Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Pandemic Shadow On Defence Industry Deals


To defer or not? The MoD confirmed some materiel contracts recently. It could be argued that despite the coronavirus pandemic, building India’s sinews of war cannot wait, and, hence, deferment of materiel tenders is not an option. Bolstering this thesis is the argument that many of these deals have been in the pipeline for long, reaching fruition at this dreadful juncture. But in light of the impending apocalypse, it is appropriate to question whether such procurements worth billions of dollars can be postponed and the funds be committed more purposefully to fight COVID-19

by Rahul Bedi

The mounting anxiety and steadfast focus on the proliferating coronavirus pandemic has clearly eclipsed the assortment of material contracts that India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) has confirmed over the past fortnight, alongside numerous others which are imminent.

Starting in late February, when the corona contagion was incipient, the MoD inked a $2.1-billion tender with TAIS, a consortium of five Turkish shipbuilders, to design and build five 45,000-tonne fleet support vessels (FSV) for the Indian Navy in collaboration with the state-owned Hindustan Shipbuilders Limited (HSL).

The unanticipated and somewhat intriguing deal followed months of tension between India and Turkey over diplomatic support Ankara had offered to Islamabad in opposing Delhi’s revocation of Article 370 in Kashmir last August. Furthermore, the MoD’s Vigilance Department too had objected to HSL’s collaborative agreement with TAIS on ‘security considerations’.

It had maintained that some of TAIS’ associates were engaged in warship-building programs for the Pakistan navy, like corvettes, and support for its submarine fleet. The MoD also asserted that in the event of TAIS being awarded the FSV tender, its personnel would be based at HSL’s shipyard in Vishakhapatnam that neighbours the classified Ship Building Centre where the Indian Navy’s nuclear submarines program is located, thereby posing a ‘grave’ security threat.

But the FSV contract was inexplicably signed following clearances, not only by the Ministry of External Affairs but also the MoD’s vigilance department. One explanation, albeit feeble, that is being offered in military circles for the FSV deal is that the Indian Navy had managed to ‘neutralise’ both these trepidations.

It had reportedly argued that if its already deferred FSV program were to be delayed further, its future plans to sustain platforms deployed in the strategically critical Indian Ocean region would be operationally jeopardised, as it would be unable to provide them essentials like fuel, supplies and repair facilities. An advance 15 per cent payment of the around $31 million to TAIS is due within the mandated 45 days of the deal being inked or around mid-April.

Thereafter, on March 18, the MoD approved the $5.25-billion procurement of 83 indigenously designed Mk1A upgraded Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) for the Indian Air Force (IAF). Official sources said the tender for 73 Mk1A single-seat fighters and 10 dual-seat trainers, designed by the Aeronautical Development Agency and manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in Bangalore, would be signed imminently.

The following day — March 19 — the MoD signed a $117.3-million contract with Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) for 16,749 Negev NG-7 7.62x51m light machine guns for the Indian Army under its Fast Track Procedure. Like the earlier FSV deal, this one too entails a $1.75-million transfer to IWI by early May.

Around the same time, the MoD also concluded negotiations with the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) to acquire 118 upgraded variants of the indigenously developed Arjun Mk1A main battle tank (MBT) for the Indian Army for an estimated $889.9 million. Official sources said that placing the ‘order of intent’ with the OFB's Heavy Vehicles Factory at Avadi for the Mk1A MBTs that feature 72 improvements, including 14 major ones, over the Mk1 model, would be ‘concluded imminently’ by the MoD.

Alongside, the MoD is currently poised to sign the $550-million deal with Abu Dhabi’s Caracal International for 93,895 CAR 816 5.56mm close quarter battle carbines that has been in the pipeline since late 2018. This too would mean an advance of $82.5 million to the UAE company sometime soon.

The MoD is also fast-tracking the $480.5-million purchase of 10 additional Russian Kamov Ka-31 Helix airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) helicopters to coincide with the commissioning of INS Vikrant, the Indian Navy’s indigenously designed aircraft carrier in 2021.

Dmitry Shugaev, Director of the Russian Federal Service for Military Technical Co-operation (FSVTS), confirmed the Indian Navy’s intentions to the Interfax news agency on March 19, when he said that Moscow had received an ‘appeal’ from India for the Ka-31s, but declined to elaborate.

The proposed Ka-31 acquisition would be a ‘follow-on’ order to at least 12 similar platforms that have been in the Indian Navy service for some time. Only cost and delivery schedule negotiations and final project clearance by India’s Cabinet Committee on Security remain to be completed before the deal is signed.

It could be argued that despite the coronavirus pandemic, building India’s sinews of war cannot wait, and, hence, postponement or deferment of materiel tenders is not an option. Bolstering this thesis in military circles is the argument that many of these deals have been in the pipeline for long, reaching fruition only at the present, dreadful juncture.

But in light of the impending apocalypse, it is only appropriate to question whether such procurements worth billions of dollars are downright egregious at this juncture, or could they not have been postponed and the large amounts involved, committed more purposefully to fighting the pandemic. In short, such financial profligacy in acquiring military kit presently is simply appalling and undoubtedly distressing.

Meanwhile, like all other industrial, commercial and financial activity worldwide, the defence industry too will be battered by the virus. Writing recently in The Diplomat, the online international news magazine, defence consultant Arjun Sreekumar warned that global defence manufacturing facilities and supply chains and business development plans could well be negatively affected, as demand for materiel and related services diminished. He writes that defence budgets of most countries would be adversely hit as they shored up their healthcare spending. Consequently, with demand declining, defence companies would need to determine whether they trimmed their workforces at the risk of losing capable staff, or diverted their research and development budgets to paying salaries, thereby losing their technological edge.

“Defence companies must work on future-proofing themselves and must be prepared with answers to such questions in order to deal with the uncertainties stemming from shocks caused by the pandemic,” Sreekumar added.


Navantia presents S80 Plus Submarine For India’s P-75I At Underwater Defence & Security 2020 Conference

Rendering of Navantia's S80 Plus Submarine

Navantia recently participated in the "Underwater Defence & Security 2020" Conference, organized by Defence Leaders, that took place in Southampton, in London from 3-5 March. Navantia is participating in the P75(I) project using as reference design our S80 plus, the only 3000 ton AIP submarine currently under construction worldwide

This baseline is very close to the requirements of the Indian Navy, possibly the closest among all shortlisted competitors, and meets the Indian ambition with minimum risk. For this reason, a technical effort at this stage is minimum and Navantia is focusing on other aspects such as the indigenization of major equipment and materials, and Transfer of Technology (ToT) opportunities.

More than 100 companies in India are already in contact with Navantia for the indigenization of equipment and materials, and around 200 are expected to participate in the event, which will be the forum for explaining areas of cooperation, and organizing one-to-one interviews. Key S80 Plus equipment suppliers shall also participate to explore indigenisation opportunities for components, or fabrication in India. All Indian suppliers are very welcome.

About India’s P-75I:

The Indian government shortlisted in January 2020 two Indian shipyards and five foreign defence companies for the P-75I project which calls for the local construction of six conventional submarines. The two local shipyards that were shortlisted are the privately owned L&T group and state-owned MDL. The five foreign defence companies are Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering DSME (South Korea), Navantia (Spain), Naval Group (France), Rubin Design Bureau (Russia)and ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems TKMS (Germany).

About S-80 Plus-Class Submarine:

The S-80 Plus class is a Spanish class of four submarines in production by the Spanish company Navantia in its Cartagena shipyard for the Spanish Navy. In common with other contemporary submarines, they feature air-independent propulsion.

S-80 Plus-class submarines are designed to improve threat scenario missions. Their operational mobility will allow them to operate in remote areas, travelling discreetly at high speeds. Their air-independent propulsion (AIP) system, of new technological design, will ensure their ability to remain in an area for a very long period of time without being detected and their ability to operate in possible conflict zones.

In terms of specifications, the S-80 Plus-class submarines have a full load displacement of 3,200 tons, a total length of 81.05 m (265.9 ft), a beam of 11.68 m (38.3 ft) and a draught of 6.20 m (20.3 ft). With a cruising speed of 12 knots, the S-80 Plus-class submarines offer a range of 8,000 nm. The submarine can accommodate 32 personnel (plus 8 troops).

The S-80 Plus-class submarines are equipped with 6 × 533 mm torpedo tubes with DM2A4 torpedoes and Harpoon missiles.


HAL Posts Over Rs 21,100 Crore Turnover In 2019-20

During 2019-20, 31 new aircraft / helicopters and 117 new engines were produced and overhaul of 199 aircraft / helicopters and 490 engines were undertaken. HAL has completed production of all Su-30MKI contracted to HAL by IAF during the current year and is expecting to get a few additional orders for Su-30MKI

The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited recorded a turnover of over Rs 21,100 crore (provisional and unaudited) for the financial year ended on March 31, 2020, up from the previous years figure of Rs19,705 crore. "The company has posted a revenue growth of around seven per cent during 2019-20 for the second year consecutively, post listing as compared to 3.8 per cent during 2017-18," the Bangalore-headquartered defence PSU said in a statement.

The encouraging performance of the company in 2019-20 has been achieved despite difficulties in cash flows, interruptions in operations due to workmen agitation, and March 2020 due to COVID-19 lockdown which has affected the final tests and certification of certain additional aircraft that were under final stages of production, it said.

During 2019-20, 31 new aircraft / helicopters and 117 new engines were produced and overhaul of 199 aircraft / helicopters and 490 engines were undertaken.

HAL has produced 13 new ALH Dhruv's against the contract of 40, out of which three were produced ahead of schedule for the Indian Army.

The first Helicopter for the Coast guard is ready and awaiting customer trials at Kochi which should have been completed but for the outbreak of COVID-19.

The complete test equipment are already positioned to ensure commencement of trials immediately after the situation improves, the statement said.

The first LCA-TEJAS FOC standard aircraft also completed its contract flight test acceptance within 12 months of the standard of preparation release in February 2019.

The aircraft is ready for delivery once the operations resume likely in April 2020, HAL said.

The Glass cockpit of Dornier -228 is an important business portfolio for the future and is expected to get the company more revenues in the years to come.

"The Avionics upgrade of HAWK and Su-30MKI and BrahMos missile modifications would be a game changer and is important for us," it said.

HAL has completed production of all Su-30MKI contracted to HAL by IAF during the current year and is expecting to get a few additional orders for Su-30MKI.

"With this and the expected order for 83 TEJAS MK-1A which is cleared by DAC and 15 LCH limited series production aircraft , which is in final stages of discussion , the order book is likely to attain a healthy position during the next financial year 2020-21," the statement added.


Research On Coronavirus Vaccine Rapidly Going On In India, We Are Moving In Right Direction: Health Ministry


Joint Secretary in Health Ministry Lav Agarwal said that a total of 227 positive cases have been reported in the last 24 hours. India till now has tested positive for 1,251 cases including deaths of 32 people

The Union Health Ministry on Tuesday asserted that research is rapidly going in India on the vaccine for the deadly coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and the government is moving in the right direction. Addressing the daily press conference to provide updates on the COVID-19 situation in the country, Joint Secretary in Health Ministry Lav Agarwal said that a total of 227 positive cases have been reported in the last 24 hours. India till now has tested positive for 1,251 cases including deaths of 32 people.

The Health Ministry said that it is implementing rigorous contact tracing and cluster containment strategies. He further said wherever even a single case of COVID-19 is reported it is as good as a hotspot for the government. "With over 1,200 cases of COVID-19, the number of hotspots in the country has increased. The government is using cluster containment strategies and doing rigorous contact tracing in these hotspots to check the virus from further spreading," Agarwal said.

Underlying that the government will further increase the availability of protective gear for medical professionals, he said the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has identified suppliers in South Korea, Turkey and Vietnam to improve logistics in the country during the COVID-19 crisis.

Seeking cooperation from the public to fight the pandemic, Agarwal said there was no need to panic. The Ministry of Health yet again clarified that not all people need to wear masks. "If you have a cough, then only you can wear masks. But the most important thing is to keep social distancing at all costs," said Aggarwal.

For the past few days, the highest number of deaths due to coronavirus infection have come from Gujarat, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh but the government is taking strong steps to deal with the situation. Agarwal added that the cases of coronavirus have also increased rapidly in the last few days because people are not giving timely information. 

On the other hand, Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Punya Salila Srivastava said that shelter has been provided to 66,600 people and food has been provided to 23 lakh people, adding that the issue of migrant labourers is under control.

The people have been asked to follow the lockdown seriously and only then will there be a complete Coronavirus-free situation.

Speaking at the same conference, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said so far 42,788 samples have been tested for coronavirus. The ICMR is working with the Department of Bio-Technology and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) on the agenda of developing a vaccine for the COVID-19 disease, an ICMR official said.


India Needs To Seek United Nations Emergency Session To Battle Chinese Virus


The ongoing raging pandemic and the failure of UNSC to convene a meeting for discussion is a fit case for India to invest her diplomatic capital in taking the initiative to call for an Emergency Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The Session can be called in 24 hours either by a vote of seven members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) or by a majority of the United Nations (UN) members.

Under the Resolution 377A (V), which was adopted by the General Assembly on 3 November 1950, an “Emergency Special Session” can be convened within 24 hours. The resolution reads, “Resolves that if the Security Council, because of lack of unanimity of the Permanent Members, fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security in any case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression, the General Assembly shall consider the matter immediately with a view to making appropriate recommendations to Members for collective measures, including in the case of a breach of the peace or act of aggression the use of armed force when necessary, to maintain or restore international peace and security. If not in session at the time, the General Assembly may meet in emergency special session within twenty-four hours of the request therefor. Such emergency special session shall be called if requested by the Security Council on the vote of any seven members, or by a majority of the Members of the United Nations”.

Ten such Sessions have been held and the last was convened in 1997 on Qatar’s request on Illegal Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The Session was last resumed on 13 June 2018 to consider a draft resolution on the request of Member States.

Of the 10 Sessions held so far, five have been convened at the behest of UNSC while the other five have been called by member States. Six such Sessions have been held to discuss Middle East/Palestine/Israel while one Session each has been called on Congo, Namibia, Hungary and Afghanistan.

The proposed Emergency Special Session could be titled ‘Measures arising out of Pandemic COVID-19’. The immediate Session could discuss mitigation efforts while other, subsequent meetings could focus on the role of other UN organs such as the WHO and the Security Council itself and include discussions on the relevance of the UN in the present context and UN reforms, investigation into the origin and spread of the virus, fixing blame and provision of compensation from the guilty. As such, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for an overhaul of WHO during his intervention during the virtual WHO summit on March 26.

With China, increasingly being called out for not reporting the spread, an error that could have prevented thousands of worldwide deaths, and the USA, first in a war of words with China and now struggling itself to contain the spread, it falls upon countries like India to take the mantle of global leadership to provide direction in these troubled times.

Reportedly, the G-20 Session was also convened at the nudge of PM Modi. India could join hands with countries such as Japan, France, South Korea, Vietnam, African states and other like-minded countries to swiftly seek an UN-mandated intervention.

The Chinese Virus has the potential to cause widespread instability in almost all parts of the world and calls for collective action to discuss ways and means to halt and mitigate the spread. As such, it can also be cited as an act of aggression by China but there is insufficient evidence yet of the same.

The post-Corona world is likely to see major overhauls in every aspect of human endeavour, international relations and multilateral interaction. The opportunity presented by the calamity must be utilized to make nations accountable and tailor the world organizations in tune with the current realities.


In A 1st, UN Security Council Adopts 4 Resolutions Remotely


The 15-nation powerful organ of the UN, chaired by Council President, China's Ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun, met via video-conferencing on Monday. For the first time, it adopted resolutions without the UNSC members being present in the Council chamber at the UN headquarters and voting or casting a veto by raising their hands

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council, currently under China's Presidency, unanimously adopted four resolutions, voting for the first time remotely as diplomats and United Nations staff work from home due to the coronavirus outbreak in New York.

The 15-nation powerful organ of the UN, chaired by Council President, China's Ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun, met via video-conferencing on Monday.

For the first time, it adopted resolutions without the UNSC members being present in the Council chamber at the UN headquarters and voting or casting a veto by raising their hands.

The Council adopted unanimously a resolution on renewing the mandate for the Panel of Experts working with the 1718 Sanctions Committee for North Korea, a resolution extending the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), a resolution on maintaining the African Union-United Nations Mission Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) of its current troop and police ceilings, and a resolution on improving safety and security of peacekeepers.

As the coronavirus outbreak spread across the city, the state and the city of New York ordered offices and businesses to telecommute.

Earlier this month, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said all UN staff will be required to telecommute, unless their physical presence at the workplace is required, from March 16 to April 12 to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The Security Council last met at the UN headquarters on March 12 when it had adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan.

Diplomats from UN member states, UN officials and staff have been working remotely and according to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, there had been only 89 swipes at UN entrances by people coming into the building on Monday, a sharp decline from about 11,000 on a normal day.

Guterres has been holding video press briefings on the COVID-19 situation.

Last week, the Council held a video-conference to discuss the work of United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) as well as to discuss the work of United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).

The Chinese mission said in a statement that in the context of the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, the work of the Council faces serious practical difficulties.

As President of the Council for March, "China has actively explored new working methods, maintained consultations with Council members by telephone, video, mails among other means, and broadened consensus, reflecting the Council's primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security through practical actions".

This week the Council will also discuss Syria, Afghanistan and other issues via Video Teleconferencing (VTC).

Zhang had said that the Council was actively exploring new working methods because given the worsening of the pandemic, members of the Council faced more difficulties in holding physical meetings at the UN headquarters.

Members of the Council, with the support of the technical department of the Secretariat, set up a VTC system. Council members discussed a provisional procedure for the adoption of resolutions under the current circumstances.

According to reports, the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic has soared past 35,000 while the number of confirmed cases topped 750,000 globally.

The total number of confirmed coronavirus patients in New York state is 66,000 with 1,218 deaths.


A Submariner Recalls Life Inside A Submarine


Says Indians can win the war against COVID-19 by ‘staying indoors’ with discipline

Imagine being cooped up in a constrained space with around 70-100 people, having only a rationed quantity of food, very few showers are allowed, there is a very small bunk to sleep in, no communication can be had with relatives and friends, and hours and hours of silence pass without connecting with the people even within the limited space. Now contrast this with some people wantonly breaking curfew and others jumping quarantine as India enters the end of the first week of the 21-day lockdown, the largest such effort in the world.

The constrained space is a submarine, where one cannot move freely, and personnel have to stay at one place for a long amount of time, hundreds of feet under water. As arguments abound about the lack of space in Indian households, the need to rush out to buy groceries, while some step out without reason just to check what is happening in these times, a former Indian submariner says every Indian needs to “fight this war against COVID-19 by staying indoors”.

‘Rather Easily’

While the day-to-day lifestyle of a common citizen cannot be compared with that of a trained soldier, Captain Murthy, who had served in different classes of submarines of the Indian Navy for 25 years, believes that citizens can get through the curfew period rather easily.

Capt. Murthy said that while people are not used to this kind of a situation, it resembles a certain level of life in a submarine, though without benefits that the world above the deep, cold waters that submarines patrol, offers.

For example, Capt. Murthy said, “When a submarine enters an ultra-quiet stage, everyone on board is expected to maintain absolute silence and not talk to each other because when you talk, you generate more carbon-dioxide and carbon monoxide is formed, which is dangerous. Everybody has to keep quiet. Oxygen is less, because you are shut inside and you have to consume whatever oxygen there is for the next few days.”

Food, Sunlight

On the kind of food available on board, Capt. Murthy said whatever fresh food is available would be used on the first few days of patrolling. Sometimes, patrols extend beyond a month, which means those on board would not even have had a glimpse of sunlight during this period.

Capt. Murthy believes Indians can get through the COVID-19 crisis by being disciplined. “These are difficult times for each and every one of us across the world. But at the same time, think of the people who are in submarines, who are patrolling the streets [the police]. Today, at our homes, we are having proper food. We are able to watch TV, entertain ourselves with music, able to communicate with friends, families and relatives, read books, learn new skills. We should feel lucky about this,” he said.

The former Navy officer also requested everyone to stay put at home and not move around arguing with police officers and doctors who are on the frontlines of this battle against the spread of the virus. “When such authorities are putting their lives on the line for you, why should we not do this little sacrifice of staying indoors?” he asked.

After all, “This is a war against a virus that has affected the world and this is fight each one of us must fight — by staying indoors. Ultimately, we are all helping each other in this war,” he said.


Indian Army Launches Campaign About Coronavirus In Remote Jammu And Kashmir Areas To Assist People

Indian Army distributed rice and other food items among the needy on the fourth day of the lockdown announced for the entire country, in Shopian

"We have launched a multi-pronged campaign to educate, and help people in various areas, mostly remote areas in the war against coronavirus", a senior Army official told PTI. "In various other areas, we have come out to help the administration in the war against COVID-19 and ensure several facilities and support to them," he said

JAMMU: The Army has launched a multi-pronged campaign to reach out to people in remote and rural areas of Jammu and Kashmir and educate and assist them in the fight against coronavirus.

As part of the campaign titled "Jointly we will put an end to Corona", distribution of pamphlets, masks, sanitizers and also ration is being done besides installation of hand wash facilities.

"We have launched a multi-pronged campaign to educate, and help people in various areas, mostly remote areas in the war against coronavirus", a senior Army official told PTI.

"In various other areas, we have come out to help the administration in the war against COVID-19 and ensure several facilities and support to them," he said.

The Army has distributed pamphlets in bilingual language giving out vital information to counter COVID-19 among Gujjar and Bakarwal communities residing in Rakhmuthi and Devipur villages of district Jammu.

As part of the initiative, people living in remote villages of Murrah and Kulali in district Poonch have been educated about the symptoms, causes of spread and how to overcome COVID-19 by display of flex boards at prominent places and distribution of pamphlets.

"It has also been communicated that all those who had returned after travelling in the ensuing month should self quarantine for at least 3 weeks. The gesture of Army was very well received and appreciated by the local populace," PRO Defence, Lt Col Devender Anand, said.

In Rajouri district, the Army has launched sensitization operation in remote villages to educate people on the outbreak of COVID-19 and necessary stringent measures to contain its spread amongst the local populace, the PRO said.

The Army has also assisted the civilian administration in identifying, isolating and quarantining, 24 daily wage earners moving down from Srinagar to Thanamandi via Poshana on old Mughal Road, Lt Col Anand said.

After carrying out identification of the migrants, their preliminary medical was carried out at Dogrian, he said. The civilians have been sent to a quarantine facility established by civil administration in Surankote.

The Army has distributed masks, soaps and sanitizers in various hamlets of Poonch, Rajouri, Reasi, Ramban and Doda districts, they said. Loudspeaker fitted Army vehicles have been touring remote areas of Jammu, Rajouri, Poonch, Doda, Kishtwar, Ramban, Reasi, Udhampur and Kathua districts and announcements are being made asking people to restrict movement as part of the lockdown and maintain a notebook to track the people whom they have come in contact with in the last one month.


SAARC Countries Must Follow India Lock-Down Model To Fight COVID-19, Says Activist


Washington D.C. [USA]: A political activist from Gilgit Baltistan has praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for quick and stringent initiative to fight coronavirus pandemic and has asked SAARC countries to follow the same.

Senge Hasnan Sering told ANI that PM Modi has announced a three-week-long lockdown to isolate transmission through infected persons. Pakistan which is one of the worst-hit countries among SAARC members should follow PM Modi and lockdown the country to minimise fatalities.

Seeing the complexity in dealing with COVID-19 by developed countries, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown in a country of 1.3 billion people.

In the United States, the total number of 164,359 COVID-19 cases are recorded, whereas Italy has 101,739, Spain has 87,956 and Germany has 67,051 positive cases. However, in India 1,251 Coronavirus cases are recorded till the filing of this story.

Many countries like Pakistan where 1,865 Coronavirus cases have already been recorded, a nationwide lockdown is not announced.

Senge, who hails from Pakistan occupied Gilgit Baltistan said, "PM Imran Khan's failed policies turning occupied Gilgit Baltistan into epicentre of China Virus. Despite GB lacks equipment and supplies to deal with suspected patients, Pakistan regime is deliberately moving the Iran-returned pilgrims to Gilgit Baltistan without screening."

He added, "I salute PM Modi for ensuring that people get food ration at doorsteps at very low and affordable prices. Now wheat per kg will be available at Rs 2 instead of Rs 27. He has introduced an impressive amount of money as life insurance for medical staff and paramedics which is commendable".

Senge, who lives in Washington DC, said, "He (PM Modi) has also announced a moratorium on interest payments to give relief to those who have lost jobs or have no income to make payments on mortgages. Pakistan could follow PM Modi in this regard and give relief to citizens. But so far, Imran Khan seems clueless in controlling the pandemic".

Originated in Chinese city of Wuhan, COVID-19 is affecting 200 counties and territories around the world. Already, 789,805 people got infected and 38,101 people have lost their lives with the pandemic.


Fight Against Coronavirus: Indian Missions To Extend A Helping Hand


In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he asked the diplomats to coordinate with foreign partners to make sure that all logistics chains and remittances don’t get affected and operate smoothly. Prime Minister emphasized the need for gathering information on innovative research and practices undertaken in other countries to counter the pandemic

What Did PM Say?

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he asked the diplomats to coordinate with foreign partners to make sure that all logistics chains and remittances don’t get affected and operate smoothly.

Countries which were affected severely by the Coronavirus including China, the US, Iran, the UAE, Italy, Germany, South Korea, and neighbours such as Nepal, Afghanistan and Maldives were the main focus during the video conferencing.

While the government sent many flights to evacuate Indian travellers stuck in various countries across the globe, there are still many who were not able to get on to the special flights.

“In such situations, the Indian Missions have access to Indian Community Welfare Fund which can be used to help those who are stuck overseas. Several Indian missions are using these funds to help those who have reached out to the missions for help,” explained a top diplomat.

On Tuesday morning Indian ambassador to Kazakhstan Prabhat Kumar put out a video message urging all Indians stuck there to follow best practices as well as follow the instructions of the local authorities.

Several Indian students and workers have been stuck in several countries and are getting all the possible help from the Indian missions as well as the local families who have offered their help.

Experts’ Views

Dr Raj Kumar Sharma, Consultant, Faculty of Political Science, IGNOU, New Delhi, says “India is fighting a multi-front battle against Coronavirus and Indian missions abroad have a vital role to play in this regard as the world has come to a standstill. A number of Indians are stranded abroad and their well-being is the responsibility of our government. Indian Diaspora can also contribute to India’s response against COVID-19 like financial help.”

In the opinion of Sharma “the missions would analyse and share the best practices adopted by their host countries and how that experience could be useful for India. They will also share the Indian experience with their host countries. Science and technology will play the central role in ending this pandemic and Indian missions abroad will have to keep pace with this trend in different countries to suggest some critical solutions for India.”

Says Prof Rajan Kumar, “Global economic activities have come to a grinding halt. This may delay the spread of coronavirus, but has caused tremendous suffering to people worldwide. Many of the Indian travellers are stuck abroad and unable to come back to India due to the cancellation of all the international flights. Indian diaspora is also facing unprecedented difficulties due to disruption of social and economic life. The only support available for them abroad is the Indian Embassy.”

“Prime Minister emphasized the need for gathering information on innovative research and practices undertaken in other countries to counter the pandemic. The embassy is in the best position to obtain such information and share with the health practitioners here. India also needs to keep obtaining medicines, masks, ventilators and other instruments from China, Europe and other countries to support the health care system here. This can only be insured by the embassies abroad,” Kumar says.

“Global supply chain has been disrupted because of the cancellation of flights and lockdown. This may be feasible in the short run, but no-country can remain isolated for more than a month or two. Indian embassies will play a crucial role in re-establishing the economic and financial linkages in the coming weeks”, he adds.

In short, this was a welcome exercise by the Prime Minister to boost the morale of Indian diplomats posted abroad, and motivate them to undertake the difficult task of addressing the concerns of diaspora and broader national interests.


Japanese Warship, China Fishing Boat Collide In East China Sea


In a social media post on Tuesday, Defence Minister Taro Kono said the incident occurred about 650 kilometres (400 miles) west of the Japanese island of Yakushima

"No personnel were injured and no one from the Chinese fishing boat was missing. We are checking details," Kono wrote.

The cause of the collision and other details including the ships' movements before the accident are under investigation, the ministry said.

The site of the accident off Yakushima Island, is far to the north of an area disputed between the two countries, it said.

Japan and China have disputes over Japanese controlled-islands that China also claims.

The uninhabited islets are called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.

In recent months, Japan has bolstered its defence of the disputed islets with the establishment of a special police unit armed with automatic weapons.

The police, based on the southern island of Okinawa, are to be deployed to the disputed islands in the event of an "illegal landing by an armed group," public broadcaster NHK reported previously.

Japan's military and coastguard have boosted their positions around the disputed islands but it is the first time that the police have set up a unit in the region to help defend the territory.



How A Bangalore Start-Up Helped Contain The Wuhan Outbreak

(From left) Nitin Kumar, Harshwardhan Kumar and Dhiraj Choudhary, co-founders of BlinkIn, have created an augmented reality product that helped technicians in Pocking, Germany, install ventilators in Wuhan, China

The three-year-old bootstrapped start up, which was initially a consultancy called Etrix, found the ecosystem more favourable in Europe for its products. Unlike AR apps that are bandwidth-heavy and hard to deploy, Scotty uses WebGL, a JavaScript API, to render graphics on a compatible browser

Bangalore: At the height of the Covid-19 outbreak in the Chinese province of Wuhan, where the coronavirus emerged, a Bangalore start-up’s innovation helped deal with it. Wuhan will be coming out of quarantine on April 8, after two and a half months of a lockdown, with new infections dropping to zero. As a Chinese official told Bloomberg in February, “It’s like fighting a war—some things are hard but must be done."

One of the measures Wuhan took was to set up emergency medical centres on a war footing. Ventilators were vital and many came from a German manufacturer, Huber & Ranner. The trouble was technicians could not go to Wuhan to help install them. This is where BlinkIn, housed in the Nasscom CoE in Bangalore, entered the scene.

Huber & Ranner used BlinkIn’s AR (augmented reality) product Scotty to provide visual guidance from Pocking in Germany. Hospital staff in Wuhan just had to click on a link to get tech support. When they pointed a phone at the ventilator and installation point, AR markers helped indicate what needed to be done as a technician talked them through the process.

Unlike AR apps that are bandwidth-heavy and hard to deploy, Scotty uses WebGL, a JavaScript API, to render graphics on a compatible browser.

“WebGL lets you access a mobile phone’s GPU (graphics processing unit) to run computer vision algorithms. That’s how we bring AR experiences through the Web rather than a mobile app," explains Harshwardhan Kumar, CEO and co-founder of BlinkIn.

The idea behind a lightweight product like Scotty is to provide just enough AR for tech support “to get the job done then and there." This requires minimal computational power unlike a full-fledged AR product that would involve heavy downloads and figuring out how to use it.

CUSTOMER FIRST

“Our approach differentiates us from companies trapped in a showcase trip of creating fancy AR/VR experiences that seldom get rolled out. We just try to understand a problem and create value for a customer," says BlinkIn’s German co-founder and MD, Josef Seuss.

“What I do on a daily basis is build understanding between us and our clients," adds Reinhard Kurz, who handles business development for BlinkIn. For example, one challenge was doing a live video call when connectivity was unreliable. “We came up with a solution of instant image chat."

Seuss was a consultant to companies in Germany for digital transformation when he first connected with Kumar to do a project for one of his clients. Later, when BlinkIn was in the iCreate accelerator programme in Ahmedabad last year, Kumar told him about a smart visual bot they were building. When Seuss started asking around in Germany, he saw a lot of interest in the product. He ended up coming to Ahmedabad to join the BlinkIn founders in the accelerator programme and becoming a co-founder.

While Scotty opens doors to enterprises with easy-to-use AR, the AI-powered visual bot Houston is BlinkIn’s deep tech product. Imagine an automated video conference call that gets smarter as it progresses. Houston can be deployed in multiple scenarios.

One of its early testers is Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club (ADAC), an automobile club in Germany. The bot can assist a user do an oil-level check in his car, fit a safety seat for a child and so on. “We’re going to do a larger Europe-wide pilot with an automobile company," says Seuss.

An Indo-German start-up enjoys the best of both worlds. AI and AR talent is scarce and expensive in Germany, so the tech side is in Bangalore. And Europe is the main target market where Seuss and his team can interact closely with potential clients.

GERMAN CONNECTION

After the Ahmedabad programme, BlinkIn’s Indian founders—Harshwardhan Kumar, Nitin Kumar and Dhiraj Choudhary—went with Seuss to attend an insurtech acceleration programme in Germany. There, they connected with insurance company VKB, which is now running a pilot to see how a visual bot can improve the claims process and reduce time taken.

The three-year-old bootstrapped startup, which was initially a consultancy called Etrix, found the ecosystem more favourable in Europe for its products. “Earlier, we reached out to industries in India that were willing to take our products forward. We reached out to investors willing to invest in us. But after getting a taste of the German ecosystem, we had to think again about what we may be losing in equity by raising funds in India or getting into agreements with Indian customers," says Choudhary.

“Being in both India and Germany, we learned from day one to work remotely and trust each other," adds Seuss. “We don’t have to all the time sit next to each other."


Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi Raises Kashmir Issue With OIC Chief


The minister claimed that "continued restrictions on communication and movement" in Kashmir "were preventing unfettered supply of medicines and other essentials, as well as dissemination of information needed to combat the disease," the Foreign Office said

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi held a telephonic conversation with OIC Secretary General Yousef A Al-Othaimeen during which he discussed the situation in Kashmir and the world in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Foreign Office said in a statement that exchange between the two covered the situation arising out of COVID-19 pandemic, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation's responses, and developments in Jammu and Kashmir.

The minister claimed that "continued restrictions on communication and movement" in Kashmir "were preventing unfettered supply of medicines and other essentials, as well as dissemination of information needed to combat the disease," the FO said.

He also highlighted concerns regarding the possibility of spread of coronavirus among the large number of Kashmiri youth.

On March 30, 11 fresh cases of the coronavirus were reported in Jammu and Kashmir, which include three from Jammu and eight from Kashmir, taking the total number of cases in the Union Territory to 49.

Qureshi also talked about the communal violence in New Delhi in February.

The OIC is a 57-member grouping of Muslim majority nations, including Pakistan. The OIC has usually been supportive of Pakistan and often sided with Islamabad on the Kashmir issue.

Pakistan has been unsuccessfully trying to drum up international support against India for withdrawing Jammu and Kashmir's special status on August 5 and bifurcating it into two Union territories.

India has categorically told the international community that the scrapping of Article 370 was its internal matter. It also advised Pakistan to accept the reality and stop all anti-India propaganda.

Qureshi said the pandemic posed a grave challenge to the entire humanity, including OIC member states.


Foreign Preachers Found Staying In Up Mosques, Many Attended Nizamuddin Markaz Event In Delhi


Around 50 foreign preachers were found to be staying at mosques in different towns in Uttar Pradesh many of whom had attended the Tableegh-e-Jamaat event at Nizamuddin Markaz in Delhi triggering alarm bells

Acting on tip offs by the Local Intelligence Units (LIU), the police raided several mosques in Lucknow, Bijnore and Meerut and found that as many as 48 preachers had been staying there for many days.

The police said that the local imams (priests) of the mosques had not informed the authorities about the presence of the foreign nationals there.

Sources said that 24 foreign preachers, including nationals from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Indonesia and Thailand, were found in the mosques in Lucknow.

Similarly, eight preachers were found to be staying at a mosque in Bijnore town, about 400 kilometres from Lucknow. As many as 19 foreign preachers were found hiding at two mosques in Meerut District.

Sources said that many of the preachers had attended the recent religious event at Nizamuddin Markaz in Delhi. All of them had been quarantined.

Cases had been registered against the local imams of the mosques, sources said.

UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath cut short his visit to western UP and rushed to the capital of Lucknow, where he chaired a marathon meeting with the officials on the issue.

According to the sources, around 157 people from as many as 19 districts across UP had attended the religious event in March.

''While some of the participants were still in Delhi and were being treated at hospitals there, some others returned to their native towns and villages in UP,'' said a senior government official on Tuesday.


Taiwan Military Is Prepared For Any Chinese Attack, Says Defence Minister


Chang Guan-chung tells legislators that any attempt to attack the island during the current coronavirus outbreak would be ‘condemned worldwide’. PLA warplanes have approached Taiwan on a number of occasions during the past two months. A senior Taiwanese defence official said on Monday that the island’s military is well prepared in the event of any attack from Beijing during the Covid-19 outbreak

by Lawerence Chung

“At the height of outbreak of the pandemic worldwide, if the Chinese Communists attempted to make any military adventure leading to regional conflict, they would be condemned by the world, and regardless of what would happen, we are all ready and have made the best preparation for this,” said Taiwan’s vice defence minister Chang Guan-chung.

He was speaking during a legislative session when lawmakers asked him how the defence ministry viewed recent activities by mainland China and the United States in and around the Taiwan Strait.

Last month three separate groups of People’s Liberation Army warplanes approached the island while taking part in long-distance training exercises in the western Pacific.

This month another group of planes approached Taiwan in an exercise that analysts said was intended to show off their night navigation and all-weather capabilities.

Taiwan’s air force scrambled fighter jets to shadow, intercept and disperse the PLA warplanes through radio warnings during each approach by the mainland’s planes, according to the ministry.

Those actions also prompted the US to send two B-52 bombers on southbound flights off Taiwan’s east coast, while a transport plane flew over the Taiwan Strait, the military said.

The US Navy also announced on March 19 that it had carried out live-fire missile tests in the Philippine Sea, in what analysts said was a message that it was up to the challenge of the Chinese military’s new systems.

Wang Ting-yu, a legislator with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, said the PLA’s recent activities in the Taiwan Strait could threaten peace and stability in the region.

In response, Chang said the military always closely monitored the PLA’s activities and the situation in the region with the aid of intelligence obtained by the military and through cooperation with other governments. “The public can rest assured of our ability to uphold national security,” he stressed.

Major general Chen Kuo-hua told the same legislature session that the PLA’s activities in the region were routine exercises and the number of warplanes dispatched by the PLA for drills in the South China Sea “still falls within the normal realm”.

“China expresses its strong indignation and firmly opposes the bill,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Friday.

The legislation, he said, “blatantly obstructs other sovereignties from developing legitimate diplomatic relations with China, which is an act of hegemony” adding that it also “seriously violated the one-China principle … [and] brutally interferes in Chinese domestic affairs”.

Trump signed the Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (Taipei) Act on Thursday, just hours before speaking to Chinese President Xi Jinping over the telephone to discuss how the two countries could work together to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.