Tuesday, November 25, 2014

VIDEO: Back In The Air After Grounding, IAF-Russian Joint Crews Fly Su-30MKI

This just out from the IAF. Indian and Russian crews down at the Halwara fighter base (not far from the Pakistan border) took some joint sorties in the Su-30 MKI that's been back in the air for a few days post a month-long grounding. Part of the flying leg of Exercise Avia Indra 2014.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Prominent IAF Veteran, Former LCA Tejas Chief Test Pilot Murdered

Terrible news from Bangalore. A friend, the father of a college classmate, and a person I have known for a decade, was found murdered at his home in Huskur on the outskirts of Bangalore over the weekend. Air Commodore (Retd) Parvez Hamilton Khokhar, who served as Chief Test Pilot on the LCA Tejas programme and as Air Attache at the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, was found in his bedroom with his hands and legs tied, with strangulation marks around his neck. There was likely a break-in and a burglary. AVM Khokhar was about 70 years old, survived by his wife and two daughters -- his younger daughter Reem was a college classmate and continues to be a friend.

Post retirement, Air Commodore Khokhar was well known as a no-nonsense observer of aerospace issues, writing often for magazines. 

Still in a bit of shock and really have no more words. I'll end with what Air Cmde Khokhar told my friend Ajai Shukla for his fine 2013 piece on the LCA Tejas:
The Tejas Mark I is far superior to the MiG-21 fleet that the IAF would have to operate to the end of this decade. In key respects, it is a better fighter than even the Mirage 2000. The Tejas Mark I should enter the IAF's combat fleet in larger numbers and the Tejas Mark II scaled down. This would allow the air force to retire the MiG-21 fleet sooner.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Goodbye, INS Vikrant

Twenty seconds of heartbreak. A dozer yanks the ski jump head off of INS Vikrant as her scrapping begins in Mumbai (Vikrant was fitted with a ski jump in the late 1980s to ease Sea Harrier operations). Truly sad to see her go. Sure, some would argue that its best to let old relics fade away. Somehow, the Vikrant wasn't just an old relic. It was India's first aircraft carrier. It was involved in an unforgettable cat and mouse hunt during the 1971 war. And most of all, it was going to be possible to keep her alive as a privately funded museum with almost no public expense.

The British Majestic-class aircraft carrier, was transferred to the Indian Navy in 1961, serving 36 years before being decommissioned in 1997. Languishing as a half-hearted, mostly out-of-bounds relic at the Mumbai naval dockyard for nearly two decades, she was finally towed to a south Mumbai shipbreaking yard, where they began ripping her up late last week.

When I went on board Vikrant in 2011, she had just been cleaned up and renovated in preparation for a possible private buyout for conversion into a museum-cum-event venue. None of that worked out. 

So, over the next eight months, a ship steeped in history, will be cold rolled into those twisted steel bars for building construction work.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

First Photo From Akash SAM's Slam-dunk Week

Smashing week for India's Akash SAM. Not that it needed any more of a push. But what a week.

This image from noon on Friday is the first one out from this week's training user trials of the Akash SAM conducted by the Indian Air Force at the Integrated Test Range (Nov 17-21). This particular test on Friday at 12.10pm involved a quick succession salvo test in which the two SAMs in the picture were fired at Meggitt Defence Systems Banshee Jet 80 aerial targeting drones.

The New Indian Express quotes a source as saying, "While the first missile successfully destroyed a fast moving aerial target at a low altitude, the second missile had a direct hit with the unmanned aerial target Banshee Jet 80 nearly 4-km away at 35 meter altitude above sea level proving the system’s capability against subsonic cruise missile." (While this is largely what I hear from my sources too, I'm picking up that that the range was more out to about 8-km in the low-altitude engagement and about 24-km for the second missile).

Starting Monday, a random selection of production series Akash missiles (from Bharat Dynamics Ltd) were fired at a series of targets ranging from para barrels, flare targets and on two occasions the Banshee Jet 80 drone. The series of tests is being described as the most successful so far (similar tests in April and June went well too though).

The Akash SAM has been in service for over two years now. This weeks training user trials have proven once again the system's maturity. Orders worth $3.7 billion have so far been placed by the IAF and Army (eight IAF squadrons and two regiments) on the Akash SAM system, and there will be more.

More Photos Of The Tejas PV6 First Flight

Decks Cleared For Indian Truck-Mounted 155mm Gun Competition

The Indian MoD's Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), the first chaired by new defence minister Manohar Parrikar, today cleared the Indian Army's proposal to tender for 814 mounted gun systems (MGS), a deal that could be worth $2 billion. Known contenders are Tata SED with its 155mm Tata-truck mounted gun system and the L&T-Ashok Leyland-Nexter 155mm CEASAR gun mounted on an Indian-built Super Stallion 6x6 chassis (photo). More details soon.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sikorsky Set To Win Quarrelsome Indian Contest

This was coming. In more than one way. And there's really no other way to put it. The paperwork hasn't gone out officially yet, but the NHIndustries NH90 is effectively out of the Indian Navy's multirole helicopter (MRH) contest, a fight for a 16 copter deal in which it squared off against Sikorsky's S-70B Sea Hawk. It isn't really just about being right (I had also written of the possible effects), but about how NHIndustries' fate was probably sealed long before the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter scandal threw a cloud over all of Finmeccanica's potential business (NHIndustries is 32% owned by AgustaWestland) in India.

In the readily hostile world of competitive defence contracting, the MRH competition has been a particularly ill-tempered one, with NHIndustries managing the irk the Indian Navy in 2012 with a salvo of letters protesting preferential treatment to Sikorsky's product. What followed was an unusually hostile back-and-forth in which NHIndustries even managed annoy its end customer, the Indian Navy, enough to attract counter-accusations of misdemeanour. But NHIndustries had faith in process. If it was going to lose a deal, it wasn't going to do it without a fight. Well, a fight is precisely what it was for a few months. And then the bomb dropped. 

With the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter scandal breaking, it became rapidly clear that Finmeccanica's military business interests in India stood jeopardised. Between 2012-2014, the Indian Navy had held that both helicopters had met naval requirements. In August this year, the navy even indicated that both bids were to be opened for a final price battle. But that wasn't to be. New rules specifically evolved to deal with the Finmeccanica quagmire appear to have kicked in, forcing the Indian MoD to cut NHIndustries loose and proceed with Sikorsky.

The hostility in the competition and the nature of the allegations ensured that Sikorsky's S-70B was seen as the government's 'favoured choice' (precisely NHIndustries' protest), another juicy deal India would be throwing America's way. That was the sense, at any rate. But then none of that matters anymore. This was coming.

Oh, and this isn't just about 16 helicopters. The MRH is to be followed by the N-MRH competition for 123 helicopters. Config and requirements could be identical or largely the same. The Lockheed-Martin MH-60R will be looking to compete. And it shares an airframe with the S-70B. With the loud 'Make in India' campaign only set to get louder, the Romeo is likely to compete against Airbus Heli's EC725 Caracal.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

An All New Livefist, Soon

Can't let on very much right now, but I did want to share with all of you that you'll see Livefist tumble through some look changes in the next few days as I grapple with some design and coding to give the site a new face. A new skin and body, fresher, better and more plugged into everything it brings you. I realise how dated Livefist had begun to look and feel, even if I've tried to keep content as dynamic as possible. Hope to re-launch Livefist with plenty of new stuff soon. Also, and there's no other way to say this, I'm hoping to soon have a LOT more time here. Thanks for being part of this.

OFFICIAL VIDEO: LRSAM Target Intercept During Nov 10 Test

Here's the official video put out by IAI of the first operational test of the LRSAM/Barak-8 on Nov 10. Sweet!