Ministry of Home Affairs, chaired by former Home Minister P Chidambaram. During the meeting a brief account of the framework agreement was furnished and discussed. The Framework of Agreement, it may be recalled was signed on August 03, 2015. Home ministry clarified that the Centre proposed to take along all Naga groups and the concerned State Governments of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.