The unprecedented terror attacks in Mumbai on November 26 and the counter measures by the armed forces in regaining control of the seized buildings and rescuing hostages marked a turning point in the activities of the Ministry of Defence towards yearend. A slew of high-level meetings to review and beef up security followed. As a follow-up the government approved immediate steps to augment coastal security, intelligence coordination and fast track acquisition of cutting edge equipment and interceptor boats for the Coast Guard.
The three Services also rendered yeoman's assistance during the Bihar floods in August, providing rescue and relief in areas devastated by an overflowing Kosi river. About 25,000 people were evacuated every day as army rushed 37 columns, the navy deployed boats and divers while the Indian Air Force airdropped medicines and food to the marooned people. Earlier in May, the IAF and the Navy extended humanitarian assistance beyond the borders, reaching out relief to earthquake hit China and cyclone-devastated Myanmar. While the Indian Navy ships INS Rana and Kirpan were the first to reach out to Myanmar, devastated by severe cyclone Nargis, the IAF engaged in the largest airlift across the border, providing 277 tons relief supplies to the neighbouring countries.
The test-firing of 3,000 kilometers range Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) Agni-3, 600-kms range canister-launched Surface-to-Surface Missile (SSM) Shaurya, supersonic cruise missile Brahmos' naval version, 350-kms range Surface-to-Surface Ballistic Missile (SSBM) Prithvi-2 and 3rd Genertaion Fire and Forget anti-tank missile Nag, pre-confirmatory test-flight of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Nishant, induction of Hawk-132 Advance Jet Trainer (AJT) and Rohini 3-Dimensional Radar into the IAF, upgraded Pinaka multi-barrel rockets into the army and the 5th Advanced Offshore Patrol Vessel (AOPV) ICGS Sankalp into the Coast Guard, hot and cold weather trials of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas promised punch to our armed forces. While Ordnance Factory, Trichy handed over ten Anti-Material Rifles to BSF in February, all 40 Ordnance Factories under the Ministry of Defence earned ISO-9002 international quality certification. An Integrated Space Cell was instituted in the Integrated Defence Staff in June, marking a path-breaking initiative to secure and consolidate the country's space assets.
MAKING A MARK ABROAD
The Indian Navy ventured beyond the South Asia region in an active role for the first time, patrolling the Gulf of Aden since October 23rd and achieving notable success in preventing piracy on the high seas. INS Tabar foiled a piracy attempt on merchant Vessel MV Jag Arnav on Oct.11th and aborted another attempt on a Saudi vessel. Next month, the Tabar sank a Thai boat commandeered by pirates. On Dec. 13th INS Mysore captured 23 in the pirate-infested waters, including many pirates, and recovered a cache of arms and ammunition.
For the first time again, a contingent of the Chinese Army touched down on Indian soil in December for joint counter-terror exercise 'Hand-in-Hand' at Belgaum. Earlier a Mechanized Infantry contingent of the Indian Army conducted the first joint exercise abroad at Salisbury Plains with the UK army in August-September. The IAF too earned kudos in the US participating in the Red Flag exercise at Nevada in August, as eight Sukhoi-30 MKIs, two IL-78 midair refuellers and an IL-76 transporter matched their paces with the likes of the USAF, French and South Korean air forces. In May, India participated in the Berlin air show as a partner country for the first time as the Defence Minister Shri AK Antony graced the occasion. The IAF helicopter aerobatics team Sarang earning a feather in the cap after being adjudged the Best Looking Close Formation. And later in July the Sarang team, flying the indigenous ALH Dhruv, also performed at the Farnborough air show in UK.
POLICY MATTERS, WELFARE INITIATIVES
The much-awaited revised Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP-2008) was released on Sep.1st, paving the way for transparent and faster acquisition of hardware and promoting indigenous industry. The constitution of the Armed Forces Tribunal was also set in motion with the approval by the union cabinet in July of 31 posts of members and later the appointment of retired Supreme Court judge Justice AK Mathur as its Chairperson. Other major policy and administrative decisions include the granting of permanent commission to women officers in select branches, approval of phase-2 of AV Singh Committee report granting upgradation of 1,896 posts in the three Services, restructuring of 117 posts in the Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS) and issue of guidelines and massive hike in revision of rentals for land and property hired by the armed forces in Jammu and Kashmir. Other welfare measures include the approval of Married Accommodation Project (MAP-II), doubling of monetary grants to gallantry awardees, setting up of Army College of Medical Sciences in New Delhi and Sainik School at Rewari, Haryana and implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission.
OTHER FOREIGN DEALS, JOINT EXERCISES, SEMINARS, VISITS
Premier defence undertaking Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) broke new ground in exports, bagging an order of seven Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) worth $56.7 million from the Latin American nation Ecuador. In July the DRDO signed an agreement with Brazil's Embraer to jointly develop an Early Warning System (EWS) for the IAF. During the visit of Russian Defence Minister Mr. Anatoly Serdyukov to New Delhi on September 29th, a major decision followed extending the term of the Indo-Russian Inter-Governmental Commission on Military and Technical Cooperation (IRIGC-MTC) by ten years beyond 2010 when its present term expires. Later in December the India-Russia High-Level Monitoring Committee reviewed progress on development of 5th Generation Fighter Aircraft, AWACS and Multi-Role Transport Aircraft and acquisition of T-90 tanks, SU-30 upgrades and aircraft carrier Gorshkov, rechristened INS Vikramaditya.
The Defence Minister Shri AK Antony's visits to Malaysia in January and the US in September underlined India's growing Defence Cooperation with the respective countries and coordination among their Armed Forces. In a rare gesture the Indian Army's Remount Veterinary Corps gifted four horse pedigrees – two stallions and four mares, to Bangladesh army in February.
The Indian Navy hosted the first conclave of heads of navies of Indian Ocean littoral states, Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) in New Delhi on 14-15th February. A few days later, more than 270 companies from over 30 countries were represented in the 5th DefExpo, the land and naval systems exposition. DefCom in May and International Maritime Search and Rescue Conference (IMSARCON) in March were the other major conclaves hosted or organized in partnership with the armed forces. In March General Mehmet Ilker Basbug arrived in New Delhi, the first visit by a Turkish army chief to India. The US Defence Secretary Dr. Robert Gates, US army chief General George William Casey Junior, Chinese Deputy Chief of General Staff, People's Liberation Army, Lt. General Ma Xiaotian, Polish Defence Minister Mr. Bogdan Klich and Brigadier General Tay Lim Heng, Chairman of the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against ships in Asia (ReCAAP) were other major dignitaries to visit India this year.
The Indian Navy conducted periodic joint exercises – Milan 2008 with Asia-Pacific Maritime Navies at Port Blair in January, Malabar'08 with the US in October, Varuna with French Navy in May, Singapore-India Maritime Battle Exercise (SIMBEX).
DEATH OF A TITAN ... In June, the country lost one of its finest and most decorated soldiers, the first Field Marshal SHFJ Manekshaw. The nation paid fitting tribute by according him a state funeral as thousands poured out to bid him farewell. A commemorative postage stamp and First Day Cover were released in memory of Field Marshal Manekshaw on Dec 16th, the Vijay Diwas marking Victory in the 1971 Indo-Pak War.