Friday, August 29, 2014

Indian All-Clear For $2.5b Deals For Apaches & Chinooks

It's effectively all-clear from India for two key deals with Boeing Defense for 22 AH-64D Apache Block III and Block III Longbow attack helicopters and 15 CH-47F Chinook heavy lift transport helicopters for the Indian Air Force. The Defence Acquisition Council, chaired by defence minister Arun Jaitley, approved necessary offsets clearances to allow the deal forward; both deals now have a cursory stop at the apex Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) before they're up for signing. Indications are that the deals could be signed before Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits the U.S. next month or shortly after.

Advantage Sikorsky As Indian MoD To Finally Open MRH Bids

After sitting on two commercial bids for over two years, the Indian MoD today formally decided it would move forward with the stalled Multirole Helicopter (MRH) competition that looks to acquire 16 advanced multirole helicopters for the Indian Navy to augment and then replace its Westland & Sikorsky Sea Kings. Unless things exit the window the way they have so many times in the past, this one looks like a sitter for Sikorsky. It's been an ill-tempered competition, with allegations and counter-allegations flying through much of 2011-12, mostly by NHIndustries against Sikorsky. And as we know so well, few things slow already lumbering procurement processes to a dead crawl like allegations of favouritism or partiality. The MoD's decision today to move forward and open bids from Sikorsky for the S-70B Sea Hawk and NHIndustries for the NH90 is excellent news for the navy that's increasingly hamstrung for capable rotorcraft it can send out to sea. It also paves the way for the larger IMRH programme that looks to procure a much larger number of similar helicopters, a competition that Lockheed-Martin has eyed closely with the MH-60 Romeo.

Major Blow To Airbus, India Scraps $1.5-bil Light Copter Buy

It's the unthinkable for Eurocopter (now Airbus Helicopter), but it had been on the horizon for at least 18 months now. India's agonisingly long-drawn out procurement programme for 197 light multirole helicopters (officially 'Reconnaissance & Surveillance Helicopter' or RSH) was scrapped today by the MoD. The decision brings to a close nearly four years of uncertainty since field trials on the two competing helicopters (the AS 550 C3 Fennec and Kamov Ka-226T Sergei) were completed in December 2011.

Nervous about proceeding with a decision ever since it emerged last year during the AgustaWestland investigations that an Indian Army Brigadier may have separately offered to compromise the light helicopter competition in its first avatar (the effort was scrapped in 2007), the Army and MoD have finally pulled the shutters down on the deal. The Indian government first sent out an RfP in 2003, and its second one (the current competition) in 2008. That's 11 years down the drain, and a second major blow the Airbus Helicopter that had been shattered by the first abort in 2007.

The Indian government has decided to re-open the light copter shortly as 'Buy & Make' programme, in which the Indian private sector has a magnificent opportunity to procure technology from abroad through a joint venture, and manufacture the helicopters in India. Airbus, Kamov and other firms would presumably be among the potential technology partners in such an effort. Either way, the decision is in keeping with a resolute new impulse pervading procurement: no more simply buying stuff; if you want to sell to India, you had better make a large part of your kit locally.

But the implications of the scrap are major: it places many years of additional pressure on India's current fleet of Cheetah and Chetak utility choppers operated by the Army and IAF especially in high-altitude zones. The scrapping also does little for India's existing reputation as an unpredictable, whimsical and inefficient customer of military hardware.

The folks at Kamov and Airbus both confirmed tonight that they hadn't heard from the MoD, and had only read about the decision in the press.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Choppers, Tanks, Artillery: Major Indian Arms Deals Likely To Be Cleared Tomorrow

PHOTO /Staff Sgt. Ryan Matson
A handful of high-value defence deals, delayed over the cusp of government change in the country, are likely to come up -- and be cleared -- by India's Defence Ministry tomorrow. The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) meets with a substantial agenda list, that includes deals for 22 Boeing Apache attacks choppers and 15 Boeing Chinook heavy rotorcraft, both deals concluded months ago, but drifting during the change of government.

Additionally, the DAC tomorrow, chaired by Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, will likely clear a chunky deal to medium refit six of the Indian Navy's remaining nine Kilo-class attack submarines with new sonars on three of those, a follow-on deal for 118 indigenous Arjun Mk.2 tanks and 40 Arjun Catapult self-propelled artillery systems.

Significantly, the meeting will also see the Indian Army make a presentation on the all-but-stuck light helicopter competition that's remained adrift for over two years now. The competition for 197 light multirole choppers for the Army and IAF is a fight between Airbus Helicopter and Kamov. Stuck after the AgustaWestland  investigations threw up evidence that an earlier iteration of the light copter competition may have been compromised, the Army is expected to present forward movement on the contract and push for an early call at the Defence Minister's level based on fresh guidelines.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Navy MiG-29Ks Taste Eastern Air Ahead Of New Squadron

Friend and colleague Shivamurthy Gurumath who was down in Visakhapatnam for the INS Kamorta commissioning on Saturday caught these MiG-29Ks at the naval air station there. Turns out a clutch of Ks from the Black Panthers squadron in Goa are ripping it over the eastern sea in preparation for the new squadron that navy intends to raise in the east. The Ks at Goa operate off the INS Vikramaditya. Most of the 37 MiG-29K and 8 MiG-29KUBs have been delivered, with the second order currently being serviced. 

With MiG infrastructure coming up at Vizag's INS Dega naval air station, new MiG-29Ks will progressively be inducted here ahead of full squadron status. The Ks at the Visakhapatnam unit will spend the next few years operating much like the existing INAS 303 jets served ahead of Vikramaditya's arrival. They'll operate from shore until the new Vikrant-class indigenous aircraft carrier enters service, though that's some way off. A report by my colleague Jugal Purohit plays out today on Headlines Today. Will post the link with video pictures of the Ks at Dega.

Friday, August 22, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: Another Peep Into India's Secret Stealth UCAV Project

Pity we don't have a closer look at what's on that screen, but that slide confirms India's secretive UCAV programme is progressing through its feasibility study phase. The photograph here is from March 21, where Dr. Biju Uthup, director of the programme (IUSAV or Indian Unmanned Strike Air Vehicle) is seen making a presentation at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Kanpur as part of the institute's series of talks where academic researchers get a chance to figure how they can contribute to national military or industrial projects.

That picture adds a layer of tantalising (but altered) detail to the images we have of the concept studies on the classified programme so far. The picture appears to be a cutaway, though a more detailed, and shape-altered one compared to these I posted two years ago that first showed how the IUSAV team at the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) was envisioning the craft.

IIT-Kanpur, incidentally, has already begun working on technologies for the IUSAV. More concept images of the IUSAV through the last four years are here, here and here. Last year, DRDO chief Dr Avinash Chander spoke out formally for the first time on the IUSAV in an interview to me.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

First Photo Of India's N-Sub 'Arihant' During Harbour Trials

Indian television station NDTV has scooped this first ever photograph of the country's first indigenous ballistic missile submarine 'Arihant' during the harbour trials in Visakhapatnam. This happens to be only the third photograph of the Arihant in existence, though many journalists (including myself) witnessed the full launch ceremony in 2009.

In August 2009, friend and colleague Sandeep Unnithan scooped the first ever photograph of the Arihant. A year later, I happened to put out the first public photograph of the Arihant here, furtively published by the government in an official document. The photograph above, scooped by NDTV, is only the third.

The Arihant's reactor went critical almost exactly a year ago, since which time the boat has been put through harbour acceptance trials. She'll move out for sea trials later this year.