Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Army Asks For Man-Portable UAVs

Last week, the Army presented a fresh reworked QR to the Ministry of Defence for upto 32 man-portable UAVs for "tactical, point-of-interest imaging and rapid action surveillance for ground forces" in Kashmir and the North East. The plan is for the Army to operate 32 mini-UAVS divided between formations under the 3, 4, 14 and 15 Corps. A separate QR already exists for 12 man-portable UAVs for the Special Forces, for which the procurement process has already begun. Sources in the MoD Acquisition wing say that the Army had earlier presented a QR for cannister-launched UAVs in 2005, but was asked to rework the document since there were mini-UAVs available in the world market with "other launch mechanisms". The document sent in by the Army last week is the reworked QR.

The Israeli SkyLite-A has already been demonstrated to the Special Forces in 2005 and to a Kumaon unit outside Chaubatia in mid-2006, according to sources in the Army's W&E Directorate, though results were not conclusive. Another demonstration is planned for sometime in the next few months, but this time for an Indian team visiting Israel. The source also revealed that the systems that will most likely be looked at for the Army's requirements (and whose manufacturers have already apparently been contacted for more information) are the SkyLite-B and BirdEye from Israel, a separate proposed joint HAL-Israeli system if possible, the American Lockheed-Martin Desert Hawk, and a yet unnamed system being developed jointly by Raytheon and Northrop-Grumman. DefenseNews quotes a HAL official as saying that the HAL-Elbit joint venture (Halbit) for SkyLark UAV avionics and simulators will help the former build its own mini-UAV, though whether this will be a specifically man-portable system is not yet known. The Army has also invited Hyderabad-based private firm Speck Systems for field demonstrations of its self-developed family of mini-UAVs that are said to be designed for use in the field by operators, fully portable and with excellent payload configurations. Whether DRDO is planning a portable UAV from the Pawan/Gagan projects or as an entirely separate UAV is also not confirmed, though it is known that Israel and the EU are pitching to assist DRDO as principle advisor on mission payloads and sensors on the three-UAV programme. Though it will be entirely upto DRDO to decide where and for what it may employ foreign consultancy services. Word is, however, that it is highly likely that DRDO will enlist Israel as a technical partner or advisor (or both). Notwithstanding flak for the Nishant, the Rustom/Pawan/Gagan UAVs promise to be excellent products in their own right. In the meantime, Israel has consistently brought all its wares to successive DefExpos and AeroIndias, showcasing the I-View, I-See, Mosquito and BirdEye as well.

The indigenous UAV development programme is a fascinating story. The Lakshya has emerged as a first-rate target drone. The Nishant has so far only been ordered by the Army, and is under limited series production. The IAF, on the other hand, is not yet fully convinced, even though it had made assurances of drawing up orders once the Army had completed trials and placed firm orders for the indigenous UAV. Not long ago, at a Western Air Command press conference, then SASO (now AOC-in-C, Central Air Command, and in line to be the next Chief of Air Staff) Air Marshal Pradeep Naik didn't have any good things to say about Nishant: He indicated that trials of the Nishant by the IAF had not proved satisfactory. Notwithstanding the obvious advantages of a mobile launcher-propelled machine, Naik said that the Nishant's endurance and turnaround time were "pathetic". Recovered by a parachute, the system was invariably damaged struturally and rendered unusable for a long period. Its low endurance, therefore, was amplified by its unsafe recovery mechanism, he said.

But this may be just a WAC view, since previously the Central Air Command (which Naik now heads) witnessed the Nishant and gave it a vote of confidence. The IAF has, anyway, used an overall critique of the Nishant (low endurance, unsafe recovery, inadequate payload capacity) to pitch for many more UAVs from Israel. That aside, by the middle of this year, the Army will receive 16 new Heron UAVs (from a deal signed in January 2006), eight each for the Nagrota and Srinagar Corps to supplement the Searcher Mk-IIs deployed with 10 Corps in Bhatinda. The Navy, which operates both Searchers and Herons from 342 Sqn in Kochi has asked HAL to develop a rotor-wing tactical UAV (for situational awareness and precision targeting) that can be launched and recovered off its frigates and destroyers, with specifications similar to the MQ-8B Fire Scout built by Northrop-Grumman. Meanwhile, Boeing/Insitu had pitched the ScanEagle as a possible ship-launched platform for the Indian Navy, though the latter was not interested in an arrested-loop recovery that seemed a tad unwieldy and not worth the cost. The Coast Guard also needs UAVs and has expressed deep interest in the Nishant, though it has obviously asked for sensors and cameras conducive to coastal and in-shore reconnaisance.

It's probably time for a holistic and well-considered Integrated UAV Development and Induction plan. The IAF will add a chapter on UAVs to its doctrine on the next doctrinal cycle along with urban warfare. The Navy is doing the same. UAVs will play an inestimably large role in operational reconnaisance and surveillance in a country this large -- that's the reason foreign contractors are throwing everything they've got at the armed forces, including invitations to participate in next-generation developments in the EU and US. It's definitely time for DRDO, HAL, the armed forces and a select consortium from the private sector to sit down and hammer out a clear-cut development and production plan. If there are gaps, fill those in with help from abroad. But if things go in a coordinated way from the word go (without the criminally wasteful schisms among the armed forces), the requirement of foreign consultancies and technology could be entirely precluded, even rendered redundant. The armed forces can and should use UAVs in large numbers. As maritime surveillance platforms, they'll save huge costs for the Navy. There's no need to even talk about the advantages of using UAVs in sensitive land sectors, currently a job done by just a few flights. There's much to keep a tab on, so here's to prudence, for once.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Israel and the MRCA

In the third week of April 2007, a small team from Israel's MoD and IAI (unannounced, undisclosed) met with a team at Vayu Bhawan and made a classified presentation on integrated fighter avionics and next-generation systems. On May 24, the same team (but with a representative each from Elta and Rafael) came back, and made another presentation. The first meeting was to make a pitch for a host of upgrade programmes that the IAF had asked the Israelis to come forward with possible proposals about. The second, and more interestingly, was to do with the 126 MRCA contract. It is now virtually certain that no matter which aircraft the IAF finally gets from the six-man tender, its brains (everything apart from the multimode radar) will be Israeli-developed and Israeli-built. This would include the complete avionics suite, tactical data and satellite communications systems, head-up display, helmet display, mission computer, digital map integrated warning systems and electronic counter measures (ECM) suites.

In September last year, after Lockheed-Martin said that its contender for the tender would be the heavily souped up and improvised Israeli F-16I Sufa, the Indian Air Force decided that it was time to evaluate Israeli systems. It didn't take them long to send a formal communication to the government in January this year, yielding that any MRCA would be best armed with Israeli avionics and mission systems. In February, I was leaked a photocopy of a page of that communication by a Ministry of Defence source, with most of the information whited out (!). But what remained were a few technical descriptions, subscripted by this telling line: "This would be optimal for IAF purposes in the medium to long term, as our own evaluations and industry reputations have pegged systems built by Israel as by far the most dependable and advanced in the world, more advanced than even comparable US systems which are possibly on offer." This, as you've no doubt guessed, is huge for Israel.

While it's also almost certain that the MRCA deal leans unabashedly towards the US (the delays in the RFP, some say, are for brinkmanship over the nuke deal, but also time bought to carefully engineer the QRs to suit the Americans) -- and assuming that this were true, then it quite simply boils down to the F-16I (the Block 50/52 and the Sufa use the same Northrop-Grumman AN/APG-68V9 AESA radar) and the F/A-18 Super Hornet. This has presented a strange sort of situation for American diplomats. Last year, former US Secretary of Defence from the Clinton Adminstration William S. Cohen (and now a business consultant in D.C) inaugurated Lockheed-Martin's office in Delhi. When asked if he backed the F-16 for the deal, he was completely stumped. And to the hilarious discomfiture of the Lockheed-Martin people, he had to affirm right there on stage that the F/A-18 and F-16 were both "first class aircraft". This didn't go down to well with LM, I'm assuming.

Conversely, both Lockheed-Martin and Boeing complain in private that since they're compatriot firms in the tender, it's difficult for political diplomats to push a single one -- that would be grossly inappropriate. This, even though the US Navy chief of staff recently threw his weight singularly behind the Super Hornet. It would have been a whole lot easier if there was just one American contender. But Boeing, which has had a huge and lucrative history in India, could not be ignored and was therefore allowed to elbow itself into the tender long after RFIs from the others had been received and analysed. Either way, it appears that the IAF wants the government to be firm about the Israeli connection.

India's pronounced and abrupt affinity for Israeli arms over the last few years is a political phenomenon that has a lot of reasonable people obsessed with the direction it threatens to take. Indian commitments to Israeli weapons are enormous, by all standards -- those reports about Israel having emerged as India's second largest arms import source are profoundly true, not in terms of what's been delivered (precious little so far, barring some assault rifles and a few radars), but what's in the pipeline. In December last year, I did an interview with Prof. Yitzhak Shichor of the University of Haifa's Department of East Asia Studies, someone who has written widely on the fresh new Indo-Israeli diplomatic complexion. He said something quite interesting at the time. I'll end with what he told me:

"I am becoming more and more convinced that US attempts to block Israel's arms sales are necessarily, directly or exclusively related to China. There was a piece in Ha'aretz last December (2005) about US attempts to torpedo a large-scale arms deal between Israel and South Korea (valued at $1.25 billion). In other words, US commercial interests are very much at play. If this is true, Israel will find it more difficult to sell arms to India in the future. The deals already signed with India came against the background of the forced retreat from the Phalcon deal with China and at that time it would have been inconceivable to block Israel's military relations with India as well. Now the situation is different. After the forced cancellation of the Phalcon deal with China (as well as the Harpy episode), some experts said that this would undermine Israel's arms sales prospects worldwide since prospective customers would think twice before turning to Israeli arms. Reality proved otherwise. Over the last few years Israeli arms sales still maintained an annual peak of over $3 billion. The loss of the China market is certainly a blow but the India market is at least an equal substitute and there are additional markets such as Turkey and West European countries. Exporting arms is essential for Israel's defense industrial establishment for its survival. Israel exports 75% of its military production, the highest share in the world. The key to this success is technological and scientific innovation which, in certain types and models, outranks the US."

(Photo Copyright Yuval Lapid)

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Will the Chile deal work out for Dhruv?

The online business magazine domain-B reports that HAL has received an RfP from the Chilean government for the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv, and will respond to it in June, though the report has some errors. The proposed sale of Dhruvs to Santiago was one of the first reports I wrote up when I joined The Indian Express in August 2004, and it was a deal that was almost certain to go through in the circumstances. In October 2004, then Air chief S Krishaswamy visited Chile (and then HAL's director design & development, Ashok Baweja -- now chairman) along with pilots from the Sarang helicopter display team, where they made a huge demonstration routine over a week. Since the beginning of the Chilean requirement in 2003, the Dhruv was pitted against the Bell-430 and Eurocopter EC-145, both formidable competitors with vastly greater export experience. But after the demo flights in October 2004, it was almost certain that the Chileans wanted the Dhruv, not just for its far lower ownership cost package, but also because it was a darn good machine entirely worthy of Chile's needs and then some.

But a month later, in November 2004, one of the Dhruvs sold to the Royal Nepal Army (RNA), had a severe hard-landing, sparking off a minor diplomatic row. One of the pilots sustained minor injuries, while the Dhruv's undercarriage was severely damaged and landing gear assemblies fully hit. I spoke to one of the Sarang pilots who had been to Chile the previous month, and who was now in Bangalore -- he said at the time that the Nepal accident had been identified as having been caused by a faulty spider actuator assembly, or the tail rotor pitch control system which collapsed into the tail-rotor, thereby sending the chopper into an uncontrolled spin. The accident wasn't much, but it had huge implications for HAL. Faulty critical components on a machine that it had pegged as it's most promising export possibility.

In January 2005, the Chilean President Ricardo Lagos was given a demonstration by the Sarangs in Bangalore. On October 25 2005, Pranab Mukherjee visited Chile. His visit was widely reported as the clincher for the Dhruv deal, but the Chileans had just received yet another entrant who was interested in demonstrating -- the Agusta A109, so no deal was signed, but an assurance was given to Mukherjee that the Dhruv was still on top of their list. The Chilean Air Force chief at the time also told the Indian delegation that the hard-landing in Nepal wasn't a cause for too much concern, since it actually proved the crash-worthiness of the airframe.

A month later, in a steep deja vu, a Dhruv crashed in Karimnagar, Andhra Pradesh on November 25, though none of the eight people in the chopper was seriously injured. The chopper was being transferred to the Jharkhand state administration, which had ordered the helicopter 18 months previously for VIP transport roles. But this time, Chile was not very forthcoming about affirming the Dhruv's crashworthiness. A small HAL team visited Chile in early January to explain to the Chilean government the details of the crash, and why it really proved that the Dhruv airframe was crash-proof. But back home, the country's Dhruv fleet, in its entirety, had been grounded. Defective "hardeners" used in a particular batch of tail rotor assemblies and blades proved too much of a risk to allow any more flying, so for over a month, the Dhruvs in the armed forces, did not fly and each unit was individually inspected.

The Dhruv's run of bad luck couldn't have gotten worse. The negative publicity for the Indian helicopter had all the foreign journals flocking in to feed on the carcass. Fortunately, the Chileans sobered up and began discussions again, sometime around July 2006, with the visit of one of their armed forces chiefs. By this time, interest in the Dhruv had spread a little more. By December 2006, there were inquiries from Bolivia, Peru, Mauritius, Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia. These were countries that had heard about Chile's helicopter competition, and saw that the far cheaper Dhruv was competing formidably against the Eurocopters and the Bells of the world. Things started looking up once again.

Then, on February 2, disaster struck again. Days ahead of the Aero India 2007 defence show at Yelahanka, a Sarang aerobatic team Dhruv crashed near the runway, tragically killing one of its pilots Sqn Ldr Priye Sharma and severely injuring the other, Wg Cdr Vikas Jetley. When I took a flight in the F/A-18 Super Hornet, I remember spotting the brilliantly coloured red and gold wreckage from the air as we did a series of low passes of the airfield.

Crashes may not severely affect export negotiations (they, of course, do in some measure), but HAL receiving the RfP for 12-14 helicopters and being in a strong position to respond next month is heartening news. Two choppers in Nepal and one "on lease" to Israel -- that's the tally so far, and it's not enviable to say the least. Hopefully it won't be long before we see a few Dhruvs in foreign livery. Everything else will follow. HAL has decided that all future production of Dhruvs will be fitted with Israeli avionics under the IAI-HAL marketing tie-up, but again, hopefully, it won't be long before DARE and the others get around to making the Dhruv a fully Indian helicopter with Indian EW, all weather day-and-night vision system, COMM and HUDs. Because that's what it should be.

Inviting Contributors!

It's been a few months now since I started LiveFist. I recently received e-mails from three different armed forces and military enthusiasts who were interested in writing for this blog, and I've asked them to feel free to send in posts for possible inclusion. Now, since a whole lot of readers have a lot to say, I thought some were probably being restricted by the comments section. I published a post here a few weeks back by another writer, and I think it worked out okay. So if you'd like to write a column or separate posts for LiveFist (and know your stuff!), do let me know what you'd like to write about. If writers wish to stay with their nicknames, that should be fine too. Write to me at shivaroor@gmail.com and we can take that forward.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The ATV Unbound Part III: The SL-Missile Question

Part III of The ATV Unbound - compiled excerpts on the ATV by a group of retired Naval officers:

Lest someone think that we already have the Agni and the Prithvi and could we not simply deploy one of the versions of the Agni or the Prithvi on a nuclear sub, it should be clearly understood that a missile launched underwater from a submarine is a far more complex thing than a missile of similar range and payload fired from land or air. A SLBM (submarine launched ballistic missile) is qualitatively different from a land-based ICBM.

Firstly, no version of the Agni qualifies as a true ICBM. Secondly, there are important design differences in a land-based ICBM and a SLBM. All long range rockets are what is known as multi-stage rockets. In a land-based rocket, when you stack the stages upon each other, the rocket becomes long. But height is not a problem on land. This becomes a very serious problem in a submarine.

A major part of the research in making a SLBM revolves around developing design and technologies that would result in a short stubby missile which would be able to deliver the warheads of nearly the same gross weight to roughly the same range. The LGM-30 Minuteman III ICBM of the USA, a three-stage rocket, is nearly 60 feet tall but only 65 inches thick. It has a range of over 6000 miles. On their biggest nuclear sub, the Ohio class SSBN also the Americans have been able to deploy their Trident-II D-5 SLBM which had to be limited to only 44 feet height. And yet it is 74 inch wide. The Trident is still nearly 58.5 tons in weight whereas the Minutemen is only 32.1 tons. Yet the Trident has a range of only 4600 miles. This shows how difficult it is to design a short ICBM for a submarine even for those nations which have vast experience in this field.

There is one more problem for a SLBM. Inside a submarine you cannot fire its rocket engine. This means that it has to be cold launched, that is, expelled by the pressure of expanding cold gas in the launch tube. The technology of cold launch in itself is quite complicated. Then the SLBM has to traverse a depth of water before it can break free and fly in the air. While it is moving through the water, it is subjected to a great many disturbances as against a land-fired ICBM which flies into the air on its set trajectory from the word go. This makes the guidance system of the SLBM far more complicated and has to be much more sophisticated.

It should be clear that making a SLBM is far more difficult than making a regular land-fired ICBM. The same argument applies to any missile that is fired from the submarine. Even if you are firing a small missile of say 300 miles range from a SSN, the missile has to be technologically more sophisticated than a corresponding land-fired missile. For example, the guidance system of the missile has to be better.

Thus one should not think that if we have a missile of 300 miles range, it automatically enables us to have a submarine launched missile of the same range. They are different ball games altogether. In fact, making submarine launch capable missiles is proving to be as difficult as making the submarine itself.

A nuke sub is a dud if you cannot fire a respectable missile from it. Making a proper ICBM fired from the sub is beyond our immediate and mid-term capability. We do not have even a land-based ICBM in the mid-term. This means that a submarine launched ICBM is ruled out. Could they be thinking in terms of an IRBM? Will that be feasible? Let us examine that.

The INS Chakra, a Charlie II class sub, was a cruise missile firing submarine. It has been argued that since our basic design data came from the INS Chakra, perhaps we would not be able to deviate materially from that.

The Sagarika has been identified as either a submarine launched cruise or ballistic missile with a range of 300 km. The project began in 1994. It was slated to be completed by 2005. It has been reportedly test-fired once this year.

According to the Asian Defense Journal (5/95, p. 20-27): "India is testing scale models of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) Sagarika in wind tunnels at the Aeronautical Defense Establishment (ADE), a part of DRDO. The project initiated some three years ago (1992), is aimed at building a SLBM which will be carried on an indigenous nuclear submarine. The missile, which in some respects will be similar to Prithvi, will be able to hit targets as far away as 300 km." The same journal reported that if it were to be a cruise missile then it would be designed to carry a warhead of 450 kg.

Among the major problems associated with such a system are the effects of water in the nozzle on motor ignition. (AIAA Missile Sciences Conference, 1990, A.K. Whitney, CFD Analysis of Reentrant Water Jets and AIAA Missiles Sciences Conference, 1993, C.Y. Tsai, Motor Ignition with Water in the Nozzle). In fact, this effect had caused the failure of two out of three flights of the US Trident II missile.

Lest someone think that we have been proudly displaying our Agni and Prithvi missile in our Republic day parades, it must be clarified that the Indian missiles like Prithvi and Agni have yet to make their mark as accurate missiles. They have propulsion systems alright, they can cover the distance alright but hitting the target is once again a different ball game altogether. The Prithvi is reported to have a relatively high circular error probable (CEP) -- 300 meters at 150 km range and 500 meters at 250 km range, (0.2 percent of the range). Efforts to reduce it to an acceptable level have not been successful, which is why the Army has set up Project Bheeshma to sort out the problems. There is an additional problem. The Prithvi's liquid fuel poses liabilities as a delivery system. The liquid propellant mixture is highly volatile and corrosive and must be loaded just prior to launch. This is not a missile which you can keep ready to fire any moment. And filling the propellant is a specialized operation requiring specially trained personnel. There is no indication as yet as to how are they going to solve these problems for the submarine launched version.

Accuracy problems have plagued the Agni also, official claims notwithstanding. In any case, Agni cannot even be considered for the submarine. Initially the CEP was said to be about 100 meters. The CEP of 100 meters meant that the missile would only strike within 100 meters of its target 50% of the time. The DRDO's Chief Controller of R&D (Missile Division), A.S. Pillai, stated after the Agni-II test, "We have improved accuracy by a factor of at least three. It is a far more lethal missile now." A Japanese newspaper report stated that Agni-II achieved a Circular Error Probability of 40 meters. All international experts, however, agree that more future tests would be required to substantiate the computer simulations that India used to produce this figure.

Prithvi was made to dabble with a radio-correction guidance system also. Whether such technology can be transferred over to the SLBM project remains to be seen. Many analysts maintain that if all these attempts fail, the nuke sub could end up using nothing but the Yakhont anti-ship cruise missile designed by NPO Mashinostroyeniya. In the absence of a reliable missile, it appears that even if the submarine becomes seaworthy, it would be like going to battle on a horse without a sword or lance in hand!

The program of building the submarine launched missile called Sagarika started in 1992 and was originally reported to involve adapting a ramjet engine to the missile to reduce the need for heavy oxidizers. But according to other sources and official papers published between 25-31 July 94, the Sagarika is fashioned after the Prithvi.

Interestingly, the New York Times reported in April 1998 that Russia was helping India build a nuclear-capable sea-launched missile called the Sagarika. Both India and Russia denied cooperating on the project, but India reportedly confirmed in 1999 that its Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) was developing a 300-kilometer range cruise missile. According to the Times, Russia acknowledged to American officials in 1995 that Russian scientists were providing India with technological support, but insisted that their assistance was limited and involved only the technology needed to launch an underwater missile. However, an American official told the Times that Russia was providing "significant engineering services" as well as the parts and equipment necessary to build and launch the missile.

Now there is little doubt that the Sagarika missile is being developed by India's Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) in Bangalore with Russian assistance. In fact the project itself was initially believed to have been headed by a Russian scientist. Officially of course, the Russians are still vague about it. On record, senior NPOM official -- Russia's state-supported cruise missile and space technology design bureau -- said that although Russian scientist had provided critical hardware for the guidance system, they had no connection with developing the Sagarika as a nuclear deterrent.

No one knows for sure whether it is going to be a cruise missile or a ballistic missile. Some observers have concluded that it will be made in two versions, both as a cruise missile and as a ballistic missile with a range of about 300 km.

As a cruise missile it has to be like a Tomahawk cruise missile or a little smaller version of that without our having ever demonstrated the capability of coming anywhere near the technology.
The first flight trial of the cruise missile version is claimed to take place sometime during this year. The engine is likely to be a turbojet with a solid fuel booster. The missile will be vertically launched. Now there are serious doubts about whether we would be able to build a turbo jet or turbo fan engine small enough for the missile and yet giving sufficient thrust. Our efforts on the Kaveri engine for the LCA have singularly failed so far and we are not known to have developed any other engine. Once again, as is the case with the reactor, it is not just a matter of scaling down.

Problems will also have to be overcome in respect of the so-called switchover mechanism, which enables a missile to settle into a cruise phase after takeoff with a solid-fuel booster. Help was sought from Israel as well as some European/Russian missile firms in 2001. The help was also intended to increase the range of the missile from the pathetic 300 km to a respectable 1000-2500 km so that the deterrence has some credibility.

The guidance system of the missile was supposed to be upgraded with the help of Russian scientists from the NPOM. But it is not known whether even with Russian help we have reached anywhere near incorporating the terrain-contour-matching (TERCOM) and digital scene-matching area-correlation (DSMAC) missile-guidance systems. Most probably not. In any case there have been no test flights. It may be recalled that the Americans love to show the video films of their cruise missiles hitting targets with pin-point accuracy.

One more thing may be kept in mind. We all know how jittery the Americans are about such missiles being developed in the rest of the world. The U.S. Air Force National Air Intelligence Center's 1999 report on missile proliferation does not list India among the countries able to build cruise missiles by 2009. Will Sagarika be able to do what it is expected to do?

The developmental cruise missile would carry conventional warheads. Eventual long-range versions would have to be nuclear-capable. Otherwise we would simply be wasting our time, money and effort. The point to be noted is that there could be nothing more foolish than firing a conventional warhead on a land-based target from a submarine. If you have invested so much in a nuclear submarine, its worth will not be realized unless you have the capability of firing a nuclear warhead.

Coming to a nuclear warhead, the most vital point is its weight. Miniaturizing a nuclear warhead is enormously more difficult than just exploding a nuclear device. We have not yet produced any evidence of having become capable of making nuclear devices so small that they could be limited to the small payload of the Sagarika, i.e. about 450 kg. The missile launchers being built at Hazira, called Project 78, by L&t. Many believe the Sagarika is most likely a clone of the Prithvi series missiles. Prithvi-I and II are land-based and III, sea launched.

Sagarika would require some modification even in the sea launched version of Prithvi because launching from under water is materially different from launching from the surface of water. The problem is that even in the ballistic missile version, you do not have a nuclear warhead that is small and light enough to as its payload. The first underwater flight test was supposed to take place in September 2001. As was to be expected, nothing happened. Thus the ballistic missile version also is not very promising as an effective weapon system.

The Dhanush and the Sagarika programs remains obscure. Given the evident similarities in their overall characteristics, Dhanush may simply be the new name for the original Sagarika system. However, since the Dhanush is reported by some sources to have a 350 km range, compared to the 250-300 km range of the Sagarika, the change in designation might reflect a design change.

Dhanush is supposed to be a naval version of the Prithvi. The 8.5 meter long Dhanush, was tested on 11 April 2000 from the INS Subhadra anchored 20 kilometers offshore in the Bay of Bengal close to the Orissa coast. The test was reportedly described as only a "partial success" by V. K. Aatre, scientific advisor to the Ministry of Defence. Officials at the DRDO declined to provide specific details about the test, but naval sources reportedly said the missile crashed into the sea approximately 25-30 kilometers from the launch vessel. The missile flew for only four seconds and broke into two pieces, barely managing to clear the ship. It was promptly called a tech demonstrator.

The Indian Navy is apparently seeking another variant of the Dhanush surface-to-surface ballistic missile that is capable of striking land targets within a range of 500 km. The longer-range missile will have propulsion fuel similar to its short-range version.

There's a shortpoint: If we don't have at least a nuclear-tipped IRBM platform by the time the ATV hits water, there's going to be no real point.

(Next, Who Does What, and What the Hull!)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

LiveFist EXCLUSIVE: IAF's SpyDer Purchase Was Opposed By The IDS

LiveFist has come upon some startling (or not, depending on how cynical you are!) new information concerning the IAF's recent order for 18 SpyDer LLQRM systems from Israel. Well, we'll get to the juice in a moment, but first a little bit about the purchase:

At the ritual press conference ahead of Air Force Day last year, then IAF chief Air Chief Marshal SP "Bundle" Tyagi announced that the IAF had been compelled to decide on a purchase of 18 SpyDer (Surface-to-air Python and Derby) LLQRM batteries from Israel's Rafael/Elta/IAI, the same team that builds the Barak and partners DRDO in the development of the Barak-NG. Following approval from the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) earlier this year, the IAF has chosen to purchase the SpyDer-SR (short-range) variant, which involves four cannisterised missiles -- two each of the Python 5 and Derby -- mounted on a Tatra-truck launcher. Other components of the package include (for each battery) a truck-mounted NBC-protected command and control unit (CCU -- comprising Elta EL/M 2106 ATAR 3D Surveillance Radar), a service vehicle and a missile supply vehicle (MSV). The system is built as a quick-reaction surface to air missile defence system against aircraft, UAVs, even PGMs, according to the makers. Both the Python-5 (IIR guidance) and Derby (active radar guidance) are originally air-to-air missiles, tweaked and cannisterised for the SAM role by Rafael and IAI -- similar to what the Americans did with the AIM-120 and AIM-9, and the French, with the MICA. The Derby, incidentally, in its original air-to-air avatar is being fitted on the Navy's Sea Harriers as part of the upgrade announced in early 2005.

It was in mid-2005 that the IAF floated its requirement for 18-20 LLQRM batteries as an immediate SHORAD requirement. From the start, there were only two contenders -- the other being the French MBDA VL-MICA (the air-launched version is almost certain to be part of the Mirage-2000 upgrade). The IAF's original QR was for 12 such systems, and the outline was drawn out for systems specially configured for Indian deployment and terrain considerations. This was subsequently increased to 18 systems and a precondition for transfer of technology -- three systems purchased off the shelf and 15 built in India by a consortium encompassing BEL, BDL and a few others. This plan was finally dropped and it was decided that all 18 systems would be bought off the shelf. Despite strenuous lobbying by MBDA, including myriad memoranda including a technology tie-up with BDL for the Milan-ER, it appears that the deal fell through. The Israelis of course won't be seen organising press conferences. Their procedures are far more concealed, which is probably why they're always large and always a surprise. Anyway, following firing and targeting demonstrations in Israel and France in early 2006, the IAF chose the SpyDer and forwarded its choice to the Ministry of Defence. And this is when the trouble began.

Now, the juice:

The Integrated Defence Staff had a huge run-in with the IAF in early 2006. Headed at the time by missile and gunnery expert Vice Admiral Raman Puri, the IDS' opinion was sought by the MoD Acquisitions Wing following the IAF's decision on the SpyDer and the IDS made an impassioned response, even going as far as to orally debunk IAF Deputy Chief at the time, Air Marshal AK Nagalia, who, as the head of acquisitions at Vayu Bhawan, was fully behind the immediate purchase of LLQRM systems. In its observations, the IDS called the IAF's intentions short sighted and lacking in long-term perspective on modernisation. In its opinion, there was no reason for the IAF to use the Trishul or the Akash SAM's delays to push it's own case for yet another import. It further noted in observations that the SpyDer system was not battle-proven (it cited the example of the Barak as a parallel), was basically an air-to-air missile ensemble, implied no transfer of technology or spin-offs for local industry and would be a blackhole as far as inventory upgradation management and serviceability went. It further indicated that with the OSA-AK flights being upgraded (this was recently indicated by the Defence Minister in an action taken report submitted to Parliament), the urgency of needing precisely 18 new LLQRM batteries was overstated. Admiral Puri was also a staunch supporter of the Trishul programme, and it did not go down well with him that the IAF had repeatedly turned itself away from the programme, while parallely debunking the Akash SAM.

Well, make what you will of this! All I can say is that we're buying a helluva lot of munitions from the Israelis: Delilah II precision loitering attack missiles, Crystal Maze bombs, PopEye BVR missiles and a whole lot else.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Eurocopter Wins? 197 Army Choppers in the Bag

The Army's massive contract for 197 light multirole high-altitude helicopters, as a fleet replacement for the Cheetah and Chetak fleets, is reported to be in the bag (well, almost) for European consortium EADS Eurocopter's AS 550 C3 Fennec . Reports suggest that officials from EADS will be in India soon for final contractual and price negotiations of the country's largest single helicopter purchase so far. The loser in the competition, worth between $650-700 million is, of course, the Bell ARH-70A, an armed reconnaisance variant of the bestselling corporate Bell-407. When the deal is signed, 60 Fennec C3s will be built and shipped to India from France, while 137 will be license produced by HAL. First, a little bit about the two helicopters, and then a short history of the purchase.

From the very start, Eurocopter has pitched the Fennec as a "logical" follow-on to the Alouette-II (Cheetah) and the Alouette-III (Chetak) fleets that exclusively form the light multipurpose rotorwing assets of all three services and the Coast Guard. Their advertising suggested that it would be imprudent to buy American helicopters when the Indian Army had used Aerospatiale (since merged into Eurocopter under EADS) choppers for so long. The AS 550 C3 is a new generation, single-engined (Turbomeca Arriel 2B with FADEC) multirole helicopter built for reconnaisance, surveillance & observation, tactical combat missions, search and rescue and relief delivery. According to its maker, it is also suited for hot climates and high altitude. The Fennec can be armed with axial weapons, a 20mm cannon, rocket pods, machine guns, ant-tank guided missiles and air-to-air missiles. In a troop carrying configuration, the chopper holds a pilot and five troops. And in a freight role, it can deliver a 3 metre-cube payload.

Over the last two years, the Fennec was pitted by the Indian Army against the Bell ARH-70A (armed reconnaisance helicopter), an armed variant of the Bell-407, that it began configuring in response to the US Army's requirement of a nimble and swift armed reconnaisance chopper (the US Army needs 512). The ARH-70A is powered by a single Honeywell HTS900-2 turbine engine and can be armed with a 0.50-cal Gatling gun, and a 7-tube 2.75" FFAR (folding fin aerial rockets) launcher. Earlier this month, however, a miffed US Army decided it would rethink the possibility of allowing Bell to continue developing the ARH-70 as a result of schedule overruns -- this decision was later revoked, and Bell was granted a short reprieve. The final decision is still awaited from the US Army, and it is highly likely that the Indian government's decision was at least in part a reflection of Bell's failure to meet deadlines with one of its chief customers. The PTI news agency carried a virtual deluge of pieces through much of the latter-half of last year quoting Bell officials as certain that the Indian Army tender would be won by them, and that they expected to head into final negotiations shortly. But as always, it's a little more complicated than that.

The Army floated its requirements for about 200 new helicopters in 2004 (this was revised to 180 and then 197), after which two schedules of tests were conducted in 2005 on the two contenders. The Kamov-226 (NATO name Hoodlum!) light multirole helicopter responded to the Army's RFP in 2004, but was ejected in the first downselect in early 2005 because it hadn't been certified and therefore wasn't invited for trial evaluations. There were a total of two trial rounds held in Northern Ladakh and the plains of Punjab. In March 2006, I visited Leh with the Army to watch flying operations of the AAC's 666 Siachen Falcons Cheetah squadron. In the event, I arrived there a few days after the Fennec had completed high-altitude tests at Siachen and base camp. The Lieutenant Colonel who flew that particular schedule of tests said at the time that the Fennec had been virtually ruled out. He revealed that on two separate occasions, the evaluation Fennec had hard landings. But that, apparently, was not all. He, and a few of the other Army pilots we met there, said the Fennec was not as "solid" in high wind conditions as the Bell-407 airframe had apparently proven to be. There were, apparently, "other" issues with the Fennec as well. Either way, in 2005, HAL signed memoranda of understanding with both Bell Textron and Eurocopter for small outsourcing contracts and technology development partnerships. I also remember a large number of the pilots there telling me and the other reporters that no matter what, the Cheetahs and Chetaks had to go. They were also somewhat unkindly pessimistic about HAL's Chetan/Cheetal up-engined offers. "It's all very well to up-engine. But without changing the transmission system, what's the point -- it's a total waste," one of them said. Well anyway, those were the tests.

What were the Army's real technical findings of both choppers? When I returned to Delhi, I found that there was a somewhat homogeneous opinion on the performance of the Fennec C3, and that even though both helicopters had "issues", the Bell was probably a "safer" bet. Late last year, there was talk that the deal might actually be split up the middle (or the IAF's tender for 80 light helicopters be given to the loser in the Army tender) with equal numbers of helicopters bought from the Europeans and the Americans. This was stiffly opposed by the Army and the Aquisitions wing, the latter of which was already under pressure and censure from the MoD for not facilitating a more streamlined modernisation programme that could have allowed the AAC, IAF (both of course cannot tolerate the existence of the other) to coordinate their independently large helicopter purchases. But that of course didn't happen. So even though all three services need helicopters of comparable size (but not mission), the government will spend time and money negotiating independently. Former Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash was a staunch critic of this criminal imprudence and never failed to say so when he had the chance.

But a $700 million helicopter deal is no small fish. With trouble in paradise over the Indo-US nuclear deal, it's quite possible that the government decided not to throw so much Washington's way. Like all defence purchases, this must have been an element in consideration. The government is after all, buying six extremely expensive C-130J Super Hercules for the Garud force, in addition to the showpiece USS Trenton landing platform dock. So why give the Americans another handshake, especially when there's a frightening element of India's most ambitious foreign policy venture either caving on or being carved to suit the facilitator nation? Whatever it is, when EADS signs on the dotted line, it's probably going to be looking through the crack in the door it squeezed through.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The ATV Unbound Part II: The INS Chakra Joyride

We took on lease a Russian nuclear submarine way back in 1988 and it was re-christened INS Chakra. It was to stay with us for three years. First, a little on what this Russian sub was.

It was a 670A Skat series submarine bearing the number K-43 (Charlie class by NATO classification) with eight Ametist (SS-N-7 Starbright) anti-ship missile launchers. It was a 1960s vintage submarine and was decommissioned after it was returned on the termination of the lease. The Charlie class was originally planned in the Soviet Union as a small, 'mass-production' attack submarine. They were re-designed to carry the SS-N-9 SSM, which had been planned for the Papa class. This change was presumably made to deal with the high cost of the Papa design, which clearly could not be built in sufficient numbers. A further change resulted when the SS-N-9 missile was not ready in time for the Charlie class, forcing the substitution of the SS-N-7, a modified version of the venerable SS-N-2 Styx. The Charlie class could fire missiles while submerged, unlike the previous SSG/SSGN classes.

What was the real objective of taking a sub on lease? The fond hope was that if we take a Russian nuke sub on lease, we could learn to operate it and God willing, even learn to make it by reverse engineering merely by looking at it. "People in the Navy high-command, atomic agencies and DRDO who misled the government into believing in such a childish argument deserve to be cashiered." One cannot reverse engineer even a motorbike by looking at it. Even the most elementary knowledge of mechanical engineering should convince one that you require detailed machine designs for making anything — merely looking at it for three years is of no consequence. And they thought that they could reverse engineer a nuclear reactor.

The submarine incidentally came with Russian guards who did not allow our people to even touch the reactor. The Russian online daily Kommersant had later confirmed that while Chakra was on lease the Russians did not allow the Indians access to the reactor. "We played with the sub for three years and then returned it." How could such a stupid decision have be taken in the first place? Was it not clarified in the beginning as to what the terms of lease would be? Why was it such a surprise? Or did someone genuinely expect that he would be able to decipher the secrets of the nuclear reactor of the submarine by looking at it from a distance or operating the consoles for a sufficiently long time?

The simple fact is that while the Russians had provided detailed designs of the leased submarine the designs of the reactor and drawings were not provided for the simple reason that providing reactor design details would have been a violation of the NPT. How is it that such a simple thing did not go into the heads of those who took the decision? Was this unprecedented intellectual bankruptcy? Or was it all a part of the operation to cover up the bungling?

The total cost of the lease was approximately Rs 360 crore at the rate of Rs 120 crore a year. And it wasn't all smooth sailing either. The Navy News and Undersea Technology (November 13, 1989) reported that radiation problems on the submarine were responsible for the death of at least one Indian scientist on board the submarine. It is suspected that these radiation problems could also have played a role in the termination of the contract with the Soviet Union. These are not reports -- these are facts.

It may be kept in mind that India's first indigenously-constructed diesel-electric submarine, the INS Shalki, a license-produced Type 209 Class 1500, was commissioned 25 years after the Navy established the first submarine squadron. The Shalki was built at the East Yard of the Mazgaon Dock Ltd. (MDL). Construction stated in 1984, and it was launched in September 1989.

The point to be noted is that in 1985 someone in the establishment wanted to gain operating experience of nuclear submarines even as we were yet to build a diesel-electric submarine of our own. Obviously the Navy and scientific establishment had led the decision-makers to believe that they would deliver the nuke submarine shortly. Why did they fail to notice that that fabrication of the Shalki had taxed the MDL's capabilities to the limit, resulting in a 20 per cent cost over-run, and the delivery of the submarine was 15 months late. This was admitted by P.K. Mukherjee, general manager of MDL's East Yard himself. The Shalki has cost the Indian navy some Rs 1.8 billion ($450 million). And it was not really an wholly indigenous affair. Raw materials such as high-strength HY-80 steel and pipes had to be imported but were cut, formed and welded in India.

In 1990, there was a massive row in Visakhapatnam between a DRDO materials scientist and a senior Naval officer from the ENC. Both were arguing over drinks and things got out of hand. The officer argued that the Chakra was a good idea -- the scientist argued that it was not, and that nothing was being learnt. It was, what he called, an "expensive joyride" with absolutely no returns. The officer, far senior to the scientist, famously (in Navy circles) lost his cool and poured the beer onto the scientist's lap and ordered him to leave. Two years after the lease, opinion was starkly divided.

It should be obvious that the decision to take the nuke sub on lease was not only premature, it was a hasty decision based on the wishful thinking and false promises of the scientific establishment and in part, the Navy itself. And the nation was poorer by Rs 360 crore in the process -- that's the bottomline. Nobody can argue that operating INS Chakra gave us experience of operating a nuclear submarine. The utter folly of the decision stands exposed in all its starkness as 31 years later, all personnel who served on the INS Chakra [including one of the contributors to this piece] have retired now and the so-called experience has gone with them—we never got a nuke sub of our own in these three decades on which they could practice the experience or pass it on to others.

(Next, Part III: The ATV's Missiles)

Saturday, May 19, 2007

LiveFist Special: The ATV Unbound - Part I

Starting today a LiveFist series, The ATV Unbound. The series is based on the unpublished notes and writings by a handful of retired Navy officers (some of whom are currently collaborating on a possible book on nuclear submarines, the Advanced Technology Vessel or ATV project and attendant issues), both of who have worked with the nuclear submarine programme itself, and on detachment to some of the scientific laboratories involved. They have been kind enough to let me in on some of their notes. And with the news that Vice Admiral AK Singh is tipped to head the programme, a background on the project as a whole seems in order. My only contribution to this series was to put the inputs together in readable (hopefully!) form and it is written from the perspective of the contributing officers. Words in quotes (apart from quotes of Minister etc) are taken directly from their notes. Hopefully a book by the retired officers will be out soon! For now, Part I.

Part I: History and Beginnings of the ATV

India's efforts to embark upon an indigenous nuclear submarine project hark back to 1971, a time when the a tast force from the US Navy's Seventh Fleet, including the USS Enterprise nuclear-powered aircraft carrier projected unignorable power from the Bay of Bengal as India continued to deliver liberty to Bangladesh. Strategically, this was a profoundly disturbing period for the government and military planners -- it was an open admission then, as it is now, that had the American not quietly withdrawn from the theatre, India would have had no reasonable way to deal with them. It was after this that the terse exchange of letters between Indira Gandhi and President Nixon ensued.

She was well-advised at this time that if India had had a small fleet of nuclear submarines, the government would not have been, as it were, at sea. Mrs Gandhi is known to have thrown a small tantrum with the three military chiefs, fuming at having been "bullied" and saved by the bell of the Pakistani surrender. Analyst Dr. Eric H. Arnett of SIPRI wrote, "The history and implications of the nuclear attack submarine for Indian maritime strategy suggest that the US presence in the Indian Ocean was a strong motivation for the nuclear attack submarine program." But neither then, nor now, did the government fully comprehend the complexity and enormity of the task at hand.

It was the sincere belief of all Naval ranks at the time that it was a splendid, indeed indispensable, idea that the country needed its own nuclear submarines. But Mrs Gandhi's advisors had her sanction the establishment to embark upon something for which the Indian defense research and development industry or the laboratories were just not prepared or equipped.Submarines had come to occupy an important place in Indian maritime strategy.

Ian Anthony, the author of The Arms Trade and Medium Powers—Case Studies of India and Pakistan 1947-90 writes that in December 1968 the arrival of submarines of Soviet origin was announced as part of a new plan for naval expansion and modernization by Navy chief Admiral AK Chatterji.

The decision to buy six Foxtrot-class submarines from the USSR was a new departure in naval strategy which indicated the pattern of Indian naval thinking, particularly as it related to technology change. Admiral Chatterji was one influential voice arguing that the growing vulnerability of surface ships inevitably led to the development of submarines and air forces. Chatterji was also of the belief that India should seek to build nuclear-powered submarines by the late 1980s.

In 1983, Defence Minister K Venkataraman and BARC's former Director, Raja Ramanna, decided to make veteran submariner Vice Admiral MK Roy chief of the ATV project. But official denials, not unreasonably at the time, about the very existence of the programme continued. In December 1983, answering questions in the Indian Parliament, Defense Minister Venkataraman said, "I have already said that we keep our options in this matter, if necessary we will go in for it. But then a nuclear-powered submarine is different from the nuclear submarine with nuclear warheads. I have already said that we are not going to use atomic energy for anything but peaceful purposes. Therefore, we will use it for power. It will be only for propulsion."

But one of the reasons a handful of retired Naval staff have begun to collaborate to bring out the real story about the ATV is that over the years, the ATV Project has become what they call become a "self-perpetuating monster". The "singularly monumental bungling" is something that has come to preclude patriotism and engender a culture that threatens to destroy the one good relationship left in the ugly world of relations in the armed forces and industrial complex -- that between the Navy and the scientific establishment, a historically strong and healthy relationship that shines even today in myriad systems and construction projects, including but not limited to the magnificent indigenous aircraft carrier.

Taking a political decision to build or acquire a nuclear submarine was easy, but implementing it was difficult. Problems cropped up from the word go. The shipbuilding expertise, shore-based support facilities and manpower needed to build and operate nuclear submarines could not be acquired quickly. The Cold War was very much on and things were not coming by easily. The USSR was apparently and understandably reluctant to transfer either nuclear-powered submarines themselves or the technology required for their construction in India. In 1980 and 1982 the only submarines offered seem to have been refurbished Foxtrot Class boats. As a result, India began evaluating the possible alternative of conventionally powered submarines to replace the Foxtrot submarines in service. At this point it was decided that at least some units of the design which was chosen would be built in India, and that the ultimate objective of producing nuclear-powered submarines would not be abandoned. So far so good.

From the mid 1970s, a number of submarine designs were under consideration from Western Europe and the Soviet Union. The European countries involved were France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands and Sweden, with the FRG and Sweden the clearly favoured options by 1980. The Indian establishment was actually looking for a design which could offer a chance to learn the production and operating skills relevant to nuclear-powered submarines. The Type-209 design offered by the West German company HDW met some of these criteria. In 1981, HDW won the order based on a 'stretched' and heavier version of the Type-209 weighing 1500 tons (and consequently designated the Type-1500). West Germany also gained an advantage in negotiations by offering as a package a new generation of torpedoes supplied by the West German company AEG. The initial order covered the sale of two submarines to be built in Kiel and included an option to produce up to four subsequently in India. The signature of the contract was held up, as officials in the FRG were unhappy about a clause in the contract, insisted upon by India, which would guarantee deliveries of spare parts in wartime. However, the option on the production of the submarines at the Mazagon Dock Limited in Bombay was exercised in December 1981. Construction began in early 1982 and the West German-built vessels were delivered in 1986-7. Production of the submarines on the other hand, ran into problems, finally getting underway in 1984, and delivery of the first of these (originally expected in 1988) was delayed until 1991.

By this time some people had started becoming nervous. Looking back in retrospect, it appears certain, at least to us, that the scientific establishment had misled the government from the beginning. They had boasted of delivering something quickly which they were not to deliver even decades later. "The naiveté of the political establishment and the Navy lay in the fact that they implicitly believed in the tall, outrageous claims of the scientific establishment. While the scientific establishment betrayed the nation by boasting of an expertise which they never had, the political and the military establishment failed the nation in believing in their feverish hallucinations."

In early 1984, there were reports of discussions with the Soviet Union on the supply of more advanced, possibly nuclear-powered, vessels and the training of Indian crews in the Soviet Union. By late 1984, the Soviet Union was apparently prepared to offer India submarines of more modern design in considerable numbers. Vice Admiral Tahiliani, then Vice Chief of Naval Staff, took a leading role in talks in Moscow in September 1984, after which official sources stated that the defense relationship had taken on "a new dimension". This has subsequently been interpreted to have meant that the Soviet Union agreed not only to supply more modern types of conventional submarines, but also to allow India access to nuclear-powered submarines. The formal agreement to lease a nuclear-powered submarine from the Soviet Union was signed in 1985.

Hopes were kindled even as our indigenous scientific establishment kept the nation in dark about what they had been able to achieve or not achieve so far. In mid 1987 reports began to surface about Indian negotiations with the Soviet Union to transfer one or more nuclear submarines. It was at this stage that international observers, for the first time, got a hint that India had already started a nuclear submarine reactor program of its own at BARC a decade ago but with highly unsatisfactory results. The ATV had run aground in the first decade itself of its inception. No one in India was allowed to learn what exactly had gone wrong. The lack of coordination and focus, besides sheer technical incompetence marked the ATV project out as a failure from day one. The first ten years of the programme were wasted in debating what reactor would suit the vessel. Ten years. Think about that for a minute.

Comparisons with other nations are always thrown in the face of criticism. But the ATV programme crosses all bounds. Compare it with what the others had done at the time. The world's first nuclear reactor, Chicago Pile 1, was made by Enrico Fermi on December 2, 1942. It was the most elementary nuclear reactor imaginable. The world's first nuclear submarine, Nautilus, was launched in January 1954 itself. Within 12 years of inventing the nuclear reactor they could make a reactor for a nuclear submarine. Those were the early years — it was pioneering work with very few reactors in the world to guide them or acquire experience. What the scientists of the world could achieve in just 12 years, our entire scientific establishment has not been able to do in 32 years in spite of having reactors in India since 1955 and the experience of operating power reactors for long. The taboo word incompetence rears its head.

Nuclear power was still in its infancy when the decision was made to use an atomic reactor to power a submarine. Chicago Pile 1 had been built only six years before Argonne's Naval Reactor Division was formed in 1948. Over the next six years, the division helped turn the atomic ship engine from a concept into a reality. The first prototype, Submarine Thermal Reactor Mark I, was completed in 1953 by Westinghouse Corp. at what is now the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory. STR Mark II was installed in the Nautilus, launched the following year. In fact, the ship's reactor and its operating procedures became the prototype for most of world's commercial nuclear power plants. The Naval Reactor Program also inspired efficient safety and control methods -- essential with the limited crew in a submarine. Former U.S. Navy "nucs" operate many of the USA's nuclear power plants today.

We, on the other hand, have had the experience of operating large power reactors and yet we have not been able to make a ship's reactor in 32 years of dedicated effort. It indicates a frightening prospect — our scientists haven't done their job. This is not to indulge in a sweeping condemnation of the scientific community -- India can still boast of some of the best minds -- but the facts of the ATV programme speak for themselves. And in this case, it has to be admitted that the Navy is also to blame. "The scientific community cannot be allowed to hide its epic incompetence under the guise of secrecy."

The Navy, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and the DRDO could simply not come to a consensus on several crucial issues. The navy, again it has to be admitted, knew little else besides the fact that nuclear subs used nuclear reactors, the BARC knew little else besides the physics of nuclear reactors, and the DRDO thought it could coordinate their making without knowing anything specific. Amongst them they could not fathom the design of the nuclear reactor used on submarines. The DRDO and the BARC claimed it could be built indigenously. It is said that Ramanna and others at an apex board meeting said we'd produce it in no time and all that they needed was a Soviet nuclear submarine on lease. The intention was apparently to copy the design and to train Indian officers to operate the indigenous version as soon as it was ready. All the manuals and detailed documentation were studied but nothing much came out of it. Left with no other viable option, India decided to import the capability from the Soviet Union, initially in the form of Soviet nuclear-powered submarines, with Indian personnel already in training in the Soviet Union to handle the equipment. In early January 1988, All-India Radio announced that the Soviet Union had 'leased' a nuclear-powered submarine to India with India taking delivery of the sub in the Soviet port of Vladivostok.

(NEXT: Part II The Wasted Leasing of INS Chakra)

The IJT Mishap: Eyewitness Account

What follows is an eye-witness account of the IJT accident at Aero India 2007 that we've discussed here before. This is an account by Aditya Chauhan in the IAF's Flight Safety journal of this month. Chauhan is a CPL holder on the threshold of flying the big jets. Here's his account, and I guess it puts a few things to rest like whether the IJT lifted off or not:

Canopy Opening During Take-Off
By Aditya Chauhan

Being an amateur photographer and having completed my civil flying training, Aero India 2007 provided the right opportunity to satisfy the aviator and photographer in me. It was a bright sunny day and I was on the tarmac, standing in the shade under the wing of the massive Beriev 200 aircraft (Water Bomber), while watching the impressive flying display by aircraft from all over the world and clicking photographs of my favourites. The piercing sun made th 25°C seem much hotter and most pilots kept their canopies partially open (taxy position) while taxying, to get a breath of fresh air.

At around 1500h, the Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) taxied out while the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) was carrying out an impressive flying display. The IJT had to hold on the apron till the LCA completed its display and the period was long (about ten minutes) and presumably frustrating too. Having flown light aircraft from an international airport, I too have been through situations wherein we had to hold in the hot sun while big jets came in for landing. It is exhausting and after such waiting many a times people miss out vital checks in a hurry once cleared for line up and take off.

The LCA landed and was now taxying back to its parking slot, when the IJT was cleared for takeoff. By now, I was tired and decided to find some lunch. It is said that while returning after visiting the magnificent Taj Mahal, one normally turns around to have a last loot at it to admire its breathtaking beauty. I too was so enamoured by the air show that I turned around to have one last look at the runway.

As I turned around I saw the IJT rolling for takeoff. I saw it lift off smoothly and climb away. But it all changed the very next moment and what I witnessed is a pilot's worst nightmare. The IJT soon feel back on the runway with its right wing dipped and yawing viciously to the right -- the aircraft had almost turned 70°. On impact the right oleo collapsed and the right wing tip scraped the runway. I soon realised that the canopy had opened and the aircraft continued to yaw to the right. The IJT went off the runway and by now was on its belly. The red dirt flew all around the aircraft (seen on most news channels) while it came to a stop on the runway shoulder and the Craft Fire Fighing Rescue (CFFR) crew were at the scene in no time. I then saw the pilot climbing out and it was a relief seeing him walk around the damaged aircraft, which implied he was not injured, and was soon taken to the hospital. The aircraft was covered by dust and the magnificent white colour had turned brown. I was shocked by what I had just witnessed.

Aditya Chauhan's Analysis

The takeoff roll, rotation and initial climb appeared normal. During the climb out, the canopy opened due to some problem (wonder if it was opened during the long wait on ground?). The IJT has a single piece canopy for both the pilots (tandem seat) and is fairly large in size. Opening of such a large canopy in the air must have induced tremendous drag and a yaw to the right. The aircraft could no longer climb and hence it came back on the runway. It was a very unusual accident as the opening of the canopy did not result in its flying off as one would think it normally should. Instead it hung on, causing the aircraft to yaw to the right and crash land in a peculiar manner. Am pretty sure that extensive investigations must have been carried our and remedies, if any, would be incorporated.

I also happened to sight a Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) cylinder (Zon Gun) very close to the crashed aircraft. The aircraft had missed the cylinder by approximately ten feet. A high energy impact could have caused an explosion of the highly inflammable cylinder. I am aware there are 10 to 12 such devices placed on the unway shoulders at many air force bases. Those concerned must be looking at this?

Also, having noticed some photographers standing very close to the runway for filming, I feel it is unsafe for any human being to be so close to the aircraft manoeuvering areas. The exuberance may claim a life one day. Being an aviator and an ardent fan of all the flying jocks in our indomitable Indian Air Force, sharing my thoughts through these pages would allow me, amember of this wonderful air force family, to hopefully contribute my bit to flight safety.

(Photos ©Copyright Rahul Devnath/BR)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Update: Trishul

Here's what Defence Minister AK Antony said in Parliament today about the Trishul SAM:

Trishul missile system is not a failure. Technically it has met the performance objectives as per original Qualitative Requirements (QRs) though delayed. The main reason for this delay are technical problems in achieving perfect 3-beam guidance and obtaining millimetric wave components from abroad. Trishul missile project is required even after the successful test of firing of Agni-3 Missile ( you can just imagine the question from the MP!).

Trishul missile is a low-level, quick-reaction, short range, surface-to-air missile against air targets whereas, Agni-III is a long range surface-to-surface missile against fixed strategic targets. As the realization of Trishul missile system got delayed, users (Army, Air Force, and Navy) resorted to acquisition from abroad as the QRs and operational requirements got modified over time. Dialogue is still on with Air Force to accept the system developed and produced for deploying in certain locations and for training/fire control/air defence practices.
(Training! Now, this is new... a bit like General JJ Singh saying that the Army will sincerely find a place where it is suitable for the Arjun MBT to be deployed ).

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Coming soon on LiveFist: The ATV Unbound

Coming soon, an exclusive three-part LiveFist series on the Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV), India's nuclear submarine programme, with confidential inputs from a former Navy Commodore and Captain who worked on the programme in the mid-1990s. The What, Where, How and Why, plus, why the programme has floundered without result for over three decades, and the wasteful lease of the Russian INS Chakra. This year India is almost certain to finalise the leasing of two Akula-II submarines from Moscow. So starting soon, a comprehensive series on our own SSN programme begins. Stay tuned!

Arjun's Demons To Rest?

Contrary to what reports in the newspapers and television have reflected, the Arjun MBT programme has actually found a voice of unlikely support in the 14th and 15th Reports of the Standing Committee on Defence. And I say unlikely, because, there has never been place for a degree of openness in the observations it has made previously on the programme. Now stubborn apologists (like Frontier India!) and hecklers (like me!) aside, here's what the Committee had to say, along with MoD/DRDO testimony. Maybe all of this should put to rest a few rankling demons for both sides. And before you read on, remember, this is stuff taken from all sides so it's about as fair as it could get without delving into the unsuitably jargonesque:

Committee Observation: "The Committee are deeply concerned about the progress of Arjun Tank as its production schedule are going very slow. The Committee, as recommended in their earlier reports, desire that Ordnance Factory in coordination with DRDO should carry out suitable modifications in ‘Gunners main sight’ and ‘Gun control system’ of the Arjun Tank at the earliest and hand over the rectified Tanks to the Army 2007-08. The Committee also stress that time limit prescribed should not be further extended. The Committee also desire that accountability for delay in production of the Arjun Tank may be fixed".

MoD/DRDO Response: All the technical issues in the Gunner’s Main Sight and Gun Control System have been resolved. Suitable modifications have been carried out in these sub-systems on the initial five tanks of MBT Arjun by DRDO, the agency involved for conception and development of the project. After successful DRDO evaluation, five tanks have already been handed over to Army on 20th Jun 2006. Army has been invited for Joint Receipt Inspection (JRI) of Nine more tanks. The JRI is likely to commence from 1st week of February 2007. It is expected that a total of 29 MBT Arjun tanks will be ready for inspection by Army by the end of March 2007. The concern of the Committee for fixing up accountability for delays is noted. In a project of this magnitude involving design, development, manufacturing, and integration of diverse technologies, delays normally happen due to technical hitches in perfecting the technology. (Ministry of Defence OM No. H-11013/15/2006/D(Parl) dated 15.2.2007)

Committee Recommendation: The Committee note that all technical issues relating to Arjun Tank have been resolved and after successful evaluation five tanks have been handed over to Army in June 2006 and 29 MBT Arjun Tanks will be ready for inspection by Army by the end of March 2007. The Committee hope that progress of Arjun Tank will go on as per schedule and in future there will not be any technical problem in operation of Arjun Tank in any form in order to avoid frequent discussion on this matter. The Committee strongly recommend that accountability may be fixed for inordinate delay in production of MBT Arjun and the Committee may be informed about the action taken in this matter.

MoD/DRDO Testimony on What Went Wrong: In March 1974, the Government of India accorded clearance for the development of an indigenous Main Battle Tank (MBT) in order to put India on the world map along with other countries capable of mastering the technology of designing and developing their own MBTs. DRDO was nominated to execute the mission. The Chronology of Development is as under:

Development of first prototype — November 1983
Development and production of next — November 1983 to 1992
Series prototypes (12 Numbers) Development and production of Pre-Production Series — 1992 to 1995
Production of another three PPS tanks — 1995-1996
Rolling out of five Limited Series — 07 August 2004
Production (LSP) tanks Five LSP tanks handed over to 43 Armoured Regiment — February 2005

Committee: The Ministry was asked to give comparative table of production cost, features and capability of Arjun Tank with original and upgraded T-90 and T-72 Tank. The Ministry replied as under:

MoD/DRDO: MBT Arjun is a 60 tonne class battle tank with state of the art optro-electronic power-packed control system, weapon management system and high performance suspension. It is a product unique in its class specifically configured for Indian Army requirement. Unlike T-90 tank which was primarily built for Russian Armed Forces, adapted by Indian Army for certain specific roles, this T- 90 is a 50 tonne class vehicle which does not have some of the advanced features of MBT Arjun. But it is an improved system over T-72 tank. A price comparison between the two tanks, therefore, will not be in order. However, it is important to know that MBT Arjun had a cost of Rs 17.20 crore per system from the production line and is Rs 6-8 crore cheaper than its contemporary system in the west. It is understood that T-90 tank is costing approximately Rs. 12 crore and is yet to be indigenised. Some of the salient features of the three tanks are: Four men operated crew, 120 mm gun, 60 tons weight, powered by1400-1500 hp engine. And for T-90/72 tanks: three men operated crew, 125 mm gun, 50 tons weight, powered by 780-1000 hp engine. MBT Arjun firing accuracy is far superior to other two tanks. It has a second generation thermal imager and can engage targets at 2500 meters. Its 1400 hp engine ensures excellent mobility performance. It has capability to fire Laser Homing Anti Tank
(LAHAT) missile from the barrel of the gun. Only T-90 tank has such capability. MBT Arjun has good export potential in African countries due to its superior features vis-a-vis contemporary MBTs.

Committee: The Committee desired to know the reason behind the cost escalation as the original cost of MBT project was Rs. 15.50 crore in 1974 which escalated to Rs. 306 crore in 2005. The Ministry submitted the following reason:

MoD/DRDO: The original scope & requirement of 15 pre-Prod tanks was enhanced. 15 Pre-Production Series (PPS) tanks involving production cost of Rs. 110 cr. is included in the development cost. Accuracy of fire has been enhanced”.

Committee: The Ministry was asked to provide the latest status and import content in MBT Arjun. The Ministry supplied the information as under:

MoD/DRDO: Main Battle Tank Arjun is currently under production at Heavy Vehicles Factory, Avadi under the aegis of Ordnance Factory Board, Users have placed an indent for 124 tanks, out of which the production for the year 2005-06 is expected to be 15 Nos. The entire quantity of 124 Nos. is planned to be produced by March 2008. Power pack, Gunner’s Main Sight and Track are imported items, which work out to 58% of the cost per tank. The import content can be progressively reduced with increased production orders.

Commitee: The Ministry was again asked when the import content of the tank is 58%, how increased indigenous production can reduce import contents. The Ministry was also asked to give price comparison of Arjun Tank with T – 90 Tank. The Ministry replied as under:

MoD/DRDO: Indigenous Gunner’s Main Sight (IGMS) is an integrated gyrostabilized sight consisting of thermal imager, laser range finder, and day sight with inbuilt fire control computer for ballistic computation. This system enables the crew of the tank to engage targets under static and dynamic conditions by day and night with enhanced hit probability. Suitable indigenous power Packs are not available for application in MBT. Indigenous production of power pack through license production is feasible with enhanced production order for MBT Arjun considering the economy of scale. A project for development of indigenous power pack is planned in XI Five Year Plan. There are few vendors in the world who can manufacture gunner’s main sight. DRDO is developing indigenous gunner’s main sight. It is likely to mature and be available beyond 124 tanks. Indigenous track is in advanced stage of development. It will be available for Arjun production tanks beyond 124 Nos. Licensed production of the above items may be feasible with enhanced order quality for Arjun tanks and may result in reduction in import contents. T-90 is a forty-ton class tank. It cannot be compared with MBT Arjun in terms of lethality power and protection. The present cost of MBT Arjun is 16.80 crore. The production cost of T-90 is being ascertained from Ordnance Factory Board.

During oral evidence, on the quality of Arjun Tank, the nonofficial expert informed the Committee:

“……… I am afraid our quality control is very poor I have heard that fives tanks were presented before the media, however, when the media and other people went away, the tanks were put back in the factory because still some quality checks had to be made. The biggest problem in India in respect of defence production is quality control. If China can do it, why can we not do it ?”

MoD/DRDO: Arjun is certified by DGQA. The responsibility of Arjun certification is not with DGQA and still it is with DRDO themselves. These 124 tanks which have been ordered for production by the Army, are produced in the Ordnance Factory. We have given clearance for the Ordnance Factory to do internal QC. This is only quality control. Then, the overall AHSP, that is, Authorised Holder of the Sealed Particulars continues to be with DRDO till certain maturity level is reached in production. Now, DGQA is participating throughout in the inspection. They are not AHSP. They will become AHSP only after DRDO gives the documents to them. Then, the become the ultimate authority for the sealed particulars. Today, sealed particulars are held by DRDO. DGQA is fully involved in inspection.

After we took over the production from the DRDO first year we decided to deliver five tanks. These tanks were delivered last year. This year we are delivering 15 tanks more. Now 14 tanks which we had promised are ready. But while the tanks were handed over to the Army, they went for an extensive user trial. Now in the user trial some minor defects were noticed and these defects are being rectified one-by-one. Now the corrective actions which are required are expected to be completed by January this year. After this corrective action, further trials will take place. Now these are very small defects.

MoD/DRDO: Sir, we have driven them and for over 60,000 kms and fired more than 8,000 rounds. There was no problem. What happens is that in the gun control system, there are power amplifiers which are used in the fire control system. Some temperature settings were not properly done by the parent company. These were tucked inside. As you know, now-a-days, the deck is packaged so densely even to get access to that you have to take out the whole module. So, when this type of settings get disturbed, the rule says that one has to go through the whole qualification process again. There is no change in the design. It is a temperature re-setting which was got done. That has been rectified. Now the tanks would be there by the middle of January.

Commiteee: During oral evidence, on the problems faced by MBT Arjun during trials, the representative of the Ministry apprised the Committee:

MoD/DRDO: In the Arjun, we got into a little bit of a problem because certain temperature-setting switches were not tuned properly. They had to be returned. Yes, this was a problem of the Defence Research Scientists who have not seen that 60 degree setting was not kept at 60, but at 55 which is a normal standard of that company which supplied those parts follow. But we had in the prototype modified that for the 60. so, this had to be done. Once this got done, now we are ready. So some of these productions hiccup if they do take place in the initial phase, they should not dispirit us because whenever we do new products like that, we may face these kinds of problems.

The MBT Arjun started off with a 110 mm gun but at the point of delivery it is already featuring 120 mm gun the state-of-art. We started off a rifled gun for which there was no missile which could be pushed through that. But we have now identified that missile which can be fired through that. Similarly, we have built in certain electronic package as part of our processing, computing power within the tank which will allow us to network into the future.

MoD/DRDO: I want to tell you the roadmap of MBT Arjun as an hon/ Member had asked about this issue. I want to assure you that after these 15 tanks are tried by the Army, the DRDO will be involved only for 15 more tanks. As soon as the Ordnance Factory produces these 30 tanks, the DGQA will take over the responsibility for giving technical clearance – which DRDO is doing today – and the links will be broken. Thereafter, it will be entirely the Ordnance Factory production, and the DGQA will be responsible for its certification. Hopefully, this situation will remain till DRDO does some more research and makes a Mark II of Arjun Tank. If they decide to do that, then, again, the Government will start, but that will be only after producing 124 Tanks and not before that. We will produce 124 Tanks, as the Army has accepted and told us to
produce these Tanks. As of now all the 124 MBT Arjun production tanks is planned with M/s MTU engine integrated with M/s Renk Transmission of Germany as a power pack. The cost of MTU power pack (Engine & Transmission) was Rs. 5.2 crore, as per the last ordered price during mid-nineties. The features of MTU engine are as follows: built on modular concept, 1400 HP with V 90, 10 cylinder, turbocharged and water cooled, made of light weight aluminum alloy with built in safety features, state of art cooling system and Air cleaning system to withstand hot and desert environmental condition. T-90 Tank is fitted with 1000 hp Engine. The cost of T-90 (engine and transmission) is Rs. 2.15 crore as ascertained from Ordnance Factory Board (OFB). It is proposed to take up a project on “Development of 1500 hp Engine” in the XI Five Year Plan. Preliminary design work has already commenced.

Commitee: On the requirement of Tanks by the Army and the present position of orders received from the Army for Arjun Tank and also time schedule to deliver the same, the Ministry replied as under:

MoD/DRDO: Total requirements of Army is about 3500 tanks. Army has placed an indent for manufacture of 124 MBT Arjun. Heavy Vehicle Factory (HVF) 50 Avadi, a constituent unit of Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), has set up exclusively for Main Battle Tank (MBT), Arjun an assembly bay that has just started functioning. Once the activity picks up speed in this facility, HVF is confident to produce 50 Arjun tanks per year from the year 2009 onwards subject to continuous requirement by the user. T-90 tank is also being produced in the same factory under a separate production line.

Final Observations/Recommendations by the Committee: The Committee are perturbed to note that the Government of India accorded clearance for the development of an indigenous Main Battle Tank (MBT) Arjun in May 1974. Even after the lapse of more than 32 years, the nominated agency of DRDO could not execute the mission so far. Inordinate delay has escalated the original cost of MBT project from Rs.15.50 crore in 1974 to Rs. 306 crore in 2005. The Committee are surprised to note that neither the execution agency of DRDO or the certifying agency Director General Quality Assurance (DGQA) are taking responsibility for the inordinate delay and quantity in production of MBT Arjun. Out of 124 ordered for tanks by the users, only 15 tanks have been produced by the Heavy Vehicle Factory, Avadi.

Total requirement of Army is about 3500 Tanks. Army has placed an indent the manufacture 124 MBT Arjun and Arjun assembly has just started functioning. The Factory will produce 50 Arjun Tanks per year from the year 2009 onwards subject to continuous requirement of the user. Users should be empowered to certify the products produced by the ordnance factories. The Committee also like to be apprised how they will comply the demand of the user.

From the foregoing the Committee are very much concerned and strongly feel that over the last 40 years, DRDO has put efforts on R&D and also in manufacturing but still it has not been capable of mastering the technology to fulfil the goal of self reliance designing and developing their own MBT Arjun. It has not been able to deliver the goals of self-reliance as promised by it to the nation. It seems that DRDO can deliver successful results only when it enters into joint venture/collaboration with a reliable partner.

The Ministry of Defence should think seriously as to how to comply Arjun’s requirement in a time bound manner with the help of private Industry – joint ventureship or otherwise. The Committee, therefore, stress that DRDO must concentrate on augmenting in technological output to be ahead with the other developed countries and in order to put India on the world map capable of mastering the technology.

Monday, May 14, 2007

LiveFist Exclusive: Czech Manufacturer Reacts to LTTE's Use of its Aircraft

There's still a great sense of wonder about the LTTE's use of Czech-built Zlin-143 aircraft for three three audacious bombing missions it carried out on Colombo airport, Palali and fuel reserves near the country's capital in the last two months. What has somewhat startled analysts is that the separatist group had engineered (or procured) improvised bomb-release circuitry to take the unassuming Zlin-143 into a profile it was never ever built for. Manufacturers of the Zlin-143 low-flying training and leisure aircraft, Moravan Aviation SRO is now bankrupt and under restructuring in the Czech Republic, though it has had its share of success, selling over 6,000 aircraft in 30-odd countries since 1943, but never delving into military aviation. I decided to take a shot in the dark and sent a questionaire to the Czech firm on the recent LTTE attacks. I didn't expect them to respond, but they did. Their Head of Sales, Josef Pavelcik, wrote back, and here's the interview in full:

Q1. What are your reactions to the LTTE's use of your products for such actions?

The aircraft pictured certainly appears to be an old or an illegally home-built Zlin-143 model. We were surprised to see a Zlin aircraft being used for the purpose of attaching and dropping bombs - most definitely not what the aircraft was designed or sold for. In addition to the obvious dangers to any people that would be the target of any bombings, this miss-use of an aircraft also opens up other real problems. Including for those people that might be located below a given flight path - and in addition the miss-use would even also be dangerous for those people operating the aircraft outside of its safe design limits. Zlin aircraft are simply not designed to have any items of weight attached to the under-carriage. To do so is to dismiss all of the aircrafts originally designed safe operational limits. We never have and never will design or sell any of our Zlin aircraft to serve as bombers. This miss-use of one of our products can be seen as directly analogous to the common miss-use of 4-wheel-drive trucks around the world - when people attach machine guns and various other military equipment onto these type of vehicles. Here too this is not what these truck products were designed or sold for, but nothing that say Toyota etc could reasonably be expected to do to prevent such miss-use.

Q2. Is your company investigating the route through which your products could have reached the hands of a banned rebel group?

We are exploring various options in this regard, but is not clear if we as a just a normal private company can in fact do anything. This is a new circumstance and we have no precedent for dealing with it. All aircraft sold by any manufacturers are uniquely numbered and are certified by each of the national aviation authorities. Therefore the original purchasers of each aircraft can easily be identified. Similarly, each aircraft that might then be legally and properly re-sold by its owner continues to be certified - and therefore any new operator would also be identifiable. However, without knowing the registration number of an aircraft, or at least knowing say its original engine's identification number, then it is impossible to identify a specific aircraft. In the case in question the aircraft's original colours and identification has been painted over, by camouflage colouring. Making identification impossible unless one had access to the aircraft. Obviously our company does not have access. Over the past 72 years we have sold almost 6,000 aircraft in total to 60 countries. Including to Asia. Selling these to individuals, civil flying schools, air force flying schools and sales agents. It is at least possible that the Zlin-143 aircraft shown on the web etc could have been given to/sold by its last legal and certified owner, to the LTTE. Or alternatively the aircraft may have been stolen. Or it could even have been assembled from a variety of aircraft parts and spares. In such a case these parts and spares too could have been given, sold or stolen. The possibilities for how an old or an illegally home-built small aircraft could come into the hands of an individual, or of a group, are many. It is unlikely that we - as a small private company in the Czech Republic having no investigation authority or jurisdiction - could reasonably expect to be able to investigate and achieve any meaningful answer.

Q3. What action, if any, is your company taking, since obviously you must have some procedure to keep a check on who is using your products?

As highlighted above our company - as is the case with all the aircraft manufacturers - is legally required to accurately register, record and report to the authorities, whenever and to whom we sell aircraft. We have always completely complied with all such regulations and we will continue to do so. Obviously no company has any procedures that enables it to track the movements of secretly miss-used, or stolen, or illegally home-built products- be they aircraft or trucks, or any other product. On every level we are surprised and disappointed to see an aircraft being operated for anything other than its properly certified and safe correct use.

Q4. Do you have customers in India?

I have no customer who own Z 143 in India now. But we are just producing 3 airplanes Z 143 L for Indian customer. First airplane shall be delivered to India by the end of June 2007.