“The Blind Men of Hindostan”


Vice Admiral (retd.) Vijay Shankar

Valedictory Address Christ University, Bengaluru

Conference on Non-Traditional Security Threats 03 September 2016

Let me first declare what a singular honour it is for me to be here at the Christ University to deliver the valedictory address as the curtains come down on this conference on non-traditional security threats. I would be failing in my duty if I did not congratulate the galaxy of scholars and students who participated in the very lively debates, addresses and exchanges. Indeed the experience was stirring as it was humbling. Enriching for the wealth of knowledge that we so heartily partook of and humbling for the Odysseusian voyage that we undertake with the launch of this conference. I also want to give a hearty ‘shabash’ to the organizers who have done such an outstanding job in putting it all together with so much grace. I particularly want to congratulate students of the department of International Relations who have conducted the event with great verve, a hearty cheer to you, your vitality and your contagious effervescence.

In coming to grips with threats and challenges that confront a nation, the lines that demarcate traditional threats; by which I suppose is meant those that demand a military response, from non-traditional security threats is blurred. The confusion renders discernment problematic as one security threat morphs to the other. It also places leadership in a quandary as to what combination of tools from the State’s armoury of Comprehensive National Power would be most appropriate to confront it. The dilemma is analogous to a story in primary English text of my days titled “The Six Blind Men of Hindostan”. The tale is told of six blind men who visited a zoo. Coming upon an elephant each felt and sensed different parts of the pachyderm; the first wrapping his arms around a leg swore it was as the trunk of a tree; the second ran his fingers along the torso exclaimed, no it is like a wall; while the third holding the tail vouched it was more like a rope; the fourth stroking its head and feeling the swish of the elephants ear deposed, forsooth it’s like a fan; while the fifth and sixth grasped the tusk and the trunk and vowed it must be akin to a spear or related to a snake. But, as we know, the truth in its entirety is composed of the six vital elements that made the elephant. The same may be said of the various threats and challenges that speakers thus far addressed; each one’s subjective experience and indeed narrative is true, but it is inherently limited by the inability to account for the totality of truth, that is the elephant-of-state is an integrated whole of all those elements and the State can be destabilised by trauma to any one of them.

Contemporary history of the Anglo sphere has had disproportionate influence on structuring a world order and defining economic and societal values. Driven by the philosophic motivation of free will and a belief of liberal laws delivering what is best for mankind; it does not make an attempt to explain or seek a transformation to the dangerous inequities amongst nations, tyranny of the carbon economy, domination of military power or indeed the ‘emperor’ of challenges: Climate Change. The last, links and is intertwined with all other threats, traditional or non-traditional whether in the political, economic, demographic or military dimension. And therefore it is to Climate change that I shall focus your attention.

Amongst Mahatma Gandhi’s many pronouncements on the ills of mercantilism and industrial capitalism the one that was prophetic in its sweep and profundity were his lines written in December 1928 for Young India: “God forbid that India should ever take to industrialism in the manner of the West. If an entire nation of 300 million (sic) took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts.” Gandhi intuitively came to the conclusion that Industrialization was designed for inequity and an anarchic consumerist style of existence was untenable as we quickly emptied the innards of the planet. There is today no doubt that the climate predicament has been accelerated by the manner in which the lure of the carbon economy has evolved and its impious upshots has the world’s peoples finger prints on it. Its impact has broadened and intensified while its sway on politics and society comes at a time when politically the global perspective is more diffused and society blinkered in its uni-dimensional view of development. The November 1970 Bhola cyclone that hit the entire coast of erstwhile East Pakistan is one of the deadliest natural disasters of living memory; the official death toll was estimated at 500,000 but the number is likely to have been higher. Damages included destruction of approximately 20,000 fishing boats, property and crops. Total loss of cattle reached in excess of one million and more than 400,000 houses were destroyed. Maximum wind speed reached about 222 km/h while the storm surge was about 10.6 metres (never heard of before in recorded history of that region) which partially inundated the Sundarban island of Bhola, displacing millions setting into motion mass migrations the effects of which were political, military as well as demographic. The consequences are apparent even today. One of the chief causes of the disaster was global warming, melting ice-caps and rising sea levels; these are manifest in the increased periodicity of calamitous climate events and the scale of disasters.

There is another foundational problem that is linked to the system that we live and labour in; the Westphalian scheme of nation states (touched on by one of the speakers) is structured to channelize political energies towards nationality, sovereignty and the urge for domination rather than concentrating on new ideas to relieve and reconstitute the relationship between States such that uncertainty and turmoil that currently obtains is replaced by the larger reality of common destiny. The Peace of Westphalia (1648) established the precedent of a new system of political order in central Europe, based upon the concept of co-existing sovereign nations. Inter-state aggression was to be held in check by a balance of power. A norm was established against interference in another state’s domestic affairs. As European influence spread through imperial conquests and colonial domains, these Westphalian principles, especially the concept of sovereign states, became central to the prevailing world order. However the awkward irony is that these principles came into acceptance among and within what was essentially a cohesive religious entity “the holy Roman Empire.” We note today that these principles are at odds with the globalized world that we live in and perhaps the time has come when the Westphalian model itself requires a critical review for the ‘emperor-of-challenges’ is provoking man to think of an alternate way to exist. Here communications which can serve as the vehicle that catalysis the spread of new ideas of the larger reality has, unfortunately, found satiation in egocentric intrusiveness.

In this belligerent milieu of individual rights in a self-righteous state of confrontational flux against the nation and nations feeling the heat of relations within and without; illusions of a new world order emerging out of the ashes of the Cold War were quickly dispelled and found little use in understanding the realities. Some of the symptoms that have emerged are an increased and vicious securing of spheres of power and economic influence as exemplified by China in Africa and her claims to the South China Sea; the competition between autocracy and liberalism; an older religious struggle between radical Islam and secular cultures; and the inability to regulate the anarchic flow of technologies and information. As these struggles are played out the first casualty of the era is the still born hope of a benign and enlightened world order that comes together to face its common destiny. Sovereign democratic processes have feeble impact on the challenges ahead be it the carbon economy, climate events or in restructuring the system we live in. The reasons are amply clear for it is the spiritual nature of the quest for development to the exclusion of all else but the nation that blinkers political philosophy to things as they are rather than what they could be. So why has the political domain remained unaffected by the many crises that antagonize man? Is it myopia or a self-destruct lemming-like impulse?

Let me now yield the podium on an optimistic note; idealism is the exclusive right of youth; and it is to you that I commend the future. A future more benevolent, less bigoted, more tolerant and clear eyed about man’s common destiny and the philosophical passage from the individual to kinship.

The Scorpene’s Sting


Vice Admiral (retd.) Vijay Shankar

(This article was first published in The Wire, http://thewire.in/64410/the-scorpenes-sting/)

Submarines are anomic platforms of stealth, concealment and lethality. Each of these mortal attributes is integrated in the body of the weapon to form a very efficient and secretive marauder from the deep. The early years of deployment gave vent to some unsavoury remarks about the use of this weapon; most uncharitable was Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson’s outburst on the submarine: “…underhand…and damned un-English…treat all submarines as pirates…and hang all the crews.” But this perhaps echoed a visceral fear of the unknown rather than any sense of morality. A century later, the submarine’s tactical advantage remains its capability to use the medium to hide, to strike and then to hide again in waters that firstly complicates and then frustrates detection. To a target within its strike radius it continues to generate the same primeval anxiety that made Sir Arthur quiver.

To appreciate fully the impact of the more than 22,000 page leak of design parameters of the French Direction des Constructions Navales Services’  (DCNS, French naval defence company) Scorpene submarine being built in India for the Navy, one must first come to grips with the problem associated with combating modern conventional submarines such as the Scorpene. The aim of anti-submarine warfare (ASW) is to deny the enemy effective use of his submarines. This can be achieved by adopting tactical as well as material measures. The former is achieved through intelligence gathering, surveillance, detection and localising the submarine before destroying it with stand-off weapons that permit the hunter to remain out of the kill range of the submarine. It involves adopting doctrines for co-ordinated operations, setting up dispositions that inhibit freedom of submarine manoeuvre, and tactics that trap it into a ‘destruction-zone.’ Material undertakings, on the other hand, are largely driven by advances in technology that keep platform design, sensors and weapons in a progressive state of change that enhance effectiveness in ASW operations. Marriage of intelligence, efficient tactics and resourceful doctrines with capabilities of contemporary sensors and weapons lies at the core of successful anti-submarine operations. Within this framework, for intuitive foreknowledge to be confirmed by information leakage boosts both probabilities of submarine detection as well as kill.

Anti-submarine operations begin with establishing a submarine probability area. This area is based on intelligence or on inputs from wide area surveillance networks which include remote sensing satellites and sea-bed sensors; and indeed it may be based on electronic or capability indiscretions (surfacing, use of active sensors, communications etc.) of the target submarine. The search phase which involves a systematic and continuing investigation of the area then commences. The area may be demarcated to confirm the absence of a submarine or the search may be launched to locate and destroy it; in the latter instance it is centred on a datum that is based on the last or best known position of the target submarine. Choice of scouts is determined by search rate and degree of vulnerability to submarine counteraction; for obvious reasons ‘time-late’ at datum is a critical factor that can enlarge the search area to an extent when probability of detection diminishes geometrically as it follows an ‘inverse cube law.’ For this reason the preferred scouts for ASW are anti-submarine aircrafts using sensors such as sonars, sonobuoys, magnetic anomaly detectors, radar and infra-red sensors. Inherent in the detection concept is sensor ‘sweep width’ which uses a definite detection law—no probability of detection outside specified range capability, while targets within the specified range are detected with increasing probability. Clearly, successful operations are critically founded on knowledge of enemy capabilities, the specification of adversary weapons and sensors, combat systems, acoustic signature, magnetic profile, and infra-red characteristics. Thoroughness of search, technically termed as the ‘coverage factor,’ is heightened if operating parameters along with design features of the submarine are known.

 Planning an anti-submarine search is a complex craft. It is based on the search theory and the discipline of operations research, both of which were born at the same time and indeed share a common lineage: the necessity of securing the survival of allied naval shipping against submarine attacks during World War II. Passage of time has not changed the need, though ASW is conducted differently today than in World War II, search techniques used in ASW have potentially remained unchanged in concept, structure, and application. Where changes are apparent is in the use of advanced analysis methods and data processing systems using computers, wide area networks and data bases with provision for processing, identification and cueing located ashore. Target characteristics form an important consideration in modelling, for simulation and combat preparation. The first determination in planning and deploying ASW searchers is the probability of contact necessary for accomplishment of the mission from which is obtained the coverage factor. Armed with this and knowing the sweep width of the sensor to be used, scouts are disposed at mathematically determined spacing and move along computed tracks such that early detection is rapidly followed by localization and destruction. This theoretically is how ASW works, but in the real hydrosphere many factors remain unknown. ASW is a complicated warfare discipline, and proficiency can only develop through extensive simulation and training. Destroying a submarine is the hardest task in naval warfare; it can never be the submariners’ case to make this task easier.

Somewhere nestled in those 22k compromised pages, there is certainty of a small section that outlines the Scorpene’s operating “Tactical and Technical Parameters” which is the distillate of all those many thousand folios. And herein lies the rub. We have noted in previous paragraphs (at some length) the various considerations that go into an adversary mounting a search, localizing and then prosecuting a submarine and how ready availability of specifications that answer these considerations largely increases the efficiency of the search-and-destroy operations. They in addition provide critical inputs required for computer modelling and simulating the manoeuvring and operating characteristics of the Scorpene. All this simplifies classification and confirmation of a detected contact. Even to the uninitiated reader it must now be substantially clear that what has been provided on a platter is the ability to generate a computer based virtual reconstruction of the vessel. This ‘cybernetic Scorpene’ can be played with over and over again on a simulator in a variety of hydrological and meteorological scenarios till sensor operators and tacticians gain a very high degree of proficiency in recognizing and fingerprinting the noise, magnetic, electromagnetic and infra-red signatures under all conditions of machinery loading across the entire spectrum of speeds and operating depths. So now the question that begs to be answered is: has the Scorpene lost its sting?

 Investigations are currently in progress to establish just how the leak occurred and to what ends the information found its way to the public domain. There is no clarity why the leak took the tortuous route of passing from the hand of a “disgruntled” DCNS employee through two unknown South East Asian agencies where a fourth hand is alleged prior to falling into the disc drive of the associate editor of The Australian from where it cascaded into the public domain. While reasons for the leak may be many ranging from incompetence at DCNS, cyber hacking by mala fide parties to cut-throat antagonism and resentment between competitors (Japan, Germany) at the loss of the $ 50 billion new design Short fin Barracuda submarine contract for the Australian Navy to DCNS; clearly the strategic beneficiaries of this significant disclosure are the Chinese and Pakistan Navies.

In the meantime, understandably, the Indian Navy have gone into damage control mode. Besides the enquiry that has been launched, it would be in the fitness of things that they also constitute a Special Operations Research Group that begins with two premises: firstly, that compromise has occurred and secondly, that major design changes to the ‘Scorpene’ are not practicable (at least not for the first block if at all there is to be a second). The Special Operations Research Group may then be mandated as follows:-

  • Establish what specific tactical capabilities have been compromised.
  • Device signature masking and spoofing techniques through material and tactical measures.
  • Adopt innovative manoeuvring and operating profiles that stretches and provides permutations to its operating envelope.
  • Ensure that crew turn around is such that expertise aggregates.
  • Identify clauses in the Scorpene contract that have been violated by the leak and replace them with instruments that oblige DCNS to accommodate material alterations that may be warranted to fulfil the mandate of the Special Operations Research Group without prejudice to contractual liabilities of DCNS.

Some portions of the Scorpene’s invisibility cloak may indeed have fallen off in the recent episode, but its brain and sting-lethality remains as potent as was. To regenerate its combat effectiveness may well mean to re-invent operating profiles and devising astute masking techniques. This no doubt is a tough ask, yet by no means beyond the capabilities of the professional savvy of the Indian Navy; there is only one caveat, keep DCNS in a response-only mode.

“Rewarding Thugs”

By Vice Admiral Shankar (retd.)

(This article was first published on the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies website on 16 August 2016.)

On 12 July 2016, a long delinquent inspiration struck key members of the US Congress concerned with terrorism, non-proliferation, and trade. In concluding the hearing of the Joint Sub-Committee of the Committee on Foreign Affairs on “Pakistan, Friend or Foe in the Fight against Terrorism,” the Chairman, Mr Matt Salmon drew an unequivocal inference: “For the record, I personally believe that we should completely cut off all funding to Pakistan. I think that would be the right first step. And then, a State Sponsor of Terrorism declaration. … Right now we have the worst policy that we could possibly have; all we are doing is rewarding thugs.”

The expert’s panel was led by Zalmay Khalilzad, former US ambassador to Afghanistan. His testimony was woven around what the Pakistani strategic calculus was and how its aims were the anti-thesis of the global war on terror; the exposition was substantiated by facts. Pakistan, he said, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, was coerced into providing support to overthrow the Taliban; this was, at best, backhanded support roused more by survival instincts rather than conviction. Fifteen years and $14 billion of funding later, Pakistan has shed all pretensions of being an ally in the war on terror and its blatant duplicity stands exposed. Khalilzad surmised “One may conclude now that Pakistan is a State Sponsor of Terror.”

Within the Indian security establishment, there has been little doubt that the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies provide the substructure for terrorist operations both in Afghanistan and India. It is also well known that the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) and a host of other jihadists are virtual arms of the Pakistan military and their deployment a cardinal feature of strategy. Former President Musharraf more recently has boasted that Pakistan trains and equips the Taliban and Haqqani Network for operations in Afghanistan; while his military, through the devices of the LeT, HuM and JeM, were actively training, bankrolling and stoking the insurgency in Kashmir and terrorism elsewhere. The fact is that leadership of the Taliban form the Quetta and Peshawar Shura and are located there; while the LeT, Harkat-ul-Mujahidin (HuM) and the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) operate freely between Karachi, Lahore and Muzzaffarabad from where they control terror activities in India. Both are denotive of the extent to which Jihadists hold sway within the state of Pakistan.

It is apparent that global policy to tacitly accept Pakistan’s deceit and characterize terror groups as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and then neutralize the ‘bad’ while venturing to reform “well-disposed” groups (well-disposed to who? One wonders) has failed. And failure, to a large extent, has been machinated by Pakistan towards preserving, what they consider instruments that served them well during the Soviet occupation, current Afghan campaign and insurgency in Kashmir. With Pakistan’s stratagem now laid-bare, the time has come to impose penalties for its perfidy. The irony is that the state continues to believe that they can dupe the world at large, get aid in billions of dollars, while selectively nurturing Islamic terror outfits. The reality, however, is that these very terror organisations have infiltrated every limb of the establishment. Global peril raised by a nuclear state in this form has now become their central bargaining chip for relief, despite the obvious fact that derangement of Pakistan has already occurred!

The recent drone attack on Mullah Mansour in Pakistan, capture of Let terrorist Bahadur Ali in Kashmir, flagrant inflammatory activities of wanted terrorists Hafiz Sayeed (LeT), Massod Azhar (JeM) and Sayeed Salahudeen (HuM) and Prime Minister Modi’s strategic shift to expose atrocities in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, Gilgit and for bludgeoning the Baluchistan independence movement provide a pivotal moment to work a change in the UN policy towards Pakistan. India must now direct its diplomatic efforts to bring the USA on board (to some extent this is already happening) and then orient its strategic exertions along three prongs:

  • Politically, orchestrate through the aegis of the UN, isolation of Pakistan from international collaboration and impose sanctions on the military and the ISI in their ability to move freely out of country through the instrument of a UN resolution specific to that country (on the lines of UNSCR 2255 concerning terrorist threat to international peace and security).
  • On the economic and financial fronts; embargo trade with Pakistan except for humanitarian assistance. Terror financing must be traced and cut (UNSCR 1373).
  • On the military front, action must be stepped up targeting terror leadership and infrastructure. In this context for Pakistan to be designated as a “major non-NATO ally in the war on terror” is strange; rather, Pakistan must be placed internationally on the list of sponsors of terrorism.

Pakistan’s strategic calculus has to be debunked on all counts; particularly the conviction that Afghanistan, with the pull out of NATO troops along with the drawdown of US combat forces, once again provides the space for a return to the “happy-days”. It must not be allowed to thrive under the belief that it can be both the legatee of international largesse and cavort with Jihadists. The international community and India have taken some measures to challenge Pakistan; it began with UNSC resolution 1373 in the wake of the 9/11 terror attack which proscribed terrorist organisation, to the more recent UNSC resolution 2255 that identifies threats to international security by terrorism. Blockage of military sales, cutting financial aid, calling to attention atrocities in Baluchistan, Gilgit and POK, increased attacks on terror leadership are all representative of these measures. In this context how does one see Pakistan’s all weather friend China respond? The question ought to be: Can China really afford to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds (it appears to be distancing itself from North Korea)?

As Indian and U.S. perceptions on terrorism converge and the growing disquiet over Washington’s bottomless and ineffectual aid to Pakistan attains critical mass, India must work vigorously with America and the UN to ensure that “thugs”, in fact, are not “rewarded.”