An edited version of the following piece appeared today in UPI Asia (http://www.upiasia.com/Security/2009/12/04/a_fireball_on_the_indo-china_border/3880/)
In Astronomy, unraveling mysteries of the universe is a Sisyphean job; and taking up the task of unfolding the enigma of a Gamma Ray Burst (GRB) can be gargantuan. A GRB, inter alia, is a manifestation of immense luminosity: carrying energies unfathomable and indescribable on paper. And among many exotic theorizations, a ‘Fireball’ has been modeled to be the progenitor of a GRB.
One might wonder, information apart, about the correlation of the above anecdote with politics or security issues on Earth.
The Indian Army, always chastised to be acting in subservience to civil machinery, underwent an exercise code named ‘Fireball’ near Changu (Tsomgo) Lake in the North-Eastern state of Sikkim on Friday, November 27. The mock targets were hit by precision and with heavy fire power of artillery and infantry weapons.
The capabilities of modern machines of conventional warfare like the Bofors guns were openly brandished.
Surviving kick-back controversies since 1980s, the Bofors gun has given India ‘an edge’ over the adversary on the Line of Control (LoC) and has helped the nation-state to win ‘artillery duels’ in the War over Kargil (Kashmir) against arch-rival Pakistan in 1999.
The FH-77 Bofors guns were considerably better than the medium artillery guns available with the then Pakistani Army.
The gun is capable of firing 3 rounds in 12 seconds. After Kargil, they proved their mettle during ‘Operation Parakram’ in 2001 against Pakistan when they could fire 80-90 rounds per day causing immense damage to enemy posts and morale.
After the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001, ‘Operation Parakram’ was launched in which tens of thousands of Indian troops were deployed along the Indo-Pakistan border since India blamed Pakistan for supporting the terror-mechanism.
Today, the Bofors guns have been deployed at altitudes ranging between 10-13,000 feet and may aid the Indian troops to achieve “total dominance” over the enemy in the unfavorable terrain.
Interestingly, these guns have a Mercedes Benz engine in them and are able to move short distances on their own. This capability helps to avoid enemy counter fire.
In the aforementioned “Operation Fireball”, agile ‘Cheetah’ (meaning leopard) helicopters were also displayed. They are the indigenous version of the French ‘Aerospatiale Lama SA 315’ helicopters. ‘Cheetah’ is a lightweight high performance helicopter, specially designed for operations over a wide range of weight and altitude conditions. It is powered by the tried and trusted. Artouste-IIIB engine, manufactured in India, but under license from ‘Turbomeca’ of France. The Cheetah also incorporates the latest technologies like an automatic starting system whereby facilitating a start and take-off in less than a minute. Being highly maneuverable, it can carry external cargo up to 1 Mega Tonnes (MT). The Cheetah also excels in observation, surveillance, and logistics support and rescue operations. It comfortably seats five and can also operate in unfavorable environmental conditions.
The Speaker of the Sikkim Legislative Assembly congratulated the army personnel who demonstrated the “Fireball” exhibition and encouraged the young people present there to join the Indian Army.
The Indian government as well as the army may downplay this event by terming it as an annual one, but two things evolve out of a critical analysis of this military exercise. One, the timing of this event and secondly, the territorial location.
It cannot be purely coincidental that the event was arranged at a period when Sino-Indian border relations are not exactly smooth and China has been unceasingly using a ‘blunt rhetoric’ against India. At one time China even ‘reminded’ India of the consequences of their ‘interactions’ in 1962.
It is high time India sheds the ‘pacifist tag’ in a realist world podium. If it has to showcase its prowess in Asia, crossing the boundaries of the sub-continent; then it definitely needs to exhibit the ‘conventional firepower’ since a nuclear option is beyond feasibility. The stance of Non-Alignment and disarmament were not only ethical but also practical necessities on an ideological plane in the post second world war era. But ideological maxims do change and India strategically should embark on a ‘paradigm change in foreign policy’: which has to be beyond illusions.
The Chinese ‘hard-talks’ and Obama’s recent most visit to Beijing not auguring especially well for the Indians since the American President was envisioning a ‘larger role for China’ in South Asia. And this must have shaken the Indian diplomacy from slumber.
Hence the army chose the serene locales of the glacial Tsomgo Lake in Sikkim, at an altitude of 3,780 m (12,400 ft). Sikkim has a chequered history in Sino-Indian relations as China took about 28 years to recognise it as a part of India; that too in 2003. This was construed as a significant overture on China’s part and a considerable alleviation of border tensions.
But it seems that China is ‘flexing its muscles’ as the Asian Hegemon, more so in consonance with the commemoration of its 60 years of ‘Communism’. On the other hand, India too has crossed 60 years of democracy and should show the other side its firepower and wherewithal to counteract any moves of authoritarianism in the region.
Sanity should prevail in South Asia and Asia at large and both these countries have immediate responsibilities towards that direction. But it does not mean that a country of 1 billion people should act in a servile manner. In that regard, “Operation Fireball” has sent apropos messages across the border. How long shall this country be draped in the attires of Budhha and Gandhi and consciously deny the ‘masculinity’ of its populace?