Wednesday, October 01, 2014

REVEALED: Navy Ship That Could Save Dying Indian Shipyard

I'm pretty sure this is a ship few are aware of. Which is amazing, considering that when it joins service next year, it'll be one of the navy's largest vessels. In June this year, the keel for the ship, designated VC 11184 at Visakhapatnam's Hindustan Shipyard Ltd (HSL), was laid. At 175 metres and 10,000 tons, it'll be comparable in size to the INS Jalashwa and Deepak-class fleet tankers in service. But what is it?

On Feb 25, 2013, after great hesitation, but prodded by the Department of Defence Production to take the lead in giving the decaying shipyard a chance, the Indian Navy signed up with HSL for a specialty vessel for ocean surveillance. Tantalisingly little is known about the what sort of ship this is -- whether for hydrographic application or otherwise. The images and schematics you see above happen to be the first available information on the ship, slated for delivery to the Indian Navy by next year.

What we do know is that the ship has been designed by Vik Sandvik's India office out of Chennai. The only news report on the vessel describes it as required for 'studies in oceans'.

Brought under control of the Ministry of Defence in 2010, HSL has reeled from crippling financial problems that continue to threaten the shipyard, including its core business as a repair and refurbishment shipyard for ships and submarines. It's a dire situation for HSL. Battling a paralysing financial situation and with no bank willing to help, the shipyard has had to dip into its 'Refurbishment & Replacement of Machineries & Infrastructure (RRMI) funds' just to make available the working capital to complete its shipbuilding projects, including the naval ship project revealed here.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Nostalgia: IAF Museum Gives Bangladesh Vintage Dakota

This beautiful gleaming Douglas C-47 Dakota was handed over to the Bangladesh Air Force today in Delhi. Here's the IAF's official statement:

On a formal request from the  Bangladesh Air Force and reviewing the historic ties, the IAF today handed over one Dakota aircraft from the IAF museum to the Bangladesh Air Force. The aircraft was gifted by Air Marshal SS Soman, Air Officer Commanding in Chief Western Air Command to Air Marshal Muhammad Enamul Bari, Chief of Bangladesh Air Force in a befitting ceremony at Air Force Station Palam.

The Dakota aircraft has played a sterling role in the history of the Indian Air Force.  Much nostalgia can be associated with the aircraft as it was  one of the pioneers of the transport fleet of the Indian Air Force. The aircraft played a crucial role in the 1947-48 war and a pivotal role in liberation of Bangladesh and formation of Bangladesh Air Force. It was the first transport aircraft that landed at heights of 11500 ft in Leh by then Wg Cdr Mehar Singh. The aircraft was used for transporting troops in Srinagar during 1947-48 war and also for the famous Tangail drop, (the biggest and most ambitious air drop operation since World War II).

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.