We are nine years old now; well past infancy but still a little distance from adolescence. This is an interesting age. Creative juices are in abundance and the burden of age does not weigh you down. You can take chances, say radical things, think the unthinkable, push the envelope more and more towards the edge without a care in the world and yet remain full of energy and ideas. This is how FORCE is poised at the moment as we enter our 10th year.
All anniversaries are special; this one was made more so, as I was invited by the Chinese ministry of national defence to visit Beijing and Shanghai. In the early Nineties, I was invited by the US department of defence to visit their facilities, training institutes and a carrier battle group. Does China think itself to be in the same space now?
I spent a week interacting with PLA Army, Air Force and Navy, in addition to representatives of the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs. I also had an opportunity for an extended chat with some of their media representatives. For good reason, most Indian visitors to China come back overwhelmed by that country. China does overwhelm you, not only because of the power it conveys, but because of the way it conveys that power. Economically and militarily, China left the third world a few years ago, now it is ready to articulate that with greater confidence. Unlike India, which still seeks deterrence through concealing its capabilities, Chinese are now onto showcasing theirs. In one of the interactions, an interlocutor told me that there is no point hiding one’s capabilities; it is the intention which will determine how the capabilities are to be employed. Having established these ground rules, my Chinese escorts had no hesitation in talking about everything, from higher defence management to the size of their armed forces. Not only that, during my visits to the army, air force and the naval bases, there were no restrictions at all on taking photographs. I could shoot whatever I wanted to. Even subsequently, no one asked me to run my pictures through them.
This was in complete contrast to how the Indian military behaves with our own journalists, forget about the foreign ones. Curiously, even those enforcing restrictions on communication and photography do not know why and when these were imposed! As I was leaving China, one of the local journalists expressed hope that perhaps the Indian ministry of defence would return the gesture some day. Earlier this year I had met a French journalist, who told me that the French shipyard, DCNS which is building the Scorpene submarines for the Indian Navy at Mazagon Shipyard Ltd in Mumbai, had put together a group of French journalists for a visit to Scorpene facilities at MDL. The trip was called off at the last minute as DCNS was not able to get Indian MoD clearance. I did not tell him that even Indian journalists are yet to visit the submarine facility at MDL. FORCE has been to MDL several times in the last nine years and has seen the entire shipyard barring the submarine yard.
As would be obvious by now, my visit to China forms the bulk of the 9th Anniversary issue. Apart from that, we have a special report from Avadi on Arjun tank and the Farnborough Show Report. And last not least, I wish to thank three brilliant analysts in their chosen fields who have supported us wholeheartedly over the years. These are Ambassador Kanwal Sibal, Admiral Arun Prakash and Maj. Gen. Mrinal Suman.
I hope all readers will find something of their interest in this bumper issue. Let the rain fall!