Thursday, April 16, 2015

First Glimpse: Lead Ship Of India's Visakhapatnam-class Destroyers

Here's Visakhapatnam, the first indigenously designed & built Project 15 Bravo destroyer. The hull will be launched Monday.

The Indian Navy put out this brochure on the P15 Bravo line today, which provides the first official parameters of the vessel.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Navy's Next Destroyer Line Christened Visakhapatnam-class, 1st Launch Next Week

The first Project 15 Bravo (P15B) stealth destroyer, under construction at the Mazagon Dock shipyard in Mumbai will be launched on April 20. Livefist can confirm that the new warship line has a name: Visakhapatnam-class, after the Navy's eastern hub. The navy is aiming to induct the ship in 2018. A total of four ships are to be built in the class, with the official timeline of deliveries starting 2018, and then a ship every two years till 2024. The Visakhapatnam's keel was laid in October 2013. Construction and fabrication of the second vessel of the class began in July last year.

The Visakhapatnam-class maintains the same hull and propulsion package as the Project 15A Kolkata-class. Russia's Northern Design Bureau, enlisted as a design consultant has helped reduce the size of the design's superstructure.

Meanwhile, the second P15A destroyer Kochi will be commissioned shortly into the Indian Navy.

Monday, April 13, 2015

It's Final: #MMRCA Dead, Rafales Coming

After a decade of speculation, intrigue, a generous measure of behind-the-scenes drama, finally some ironic clarity on the 'mother of all deals', India's massive combat jet acquisition effort, the M-MRCA. After committing to purchase 36 flyaway Rafales from Dassault last week, the Indian government today made it supremely clear that the M-MRCA process is effectively dead after careening earthward in a death spiral for over three years.

In a series of tweets today, MoD spokesperson Sitanshu Kar quoted Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on the MMRCA:

Interestingly, Parrikar has also said "future Rafale deals will also be government to government", a seeming contradiction of the India-France joint statement last week that spoke of the separate MMRCA process.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Big Indian Political Push Sees #RafaleDeal Through

The splendid irony of the the M-MRCA! After a decade of decidedly non-political tendering and selection based on performance and arithmetic, it has taken a hearty helping of political intervention to push a deal through. The commentary on a selection process that was once trumpeted as patent-worthy is a separate post that's waiting to be written.

The idea that India and France needed to come up with something completely separate from the stubbornly stalled M-MRCA negotiations became clear last year when then Defence Minister Arun Jaitley (who also headed the Finance Ministry in a dual charge) briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the 'stall'. While price negotiations continued at the MoD, the political wheels had no choice but to begin turning. It was the first big indication that a rumours of a collapse were far fetched, and that this government actually intended to get a deal done, whatever that deal was. Pressure from the Indian Air Force helped. Two things began happening in tandem at the time.

The dialogue over 36 Rafales was straight-up political, and did not involve acquisition managers from either side. A channel was opened between the Indian and French governments, which kept the M-MRCA programme teams briefed about progress in discussions. By January this year, the deal was a real option on the table, with India conveying in uncertain terms that if the Indian Air Force were to commit to purchasing 36 Rafales outright, the financial and other terms needed to be markedly better than those under negotiations for the M-MRCA.

In fact, Defence Minister Parrikar was quoted to have said today, "The Rafale fighter deal is a great decision taken on terms and conditions that are better. The jets are to be inducted in IAF in a span of two years."

Parrikar, who played hardball on the M-MRCA negotiations, played (and continues to play) a central role in giving the French government and Dassault the clearest possible message that flexibility would be key to arriving at an 'out of the box' solution de-linked from the MoD negotiations, given that this was a real impasse with no forward movement visible. This happened in February. The French government agreed near instantly to the proposal of 36 aircraft bought outright from Dassault in the full configuration finalised under the M-MRCA technical bid.

Livefist's understanding is that while the the deal for 36 Rafales is separate from the ongoing M-MRCA negotiations (the joint statement clearly states that), there arithmetic is likely to work out as follows: The 36 flyaway Rafales essentially replace the 18 Rafales that were to be purchased outright as part of the M-MRCA, leaving the negotiations to arrive at a deal on the lincense-build of 108 Rafales at HAL. That's 144 Rafale jets under consideration, or eight squadrons. The precise numbers could sway depending on how things move in negotiations -- remember, sticking points over the Dassault-HAL license build remain.

The one solid reality today is this: India will fly the Rafale. There's no longer any doubt about the fact that the French jet will fly in Indian colours. Of course, there are several questions:
  1. Is the new deal an admission that the M-MRCA selection process & 'L1' centric procurement process has essentially failed?
  2. Does the new deal essentially say that the Indian procurement process cannot be purely technical, and will always finally need a political push?
  3. Could this decision have repercussions within the framework of the M-MRCA, in terms of possible action by Eurofighter, the L2 in the contest?
  4. How does the government combat perceptions now that an 'out of the box' political solution was necessary to push through a deal that should have been seen through on merits and negotiations?
  5. What repercussions does the new deal (note, it's still being negotiated) have on India's bargaining power across the M-MRCA table?
  6. Does the new deal get India a better over-all price?

Friday, April 10, 2015

'New' Indian Rafale Deal Anytime Now

It turns out Livefist had it right back in January. Top sources say the governments of India and France will shortly announce a deal for 60 Rafale fighters for the Indian Air Force. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is currently in France.

The deal, to be announced later this evening, is expected to be for 63 Rafales at a contract price of about $7.7 billion.

Story in motion. Live updates right here.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Indian Army Announces BrahMos Island Launch, Then Withdraws Statement

Just before noon on Thursday, news broke that the Indian Army had tested a BrahMos Block III supersonic cruise missile from Car Nicobar, part of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal. The detailed statement announced that the missile had successfully destroyed a target on Trak Island, a tiny uninhabited sand flat to the South-East, and located just North-west of Little Nicobar. The Army's statement also said that the test, conducted at 'extended range' signalled the activation of another BrahMos regiment in the Army (its fifth). Great story. They sent pictures too. The Army's statement was also put out by the government's Press Information Bureau, its official disseminator of official press material. 

But two hours later, the Army sent out another statement:

Press Release titled " Army Operationalises Regiment of Brahmos Missile on 09 Apr 15" issued on 09 Apr at 5.29 PM may please be treated as WITHDRAWN.

The Army hasn't specified why the statement has been withdrawn, or even if the statement is incorrect. A BrahMos spokesperson said he didn't have details of the operational test, since it was conducted by the Army. While speculation swirls over the statement, it's important to note that the original statement specified a 'successful' test. The possibilities are several: (a) It wasn't a test that was meant to be announced. (b) The announcement wasn't meant to carry the details it did. (c) The test wasn't a success, and was in fact a dud. (d) There were other factual inaccuracies in the statement. (e) There was no BrahMos test at all, it was in fact a test of the Dhanush, ship-launched tactical ballistic missile.

The Army has said it will release more official information once it becomes available.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Third Time Lucky? Five-way Indian Light Copter Contest Begins

India's tragicomic efforts to buy new light reconnaissance and surveillance helicopters (RSH) for the Indian Army and IAF, aborted last year for the second time in over a decade, has officially begun again. With the deadline for interest ending on March 31, five platforms will now prospectively compete for an unspecified (but known to be nearly 400) number of helicopters, all of which will have to be made in India by a winning Indian partner.

Livefist can confirm that the MoD has received more than ten responses to its request for information that expired on March 31. And yes, that's multiple bids per platform on five different helicopters, as follows in no particular order:
  1. Airbus AS550 C3 Fennec
  2. Kamov Ka-226T Sergei
  3. Bell 407GT
  4. AgustaWestland AW119
  5. HAL Light Utility Helicopter
An RfP to kickstart the contest is expected to be out later this year. Two rounds of Q&A between MoD/Army/IAF acquisition managers between October 2014 and March 2015 have narrowed down the broad requirements (and several prevailing blanks) in the RFI. The RfP will, hopefully, hammer things down further. Several points of interest in the composition of the new competition:
  1. Bell Helicopter returns to the contest after sitting out the last attempt (they decided not to bid then because of the offsets requirements).
  2. AgustaWestland has responses in through two Indian firms for the militarised AW119 Koala.
  3. HAL has also expressed interest in the contest. With its Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) expected to make its first flight in August, the company has decided to throw its hat in the ring for good measure.
This hardly needs saying anymore on Indian helo procurement: Expect a lot of downwash before things really get going.