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By Shree Pandey

Since the early 1990s, the economic growth of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been nothing short of spectacular. The rise of the current Communist Party of China (CCP) leader, Xi Jinping, has however seen China’s growth take a strong military bend. In his address to the 19th National Congress of the CCP in October 2017, Xi Jinping had declared his vision to produce a “world-class force” that would dominate the Asia Pacific and “fight and win” global wars by 2049. And his determination can be seen by the expansion of the People’s Liberation Army’s maritime force, PLA(Navy). 18 ships were commissioned in 2016 and another 14 in 2017 by the PLA(Navy), while in comparison the US Navy commissioned 5 ships in 2016 and 8 ships in 2017.

China dreams to be a global superpower by 2049. However, the question remains, whether a military built only on money and new technology can stand and fight? While such discussions have been dismissed by Chinese state-controlled media as Western propaganda, the large casualties suffered by PLA, while fighting the unarmed Indian soldiers during Galwan crisis and the subsequent capture of the Kailash Heights, as a part of Operation Snow Leopard by the Indian Army, has surely caused alarm bells ringing in Beijing. The conduct of the PLA and CCP during this clash brought the fatal flaw in the Chinese Dream– the lack of astute military leadership. It took more than seven months for CCP to finally muster the courage to admit that many Chinese soldiers were killed in action as a result of this flaw.

The conduct of warfare reflects not in technological terms alone but in organisation and leadership styles. While technology has changed the way we fight but without systemic and well-coordinated doctrinal and organisational changes, no new technology can translate into actual military combat power. The current situation of the CCP Armed Forces, as laid bare in the Himalayas, is clear evidence of the same.

It is pertinent to note that while the CCP Armed Forces have evolved a new doctrine after every major conflict, there remain fundamental issues with regards to institutional reforms which can prevent them from achieving any significant changes. Technology aside, key elements of a modern fighting force remain largely unchanged. These include technically proficient soldiers with combat experience, led by professional and proactive officer cadre. These elements seamlessly organised in a mesh and nimble command and controlled architecture enable decisive action in dynamic situations. Areas where the Chinese lag.

The changing dynamics in Chinese society over the past two decades of “reform and opening up” has proven to be a double-edged sword for the CCP forces. The rising economy has provided stiff competition to the Armed forces in attracting the best of China’s youth. Though rural illiterate youth still consider military service as personal progression, the educated urban youth remain unwilling to conscription. Thus, while CCP forces ranks are being filled, their education standards are not likely to complement their ongoing modernisation program.

Although HR remains a problem for all militaries, the uniqueness of the Communist Chinese model takes the issue to a completely different level. China’s “one-child policy” has brought about a unique set of problems as 52 percent of the conscripts are “only – child soldiers”. While the loss of the only child creates unparalleled hardships to rural agriculture-based families, the much savvier urban parents find ways for their children to evade military service. Though better living standards have enhanced the life expectancy of the Chinese population, “greying China” has also led many of the educated military officers to jump ship to the private sector so as to financially support the emerging ‘4-2-1’ family structure (04 grandparents – 02 parents – 01 child). Thus, the personnel that are left behind are ‘child emperors and empresses’ who don’t always have the mettle required for the harsh realities of warfighting.

While publicly CCP has given a lot of emphasis on enhancing the quality of military leadership, below the surface, there remain endemic issues that Beijing has found difficult to overcome. The majority of the current senior military leadership, despite having one of the highest retirement ages, had their only exposure to combat during the 1979 Vietnam War whilst the middle/lower leadership have had no combat experience. Moreover, studies have also revealed that there are significant regional biases in the induction of officers which continue to reflect in promotions and postings.

The PLA is the de-facto ‘strong arm’ of the CCP and therefore political intrusion, rather than military threat, has defined its early development and duties. While generals in the post-Mao era were less inclined to get involved in the party functioning, this trend has seen a reversal in recent times. In the Xi Jinping era, there have been substantial efforts in making the military subservient to the party in all respects. Consequently, a culture of developing political-lineage-based coteries has set in and resulted in the promotion of political favourites rather than merit-based advancements. This, to an extent, may explain the complete lack of anticipation of the Indian military response to China’s unilateral and unprovoked aggression in the Galwan sector in mid-2020. It is quite possible that the highly centralised command and control organisation of PLA, populated with officers of dubious professional standing, were unable to take decisions on time to allow the army men on ground to react to Indian counter-action.

The popular Indian metaphor of the “elephant’s two sets of teeth” applies very well to the current state of the CCP Armed forces. While a large number of modern technologies, some even acquired through unscrupulous means, explains their efficacy in combat is largely speculative. Given the intrinsic infirmities in the socio-cultural build-up of China today, the quality of soldiers being used to operate this equipment is even more suspicious. Rampant corruption, political gamesmanship and obscuring truths, further undermine the efforts in developing a ‘world-class force’. Beijing could have seen the rotting underbelly of the PLA in the aftermath of Galwan, but choose to double down on its false narrative and ignore the realities that were laid bare.

In the quest to “win without fighting” propaganda and misinformation, Xi Jinping may need to take a moment and look closely at his “yes men” generals. After all, the popular folk tale of the “emperor’s new clothes” also finds its origins in the court of another totalitarian ruler of the middle kingdom.

About the Author:

The author is a freelance journalist and a research scholar of International Humanitarian Law.

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Defence

The UAV Boom in India

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Drones have been essential in the Russia-Ukraine conflict for both reconnaissance and strike operations. Drones have been assiduously utilised by Ukraine to monitor the movements of Russian troops, gather intelligence about them, and engage in infantry and artillery combat. Particularly, their military has targeted the Russians using loitering munition “spy ghost,” designed by the US for Ukraine. The Ukrainians have made considerable use of the Turkish Bayraktar drone for both attack and intelligence operations. One facet of contemporary warfare—the employment of drones for both observation and retaliatory action—has been highlighted by the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the earlier conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. 

 

To address demand in the security and defence sectors, the Government of India (GOI) has concentrated on obtaining cutting-edge technologies. India has long relied on nations like Israel for its drone needs, but this reliance is gradually giving way to domestic solutions. The drone-related culture in the Indian military is evolving. The Army Aviation Corps is now responsible for ensuring the most effective use of drones, which was formerly handled by the artillery. In light of the ongoing standoff with China, the Indian Army is now using drones at the LAC for observation purposes, which is a big move. Previously only used by the Indian Air Force (IAF), the Army is now for the first time pursuing loitering weapons.

 

Despite the effects of the worldwide pandemic on several sectors of the economy, the India UAV market, which was valued at $830 million in FY2020, is anticipated to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.5% between 2021 and 2026. By the end of 2021, the Indian UAV market might reach $900 million, which is important given that the worldwide UAV market is now valued at $21.47 billion, according to the Observer Research Foundation (ORF).

 

UAVs have been essential during the COVID-19 epidemic in a variety of capacities, including as a tool for law enforcement, a platform for the delivery of medical supplies, and an e-commerce platform. However, because of sporadic lockdowns imposed in nations around the world that produce and supply UAVs and associated parts, there have been halts or delays in production supply chains because of a lack of raw materials and the labour force required to carry out manufacturing and assembly operations. Although there are prospects for American UAVs and component makers to sell to India, it should be highlighted that the domestic manufacturing market is expanding, which is raising the level of local competition, both for civil and defence uses. Joint ventures have emerged in the UAV industry as a result of the ambitious “Make in India” project of the Indian government, which aims to promote homegrown production in a variety of industrial sectors. Indian startups have also made a lot of forays into the UAV market.

 

Indian UAV Policies & Reforms

 

For anyone flying an unmanned aerial vehicle in India, the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) India published a new set of drone laws and regulations in June 2021. The operator of a UAV must apply for and get a unique identification number in accordance with the new regulations before operating the UAV, unless an exemption is granted. UAV operators will have to submit information on the Digital Sky platform, which is a MoCA-led initiative to control UAV operation and traffic in India, in order to obtain this identifying number. In order to draw investments into this industry, certain Indian state governments have also developed original UAV policies. 

 

Opportunities

 

The Indian UAV industry is divided into three major segments, similar to the worldwide UAV market: Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM), End Users, and Aftermarket. Rotating wings, fixed wings, high-altitude long-endurance (HALE), medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE), and unmanned combat aerial vehicles are among the UAV kinds that are currently available (UCAV). In addition to manufacturing, there are prospects in the fields of hardware, software, and value-added components.

 

In India, the use of commercial UAVs is expanding at an exponential rate in the following industries: forestry, mining, power, railways, construction, highways, e-commerce, homeland security, smart city and urban development initiatives, and media. Applications for collecting and sharing real-time data include site inspections, surveillance, and monitoring. 

 

Opportunities for anti-drone systems exist in the defence industry, particularly in the fields of sensors, phased array radar, radio frequency (RF) sensor, electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) systems, navigational satellite jammer systems, and RF jammer and laser-directed energy weapon (Laser-DEW) systems. After the recent UAV attack on the Indian Air Force station in Jammu, the need for anti-drone equipment has grown even more. Border security, crime prevention and control, and anti-terrorism applications are other potential areas of application.

 

Challenges

 

Potential end-users are prevented from maximising the use of UAVs in their operations by the policy environment for UAVs in India. The present drone regulations state that all UAV importers must first get a “Certificate of Manufacture” before submitting an application via the Digital Sky platform to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). The importer must submit an application for the granting of an import clearance certificate to the Directorate General of Foreign Trade after receiving approval from DGCA (DGFT). The Directorate General of Foreign Trade shall regulate the import of unmanned aircraft vehicles and systems (DGFT).

 

To impart the essential skills to operate their UAVs in India, international providers may need to engage in training and certification programmes. Building up this infrastructure is crucial to preventing supply-related sector bottlenecks. International suppliers may be encouraged to form joint ventures or participate in the production or assembly of UAVs in India via “Make in India” incentives, such as the relaxing of FDI laws. This will increase the number of local rivals in the already crowded field of domestic producers, making it harder for global OEMs to compete on price.

 

India clearly has the potential to become the worldwide hub for the newest drone technology because of its persistent commitment to embracing innovation to address societal and environmental problems. Government encouragement and loosened regulations will also provide manufacturers and drone businesses the much-needed boost they need to reach previously unimaginable heights.

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COVID-19 – A Disaster Management baggage or A National Security Concern?

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As COVID-19 cases start to intensify again after a short and peaceful interlude, the viral disease again stresses the issue that whether the disease is just a mere health emergency confided to its medical liabilities, or is it a National Security concern at large as it ostensibly affects the decisive decade i.e., 2020-2030. The Covid outbreak has conveniently presented an opportunity to reconsider the current emergency and disaster-response authorities. Not only has the disease threatened the well-being of the nation and its population but also has diverted the attention and resources of the government away from other national security threats. Hence, it is necessary for a country like India to explore and amend the old statutory framework that simply negates the healthcare challenges as national security threats. Furthermore, the geographical challenges which India anticipates with respect to China in terms of war increases manifold ever since the controversy regarding Covid-virus being synthesized in Wuhan’s lab has surfaced. The controversy did not gain major traction with WHO and other global authorities brushing it away by calling it a baseless narrative. However, if at all there is a possibility of the virus being intentionally homegrown or domestically synthesized, India should put its guards up against a major biological war.

Global Perspective

It was on March 13, 2020, when President Donald Trump invoked the National Emergency Act and the Stafford Act in response to the novel coronavirus. It was the first time that a leader of a State equated a Health crisis to a National Emergency. Needless to say, the risks of Covid were exceedingly high and the casualties caused were also unparalleled. Therefore, as the well-being of the nation was threatened and the attention and resources of the government were diverted into one single crisis as opposed to other major risks, calling it a National Security concern is simply textbook-accurate. However, the current US Federal Law is rusted when it comes to dealing with high-risk virus outbreaks that have catastrophic consequences. While it acknowledges that disease outbreaks as potential threats to national security, the orientation however is statutorily limited in preparation and prevention but has absolutely no strategical way out once the disease spreads domestically. The organization of emergency response in Federal Law presently is unilateral as opposed to the disease in hand which is rather multi-lateral.

Covid-19 has not yet perished and it is highly unlikely that it is the last one of its kind. Future diseases with more serious casualties are likely to occur again as also attested by Bill Gates in one of his Ted Talks Speeches. Hence it is necessary that disaster response and national security should not be branched into two separate paradigms by the policymakers and must be conjoined into one. Acknowledging public health crisis naturally constitutes national security and is, therefore, an important conceptual step. Hence as for the US, the Federal Law must fill up the gaps that Covid-19 has thrown a spotlight on. For instance, invoking National Emergency Act was surely a brilliant move but it lacked execution. It was not exactly Congress but the law, in general, that was weak. The nature of the said statute is such that the Federal structure takes a back seat when the provision is invoked and consequently the states are left with a very large leadership vacuum which is an absolute necessity in response to such a crisis., As a result, President Donald Trump and his cabinet were widely criticized for this move as the underlying statutory framework limits the federal government’s involvement in disaster response.

On the other hand, New Zealand under the able leadership of Prime Minister Jacinda Adern garnered lavish global praise for controlling the Covid-19 pandemic exceedingly well. While, thinkers and authorities like Thomas J. Bollyky, director of the Global Health program at the Council on Foreign Relations believe that the nation has an advantage of a relatively isolated location which invariably means that the country has far fewer visitors from China or other infected areas. In addition, the director also contended that the country is also small and rich with a population widely spread out, and therefore, the success of Kiwis cannot be replicated in a populous country like the US. However, the arguments appear to be mere evasive assumptions, and credit to New Zealand’s administration must be given on all accounts, especially for taking immediate cognizance of the disease, unlike President Donald Trump who completely trivialized the issue when it first surfaced.

India’s imminent need to take cognizance of Bio-Warfare

With a strong sense of ‘We are in this together’ echoing around the world, there has been a fair share of blame game amongst the countries as well. While the infamous ‘virus escaped from Wuhan Institute of Virology’ remains at the top of the ‘it’s your fault’ pyramid, the US remains second. And it’s China that has blamed the US Army for bringing the Virus to their country. Chinese diplomacy has simply rested its argument on the fact that the virus was engineered in the US and was deliberately sent to China to halt the country’s progress. The blame game will continue to exist suiting to different political spheres of distinct nations. However, it is imperative for India to consider, collocate and confidently approach the possibility of bioterrorism.

Indian military at large is not as technologically advanced as the militaries of China and the US. Although training programs concerning chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear attacks, the programs are on the back burner stewing in their own resourceless gravy. Furthermore, the country has a wide population with health facilities already taking a knee due to this pandemic. Thus, the possibility of a bio-warfare happening is indicative of India already sitting on a virus time-bomb. Japan has already taken cognizance of the matter and has started building its response against a bio-terror attack. For the first time, the country has imported five types of live viruses – Ebola, Marburg, Lass, Crimean-Congo, and South American viruses to study detection and precaution measures. Something, which India does not actively intend to do.

Another reason why India must not dismiss the possibility of a bio-war attack in the near future is simply the rise in the number of Bio-genetics labs in the US, China, and other states. While Iran and North Korea are believed to possess chemical weapons, countries like the US, Europe, Russia, and Australia also have around 50 functioning or under-construction security labs solely for the study of dangerous pathogens and churn out efficient results for their respective countries. In addition, virus sensors are largely ineffective and hence it becomes increasingly easy for a terrorist to simply ferry a contagion to other countries. The said virus can be mixed with powders, and aerosol sprays or can be infected through main, envelopes, or newspapers.

Chemical weapons were recently used in Afghanistan where people were seen suffering from blisters, severe anxiety, etc. Pertinent to mention, China endorsing and recognizing the recent Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and the nation experiencing biochemical attack episodes projects a highly probable image of the former vehemently supplying the latter with weapons and armory. Therefore India, on all accounts, must not be an ostrich for biochemical or genetic warfare in the coming future. While the United Nations explicitly bans the use of chemical weapons, the regulations are only bound to the member countries and thus can easily be used by an adversary. Quoting the former Chief of the Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat, a country like India must be prepared for all kinds of threat.

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Virginia Hall: The Dauntless Spy

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Working as an Allied spy undercover was demanding. They pretended to be ordinary citizens, creating false names, documents, and cover stories while establishing confidence within secretive networks created through shared sorrow and purpose. And they did it all while fearing being found by French double agents, Nazi sympathisers, or the Gestapo. Many were apprehended and killed by gunshot or hanging.

 

Members of the French Resistance, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) fought complicated and sophisticated fights that helped reverse the course of World War II. Virginia Hall Goillot was one of their most notorious operators. 

 

Hall worked with the SOE, OSS, and CIA for almost 20 years. Her French Resistance colleagues dubbed her La Dame Qui Boite or the woman who limps. The Gestapo eventually used the term in whispers about her victories against them. Fascination and intrigue were all she got – she was never arrested by the people who were after her. Even after her legendary career, she avoided discussing it.

 

Foray into the World of Spies

 

Hall attended Radcliffe and Barnard Colleges for a short time. She then moved to Paris to study and fell in love with the country. She opted to pursue a career as a diplomat.

 

She wanted to be an ambassador, but the State Department turned her down despite her repeated applications. It’s worth noting that women made up only six out of 1,500 US ambassadors at the time. Hall was hired as a clerical assistant at a US consulate in Turkey. However, she shot herself in the foot while bird hunting. Her left leg was amputated below the knee due to gangrene. Her rehabilitation was arduous and painful, as she learnt to walk with a clumsy wooden limb. It was, however, a watershed moment. Her injury may have actually strengthened or reawakened her resilience, allowing her to do great things.

 

When Nazi Germany invaded France during World War II, Hall volunteered to drive an ambulance for the French. France was quickly surrounded and forced to evacuate to Britain. She was introduced to British intelligence after an accidental meeting with a spy. This one-legged American woman was among the first British spies dispatched into Nazi-occupied France in 1941 after receiving scant training. She pretended to be a New York Post reporter.

 

Cover tales are vital for any effective spy, not just to escape foreign foes but also to maintain secrets among peers in the case they are apprehended. People and families with legitimate names, real locations, and real occupations face huge reprisals from the Germans. The Gestapo’s standard practice was interrogation and torture, and many people’s spirits were broken. Because the United States was still a neutral nation in the war, Hall’s cover as a French-American stringer for the New York Post allowed her dispatches to be published unfiltered. Brigitte LeContre became her public persona, and her SOE reports were sent under a variety of codenames throughout the war, including Marie Monin, Diane, Germaine, and Nicolas.

 

Encounters with the Gestapo

 

There were setbacks, particularly in the beginning, when members of her network were apprehended and killed. Hall, on the other hand, was a natural spy, always one step ahead of the Gestapo, the German secret police. Virginia Hall was, to some extent, unnoticed. She was able to exploit the Gestapo’s chauvinism at the time. Neither the Germans nor the British believed that a woman could be a spy early in the war.

 

Hall was based in Lyon, a city in eastern France. She first sought refuge in a convent, where she persuaded nuns to assist her. She made friends with a female brothel owner and learned that French prostitutes had obtained intelligence from German troops. Hall arranged and provided safe shelters and intelligence to French resistance fighters. This was not overlooked. The Germans realised they were pursuing a hobbling lady.

 

Hall’s look was continually changing. In the course of an afternoon, she might be four distinct ladies with four different code names. Klaus Barbie, the notorious Gestapo officer known as “the Butcher of Lyon” for the thousands of people tortured and slain by his men in France, was the guy she was after. “The Enemy’s Most Dangerous Spy — We Must Find And Destroy Her!” Barbie ordered “wanted” posters of Hall, which featured a drawing of her above the words “The Enemy’s Most Dangerous Spy — We Must Find And Destroy Her!

 

Around the end of 1942, the Nazis appeared to be closing in on Hall. She narrowly escaped to Spain after a difficult trek that entailed travelling 50 miles in heavy snow through the rugged Pyrenees Mountains for three days. Hall was detained when she arrived in Spain because her passport lacked an entry stamp. She was liberated after six weeks and returned to the United Kingdom.

 

Back to France

 

The United States, on the other hand, was beefing up its own intelligence arm, the Office of Strategic Services, or OSS, which had little presence in France. The Americans required Hall, but Nazis were everywhere, making her job much more difficult.

 

In 1944 and 1945, Hall’s second tour in France was even more successful than the first. She ordered airdrops for the resistance fighters, who detonated bombs and destroyed railways. Villages were recaptured long before Allied forces marched deep into France. Hall’s network grew to 1,500 people at its peak, including a French-American soldier named Paul Goillot, who would later become her husband.

 

She relocated frequently, took numerous aliases, and used techniques unique to her character while working with the OSS. Gestapo and Nazi sympathisers were on the lookout for suspected spies as D-Day approached, and she was the most wanted. Hall pretended to be a milkmaid, dressed in ancient, flimsy clothes and bleached her naturally brown hair grey. During the day, she worked as a farmer in secret, and at night, she ran resistance missions. During some of the contacts, German troop movements and information were exchanged, while others included airdrops to the Maquis. Hall put the parachutes in a donkey cart and handled the supplies to obscure the evidence of the drops from adjacent surveillance teams.

 

And what did Hall say about the war? She never talked about it.

 

Both the British and the French privately acknowledged Hall’s assistance. President Harry Truman intended to honour Hall with a public ceremony at the White House. Hall declined, stating that she preferred to stay anonymous. The Distinguished Service Cross was awarded to Hall by William Donovan, the OSS chief, making her the only civilian woman to win one during WWII. The only outsider at the wedding was Hall’s mother.

 

Hall subsequently went on to serve for the newly founded CIA, which succeeded the OSS, for 15 years, largely at the headquarters. These were not her most joyful days. She thrived on the adrenaline rush of acting on her own in the field during a battle. She was now mostly confined to a desk. Hall left the company in 1966 and never spoke publicly again. Her tale was kept hidden from the public until she died in Maryland in 1982. Much of her World War II work is still classified. Virginia’s bag radio, British ID, and several personal files are on display at the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC.

 

She rarely spoke of her wartime work, saying, “Many of my friends were killed for talking too much.”

 

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Who rules Pakistan – Army, Prime Minister, or Money Lenders like China and USA?

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Pakistani military establishment has always been an issue concerning the State’s democratic outlook. While most democracies in the world have a dedicated body of bureaucrats and auditors to handle projects regarding finance and development, Pakistan observes a tad different mechanism. For instance, new legislation was passed in the Pakistan National Assembly in 2020 to create a China Pakistan Economic Corridor Authority that would be controlled by the Pakistan Army rather than the civilian bureaucracy. This creation of an army-run supranational authority mining bilateral relations with that of a nation like China makes it increasingly difficult to ascertain whether the country conforms to an army rule or not. Nations like India that are accustomed to the way of Pakistani Military’s operations in bureaucratic and diplomatic affairs have always shrugged their shoulders and hoped for the best. But now, since China and Pakistan share an exceedingly intimate relationship with the former pouring huge chunk of money and loaning resources to the latter, it would not be wrong to say that Pakistan is fueled by Chinese money which is certainly bad news for India. Since all of the basic operations are believed to be powered by China, needless to say, China just bought an army, with a State attached.

Military involvement in Governance and Bureaucracy

It is no longer a concealed fact that major administerial positions and offices are victims of continuous military dominance. The military dominion has led army men, both serving and retired to have comfortable posts in Pakistan’s bureaucracy. Even democratically elected leaders like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto paved the way for appointing army men to some 83 posts at various levels. The former President Zia-ul-Haq went a step further and gave his assent to creating a Defense Services Selection Board to bring in-service officers into his government. Even under the tenure of General Pervez Musharraf brought in officers at every level, playing on the general presumption that the average military officer is better than his civilian counterpart. v

It was only the Imran Khan cabinet and tenure that dispraised the involvement of military officers in civilian posts. However, mere expressions of displeasure and disappointment lead to no substantial consequences. Excerpts of many government entities controlled by army men are still reported. Incidentally, Pakistan International Airlines is headed by an Air Marshall, heads of the Naya Pakistan Housing and Development Authority include a Major General and a Brigadier, five federal ministers are closely linked to the military including Interior Minister Brigadier Ejaz Shah, the chairman of Port Qasim Authority is a retired Rear Admiral, and the Water and Power Development Authority is led by a retired Lt. Gen. The army forces and their allocations in the bureaucratic and diplomatic circuit are undeterred as of now. Especially since the departments are oiled by the Chinese Funds.

Time and again new legislations have been introduced in Parliament facilitating the military to fill up bureaucratic positions leading to political power erosion. For instance, Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) is no longer under the control of the Prime Minster’s office as the government feels that the matter is too trivial for the chair’s attention. Furthermore, the amendment of the Anti-Money Laundering Act 2010, ostensibly to satisfy the Financial Action Task Force enabling it to arrest without warrant empowering the investigating agencies manifold, with the sole intent to pressurize the opposition leaders into submission. The new internet censorship laws further elaborate on this narrative. Giving the State, unfettered powers to decide what construes as ‘extremism’ and ‘objectionable’ and later translating these brackets into arrests of major personalities such as Shakil ur Rehman, has ensured that the media stays silent during this power struggle. Ultimately, Parliament virtually caged, usually vocal and durable media tamed, and social media censored. Not much freedom is left in the state to channel the paper-inscribed ‘democracy’ on the ground, conditions akin to China.

Military Involvement in National Level Infrastructure

Dwelling deeper into the fine print, one would find that Pakistan owes almost its entire infrastructure to the Frontier Works Organization (FWO) again commanded and controlled by Major General. The organization is supposed to have an estimated annual income of $3.8 million with 56 companies attached to its name. The FWO is involved in building thermal and hydel power stations, airfields, and even major contributions to building and maintaining the Pakistan railways. Gold and copper mining further adds to the diversified portfolio. The revenues incurred by these are used to aid various corporate houses which are the outsourcers for these projects. Needless to say, these corporate houses are often run by politicians through their tertiary relatives and allies.

Along with infrastructural development, logistics and communications operations form another important parcel of the Army caravan. The National Logistics Cell managed by the Army has 6,500 civilians mostly retired servicemen managing more than 2000 heavy-duty vehicles. Furthermore, the Special Communications Organizations which recently completed the Pakistan-China Optical Fiber Cable project are also entirely run by the army.

Imran Khan’s Sacking a Statement?

The recent ousting of Imran Khan as Prime Minister has also ruffled some feathers as to whether the power really lies at the center. Historically, when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was elected the PM in 1973 and launched a brutal army operation in Baluchistan in 1977 which led to major bloodshed in the country, he was deposed by General Zia-ul-Haq in a coup on the pretext of increased violence. Bhutto was later convicted for the murder of a political opponent and went to the gallows.

Zia assumed the office as a consequence of the coup and passed on some controversial provisions including dissolving the National Assembly and calling Pakistan a Sunni Islamist state. However, he had to call for elections under international pressure and selected Muhammad Khan Junejo as the next Prime Minister. However, the amendments made by Zia naturally weakened the powers of the ones in the cabinet and hence by virtue, the PM as well. Contrasting to what Zia expected from Junejo, the latter refused to accept the Army Chief’s orders like signing the Geneva Accords which later translated to the conflict in Afghanistan.

As a result, Zia again dissolved the parliament and dismissed Junejo from his Prime Ministerial ship. Democracy returned to Pakistan with Benazir Bhutto assuming office but her tenure also saw a brief timeline. It was again in 1997 when Democracy started tracing its steps back to Army rule when Nawaz Sharif appointed General Parwez Musharraf as the Army Chief. Their unified alliance launched many army operations against India including the Kargil war. However, despite their good bond, Sharif executed a failed attempt to oust Musharraf while he was on a flight. The government attesting to Nawaz’s intentions refused to let the Army Chief’s plane land. As a result, the army moved in swiftly, dethroned Sharif’s government and Musharraf assumed office and ruled Pakistan in 2007.

Imran Khan mirrors Nawaz Sharif as the former is also a political creature of the army. The then army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa and his close relation with Imran Khan-led to the latter’s instatement as the Prime Minister. However, the bond between the two led to deterioration in 2021 because of Khan’s shambolic governance, rampant inflation, and unemployment as the accusations undermined the army’s own standing. Furthermore, Khan’s visit to Russia during the Russia-Ukraine war was the final nail in the coffin which led to the opposition submitting the no-confidence motion, and Imran Khan was finally ousted on April 10. This, again affirms that Pakistan and its leaders in the Union are mere puppets at the hands of the army.

Conclusion

In addition to the aforementioned revenue sources and associated projects, the Pakistan Army has some 50 large businesses including sugar mills and stud farms, all forming a nice packet of money for the boys in uniform. With Pakistan slowly conforming to army rule, Beijing and even the US are delighted as firstly, it is easier to deal with one man in uniform rather than a squabbling mess of politicians. Secondly, China already has huge monetary investments in Pakistan and therefore, strong relations with the army would only mean more territorial nexus and manpower at the time of war. Thirdly, the US and its sharp sense of realism and a firm belief that the army is the guardian of national interest would make up for the better influence of Pakistan in the international circuit.

 

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Battle off Samar: Pivotal Moment of Naval History

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The United States and the Imperial Japanese Empire were at war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The Campaign for the Philippines was one of the most important of these wars; many battles were fought during this campaign, the most notable of which was the Battle of Leyte Gulf. This fight was actually a series of conflicts fought at the same time, with the Battle of Samar being the most important of them all. The US was prepared to land troops on the island of Leyte, while the Japanese were plotting an attack on Admiral Halsey’s American fleet. Admiral Kurita’s centre force was the major force in this attack. The main American fleet would be drawn away by a separate northern force, leaving the island of Leyte vulnerable to attack. Only a tiny destroyer task force known as Taffy three stood in the way of the centre force. The Yamato, the Japanese centre force’s only ship, weighed more than the combined weight of Taffy’s three battleships. To win the war, the Americans would rely on pure bravery and steel balls.

 

The Battle off Samar

 

On the morning of October 25, 1944, a young Electrician’s Mate from Southern California stood on the flight deck, scanning the horizon for a Japanese fleet approaching his Task Force, Taffy 3, from a distance of 20 miles, as reported by the St. Lo’s antisubmarine patrol. The Japanese Admiral Takeo Kurita’s strong force of four battleships, eight cruisers, and 12 destroyers had just intercepted Bethard’s St. Lo and the rest of Taffy 3. On paper, the incoming Japanese fleet’s six escort carriers, three destroyers, and four destroyer escorts were no match for the approaching Japanese fleet.

 

Despite this, the antisubmarine patrol deployed by Bethard’s St. Lo, armed only with depth charges, began an attack on the incoming enemy fleet’s lead elements. Under heavy antiaircraft fire, the American aircraft withdrew without causing any damage.

 

On the horizon, Bethard could see Japanese antiaircraft fire, and not long after, he heard the report of big naval weapons. At a range of 17 miles, the Japanese super battleship Yamato, the world’s largest warship, opened fire with her 18-inch main armament. The massive enemy shells began splattering about St. Lo and other American ships soon after. Huge splashes sprang up along the American ships’ wakes, vibrantly coloured with dye.

 

Knowing that a single hit from an enemy battleship could sink his small escort carrier, the commander of St. Lo manoeuvred his ship into and out of rain squalls to disguise his ship from Japanese range finders on battleships and cruisers getting increasingly closer. St. Lo bobbed and dodged amid the deluge of enemy shells, managing to launch all of her planes and strike back at the German fleet. Bethard sought refuge in the ship’s upper works, believing the Japanese were attempting to sink the flight deck and that he would be safe there. He could see the opposing ships’ fire and the gigantic battleship shells as they ripped through the air from his vantage point. “Out of the corner of my eye, here comes three, three big ole shells that went barely over the bow,” Bethard recalled. They were so close that one of the shell casings flopped over on our deck and shook there for a bit.”

 

The Japanese force began to close in 90 minutes after the combat began. The fight intensified as the range between ships moved closer, allowing the American destroyers to begin fire. Taffy 3’s valiant American destroyers and destroyer escorts closed in on their adversary and sparred at terrifyingly close range, often as near as 5,000 yards.

 

The destroyer Johnston (DD-557), commanded by Captain Ernest Evans, sped to flank speed, pulled full left rudder, and assaulted the Japanese at roughly 7:00 a.m. The Johnston was able to rake the larger Japanese cruiser Kumano with gunfire and score three torpedo hits, which blew the Japanese vessel’s bow off and just missed the battleship Kongo. As Johnston drew away from the befuddled Japanese cruiser force, she was hit by at least two 18-inch Yamato rounds, which slowed the ship significantly. Captain Evans, undeterred, ordered his little ship back into the fray and engaged at least eight enemy ships for over 60 minutes before his destroyer was mortally wounded by hostile gunfire. As the Johnston came to a halt, she was encircled by her adversary, who battered her until the order to abandon ship was given. Captain Evans was among the 186 crew members who perished when the brave little ship went down. Evans would be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions as commander of the Johnston. According to survivors floating in the ocean, the Japanese destroyer Yukikaze’s captain could be seen saluting the sinking American destroyer as she sailed by.

 

The majority of Taffy 3 was able to escape thanks to the activities of the Johnston and the courageous sacrifices of the crews of the destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413), as well as the destroyers Heermann (DD-532) and Hoel (DD-533). The Japanese retreated, believing they had run into the majority of the American fleet due to the severity of the destroyer and destroyer escorts’ defence. Sailors on the surviving American ships exhaled a sigh of relief as the Japanese moved away. However, St. Lo’s ordeal was about to begin.

 

The Return of the Japanese Fleet

 

The Japanese A6M5 Zero fighter arrived, part of the Shikishima Special Attack Unit, a special Japanese task group. The first designated kamikaze unit of the war was this special attack unit. Taffy 3’s escort carriers were subjected to a ferocious kamikaze bombardment over the following 40 minutes. The new and terrifying weapon damaged several escort carriers, including Bethard’s St. Lo.

 

The Japanese Zero that Bethard noticed approaching his ship was carrying a bomb, which it detonated before colliding with the St. Lo flight deck. “The bomb passed through our hardwood flight deck and exploded in the hangar deck,” says the narrator. We blew ourselves apart from there because we were gassing up planes, bombs out, no real protection, fire…the torpedo bay blew.”

 

The extreme heat of the initial explosions of both the Japanese bomb and the suicide plane rocked St. Lo, causing her aircraft ammunition to cook-off. Despite this, her crew remained adamant about putting out the fires and saving their ship. Following the first explosion, a second explosion blasted through the ship, “followed in a couple of seconds by a far more intense explosion, which rolled back a part of the flight deck…,” according to the after-action report. The second powerful explosion ripped more of the flight deck apart, as well as blowing the elevator shaft out of its shaft.” St. Lo had reached the end of his journey.

 

When Bethard was ordered to abandon ship, he dragged himself down a line over the starboard side and into the water. Another explosion occurred as he swam away from the ship, allowing water to flow into the escort carrier’s innards. St. Lo began to settle towards the stern, gently listing port before capsizing and sinking, earning the distinction of becoming the first American ship to be sunk by a kamikaze attack. Sadly, St. Lo would not be the only ship to succumb to the “divine wind” before the war ended.

 

Orville swam as far as he could from St. Lo before being picked up by the destroyer escort Dennis (DE-405), one of 746 survivors from an 889-man crew. Orville returned to Southern California after the war, married, had two kids, and graduated from USC with a degree in engineering in 1956. Bethard died in the year 2012.

 

Bethard’s ship, St. Lo, languished undiscovered for nearly 75 years off the shore of the Philippine island of Samar. On May 14, 2019, that changed. Bethard’s ship was discovered lying upright 4,376 metres beneath the surface of the Philippine Sea by investigators aboard Paul G. Allen’s Research Vessel Petrel. When you view her, you can see her battle scars: pieces of her hull have been torn out by explosions, her flight deck has a huge hole, and some of her antiaircraft armament is scattered on the seafloor. Despite this, she sits defiantly and proudly on her keel.

The Consequences

 

The battle’s aftermath was instantly apparent. The Japanese would never be able to conduct any significant naval operations again. The majority of the Japanese ships involved in the conflict would remain stranded in dry dock until the Battle of Okinawa, where the Yamato would be sunk. The US successfully invaded the island of Leyte, and they would eventually take over the remainder of the Philippines. This would open the way for the engagements of Iwo Jima and Okinawa on the Japanese mainland. The United States would have total command over the Pacific Ocean. The conflict also exposed the Japanese ships’ and naval officer corps’ flaws, including a lack of fire control systems, sloppy construction, inferior building materials, and inadequate ammunition. Rigidity, inadequate training, lack of awareness, lack of cohesiveness, and lack of logistical planning would be highlighted as Japanese officers’ flaws. The US was fortunate not to have suffered a disastrous defeat; Admiral Halsey was widely chastised for leaving the island of Leyte undefended, and Taffy three would be awarded a presidential unit commendation for courage during the combat.

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