Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Elections 2014!

Been away from Delhi and the blog, and will be for a few more days. Deployed on the Indian national election. Promise to try and post on the move when I can. Happy poll season!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Indian AWACS Reloaded: Competition For 6 Aircraft Announced

A six-aircraft AWACS fleet for the Indian Air Force is now properly under way. After formal project sanction a year ago, the Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) has opened a global competition to supply six aircraft that will be suitably modified as part of the competition, to support the AWACS role -- principally a 10-metre antenna radome.

The development runs parallel to the in-progress three aircraft DRDO AEW&C programme, based on the ERJ 145 business jet. The Indian Air Force currently operates three Il-76-based PHALCON AWACS jets from its Agra station, with talks in progress for two more identical systems. The DRDO's last tryst with a conventional AWACS system ended in tragedy when the modified HS748 Avro based test aircraft crashed in southern India in January 1999 killing eight scientists and crew on board. The accident shelved the programme indefinitely, resurfacing many years later first as the DRDO-Embraer platform, and now the new proposed AWACS.

The DRDO hasn't specified what aircraft type it requires, but said it requires vendors to designing, structurally modify, certifying and supplying six aircraft llatforms for AWACS role. In addition, the winning vendor will be required to design and manufacture the AWACS 10-metre antenna dome, attachment (pylon) structure and dome installation.

DRDO will be looking to draw interest from vendors include Boeing, Saab, Airbus, UAC (Ilyushin, Antonov, Sukhoi), Bombardier and Dassault Aviation.

Stupefying, if you ask me: three aircraft platform types for largely the same mission. Inventory and support nightmare that goes against everything the IAF has been working for in terms of type commonality. 

HAL's IJT Delayed, IAF Scouts Foreign Source

The face-off between the Indian Air Force and HAL over the basic trainer programme festers nastily, much of it in public. But here's something that's been in the pipeline for a while now. And it gives me no pleasure to say I told you so.

The IAF has published a request for information to support a potential acquisition of intermediate (Stage-II) jet trainers from abroad "for a primary task of Stage–II training of Pilots and also capable to undertake a secondary task of Counter Insurgent Operations" (sic).

This was inevitable. The IAF has grumbled about HAL's delayed HJT-36 Sitara for months now. Last month, in a perplexing note to Parliament, the MoD said the Sitara was scheduled to achieve final operational clearance (FOC) by December 2014 (there's been no word on IOC, though). The IAF announcing a requirement in the global market could mean many things: (a) It simply doesn't have faith that HAL will deliver the HJT-36 on time anymore -- the HJT-36 should have been in service by June 2012. (b) It does not have faith in the aircraft itself (spin and stall recovery characteristics remain largely unproven). (c) A psychological pressure tactic on HAL, not unprecedented -- it's on right now on the basic trainer domain.

Either way, the IAF has put out a very specific list of requirements. To quote from the RFI:
The aircraft should be easy to fly and have good control response/agility. The flying qualities should preferably conform to Mil-F-8785C and Mil Std 1797-A. The aircraft should demonstrate the following qualities: (a) Stalling. An unmistakable natural stall warning should be available, irrespective of the configuration. (b) Spinning. The aircraft must be resistant to spin but it should be possible to perform intentional spin upto six turns to either side and recover safely thereafter. The aircraft behavior in the spin should be predictable and consistent. (c) Aerobatics The IJT should be capable of performing loops, barrel rolls, rolls, combination maneuvers and negative ‘g’ flight without adverse effects on the engine and aircraft structure. The aircraft should be capable of sustained inverted flight for at least 30 seconds at sea level at maximum takeoff power.
Interestingly, the IAF has also specified a 'counter-insurgency' role for the platform it's looking for. In 2011, HAL began the process to kit out the HJT-36 with armament. For its freshly stated requirement, it has specified the following:
The aircraft should be capable of carrying at least 1000 kg of external load. The aircraft should be equipped with a minimum of five hard points and each hard point on the wing should be stressed to carry at least 300 kg stores. The aircraft should be, free from buffet, dutch roll, snaking and wing rock during air to ground weapon training. The aircraft should be capable of employing the following armament: (a) Gun. A light weight gun/ gun-pod with adequate ammunition for at least 5 sec of firing time. (b) Rocket Pods. Reusable rocket pods. (c) Bombs. Should be able to carry at least 4x250 kg retarded or ballistic bombs. The stations should be capable of employing Carrier Bomb Light Stores (CBLS) type of dispensers for carriage of practice bombs (25 lbs and 3 Kg).

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Friday, March 28, 2014

Indian C-130J Crashes, No Survivors

An IAF C-130J Super Hercules, one of six aircraft inducted three years ago, crashed today in Central India. There were no survivors. The aircraft took off from Agra at 10am and crashed about 72 miles west of the Gwalior Air Force station, one of the IAF's largest. A court of inquiry has been ordered. The aircraft belonged to the 77 Squadron based at Hindon. 

Deepest condolences to the families of the 5-man crew:

1. Wg Cdr Prashant Joshi - Captain
2. Wg Cdr Raji Nair - Co-pilot
3. Sq Ldr Kaushik Mishra - Trainee pilot
4. Sq Ldr Ashish Yadav - Navigator
5. Warrant Officer Krishna Pal Singh - Systems Operator

IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha said, "It is very unfortunate that we have lost five of our brave warriors in a tragic accident today. It is a sad moment for all of us and we share the grief with the family members. C-130J is a modern aircraft which was inducted into the IAF in 2010. In the last three years of its operations we have exploited capabilities of this aircraft during Uttarakhand floods and landing at DBO, which is the highest landing ground in the world. Needless to say, that the best pilots have been chosen to fly these aircraft. Events like these are painful reminders of the inherent risks which our brave airwarriors face in the execution of our daily mission. While the IAF will conduct a thorough enquiry into the accident to ascertain exactly what led to this accident, the IAF remains committed to provide the best possible equipment and training to our personnel so that they can execute their assigned missions professionally."

Lockheed-Martin has issued this statement: “We are saddened to hear the news of the C-130J accident in India today and our thoughts and prayers are with the crew and their families at this time. We are ready to provide assistance as requested by the Indian Air Force.”

Friday, March 21, 2014

MH370, Switched-Off Radars & Security Lapses: Clearing Misconceptions

By Mihir Shah

That Indian radars on the Andamans operate intermittently is not necessarily a security failure. Any moves to 'enhance' radar coverage over the archipelago at the expense of other sectors in the hope of catching the next potential hijack would be hasty and irresponsible.
As the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 intensifies and new information comes to light, one of the hypotheses being advanced by several analysts is that the aircraft may have entered airspace that was under the coverage of Indian military radars on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands for at least a short while. At the same time, some Indian government officials and military commanders have declared that those radars did not operate round-the-clock, and may have been switched off when the flight went missing. These comments have prompted a lot of debate about the purported security lapse that the loss of radar coverage represents. I thought it would be a useful to put these comments in their proper context and determine if the incident truly exposed a gaping hole in India's security.

The radars being spoken about are long-range air search radars, also known as volume search radars (VSRs). There is a misconception that such systems are operated round-the-clock as a matter of course. In reality, this is rarely the case.  Getting VSRs, especially the legacy systems presently in Indian Air Force (IAF) service, to operate continuously is not only very expensive, but also very challenging. They consume copious amounts of power: the normal operating power of the THD-1955, the primary VSR in Indian service, is 2 MW; its peak operating power is 20 MW. The fuel to operate the generators supplying electricity to VSRs and other supporting systems on the A&N Islands has to be shipped from the Indian mainland at great cost. Moreover, these radars have heavy mechanically scanned antennae. That involves moving parts. And moving parts -- especially those that operate under heavy loads for long durations -- tend to experience failure at a rate that is directly proportional to their operating hours. The wear-and-tear is only accelerated by the harsh environment these radars are exposed to -- wind storms, rain, salt spray, and so on. They require constant maintenance and a steady supply of spares to keep working as desired, both of which are always in short supply on a remote island chain.

The key question, though, is, does the Indian threat scenario on the A&N Islands necessitate continuous air surveillance? The short answer to that question is, "no".

Let me flesh out what I'm saying. There is little doubt that the Andaman and Nicobar island chain is of great strategic significance to India, seeing that it sits astride the Straits of Malacca, one of the most vital shipping lanes in the world and a major Indian trade route. The tri-service A&N Command fulfills two primary objectives: it allows India to monitor activity (military and civilian) in the region, and rapidly deploy military if need be to secure its interests. What it does not do is defend against a major military offensive along the Andaman-Nicobar axis. That makes it very unlike, for instance, the South-Western Air Command or the Eastern Air Command, which have been set up to prosecute an air war against professional military adversaries. 

Coming to the allocation of equipment itself, it should be remembered that military assets are deployed on the basis of known/projected threat scenarios. Given limited budgets, it is impossible for defences to be strong everywhere. So military staffs have to allocate resources carefully, making defences strong in some sectors and leaving them relatively weak in others.

In India's case, those defences have to be strong along axes from where Chinese and Pakistani attacks would arise. I wouldn't be surprised if some other commands operated radars far more frequently than A&N Command did. After all, the IAF did manage to detect and track the Pakistan Navy Atlantique that came close to entering Indian airspace in 1999, and scramble fighters in time to intercept it. On the other hand, the probability of an air attack from the A&N quarter is remote.

Thus, for the A&N Command's given role, maintaining round-the-clock coverage would be overkill, and indicative of a more aggressive military posture in the region. On the other hand, intermittent radar coverage, combined with data from passive electronic sensors, satellite imagery, and naval vessels, would serve to build a reasonably complete picture of the threats and military deployments in the region while allowing the armed forces to maintain acceptable levels of training and readiness.

These arguments would obviously lead one question the validity of this approach in a world where terrorists and non-state-actors pose a significant threat. Here, it needs to be pointed out that such strikes are by nature highly unpredictable, completely unexpected, and often carried out where defences are the weakest. While counter-terrorism strategies are beyond the scope of this discussion, it is well understood that the path to reducing risk lies in improved intelligence gathering and analysis of available information. The utility of hastily deploying of war-fighting equipment to perform a role it is unsuited for, in reaction to a one-off event, is questionable at best. 

So it comes as no surprise to me that air search radars on the A&N Islands were turned off even as flight MH370 possibly entered airspace that they typically monitor. It is not necessarily a bad thing, and certainly not a security failure. If anything, a knee-jerk reaction to this incident -- compromising coverage available to Indian defences in the sectors under greater threat by re-deploying them to deal with one-of-a-kind black swan events -- would be a very real security lapse.

(Mihir Shah is a US-based engineer who tracks aerospace issues closely. He has contributed before to Livefist and Pragati magazine. Views expressed by the author are his own.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

IAF's Jamnagar Base Gets Brand New Mi-17 V5s

Got this lovely shot today of a Mi-17 V5 being ceremonially inducted at the Jamnagar base in western India. A unit at the base that earlier operated old Mi-8s, now converts to spanking new V5s. Safe flight!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

2 Indian P-8Is Scouring Bay Of Bengal For MH370

2 Indian Navy Boeing P-8I long range maritime reconnaissance aircraft are currently on station over a designated search area in the Bay of Bengal looking for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. This will be the platform's first operational deployment since the TROPEX14 exercise when it first got a chance to stretch its legs in a simulated scenario. The two P-8Is, along with a US Navy P-8A, bring to bear perhaps the most advanced surveillance kit for the job. The aircraft fly their missions amidst reports that the MH370 was almost definitely hijacked. Will post pictures and updates later today.