Coldest New Year in Canada


Mercury in Toronto region plummeted to minus 30⁰ C, with the wind-chill it felt minus 35⁰ C to minus 40⁰ C soon after Christmas.  The freezing temperatures continued through for the first week of January.  This was the coldest New Year’s Eve in 158 years.  Quebec recorded frigid minus 49⁰ C.  Taking Maximus out on a walk during these days was bit difficult.  We shortened our walks to about 15 minutes.  I always walked on the sidewalk which the city had cleared of snow, but Maximus – he is a Labrador Retriever from Canada – obviously he enjoyed the cold and the snow.  He preferred walking in the snow with his legs buried.

This record-breaking stretch of cold weather started when a mass of abnormally warm air moved up the western side of Canada and settled over the North Pole. That pushed a huge mass of frigid air known as The Polar Vortex southwards into Central and Eastern Canada.

A polar vortex is an upper level low-pressure area circulating around both of the Earth’s poles, an upper level feature in the troposphere and extend into the stratosphere.  It may not be felt directly on the Earth’s surface.  It acts as a heat pump that moves extra energy from the tropics towards the poles and keeps the Earth’s temperatures in balance.  Polar Vortex weaken in the summer and pick up strength in the winter.

Due to the rotation of the Earth, this circulation is counter-clockwise in the North Pole and clockwise in the South Pole.  The cold air gets locked into the Polar Vortex and can be scientifically explained by Coriolis/ Magnus effect.  This could well be added to the reason why the spin bowlers of the Indian cricket team (Northern Hemisphere) are ineffective in Australia and South Africa (Southern Hemisphere) and vice-versa.


The outer edges of the Polar Vortex – a low pressure conveyor belt like circulation above 60⁰ Latitude – ensures that the cold air remain in the polar regions, like water being held in a dam.  When the warm air from the equatorial region moves towards the poles, the dam like edges weaken at places.  This results in the Polar Vortex getting elongated towards the equator like a sheet of dough or chewing gum being pulled.  This winter, the elongation of the Polar Vortex covered Central and Eastern Canada, going down south to touch Florida in US.  As this elongation of Polar Vortex escaped Western Canada and Alaska, while Toronto was freezing, Alaska – much North of Toronto – enjoyed warm weather with mercury at plus 5⁰ C, about 20⁰ C above the average winter temperature.

The outer edge of the Northern Polar Vortex is like a conveyor belt moving counter-clockwise.  It is at a much lower pressure and when it collides with warmer air and when the pressure rapidly drops by at least 24 millibars in 24 hours.  This causes ‘Weather Bomb’ or ‘Bombogenesis’.

The effect of Polar Vortex this time ended with a Weather Bomb, resulting in a storm that dumped snow on the Southeast of Canada and US and delivered near hurricane-force blistering winds, with record-breaking cold.  Florida in the sunny south also experienced snow this winter due to this Weather Bomb.


Did Niagara Falls freeze this winter due to Polar Vortex?  The Niagara was not frozen and probably never will.  It may appear to a viewer that  parts of Niagara Falls are frozen.  It is due to the miniature glaciers and long icicles forming around the mouth of the falls, but water continued to flow beneath the ice.

The mistaken frozen appearance could also be due to increased diversion of water, a  kilometer away from the falls, through tunnels and canals for hydro-electric purposes.  In winters about 75% of water flow is diverted and in summers about 50%, obviously to give a better view to the tourists.  With less water going over the falls, there is more scope for ice build up, giving the appearance of frozen falls.

The only instance when Niagara Falls nearly froze occurred in March 1848 when a preponderance of ice above the falls reduced the flow of water to a trickle.  However, there are lots of images floating over the internet claiming to show Niagara falls in a frozen state.

Power Companies have been generating hydro-electric power from the Niagara River since the 1880’s.  The ice floating on the river at the mouth of the tunnels reduce water flow into the turbines and may also jam the tunnels.  To avoid such a havoc,  an ‘ice boom’ – 2.7 km long, made of floating 30 feet long steel pontoons – is  installed each fall since 1964 by the US Army Corps of Engineers.


During the winter season, the ice breaking boats work at breaking ice formations in the river that may hinder the flow of water into the hydro water intakes along the American and Canadian shoreline.  The boats are operated by the power generation companies.

To read my Blog Post  about the Niagara Gorge, Please Click Here.

By Monday, January 8, the Polar Vortex receded bringing is above seasonal temperature in the Toronto region with a forecast of about plus 8⁰C.  This warming up melted the ice and the cold evening temperatures froze this water on the roads and sidewalks causing ‘Black Ice’, making it slippery.  As I was walking Maximus, a lady carrying a large bag slipped and fell as she got on to the sidewalk.  I helped her to get up and offered to carry her bag and escort her to her apartment building entrance.  I tied Maximus to fire hydrant and then escorted the lady while I carried her bag.  At the entrance to her apartment where I bid bye to her, she said “Thanks a ton, you really saved my day, but tell me why you helped me.”  I replied “I only helped a fellow human.  Like Simon of Cyrene who carried the cross for Jesus despite not knowing who Jesus was, I have done it for you.  Take care and Good Night.”

Training Young Officers to be Leaders

Field Marshal  Helmuth von Moltke the Elder of Prussia, who considered himself a disciple of Clausewitz, was posted to command a cadet school in Frankfurt  called Kadettenschule.  He is credited as the father of the modern concept of war games, which he adapted from regular chess.

Moltke was known for his dependence on decentralised style of command in the army termed ‘Auftragstaktik’.   In this concept, the junior officers were required to take crucial decisions and that necessitated a drastic change in officer training.   He was of the opinion that in the war front, rapidly changing scenarios will surely make a senior commander’s decision obsolete in no time.  Here, the subordinates have to take independent decisions  as the situation evolved.  It may sometimes result in defiance of orders, without impeding discipline.

Moltke ensured that ragging was stamped out in Kadettenschule  and he stressed on the cadets achieving self-confidence and independent thinking.  He had a promotion policy in place where he rewarded  junior cadets excelling with promotions where they could overtake their seniors.  The instructors were specially selected and trained to motivate and train the cadets and with their exemplary conduct could wipe out ragging.  This resulted in cadets turning into officers who were decisive.

The need for ‘ragging’ in cadets’ training is to break the cadet’s ‘individuality’ and make him ‘fall in line’.   This has in fact resulted in inability of junior commanders at various levels to act as the situation demanded, based on their judgements.  What we need to do at our Academies is to encourage youngsters to speak up against cheating, stealing, etc; but the toughening aspects, including group ragadas (punishments) strengthen one mentally and physically.  What we need to do is to adapt and reinvent to empower the cadets with better all round knowledge.

While commanding the Regiment, our young adjutant came to me to say that there is a paper to be written about the training aspects of our radar operators (Operator Fire Control [OFC]) in view of induction of modern surveillance and gun locating radars. He added that it would be better that I wrote it as I had the best written expression in the regiment.

We then had a brief discussion wherein I brought out that every officer of the Indian Army is in fact capable of writing a good paper and if he was incapable, he would not be sitting in front of me. All officers have been through Services Selection Board (SSB) interview and there they wrote nine stories based on pictures projected (Thematic Appreciation Test [TAT]) and the tenth slide shown was a blank and still wrote a story. Then there were 100 words shown at an interval of 30 seconds (Word Association Test [WAT]) and a sentence was written. In case the candidate’s literary capability and imagination was not pretty good, he would have never qualified the SSB. Now, after the training at the academies, at the regiments and at various courses of instruction, here they are, scared of producing a simple paper, based on their routine tasks.

Army courses conducted at various schools only teach a standard baseline aspect.  In most cases, there is hardly any real soldier involved, which means only the science of warfare and military leadership is taught, but never the art.  The courses are structured around ‘What to think’ than ‘How to think’.  All training must be to create critically thinking junior commanders  with ability to think and execute plans well ‘outside the box’.  Promoting adventure activities to be taken up by young officers in their fields of interest, unsupervised and un-assessed, duly supported by the army, will surely develop self-confidence and independence of judgment among junior leaders.

Here is a story- purely a figment of imagination – I told our officers to analyse various levels of training-  regarding planning  a raid by a section to capture two hidden militants – each officer to work out their individual solutions.  The first group is of 10 young officers, fresh out of the academy, then 10 Junior Command (JC) Course qualified officers – Captains with about six to nine years of service, followed by 10 Staff College qualified officers  – Majors with 10 to 12 years of service. The 10 young officers will come out with about eight solutions, but the staff would not be complete, out of which seven will work and one may fail. Ten JC officers will come out with five solutions, the staff work may not be all that good, of which three will work, one may work and one likely to fail. The 10 Staff college officers will all come out with one or two solutions, complete with all staff work,  and the likelihood of success, you can guess. That is what the structured training (with pinks) has resulted into.

A friend asked me to suggest methodology to make the training at Staff College creative. I suggested that for one exercise, provide just a map with minimum guidelines on force levels and resources. Let the students mark the International Boundary, deploy troops including the enemy, assume additional resources, etc and come out with a complete package. Run one exercise found suitable for a group. Idea was well received and was presented to the faculty and for the most unthinkable reason, it was thrown out. One senior officer asked only one question – “How will we assess the students?” It appears that the essence of all Army courses is to assess and not to teach or learn.

Coming to the physical training, the current one is archaic.  All  cadets  want to put in their best in physical training and want to pass all the tests as early as possible.  No two cadets are alike and some will lag behind.  The aim of the instructors must be to motivate them and not belittle or humiliate them, especially in front of their peers and they will surely achieve the desired results in most cases.

Modern sports medicine has developed much beyond and the nation has adequate trained doctors in this field. In the Academies, it tends to be an overdose of unscientific physical training.  The Army Physical Training Corps (APTC) has to get more Sports Medicine trained Doctors. The Physical Training Officer at the Academies got to be Sports Medicine trained.

Cadets’ training at the Academies and Officers’ training in the Army, both in the Regiments and during various courses need to be scientifically analysed, mainly to impart application oriented education, develop decisiveness and remove ‘over standardisation’.

Projecting Hard Military Power the Soft Way in the Indian Context

As per the US Department of Defense (2013) Dictionary of Military Terms, Power Projection is a term used to refer to the capacity of a state to apply all or some of its elements of national power – political, economic, informational, or military – to rapidly and effectively deploy and sustain forces in and from dispersed locations to respond to crises, to contribute to deterrence, and to enhance regional stability.

Projection of Hard Military Power paid dividends up to the end of old War era.  With the breakup of USSR and change in the world order, even the US military was not successful in projecting Hard Military Power as was seen in Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.

Soft Power Projection can be defined as ability of a state to project its influence other than through military combat into an area that may serve as an effective diplomatic lever, influencing the decision-making process and acting as a potential deterrent on other states’ behavior.  Deployment of various countries’ militaries during the humanitarian response to the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami is one of the best examples.

Hard Power facilitates India’s use of military, economic and political means to influence other States; Soft Power has, through our cultural or ideological means, the ability to indirectly influence the behaviour of other States. ‘Soft Power’ also enables us to distinguish the subtle effects of our culture, values, societal ideas, developmental assistance programs and other forms of influence on the behaviour of other States, from the more direct coercive measures such as, military action or economic incentives or sanctions. A potent form of soft power is ‘intellectual power’, which entails ‘the knowledge and insight of the populace and their leaders’. The strength of India’s soft power has been the power of assimilation. India’s unique ability to embrace different cultures and the philosophy of tolerance and peaceful co-existence continues to be a source of strength for our Nation and a shining example to the world community. Smart Power would be our evaluative ability to combine Hard and Soft Power resources into effective strategies.

The Indian Armed Forces have been in the lead in projecting the nation’s Hard Power the soft way.  The political leadership, bureaucracy and media have not played up these achievements many a times, resulting in the soft power projection not achieving its full potential.

Humanitarian Aid.           Indian Armed Forces have an enviable track record in providing humanitarian aid whenever needed, within the country and also in the neighbouring countries, especially in the aftermath of a natural disaster.  In many cases, the armed forces moved its troops and resources, without awaiting a formal request from the civil administration or from the higher headquarters.

In the aftermath of the Tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean countries including India, the Indian Armed Forces provided assistance to Sri Lanka and Maldives and was able to reach out to Indonesia as well.  India provided humanitarian aid in the aftermath of earthquake that devastated Pakistan Occuppied Kashmir in 2005 providing relief materials of medicines, blankets, and food packets.  When a severe-cyclonic storm, Nargis, struck Myanmar in 2008, the Indian Air Force and Navy transported more than 100 tonnes of relief material.  The 2015 Nepal saw the Indian Army and Air Force commence relief operations on the first day itself, which was scaled up in the subsequent days.

Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations.              The Indian Air Force has come out with flying colours in the evacuation of Indian citizens and people from other countries from a third country when they were endangered by war or civil unrest (Operation Rahat in April 2015, Yemen).  During the evacuation operations during the Yemen crisis of 2015, the Indian Air Force took a lead in rescuing Indian citizens as well as foreigners trapped in Yemen, evacuating more than 550 foreigners from 32 countries, including a dozen Americans and three Pakistanis.

The 1990 airlift of Indians from Kuwait post Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait by Air India, the national carrier, with support of the Indian Air Force finds a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most people evacuated by a civil airliner.  They evacuated 175,000 people.  This stands out as a prime example of the nation’s Hard Power, projected the soft way in a foreign land. The Indian Armed Forces repeated this act in Iraq (2003), Lebanon (2006) which included Sri Lankan and Nepalese nationals, Libya (2011), Nepal (after the 2015 earthquake- Indian and foreign nationals) and South Sudan (2016).

United Nations (UN) Peacekeeping.  A state that wants to project itself in the international arena as a major power needs to have strong presence in UN Peacekeeping efforts.  Indian Armed Forces have had a fair share in the UN’s commitments and always accredited themselves with their great deeds. India is the largest cumulative troop contributor, having provided almost 200,000 troops in nearly 50 of the 71 UN peacekeeping missions over the past six decades.  India, with its demand for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council (UNSC), has to prove to the world through its Peacekeeping that our demand is fully justified.  Such actions will surely ensure that India projects its hard military power the soft way, resulting in the nation having a greater say in international decision-making process.

Securing Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC).   For India, a peninsular state with a coastline of about 7500 km and with Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar Islands, it is imperative to have a powerful navy.  The Indian Navy is a three-dimensional force, capable of operating above, on and underwater, ensuring the safety and security of the Eastern sea board and its assets and India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).  The oceans in Indian Navy’s area of influence has witnessed an increase in maritime terrorism and piracy coupled with illegal narcotic trade, unregulated fishing, dumping of pollutants and natural disasters.  Also, there must have been many SOS calls made by the ships and fishing boats.

In order to project hard naval power the soft way, the Indian Navy along with the Coast Guard should possess sufficient resources to mount round-the-clock, all-year-around maritime surveillance in the SLOC. Indian Navy has been an active part of the anti-piracy ops in the Gulf of Aden and in the Arabian Sea.  There are quite a few  success stories of interceptions by the Indian Navy, but they have not received adequate global publicity.  The Navy and the Coast Guard  got to be well equipped to respond to the distress calls of ships and got to pursue cases of illegal and unregulated fishing.  They got to be vigilant enough to prevent illegal dumping of pollutants in the oceans around us.

Developmental Activities.            The Indian Military has proved time and again that it can take up any task that cannot be executed by their civilian counterparts.  Run-up to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010, it took seven years for a company to build a Foot Over Bridge (FOB) near the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, which then collapsed. The Indian Army, which was called in to salvage Delhi’s pride executed the same job in four days flat and at a fraction of the original cost.  In the aftermath of the tragedy where 23 people were killed in a stampede on a bridge at Mumbai’s Elphinstone railway station, the government has turned to the army for a new bridge.  This will help in projecting the Hard Power of the Indian Military in a soft way.

Parades and Pageants.  The Republic Day Parade at Delhi is the best example for projecting the nation’s Hard Power the soft way.  It is the culmination of synergy between all the departments of Indian Government and is telecast worldwide as a great show.  There is a need to encourage military formations in other cities and towns to facilitate the general public to view such parades/ pageants and also telecast them for wider viewership.


Military Facilities.             Most American airports have ‘Military Lounges’ and the signage for the same is placed everywhere in the airport.  The airlines board the serving soldiers even prior to the Business class passengers.  This surely projects the power of the American Military, especially to the travellers from other countries.  Many Indian railway stations have ‘Movement Control Office (MCO)’ for the military with a lounge, but is not signaged so.  Leave alone foreign travellers, even the Indian travellers are unaware of such facilities.  By doing so, it is sure to project the Hard Power.

Home Coming Videos.   The internet and social media is filled with ‘Home Coming’ videos of American soldiers.  Indian soldiers also do ‘Come Home’, but there are hardly any clips on the internet.  The same can be orchestrated well by incorporating various videographers available in Indian towns and villages and compensating them well for the clips they provide.  Many would even execute the task without charging as most Indians are devout patriots who hold their Defence Forces in high esteem.


Recognition to Soldiers, Martyrs and Veterans.   It’s an irony that India’s capital Delhi  does not have any War Memorial post independence.  India Gate was built by British to commemorate the sacrifices of Indian soldiers in World War I.  In Canada, almost every city and town has war memorials and museums.  During the innings break of baseball games, the two team captains present a signed shirt of their teams to veterans and serving soldiers.  During the cricket matches in India, a similar act will pay rich dividends in projecting Hard Military Power.


Military History
.               India has had a chequered and colourful military history, but the reality is that many Indians are unaware of it, forget about projecting it to the world.  Many European countries celebrate and recognise the service of the Indian soldiers during the World Wars in grand scale, but there is hardly any  such celebrations in India.  This year for the Armed Forces Flag Day (07 December) was observed throughout the country to honour the martyrs, veterans and the men in uniform.  The media came out with clips of the political leadership urging everyone to wear the Flag on the day, but the political leadership did not wear the Flag as seen from various news clips.  In Canada, during the week prior to the Remembrance Day (11 November), almost everyone appearing on the media are seen wearing the Red Poppy.  The English Cricket Team that played a test match at Rajkot (November 9-13) were seen wearing the Red Poppy.  Will the Indian Cricket Team ever do so?

In order to make the Indian youth aware of the great Military History, there is a need to infuse the same into the school curricula.  The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) and the state Commissions must include at least 5% questions from Indian Military History in their examinations.  This will ensure that the candidates study India’s Military History in detail, to a certain extent to answer the questions.

If India is to prove that it is a major Military power and also stake its claim for permanent membership in UNSC, there is a lot to be done to project its Military Hard Power.  Doing it the soft way will be cost effective and will also enthuse the nation.