16 April 2020

Beijing.

Sachin Kumar was happy that he had managed to take a day off to see the city and take some pictures after a long time. He had bought his Canon mirrorless DSLR few months back after he was posted to the Indian consulate in Beijing. After settling in his work routine, he had made it a point to go out in the city to take pictures of tourist sights, buildings and people whenever he had time for it. Only thing he couldn’t do was bird photography which pinched him a bit as he had bought a very expensive long zoom lens for it. He had spent 2 months in Beijing looking for birds to photograph in the city and it’s outskirts without any success. It was only after a local employee had told him about the Chinese habit of capturing and eating local birds in various kinds of soups that he had stopped carrying his heavy zoom lens while on his photographic expeditions.

He was on yet another city discovery walk by himself  trying to get some good pictures of  Beijing National Stadium after dark. Someone in the embassy had marked out a good spot on his paper map of the city from where he could get the kind of shots he wanted. He had been in the same spot for about an hour taking pictures and waiting for light to change for different types of shots. There were 3-4 people like him doing the same things with their own cameras and phone cameras. 

He was fiddling through the camera setting trying to set up the best settings for his next shot when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned to see a Chinese man dressed in civilian clothes he had never seen before. He had been approached by many tourists in the past who’d ask him to take their photos with their cameras. So he assumed him to be yet another such tourist who liked a regular picture better than selfies. “Yes hello, how can I help?” he  spoke in his broken Mandarin.

The Chinese man replied in fairly good English, “What are you taking pictures of?”

Kumar showed him the screen of his camera, “This Stadium building! Quite interesting, right?”

“Any reason why you are taking so detailed pictures of the building?” came yet another question.

“I like taking pictures of buildings among a few other things and this one is quite beautiful.” Kumar replied.

Chinese man stared at the stadium in background and then at the screen, avoiding any kind of eye contact even while talking. “Do you know that a City Parade will start from there next week?”

Kumar just shook his head, “No idea about that.”

“And what do you do for work? Do you have any id?” Came another question.

Kumar was starting to get irritated, but asked a question of his own, “May I know who you are and why are you asking me this?”

The Chinese man  took out his ID card with the logo of Beijing Police displayed prominently and the rest of text in Chinese, “Superintendent Liu Wenqing, Beijing Police.”

Kumar was slightly concerned but took out his own wallet to show his ID,“I am Sachin Kumar,  Second Secretary at Indian embassy in Beijing.”

Wenqing took the ID from Kumar’s hand and took a long hard look at it. He then lit a cigarette and spoke casually, “Gather your things Mr Sachin Kumar.  You’re coming with me.”

Kumar stood his ground, “May I know what I am being charged with? I have diplomatic immunity and I was not doing anything illegal.”

Wneqing looked at him in the eyes for the first time since the conversation had started, “I didn’t make a request, but ordered you. Come quickly.”

Kumar shook his head, “If you don’t like me taking pictures of the stadium, I’ll leave the place immediately. But you can’t arrest a diplomat, that too just for taking pictures that hundreds of tourists do everyday.”

Wenqing took a deep drag of his cigarette and made a signal. Three men in plain clothes who had walked in slowly from a distance suddenly rushed in. Two of them forcibly handcuffed him and the third searched him. They took out his wallet, phone, keys and sunglasses and put it in a bag. Kumar shouted in surprise and anger, but two swift punches to the ribs left him breathless and writhing in pain.  He was dragged to an unmarked car and forced to get in. Two of his captors took seats on his both sides and other two sat in front.  

Once in the car, Kumar tried to talk again, “Let me make a call to my office.” Wenqing reached back from passenger seat in front and blew cigarette smoke in his direction. “Go ahead Mr Kumar, call whoever you can.”

Kumar received a punch to his side of his head leaving him dizzy and shocked. For the first time in his life, he feared for his personal safety. But there was nothing much he could do in the car. 

19 April, Beijing

China United Television & Information Agency 

Two Indian spies arrested in Beijing  

Amidst growing tensions between China and India, Chinese security agencies have arrested  two senior Indian diplomats on charges of spying and espionage. Two men from Indian embassy, a Second Secretary named Sachin Kumar and Air Attache Group Captain Gautam Pant were arrested by officers of internal security with some incriminating material which included maps, memory sticks, cameras, encrypted phones and some sensitive documents.

One of the spies was arrested as he was doing reconnaissance in front of Beijing National Stadium which is going to host a CCP Rally in a few days. Both men have been handed over to Ministry of State Security and taken to an yet undisclosed location for interrogation. A spokesman from Chinese Foreign Ministry condemned the illegal activities of Indian embassy and declared the two men persona non grata. It’s expected that they will be extradited from China within 3 days. 

With these arrests, China has busted a massive spying and propaganda ring spearheaded by these two men in China for infamous Indian spy agency Research & Analysis Wing. More details are expected to come out once the data in memory sticks and phones confiscated from the two spies is analysed.

After the news about the arrest of two spies was released, a crowd of 350-400 Chinese citizens laid siege to Indian embassy in Beijing forcing it’s closure. Riot control police was deployed after the crowd turned unruly and damaged some embassy property. Some people have reportedly been hurt and hospitalised in the chaos.   

Indian consulate in Shanghai has ceased all official functions this morning. Chinese staff of the office was told to stay home pending further instructions. It’s still unclear when they will resume normal duties.

A spokesman from Indian External Affairs Ministry declined all charges about the spying activities of the two embassy staffers and criticised their arrest and subsequent actions. He demanded immediate release of the two officers and more protection for Indian embassy and consulate.   

Same Day, New Delhi, India

“This is simply not unacceptable at all, sir. Chinese have gone too far with this.” External Affairs Minister Piyush Vajpayee was uncharacteristically angry. 

Defence Minister Maadhvan Kamat  was no less riled up,  “They’ve arrested our diplomats on made up charges and are most likely torturing them for a fake confession. These two are not even spies for real! What exactly do these morons want to prove or do by arresting diplomats on made up charges?”

“You both are preaching to the choir. Let’s decide what should be our plan of action for now. We can’t jeopardise safety of our people in China by any rash action.” PM Angad Bisht tried to cool down tempers.

“An eye for an eye, that should be a good start.” DM replied after having a sip of tea.

“An eye for an eye” PM said  contemplatively, “But how? Arrest some of their people here and send a murderous mob to 50-D, Chaanakyapuri? (Address of Chinese Embassy in New Delhi). 

By the way, what did Jil Ron say?” PM asked, referring to the demarche issued to Chinese ambassador earlier in the day.

”Nothing of substance really, just the usual platitudes he is so good at.” DM replied and shook his head in frustration.

There was a knock on the door of the meeting room and personal assistant of NSA Ajay Dhumal furtively walked in but stayed near the door. Normal protocol stated that no such interruption was to be allowed except in a truly exceptional case. Dhumal got up to talk to him and sent him outside after hearing his message. “Seems like some of our Chinese friends from 50-D are making a run for it. Their plane has made a request at the airport for flight clearance and fuel.” 

EAM seemed unfazed, “Do we know who is going to be on the plane yet?”

NSA Dhumal nodded, “Some of them, yes. Three Secretaries, one Attache, two employees  from their visa section and some family members. Atleast two of them are confirmed spies. What do we do? Shall we let them leave?”

PM Bisht shook his head, “Of course not. Tell the airport to refuse permission for take off and fuel supply.”  

DM and NSA exchanged a look which led to PM remarking, “And you have already done that. Good! We also had some input about some Indian citizens with links to them. Are we doing anything about them?”

DM Dhumal nodded, “I’ve already set the ball rolling. CBI is submitting chargesheets against National News editor board and some comrades from Socialist Party Of India. We already have more than enough dirt on them to keep them in courts and hopefully jails for atleast a few years. After their statements in support of China in last few days, there is no need for us to play nice.

As far as some other moles are concerned, we’ve increased surveillance on some and started to whack a few. We don’t want Chinese to realise that we’ve penetrated their spy ring so soon.”

“Good, do as you see fit. What can we do to get our people back safe and sound?” PM asked.

EAM Vajpayee seemed to have calmed down a bit and answered, “As long as we have their people here, they can’t do much to our people there. I highly recommend that we tighten the screws here. Once they see that we are going to match and perhaps even overmatch their moves, they’re sure to back down. None of these mandarins have the stomach for real action when their own butts are in line of fire.”

NSA Dhumal warned in his customary manner, “Although I approve what EAM said, I must remind everyone present in the room that there is a real danger of this progressing far beyond an ugly diplomatic spat. Whatever we are doing are calculated risks but there is no reliable way to be sure.”

 PM nodded, “That’s true, but we need to draw a line in sand and start to take some visible actions. Their bullying has gone on for far too long. They are just testing our resolve with childish moves like these. If we don’t reply back in the same tone, I’m sure that they’ll do something worse next time. 

Apart from that, what’s our status with Tibetans?”

“We are taking it slow after the spy bust in January. The main mole arrested was just an aide to someone close to PM Kalsang, but it’ll not be a stretch to assume that Chinese now know what we are doing with respect to recognition to Tibet as an independent country. I also talked with Major General Vats last week and he assured that the 7 battalions of new Tibetan Army will be fully trained and equipped by end of June. We can start moving them in to Tibet after that or declare their existence, depending upon the conditions then.”   

“That’s good, let’s not waste too much time doing that. We need to finalise date of declaration about Tibet after the troop movement starts.”

“We also need to make a decision about Maldives. Shall we issue another package or keep it as it is  for a while?” EAM said while displaying a copy of the letter sent by Maldivian finance minister.

The letter thanked India for the USD 110 million soft loan and requested assistance with more projects in coming months.

Maldivian economy was reeling due to collapse of tourism industry caused by Corona virus. Chinese saw it as a perfect opportunity to put more pressure on them and demanded payments for their projects and loans in the small island nation. China had financed infrastructure projects worth USD 1.5 billion as part of its Belt & Road Initiative during the reign of Maldivian President Abdul Gayoom. 

He had sought to increase ties with China by snubbing India and favouring Chinese companies in all major projects in the country. One major such project was USD 500 million island airport project which was awarded to a Chinese company even when it had lost out to an Indian competitor in the tendering process.  His reign was marked by numerous allegations of money laundering, corruption and illegal sale of Maldivian islands and other assets to foreign interests. During the last year of his term, he had put all major opposition politicians in jail and sought to postpone the elections via an amendment to the constitution.   

Indian regime saw this move as a coup by China who wanted their puppet to stay in power indefinitely.  After a request for help by the main opposition leader and former president Ibrahim Wahid, India intervened by exercising it’s long standing diplomatic and intelligence influence. NSA Dhumal had led the mission personally and had managed to get the political prisoners released from custody and attempt to modify the constitution were defeated in the national assembly. There were unconfirmed reports of Chinese trying to land a battalion worth of troops in Male in support of Gayoom,, but no information was released about what had actually happened to their transporters carrying the troops.  All three governments had dismissed the reports calling them rumours. 

Wahid won national elections in early 2019 with near 60% of votes and took oath as President. Gayoom was caught by Maldivian coast guard as he was allegedly trying to escape in his yacht and tried in court for multiple charges of corruption and illegal use of power. The court found him guilty of most charges and he was imprisoned for 17 years and permanently disbarred from fighting elections.

Since then Indian and Maldivian governments had worked closely to repair the relations between two countries. Maldivian government investigated some projects started by China during Gayoom’s trial and found out that quite a few were awarded without following due process and benefitted members of Gayoom’s regime and Chinese companies instead of Maldivian economy. Many such projects were renegotiated or were put on hold if no middle ground could be found with Chinese. 

As expected, Chinese had not taken this lying down. They had slowed down work on their projects and started putting diplomatic and economic pressure on Wahid regime. Maldives’ economy was in a bad shape after the spread of Corona virus and resulting collapse of tourism industry and they were finding it difficult to pay back the due loans to China.

Indian government had seen this as an opportunity to increase it’s goodwill and had extended a credit line worth USD 300 million along with a currency swap agreement of worth USD 250 million. But Maldives needed still more assistance for a new saline water treatment plant and a 100 MW solar power plant which were held up after the Chinese contractors working on them were disqualified for having used corrupt means to grab the projects and using sub-standard equipment. The latest letter requested Indian assistance with the delayed yet vital projects.

DM Kamat scoffed, “Isn’t this solar project the same one for which an Indian company had bid the lowest, yet was elbowed out?”

EAM nodded, “Yes, it was done by Gayoom. This was one of the charges he was convicted of.” Then addressing the room he asked, “I think we should say yes. They’ve agreed to award the project to the same Indian companies if we offer favourable loan terms.”

DM read through the Maldivian letter, “Aren’t we extending ourselves a bit too thin here? We’ve already spent around USD 900 million on Maldives, 790 on Sri Lanka and 440 on Mauritius  just in the past one year. And there’s no guarantee that we will recover our investments, more so if Chinese manage to install their puppets in these countries yet again.

We still haven’t managed to solve the Nepal issue yet. Bangladeshis have asked for more money too, Afghanistan definitely needs stuff worth 600-800 million, Same with Myanmar and we may have a Bhutan problem soon. We can’t be seen throwing money to anyone who asks for it.”

EAM mentally rolled his eyes but answered patiently, “Not disputing what you said, but it’s not like we are just giving them free money all at once. All these aid packages, loans and lines of credit are spread over months and years. Most of them are investments in industrial projects, infrastructure and high visibility and goodwill projects such as colleges and hospitals. The goodwill that we earn from this more than just pays for the monetary investment we make.

Chinese are spending many times this number in a single country and are on verge of making a number of them their vassals. We can’t be counting paisas when our allies turn to Chinese sphere of influence enmasse.”

DM conceded, “You’re right. All I was asking is If we can afford it.”

“I will get Deshmukh ji (Finance Minister) to look in to it and see what we can do for Maldives. I don’t think it should be a problem.” PM spoke and changed topic, “Any update about Nepal?”

NSA Dhumal shook his head, “Nothing really important that needs to be discussed right now apart from a few political things. The alliance between NPS and NCP has started to show friction as predicted. A group of NPS legislators have threatened to withdraw support for the alliance or resign, but their numbers are not that strong yet to bring the NPS-NCP alliance in to minority. ”

EAM showed a pie chart of seat share in the Nepalese assembly on the screen, “The rebel faction still needs 12-14 more legislators to pose any serious threat to the alliance. ”

“I don’t really disagree with you, but you are missing the fact that most of NCP is Chinese proxy. They are playing it slow and not making the same mistakes they did in Maldives among a few other countries. But I can bet that they are just biding their time and will cause more problems for us very soon.” NSA raised his objections. 

“That’s also very true.” PM observed. “So what can we do about this?”

“We have adopted a wait and watch attitude but keeping our options open.  We’ll not do anything in the short term if the Uttam Maharaj plays nice after our latest approach. But if and when he does, we will get him kicked out without letting the rest of Chinese stooges any close to the power centre. “ NSA spoke quickly, “And if you’ll have my opinion based on many intelligence reports, it’s just a matter of when, not if. Chinese will definitely do something to needle us through their Nepalese proxies. We just don’t know what and when.”

PM thought about it for a moment and looked at DM, who nodded his approval to what NSA had said. “You have my permission. Keep our options and eyes open in Nepal, but don’t take any rash decisions.”

“We also need to talk about Saudis.They have kept us busy since last few days.”  EAM spoke hurriedly and shared a document with the room.

For a long time, Pakistan sold itself as the mercenary to Arab countries, acting as the self-proclaimed guardian of ummah and the sole Islamic nuclear power. A lot of Arab nations employed Pakistani in their defence forces and funded Pakistani military in return.One of the Pakistani dictators, Gen Zia-ul-Haq commanded a Jordaninan army division in a bloody fight against Palestinians in 1970 leading to deaths of more than twenty five thousand Palestinians, most of them unarmed civilians. Some people had noticed that Jordaninans and Pakistanis had killed a lot more Palestinians in 10 days than what Israelis had in 20 years. Pakistani pilots had also flown sorties in Arab campaigns against Israel. 

Many analysts believed that Pakistani nuclear program was financed by Saudis in return for transfer of some nuclear tipped missiles. Saudi investment in Pakistan was quite a more diverse affair than just financial and military. Ever since Pakistan had adopted a full fledged Islamist ideology under Zia-ul-Haq, Saudis had pumped in billions of dollars promoting their brand of strict Wahabi Islam by way of direct financing, construction of mosques, seminaries and propping up islamist mullahs and politicians which promoted their ideology. This meant that Saudis had a lot stronger grip on Pakistani internal politics, religious affairs and civil society than most people gave them credit for.

Even as Pakistan jumped from one sugar daddy to another, grip of Saudis on what it could do remained strong yet hidden as most analysts felt uncomfortable analysing role of islam in the power play. Saudi money and influence played a big role in this too. They were not very pleased when Pakistan started shifting its allegiance to China and Turkey. All of Islamic world was willing to overlook and even condone  Chinese atrocities on Uighur muslims, but their tolerance ran thin when Chinese started to expand their influence in their backyards. Although the two countries shared good relations, Saudis  were not happy with how Chinese were gaining power in Pakistan with their money and weapons. They had curtailed their financial and diplomatic support to Pakistan knowing very well that China with all it’s money could hope to have as strong a grip on Pakistani psyche as them.

Indian policymakers had realised the fact and were using the fact to counter Pakistan. A number of trade deals and military pacts signed during last 3-4 years had made Saudis more appreciative of Indian concerns too. Even as Saudi society remained in the vice like grip of the royal family and their islamic edicts, their actions in international forums were a bit more progressive.  Unlike in past, they had voted against Pakistan on numerous forums and had supported Pakistan’s blacklisting due to its support for terrorism. The fact that Saudi promoted Wahabi ideology had played a huge role in the rise of islamic fanaticism in Pakistan was a point neither acknowledged nor discussed. 

Over the last few months, Indian diplomats had persuaded Saudis to go slow on their economic assistance to Pakistan. Collapse of oil prices and Saudi desire to have a few allies outside of islamic world had also played a role. NSA and EAM had multiple meetings with their Saudi counterparts and hammered out a number of trade and security agreements. Under US pressure, India was being cajoled in to distancing itself from Iran, a mortal enemy of Saudis. So as India bought more oil from Saudis, latter was more than willing to address Indian security concerns.  EAM wanted to get inform about Saudi offer of emergency sale of 30 million barrels.

“30 million barrels at USD 46 each, that’s a lot of oil at above market prices!” DM exclaimed. 

“Yes, but they are kind of desperate right now. Russians are not agreeing to OIC proposed oil production cuts, Corona has nearly crippeled the world economy and are willing to undercut them even more. Saudis want to get rid of as much oil as possible before oil prices collapse even further.”

“That’s all right. But why should we buy more oil now when it’s going to sell for much lower in a few weeks?”

“They’re willing to stop all monetary aid to Pakistan and support our pending motions in UN and other agencies. If they get on our side here, then UAE, Qatar and most of OIC will likely vote in our favour too.” EAM smiled and looked at PM. He had spent a lot of time courting most major factions in he Arab world and his work was finally bearing fruit, “Additionally, this purchase will fit nicely with our project of upgradation of national oil reserves.”

PM looked at his watch and paused for a moment before speaking. “If finance people approve it, I don’t have any objection. It’ll be good to have as much reserves as possible in conditions like these.” 

I think that’s enough for this meeting. I have to reach Tawang by 6 pm.”

Global News

Cooler heads prevail in an ugly diplomatic brawl

Tensions between China and India which started over the arrest of two Indian diplomats in Beijing in last week of July seem to be cooling down. The stand down happened when India removed the barricading of Chinese embassy in New Delhi following the same move by Chinese authorities in Beijing and Shanghai. Chinese secret police had arrested two Indian diplomats and what India alleged in a chain of illegal actions, detained and tortured them in custody. Following news of the arrest, a Chinese nationalist mob had attacked Indian embassy in Beijing with rocks and petrol bombs. Several Indian embassy staffers were injured in the attack and were forced to seek medical attention within embassy premises as the mob refused to let any vehicle out of premises. 

The two arrested diplomats who were declared persona non grata and were seen at the airport boarding a flight while handcuffed with visible injury marks on their faces. Some of the eyewitnesses at the airport claimed that the Chinese security personnel escorting the diplomats were unduly violent and unruly with their prisoners. 

Following this, India had refused fuel supply and permission to fly for the Chinese aircraft that was supposed to bring a handful of diplomats and their families back from New Delhi. Some of the Chinese embassy personnel who had reached the airport were confined in there and denied permission to either board the aircraft or go back to their accommodations in the city. India had also accused three Chinese embassy staffers including one First Secretary of being Chinese intelligence agents. They were detained from their residences and held up in custody of local military intelligence unit. One of the diplomats was injured when he suffered a fall down the stairs in his apartment while trying to escape from Indian security agents sent to detain him..

A spokesman from Chinese foreign ministry later alleged that their diplomats were  beaten in custody, but their Indian counterparts rubbished the allegations calling them delusions of a bully with a perpetual victimhood complex. 

Following the removal of barricading, both embassies are expected to start basic work from tomorrow though it’s not clear if either country will reduce it’s embassy staff. A senior Indian bureaucrat from Indian EAM had hinted of such a decision a few days back. China will be forced to do the same if India goes ahead with such a move. 

This incident had sparked a global fear about a war between the two nuclear armed countries. A lot of analysts had expressed their fears over an imminent war as the two countries had a lot of other disputes going on related to territory and trade among a few other issues. A lot of people on social media have expressed their happiness over the deescalation. Though a large number of people from both countries have been calling for stronger measures and even war to teach the “enemy” a lesson.  

Citizens of both countries had engaged in a virtual war over the latest conflict on various social media platforms. A lot of websites in both countries were hacked and defaced by self-proclaimed nationalist hacker groups from both countries, Since China has a closed internet system, most of the Chinese users on platforms banned in China like Facebook and Twitter were not as numerous as Indians. Chinese social media like Weibo on the other hand, had only pro-Chinese posts. Both places had a large amount of racist and hateful content against the other. Some of it has been deleted and many users banned for hate speech in India, but there are no reports of any such action in China so far where internet is strictly controlled by the CCP regime.

This propaganda war is still going on even after recent developments and is unlikely to cool down anytime soon.

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South-West Tibet

Rinchen crawled slowly on his knees and elbows and stopped just short of the edge of cliff. He was wearing three layers of insulated clothing under his special snow and ice camouflage, yet icy wind still managed to chill his bones. The fact that he was lying on an ice cold rocky surface didn’t help either. He cleared his throat softly and wiped his nose under the mask. 

“So tell me once again Pema, why are we freezing our ass off here on this icy cliff for two days in such suicidal conditions when the same job can be done by UAVs and satellites.”

“If you manage to not get us killed in next 4-5 hours, you’ll see for yourself.” 

“Oh believe me you jerk. I certainly don’t wish to die here on this cold as fuck mountain. I do have a girlfriend I’d like to see again back home.”

“Yeah and maybe lose your virginity too.”

“I lost that with your girlfriend. Didn’t she tell you?”

“I’ve only had a boyfriend, that’s you.”

The idle chatter of two SFF soldiers was broken by sight of a small dust cloud in the distance. 

“Target in sight.” The attitude of two soldiers changed instantly to mission mode. Pema adjusted the focus of his high power binoculars to get a better look while Rinchen reported the update via a secure communications console. Feed from Pema’s binoculars was being fed to the communications console and streamed to Indian intelligence centre hundreds of kilometers away. They watched the convoy come closer over the mountainous roads and stop at an open flat spot in between the mountain peaks. 

“4 launchers, 5 what seem like radar vehicles, 14 supply trucks, 3 troop transports, 6 mounted ack-acks, (slang for anti-aircraft guns) and they are all stopping in the reported coordinates. So one whole S-400 battery to defend just this sector.” Pema spoke softly.

“I hope that they don’t ask us to go and destroy all that stuff there now.” Rinchen put gloves back on his hands and rubbed them to get them to warm up again. It was difficult handling the small buttons with thick gloves, so he had taken them off. 

“Well, if we want to stop Chinese supply lines and hit them where it matters, SAM batteries like these need to go. By the way, did you notice that they have a full company worth of soldiers deployed just for perimeter defence? I can see a few RPGs too. They’re not taking any chances. ”

“Yeah, let’s just hope that they don’t feel like coming in our direction or deploy their UAVs over us.” 

A handful of Indian reconnaissance teams like them had placed a few cleverly hidden sensors on  surrounding peaks over the last few days. Many years back, CIA had employed Tibetans to deploy sensors to spy on Chinese nuclear weapons program. “Somethings really don’t change much.” Rinchen thought to himself and switched on the console again after observing completion of radar deployment process by the Chinese crew. The sensors collected whatever radio frequencies Chinese were using for radars and communications and sent it to the console operated by Rinchen. The data was then encrypted, compressed and transmitted via satellite to Indian control center at random intervals. Whole thing had been planned carefully over months to prevent the enemy from detecting the transmission and it’s source. Even if they managed to detect the radio traffic by some blind luck, they were more likely to dismiss it as some normal radio interference or reflections rather than a spying device. Indian familiarity with this series of missiles helped a lot. 

With tensions rising everyday both India and China were doing their best to be prepared for war. This reconnaissance mission was just one of many such similar ones under progress of being planned by both sides. Indian police in Sikkim had arrested three men a few days back under suspicion of being Chinese spies.Chinese too had arrested a number of people in Tibet as well as a few other provinces under charges of spying. Some of the arrested people were spies indeed, but most were not. In China, with no proper justice system, it didn’t matter much. Suspicion and circumstantial evidence was more than enough for years in a jail or even execution. The best the two men could hope in case of capture was a firing squad. 

It had been made very clear to all the recruits on their first day of training. Out of forty volunteers and after a year of training, only eight had been chosen for cross-border operations inside Chinese held territories. Each one of them had accepted the mission knowing very well that their chances of dying were much higher than that of survival. Pema and Rinchen had been operating in Tibet for two weeks and expected to stay for perhaps four more. 

This mission of monitoring Chinese anti-air assets was one of many in their list. Now that they had completed it, they were free to move on to the next one. The two man team would leave the equipment behind to let it operate for six to seven months before it needed a new battery.

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5 March 2020. TAIWAN

First Lieutenant Kuan-Lin of Republic of China Air Force (RCAF) adjusted his back slightly and stretched his legs in cockpit of his Mirage-2000. He was scheduled to finish his mission in fifteen minutes and then land back at Hengchun airbase after flying for 90 minutes. Sun was getting low on the horizon and Li could see sunbeams being reflected off from the ocean and ground below. Visibility was extremely good and he craned his neck to get an eye on his wingman FLt Chia-Hao flying 2000 m above him. He was  happy to get some flying hours in his Mirage 2000 before a final decision was taken to retire it. There were some problems with the fleet which were attributed to French reluctance to provide upgrades and proper repair services at a reasonable price. There were murmurs that the French were deliberately denying Taiwan their services because of Chinese pressure. 

Republic of China (ROC) or Taiwan has been a bitter enemy of People’s Republic of China (PRC) or China ever since the end of Chinese civil war in 1949. It was fought between Communist Party of China led by Mao Zedong and Chinese Nationalists (Kuomintang), led by Chiang Kai-shek. After their defeat Chiang transferred his regime to Taipei calling it Wartime Capital. Nearly 2 million refugees from China poured into Taiwan which had only 6 million population before the migration. 

ROC was considered a legitimate government of China till 1971 when the UN had voted to shift it’s recognition to PRC. India along with it’s mortal enemy Pakistan had voted in favour of China. This came  after 1962 war, 1967 border conflict and an imminent war just months later in which China was providing full support to Pakistan against India. 50 years later India was in an informal military alliance with Japan, USA and Australia which had voted against PRC. India had formed formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan only a few weeks before along with USA and most of NATO allies. Chinese image and list of allies had gone much shorter due to Corona Virus pandemic and the bullying behaviour. So the list of countries interested in having diplomatic relations with Taiwan was only getting longer with each passing day. 

China was not happy and they had shown their displeasure in multiple strong statements, warnings and actual actions. A wave of cyber attacks originating from North Korea and Chinese mainland had hit the technically advanced island nation causing some economic damage and panic. Taiwan had taken security measures to bring most of vital national infrastructure under a special act in 2018. But progress was slow and Chinese had managed to find some unpatched vulnerabilities in some of older networks. As a result, parts of southern Taiwan had suffered due to bad electricity supply and user data of a few companies was leaked causing panic selling in the stockmarket. Most of the hardening measures worked well overall and the country’s basic communications and power infrastructure stayed functioning even during the worst period of attacks.   

These cyber attacks were accompanied by aggressive military posturing and multiple incursions in to Taiwanese waters by PLAN as well as PLAAF. A number of military and civilian ships carrying Chinese flags had performed aggressive maneuvers  in multiple sectors and had even intruded in Taiwan’s waters. PLAAF fighters were doing similar harassment in air with multiple air intrusions and targeted  jamming of Taiwanese communication channels, military and civilian alike. Just minutes before he climbed in to his plane, Lin had watched news about Chinese jets flying only tens of meters above a few Taiwanese civilian ships south of Penghu Islands.  Intelligence reports suggested that  China planned to take control of these islands and use them as staging ground for further attacks on Taiwan.

The defences on the islands had been fortified recently with 1 armoured brigade, 1 infantry brigade along with an amphibious reconnaissance battalion. Two missile batteries each of latest Sky Bow 3 SAMs and  Hsiung Feng II anti-ship cruise missiles for anti-air and anti-ship roles had been placed on full alert. To make matters worse, PLAN had announced military exercises in Taiwan Banks area involving their Liaoning aircraft carrier along with most of the carrier wing ships on what was declared as anti-piracy and coastal defence exercises. The fact that most of aircraft sorties from Liaoning poked Taiwanese territory proved otherwise. 

RCAF had been flying near continuous patrols to keep a watch on increasingly belligerent PLAN and PLAAF activities for last eight days. Some of PLAN activities had become almost routine over the last week. A flight of two J-15s would take off from the carrier, fly at an altitude between 500-800 meters and whenever they spotted a civilian ship heading towards Taiwanese ports, they’d do 1-2 low flying passes making a point to show off YJ-83 anti-ship cruise missiles (AshM) hanging from their fuselages. US Navy had deployed it’s own carrier task force in Philippine Sea and was observing the Chinese exercise with it’s own assets.

An export version of the YJ-83 had already seen combat few years back. In 2006, Hezbollah fired 2 YJ-82 at an Israeli corvette scoring one hit. The ship had turned off it’s radar and defence systems temporarily due to presence of friendlies in the area and suffered serious damage. In 2016, a guided missile destroyer of US Navy came under attack from same missiles fired by a Houthi group. But none of the missiles scored a hit.

J-15 was a Chinese knockoff of Russian Sukhoi 27K (commonly known as Su-33) and had a somewhat troubled history. While fully fuelled, it could barely carry two tons worth of weapons from the ski-jump of Chinese aircraft carriers.  It’s Chinese made WS-10 engines were notoriously unreliable and it had to use Russian AL-31F for most of the fleet. A later variant of WS-10 was supposed to replace the Russian engines, but progress was slow. There were numerous other technical programs and atleast four crashes had forced China to look for a new naval fighter. 

Taiwan had raised alert level and deployed 2 La Fayette-class frigates and one Cheng Kung class destroyer Su Ao to monitor Chinese activities. One of the La Fayettes was it’s specialised submarine hunter Kang Ding class and other was Formidable class.  They were supported by two squadrons of F-16s, Mirage-2000 fighters, 3 P-3C Orion and 2 E-2K Hawkeye Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft flying near continuous sorties. Lin and his wingman Hao cruised slowly around the slower Orion  as it’s escorts. Hawkeye that was scheduled to be in air at the time had developed some problem with it’s landing gear and the replacement plane was being readied causing a gap in the deployment. A pair of F-16C was supposed to escort Hawkeye and they were not airborne yet either. The three ships were somewhere west of the islands out of his visual reach. 

Lin looked at his fuel gauge and noticed 15 minutes to bingo fuel (minimum amount of fuel left to reach back homebase). His replacement jets for the escort were undergoing pre-flight checks on ground and were expected to reach the patrol area shortly relieving him for the day. He looked at the general direction of his landing strip towards the east trying to see if he could spot it on the unusually clear day. He could see the lone Orion around a 1000 m below him on his starboard side flying low and dropping sonobuoys in the water.  It could carry around 90 active or passive sonobuoys and was almost finished deploying last of them few km south of Penghu islands. 

Sonobuoys are usually disposable sensors which can be deployed by naval vessels or aircraft for detection of enemy ships and submarines. They are usually deployed over a certain area and they keep monitoring till recovery or till battery runs out.  The data from these sonobuoys can be transmitted via a radio link to the aircraft that deployed them or to some other receiver within range. That day, Orion was supposed to stay in the area for 2 more hours monitoring the incoming data for signs of any Chinese submarine activity near Taiwanese coast. He had made a few friends from the crew of bigger aircraft in last few days.  “Stay there Mace 1, I’ll save some Chiayi for you .” he thought while remembering the night’s menu..  

Voice of the mission controller pulled him out of his somewhat relaxed mood, “Ground Control to Walker flight, we have noticed one, possibly two fast moving contacts at bearing Two-Two-Zero, altitude 600 m moving towards you. Move in front of Mace 1 and investigate the bogeys. Stay within 30 nautical miles of coast and do not turn on your radars. You are not weapons free.”

Lin and Hao noticed the Orion take a sharp turn and move to the safety of land based air defences. Further chatter on radio confirmed F-16s of 21st Tactical Fighter Group scrambling from Chiyai as the two Mirages-2000 moved forward to shield the retreating Orion. Ground control had marked the incoming bogeys as Pirate 1 and  2 and they could see them as two red triangles in one of the screens in the cockpit marked nearly 100 nautical miles south west of their position.  Before the days of data links and sensor fusion, pilots didn’t have the luxury of such degree of situational awareness even with their radars on. The data about friendly and enemy assets was being collected from a network of sea and land based sensors and beamed to them via secure communication links. Had the Hawkeye been operational, they’d have a warning much sooner. But it was not due to whatever reason at the time and they had to make the best of it. 

Based on approach vectors, Taiwanese were pretty sure that the two bogeys were J-15s from Liaoning  positioned south-east of Hong Kong. Previously a flight of two or sometimes four J-15s had come within the sniffing distance of Taiwanese waters, made a show of their presence over civilian vessels by flying low and then flew back. It was a dangerous game and even a small mistake could cause immense damage.Lin was quite aware of it and was not particularly relishing the idea of being the first one from his side to dive in to hostilities. He was pretty sure that the Chinese ground based as well as air-borne radars would have been monitoring their movements and sending updates to J-15s as well even as they flew in with radars switched off. One dangerous thing about this was that some of the Chinese Air to Air missiles like PL-15 didn’t need to be guided or provided targets by the planes themselves. The targeting data could be provided by another fighter or AWACS and the missile could be guided to target without the plane ever turning on it’s radar.  

Moments two new red contacts came alive on Mirage-2000 screens  around 70 nm from Chinese mainland and mission control informed them of two more Chinese fighters lying roughly 200 m above sea in direction of 3 naval ships. The F-16s were still just about a minute away from takeoff. Seconds later, Pirate 1 and 2 suddenly changed their bearings and turned west and then north again bringing them on a bearing towards the ships. Mirages maneuvered to intercept them, but overshot and turned around to get a bead on J-15s again. Now they were within visual range and Lin could see sunlight’s glint on the canopy of J-15s flying 2000 m below him.  

Lin noticed with concern that the Pirates were within firing range of their AShM and then heard on radio that they had turned on their tracking radars. That was the first step to acquire a target, gather data about it’s position, bearing etc, provide the data to missile and then fire it. The ships reported the same from two J-10s who were within 70 nm of them and getting closer with each passing second. Neither of the Chinese fighters could get a lock because of intense jamming by the ships as well as ground based assets. This defensive measure was only temporary and he knew that as soon as the fighters got past the burn through range, they’d have a radar lock on the ships.   

Lin noticed a tinge of excitement in mission controller’s voice as he changed weapon status to Weapon Hold. This meant that the Mirages and ships were free to attack when under attack, but they still couldn’t fire the first shot. Walker flight turned on their radar and both of them locked on to the J-15s racing below them immediately. Just then they noticed another fast moving bogey racing in at near Mach 0.9 speed  from bearing 180 flying 20 meters above water. Intrepid’s computer detected it as a YJ-83 missile coming in it’s direction and launched three RIM-66 missiles at it.  

The two J-15s in front of Mirages suddenly tried to gain altitude and Pirate 1 tried to turn to face the Mirages. Lin had him on his targeting radar and fired off one Matra Magic AAM at it before J-15 had a chance to do anything more. The missile locked on to the sizeable heat signature of twin engined J-15 and exploded a few inches away from it’s port engine shredding it and tailfins with hundreds of small shrapnel. That engine flamed out immediately and the sudden loss of power and control plunged the aircraft in to the sea before the pilot had any chase to control it. 

Even as the Magic hit the J-15, Lin could hear screaming voice of MC telling him to disengage. Intrepid had fired it’s SAMs on a ghost, the target had vanished a second after the missiles had left their launcher. Bandit flight too had turned back immediately after the missile launch. Nobody knew for real what exactly had happened and the voice channel was full of people asking for information and passing instructions Lin had a dreadful feeling that he might have started a war.

Global Network News

Tensions rise between China and Taiwan over shoot down of Chinese jet

Taiwanese defence minister Wang Shizhen has rejected Chinese demands for an apology and compensation for shooting down a Chinese naval plane last week. Taiwanese defence forces had shot down one Chinese J-15 fighter jet after a pair of them had flown close to their naval vessels and performed threatening maneuvers. Blaming China for the incident, the minister claimed that two Chinese planes performed extremely dangerous and provocative maneuvers which led to Taiwanese forces believing that they had launched missiles before they were shot down in self-defence.

He also said that Chinese navy was harassing Taiwanese civilian vessels and violating territory in the guise of an extremely aggressive military drill. Taiwanese defence forces had practised extraordinary restraint but had only defended themselves. 

A spokesperson from Chinese defence ministry termed these comments as lies to cover up wanton aggression and unprofessional behaviour of Taiwanese defence forces. He claimed that Taiwan was being egged on for a conflict with China by certain foreign powers who are jealous of Chinese increased military and financial stature. He refused to answer who these countries might be but said that Chinese stance over the issue remains unchanged and that Taiwan should render an unconditional apology.

Ties between the two countries have become extremely strained and there have been multiple anti-Taiwan protests in China. CCP has threatened a trade embargo on Taiwanese companies but whether they’ll follow through on their threats remains to be seen. Any such action is likely to hurt China as much as Taiwan.

In the meanwhile, two American ships including one advanced Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer docked in a Taiwanese port for what was termed as a routine refueling and resupply mission. A  powerful US naval fleet led by aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan is expected to be in the area in the next few days  which may raise tensions even further. Although it’s passage was declared many weeks back as routine freedom of navigation exercises which US performs often, it may be seen as a provocation in China where tempers are already running high.

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1 March 2020

23:40 Hours IST, Palam Airport, India

 The gray Embraer ERJ-145 aircraft had landed at Palam in the increasingly cold and foggy night. Some new crew got in and a few got out quickly as a refueling truck filled up the tanks and air force technicians did the customary checks..

Within an hour of landing, the plane was up once again on a northern bearing. Some aviation enthusiasts noticed the flight with interest on their tracking softwares and aviation websites.  Flights of Indian Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) were a semi-regular thing and only the hardcore defence enthusiasts among the aviation trackers paid much attention to it.  But only a handful of people knew about the changes done to this particular aircraft in last few days. 

A small team of scientists from Electronics and Radar Development Establishment (LRDE) had worked tirelessly to replace and flight test some of the Electronic Warfare (EW) systems of the aircraft with some new ones which were still under prototype stage. As soon as the basic testing was completed, the new equipment was fitted on one ERJ-145 in possession of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

Primary use of such aircraft is as an airborne radar which has an extended range uncluttered by ground reflections and limited line of sight which limit ground based radars.  Depending upon their capabilities, a handful of such aircraft can monitor aircraft movement over a large area which’d take dozens of ground based radars. Mounting radars on planes also makes them a harder target for the enemy compared to mostly static land based ones. In addition to tracking airplanes and missiles, these planes can be used for managing military resources, electronic warfare like radar jamming and electronic signals intelligence.   

Attempts to build a indigenous airborne radar and warfare platform in India had started with a project called Airborne Surveillance Platform, code named ‘Airawat’ in early 1980s. India had tried to shop around for this technology after learning lessons about the changing face of air warfare in 1971 war. After unsuccessfully trying to buy the technology or suitable systems from abroad, it was decided to develop the technology inhouse.  

A Hawker Siddeley HS-748 license built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited was chosen as the platform to carry the radar. A number of advanced technologies like the airborne radar, secure datalinks, power generation systems and a few others were developed from the ground up. The program showed a lot of promise but suffered a setback when the sole flying prototype was destroyed in a crash during a test flight in January 1999 killing eight people on board. In any other country, the setback would be acknowledged, cause of crash analysed and work resuming on the project as soon as possible.

But Indian attitude to local weapons procurement meant that the project and most of the advanced technologies developed from scratch at huge cost were put in cold storage. By this time, foreign countries had started to show willingness to sell their own systems. In 2004,, India paid Israel around USD 1.05 billion to purchase their Phalcon radar system which used Active Phased Array Electronic Scanning Technology mounted on Russian Il-76 planes. It’s interesting that this system was meant for sale to China, but USA got Israel to cancel the deal forcing Israelis to sell it to India. 

IAF calls ERJ-145 platform based radars as Airborne Early Warning and Control System while the bigger Il-76 based radar system is called Airborne Warning And Control System. Both have mostly similar functions, but bigger size of latter enables larger crew size and it can serve as a better mobile command post.  

Surprisingly, Indian project was restarted again in 2004 with a very different set of design goals. Jet powered Embraer ERJ-145 was chosen as the platform in place of prop-engined HS-748 which had been out of production for quite some time. Instead of Mechanically Scanning Antenna housed in a Rotating Radome which looks like a fluffy ‘chapati’, the new radar mounted on ERJ-145 was chosen to be a static Active Electronically Scanning Antenna which had a few better characteristics than the older radar but only 240 degrees of coverage unlike a full 360 degree coverage of older design.

With these two major changes a lot of the older technologies had to be abandoned and redeveloped  leading to more wastage of resources.  It took a long time to bring the aircraft upto ever shifting standards of Indian Air Force and the new system named NETRA (Eye in Hindi) was finally awarded Initial Operations Clearance (IOC) in February 2017. After hundreds of crores spent on customisations and development, and  requirements of IAF, one would have thought that  atleast 10-12 of the platforms would have been inducted to make all the investment worthwhile. But only 2 of the systems were built before Embrarer was blacklisted over corruption charges. 

No company can hope to sell weapons in India without bribing politicians, bureaucrats and military personnel involved in the purchase process. Yet only the companies are punished while the people who enforce corrupt practices in India go scot free.The people involved in setting up requirements also come up with insanely preposterous ideas such as Indian Army asking for guns which can fire bullets of two different calibers, carbine with two triggers and IAF asking for an AWACS system which can also function as an aerial refueler. Most such tactics are meant to delay or cripple development of local systems to favour foreign imports. It’s not that Indian defence laboratories and production facilities are perfect or even competent as evident from workings of Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) enterprises . Mostly Indian defence procurement is nothing more than a huge circus of semi-legalised corruption and incompetence which gets rewarded.  Only people who suffer are honest tax payers and military personnel who actually put their lives on the line almost daily. 

The embargo resulted in production of only 2 AEW&C aircraft while the requirement was for much more. In normal operational conditions, military aircraft usually have serviceability rate which is never 100%. This means that in a fleet of 10 aircraft with serviceability rate of 70%, only 7 can be in flightworthy condition, while the rest are grounded for repairs at any time. How many Netras could be used in wartime is anybody’s guess. So while any other country the size of India would have inducted such a system by dozens, India had only two and the scientists had just one spare aircraft to work with for improvements and upgrades. 

The third aircraft in possession of DRDO had only a few systems common with Netras in IAF service and no IAF personnel had been fully trained in their operation. So three scientists from DRDO were assigned to the mission to help train the IAF personnel while on live missions. They had flown in the plane dozens of times during the development trials, but none of them ever expected to fly in to a live mission just like that.

The aircraft codenamed Lochan took a leisurely turn as it gained altitude to reach 4000 meters and started cruising towards Indian border with China Occupied Tibet in Laddakh and northern Lahaul Spiti sector. Normally most invading aircrafts will fly at as low altitude as possible to avoid being detected by enemy radar. As mentioned earlier, ground based radars have a limited line of sight and a minimum and maximum detection altitude. By flying low, invading aircraft can escape detection by radar waves emitted by the antenna. Flying close to the ground also enables them to use terrain features of earth such as mountains as cover. 

Since flying so close to the ground is dangerous, most aircrafts use a Terrain Following Radar to make the task of pilot easier.  In many such aircrafts, waypoints (coordinates in the path followed) can be programmed in and altitude adjusted automatically at different places according to requirements.  Lochan had no such radar, but the two Jaguars which joined it over east of Dhualdhar mountain range did. Neither of the aircraft had their radars switched on and they were too far off to be detected visually. But pilots in all the aircraft knew the exact position and bearings of each other via the secure datalinks which connected them to each other and  multiple ground control stations via satellite links.

There are two types of modes of radar operation, Active and Passive. Active mode is when the radar is transmitting a radar pulse and looking for reflections from targets to collect data like distance, velocity, altitude and bearing. Passive mode on the other hand involves collecting radar emissions falling on their sensor and gathering information about targets emitting them. Passive radars can use emissions from a third source like TV, microwave or radio broadcast signals to gather information about a target of interest,  This is better for stealth than active mode as no signal is emitted by the radar.  But this has limited use as if the other radar is in passive mode too, then  it’s much harder to know about the existence of the other.  Active radar mode has no such limitations, but it’s bad for stealth as it alerts everyone to it’s presence as soon as it’s switched on. One can think of Active mode as a person searching for another person in the dark using a torch and Passive mode as searching for other people without turning on own. Sonar in ships and submarines follow the same principle. Only major difference is that Sonar uses sound waves instead of electromagnetic waves of radars.

As it neared the border, Lochan increased it’s altitude to 5000 meters to get a better look at Tibetan territory under Chinese occupation across the Himalayan mountain ranges. It took a sharp turn and started flying in a loop over the skies staying a few km inside India.  Once Lochan was in position, the Jaguars given code names Sparrow 1 and Sparrow 2 dived close to the ground and started flying towards the border. Lochan had a limited number of contacts in Chinese territory as it was flying at 4000 m, but as soon as it went over 5000 m and mountains blocking it’s line of sight went below, the consoles lit up with multiple contacts. 

On a normal day, an AEW&C would’ve put it’s radar in active mode and started tracking the area around it by sending it’s own radar emissions. Then there’d have been dozens of contacts on the screen instead of just a handful.  The flight computer analysed the signals and marked them automatically. There were a quite a few active radars in the Chinese side including some for civilian use such as weather, civilian airports and a smaller number of military radars. One mobile radar source was detected around 250 kms away in roughly the same bearing as them, which the computer identified as Chinese built KJ-200. 

This is the closest Chinese equivalent to Netra with a few key differences. The type of radar is similar but the platform is slower and larger 4 engined Shaanxi Y-8 turbo-prop built in China and based on Russian AN-12. KJ-200 too had suffered a lethal crash during development which had killed 40 people, but unlike Indians, they had persevered and instead of abandoning the project inducted 10 of them in a short period of time. 

At this distance it was not likely that KH-200 radar could have detected any of the Indian aircraft as the radar returns would be too weak and scattered for the antenna to collect and it’s computer to process. But it could change any minute if and when any of the aircraft got too close. In addition, there were a number of ground based radars which could detect Indian planes once they got high enough. This happened just a few moments later when there was another active radar contact on the consoles. 

One of the contact was identified as a Type 305B search radar employed by Chinese HQ-9 Surface To Air Missile (SAM) batteries. HQ9 is a copy of lethal S-300 SAM system of Russia which also has a limited anti-ballistic missile capability. Both India and China have S-300 and were inducting S-400 (in 2020), it’s advanced version. So Indians had a good understanding about S-300 systems worked. Since Chinese had copied a very similar S-300 system with only a few modifications, Indians knew most characteristics of it’s radars and missiles. Lochan’s mission today was to test the newest technology developed by Electronics and Radar Development Establishment (LRDE) against the Chinese copy of S-300, HQ-9.

A SAM system generally uses more than one radar to track incoming aircrafts and missiles. The primary is called a Tracking Radar which keeps on scanning a certain area assigned to it for any possible targets. Once it finds a target of interest, the data is passed on to another radar  called Fire Control Radar (FCR) or Illuminating Radar (IR). It’s job is to  gather data such as range, bearing and azimuth of the target. This data is utilised by the control center which allots a best firing solution with data like best firing angle, time etc  to the missile or gun used to attack the intruder.  

In certain types of systems, the missile is guided up to the target by the same radar. In a few other’s the radio frequency or heat based seeker within the missile take over after launch which then guides itself to the target. Additionally, there are certain radars which combine all these functions in just one radar system instead of fielding so many. This is just a simplistic explanation and there are many variations even within same families of SAM systems

The civilian technician felt his heart skip a bit as a chirp announced that the plane was being tacked by the HQ-9 SAM’s long range search radar and then another just a few seconds later which was identified as KJ-200, nearest competitor to Indian Phalcon AWACS. It was still a few minutes away from  being detected by it, but once it range, it could accurately provide intercept instructions to fighter jets or surface based anti-aircraft assets. The smaller KJ-200 had probably landed already or switched off it’s radars as it’s signals hadn’t been noticed for some time. Lochan kept flying in straight bearing for a while then dived below the tracking cone of Type 305B to break the track. Symbols of most ground based radars on the Tibetan plateau went dark soon but that of KJ-2000 stayed. Lochan gained altitude again not too far and turned to repeat the pattern. Again there were multiple radar chirps and their old symbols lit up again. The plane’s crew was hoping for a bit more activity to incite Chinese to turn up as many radars and other assets in order to collect as much data like location, radar signatures, ranges etc as possible. 

As the plane moved in a north western bearing along the border, it detected a few more radar emissions from two other military radars but the contacts vanished soon as the plane probably got out of their line of sight or a mountain peak at some distance blocked the view. 

All of these radar positions were marked and transmitted to Jaguars and ground control. A few possible approach vectors were calculated and the one with most chance of success chosen and provided to the pilots. A few minutes later, the Jaguars popped up in line of sight of HQ9 radars and started following the waypoints provided to them. There were audio and visual alerts in Jaguar cockpits as the 305B tracking radar immediately picked them up. 

On a normal mission, Jaguars would’ve masked their approach behind mountains and flown as close  the ground as possible before reaching a suitable altitude to drop their ordinance on the target. But on this mission, they were just carrying fuel tanks and prototypes of an advanced Electronic Warfare pod. Few seconds after getting in the range of 305B, the Jaguars started flying in an 8 shaped pattern with a portion of it inside Chinese border. Crew in both flights noticed multiple radar contacts coming online as the Chinese got alert of a possible incursion in their air space. 

Of around a dozen plus active radar contacts, Indians were interested in HT-233 Fire Control Radar of the HQ9 battery which turned on fairly late compared to the rest. Unlike what many people think, not all the radars are turned on all the time. It’s done to save power, extend usable life and reduce possibility of tracking and analysis of signals by the enemy.  The positions and time between detection and turning on was recorded and the next phase of mission started. Sparrow 1 turned on it’s yet unnamed EW pod and Sparrow 2 turned away in the opposite direction flying a flight path roughly parallel to Lochan but just  inside Indian territory. They didn’t want to provoke Chinese in to shooting them down by deep incursions just yet. 

At this time, Lochan crew noticed the KJ-200 heading in their direction. They knew that it’ll have an escort of minimum two fighter jets armed with long range surface to air missiles which couldn’t be detected till they turned on their own radars. Mission Controller in Lochan pored through the data being displayed on his screen and allowed himself a wry smile. They had collected all the data they had come for and it was time to go home. 

The new EW pod deployed on Jaguars and it’s bigger version on Lochan had done their jobs as well as expected. They had managed to spoof multiple powerful Chinese radars in to thinking that Indian planes were 10s of km away from their actual positions. LRDE had managed to pack it all in a small pod 3 m long and 0.5 m in diameter deployable on a fighter jet. This Range Deception Jamming technology could come in handy in case Chinese ground based Air Defence (AD) network had to be beaten. 

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9 February 2020

Pokhra, Nepal.

Padam Giri took an appreciative bite of Tbetan Balep bread smothered with butter and chased it down with hot butter tea at his cousin’s small guesthouse in the hills. Normally, it’d be full of tourists but Corona virus related restrictions had been bad for business. Only two servants, one cook and another cleaner who also worked for the household remained on the payroll out of usual six.  His cousin was somewhere in the farm pruning trees since early morning. Even if tourists were missing, the farm work afforded no breaks. 

Rajat Sinha, the only other guest in the establishment came in to have another cup of chai in the small dining area overlooking the beautiful mountain farm. He sipped his tea meditatively watching birds jumping around from one tree branch to another. Giri took a seat at his table and offered him a cigarette. “It’s been a long time Sinha sahab. Haven’t seen you for a while.”

Sinha smiled and shook his head, “So long that I’ve stopped smoking.” Giri nodded and put the pack back in his pocket, “Maybe I should try stopping too.”

“Your lungs will thank you for this.” Sinha inhaled deeply. “The air here is much better than Kathmandu.”

“Perhaps, it’s all the same to me.”

“That’s one reason why you should go slow on cigarettes.”

Both men sipped their tea in silence for a few minutes and watched the scenery. The cook came in to clear their tables and left another pot of freshly brewed tea. Sinha filled their cups and asked, “How’re things at work?”

“You know, more of the same. Some people are quite happy, some are very sad and some don’t know what to feel. The usual circus.”

“But stable I hope?”

Giri took a sip of tea and sighed appreciatively, “As stable as the snow you see on those mountain peaks. It’ll stay as long as the temperature remains cold, some rock doesn’t shift or whatever wind or sun allow.”

Seeing Sinha smile he added further, “And I am guessing that you want a bit of warm weather?”

“Not really, unless it’s absolutely necessary. But there are some people who are making things worse than they need to be.” 

“Kedar Rana, Srijan Mathi and associates? You know who actually controls them. Uttam Maharaj hasn’t been the Prime Minister he expected to be for quite some time.”

“Northern neighbour must be paying well enough.”

“They also have his balls locked up somewhere in the middle kingdom.”

Sinha chuckled and leaned back in his chair, “We need him to get those back. We want him to either help us or stay out of our way. Things are going to get hot and we can’t afford an enemy stronghold in Kathmandu.” 

Giri shook his head, “Haven’t you tried already? He is more like a viceroy rather than a PM at this point.”

“It leaves us with only one option.”

“Don’t forget about Dutta family.”

“That’s been taken care of already. The young Trilochan has always been way too indiscreet for his own good.”

Giri finished his cup of tea and scribbled something on a piece of paper. “Amounts and accounts. Should take around 12-14 days once I get the go ahead.”

Sinha read the note,”It’s quite a lot you are asking for here.”

“Chinese spent twice this amount during the elections.”

Sinha folded the paper and put it in his pocket, “I’ll have to get approval of my seniors for this.”

“Sure, but try to make it quick. By the way, which agency do you work for, I don’t know anyone who knows. Is it RAW, IB, NIA, CBI or CIA, ISI , which one is it? 

Sinha  laughed politely, “I’ll tell you if you take off one zero off this figure.”

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