Sunday, December 21, 2014

HAL Looks To Hulk-Smash IAF's Avro Replacement Effort

In case you haven't been following the Indian Air Force's effort to replace 56 Hawker-Siddley 748 Avro transport aircraft, I strongly suggest you lose no more time in doing so. It's playing out as one of the most absurdly contentious, supremely ugly competitions -- and here's the thing: it hasn't even begun yet. After several stops and starts over the last two years, the latest is that the MoD has twice deferred a decision on what to do with the single bid that's landed in response to the Buy-A-Few-Make-The-Rest-In-India tender request. Now the crux, the whole point, of the Avro replacement programme is to give India's so-far hungry but ignored private industry a chance to create aerospace capacity by competing for the lucrative project. HAL therefore was deliberately kept out of the competition. The MoD and IAF felt this made sense since HAL, a single point monopoly in all things military aviation in India, has overflowing order books, limited capacity for more, and a relationship with its prime customer that can at best be described, to borrow from Facebook, as 'complicated'. HAL's extreme irritation and opposition to a tender that explicitly excludes it from the reckoning is well known. But things just went to the next level, with the company now hiring the services of prominent former staff to help lobby against the programme, and if necessary derail the course it's currently on. Journalists , including myself, received copies of an e-mail former HAL board member R. Srinivasan, who served as Managing Director of the Helicopter Complex, has written to Minister of State in the MoD Rao Inderjit Singh and Defence Secretary R.K. Mathur specifically asking, as you'll see in a moment, pretty explicitly that the programme be canned and HAL be allowed to build the planes -- pretty much because the private sector isn't up for it. Or, as the e-mail tantalisingly ends, it points to 'strategic options' available to India ahead of President Obama's upcoming visit. I'm tempted to offer my comments on every line of the stunning letter you're about to read, but I'm going to leave you to it.

Here's the e-mail in full:

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Full Details Of LCA Navy 1st Ski-Jump Flight

FULL OFFICIAL STATEMENT: It was a defining moment when LCA (Navy) Prototype 1 (NP1), the first indigenously designed and developed 4th plus generation combat aircraft designed to operate  from the decks of air-craft carriers, took-off majestically from Ski-Jump facility of Shore Based Test Facility at INS Hansa in Goa at about 12:34 PM today the 20th December 2014.

Piloted by Commodore Jaideep Maolankar, the Chief Test Pilot of National Flight Test Centre, the aircraft had a perfect flight with results matching the predicted ones to the letter. The launch was orchestrated by the Test Director Cdr J D Raturi and Safety Pilot Capt Shivnath Dahiya supported by Gp Capt Anoop Kabadwal, Gp Capt RR Tyagi and Lt Cdr Vivek Pandey. The readiness and availability of aircraft for the event was made possible through the relentless effort of HAL, ARDC under the aegis of Mr P S Roy the Executive Director.

Dr Avinash Chander, SA to RM, Secretary DDR&D DG DRDO congratulated the LCA Navy program team and said, "With today's copybook flight of LCA-Navy from the land based ski-jump facility we see our own indigenous combat aircrafts soon flying from the decks of our aircraft carriers.” Congratulating the team Dr Tamilmani, DS & DG Aeronautics, said “A complex task of Ski Jump of NP1 Executed beautifully”.

LCA (Navy) is designed with stronger landing gears to absorb forces exerted by the ski jump ramp during take-off, to be airborne within 200 m as against 1000m required for normal runways. It’s special flight control law mode allows hands-free take-off relieving the pilot workload, as the aircraft leaps from the ramp and automatically puts the aircraft in an ascending trajectory. The maiden successful, picture perfect launch of NP1 from ski jump at Shore Based Test Facility at Goa is a testimony to the tremendous efforts put in by scientists and engineers to design the Naval aircraft, its simulator (that helps pilots to know well in advance how the aircraft will behave on ski jump) and the flight test team that timed the whole event to near perfection. It can be stated with conviction “The indigenous Indian Naval Carrier Borne Aviation program has been launched, literally from the Ski-Jump".

The LCA Navy program team of ADA (Aeronautical Development Agency) is jubilant on achieving the remarkable feat that is the culmination of several years of design, flight test, simulation and management effort with significant contributions from a number of DRDO laboratories. The teams were ably supported by the certification agency, CEMILAC and the quality assurance agency, CRI (LCA). INS Hansa, the Naval Air Station played the perfect host to achieve this significant milestone. The design teams guided by Program Director ADA Shri P S Subramanyam have ensured that all systems meet the stringent requirements of Carrier borne aircraft. Cmde C D Balaji (Retd) as Project Director LCA (Navy) and it’s Chief Designer has been at the helm of affairs right from the concept phase. The team led by Dr Amitabh Saraf indigenously achieved the flight control laws that take care of the problems encountered by a fly by wire aircraft undertaking a Ski Jump Launch.

The Shore Based Test Facility (SBTF) has been created to replicate the aircraft carrier with a Ski Jump for take-off and arresting gear cable for arrested landing; by ADA with the participation of the Indian Navy, Goa shipyard, CCE (R&D) West, Pune, R&D Engg (E) Pune and the Russian agencies providing the design support and specialized equipment.

FIRST LOOK: LCA Navy 1st Flight From Shore-Based Ski Jump

The first prototype of the naval LCA Tejas, NP1, blasted off the shore-based test facility (SBTF) at the INS Hansa naval air station in Goa today, kicking off the next phase of testing on the country's first naval combat aircraft platform. The National Flight Test Centre's Cmde TA Maolankar flew the jet on today's sortie that involved only a ski-jump take-off but a conventional landing. Arrested landings till take place in the second phase of SBTF test flights.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

TV Station Gets 1st Video Images Of India's Arihant SSBN

I've been watching this video on loop for an hour. Don't really care that the actual clip is only a few seconds long. This is awesome because it's the first public video of India's Arihant nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, scooped by local journalists for India's Zee News network. Here she is escorted out of the Vizag naval harbour area on Monday. (And yes, that's clearly a P17 class stealth frigate in the foreground).

More Grainy Goodness: Arihant Leaves Harbour

Here's another photograph of India's indigenously developed nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine Arihant leaving Visakhapatnam harbour on Monday. It isn't clear who took this photograph -- it arrived from multiple sources, (including on Whatsapp) but without credit. So if anyone knows where this is from, please let me know. Clearly taken from dockyard with two tugs guiding the submarine out, two Coast Guard vessels in the background and a naval ship (frigate?) in the foreground.

Monday, December 15, 2014

India's Arihant SSBN Sails Out!

Staff photographer with The Hindu newspaper scoops this great shot of Arihant, India's indigenously developed nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine as it pushes out to sea today for long-awaited sea trials in the Bay of Bengal. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was in Visakhapatnam for the cast-off ceremony. Love the fuzzy picture, the first photograph of the Arihant's entire surfaced silhouette!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Indian SSBN Arihant Sea Trials Begin This Week: Report

Fantastic news. India's first nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, Arihant, will finally step out of its secure location in Visakhapatnam's harbour area (photo above from harbour acceptance trials) and head out to sea for trials, says this new report by friend and colleague Sandeep Unnithan. The case-off, the report says, could be as early as tomorrow. With all systems go for sea trials, the 6,000 ton vessel powered by an Indian pressure water reactor (PWR) finally enters the operative phase of its development, which, over the next year, will include submerged trials and weapons trials.

The cast-off comes not a moment too soon. As Unnithan's report states, India envisages a fleet of five SSBNs, including two more of the Arihant class that already under build in Vizakhapatnam. Wish we could have been there for the cast-off! Unnithan and I were among a group of journalists who witnessed the unveiling of the Arihant in July 2009 during its launch. Fantastic day with no photography allowed at the time.

The Arihant has taken its time in development. Hopefully, this is it. A senior Indian Navy officer tells me, "The harbour acceptance trials (HATs) took an extended period of time for various reasons. But we are confident heading into surfaced and shallow submerged trials, before we extend the envelope and test her at ceiling parameters. There is a lot of confidence in the test crew and spirits are high."

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Indian Army Killed 6 Pak Terrorists In High-Altitude J&K This Week; Here's What They Were Carrying

The Indian Army says it hasn't seen better equipped terrorist infiltrators in all it years of operations in Jammu & Kashmir. Between December 1-3, in an operation codenamed Jatti Gali for the forbidding forested nook at 14,000 feet in the Naugam sector of Baramulla, soldiers of a Garhwal Rifles unit took out six 'foreign' (the Army's euphemism for Pakistani) terrorists. The terrorists had Swiss-made snow clothing and boots (with crampons) and were carrying more weapons & equipment per man than ever encountered before. Among their kit was a huge quantity of grenades, batteries, ammunition for assault rifles, digital navigation consoles, wire-cutters, satellite phones, snow boots and a large quantity of high-energy food.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: Specifically Why India's Rafale Deal Is Held Up

So, as I mentioned in my earlier post, sticking points in negotiations between Dassault Aviation and HAL remain the chief reason why a draft contract hasn't reached finality. There have been a few reports that point to general difficulties in negotiations between HAL and Dassault on liability for the 108 aircraft that the former will license build in Bangalore. What you probably haven't heard about are the specific stumbling blocks. There are basically three:

Final Political Push For #MMRCA Arrives Sunday, Five Key Developments

An exhausted French government is probably seeing it as fortuitous that new Indian defence minister Manohar Parrikar's first foreign guest will be French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who arrives tomorrow in Delhi on a two-day visit. He meets Parrikar on Monday late in the morning. This will be Le Drian's third visit as his country's defence minister to India.

In January, the Indian MoD and Dassault Aviation will mark three years since the Rafale won the final downselect in 2012. A contract for 126 Rafale fighters remains in final negotiations, heaving and jerking across over 24 months. As the French minister arrives for what Paris hopes will be the last political push required to see the deal through, here's a quick round-up of six key developments that set out the state of play: