Tuesday, 31 December 2013

New Year Bugbears

This is a long list of New Year Bugbears that I have. 2014 is not likely to be a nice year, not any nicer than 1914 was to Europe. So, one century after the First World War, what are we likely to face?

1. Resurgent Fascism across multiple countries.
2. Europe finally plunging from recession into a complete economic collapse after an otherwise insignificant event starts off a domino effect.
3. America going further and further down the drain and starting to suffer from its own resurgent fascism.
4. Greater instability in Chinese international relations, and the possibility of one misguided event starting off a full-blown military conflict between China, Japan and South Korea, with terrifying ramifications for the rest of the world.
5. Pakistan, finally, going bonkers and having something horrible happen in that failed state.
6. Something not in this list turns out to be just as scary as any of those above.

So yeah. Crappy New Year.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

C Wright Mills strikes with a vengeance

Consider this, from "White Collar" -

Manipulations by professional image-makers are effective because their audiences do not or cannot know personally all the people they want to talk about or be like, and because they have an unconscious need to believe in certain types. In their need and inexperience, such audiences snatch and hold to the glimpses of types that are frozen into the language with which they see the world. Even when they meet the people behind the types face to face, previous images, linked deeply with feeling, blind them to what stands before them. Experience is trapped by false images, even as reality itself sometimes seems to imitate the soap opera and the publicity release.

False images, false imagery. This is the way our world is built - not through knowing people and power as they are or as they should be but through the manipulation of a few. Dr. Mills was speaking from the perspective of the early 1950s when he wrote this.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Atheists turning misogynistic - guess the brights aren't so bright after all?

Started off from something that I saw on a facebook feed and putting this up here - there's quite a bit of misogyny in atheism. Women are being shouted down in atheist rallies, one atheist threatened to "cop a feel" when a woman complained of sexist behavior, and women in general are being treated as second-class citizens. Which makes the atheists responsible no better than the religious fundamentalists or bigots they hate. (And which, once again, ties in with what Eric Hoffer has to say.)

Putting a couple of links here. This is as disgusting as it is unacceptable, and shows just how little critical thinking is going on in the atheist community regarding their own behavior and beliefs, and that's a horrible sign in more ways than one. Those responsible for misogyny should think back on their behavior and be ashamed of themselves.




Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Justice Louis Brandeis and the Right to Privacy

In this age of Facebook and Twitter, where private thoughts are subject to the global panopticon (and so is this blog) - I put forward the work of one of America's most distinguished Chief Justices, a man who has fought for the Right to Privacy.

From the fifth paragraph of this Harvard Law Review article from 1890- by David Warren and Louis Brandeis-

Of the desirability--indeed of the necessity--of some such protection, there can, it is believed, be no doubt. The press is overstepping in every direction the obvious bounds of propriety and of decency. Gossip is no longer the resource of the idle and of the vicious, but has become a trade, which is pursued with industry as well as effrontery. To satisfy a prurient taste the details of sexual relations are spread broadcast in the columns of the daily papers. To occupy the indolent, column upon column is filled with idle gossip, which can only be procured by intrusion upon the domestic circle. The intensity and complexity of life, attendant upon advancing civilization, have rendered necessary some retreat from the world, and man, under the refining influence of culture, has become more sensitive to publicity, so that solitude and privacy have become more essential to the individual; but modern enterprise and invention have, through invasions upon his privacy, subjected him to mental pain and distress, far greater than could be inflicted by mere bodily injury. Nor is the harm wrought by such invasions confined to the suffering of those who may be made the subjects of journalistic or other enterprise. In this, as in other branches of commerce, the supply creates the demand. Each crop of unseemly gossip, thus harvested, becomes the seed of more, and, in direct proportion to its circulation, results in a lowering of social standards and of morality. Even gossip apparently harmless, when widely and persistently circulated, is potent for evil. It both belittles and perverts. It belittles by inverting the relative importance of things, thus dwarfing the thoughts and aspirations of a people. When personal gossip attains the dignity of print, and crowds the space available for matters of real interest to the community, what wonder that the ignorant and thoughtless mistake its relative importance. Easy of comprehension, appealing to that weak side of human nature which is never wholly cast down by the misfortunes and frailties of our neighbors, no one can be surprised that it usurps the place of interest in brains capable of other things. Triviality destroys at once robustness of thought and delicacy of feeling. No enthusiasm can flourish, no generous impulse can survive under its blighting influence.

Now we have Facebook and Twitter and endless venues for idle gossip, most of which is easily accessible to the government and to large corporations and far from the sight of its subjects. With the encouragement of intrusion into privacy and the growing demands for people to conform to the new 'entrepreneurial' model, we have a system that controls individuals and turns them into flat, incomplete human beings. As Brandeis and Warren said, this triviality has destroyed all robustness of throught and delicacy of feeling.

I wonder if human nature itself is a casualty of the modern world.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Default is not in our stars, but in ourselves

Paul Krugman has good stuff to say on the present US shutdown. Not to mention a hilarious and highly appropriate ending line, which I've appropriated(heh) as the title of the post. This just makes me wonder what some of the Republican radicals are smoking. Their actions are far from sane.

That being said, is Obama in a catch-22 situation here? You know, if the Republicans held on to their present shutdown and the US hit its debt ceiling, the country would officially default on its loans. That would have global repercussions. But Wall Street - what would they do in the circumstances? Lend more money to a defaulting government, and bring the US government officially in Wall Street's pocket?

Stuff of nightmares if such a thing were ever possible, and nightmarish enough now anyway...

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Climate Change and upcoming nightmares, part 1 (brief)

The case for Anthropogenic Climate Change is nearly airtight now and the often-maligned IPCC is far more sure of it than it was in 2007. These are truly ominous developments, and they confirm a reality that nobody is willing to confront. More on this to come soon, but things are already sliding towards hell and the poor are going to suffer so oil companies can get a few dollars more.

Future generations are never going to forgive us for screwing up their world.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Corrupt Politicians in India and Brazil

Goody, goody! Gangsters, murderers and sex offenders among Indian politicians are now protected from the law by a Parliamentary bill, no less. To call this revolting is to seriously understate the case. An Indian politician could take part in a repeat of the infamous rape-and-murder in New Delhi in December and get away with it because he's an elected member of parliament! This is absolutely sickening - and what can the Indian public do about it?

Get angry. Really, really angry.

There is a limit to the sort of garbage that these politicans throw at us, and we've let them go for far too long. If 25 percent of Indian politicians have criminal records and they have judicial immunity, this country is going to go downhill.

Now, there might be some good news from Brazil. Brazilians are sick of corruption and showing their anger and at least they're putting enough pressure to make Dilma Rousseff listen. Brazilian politicians are immune to prosecution and the crimes they're accused of are utterly horrifying - murder, the use of slave labor, killing enemies with acid and chainsaws (what the hell???) and so on. It makes me wonder what Indian politicians might have achieved had they been given immunity. Unbelievable. This kind of madness just can't be let to continue, not in India, not in Brazil, not anywhere in the world. Those who abuse power must be thrown behind bars for good.

On the Financialization of Cities - Extorting Citizens to pay the Corrupt

A couple of days ago, I had the honor of listening to Prof. Michael Goldman of the University of Minnesota speak on the Financialization of Cities worldwide - raising the issues of financialization in North America, Europe, and the rest of the world, including India where I live. I happen to live in Bangalore, one of Thomas Friedman's favorite locations and a city that got plenty of focus in "The World is Flat", a book that encapsulated the conventional wisdom on globalization and banged the same point over again a zillion times.

Disagreements with Friedman aside, the potential for the financialization of Bangalore is high, and the recent move to raise parking rates in the center of the city has me worrying. Is Bangalore the corporation plans to charge parking at rates higher than commerical rents. And we don't even know for certain what conditions this decision has been taken - except that it has been taken entirely out of the hands of the people of Bangalore. Everyone living in this city will pay a lot and get nothing in return for it. Traffic will get worse due to the designated parking spaces, people will have to park their cars elsewhere, and nothing good will be done to anyone - except for the city municipality, which simply has no accountability. Millions of rupees go into some corrupt politician's pocket, or into the hands of a corporation. Forget ordinary citizens, who have nothing to rely upon except an inadequate public transportation service. The Indian Congress Party is not Jawaharlal Nehru's party or Mahatma Gandhi's party - it seems to serve corporations and politicians above all. Well, whoever I'm voting for next time, it won't be for them. 

This kind of crookedness is barely Indian. In Chicago, parking meters are in the hands of a private consortium. This consortium, as the linked article explains, has made a fortune ripping off the citizens of Chicago, all in the name of "fair prices" and "efficiency". All of these lies and this corruption is taking place in the United States, the country that calls itself the world's only 'hyperpower' in the absence of its Cold War-era rival, the USSR. If one of the largest and most famous cities in the most powerful nation in the world has its citizens routinely ripped off by corporations, what does it say about the country, or the state of the world.

Ah, and now the Dutch King declares the end of the welfare state. Everywhere in the world it seems like a war of the rich against the poor, and it is disgusting.

If Karl Marx were to come to this world and take a look at the present state of affairs, all he would say is "I told you so."

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Four Freedoms

Via Paul Krugman (and condolences for Albert) : Free to be Hungry

He has hit the nail on the head: Conservatives in the US (and indeed, all over the world) ramble on about "Freedom" - and in fact, they turn it into freedom to starve or to die. The statistics on food stamps - the rise from 26 million six years ago to 48 million now - is appalling, coming as it is from the world's sole hyperpower. Whenever great starvation goes hand-in-hand with great prosperity, nothing good bodes for the world.

Whatever one might say about FDR, he was a very clever and very understanding person - not to say he didn't make mistakes, it's just that he did his work in a way that others didn't. I admit complete ignorance of his Four Freedoms before Krugman linked to it. So here goes - The Four Freedoms

Freedom of speech? Constantly being undermined by a panoptical system that equates dissent with disloyalty.
Freedom of worship? Take a look at the context of the war on terror and what it's doing to American minds! Sikhs are being assaulted in the US for wearing turbans, and ordinary muslims are still treated as 'terrorists' or second-rate citizens. It's inexcusable.
Freedom from want? Gee, conservatives the world over want people to be free to keep wanting things they can never have -even if those things are as fundamental as food.
Freedom from fear? No, now the present attitude is to make people afraid of everything - whether it's the government, the police, the military, or various 'enemies' - such as fanatics, terrorists, wannabe communists, or whatever else.

FDR, your Four Freedoms may have inspired your country seventy years ago, but if you were alive now, you would find not the slightest pretence of beleiving in these, either in your nation or in the rest of the world.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Cheating at Statistics

Taking an example from the Second World War here, from the gigantic field of slaughter that was the Eastern Front from 1941 to 1945. Who was it who said that there are three types of lies - lies, damned lies and statistics? Anyway, here's an instance of how statistical terminology used differently by two different sides can cause a serious discrepancy in figures. Courtesy of Tank Archives, links to two parts of a five-part series on Statistics, as used by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union -

Cheating at Statistics, Part 1
Cheating at Statistics, Part 3

Parts 2, 4 and 5 deal with plain old cheating at Statistics - hopelessly inaccurate and miscalculated figures, deliberately fudged or misstated figures, and figures that were flat-out dreamed up. But Parts 1 and 3 highlight a far greater issue than simple cheating at figures - they deal with legitimate statistics that can lead to grave error. This sort of thing goes way beyond counting knocked-out tanks or downed aircraft - it has implications everywhere in statistics. Like Inigo Montoya tells Vizzini in The Princess Bride: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

In Part 1, the Luftwaffe listed aircraft that were shot down or wrecked on the ground as partial losses : 40%, or 50%, depending on how much of the aircraft was recoverable. This is a sensible metric when thinking of an airplane or a tank or a truck as a collection of resources and parts. "40% of the resources by value that went into the aircraft or 40% of the thousands of parts that went into the aircraft were lost." It does hide, however, that the aircraft or tank as a fighting unit was out of action. While it may be a cliche to say that the whole is more than the sum total of its parts, that applies literally in case of complex machinery like tanks and aircraft. The consequence of the German method of counting losses, as noted in this article, is that no vehicle is ever a total loss unless it is lost in land captured by the enemy.

The Russian approach is described in Part 3 is to count every single unit that's out of action as a loss. Vehicles stuck in mud and needing repairs, knocked-out tanks that could simply have the holes patched up and sent back into battle, vehicles in long-term repairs or refurbishment and so on - in effect everything that was even temporarily taken out of fighting - became a loss. The end result is that Russian loss statistics are enormously inflated while German loss statistics are far below what you would expect.

I don't know how the Americans or the British counted their lost tanks, but this sort of information could counter a whole lot of confusion. Now that bashing Russian equipment has become a favorite pastime amongst the various fans of US military equipment, they point at the T-34's colossal loss statistics to suggest that the tank was vastly inferior and that its superiority was largely a propaganda myth (Completely ignoring the praise heaped on it by the T-34's German evaluators, including Erwin Rommel and Heinz Guderian). That the T-34 sent to Aberdeen in the United States was an old vehicle that had been built in a hurry and repaired after repeated battle damage didn't help too much. Having the statistics for T-34 and Panzer losses cleared up helps put the counter-claim about the T-34's ineffectiveness to rest : The T-34 truly was the "Queen of Tanks" and a design to make the world take notice.

INS Sindhurakshak - what is going on with the investigation?

Something peculiar is going on here. From Business Standard newspaper -Russian experts denied access to the sunken INS Sindhurakshak

Why the Russians should be denied access doesn't make much sense. The Russians have as much of an interest in finding the cause of the disaster as the Indian Navy, since they're the one building and operating the submarines in question. The Kursk accident taught the Russians to put aside pride accept help when offered - why repeat the mistake the Russians made thirteen years ago?

Also valid is the point about Russian and Indian operating procedures being different. What in the operating procedures might have caused the accident?

And to ask an old question - was it a 53-65 torpedo?

Anyway, this entire "international tender" business is going to take its own time. The families of those killed will just have to wait.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Problem of Power - By John Kenneth Galbraith

I came across this excerpt from "American Capitalism". John Kenneth Galbraith shows why he was one of the best political-economic theorists of the 20th century. No one can ever beat a man of that intelligence to the punch.


True indeed that men with unbelievable power at their fingertips choose to glance at their shackles rather than the things within their reach.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

INS Sindhurakshak- assessing damage, again

Via livefist defence

Quoting the Navy officer involved -
  • The submarine still has weapons on board, possibly both torpedoes and missiles. These will need to be attended to on priority to make sure they don't pose a threat during salvage.
  • The pressure bulkhead areas in the forward and mid sections are completely warped/destroyed.
  • A hull rupture in the forward section means pumping out the viscously oily sea water inside the boat is impossible.

Regarding the first point - it almost sounds as though they're unclear what weapons were loaded on board the submarine, which is ridiculous. Perhaps the modifier "unexploded" should have been placed to make the situation clearer. Are missiles and torpedoes stored interchangeably on the same racks? Where exactly did the initial explosions begin? All of this is crucial - and it's hard to say whether or not the Navy actually took the trouble of checking out the front of the submarine. As dangerous as it would be to check the front of the submarine, it would make sense to look into the wreck of the torpedo room and try to count the warheads.

The second point indicates a truly colossal explosion. From the wording, I would guess that compartments one through four were breached and vented to the sea. No word on compartments 5 and 6, and whether anyone managed to lock themselves up when the front of the submarine blew to kingdom come. Damage from bulkhead cable penetrations and the shaft seals would have flooded the entire submarine in a couple of days even if the stern was sealed. Was any air leaking from the rear of the submarine? None of the images visible show air leaking, and there is no mention of air leaking from the stern. The stern was most likely flooded long ago - it seems very unlikely that compartment 6 is still watertight and filled with air (and, grisly as it is to say this, corpses of the submariners)

Point three seems rather pointless - given the magnitude of the blast, of course pumping seawater out is impossible. The structural damage assessment is still on, although it seems somewhat tardy given that the submarine is sitting right there at the dock. This really shouldn't be.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

India finally set to get its new aircraft carrier on November 15...

...or so the Russians claim.


Judging from the way things have gone, it would be no surprise at all if some sort of foul-up happens along the way and the carrier is sent back to Russia for repairs. If the Indian Navy has learnt anything, it should examine that carrier thoroughly before another disgraceful incident adds to this sorry saga.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The Indian Rupee now trades at 68 to the Dollar - Political Implications

When I started this blog I thought I'd be looking at Economics and Politics and other things in general rather than focusing so narrowly on India, but recent events seem to be changing the situation. Well, I'm keeping this post short since there's enough screaming already.

The Indian Rupee has just breached 68 to the Dollar and it looks like it'll soon trade at 70 to the dollar. That would made every go even wilder than they are now. Every newspaper headline is screaming "Bloodbath in the SENSEX" and the stock markets are going wild. And there's the new threat of inflation in essentials, imported equipment is that much more expensive, so on and so on. And oil prices are going to go through the roof. Not exactly a comfortable time to live.

The political implications of this fall worry me just as much as the economic implications. I'm in a category of people that has to worry relatively little about having a good life. But there are enough people living close to the line who are going to feel the hit very, very badly. And when that happens, frustration is going to strike, and those who peddle cheap solutions over workable ones are likely to take center stage. Everyone wants a messiah to save them, and the messiah who emerges from this mess is likely to turn into Satan.

I'll be watching, but I don't think I'll be happy.

Monday, 26 August 2013

John Taylor Gatto and Education that works all too well (plus Eric Hoffer)

Well, I've been reading John Taylor Gatto's work - the Underground History of American Education is a fascinating start. The man has put together a frightening and coherent history of the American education system, which turns out to be thoroughly contrary to the entire point of American Democracy. It's surprisingly nightmarish - and it, among other works like Grace Llewellyn's Teenage Liberation Handbook, really do offer a much-needed wake-up call to the problem plaguing schools. The issue with the US school system, according to them, is not that it's not working - it's only that it works far too well. Having been to Alcatraz and having been reminded of School when stepping into one of the infamous cells at the end of Block 'D', I completely agree with the notion of school as a prison.

Not that many people would be reading this, but if you disagree and think that school is a great place to be, well, that's your opinion. Leave me to have my own. I don't mind making it public, because I do believe that schools and education are far from the same thing. I could go on and on about schools, but that's not the point I'm making here.

I'm bringing Eric Hoffer, an old favorite of mine, into this melee. Eric Hoffer was one of the greatest scholars of fanaticism to have ever lived and his work has yet to be rivalled in terms of sheer simplicty, lucidity, and descriptiveness when it comes to explaining the nightmare phenomenon of fanaticism. To quote the man himself, in section 8 of page 14 in the 2002 Harper&Row edition - "Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute in the lost faith in ourselves" - a sentence that is at once simple and profound, and which says more than a hundred pages in average book ever could. Indeed, sections 7 to 13 discuss the ways in which an individual's lack of self-worth and longing for something greater in life - especially when their individual lives are seen as irredeemably spoiled and worthless - leads them to seek a 'greater cause' in order to restore meaning to their lives. "The vanity of the selfless, even those who practice the utmost humility, is boundless", says he (section 11) - and perhaps I have seen some of this in my life as well.

Hoffer's extraordinary analysis doesn't seem to dive deep enough to the root cause of this feeling of insecurity and individual worthlessness - however, Gatto's analysis of the schooling system puts up an explanation for what Eric Hoffer, Der Autodidakt (German: The Self-taught man) did not pinpoint: schooling itself is the basis for creating worthlessness in society. Gatto references the great theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer's analysis of Nazism (which, frustratingly, remains elusive on the internet) as a case in point : the best schooled people turned out to be the best suited to the fanaticism of the Nazi movement. Of course, with Germany having taken a full-on hit from the Great Depression in the early 1930s and the Communists and Nazis brawling on the streets 24 hours a day, it was just a matter of which movement eventually came trumps. The Nazis won, and former communists landed up joining the Nazi ranks.

How does this stay relevant for the present day? Well, all too many commentators the world over have complained either about the education system being hopelessly ineffective (as in the United States) or have clamored for expanding the present system of education to new areas and making it more 'competitive' (as in India). In the Indian case, education is indeed justified because Indian communities, particuarly in rural and poor urban areas, just don't have the resources at hand to educate their kids. But imposing industrial-style 'western' education on them as-is would be asking for a disaster.

Education was never meant to educate : it was meant to train children to be obedient, and accept their place unquestioningly (Gatto even fingers the caste-based education system in India right alongside the Prussian education system as a root of modern education). Even if all these kids are 'educated' to fit into a modern industrial society, what guarantee is there that they'll have jobs and a life that won't stop them from falling into the hands of fanatics? Whether in India or the United States - or any other place where large-scale 'modern' classroom education is prevant - there is rich fuel for fanaticism. Create an army of angry, frustrated people who have been educated to 'know their place' and mindlessly obey orders, and bring in a few 'peddlers of hope' - and you get serious trouble.

As our past educators have sown, so shall this generation, and those following it, reap.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

INS Sindhurakshak - Requiem, Sabotage, and moanings about Pakistan's subs

Now that all hope is quietly lost for the officers and crew of the Kilo-class submarine Sindhurakshak, the only thing left to do is say farewell to the 18 men whose lives were lost.

The pathetic sabotage angle is still being batted about in the media, amidst moanings about India having an under-funded and vulnerable submarine arm. While it's true that most Indian submarines are old and in need of being replaced by newer submarines (the INS Sindhurakshak, sadly, was one of the newer Kilos) - it looks like Pakistan has two older, late-70s Agostas and two modern late-90s models. Five submarines and three midget submarines does not translate into overwhelming firepower.

However, I can see why the Indian Navy might be worried about the future - five Air Independent Propulsion equipped diesel subs and a nuclear sub are supposed to be due in the next five years, and that would certainly be a troublesome development if India doesn't get its next generation of diesel subs out in time. While this constitutes a definite reason to be concerned about the future, I really don't get the point of the present moanings at all.

Fanaticism and the fact-proof screen - and Eric Hoffer


Via Atheist Revolution, a quote from one of the greatest political philosophers most people have never heard of, and a rather disturbing reminder that Atheism can be just as fanatical as religion. And indeed, when a fanatic uses a dogma - any old dogma - to shield themselves from the rest of the world, all reason and thought go out of the window. Winston Churchill nailed it when he talked about a fanatic being a person willing to change all other minds except their own.

As I noted in my connectivity-plagued Wordpress blog, Eric Hoffer is a fantastic political philosopher.
The man who would rather have been known as an ordinary longshoreman has done more than anyone else in contributing to an understanding of fanaticism. One can only wish that his name had been more prominent in the terror-plagued first decade of the 21st century. Hoffer had his flaws - in being overly conservative and judgmental in a number of instances - but I have yet to see anyone explain things as lucidly and as wonderfully as Hoffer. His observations are profound in the truest sense of the word, and he manages with one sentence what other writers fail to do with ten pages. John Taylor Gatto would have been proud of him too - here is a man with so little in the way of formal education, but who taught himself to the point of outclassing post-doctorates.

We'll miss men like Hoffer who could expose fanaticism for what it really was: a grand system of madness and delusion that insulates a damaged, frightened, broken individual from a mad world. None of us are willing to look at the social and educational systems that create broken people, to 'use the slime of frustrated souls as mortar in the creation of a new world'.

Those who fight fanatics are often in ignorance of their true nature. May the light of Hoffer's knowledge be a candle in the dark to all those who fight the demon of fanaticism.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Leaders - we could do without them, part 1

Many months ago, I and probably quite a few people in my class sent their entries on leadership to two HR representatives in a reputable company. Nothing was ever heard of from those two again, although they had promised an iPad to whoever wrote the best entry! Well, so much for promises in this era. Anyway, regardless of whether or not they've appropriated my words in their company publications, I am going to republish it. I'm sick of hearing about 'leadership' and 'leaders' in the view of what's going in on Egypt and Greece, as well as closer home.

Plato said that the best leaders were those who did not want to be leaders. My position is that there should be none. The cultural notion of a leader implicitly assumes that only leaders may lead and others meekly, unthinkingly, follow as dispensable objects of his/her power. Thus, leaders, whether self-appointed or designated, are antithetical to leadership, which is a reciprocal relationship between two or more human beings. Anyone may lead and anyone may be led, but no one may be a leader.

The relation between leader and follower takes on a power relationship between dominant and inferior individuals. The dominance of the leading individual may be temporary, or it may be institutionalized into the appearance of permanence. Assuming that all individuals are leaders(whether over themselves or others) is to assume that all are simultaneously be leader and follower, like Schodinger’s Cat (simultaneously alive and dead) . However, a wily child can (mis)lead a king, and a marketing intern, via presentation, can lead a CEO into changing his course of action. In both instances, the individual at the top of the social hierarchy is being led by the one at the bottom. Their dominant power relationship is fleeting, even when reversed: the CEO(or anyone else) can rationally claim to be a ‘leader’ only in the act of leading another, not in and of him/herself.

We need to recognize the truth about leadership being a transient, temporary, reciprocal relationship between individuals. Every individual in an organization must understand that they are linked in an “inextricable web of mutuality” in which they constantly lead and are led by other, fellow human beings and not impersonal objects. Once individuals understand this, they may more appropriately assert their leadership. Perhaps with wisdom and a little iconoclasm, we shall have enough of leadership. The institutionalized leader, a public disaster if there ever was one, is still going about the world. We need to get rid of this institution if we are to have a better future.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Economic illogic in top Economics graduate programs

I've had enough of blogging about the INS Sindhurakshak's accident and the bleak situation on board, so I'm looking at economics now.

Via Economic Logic - tenured professors are hired solely on basis of reputation

The situation, in a nutshell - graduates are hired for professorship based on the reputation of their college and not on their individual capacity.

This utterly destroys the entire point of the program instituted to create professors worthy of tenure, and brings in less-qualified students from highly ranked institutions at the expense of far better qualified students from lower ranked institutions. Heuristics at their destructive best.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

INS Sindhurakshak - obsessed with the sabotage angle

Via Times of India -


This is getting ridiculous. Who are the 'veteran submariners' in question? Why is there such a fuss about sabotage? And who claims that Sindhurakshak was heading for the Pakistani coast on patrol? The last claim in particular is downright toxic. Dubious reporting of this nature doesn't help the mounting India-Pakistan tension at the moment, especially since blowing up another nation's submarine is an open act of war.

Some of the points in the article are very questionable indeed. To refute some of the things-

1. "Submarines have a sprinkler system" - Submarines don't carry sprinklers that spray water and foam like surface ships, due to very restricted liquid storage and the need to use the fire suppression system underwater, where the pressure of the seawater outside would simply flood the entire submarine. The subs use gas-based fire suppression systems, in case of the Russians, Freon-based systems. These use on-board refrigerants to displace the oxygen from the region of a blaze while the crew put on their gas masks, and this system is typically triggered manually to prevent an accident. An automatic version of this system caused an accident on the submarine K-152 Nerpa in 2008 - ironically, that's the same nuclear leased to the Indian Navy as the INS Chakra.

Since Freon works by displacing oxygen, a fire that doesn't need oxygen from the surrounding air - such as that caused by peroxide leaking and reacting with metal to release oxygen, or burning rocket propellants (which use their own oxidizer) won't be affected from Freon like a normal fire would. The possible culprits for the fire are the same materials that won't be put out by Freon. If Sindhurakshak used a manually triggered system, it is possible that the crews in the command spaces couldn't activate it,

2. "Missiles and torpedoes carry multiple layers of protection" - the level of protection varies from weapon to weapon, with the highest levels of protection being reserved for warhead safety. And it's a known fact that some of the weapons aboard the submarine - the 53-65 torpedoes in particular - are pretty dangerous by design and require very careful handling.

3. I'm going to argue against sabotage from the point of view of accident investigation. Sabotage is the laziest, lowest-effort explanation possible, and it places the blame entirely on easily acceptable targets (spies, traitors, terrorists, et cetera) rather than taking into account an objective view of the event. Accidents involving large, complex systems sometimes have a long chain of failures - it just needs one failure not to happen to prevent the entire accident.

For instance, the 1967 fire on the Aircraft Carrier USS Forrestal involved its own chain of failures - bringing aboard decaying World War Two era bombs, the loss of the safety pins in the rocket pods due to high wings, plugging in the pods early to reduce takeoff time, the randomness of electrical short circuits, and the loss of the ship's fire control team during their heroic attempt to delay a catastrophic explosion as long as possible. In 2002, a Boeing 747 blew up due to poorly repaired damage from a tailstrike 22 years earlier - damage that would have been caught in another few months - showing that old accidents can set up time bombs for the future.

If the system aboard the submarine had multiple levels of safeguards, there were likely multiple levels of failure involved. Finding the answer may be hard, but it mattters to the safety of everyone who serves aboard these vessels - not just in the Indian Navy but all over the world. Seeking out sabotage before all accidental causes have been conclusively ruled out is a grave disservice to submariners.

INS Sindurakshak - accident while loading missile onboard suggested

UPDATE: The situation grows increasingly grim.

UPDATE: 15Aug 20:38 IST :
Still no luck.

This is an interesting new suggestion. A preliminary inquiry suggests that procedures for loading a Klub missile onboard were violated, and this caused the explosion. The Klub has a multi-stage rocket/turbojet engine, but there's an entire complex of missiles, and some of them just use a rocket. So whether it was the rocket fuel, or the turbojet fuel, or the missile warhead itself that started the blaze isn't elaborated upon.

No mention of a torpedo - at least, not yet.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Business Standard gets it right on INS Sindhurakshak

Business Standard has an article on INS Sindhurakshak that is very detailed and explains things wonderfully well, courtesy of Vice-Admiral (Retired) A. K. Singh.


1. A straight-out confirmation of the same issue the diagram shows - the torpedo storage is above the battery compartment in the Kilo class and it is a genuine danger.

2. Hydrogen fire/explosion + munitions explosion suggested.

3. The torpedoes carried on board are the 53-65 and the TEST 71-76. The TEST is a battery-powered torpedo but the 53-65 runs off a mixture of kerosene and either hydrogen peroxide or oxygen.

The submarine really was carrying torpedoes capable of replicating the Kursk accident - this point has to be driven home. It remains to be seen what the Board of Enquiry finds regarding the torpedoes. The British and the Americans got rid of Kerosene-Peroxide torpedoes after the loss of HMS Sidon in 1955, but the Russians persisted in using them. Kursk showed that it was not a good idea - is this or is this not another warning that Peroxide has no place on a submarine?

4. Explosions suggested to have been between 500-1000 kilograms of high explosive, and the missiles carry warheads of up to 450 kilograms (ouch!). A 200 kilogram torpedo warhead is bad enough but multiple explosions from the missiles and torpedoes on board would get rid of the front of the sub. Like the Admiral himself says, it's good that the Kilo class has a double hull.

5. The 2010 battery fire was caused by a ventilation system malfunction that let gas build up. The batteries were made by Exide, but the ventilation system appears to have been Russian. So the fault seems to lie with the Russians for not fixing it.

6. Or maybe the Russians aren't to blame after all. Crucial information right here - submarines in the dock are charged from a shore supply rather than using their own diesels. Did this cause a violation of normal operating procedures regarding ventilation? Was the sub's ventilation system simply switched off rather than malfunctioning? More unanswered questions.

I suppose I'll leave things here for this evening. When Admirals start throwing in their two cents, geeks like me can only sit and watch.

INS Sindhurakshak - Critical look at the Hindustan Times report


(Linked above)

"What exactly lead to the blast?" The Hindustan Times asks. A perfectly good question. In line with the three scenarios of doom that I've put together with what little information I have, I'm going ahead and taking a good look at this report.

First off, it seems like the reporter here has been talking to quite a good source. I can't imagine most people who are not Naval experts/fans/nerds describing the vessel as a "classic" diesel-electric submarine. The epithet is true - diesel-electric submarines have been around for over a century now, and the Sindhurakshak is indeed a descendant of the same submarines that caused terror on the high seas during World War One. Their batteries do need to store a lot of energy to move a 3000-ton vessel around for hours.

That being said, there are some details here that call for further explanation. Quoted below-

 There are usually two battery rooms on a submarine. Forward battery room is placed beneath the officer’s quarters and aft battery room is beneath control room.
I'm placing the image I used in the three scenarios of doom post below this one.  (Click to enlarge)

Looking through the labels on the original image, there is indeed an 'accommodation' between the forward battery bank and the torpedo storage area above it (The "1" is right on it, in fact). Whether this is a crew accommodation or officer's quarter isn't evident from the sources I have. However, the aft battery room in the diagram that I have (labeled in Russian) is under another crew's quarters, not the sub's control spaces. What the HT reporter has either not mentioned or not been told is that the forward batteries are separated from the torpedo storage by just one deck. Hydrogen, the lightest of all gases, would go up and collect in the torpedo room through ventilation ducts (and there's the issue of blowers not working, which I'll come to). It just needs a spark for hydrogen leaking from the forward batteries to blow up in or near the torpedoes - with catastrophic results.

I am in no position to comment on the hydrogen build-up rate, concentration or mixture. The article states that the blowers used to suck hydrogen out of the battery compartments were not working. The one-crore-rupee-questions here are : why were the blowers not working, and where do the blowers usually vent their hydrogen gas?

A submarine recharges its batteries and replenishes its air on the surface - so presumably the blowers would be working and blowing the hydrogen out of the submarine with the waste air during the normal course of a battery recharge. Why was that not being followed? Was it merely an oversight caused by the submarine being at the dock, or had something else broken down? Was the submarine being charged by an external diesel generator rather than its own engine at the time?

Now comes the haunting part of the report -

Two separate explosions happened almost simultaneously, one after the other on the aft side of the shift, which is adjacent to the ship’s torpedo department.
The first explosion was comparatively small, and could have triggered the second explosion.
This brings to mind Kursk, almost 13 years ago. Nevertheless, I'll take this apart slowly. 

By "aft side of the shift", he really should mean "aft side of the ship". This is confusing. Looking at the diagram, it's quite clear that the torpedo compartment is forwards in the bow, or the front end of the shift. The aft, or rear end of the ship is occupied by the diesel generator, electromotors, steering and auxiliary mechanisms. The reporter seems to have jumbled the layout of the submarine quite badly, or perhaps his source messed up (An older generation of submarines- such as the majority of World War Two submarines and the Project 645 'Foxtrot' do have an aft torpedo compartment, but this submarine very plainly does not).

However, if the report is right and the fire and explosion happened somewhere close to the aft end of the submarine, it supports the rear bank of batteries exploding in an unusually violent manner, violent enough to rupture the submarine's hull. This is as strange as it is horrific - how much hydrogen could have built up to cause such a volcanic explosion? 

The odd thing is that the two separate explosions are said to have happened nearly simultaneously - and the first one is said to be much smaller - which is quite hard to reconcile with the explosion happening aft and blowing a hole in the submarine's hull.

"The first explosion was relatively small and could have triggered the second explosion" - this is, in a nutshell, what happened to Kursk on August 12, 2000. A hydrogen peroxide torpedo exploded and knocked out the submarine's command spaces. The resultant fire set off multiple torpedo and missile warheads, causing Kursk to explode. An explosion of hydrogen gas or a faulty torpedo in the bow torpedo room seems quite likely to have caused the first explosion in a confined space. That, in turn, could easily have set off a few torpedo or missile warheads and in turn caused the second, larger explosion. Much like Kursk, the second blast would have turned the front of the submarine into a mangled wreck.

Probably the key to understanding the blast is whether the second explosion happened instantly after the first, or if there was a delay of a few minutes as the fire from the first explosion cooked off the warheads. The rocket motors of any Klub missiles on board would also be a 'wildcard' if on board- their propellants, if ignited, would start a blaze that could not be starved of oxygen.

"What exactly lead to the Sindhurakshak blast" does not do a good enough job of explaining the disaster on all these points. Nevertheless, for a highly trained crew to be caught unawares and left without time to prepare speaks of a sudden, horrific disaster on board, and that such a disaster should happen does not bode well at all.

Inside the INS Sindhurakshak : Three scenarios of doom (Updated to four)

UPDATE: Additional information in this post, via Business Standard:

I managed to find the internal layout of a Russian Kilo-class submarine off the internet. It took me a while to clean up the image and label the neccessary components, but here it is. (Original image courtesy deepstorm.ru - fair use for educational purposes)

To the security-conscious : Internal layout schematics of the Russian Kilo class and several warships of various navies are available on the internet. How accurate these schematics are is a matter of question. I will take this particular image as accurate for the sake of finding out how far any sailors trapped in INS Sindhurakshak are from the batteries and torpedo units, and I assume it's accurate enough. The Kilo is an old boat and there is nothing at all in the way of secrets to spill.

(Click on image to enlarge)

The Project 877, known to NATO as the 'Kilo' class and the Indian Navy as the 'Sindhughosh' class, has been around since the early 1980s. It's 72.6 (some sources say 72.9 meters) long and 9.9 meters wide and approximately as tall since the submarine's hull is circular. The displacement (weight) of the vessel varies in various sources. There are two major possible culprits for the Sindhurakshak accident - Hydrogen Peroxide torpeodes (like the ones that destroyed Kursk) and a possible hydrogen leak from the batteries. I've coloured the torpedoes red and the batteries yellow.

1. Scenario one: A repeat of the Kursk accident. A torpedo leaking hydrogen peroxide that came into contact with rust or corrosion in the torpedo room. A Kilo-class submarine carries a total of 18 torpedoes in the torpedo room, and some of the news sources I see claim that the submarine had a full load of torpedoes. Of course, I have no way to know how true this is - but even a single torpedo carries several hundred kilograms of explosive.

Whether anything up front leaked hydrogen peroxide or not is an open question in the absence of testimony from the sailors on board. There was apparently enough warning for several sailors to jump off the submarine and run for their lives. A peroxide leak falling onto rust would cause high temperatures and a release of oxygen, igniting the kerosene fuel of the torpedoes if in close proximity. A fire started in such a manner would have sent any crew in the vicinity fleeing, and it would take a couple of minutes for the torpedo warheads to cook off and produce the giant fireball seen in video footage.

A torpedo explosion would completely obliterate compartment 1 and compartment 2, as well as the submarine's sonar dome and torpedo tubes. Compartment 3 is not likely to survive either, and compartment 4's bulkhead is only 15 meters from the explosion. Compartment 5 and 6 have their bulkheads 24 and 31.5 meters from compartment 1's bulkhead and are shielded by the heavy diesel generator and other machinery in Compartment 4. It's in these two compartments that the 18 sailors would have to run into and shut themselves in if they were likely to survive. Russian submarines have extensive watertight compartmentalization unlike their American equivalents, and in the event of a torpedo explosion it's still likely that compartments 5 and 6 are safe. There are air flasks above compartment 5, so the crew can still breathe.

There's a real problem with the torpedo scenario - in Kursk, the fire and explosion happened in the closed confines of a poorly-secured, rusty torpedo tube, not inside the torpedo room itself. It's possible to have a repeat accident within the torpedo room, but this is pure conjecture.

2. Scenario two: Hydrogen fire from the forward batteries causing the torpedo fire. I didn't know about the torpedo room batteries when I made my last post. In this case it's not a leaky torpedo starting the fire, but the batteries up front leaking hydrogen and causing the fire. The extent to which the burning hydrogen would have spread prior to the explosion of the torpedoes and the huge fireball is not determinable without a clear understanding of air circulation within the submarine. I can't say whether or not the hydrogen fire would have been worse than a torpedo catching fire either. But the crew should be safe in compartments 5 and 6.

UPDATE: In Business Standard, Vice Admiral (Retired) A.K. Singh has pointed out this very issue with the location of the torpedo compartment above the batteries. This particular submarine had ventilation worries too.  So there's definitely one expert favoring Scenario Two : a hydrogen fire from the front batteries setting off the torpedoes.

3. Scenario three : Hydrogen fire in the rear batteries spreading and causing the torpedo fire. This is the worst scenario of the three, because the rear batteries are located in compartment 3, housing the crew. That means the fire was effectively centralized in the submarine and free to spread to the diesel generator room to the aft, or to the command spaces in front. The torpedo compartment isn't adjacent to this bank of batteries, so the fire from this would have to be especially bad to reach and set off the torpedoes in the front.

This scenario also places the men trapped behind in even greater peril. A fire powerful enough to set off torpedoes two full compartments forward would have used a lot of the air in the submarine already. The likelihood of crew injuries from fire and smoke is magnified. Compartments 5 and 6 are closer to the blaze, making it less likely that they were properly secured before the torpedoes went off.

Hopefully, scenario three is not the scenario that will manifest itself.

4. Scenario four (Information from 15 Aug 20:41 IST) -
Based on this NDTV news report and a later Times of India report. A preliminary inquiry suggests that the 3M-14E land attack cruise missiles (aka the 'Klub-S') on board were not being loaded into the submarine properly and that these may have been to blame. Apparently these had been just integrated into the submarine. The land-attack missile has the 450 kilogram warhead mentioned by VAdm(Ret.) A.K. Singh.

The 3M-14E uses a combination of a rocket first stage and a turbojet 'sustainer' engine. The turbojet engine should not be any great danger if it uses standard aviation kerosene, which is not volatile by its very nature (You can toss a lighted match into aviation kerosene and it'll be put out). I've looked in the public domain but haven't been able to find out what solid propellant this missile uses and whether or not it's highly sensitive in nature. Normally the missile's propellant is capped off to prevent it from being exposed to the air, as well as to prevent the crew from coming in contact with the often-toxic chemicals. If a Klub indeed caused the explosion, it would appear to be a fairly bad violation of operational procedures. Then again, this is a preliminary report, and there's a lot of information that I can't find out about the missile.

If I were to risk a little wild speculation, a loaded missile may have been dropped onto a 53-65 torpedo, and leaking turbojet fuel from the missile and leaking High Test Peroxide from the torpedo could have caused a flash fire and explosion. This would be a real stretch, but it seems to me a little more feasible based on what little I've read about missiles and torpedoes. (And assuming that the Klub's propellants are not very volatile, something I am not certain of).

UPDATE 1 (Aug 14): Another very intriguing news article comes up. A Mumbai fire bridgade officer managed to stop the fire from spreading to INS Sindhuratna, which was moored alongside. For how long had Sindhurakshak been burning like that? A sustained fire suggests diesel fuel - so this sub was fully fueled and was charging her batteries to head to sea when the big bang happened, it looks.

If this article is accurate, it raises the question of what the Navy officers aboard Sindhurakshak and Sindhuratna were doing when the second sub was in danger. What exactly was going on there? Exactly how long did it take for the fire engines to arrive? How long did it take for Sindhuratna to get underway? Too many questions, no clear answers yet. The quality of the reporting itself is suspect - which adds to the question of what happened.

INS Sindhurakshak fire - weird news reporting and distasteful comparisons to Khukri

(Edited to activate links) 

This confuses me. It says that 18 sailors on board are feared dead - so the ones on board who were trapped are likely to be the casualties? Or were others killed? I must admit I'm not happy with the comparison to INS Khukri, which went down fighting. What happened on board that submarine was an accident, possibly caused by criminal negligence. It's a different story altogether.

While I would otherwise have said "Rest in Peace" for those who died, that's a hollow thing to wish for - there are enough families and friends grieving for those lost, or for those trapped in the wreck. And they will want answers.

The BBC article claims that the submarine was sent to Russia because of the battery fire in 2010 that killed a sailor. This is significant, because in the link below, the Admiral interviewed said that the battery could have leaked hydrogen while charging and caused the fire -


If it had been the batteries and not the torpedoes, that raises issues of its own. The Kilo-class submarine is not a particularly large submarine, but the batteries are usually located in middle or rear of the submarine. The torpedoes and missiles(which were responsible for the huge fireball witnessed) were all the way up in the front. What caused the fire is connected with the survival of the 18 sailors on board. If it was a battery fire starting further aft that sank the sub, the possibility of their survival is pretty small. If it was a torpedo fire up front, it's good news for anyone in the stern. The sub is in shallow waters, and if any survivors aft have sealed the watertight doors, it's quite possible they're alive and well.

Other sources, which I've not quoted here, say that the submarine lacked an automatic system for getting rid of the hydrogen and needed the crew to take care of the problem manually. Not surprising, since this is an older Kilo-class submarine. The Russians may not have bothered building the required level of automation into an export vessel.

And now this is being characterized as a 'major setback' due to the delays in acquiring conventional submarines.

This accident is highly disturbing - leave aside the usual cries of 'treachery' and 'sabotage', the more likely causes are the technical failure of the submarine itself (either its batteries or its torpedoes) and human error in failing to stop charging and disposing of the excess hydrogen. The Indian Navy can afford neither at this juncture, with the other Kilo-class subs getting old and the Scorpenes being delayed.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

INS Sindhurakshak on fire - battery fire or possible torpedo explosion like Kursk?

UPDATE: Put up a new post showing the insides of a Kilo-class submarine and explaining three (updated on 15 August to four) possible scenarios for this disaster.

UPDATE 2: Have taken a look at Business Standard's excellent article on the accident, in which Vice Admiral (Retd.) A.K. Singh, a former submariner,  gives his opinion on the possible causes. Blog link goes here.

UPDATE 3: (August 16, 2125 IST) - A last update to this post. Four bodies have been found in the "second comparment behind the conning tower" - is it compartment 2 or compartment 4? The rest of the submarine is so badly mutilated that it's near-impossible to further into the submarine. Compartments 5 and 6 remain the most logical places for sailors to be safe - but do they have the oxygen? Were their watertight doors sealed? I suspect a long body count is forthcoming, so I'll put a stop to speculation for now.


This is horrible. Eighteen sailors trapped aboard a submarine in the dockyard ( 11:14 PM IST 14 August - still no word on whether anyone is alive but the situation looks very grim). At least this is not like the disaster on Kursk, which landed up a hundred meters below the Barents Sea. The men inside this submarine probably have access to oxygen and may be able to get out of the Kilo-class diesel submarine (Project 877EKM) alive.

Russian submarines and warships have long since suffered from substandard maintenance as the result of the fall of the USSR, and as far as I know the Russians never put into operation a SUBSAFE-style quality control program to prevent disastrous accidents from happening on their vessels. Submarines have had collisions, onboard fires and other accidents, Russian subs suffering pretty badly at times. So what happened on this Russian-built submarine?


This submarine has had a battery fire before. Batteries can overheat and catch fire at odd times - the case of Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft shows that batteries can cause trouble where least expected. But judging from the sheer size of this blaze, it's more likely that this is not a battery fire, but something far more ominous : a torpedo fire.

The most infamous victim of a torpedo fire was the Russian submarine K-141 Kursk,  which blew up and sank on 12 August 2000, almost exactly 13 years ago (superstitious people, please take note of this). The mighty Kursk was doomed by an exploding 650mm practice torpedo, powered by hydrogen peroxide. The link below identifies the practice torpedo in question as a 65-76 'Kit'. The hydrogen peroxide explosion and fire knocked out the command post and set off a second, much larger explosion of torpedoes stored forward, blowing the entire submarine to bits.

Did something similar happen aboard the Sindhurakshak? Quite possibly so. Take a look at the Russian torpedoes in the link below-
Several Russian 533mm weapons, such as the 53-65 torpedo, run off Kerosene and either Hydrogen Peroxide or Oxygen. A Kerosense-Peroxide practice torpedo, if leaking, could come into contact with rust or similar corrosion and start off a fire. Such a fire could 'cook off' torpedo warheads and cause the kind of explosion seen on film footage. While I can't claim to be an expert and determine the size or intensity of the blast from such footage, this is at least a plausible explanation for the explosion seen. (11:14 PM IST - Expert confirms the presence of the 53-65 and places explosion at 500-1000 kilograms HE.)

This submarine was back from an 80 million dollar modernization before it blew up. I won't be surprised if shoddy worksmanship had something to do with this disaster. If that's the case, it's going to be hard to trust Russian shipyards on anything, especially after the mess they made with Vikramaditya's modernization. Hopefully there won't be any more torpedoes on board to endanger the 18 men trapped inside. What a mess.

The new INS Vikrant is launched and Chinese newspapers get nervous

INS Vikrant has been launched, and India is able to claim being able to build Aircraft Carriers (power projection assets) in addition to nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (strategic nuclear assets). This is a step up for the Indian Navy. Of course, India has had carriers for a long time, just that it never built one on its own.

The Chinese newspapers were highly suspicious of JMSDF Izumo, the carrier-like helicopter destroyer that Japan just built. Izumo is pretty heavy for a helicopter destroyer, although the design seems unable to carry anything other than helicopters. Even if someone installed a ski-jump on Izumo, it's hard to say whether Izumo would be able to operate fully loaded harriers given the position of the forward elevator. It's large enough to operate STOVL aircraft, but its design really doesn't seem to be capable of doing that. It could operate something like the F-35B, but that would require the installation of heat-resistant tiles all over the deck. The F-35B's huge main engine dumps heat onto flight decks like there's no tomorrow, and even the USMC's V-22 Osprey tends to dump an excess of heat onto flight decks. Izumo, even for all her carrier-like features, is really a helicopter carrier and nothing further.

Here's a fine image that shows the Izumo, the older Hyuga, and the size of the hangar areas. Izumo's aft elevator has been moved to the side, possibly due to hangar space considerations. Placing the elevators on the centerline necessarily restricts hangar space. A centerline elevator would make sense if the hangard were broad enough to move multiple aircraft to the elevator from different spots around the elevator - but that's not the case. The elevator just leaves a hole in the deck when it's down the way it is.


Vikrant is, plainly, a fully capable STOBAR carrier by design. It was meant to extract the maximum possible takeoff and landing run lengths by design, its elevators are both deck-edge (meaning that they don't leave huge holes in the deck when they're down and don't waste internal space), and it has a proper ski-ramp to catapult aircraft into the skies. It's a proper carrier, and much closer to China's Liaoning. Liaoning has an unquestionable advantage in terms of size - it's a larger, heavier, warship than Vikrant, and it won't be matched by the Indian Navy until INS Vishal comes in. Of course, the Vishal will be matched against far more potent rivals when it comes into existence - the Chinese have plans for their own indigenous nuclear-powered, catapult-equipped carriers, and are using Liaoning as the basis to learn as much as they can about carrier air operations before those carriers come in. They really know how to hit the deck running.

To throw in a different perspective, the entire carrier arms race that has begun here looks pretty for a military fan. But apart from the economic and industrial benefits of militarized Keynesianism, there's a certain pointlessness to all of this. India and China have nuclear warheads and missiles. Japan has been under the United States' nuclear umbrella since the Cold War. Apart from relief and emergency operations, it is quite hard to imagine how these new carriers will come to use in a conflict without nuclear weapons. The United States has put its carrier strike aircraft to good use in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there's no way any other country would get away with waging war so far from home even in the wake of the most monstrous terrorist attack imaginable. How much are all these countries really going to achieve in the end? What war are they waiting to use their carriers for, now that they have the ultimate shield against aggression (nuclear weaponry)? 

Monday, 12 August 2013

2001 : A Space Odyssey - will we ever see another Kubrick?

Not a very long post right now, and this time it's on classical Science Fiction. 2001: A Space Odyssey, the work of Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick, is what you get when you put a Sage and a Genius together. It's pure genius.

I've heard enough reviewers describe it as 2001: A Space Plodyssey, but I won't agree with them. This movie may be slow, but it's meant to be that way, to be savored like fine wine or a gourmet meal. It's not meant to be rushed. It's slow, it's thoughful, it's hypnotic, it has a kind of eerie, hypnotic beauty to it that modern SF movies can somehow never accomplish. It's not about the old-fashioned special effects (which were of course, a million times harder to pull off in 1968 than today), it's about the way the entire movie is structured.

And then there's the music - haunting, magnificent, eerie in turn. I've heard the Alex North score and even if it's good music,  it's not the music for this movie. Stanley Kubrick knew what he was doing when he kept the temp track for the movie itself, and by Jove did it pay off!

Whenever I see that movie - or anything related to that movie, I wonder if any Science Fiction author and movie maker in the 21st century could possibly pull off something of the same magnitude. There have been many great Science Fiction movies, but can any SF movie ever take a look at the sum total of mankind's evolution and progress, and invite its viewers to ask questions about mankind, life, intelligence, progress, technology and the universe as well as 2001? I doubt we'll see such a movie even by the year 2068.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

INS Arihant - an analysis

On a blogging roll for a while, although I suppose it won't continue much longer that I have other things to do.

INS Arihant's 83 MW reactor just went critical after a whole lot of sea trials, according to the news. Extrapolating from known data on Russian submarines and their reactors - the Russian project 971 (NATO: Akula) class has a 190 MW reactor but turbines that are rated at just 32MW, and the blisteringly fast Project 705 (NATO: Alfa) class has a set of turbines rated at 30 MW for a 155MW reactor plant.

Going by the roughly 20 percent power rule here, the turbines on the Arihant are likely to be around 15 MW, or about 20,000 horsepower. Rating them at higher than that doesn't seem to make much sense, and the figures placing them at 47,000 hp just seem ludicrous - that sort of power would propel the Arihant's estimated 6000 ton bulk past 37 knots given known submarine performance figures.

A lower power rating and a speed in the range of 24-28 knots seems far more likely (and the figure listed on Wiki is indeed 24 knots). A ballistic missile submarine isn't meant to sprint across the oceans - it's meant to be a ghost, running silent and deep, popping up to deliver its apocalyptic cargo when the time calls.

One thing here intrigues me thoroughly -

This submarine is capable of carrying 12 K-15 missiles or four K-4s. This is indeed an unusual arrangement. Again, going by the publicly available figures on both missiles, the K-4 is 0.74 meters in diameter and 10 meters in length, with a weight of 6-7 metric tons. The K-15 is about 12 meters in length, 1.3 meters in width and with a weight of 17 tons. These figures are probably suspect or incorrect but they do give the size of the missiles away quite clearly. Arihant has just four missile tubes and seems fairly close to the old Soviet Hotel-class submarine (like the kind in the K-219 movie) in size. The K-15 is being stacked three in a tube, evidently. The small size results, logically, in a small warhead and short range.

From the perspective of a Naval nerd and an amateur with a little knowledge, I'd say that this submarine was created by the Indian Navy specifically to deal with the threat of nuclear war with Pakistan. The K-4 is a missile that really could offer credible destructive power against any target. The smaller K-15 is a missile that would bring Arihant dangerously close to the coast of any country it would want to strike - so it makes no sense to have such a missile on-board unless it really has substantial precision-strike capabilities. But then again, it's hard to say with these things. Whenever India gets larger, more powerful missile submarines, I'm pretty sure Arihant will land up as an underwater launch platform for cruise missiles the way the Americans are doing with the older Ohios.

All things said, Arihant looks to be a very interesting vessel. Given that all the other five countries that have nuclear submarines (The US, UK, France, China and Russia) are the five permanent members of the UN security council, will Arihant ease India's entry as a permanent member? Possibly. Just possibly.

Liaoning and Admiral Kuznetsov

An interesting something - the Chinese have classified their aircraft carrier Liaoning as a 'training carrier'. This, for a three-hundred meter long, 58,000 ton behemoth that's larger than everything except for its sister vessel Admiral Kuznetsov and the American Nimitz-class supercarriers. Everyone has spoken (with palpable unease) about the Chinese desire to create a proper blue-water navy. What's interesting is the way they're going about this - they're willing to classify a fully capable aircraft carrier as a 'training carrier' and use it as a platform to train their aviators for their future catapult-equipped nuclear carriers. It's an excellent example of long-term thinking and planning, and I have to say that it's better than most navies can manage. Whether or not the bankruptcy of the casino in Macau that bought Liaoning (as Varyag) from the Russians was a lucky accident or planned, the end result has been quite to the People Liberation Army Navy's advantage.

That being said, I look at the Liaoning I also wonder how things are going with the Kuznetsov's planned modernization. From what public materials are available on the placement and location of the Granit missile launchers, it seems more likely that Kuznetsov's modernization will remove them for additional storage space or in case the entire ski-ramp is knocked down and replaced with catapults. Liaoning doesn't have any installed, but I won't be surprised if the Chinese install those on the angled deck at some point before their catapult-equipped carriers come into existence. Certainly getting rid of the P-700 missiles won't help with the hangar space - Kuznetsov's hangar length is 153 meters or about 50% of its length (the Kiev class had the same fraction - 136 meters, or half of their length) and the missiles are mounted far forward on the ski ramp. They'd have to rearrange the internals quite a bit if they want to expand the hangar - but then, they're the ones who built the ship and know how to go about it if that's  what they have in mind.

This is quite a problem for the Indian Navy - until INS Vishal comes in sometime in the 2020s the Indian Navy will be operating warships of a significantly reduced capacity - old warrior INS Viraat will go till 2018, INS Vikramaditya is due at the end of the year, and INS Vikrant is due to enter when Viraat retires. Vikrant and Vikramaditya together would put together a signficant air arm, but neither of those ships will be able to operate any really large air assets without catapult takeoff. The MiG-29K is an aircraft with a proven lineage but its range and takeoff weight are restricted on a ski-jump. Combined, both ships would do better than the Liaoning, but they're not likely to match the capabilities of China's "true" carriers until Vishal comes into being.

It would be interesting to see how Indian carrier development proceeds, given their concerns with the Chinese Navy. Aircraft carriers have reigned supreme as Naval power projection assets - but how will they be used in the future?