Monday, March 02, 2015

Indian Light Combat Copter Goes Through Cold Tests

Cold weather trials of India's Light Combat Helicopter were carried out at Air Force Station, Leh early last month. “The trials covered engine starts with internal batteries after overnight cold soak at 3 km altitude and 4.1 km altitude”, HAL chairman T. Suvarna Raju has said in a statement. The engine starts were satisfactory in the temperature of minus 18 degree C at 4.1 km, the flights were also carried out to assess high altitude performance and low speed handling, the statement said.
The LCH prototype, TD2 was ferried from Bangalore to Leh and the flight trials were carried out involving customer pilots from Air Force and Army and with the participation of representatives from RCMA (H/c) and DGAQA (H/c).

“Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) Technology Demonstrator TD-3 made its maiden flight in November last year and the TD-4 is likely to fly soon. The IOC is expected in the later part of this year and to achieve this we are concentrating on building more prototypes and increase the number of flights to reduce the lead-time for IOC”, Raju said.

U.S. To Re-Enter Indian Light Copter Contest

India's third attempt at procuring 197 light reconnaissance/surveillance helicopters (RSH) for the Indian Army and IAF kicks off this month, and if two attempts across the last decade haven't thrown up enough dust, indications are that this third effort is all set to be even more interesting.

The two finalists in the last abortive attempt, Airbus Helicopters with the AS550 C3 Fennec and Kamov with the Ka-226T2 Sergei will both compete through respective build partners in India (the latter has a seemingly separate proposal to build the Sergei and Mi-17 V-5s in India.)

U.S. firm Bell Helicopter, which competed in the original effort (that began in 2003) has signalled that it will be re-entering the competition this year through local partners. Livefist learns that Bell Helicopter and an Indian partner will field the Bell 407GT in the new RSH contest.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

India To Exercise Options For 38 More Pilatus Trainers

The Indian Ministry of Defence has just approved the Indian Air Force's move to exercise options on its original basic trainer deal (for 75 aircraft) with Pilatus Aircraft and will shortly sign up for 38 more. Of a total of 181 basic trainers the IAF has said it needs, the original Pilatus PC-7 Mk.2 order takes care of 75 aircraft.

The remaining 106 aircraft were to be HAL's in-development HTT-40 propeller trainer that's all set to take-off for the first time this month. With the IAF approved to exercise options on 38 more PC-7s, HAL's platform will meet the remaining requirement: 68 aircraft. Indications are, however, that that number will be cranked up to make the project more viable in the near term.

An IAF-HAL-MoD committee is being set up to monitor the HTT-40 programme. The HTT-40 prototype is all set for its first flight in June.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Now Only A Question Of How Dassault Underwrites HAL-built Rafales

The Indian government is understood to have made it clear that it is no longer a question of whether Dassault Aviation will underwrite the 108 Rafales that HAL proposes to license-build in Bengaluru (a top MoD official indicated to Livefist that the RFP was explicit about this), but a question of how it will do so. Yesterday's hour-long deliberations at the MoD involved discussions on possible options. In very limited conversations with all sides, the following threads become apparent:
  • Dassault and HAL will need to hammer down licensee/licensor modalities that will pave the way for a possibly complex matrix of agreements on the central issue of liability. It's clear now. It is this set of agreements that will provide a solution to the guarantee issue. The question is how long it would take to do this.
  • Second, the extent of inspection and post-manufacture testing of equipment at HAL that would be the minimum required for Dassault to underwrite HAL-built jets.
  • Whether there are any financial implications to additional understandings between HAL and Dassault for the process of underwriting jets produced on the former's production line in Bengaluru. Also, financial implications of the transfer of liability as a result of any additional agreements between HAL and Dassault.
  • Both sides appear committed to finding a solution before Prime Minister Modi's visit to Paris in April, but is that a realistic time-frame? Sources suggest HAL and Dassault have already held extensive discussions on the liability issue and should be in a position to move quickly.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Life Or Death For Indo-Russian Multirole Transport Aircraft

Tucked away in a corner of HAL's generously spaced pavilion at Aero India 2015 is a non-descript little stall with a couple of tables, a few chairs, two small aircraft models and little else. This is immediately strange, given how in-your-face the HAL-UAC Multirole Transport Aircraft (MTA) programme usually is at shows (enough that HAL has proudly showed it off at the land forces show DefExpo too). As it happens, the low profile reflects the headwind that the MTA currently faces.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Stalled SR-SAM: Parrikar Briefed Twice In A Month

European missile house MBDA is making a strong effort at the highest levels to give the comatose long-proposed joint Indo-French SR-SAM development programme new life. Top MBDA executives sought time with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, meeting him twice in the last one month, to brief him about the SR-SAM (proposed to be called 'Maitri'). Sources say Parrikar heard out the MBDA executives but made no commitment, only saying that the representation would be looked into.

Offsets Exasperation Peaks, Defence Minister Listens

It was the angriest, most scathingly direct session on offsets thus far, says an India executive with a global aerospace firm. On Feb 19, as the Aero India 2015 show entered its second day in Bengaluru, an interactive session on the deeply contentious issue of defence offsets organized by Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) turned out to be more aggressive than anyone present expected, with the exasperation of foreign (and Indian) firms on full, unapologetic display. The truth is, this was waiting to happen. Raised voices, included.

Defence offsets policy in India has been many things: mystifying, incremental, sometimes self-defeating, contradictory, ambitious, obtuse. The one thing everyone agrees on, though, is that the success or failure of Prime Minister Modi's 'Make in India' proposition will depend in large measure on how India manages offsets. Livefist learns that proceedings at the CII session on Feb 19, attended by over 300 CEOs/MDs and top regional executives of global aerospace and defence firms, was proof that the effort so far only served to frustrate companies looking to expand and get only deeper into the business in India. The session, in many, was cathartic, says another executive who attended.

And here's the good news. Defence Minister Parrikar, who sat through the entire CII session, had one message: 'I'd like to talk less today, and listen more.' And for the next 90 minutes, Parrikar is said to have done just that: he sat rapt, listening carefully, even taking notes, absorbing the proceedings, as executive after executive took the stage to detail how current offsets policy frustrates, rather than facilitates the defence business in India, and provides little by way of a fair way to attract local investment.

Among an enormous number of recommendations, there was also the observation that since offsets commitments in India needed to be completed in a 5-7 year period, it wasn't quite enough for advanced technology sharing and transfer, forcing companies to opt for low-tech manufacturing that didn't benefit either side.

Baba N. Kalyani, chairman of the Kalyani Group (which announced a joint venture with Israel's Rafael a day previous) and chairman of CII's National Committee on Defence said, "In India, defence offsets are one of the lowest in the world at 30 percent of the contract value. Offset banking is a good idea. Offset banking can be utilized to engage with the foreign OEMs well in advance."

Top executives who had a chance to speak at the interaction included Boeing India president Pratyush Kumar, Textron India president Inderjit Sial and Honeywell Aerospace India president Pritam Bhavnani.

The other good news is top executives from Indian and global firms that included Boeing, Airbus, Lockheed-Martin, BAE Systems, Honeywell, Textron and several others, came away with what is possibly the first positive guidance and sentiment on offsets. (It was the first heartening, reassuring message we've had on offsets in years, said one executive with a European conglomerate). Minister Parrikar is said to have told the gathering, 'I'm a man of few words. But I'm a man of action.' He also promised the 300 CEOs/MDs that the government had taken note of industry anxieties, and would move quickly to get them things going.

Parrikar said after the session, "Defence offsets are a catalyst to kick-start defence manufacturing. There is a need to effectively implement the existing policies and procedures. There is a need to compress the procurement time frames. This session has brought to light many issues particularly the time line, lack of flexibility of selecting a partner and of no proper grievance redressal platform. I assure you I will look into everything that has been highlighted and take action as soon as possible."

Friday, February 20, 2015

Indian Navy Announces Big Shipborne UAV Contest

It's a programme the Indian Navy wants quick movement on, exasperated in many ways by how no single effort over years to give its ships a tactical deck-launched/recovered unmanned surveillance capability have delivered a result. The navy now has a stated requirement of at least 50 such UAS. And the field is open -- the navy doesn't say what kind of launch of recovery it is looking for, leaving all such details to interested contenders.

Boeing firm Insitu, which has had preliminary conversations about the ScanEagle with India for a few years now, continues with the pitch. Insitu's business development manager for Asia-Pacific, Kevil Giles made the following presentation at a round-table that Livefist was invited to, information presumably shared with the Indian Navy over the months as well (post continues after the PDF):

A prospective competition could include the Airbus Tanan and Textron Aerosonde as well. The Indian Navy tested the Schiebel S-100 Camcopter from the deck of patrol vessel INS Sujata in 2007, though the effort didn't yield an acquisition.

According to the Indian Navy's request for information from global vendors, it needs the new UAVs for "Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), sea-lanes of communication monitoring and coastal/ EEZ surveillance, anti-¬piracy and anti¬terrorism, assistance in search and rescue and assistance in maritime domain awareness."

ACCESS: Up Close With India's EMB-145i AEW&C

Project Director Dr. K. Rajalakshmi & Assoc. Directors Suma Varughese & M.S. Easwaran 
"We wanted our user to get the best. We had to be customer-driven from the word go," says Dr. K. Rajalakshmi, project director of the DRDO's AEW&C project, which, as Livefist reported last week, gets operational this year.

Categorised as a sensitive project given the classified nature of the sensors, electronics and systems on board, Livefist was given rare up-close access to the EMB-145i after it flew a test sortie at Aero India today, and a chance to interview the highly motivated team driving the project to delivery.

The good news is there's a lot of it. Right after Livefist was given an official tour of the aircraft, the team met with an Indonesian military delegation that has already expressed deep interest in acquiring the comparatively cost-effective Indo-Brazilian platform. Fresh interest has also been shown by Israel and Brazil.

To the global market, DRDO and the MoD offer the EMB-145i in three possible categories: (a) A total solution, available as is (with modified tactical systems according to user needs), (b) As a sensor package adaptable on user-identified platforms, and (c) as a modified version of the EMB-145i that involves a co-development/component model.

"The government is very keen to see this platform exported. They have assured us full backing to get customers," says Dr Rajalakshmi.

The Indian Air Force will take delivery of two EMB-145i jets this year, completing its order. The third Embraer airframe, expected to arrive from Brazil this year, will be retained by the Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) for research on upgrades and as a first unit for export. Indications are that Indonesia could be first in line for the jet.

"The big advantage is cost-effectiveness," says Dr Rajalakshmi. "No comparable system has all of the features that the EMB-145i has, and it's the only aircraft in its class with an in-flight refuelling capability."

Associate Director Suma Varughese, who spearheads the Active Electronically Scanned radar says the IAF's involvement in the programme from the start allowed the team to course correct in real time, and being able to deliver a platform that the IAF is fully satisfied with. That satisfaction, gauged for now by the eight member embedded team headed by Air Commodore PL Vithalkar, will be put to the test during user trials commencing soon. The IAF team at CABS is 60-70 strong, and includes designers.

"The sensors and systems are fully Indian, and this is a big advantage for the end user. We want the IAF to get the best," says M. Easwaran, Associate Director at CABS, and designated project director on the proposed AWACS programme.

All photographs in this post taken and used with permission from DRDO and CABS. More photographs from Livefist's tour of the jet:

Official AMCA Video Out At AeroIndia

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Avro-style 'Situation' Hits Indian AWACS Effort

A competition lies ahead for the supply of six widebody jets for India's reloaded AWACS programme, an effort that looks provide the Indian Air Force with six platforms initially. Except, not really. The model above of the DRDO AWACS, appearing in public for the first time, depicts the proposed system as being based on an Airbus A330 platform with the integrated 10-metre antenna radome. And DRDO hasn't missed the irony.

There's a reason: when the programme was revived some years ago, the DRDO had conducted an internal study and decided that the Airbus jet was what they wanted (based in part on the IAF's selection of the Airbus A330 MRTT as its next tanker), though it was rapidly made clear that the field for widebodies was unrestricted, and that the DRDO needed to tender for those six jets. And that's what it began doing in March last year.

The DRDO then issued an RFP in October 2014. And as with the Avro replacement programme, a sole bid has dropped in. Again, from Airbus for the A330. The competition originally looked like it could potentially have been a face-off between the Airbus A330 (Airbus has responded to the RFI) and the Boeing 767, though the latter chose not to respond.

When contacted, a Boeing spokesperson told Livefist, "After a comprehensive review of the Request for Proposal, Boeing decided not to bid on India's AWACS program. With 30 years of leadership and experience in AWACS system architecture, Boeing recognizes the complexity of the system requires an incremental development program to successfully manage the program risks and ensure an affordable program. As currently structured, the RFP does not support this approach. Boeing is working with India on a number of other programs and remains committed to helping enhance the country's defense and security now and into the future." On the other hand, a large order backlog and KC-X production commitments that run till 2027 (excluding option) too may have had a bearing on Boeing's overall decision.

Word is Russia's United Aircraft Corp. could also send out feelers on the Il-76MD-90A as a potential platform for the AWACS, though it remains unclear if it still has a chance. Either way, the situation now is single source, very much like the Airbus/Tata bid for the Avro replacement.

Senior scientists at the Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) I spoke to here at Aero India 2015 said fabrication of the 10 metre antenna was progressing well, and that there could be movement on data link and communication systems and electronics this year.

The IAF is looking to operate at least 15 AWACS aircraft. It currently has three Il-76 based PHALCON platforms and will soon sign up for two more.

[This post was last updated on Feb 27]

Rafale & Sukhoi Can't Replace Each Other: IAF Chief

Amidst swirling speculation that India's M-MRCA jet deal with Rafale is shuddering through final lap turbulence, and suggestions (including by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar himself) that the India could buy more Su-30 MKI jets if the Rafale deal didn't work out, Indian Air Force chief Arup Raha today publicly declared that the Rafale and Su-30 were different aircraft and that one couldn't replace the other.

"There's M-MRCA and there's Sukhoi-30. The requirements are slightly different. And they have their own capabilities. They compliment each other but do not replace each other," Raha said at his press conference at the Aero India show in Bengaluru.

Making clear the IAF's own thoughts on open suggestions that 'other options' existed in the event of a deal collapse, Raha said, "No, we don’t have a Plan-B as of now. We are only working on Plan-A."

The IAF chief also stated, in what could be perceived as a sense of resignation over the turbulence negotiations have seen over the last 18 months, "Rafale has been selected as L1. It is a replacement. It is important that we have the MMRCA, I would not say Rafale. But we need to have it in the quickest possible time because the draw-down is true. Everyone is aware of the draw-down of combat squadrons of the IAF. Every air force faces this in its cycle of operations. It is not new or specific to IAF."

EXCLUSIVE: August 1st Flight For HAL's Light Utility Copter

HAL's Light Utility Helicopter (LUH), under development to meet a requirement of at least 187 light reconnaissance and utility rotorcraft for the Indian Air Force and Indian Army is all set for its first flight in August. An internal target of July has been set for the sole current prototype at HAL's Helicopter Division to lift off in July, though sources confirm that August is likely to be when it will happen. The LUH prototype (two more will be built for the flight test programme) has been in a routine of ground testing for weeks now. The LUH mock-up on display at Aero India this year is in Indian Army colours, and has been a source of interest for quite a few foreign delegations at the show this year. Quick news points:
  • The first LUH prototype will fly in August, officially kickstarting flight test.
  • HAL aims for final operational clearance in 2017, and begin deliveries to the Indian Army and IAF by the end of that year. 
  • The LUH sports a new jointed foldable rotor system (see photo), designed and built in-house
  • to meet the Indian Navy's deck requirements. Significantly, the rotor will be made available on future Dhruv ALH constructions and re-offered to the Indian Navy.
  • For a proposed naval version, HAL says it will offer a wheeled version of the LUH.
  • The LUH cockpit is almost entirely an Indian glass cockpit, with components and systems sources completely from the Indian private sector, and mission computer software modified from the Dhruv's.