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 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.
When a Chinese Spy Balloon Made UFOs, a Matter of Grave Concern
A year back, if someone told you that they spotted a “mysterious looking, white, balloon-shaped object” in the sky…you would have probably rubbished it, right? But what about today…how would you react to a news of ‘mysterious balloons in the sky’? With a lot of concern, I presume…and rightly so! In this article we have discussed the incident of Chinese Spy Balloon aka Unidentified Flying Object.
From January 28 to February 4 this year, a giant white balloon was sighted across various parts of the North American airspace. This balloon, that was said to have traveled across South Korea, Japan, Alaska, Canada, and the contiguous United States, was later accepted by the Chinese government to be one of theirs – a Chinese ‘Meteorological’ Balloon that had drifted off-course due to the westerlies.
“The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes. Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course.”
– Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson’s Remarks on the Spy Balloon on 03 Feb 2023
But the American and Canadian intelligence services had different opinions – they claimed that the balloon was an instrument of surveillance which were endangering peace and security of these nations. On February 3, USA’s Department of Defense reported that a second Chinese balloon was flying over Latin America, which China also claimed as its own. Following orders from U.S. President Joe Biden, the US Air Force shot down the balloon on February 4 in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South Carolina.
But peace was not restored. The spy balloon incident has opened the pandora’s box and the intelligence agencies now find themselves thinking on many fronts.
Before we dive into this, let’s talk about China’s “Civil-Military Fusion” program, under with such emerging technology is being developed.
China’s National Strategy of Civil-Military Fusion (CMF)
“China encourages joint building and utilization of military and civilian infrastructure, joint exploration of the sea, outer space and air, and shared use of such resources as surveying and mapping, navigation, meteorology and frequency spectra. Accordingly, military and civilian resources can be more compatible, complementary and mutually accessible.”
– China’s Military Strategy, May 2015
To fulfill the Chinese goal of becoming a “world class military” by 2049, the Chinese government accelerated its program of CMF in 2015. Under this program, advanced technologies like Quantum Computing, AI, Big Data, nuclear, space and near-space technologies would be developed by exploiting both civilian and military capabilities. The importance of this Military Civilian Development Program can be identified by the fact that the President of the country, Xi Jinping, himself controls and oversees its progress.
But why has the CCP government opted for this civilian-owned militarily empowered program? The reason is quite simple –
If Caught – The government has the option to claim innocence by citing civilian–error and proving that there is no relation to the government or military.
If Successful – The government successfully has access to the sensitive data of adversary and may weaponize this information as and when required for their benefit.
Now let’s take another look at the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson’s Remarks on the Spy Balloon –
“The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes.”
There should be no doubt that China’s recent ‘meteorological’ balloons are a by-product of it’s Civilian-Military Fusion program. The claim that the balloon’s purpose was to spy on military installations in the Pacific region, cannot and should not be swiftly rejected.
In the past few weeks, the North American Aerospace Defense Command has shot down four objects, and there are rumors of another balloon floating over the Middle East. What was once claimed to be a “civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes”, is now recognized as a component of a vast surveillance program.
Regardless of the quantity or caliber of the balloon’s data gathered while flying over the United States, the controversy surrounding it has grown into an international incident, with multiple claims of similar “UFO” sightings all over the world – Japan, India, Taiwan, Colombia and list goes on.
What damage could the China’s Spy Balloon inflict on the countries? Should we be bothered?
Let’s answer the 2nd question first, should the spying balloon matter to us?
YES, it definitely should.
It is no surprise that most members of Generation Z are unconcerned about data privacy, since they are so accustomed to being watched. In fact, a prevailing thought during a discussion about the balloon was, “Oh, the U.S. probably has comparable programs in China.” The idea of a foreign competitor power gathering surveillance data on them therefore doesn’t seem that terrifying to young people since.
But, let’s not forget this balloon was flying over the country’s military areas, significant bases and important sites.
Now let’s come to the first question, what is the extent of damage that this balloon could cause? – Well, for this we leave you with two opinions to deliberate and make your own judgement.
First, the chances of electronic surveillance to identify and possibly disrupt sensitive military communications cannot be ruled out at all. Second, is the possibility of cyber espionage or sabotage. With the cyber-skills and hacker army available with China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), it is a possible that this ‘balloon-voyage’ was a mere precursor to a full-fledged hybrid war. Third, the spy balloon could be a test, aimed to establish the reaction ability and potential of intelligence agencies worldwide.
Human brain is wired in a way to look at a shocking event with fear and assume that worst has happened. Therefore, had the Chinese diplomat in USA immediately met POTUS to explain China’s position and taken strict (and public) against the civilian owners of this balloon, the matter would have been resolved peacefully without USAF interference. Diplomatic dialogue, should have been China’s response, and not escalating the situation with threats – let’s be clear ‘cold-war’ scenario, does more damage than good.
What’s Next For China & USA Relations?
Chinese spy balloon illegal intrusion into USA’s airspace has further deteriorated relations between the two countries. With Secretary of State Antony Blinken indefinitely postponing his trip to China, all prospects for a detente between the two superpowers seems to be eliminated.
The incident has also heightened tensions and has accelerated alliance formation, not very different from the pre-Cold war era of USA and USSR!
“I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I’ll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be.”
The Story of Operation Vijay: India’s Triumph in Kargil
In the summer of 1999, oxygen-starved heights of the Srinagar – Kargil – Leh highway, echoed with the sound of gunfire as India and Pakistan engaged in one of their most significant military confrontations. After militants and the Pakistan army infiltrated Kashmir, the Indian army launched Operation Vijay to retake its territory, which is how the ‘Kargil War’ came to be known.
Indo-Pak Relations in the Late 90s and Development From Pakistan
During the late 1990s, the relationship between India and Pakistan was moving towards a belligerent atmosphere due to the separatist activities in Kashmir, backed by Pakistan and the nuclear testing of both countries in 1998. Then the late Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee signed the Lahore Doctrine in February 1999 with Pak PM Nawaz Sharif, hoping it will usher in an era of peace and tranquillity.
However, in the Army HQ at Rawalpindi, Gen Pervez Musharaff with General Ehsan Ul Haq, General Aziz Khan, Mahmood Ahmad and Shahid Aziz were planning to stealthily capture the NH 1A in Kargil, chocking the communication to Leh and Siachin and break them apart from mainland India, in an operation named as Operation Badr.
On the Indian front due to extreme weather and in line with the directives of the Shimla Agreement, Indian troops were forced to vacate their post. And that’s exactly what Pakistan army was waiting for!!
Unbeknown to the Indian Army, the General Musharaff’s Army had made plans to violate the Shimla Agreement and unilaterally break the momentary peace that had been established by diplomacy. Musharraf had ensured that his professional soldiers and sponsored mercenaries were ready for a sly attack on India.
Retaliation by the Indian Army: Operation Vijay
On 3rd May a local shepherd witnessed suspicious activities and reported them to the authorities. On further reconnaissance, the suspicion was confirmed and several rangers were sent to look into the matter. On the 5th of May, five of the army rangers were captured by the enemy. They were tortured, mutilated and later killed by the Pak army subsequently breaking the Geneva rules for war prisoners. Heavy shelling by the Pakistani army on 9th May destroyed the ammunition depots in Kargil, resulting in the loss of estimated 173 crores on a single day. The enemies captured and established a stronghold on four prominent stations of the Kargil district, i.e., Mushkoh, Dras, Kaksar and Batalik sub-sector. From then on Indian Army moved its troop from Kashmir and other places to the Kargil district and officially started ‘Operation Vijay’ on 19th May. This operation was assisted by ‘Operation Safed Sagar’ from the Indian Air force and ‘Operation Talwar’ Indian Navy.
On June 1 Pakistani Army began heavy shelling operations on the NH 1 of Srinagar to Leh. This was also the day when USA and France declared Pakistan responsible for the military conflict in India. On the 5th of June India released a dossier revealing the Pakistan army’s involvement backed by documents recovered from the captured and dead soldiers. On June 6 the Indian army began offensive ground operations. On 9th June Indian Army recaptured a key position in the Batalik sector.
India released intercepts of conversations between Gen. Pervez Musharraf (on a visit to China) and Aziz Khan (in Rawalpindi) as proof of the Pakistan Army’s involvement in the infiltrations on June 11. After two days on the 13th Indian PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Kargil. On the same day, the army secured Tololing in Dras after a fierce battle with Mujahedeen militias. US President Bill Clinton urged then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif to immediately pull all Pakistani troops and irregulars out from Kargil on 15th June. Two days later on the 17th of June the task of capturing Point 5140, a strategically important mountain peak in the Dras sector, was assigned to 13 JAK Rifle.
After a fierce 3 days battle on the early morning of 20th Point 5140 was recaptured by Lieutenant Colonel Yogesh Kumar Joshi with Bravo Company, under the command of Lieutenant Sanjeev Singh Jamwal, and Delta Company, under the command of Lieutenant Vikram Batra. The Delta company was tasked with taking control of Point 4700 in the Drass sector on June 28, which could only be accomplished if the enemy observation post on the cliff could be destroyed. Captain Sumeet Roy, the second in command, led a section out during the night via a covered approach. He arrived just below the observation station and continued to track enemy activities until 2:00 am on June 29. Then, with complete disregard for his safety, he got into a violent hand-to-hand fight with the enemy and took control of the observatory, taking control of Point 4700.
On 4th July three Indian regiments (Sikh, Grenadiers and Naga) engaged elements of the remaining Pakistani Northern Light Infantry regiment in the Battle of Tiger Hill. The Indian forces used unexpected, and therefore difficult, avenues of approach, maintaining the element of surprise and recaptured the region after more than 12 hours of fighting.
By this time the Pakistani side which had already suffered huge losses under the might of Indian military , now also had to face a massive loss and growing international pressure. On 5th July after the Indian Army had taken control of the Dras sector, Pakistan’s PM Nawaz Shariff announced the withdrawal of forces from Indian regions. However, some rouge forces along with several militants were still engaging in the war and atrocities against locals….and so the war continued.
‘Operation Vijay’ was a great success.
The Aftermath of the Kargil War
The official death toll of the war on the Indian side was 527. Meanwhile, the casualty figure on the Pakistani side is said to be 453. Pakistan refused to claim the dead bodies of its soldiers, which were later buried as per rituals respectfully by the Indian Army.
Pakistan was heavily criticised by other countries as well as its allies. Ex President of USA Clinton wrote in his biography that “Sharif’s moves were perplexing” since the Indian Prime Minister had travelled to Lahore to promote bilateral talks aimed at resolving the Kashmir problem and “by crossing the Line of Control, Pakistan had wrecked the [bilateral] talks”. Pakistan also tried to internationalise the Kashmir issue by linking it to Kargil conflict, however it found few backer in global stages in later years. The Indian Army was given a political directive that the line of control will not be crossed. The G8 nations supported India due to this and condemned Pakistan for crossing the LoC.
On the 14th of July Indian PM Vajpayee finally declared ‘Operation Vijay’ a success and conditions for talk with Pakistan were set by Indian Government. The Kargil war saw the most contribution from the young soldiers. And therefore to commemorate the ones who lost their lives in this war, every year India celebrates 26th July as Kargil Vijay Divas.
VR in Military Training – The future of Military is here!
A brand-new field of transdisciplinary research known as virtual reality (VR) is quickly taking shape. Its application has expanded beyond academic study in recent years, and the industry is now making large expenditures in this area for research and producing numerous VR-based goods. Many different industrial sectors, including information technology, biomedical engineering, structural design, and training aids technology, are investing in this technology. The military industry, constantly searching for innovative ideas, is slowly but surely becoming one of the most prominent investors in VR. Read more to know the advantages of VR in military training.
The Concept of Virtual Reality
Virtual reality (VR) has its roots in science fiction books and essays, just like many other scientific discoveries. With the development of a device called Sensorama, which essentially was a game providing the player a sense of riding a motorcycle on the streets, the first VR experience occurred in 1962. Morton Heilig, a professional cameraman, devised this. He wanted to create a virtual experience that would include all five senses. Since then, VR has primarily established itself in the entertainment industry, especially for creating video games and films. The virtual reality field is expanding significantly outside the entertainment sector and encompasses a wide range of concepts in the general technology realm. It may take more work to explain VR in precise words because of how involved this technology is.
Also Read: The Rise of the Metaverse
Effectiveness of Virtual Reality in Military
It is common knowledge that technology is crucial to any nation’s military effectiveness. The adoption of new and emerging technology promises to create a military force that is qualitatively superior and capable of combating both conventional and asymmetrical threats. The main uses of VR in defense and security are to enhance officer and soldier training and to simulate military missions and operations
Advantages of Using VR in Military Training
1. Despite reductions in the national defense budget, it is a workable, affordable alternative. Indeed, unlike live training, virtual training doesn’t call for using actual weapons and supplies. The introduction of technological and doctrinal changes in the armed forces is addressed by military concepts like the revolution in military affairs (RMA), which are dynamic. Numerous new RMA technologies have been introduced in the armies due to a recent transformation in the information and communication technology (ITC) industry. Incorporating the byproducts of various technological advances like nanotechnology, biotechnology, robotics, cognitive sciences, and a few others into military strategy is a practice of modern militaries. Military technologies use various computer simulations of systems to perform operations on the simulated system and demonstrate the impacts in real-time.
2. Military personnel can engage in various simulations with VR without incurring related costs, drastically cutting training budgets. Virtual reality (VR) may immerse a learner in multiple settings, circumstances, or scenarios. It can impart knowledge, develop skills, and offer a priceless experience that will be helpful in the real world. Without incurring the related real world flight fees, trainees might use virtual reality to simulate a parachute drop and become more conscious of the sensation and disorientation of jumping from an airplane. They can be put in fighter jets, submarines, tanks, or armored vehicles to feel confined spaces. To learn how to recognise enemy soldiers or search for IEDs, they can be thrown into the middle of a real battle zone or taken on a patrol through a risky area.
3. It is helpful to gain context and locational awareness of scenarios that are challenging to duplicate without incurring a considerable cost when engaging in novel places and activities for the first time, such as a jungle boat invasion or an ice expedition. Additionally, VR can be used more passively to treat PTSD or provide recruits with a virtual “boot camp” experience to help them settle into military life more swiftly and with less fear.
4. Military educators can tailor the information presented to learners by using VR headsets to create a variety of training scenarios. Using straightforward web browser controls, trainers may build unique content from real-world footage and offer it to individuals or groups using the VR portal, which allows the upload and transmission of any 360-degree image or video. The technology enables headsets to be standalone devices that don’t need to be physically connected to PCs, allowing the wearer to walk around without restriction negating the need for a network or wireless connection.
5. VR can be used in the recovery process for post-traumatic stress disorder. It is feasible to create the traumatizing incident while maintaining the subject’s utmost safety, allowing him to relive the event in virtual reality and conquer his phobias (ibid). Virtual reality simulation is a crucial component of military training applied across many military domains. For instance, it may replicate any vehicle, simulating modern ground vehicles to give soldiers a sense of how they move and look. Additionally, it allows soldiers to practice playing any position they would have on that vehicle, such as a driver or gunner.
Although VR won’t replace live training, virtual training will play a more significant part in the military training industry. It can aid warriors in developing experience and situational awareness while decreasing training costs and raising training safety.
World Must Fear India’s INS Vikrant version 2.0 – Here’s Why
The year 2022 has been quite eventful for Indian Navy – however among the various accomplishments of Navy this year, one stands out as the most significant – commissioning of INS Vikrant. This addition to the naval fleet signals not only the growing prowess of Indian shipbuilding and manufacturing industry, but most importantly it adds a layer of strategic-security. But as is true with all things of significance, INS Vikrant’s induction too comes with some very animated discussions.
INS Vikrant, the Original Beast
For any Indian with even a remote interest in defence and security, it’s impossible to not be familiar with India’s first aircraft carrier, a Majestic-class ship purchased from the British and christened INS Vikrant.
The aircraft carrier saw major action during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War where it ensured successful blockade of East Pakistan, thereby preventing the mass escape of Pakistan army and a successful capture of 93000 POWs. Proving its worth as an outstanding asset that wasn’t only effective in a combined tri-service campaign but was significant in providing mobility and access, the original INS Vikrant sealed India’s position as a mighty naval power of the Indian Ocean Region.
India’s First Indigenous Aircraft Carrier – INS Vikrant version 2.0
As a tribute to the previous/original INS Vikrant, the Indian Navy commissioned the country’s first ever indigenous aircraft carrier with the same name and motto as the predecessor. The new INS Vikrant will strengthen the country’s standing as a ‘Blue Water Navy’ — a maritime force with global reach and capability to operate over deep seas…She will be the proverbial spear, whose shining tip is her package of fighter aircraft that operate from its deck for various offensive missions.
The induction and reincarnation of Vikrant is not only another step towards strengthening our defence preparedness, but also our humble tribute to the sacrifices made by our freedom fighters for the Independence of the nation and our brave soldiers during the 1971 war.
– Indian Navy
As is the case in any democracy, the entry of Vikrant into active service has been accompanied by some debates. One such vigorous discussions is about which fighter will India and her Navy select as an interim arrangement to fly from the deck of INS Vikrant – the French Rafale or the American F18 E/F Hornets. And while the discussions are part of a healthy democracy, one thing is for certain – the Indian Navy urgently requires fighter aircraft to operate from INS Vikrant.
Quest for an Indigenous Fighter Aircraft
The Indian Navy’s quest for an indigenous fighter aircraft goes back to 1986 when the Navy had sought concurrent development of a naval fighter aircraft along with the IAF programme as a replacement for the Sea Harriers by 2005. This has a precedence. If we see all successful deck-based aircraft around the world such as F-4, F-14, F-18, Rafale and F-35, they were first designed for the Navy and then modified for shore-based operations and not vice-versa. (MiG 29K is the only aircraft converted from a shore-based MiG 29B.) However, since feasibility to develop a fighter aircraft exclusively for the Navy was ruled out due to the small numbers, the Navy agreed to consider the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), which were originally being developed for the Air Force.
With an understanding that the LCA would meet Navy’s qualitative requirements – like the wing design, identifying a suitable engine etc., the Navy has been actively supporting the N-LCA programme (Naval LCA programme) and has contributed not just a lion’s share of the cost but also provided specialised pilots for the programme. These mandatory customisations will need thorough research and development, but they promise successful and effective sorties and will also ensure the safety of naval personnel onboard.
But unfortunately, this comes at a cost – the necessary customisations were not able to meet the Indian Navy’s immediate requirement within the envisaged time frames. The Navy is left with no choice but to look for foreign procurement to meet the immediate threat from our adversaries.
Also Read: INS Vikrant – All You Need to Know
Foreign Procurement – Interim Answer to Navy’s Aircraft Shortage
Amidst the growing security challenges from China, who are now the largest and most rapidly expanding navy in the world, INS Vikrant gives a much-needed boost to our defense ecosystem.
After commissioning in September this year, the carrier is expected to shortly commence air operations. However, with the LCA under customization, the Navy was left with two choices – either wait for the N-LCA to be inducted by 2032 and let Vikrant sail without fighter aircraft or induct few foreign aircrafts till the LCA’s are in operation.
The Indian Navy chose the smart option – to fill the gap, Navy has decided to procure 26 foreign aircrafts to keep Vikrant combat ready. As per reports these will be either Boeing-manufactured F/A-18 Super Hornets or the Dassault-manufactured Rafale M fighter aircraft, both of which have been shortlisted after years of technical evaluation and operational demonstration for suitability of operating on our indigenous carrier.
Either way, this decision gives adequate time for development of the indigenous LCA (Navy) while ensures that Vikrant is ready and trained for combat.
It is often debated but widely agreed that an aircraft carrier is a military tool of tremendous operational capabilities, which can provide a country with military and diplomatic edge. While expensive to buy, it is ultimately less expensive and far more flexible (both militarily and politically) than deploying and sustaining land-based air assets to an available friendly host nation, and therefore well worth the investment. For a maritime country like like India, INS Vikrant when fully operational will not only be a proof of India’s technological proficiency but like its predecessor it will be a lethal weapon that every adversary would fear.
“Let people eat cake” says Pakistan Navy
In 1789 during yet another famine in France, the princess Marie Antoinette upon being told that the peasants had no bread, is said to have replied with frivolous disregard for the starving peasants with the words “Let them eat cake”. Today, the condition of the Pakistani citizens is quite similar to the French peasants of 1789.
The desperate economic conditions in Pakistan and the impact of floods has led the Finance Ministry to issue directives for implementing strict austerity measures for year 2022 – 2023. These measures aim to curtail operating expenditure and reduce the economic burden of the people.
However, it seems that these directives never reached their Navy.
Very recently, Pakistan Navy Ships Shamsheer and Nasr visited Yokosuka Port in Japan with an aim to participate in the International Fleet Review. In much contrast to the government verdict of “no unnecessary expenditure”, the visit was neither mandatory nor of importance. However much to the citizen’s dismay, neither the empty coffers nor the grave economic situation of the people seemed to deter the Navy from going on a tourism cum shopping spree.
Pakistan Navy Ships visit Yokosuka Port in Japan
In economically stable conditions, a Naval ship’s visit to a foreign port would have been welcomed by the citizens. However the economic burden posed by these activities have quadrupled the fear of a complete breakdown of society. While the cost of fuel for such a long voyage is in itself a huge deterrent, the fact that the ships will be stopping at almost five to seven countries during the futile passage, has made matters worse.
Monetary Implications of this cruise
Let’s look at the basic requirement of a naval voyage. The mandatory requirements include buying stores, fuel/lubricants, undertaking necessary repairs, paying the crew in international currency etc. But is this all? Definitely not. Each stop at a foreign port will require a mandatory interaction with the diplomats, exchange of gifts, parties with great pomp and show to announce the naval ships’ arrival, preparation of native cuisines etc.…The expenditure is definitely mind boggling.
Who is paying for this?
All this is paid through already depleting foreign reserves. Therefore understandably, if news of such frivolous expenditure, especially in these trying times were to reach the general public there would be a furore, and a well justified one. But Pakistan’s Navy has been clever, or at least it thinks it has been.
Where normally, all port visits are turned to a media circus by the Navy, this time not a single press release is available on the open media. Why? Because of a stringent gag order on issuing media bites by the government. The Navy has warned cruising ships to conduct events without the presence of press. The aim apparently is to prevent citizens from becoming aware of this trip to Japan. Pakistan’s naval commanders seem to be relying on their belief (definitely flawed and misguided) that – ordinary Pakistani citizen are like the proverbial ostrich with its head buried in the sand – what it cannot see, does not exist!
In today’s world where information travels faster than light – there are enough people who monitor everything. Which is why hiding the journey of two huge warships was definitely worthless. As soon as a local net-hawker identified the movement of the naval ships – the world and entire Pakistan was made aware of the secret journey. The Maverick could not outfox these people.
Frivolous Spending in Desperate Times
While one may still be able to find an excuse for Navy’s foreign visits, but what about the inflating expenditure on the procurement and projects, which are of no immediate importance? As pointed out by social media users a few days earlier, the Pakistan navy has been planning to procure four Frigates (each from Turkey and China), four to eight Corvettes (from the Netherlands), eight submarines (from China) and almost ten new aircraft for its maritime fleet.
Which brings a very interesting scenario to light – the huge lack of communication between the Pakistan’s government and its navy. On one hand the government has been insisting on cutting down operating costs and even travel/fuel usage by every ministry and service, but on the other, the Armed Forces are on a shopping spree. And whose money are these forces using? The question that the citizens of Pakistan need to ask is despite the mushrooming economic crisis, why is there a need to undertake such frivolous expenditure/cruises? And if they are really necessary, why the extra effort to hide it?
Many Pakistanis have already started asking such questions, a mass outcry is not far. And while the Pak armed forces especially its navy may pretend to be blissfully unaware of their countrymen’s plight, they must realize that secret voyages will not help the deplorable situation of their country and their fellow countrymen.
This article has been contributed by Commander Abhishek Rathi (Retd), Indian Naval Officer
Commander Abhishek Rathi (Retd) is a retired executive officer and holds an experience of commanding two naval warships. He has a keen interest in maritime history and technology. The officer is also an avid nature photographer and likes traveling all across India for it.
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