Saturday, April 23, 2016

IAF Jets Arrive In Alaska To Red Flag 'Aggressors'

Lots of planespotter buzz around Eielson AFB, Alaska in the run up to Red Flag ALASKA 16-1 that begins April 28. The Indian Air Force's contingent (4 x Su-30MKI, 4 x Jaguar Darin II, 2 x Il-78M & 2 C-17 Globemaster III) that arrived on April 16 have been on routine practice runs at the base with USAF jets.

Squaring off with mostly US Air Force 354th Operational Group 'aggressor' F-16s and other support jets, the joint exercise will involve simulated interdiction, attack, air superiority, defence suppression, airlift, air refueling and reconnaissance aircraft -- all profiles the IAF has proven to be formidable at in past Red Flags/Cope India/Thunder exercises. 

This will also be the second time that the IAF gets to stretch its legs in the US Department of Defense's largest airspace -- the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex (JPARC), which according to the Eielson page, contains 67,000 square miles of airspace, 11 military operating areas, and three weapons ranges.

As you know, it's been a big month for Eielson AFB, which has been chosen to be the USAF's first F-35A operational base in the Pacific Air Forces' Area of Responsibility. The first aircraft are expected to arrive in 2020.

Will have a full report up here on the exercise during and after. Enjoy these pictures by U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Turner.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Has India Finalised Rafale Deal At $8.8 Billion?

Has India finalised its deal for 36 Rafale fighters at a contract value of $8.8 billion? The MoD was quick to advise a couple of recent media reports not to 'jump the gun' that a deal had finally been reached -- and no official comment is out yet on the deal. But the ruling party of India's government, the BJP, posted the image on the left a few hours ago on its official Facebook page.

This is perplexing at several levels. For starters, the infographic explicitly mentions that the deal has been 'finalised', something the MoD refuted only 72 hours ago. The message also looks to address continuing concerns that the Rafale deal was too heavy to handle -- the BJP says here that the Modi government has successfully 're-negotiated' the deal and saved an estimated $3.2 billion, bringing the contract value down from an earlier $12 billion.

Probably most strange of all, it is unclear where the $12 billion for 36 Rafale jets equation comes from. It is well known that the original M-MRCA, for 126 fighters, carried a prospective price tag of about $12 billion. So is the BJP forking out erroneous figures to illustrate a humdinger of a bargain? Again, unclear.

Right off the bat, that's Prime Minister Modi's photograph up there on the image. The message is simple: it was the Prime Minister (and his visit to France in April last year) who saved a deal that was in a doomed spiral of cost. The credit, the BJP is saying here, goes to the PM who ensured India got a tight deal even after scaling down the jet requirement from 126 to a measly couple of squadrons, 36 aircraft. It was leadership that saw the deal done -- that's the clear message from the BJP here, not the endless bureaucrat-led negotiations, not the multiple levels of international intrigue and instances of delegations flinging rules and books at each other, not about brinkmanship in numbers. Just cold, hard leadership. We'll only know how true that is once we get the details.

The MoD hasn't officially commented on the BJP post, except to say that a public announcement will be made when "there's something to announce". In the social media age, it's easy to imagine a political party's digital wing putting out information of this kind. It isn't however, when you consider that the BJP's own digital wing is comprised of a highly professional and networked team that rarely puts out material that isn't vetted at the highest levels of party (and government when it concerns public policy, deals etc). Finally, is the BJP referring to unconfirrmed reports that popped up a few days ago about the Rafale deal being finalised -- or were they simply given the go-ahead to break the news ahead a slightly mystified MoD. Answers ahead, surely.

The Rafale deal has had a turbulent ride in India. So, right now it's about waiting to see if the MoD feels the party that rules India's government has 'jumped the gun'.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

India Conducts Twin Secret Tests Of K-4 SLBM

India tested it's most ambitious weapon -- the K-4 submarine-launched long range ballistic missile -- twice last month. Top sources tell Livefist that the two tests, both conducted at less than ceiling range of 3,500 km were conducted at an undisclosed location in the south Bay of Bengal.

The two tests on March 7 and March 31 are understood to be the second and third tests of the K-4. The first test, the details of which remain shadowy, is understood to have been carried out in March 2014. The K-4, a submarine-launched derivative of the Agni-III -- but a vastly different weapon, obviously -- was revealed first by my India Today colleague Sandeep Unnithan back in 2010. The lower range K-15 submarine-launched missile was launched in 2013.

The Indian government barely acknowledges the existence of the K-4, so nobody's expecting anything official from the DRDO or MoD on the lines of what they put out for literally every other weapon test, including the doddering Prithvis (that are up for a progressive phase out soon, but more on that later).

A big congratulations to the K-4 team!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

1st India-built Apache Fuselage Rolls Out In 2018

The first Indian-built AH-64E Apache fuselage, built in Hyderabad by the Boeing-Tata Advanced Systems Ltd joint venture, will be rolled out in 2018, with the first chopper to be delivered to the Indian Air Force in 2019. Livefist can confirm that work has begun towards the ground-breaking ceremony for a new facility that will take place in April. That sets down a crucial and substantial part of the Make in India push.

Announced in mid-2015 as the big plan, a definite date now on the first fuselage roll-out is the most tangible step forward for aerospace manufacture in India in years -- and bodes well for budding aspirations towards making India a credible aerostructure and subsystems hub on par with countries like Korea. Tata's focused aggression in the space has also served as a template for other private players with resources, and augurs solidly for similar work that should come India's way. Chinook aerostructures (ramps and pylons) are being churned out already by India's Dynamatics Technologies.

Livefist can also confirm through sources that the IAF has asked for -- and will be receiving -- 11 Longbow radar versions of the AH-64E. India has signed up for 22 of the AH-64E variant (the re-designated AH-64D Block III). Neither the Indian Air Force nor Boeing has officially revealed how many of the 22 will be Longbow versions, sporting the NorthropGrumman AN/APG-78 'Longbow' fire control radar. Unlike the US Army that counts one Longbow in every three airframes, Longbows will arm every other airframe in IAF service.

Monday, March 28, 2016

EXCLUSIVE: Old Horse Antonov Unveils 3 New Indian Hopes

They spent a large part of a year fighting speculation about the safety of Indian An-32s that were in Ukraine for an upgrade at the peak of the conflict. Emerging mostly unscathed from that unnerving experience, old horse Antonov -- whose An-32 light lifter remains the IAF's tactical backbone -- is at DefExpo this year with big things on the table. Their swoop-is this year is three-pronged.

For starters, the company has mounted a hostile posture on the decaying Indo-Russian Multirole Transport Aircraft (MTA), opening a front with its An-178. The company says the An-178 "being under certification tests can be a basis for launch and joint fulfillment of the medium transport aircraft program in accordance with Indian customers’ requests." (sic). Who better than the Ukrainians to know what's going down at rival Ilyushin that partners India's HAL on the so-far unmoving MTA programme?

Second, fresh from a successful upgrade contract for the IAF's An-32 fleet, Antonov is pushing the big replacement. They're at DefExpo this year flashing the An-132 concept -- a multirole transport with a 9.2 ton payload that Ukrain is developing with Saudi Arabia and other partners. Antonov could make a formal pitch to India to sign up. India has its hands full with tactical aircraft programmes, but it's a superb reflection of the state of play that Antonov even believes it viable to put it on the table.

Finally, Antonov is pushing the An-148-300MP as a maritime patrol platform for the Indian Navy, presumably for its abortive MRMR programme.

Antonov's aggressive posturing is new, and fits in well with Russia's overall bigger presence at DefExpo (a land & maritime systems show) this year. The way things stand, it's always going to be a longshot for any more inventory in the transport space for the Indian Air Force, but the sheer unpredictability that has come to define contracting even in long lead-time acquisitions means there's clearly nothing to lose. And Antonov knows that.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

DefExpo Starts Tomorrow: 8 Things Worth Your Time At The Show

Just did a quick scan of the wares on display at DefExpo this year. Here's my quick round-up 8 things that are worth your time at the show this year, in no particular order. The show starts tomorrow, and there's likely to a whole lot more stuff that'll reveal itself as the humid hours peel on in sunny Goa. Expect more lists here on Livefist on the best stuff to see at the show this year. For those going, have a good show!

1. The Saab Carl-Gustaf M4, the latest version of a weapon system that's had a long legacy in Indian service, will be on display for the first time in country.

2. Straight off, and this isn't strictly DefExpo stuff, but here's your chance to have a look at DRDO's AEW&C that will be at the show for the first time this year after a couple of appearances at AeroIndia shows and some successful shows abroad. I had a fantastic close-up tour of the jet last year at AeroIndia and it's a real beauty. The jets join service soon, so it's likely most people's last chance to get anywhere close to these numbers before they're placed well out of reach.

3. The M777 ultra-light howitzer is a favourite for a reason. I've spent time with the gun every time it's made a show at DefExpo and it's always accompanied by a team with great stories from operational deployments. The gun is all set to be a 'Make in India' flagship soon too after a long meandering journey.

3. The DRDO Wheeled Armoured Platform (WHAP), an infantry vehicle developed with Tata that's been displayed before but likely to be an updated version.

4. The 9K720 Iskander short-range ballistic missile system will be on display for the first time at DefExpo. The system is currently being pitched by the Russians to countries that include China. Interesting times for Russian weapons in the region. The Russians have also being pushing a good bit of PR this time. Great time for a quick update if they're really talking.

5. The Russian Tor-M2KM SR-SAM mounted on a Tata truck chassis makes an interesting return to DefExpo this year and is worth your time. The weapon system competes for the Indian Army's short-range surface to air missile contract and doesn't make its way out of Russia often.

6. The Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet isn't on display at DefExpo as an aircraft proper and certainly isn't a newcomer to Indian shows, but there's massive buzz this time around Boeing's offer to build the jet in India as part of the 'Make in India' campaign. Typically, there could be more information put out on precisely what the contours of this pitch really are.

7. The Arjun Mk.1 and Mk.2 tanks together for a full demonstration.

8. The Indian Pinaka Mk.I and Mk.II launchers and rockets will be on display together for the first time. Fantastic time for a full up-close look at both systems and an update on progress in this highly successful rocket system programme.