Saturday, June 30, 2007

HAL Tejas and the MRCA

Heard something quite interesting. If it’s true, it will gladden a lot of hearts, especially some on this blog. Rumour is out that HAL will be the seventh agency that receives an RfP document from the Defence Ministry when the tender is opened in July/August. Sources say the government has decided to involve the Tejas programme in the sweepstakes, but is not in the least serious about considering it. In fact, it has apparently been decided (these are rumours, please remember, and totally unconfirmed) that the Tejas will be eliminated in the first down-select itself. The rationale – project a semblance of transparency and propriety to satisfy the swadeshis and communists (you’d be surprised, the kind of clout they have). The elimination of the aircraft would then justify and legitimize the IAF default views on the LCA. Sounds like too deep a plan, but it’s possible.

However, HAL chairman AK Baweja actually spoke out today to a reporter, and this seems to fly in the face of rumours. He said, “An order for 28 LCAs has already been placed by the air force and more orders are likely to follow. The Tejas is in a different weight category to what the MRCA tender is looking for, so there is no question of participating.”

It is, however, possible – possible, but unlikely – that Baweja is not aware that HAL will receive an RfP. The whole idea of sending HAL a tender invitation will, if it happens, be political, and possibly, in one way to offset the attention on foreign, foreign, foreign and the attendant dirt that comes with it.

DRDO's VK Aatre: Then and Now

Frontier India has done an interview with Dr VK Aatre, former DRDO chief, on the current state of affairs in the organization and its relationship with other agencies. Very readable piece. Problem is, when you start out with your mind already made up about something, chances are you’ll end up doing what P. Chacko Joseph has done – tailor the product to suit your biases and needs. Either way, it’s a good read, though it doesn’t really put up any new defences. To his credit, Aatre isn't an apologist for mediocrity, and was known to frequently accept hard questions. Unfortunately Chacko doesn't ask any. Aatre’s sole rejoinder to the “DRDO bashing” (the phrase has even spawned a blog all unto itself) is that while criticizing DRDO, reports do not recognize the successes. Sure, Aatre was part of one of the more successful departments and laboratories at DRDO, but that was his work. Mr Joseph has been creative enough to refer to the Express series of last year (Delayed Research Derailed Organisation) as the “recent media attack”, inadvertently giving it more space in the discourse than certainly I had imagined possible. Anyway a few months ago, Dr Aatre himself was kind enough to contribute to the closing piece of the Express series last year. And here it is in full:

Advice From ex-Chief: Accountability Absolute Must

AMITAV RANJAN & SHIV AROOR
NEW DELHI, NOVEMBER 19, 2006

DRDO should definitely be held more accountable for its work and it should stop saying it can do everything under the sun.

Coming from Dr Vasudev K Aatre, who headed the organisation between 2000-04, this could be the luxury of hindsight but yet, a painfully candid admission to the need for reform.

Now a professor at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Aatre has responded to this newspaper’s investigative series on DRDO’s dismal record (for the previous seven parts, visit www.expressindia.com). “I have been honest about our delays, I could not hide our shortcomings. There is a need to break certain cycles as the series in The Indian Express has shown. It is crucial that DRDO is a dictator of its own destiny.”

For that to happen, Aatre prescribes a five-point programme fundamental to which is, what he calls, “the absolute must for accountability.” And, two, the brisk introduction of the private sector into the fold of defence R&D to take away the burden of prototype production.

Calling for the immediate implementation of the incentive list for scientists — from sharing royalty to increased travel allowances — Aatre says the “Damocles’ Sword of imports” should not be allowed to hang over scientists engaged in fundamental research. Finally, and probably most importantly, “DRDO should stop making exaggerated promises.”

The aspect of talent retention is severely underestimated. Even President A P J Abdul Kalam, who headed DRDO through the ‘90s and saw first-hand the initial exodus of scientists to the newly booming IT sector — over 1400 have left in the last decade — said on November 11 in Ahmedabad: “We should work for the creation of a science cadre, with a clear mission and goal, well-defined growth path, and attractive salaries.”

But better remuneration is just one side of an intricate polygon of reform that DRDO admitted in June to be working on. The other crucial aspect is DRDO’s involvement with the services. The Navy, the smallest of the three armed forces, has the best depth of relations with DRDO but the less said about the Army and IAF, the better.

Experience has shown that programmes in which the agenda is set by senior serving officers, as in Navy’s avionics and sonars, have always performed with the greatest prudence — delivering on time, and cutting away losses when viability was severely undermined.

In June, as a start, the Standing Committee on Defence directed the DRDO to draw up a list of unviable projects that could be terminated.

But there is a consensus that synergy with the services is one way out of the present mess. Says Gen Shankar Roy Choudhary, former Army chief and member of the Standing Committee on Defence: “Coordination and interaction need a great deal of improvement. DRDO should make sure that officers from the services are part of design teams, and not looked upon as outsiders. Even today, they are accepted very reluctantly. I tried to do my bit in my time as Chief, but somehow it did not work out. This should be an immediate area of reform.”

Choudhary’s recommendation is an echo of what was officially proposed by the Defence Ministry’s Task Force on the “Reorganization of Higher Defence Planning”: a three-star serving officer should head the steering committee of DRDO programmes and the Armed forces personnel embedded with these programmes be recognised as integral members of the DRDO design team. None of this has been implemented yet.

New Defence Minister A K Antony, who received a three-and-a-half hour presentation on the DRDO on October 29, five days into office, told The Sunday Express, “In the few weeks that I have been here, I have realized the need for big changes. We need comprehensive reforms in this area to keep with changing situations. Over the next few weeks, I will be looking at this aspect in great detail.”

Consider what one of emerging India’s pioneers in industrial R&D, Biocon chairperson Kiran Mazumdar Shaw has to say about DRDO: “Every research establishment in the country needs to be reformed. Defence is one area where we need a high level of innovation. Enough is not being done and the DRDO is no exception to this. There is no modern approach at all,” she told The Sunday Express. “They should be focusing on every emerging technology and the application of new technology. At present, there seems to be only imitative effort. A lot of the research is ineffective. We need reforms in defence research that capitalise on innovation. Good talent needs to be attracted to these organisations.”

In DRDO’s journey from its fetters, it cannot ignore the private sector. The total volume of work undertaken by the private sector since May 2001 amounts to Rs 6,976 crore out of total capital acquisitions worth Rs 95,145.28 crore. Private sector potential in defence R&D is therefore enormous and mostly untapped.

On September 19, members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee received a compilation of the capabilities of just two private companies. Their capabilities officially declared as everything from weapon-launch systems, sea mines, submarines, fire-control systems and special materials to deep water technology, tracking radars, even space applications.

Atul Kirloskar, chairman of the CII’s National Committee on Defence, which played an integral advisory role to the Vijay Kelkar Committee on reforming self-reliance and procurement, told The Sunday Express: “With DRDO, there is a large opportunity to work on technological issues. Raksha Udyog Ratnas, or private sector systems integrators will be certified next year and will be able to make quotes. The new procurement procedure also includes a Make category. There are opportunities waiting.”

In a sense, few would know this better than Lt Gen S S Mehta, formerly Western Army commander and now Director General of CII. He said, “With growing similarities between civilian and military R&D, it is essential that Defence R&D evolve a collaborative structure which adapts to the rapidly changing technology eco-system.”

The journey to a weapons development system like in the US or Europe is still, quite certainly, decades away. But with shifting paradigms, the blurring of technological boundaries and a whole new element to the meaning of self-reliance, the essence of DRDO’s revitalization will be in accepting that the past is just that. The past.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Su-30s Land At Waddington!

Another press release from an IAF officer accompanying the contingent in Waddington:

The touchdown by the first Indian Air Force (IAF) Su-30 MKI (Flanker-H) air superiority fighter at exactly 0930 hrs local time (0830 hrs GMT) at the Royal Air Force (RAF) airbase Waddington, marks a historic chapter on the 75 th anniversary year of the IAF. It also invigorates the growing defence cooperation between the two air forces.

The fighters arrived in two separate waves trailing the two IL-78 fuel-tankers in a formation of three each, all-along from Tanagra in Greece. The lead IL-78 MKI of the 'Titan' formation was lead by Group Captain K Raghavendra with the three Su-30 MKI's in tow that were captained by Group Captain Girish Saini, Team Leader of the IAF contingent, Wing Commander AK Bharti, Commanding Officer of the No. 30 Squadron and Wing Commander H Assudani. Wing Commander N Kharkar led the second wave 'Pluto' formation that landed 45 minutes later. The Su-30 MKIs in the formation were lead by Wing Commander Asit Kumar, Squadron Leaders S.V. Munje and Nitin Jain.

"This is undoubtedly history in the making", remarked Air Commodore PP Reddy, IAF's Air Attache at the High Commission of India, London. He was present to welcome the IAF contingent, arriving for the first-time ever, at United Kingdom (UK). Among others who were present also included Group Captain Andy Fryer, Station Commander of RAF Waddington, Wing Commander Jobling, Officer Commanding (OC)-Operations at the base and officers of the 'Air Command' Team comprising Wing Commander S Cockbill, Squadron Leader M Cowie, Flight Lieutenant R Middleton and Squadron Leader Richie Dicks, the Project Executive Officer belonging to RAF's No. 25 Squadron and responsible for the planning of the exercise.

"The feeling is very good!" remarked IAF Contingent Leader, Group Captain G Saini immediately after landing. "Except for the terrain being flat as seen from air, the environment is quite similar to that in Pune. And yes, the weather is also good!" he further added.

"It's a good first! A year's planning has been brought into fruition and the sight of the Su-30 MKIs on the tarmac is fantastic", said Wing Commander S Cockbill, representative from RAF's Air Command. "It is a wonderful thing (exercise) to be happening as it will invigorate the relations between the two Air Forces that had seen a slight downswing after the early '60s", he said when interacting with some of the visiting IAF personnel.

"Most importantly the fighters arrived on time and safely", said Group Captain Raghavendra, Commanding Officer of the IL-78 Squadron after the sortie. "And this has been possible (strategic reach for the fighters) ever since the IAF began operating the air-refuellers since the last four years", he further stated.

As such the RAF airbase is already teeming with aviation aficionados in view of the weekend air show, but the arrival of the much talked about Su-30 MKIs kept most enthusiasts scanning the skies awaiting their arrival. The Tornado F3 aircraft belonging to RAF's No. 25 Squadron from the Leeming RAF airbase is also scheduled to arrive at Waddington by late evening today.

A total of 18 Fighter Pilots and two Flight Navigators who will also double-up as Weapon Systems Operator (WSO) will be flying the Su-30 MKI's during the exercise. At the weekend airshow at Waddington, IAF Su-30 MKIs and IL-78 are slated to participate and are major attractions already.

NEWSFLASH! DAC Clears 126 MRCA Procurement

News just in by this MoD press release (!!). Finally!:

The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) headed by the Defence Minister Shri AK Antony has cleared the process for the procurement of 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) for the Indian Air Force. During its meeting here today, the DAC debated various issues related to the initial purchase, transfer of technology, licensed production and life time maintenance support for the 126 MMRCA and gave the final go-ahead for the project.

In pursuant to the recent assurance given by the Defence Minister for an early issue of the much awaited Request for Proposal (RFP) for the 126 fighter jets, the Ministry of Defence and Indian Air Force officers have been working overtime to scrutinize all aspects of the RFP. In view of the size and operational importance of the likely purchase, the criteria for selecting the final MMRCA contender from amongst some of the best combat aircraft offered by American, Russian and European companies, has been fine tuned. The RFP would contain a selection model that would involve an exhaustive evaluation process as detailed in the Defence Procurement Procedures — 2006.

The proposals from the likely contenders would first be technically evaluated by a professional team to check for compliance with IAF's operational requirements and other RFP conditions. Extensive field trials would be carried out to evaluate the performance. Finally, the c ommercial proposal of the vendors, short-listed after technical and field evaluations, would be examined and compared. The aircraft are likely to be in service for over 40 years. The vendors are required to provide a life time support and performance based warranty for the aircraft. MoD officials have confirmed that great care has been taken to ensure that only determinable factors, which do not lend themselves to any subjectivity, are included in the commercial selection model. The selection would be transparent and fair.

The DAC has approved that a majority of the MMRCA would be produced in India under transfer of technology. The vendor finally selected would also b e required to undertake offset obligations in India. It is expected that the ToT and offset contracts would provide a great technological and economic boost to the indigenous defence industries, which would include DPSUs, RURs and other eligible private sector industries. Foreign vendors would be provided great flexibility in effecting tie-up with Indian partners, for this purpose.

There are three guiding principles for this procurement scheme. First, the operational requirements of IAF should be fully met. Second, the selection process should be competitive, fair and transparent, so that best value for money is realized. Lastly, Indian defence industries should get an opportunity to grow to global scales. With the decks finally cleared, the RFP is planned to be issued in the near future.

Indian Pilots Get Their Hands on Indian Hawks

Just got this BAe release, with this photo:

Indian Air Force pilots have, for the first time, got their hands on the Hawk aircraft that will train the next generation of Indian pilots.

As part of the contract to supply a total training solution, which includes 66 Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) aircraft, BAE Systems and the RAF will deliver a 'Convex Flying Programme' converting Indian Air Force (IAF) qualified flying instructors and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) test pilots onto the new Indian Hawk. Two courses of six IAF flying instructors will undergo training on the Indian Hawk between June and September this year.

Once the first Hawks have been delivered to the Indian Air Force later this year, these instructors will be responsible for training pilots who will be the IAF's frontline pilots.

The first stage of the programme is ground school training, carried out at RAF Valley by BAE Systems specialists. The IAF instructors will also carry out five UK orientation simulator sorties on the Hawk Synthetic Training Facility (HSTF) located at the RAF base, delivered in partnership by BAE Systems and the RAF.

Following this stage the instructors return to the BAE Systems Warton site to carry out sea survival training and the BAE Systems Brough site for avionics training before commencing their flying training at Warton. Each IAF instructor will fly 15 training sorties on the new Indian Hawks before qualifying.

Rod Harrison, Hawk India Flying Training Manager, said: "We have been training 75 IAF student pilots throughout the course of the India Interim Flying Training programme, which concludes in May 2008. These pilots have been training on the RAF TMk1 Hawks. This next stage of flying training sees experienced instructors introduced to their new Indian Hawk AJTs.

"It's an exciting step forward for the pilots and by training on the world's leading advanced jet trainer the pilots couldn't be better prepared for frontline aircraft."

Three aircraft are being used in the training programme out of the 66 new Hawk Advanced Jet Trainers for the IAF. The first 24 aircraft are being built at BAE Systems' facilities in Brough, East Yorkshire, with flight-testing taking place at Warton in Lancashire. The remaining 42 aircraft are being manufactured under licence in India through a partnership with India's Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, based in Bangalore.
Indian Air Force pilots have, for the first time, got their hands on the Hawk aircraft that will train the next generation of Indian pilots.

As part of the contract to supply a total training solution, which includes 66 Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) aircraft, BAE Systems and the RAF will deliver a 'Convex Flying Programme' converting Indian Air Force (IAF) qualified flying instructors and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) test pilots onto the new Indian Hawk. Two courses of six IAF flying instructors will undergo training on the Indian Hawk between June and September this year.

Once the first Hawks have been delivered to the Indian Air Force later this year, these instructors will be responsible for training pilots who will be the IAF's frontline pilots.

The first stage of the programme is ground school training, carried out at RAF Valley by BAE Systems specialists. The IAF instructors will also carry out five UK orientation simulator sorties on the Hawk Synthetic Training Facility (HSTF) located at the RAF base, delivered in partnership by BAE Systems and the RAF.

Following this stage the instructors return to the BAE Systems Warton site to carry out sea survival training and the BAE Systems Brough site for avionics training before commencing their flying training at Warton. Each IAF instructor will fly 15 training sorties on the new Indian Hawks before qualifying.

Rod Harrison, Hawk India Flying Training Manager, said: "We have been training 75 IAF student pilots throughout the course of the India Interim Flying Training programme, which concludes in May 2008. These pilots have been training on the RAF TMk1 Hawks. This next stage of flying training sees experienced instructors introduced to their new Indian Hawk AJTs.

"It's an exciting step forward for the pilots and by training on the world's leading advanced jet trainer the pilots couldn't be better prepared for frontline aircraft."

Three aircraft are being used in the training programme out of the 66 new Hawk Advanced Jet Trainers for the IAF. The first 24 aircraft are being built at BAE Systems' facilities in Brough, East Yorkshire, with flight-testing taking place at Warton in Lancashire. The remaining 42 aircraft are being manufactured under licence in India through a partnership with India's Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, based in Bangalore.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

IAF Hawk Maintenance Training Begins

Here's a press release received from BAe on the Hawk maintenance training kicking off. Thanks to Jagan for pointing me to the fabulous picture to the left!

Warton, United Kingdom. - The first batch of Indian Air Force (IAF) technicians who will be trained by BAE Systems on how to maintain the IAF's Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) aircraft have arrived at the company's Warton site.

Over the next few months, the IAF technicians will visit the UK to get an understanding of how to maintain the aircraft. The tuition will continue when they return to India, with a further three-month on-the-job programme at the Indian Hawk's main base at Air Force Station Bidar.

This training forms part of a comprehensive ground-based training system that is being provided to the IAF under the Indian Hawk contract. As well as the provision of technician training, the system includes synthetic training devices, currently being manufactured by BAE Systems Australia, and a computer-aided learning system. This system will be installed in purpose-built training facility at Air Force Station Bidar by the end of 2007.

Pete Rakovic of the BAE Systems Training Solutions team explained: "The Indian Hawk contract specified a need for technician training so a training needs analysis was carried out by BAE Systems. This gave us the chance to understand the training philosophy of the IAF and the exact training that would be required. From this analysis the training programme was developed to specifically meet the training requirements of the Indian Air Force."

The UK training finishes in September with the Indian in-country on-the-job programme following on. "The sheer number of people arriving over the summer presents a terrific challenge, especially in terms of accommodation. We've had to book the whole of a local hotel between April and September," added Pete. "We arranged for chefs from the hotel and our on-site caterer, to go to London to get training in preparing the type of food our visitors are used to.

"We also put together an orientation pack, which tells them all about the area, and gives advice on practical issues such as the weather, what to wear and so on, aiming to ensure they feel as much at home as they can."

To ensure the IAF personnel, who range from mechanical and electronics officers through to the six different aircraft technician specialisations, become familiar with their own aircraft right away, three of the Indian-bound Hawks that are rolling off the production facility at BAE Systems' sites at Brough and Warton will be used at the Technical Training Academy at Warton where the IAF technicians will undergo their training.

The technician training is part of the contract that will see the IAF receive 66 Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer aircraft, 24 of which will be built in the UK by BAE Systems, with the remainder built under license by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in Bangalore.

Next post on Saturday

Apologies for no posts for the last few days. Was really busy with some production work. Next post on Friday evening.

Delivery of BrahMos Land System to Army Begins

Here's the Government press release received this afternoon on delivery of the BrahMos to the Army.

PRESIDENT CALLS FOR FAST DEVELOPMENT OF LONG-RANGE HYPER-SONIC CRUISE MISSILES

In a landmark development in the defence history of the country, the President and the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam handed over a replica of the mobile autonomous launchers of the BrahMos land system to the Chief of Army Staff Gen J J Singh, symbolizing the commencement of delivery of the supersonic cruise missiles to the Indian Army, at a function here today.

The missile is launched from a Transport Launch Canister (TLC) which also acts as storage and transport container. The Government had approved induction of three regiments of BrahMos Missile system in the Indian Army out of which the Army had initially placed the requirement for one regiment. The delivery of this system was to start from July 2008. However, for early operationalisation of the missile system, the delivery of one Mobile Command Post and two Mobile Autonomous Launchers has been advanced by one year. The function was attended among others by the Defence Minister Shri A K Antony, the Minister of State for Defence Shri M M Pallam Raju, Scientific Advisor to Raksha Mantri Shri M Natrajan, the Ambassador of Russia to India Mr. Vyacheslav Trubnikov and the Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of BrahMos Aerospace Dr. A Sivathanu Pillai.

Speaking on the occasion, the President Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam said we have to aggressively market this world-class product which will have a market shelf life of not more than 5 years. He said there will be competitors who would be developing contemporary products which will be detrimental to the market leadership. 'No smart developer can afford to lose the competitive edge which he has generated and hence increasing the orders and continuously improving the products have to be aggressively pursued', he said.

The President said, time has come for BrahMos Aerospace to work on Mark-II version of BrahMos so that it will still be the market leader in hyper-sonic cruise missiles. 'In the emerging network centric warfare scenario, the fast deployment of hypersonic missile systems will be necessary to maintain our force level supremacy. I visualize long range hypersonic cruise missiles not only delivering pay loads but also returning to the base after the mission, leading to re-usable class of cruise missiles within the next decade. It is time that the three services work with the team of BrahMos Aerospace to evolve the QR for such a system in a time bound manner', he said.

Describing the BrahMos joint venture programme between Indian and Russia as a 'great template' for international cooperation, the President said it combined the core competence of the two countries for realizing a high-technology product in an extremely competitive global defence market with minimum investment from each side. The President also handed over 61 documents relating to operation and maintenance of each system of BrahMos to Gen. J J Singh.The Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in a message on the occasion described the BrahMos system as one of the most advanced supersonic cruise missiles comparable to the best in the world and said, it is an excellent model of high technology cooperation between India and Russian Federation.

The Defence Minister Shri A K Antony said that the induction of BrahMos weapon system will catapult India with the most powerful supersonic cruise missile which can precisely hit the target. He said the capabilities of the missile system which have been proved through a series of successful flight trials, will bolster the Indian Army and enhance the defence preparedness of the nation. 'In the changing face of the war theatre, induction of BrahMos and similar high-technology systems will play a commanding role in protecting the nation's interests'. Shri Antony however said that production orders to the required quantity must be made to make the joint venture economically viable. In order to cater to the growing demands of the Indian and Russian Armed Forces and export market the production activities have to be geared up to meet the growing demands, he said. The Chief of Army Staff Gen J J Singh said that he had witnessed two launches of the BrahMos system in the desert and was confident that the missile system will be a force multiplier in our strategic armoury.

Speaking on the occasion Dr. Pillai said, when all four versions of BrahMos- Ship, Mobile Complex, Air and Submarine launched missiles are used in a seamless integration among the various services, it will effectively destroy any kind of threat. 'BrahMos will be a war winner and will play a crucial role in the future warfare', he said. Dr. Pillai said that DRDO has played a very important role in the development of a number of systems for the missile and ground complex and continues to work on many developmental efforts including INS + Glonass integration, seeker, improved operational software in the network centric warfare, in close coordination with the Services.

BrahMos the world's best supersonic cruise missile has evolved out of the joint efforts of Indian and Russian scientists, under the joint venture company BrahMos Aerospace, DRDO and NPO Mashinostroyenia of Russia along with a consortium of Indian and Russian industries. The company came into existence consequent to an Inter-Governmental agreement signed between the two countries in Feb. 1998. The acronym BrahMos is perceived as the confluence of two great nations represented by two great rivers, the fury of River Brahmaputra of India and the grace of River Moscowa of Russia. The aim is to design, develop, produce and market the Supersonic Cruise Missile, BrahMos. The missile can fly at 2.8 times the speed of sound. It can carry warheads up to 200 kg in weight and has a maximum range of 290 km. The missile is capable of being launched from multiple platforms based on land, sea,sub-sea and air. The modular design of the missile and its capability of being launched at different orientations enables it to be integrated with a wide spectrum of platforms like warships, submarines, different types of aircraft, Mobile Autonomous Launcher and silos.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

INS Vikramaditya by 2010?

Viktor Litovkin, RIA Novosti's military commentator and columnist, has written a column in the current issue of India Strategic. Well, the Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sureesh Mehta says the delay in the Gorshkov delivery is small, probably just six-seven month. But Litovkin agrees with the Express report that first reported the delay. Anyway, I found this a nice piece with neat new details on the programme and the Fulcrums coming with the Admiral. The text in full:

In early May, an Indian naval delegation headed by Vice Admiral Birinder Singh Randhawa, Controller of Warship Production and Acquisition at the Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defence (Navy), visited Severodvinsk, a major submarine construction centre in the Arkhangelsk Region, northern Russia.

In spite of cold temperatures, piercing winds and snowfalls, the visit proved very fruitful. The delegation visited the local Northern Engineering Works (Sevmashpredpriatiye) and inspected the Mk 1143.4 Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier, now being refi tted under a bilateral contract. The aircraft carrier, due to be renamed the Vikramaditya after a famous Indian king, is expected to enter service with the Indian Navy in August 2008.

Vice Admiral Randhawa was very pleased with the visit’s results and noted many changes in the warship’s upper-deck structures and interior. Although the Admiral Gorshkov’s modernisation is somewhat behind schedule, Mr Randhawa said this extremely diffi cult project would face problems from time to time. But he said he saw that Sevmashpredpriatiye was doing its best to solve them in time.

WHAT IS THE ADMIRAL GORSHKOV?

On December 26, 1978, the keel of the Mk 1143.4 Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier was laid at the Nikolayev shipyard in Ukraine. The 273-metre long warship displaces 48,500 tonnes, has a beam of 49 metres and a 10.2-metre draught. The carrier can cruise along at 30.7 knots, has a 30-day sea endurance and a 1,610-man crew.

She entered service with the Soviet Navy in December 1987 and was assigned the task of guarding strategic missile submarines. For that purpose, the Admiral Gorshkov operated 14 Yakovlev Yak-141 Freestyle vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) fi ghters, eight Yak-38 Forger VTOL fi ghters, as well as 16 Kamov Ka-25 and Ka-252RLD Hormone and Ka-252PS Helix anti-submarine warfare (ASW), reconnaissance and search-and-rescue helicopters. Moreover, the aircraft carrier, which supported warship formations and naval strategic bombers in combat areas, was supposed to attack enemy aircraft, warships and submarines. For this purpose the Admiral Gorshkov had 12 Bazalt anti-ship missile launchers, six tentube Udav-1 anti-submarine rocket mortars, four torpedo tubes, as well as four Klinok air-defence systems comprising 24 launchers, two 100-mm AK-100 guns and eight 30-mm AK-630 anti-aircraft guns. However, it turned out that VTOL fi ghters did not correspond to specifications, carried small ordnance loads, had a short combat range and crashed rather often.

The disintegration of the Soviet Union and subsequent financial shortages made it impossible to eliminate thesedrawbacks. These warplanes were scrapped, and the Admiral Gorshkov had to be berthed. The warship could have suffered the same sorry fate as her sister ships, namely, the Kiev, the Minsk and the Novorossiisk, that also carried Yakovlev fi ghters, and which were eventually sold for scrap.

However, the Indian Navy took an interest in the Admiral Gorshkov and therefore prevented her destruction. Moscow and New Delhi negotiated the carrier modernisation contract for many years. The Indian side insisted that Russia charge less for overhauling the Admiral Gorshkov. According to some rumours, the warship was sold to India as scrap metal, that is, for $150-200 per tonne. Moreover, New Delhi insisted that the Russian carrier be upgraded in order to accommodate horizontal take-off and landing fi ghters, and that its arsenal should include weapons popular with the Indian Navy. Moscow accepted all these proposals.

The $1.5 billion Gorshkov modernisation contract was signed in 2004. The total overhaul expenses amounted to $600-700 million. The rest will be spent on deck fighters, equipment and weapons from third parties. The Nevskoye Design Bureau in St Petersburg, which had developed the Admiral Gorshkov, submitted the modernisation project. The warship is being overhauled at Sevmashpredpriyatiye in Severodvinsk. All redundant artillery systems and missiles, including Bazalt launchers and AK-100 guns, will be removed during the project’s initial stage. All other weapons, namely, Klinok airdefence systems, AK-630 anti-aircraft guns, and most radio-electronics and specialised equipment will also have to go. Instead the Admiral Gorshkov is to receive new-generation air-defence systems, whose specifications are not known yet.

The initial modernisation stage will end after obsolete machinery is replaced with up-todate equivalents. After that, New Delhi will become the ship’s legal owner. During the second stage, India will list all the required weapons and equipment for the Vikramaditya. Her upper deck will be extended until the bow section, and a 14-degree 20- metre-wide ramp will be constructed there. The 280-metre flight deck will have a 198-metre runway for operating Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29-K Fulcrum supersonic fi ghters chosen by India. The 24-metre-wide runway will feature three arrester wires, and there will also be a 130 by 23 by 5.7-metre hangar below the deck. The hangar will have a 30-tonne 18.91 by 9.96-metre lift located amidships left of the island superstructure and a 20-tonne 18.91 by 8.65-metre lift behind the superstructure and in front of the arrester wires. The top-deck aircraft parking area will measure 2,400 square metres. The Vikramaditya will therefore become one of the best aircraft carriers in her class.

BEST RUSSIAN WARPLANES

In February 2007, Indian pilots and sailors were quite impressed to see the single-seat MiG-29K Fulcrum deck fighter and the two-seat MiG- 29KUB deck trainer/combat plane at an airfield in Zhukovsky near Moscow. “We have known about the topclass MiG warplanes for a long time, but the MiG-29KUB that was developed by Russia for India is even better,” said Commander Jasvinder Chauhan, India’s Air Force Attach√© in Moscow.

This statement is no exaggeration because Indian experts had teamed up with designers and engineers of Russia’s MiG Aircraft Corporation to develop the MiG-29KUB. They listed all the required specifi cations, which were embodied in the warplane. In some cases, Indian specifications may have seemed exorbitant because they exceeded the best achievements of the global aircraft industry.

However, MiG complied with the requests of its clients. The Indian side helped to integrate foreign electronics into the plane’s avionics, to develop simulators and to choose the required weaponry. Nikolai Buntin, chief designer of the MiG-29KUB project for India, said the Rusian Air Force and Navy lack such good planes.

The MiG-29-KUB’s radio-electronic system features the French-made Thales TopSight helmet-borne sighting device and the Sagem Sigma-95 laser-gyroscope inertial navigation system. Thales TopSight is, in fact, a shock-resistant helmet that will protect the pilot if a bird shatters the cockpit canopy. Its sighting device is activated by a movement of the head. The fi ghter’s unique open-architecture and modular-system avionics will not become obsolete in the next ten to 15 years. Only separate components of the MiG-29KUB’s radio-electronic system will have to be replaced if the need arises. This radio-electronic system is an upgraded version of the one installed on the MiG-29SMT fi ghter, also serving with the Indian Air Force. It retains the MIL-1553B-type bus, to which the plane’s electronics are attached, and four-channel multiplex settings. Nikolai Buntin said the MiG-29K has a more sophisticated multiplex bus than other Russian planes being sold elsewhere. He added that the MiG-29KUB’s vital systems feature fibre optic communications channels. Fibre channels and fi bre optic lines expedite data-exchange speeds 100 times over and enable the pilot to outmanoeuvre and outgun the enemy. No MiG warplane has ever had any high-speed data-exchange channels before.

All three multi-purpose MFI10-6 data screens in the MiG-29KUB’s front and rear cockpits, the
IKSH-1K heads-up display (HUD) and the Thales TopSight sighting device/target-acquisition system receive video information from the Fazotron-NIIR radar, the new-generation Zhuk-ME optronic radar, other sighting and radio-electronic warfare systems and the built-in digital terrain contour matching (TERCOM) map along fibre channels. The wide-angle sighting and navigation system, developed by the Ramenskoye PKB avionics design bureau, features a revamped BCVM486-3M computer with a 486DX processor and a 90 mHz tact frequency, as well as indicators and consoles. The system, which is the main aircraft element, also integrates other systems in line with their software packages compiled by the main MiG-29KUB contractor
and main-system suppliers. The Ramenskoye PKB is responsible for integrating the plane’s radioelectronic system. The IKSH-1K (Russian acronym for Wide-Format Collimator Ship Indicator) heads-up display has never been installed on Russian planes before.

Previous export-oriented aircraft versions, namely, the Sukhoi Su-30MKI and the Su-30MKM Flanker, were fitted with Israeli and French E1OP and Thales systems. However, the brighter Russian HUDs display teletext data and allow the pilot to take aim through these systems round the clock, even against targets obscured by the glaring sun. The warplane’s RD-33MK engine, which was designed at the St Petersburg-based Klimov Plant, a major national aircraft engine manufacturer, is made at the Chernyshov Machine-Building Plant in Moscow. The first MiG-29KUB, shown to the Indian delegation, featured experimental RD-33MK engines that were delivered in December 2005. But the Klimov Plant has made considerable headway since then and increased the engine’s total service life to 4,000 hours. Each engine is subject to overhaul after operating for 1,000 hours and develops 9,000 kilogramme-force thrust in the afterburner mode. Alexander Vatagin, general director of the Klimov Plant, told journalists that production engines would differ in terms of maximum thrust, smoke levels and radar visibility from those installed on the prototype plane. He said the engine would have brandnew hot section components, a new accessory box and a FADEC (Full Authority Digital Engine Control) system for greater dependability and failsafe operation.

Vatagin said the customer would receive aircraft with engines completely matching the Request
for Proposal (RFP) and specific recommendations, and comments made during bench and flight tests. The MiG-29-KUB will be fitted with standard missiles and maybe, rather significantly, with the Russian-Indian BrahMos anti-ship cruise missile also. In all, the Indian Navy is to get 12 single-seat MiG-29K fighters and four two-seat MiG-29KUB planes and will also have the right to buy another 30 MiG-29-K/ MiG-29KUB warplanes. However, the latter would only be produced after 2010, if New Delhi confirms its order.

THE PROBLEMS WILL BE OVERCOME

The Admiral Gorshkov/Vikramaditya contract is behind schedule due to numerous reasons. It took a lot of time and effort to choose the required weapons, to eliminate ship defects and to finance specifi c operations. Energy resources, materials, components and spare parts have become more expensive since the contract was signed in 2004. The cost of labour in Russia has also grown. Moscow would like New Delhi to provide additional funding because the loss-making Sevmashpredpriyatiye is having trouble fulfilling the contract. However, the Indian Navy is dissatisfied with that because it was agreed that budgetary allocations should not be exceeded.

Although the Indian stand is clear, the cashstrapped Sevmashpredpriyatiye needs more money. They say that the aircraft carrier will only enter service with the Indian Navy in late 2010, instead of the initially planned late 2008. However, sources in Severodvinsk said Indian admirals have reacted with understanding to all these problems, which hopefully will not affect bilateral relations. In the meantime, the future Vikramaditya crew has been living in Severodvinsk on a rotation basis for over a year and learning to operate, service and repair the aircraft carrier and its sophisticated systems.

In all, eight groups of Indian military personnel are expected to complete their four-month tours of duty at Sevmashpredpriyatiye. Indian sailors have come to Severodvinsk together with their families, who enjoy playing snowballs, making snowmen and organising concerts that attract up to 5,000 spectators each. These concerts feature Indian songs and dances, comedy sketches and martial arts bouts; popular Russian melodies are also performed.

The people of Severodvinsk have come to love those friendly, kindhearted and smiling Indian offi cers, their wives and children and are proud to have a “little New Delhi” and a “little Mumbai” in their city. Although it is deplorable that the Indian Navy will not receive its new aircraft carrier as scheduled, the time spent by Indian offi cers and their families in northern Russia will help them get to know and love this cold but infinitely beautiful region and theRussian people – as open-hearted and sincere as the Indians.

©Copyright 2007 India Strategic

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

IAF Throws Mid-Course Spanner At DRDO's AWACS

The IAF has formalised its earlier view that the Embraer platform was inadequate for the payload requirements it was looking at for the indigenous AWACS being developed by CABS, LRDE, DARE and a few other laboratories. This is domain-B's article, based on the report by DefenseNews. I've added some notes in red:

Unsubstantiated reports, now emerging in the media, would suggest that the Indian Air Force (IAF) might have modified the specifications for the indigenous airborne early warning and control system (AWACS), including the radar and related equipment, in an effort to increase the payload. The mid-course change would appear to have left the country's premier defence laboratory set up, the defence research and development organization (DRDO) scrambling to organize finances for the acquisition of a larger aerial platform. [Actually not unsubstantiated. It's a fact that the IAF has formally approached the MoD and presented a new payload QR, with an observation that the platform would have to be reconsidered with the new payload].

According to reports, the IAF has recommended the use of a larger Boeing or Airbus-based platform, rather than the Embraer and Gulfstream planes that had earlier been short-listed for the programme by the DRDO. The shift to a larger platform, from a mid-sized one of the Embraer variety, pushes costs up by an additional 40-45%, and this apparently has forced DRDO to seek additional funds. [The IAF has, in fact, recommended either the Airbus-319/320 or the Boeing-737, and said that the Embraer has altitude and endurance limitations].

Domestic companies and laboratories currently working with the DRDO on the AWACS project include Bharat Electronics Ltd, the Defence Avionics Research Establishment, and the Electronics and Radar Development Establishment.

As part of a $1.1 billion deal, signed in 2004, Israel is to supply three Phalcon AWACS systems to India with its radar and other systems mounted on three Russian-built Il-76 aircraft. The first of these aircraft are due for delivery from mid-2007. [No, there are delays in the Phalcon integration. The first is likely to be delivered only by Feb-March 2008].

Reports would also suggest that the current AWACS project would, very likely, take another decade to complete, provided the design, specifications, as well as the platform are now frozen by the IAF. [The new project finishline has been extended from 2012 to 2016. I don't think changing the platform should require shifting goalposts once again, though you never know. In April this year, it was reported that the indigenous AWACS had not passed muster with the IAF because the aircraft platform the suite was being built for was a business jet platform, with neither the ceiling altitude nor endurance requirement that the IAF wanted. The IAF had gone on to recommend that the programme (re-sanctioned in September 2004 with Rs 1,800 crore) shorten its proverbial horizons and deliver, instead, a "airborne battlefield surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance system"].

While some sources point fingers at the defence services for changing specifications mid-way too often, others point to the massive technology churn which the global arms industry is currently experiencing and argue that such mid-course changes cannot be helped. [The IAF wants the government to exercise its option of buying three-five more Phalcons. The IAF is resolute that its AWACS needs will only be fulfilled by a fleet of six-to-eight IAI Phalcons operating out of Agra (a sister squadron to 78 Sqn will be raised later this year) and has said as much to the Defence Ministry].

June 13: Correction: I found out today (13 June) that the information that the IAF has recommended a new platform may actually not be formal yet. It has been discussed but not presented to the MoD. The only thing that has been presented to the MoD officially is an increased QR for the radar.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Ajai Shukla On His Alleged "Turnaround" on the Arjun MBT

Given that Ajai Shukla has taken the time out to write a full-on rejoinder in the comments section of the last-to-last post (refuting opinion from some quarters of a "turnaround" in his views of the Arjun MBT), I thought it could/would be suitably argued under a separate post altogether. A request -- let's have serious factual debate, not another vitiated comments section please! Here's the meat from Ajai's comment:

Ajai:
Just to clarify, my view of the Arjun tank remains unchanged. The cretins who believe something has changed, and that "Ajai Shukla has done a turnaround" are basing it solely on one fact alone: that I've done an on-ground report on the Arjun. The TV story that I did makes ONLY the following points... and that's pure journalism:


  1. These are the first video pictures of the Arjun.

  2. The problem with the hydro-gas suspension appears to have been fixed.

  3. The driver says it's a world class tank. (NOTE: the driver says it... that's a viewpoint. Nitwits who don't understand reportage perhaps have a problem understanding the difference between what a reporter says and a view expressed by someone else).

  4. The Arjun will be pitted against the T-72 and the T-90 in comparative trials in June.

  5. The officer in charge of the project says (NOTE: I don't say it... he does) that he thinks the Arjun is better and he hope for a level playing field in the trials.

  6. 14 tanks are ready for the trials and THE OFFICERS WHO MADE THE TANK are confident it will perform well.
My fundamental views of the Arjun's flaws (posted on Bharat-Rakshak years ago) remain unchanged. Especially my views that:

  1. The tank suffers from a hybrid design where several major components have been bought off-the-shelf and slapped together into a tank.

  2. The tank suffers from a high profile, high visibility, high vulnerability to helicopter, ATGM and tank attack from ranges beyond which it can pick up those enemies.

  3. The issue of translating a prototype into a production line remains beset with Quality Control problems.

  4. Strategic mobility remains a major problem for the Arjun.

  5. If the tank does not perform well in trials, it should be shelved and categorised a technology demonstrator, rather than shoved down the throats of the army.

I also believe that if, on the other hand, the Arjun performs well in trials and comes up with even acceptable performances, give it a chance in service. But for that it must perform to an acceptable degree.

MRCA RfP This Month...?

Just received word that the RfPs for the MRCA contract will be issued this month. There's been a great deal of activity between Vayu Bhavan and the MoD Acquisition Wing, and at least one reliable source said that they were working against time to get the document out by the end of June. The last post on the MRCA threw up yet another debate on the Tejas as an MRCA contender. That aside, if nothing else, the last three years has taught most of us reporting the hallowed 126 fighter contract one thing -- that there's no point reporting on when the RFP is likely to come out! Because it's always "likely" to come out.

The certainty from this particular source was just a pitch higher than it usually is, so I'm just putting it up here for what it's worth. Former IAF chief SP Tyagi even joked about it. When asked about the contract just before he retired, he said, " You can blame me for a lot of things, but not for inconsistency. For the last two years I have been saying exactly the same thing -- the RFP will be coming out soon". He was one bitter man when he realised the document wasn't going to be out before he retired -- believe me, he pushed for it harder than even ACM S Krishnaswamy. And he said so at Aero India 2007. Word now is that ACM Fali Major isn't really pushing too hard, though this is probably just malice at Vayu Bhavan.

On a sidenote. There's been some press recently about the LCA Tejas making its first international debut at the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget later this month (I think the newsclip was also posted on the News Window on Bharat-Rakshak). I don't know where this came from, so I checked with HAL -- obviously there isn't going to be a Tejas in Paris. Not for a few years anyway! They're taking a pair of Dhruvs for sure. Maybe there'll be some good news there.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The End in Sight for Akash

It is now confirmed that the Akash medium range surface-to-air missile programme will formally enter the user trial phase with the Indian Air Force (IAF) in July this year ahead of the monsoon, at which time it will be tested both at Chandipore-on-Sea and the Mahajan Field Firing Range (MFFR) in Rajasthan. As a small treat, here are two new photographs I received from DRDO yesterday (don't remember seeing them on the net before anyway, so I'm assuming they're new). On May 11, Defence Minister AK Antony told Parliament that no decision had yet been taken about inducting Akash into the Army, though the W&E Directorate has confirmed that user trials with the Army will take place simultaneously at the MFFR using the tracked mobile-launcher configuration and the L&T-made truck mounted launcher in August (a similar launcher that will be used for the AAD, incidentally).

Last month, in a conversation with Vice Admiral Raman Puri (who was inducted onto the board of HAL in September last year for his missile and gunnery expertise), he said, "The Akash is a top-class missile that was unfortunate to face some technological problems that could have been faced by anyone. Realisation of ramjet propulsion independent of foreign assistance is something that misses most people. We have done just that, so we don't need to go around with a begging bowl for this critical technology that will serve us well in future systems. Though I was not involved with the programme at any point, I have carefully scrutinised trial and test reports and was always of the opinion that the IAF made unreasonable and mid-way demands of a missile that our scientists were careful to match against big odds. What does the IAF think it had with the Pechora? Those systems are more archaic than anything else in its arsenal. As it stands today, the Akash is hugely more capable than any SAM in the IAF's inventory. Instead of throwing up nit-picks in the developmental trials phase, the IAF should encourage DRDO to move towards user trials so all outstanding issues -- which I personally don't think exist, except for some fantastic observations on low-level intercept -- can be ironed out and productionisation pursued expeditiously. Look at everything these boys have developed indigenously. From group control and battery control equipment centres, acquisition and battery-level radars, excellent launcher platforms, and a missile with massive g-resistance without slackening velocity. I got into a tiff with my colleagues in the IAF during a review of the programme a while ago. There was a big argument about the missile's agility. I told them, if there was one thing that the multiple target intercept test had proved, it was the missile's virtually matchless agility in the air."

In December 2005, after the Akash's 50th test, then DRDL's director Dr Prahlada said, "The speed will never drop. So you are able to maintain superiority over the target. Even the Patriot missile does not have ram-jet propulsion. The Patriot missile, after its boost phase, keeps decelerating but Akash does not decelerate."

In October 2006, then IAF chief Air Chief Mshl SP Tyagi said that problems and delays in the Akash programme had compelled the IAF to choose to import 18 SpyDer systems. This became something of a joke at the time (since the SpyDer-SR is an LLQRM like the Trishul). However, this was checked out with the IAF, and it became clear that the IAF (and Tyagi) had wanted to import the much more expensive SpyDer-MR, which has range capabilities that match the Akash. This demand was shot down by the MoD, which said that the ground-equipment modification (GEM) of the Pechoras would suffice for now, and that an import of the SpyDer-SR was more in line with the capability gap expressed with the obsolescence of the 24-odd OSA-AK (purchased in 1989-90) that are being brutally cannibalised for spares. Either way, of 70 Pechora systems procured from Russia between 1974-90, only 24 are still operational.

Be that as it may, the Akash programme hasn't been all smooth sailing obviously. User trials were to have been kickstarted as far back as 1999, right upto the second half of 2006, but this did not happen. The programme got some star attention in Parliament when Jaya Bachchan queried Defence Minister AK Antony about it in December last year. She was plainly told that the programme had just been completed and would shortly be pushed through user trials with the air force, a stance the government has taken since 2003, to be sure. The Akash has undergone over 53 developmental flight tests so far (including Phase-II trials from a T-72 platform in December 2006) ending the developmental phase of the missile programme. The programme was kickstarted with a sanctioned project cost of Rs 95.34 crore in 1983 and extended from July 1995 to December 2007 to Rs 548.45 crore. Most of the missile's programmes pertained, as DRDO admitted to Parliament, to integral ramjet propulsion and command guidance, both of which have been fully resolved and demonstrated in user-participated trials.

As a side nugget, the IAF has refuted the recent Hindustan Times story and said that the information mentioned in the report is at least fourteen months old -- and that subsequent developmental trials with user participation have ironed out these problems. The IAF has also said on record now that user trial criteria have been worked out and full-fledged user trials will begin shortly.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

*MMRCA Contract Update*

The request for proposal (RFP) document for the IAF's proposed 126 medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA) purchase is complete and ready to be fired. The way the procurement procedure has played out so far, there are a thousand voices all saying different things, but it is now confirmed that the document has been vetted by the Legal Cell and Acquisition Wing of the Defence Ministry, offset and ownership cost formula glitches have been ironed out and the document is ready, in all respects, to be sent out to the Embassies of the United States (for the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon Block 70 and Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet), France (for the Dassault Rafale-B/C), Russia (for the RAC-MiG MiG-35), Sweden (for the Saab JAS-39 Gripen) and Germany (for the EADS Eurofighter Typhoon).

I remember former IAF chief S Krishnswamy lamenting at his final press conference in October 2004 that red tape was holding up the formal release of the RFP. At the time, the MoD of course had its reasons -- it was bang in the middle of reworking its defence procurement procedure and saw prudence in holding on to the RFP until it could slam in an integrity clause compulsion and, of course, the very necessary offsets clause. Foreign plaints that the MoD's offset policy is singularly rigid and no in keeping with global best practices has been all but ignored by the government. The matter recently took the proportions of an ego-issue, when an official from one of the contending firms decided to engage Defence Secretary Shekhar Dutt at a recent CII event. A flustered Dutt told the gentleman to do his job and allow the government to do its own, and that India had not gone far enough from independence to begin taking the advice of foreign interests again. Yes, it's still a very touchy subject.

Interestingly, some "on the ball" state governments have made representations to the government asking for a rethink on the direct offsets policy, explaining that indirect offsets would allow for investments and job creation in a variety of other sectors unrelated to defence. The MoD has "taken under consideration" these presentations but doesn't seem in the mood to be advised otherwise. The companies that will receive an RFP see this as a real problem, with potentially larger entanglements in the future. Again, the MoD is not interested.

Monday, June 04, 2007

PSU/OFB: If they're so good, why are they so scared?

On May 17, the Trade Union Forum for Self-Reliance in Defence (a formal group comprising trade union officials, DPSU and OFB employees) presented Defence Minister AK Antony with a memorandum asking the government to desist from implementing the Kelkar Committee recommendations. The memorandum was presented in the hope that Antony would strike a sympathetic note the next day (May 17) in his inaugural speech at the OFB General Managers conference in the Capital. As it turned out, he didn't, and whether it was under the advice of Defence Secretary Shekhar Dutt (a vociferous critic of the OFB), or his own perspective, there were some harsh things said. The truth always hurts. But first, here's a look at that memorandum, ludicrous in parts, and fine example of why our military industrial complex will remain firmly in the Cold War breeze:

The memorandum principally highlights that "the Kelkar Committee report (released in early 2005), instead of concentrating on self-reliance in defence, is basically aimed at facilitating the entry of private sector – both domestic and foreign – in a big way, at the cost of public sector defence industries, the pioneer of self-reliance in defence sector." The memorandum then goes on to make the following observations, some of them preposterous. My remarks in, err, red:

1. The composition of Kelkar Committee itself is questionable as it did not include the major stake holder i.e. the employees. The report is totally flawed in its approach when instead of reducing imports through strengthening of the existing public sector defence industry, it has embarked upon a policy of giving maximum space to private sector in defence sector. It has given undue stress on export of arms, which is not a sphere where a country like India would try to project itself like USA or Israel. [The Kelkar Committee was asked specifically to look at how the private sector can be given a greater level of participation in high technology defence products. That was the Committee's mission! It was not a Committee on how to clean up DPSUs and the OFBs. And Kelkar in his report speaks specifically of exporting defence systems. What is wrong with that? A higher policy decision on export of lethal arms is always possible -- who the hell is such a group to decide that? And undue stress is an exaggeration. There is a single section on making export possibilities robust, and nowhere does it talk of lethal arms specifically.]

2. Security perception, so vital for nature of preparedness of armed forces vis-√†-vis long term production/ acquisition of programme and defence system is totally missing in the report. No evaluation has been made to assess strength, weakness, opportunity and threat to the existing defence industries, infrastructure, expertise and R&D. No exercise has been undertaken in the report either at macro level or at micro level for achieving self-reliance with technological upgradation and R&D input to achieve optimal capacity utilisation in public sector defence industry to address India’s security needs. [Again, the Committee was not asked to investigate the "nature" or "form" of self-reliance. It was simply asked to recommend structural transformation roadmaps to make defence production more competitive, both for the public and private sectors]

3. Kelkar Committee report unabashedly pleads for entry of private sector at every level, not as a supplementary player, but as a major player, creating ‘Raksha Utpadan Ratna’ (RUR) in private sector, with public funds assured to private sector in the name of R&D for earning profit through defence exports that too with tax concession. [A superb example of the unhealthy phobia and protectionist nonsense that commies still think they should enjoy. If they think they're so darn good at reaching self-reliance, (a) why hasn't it happened? and (b) what's wrong with a little competition and cooperation? Unfortunately, this isn't a welfare state, nor does it have money oozing out from every pore]

4. It deprives DPSUs and OFB of a level playing field with private industries. OFB and DPSUs are captive industries of defence services. Unless they reach optimal capacity utilisation, technological upgradation and necessary autonomy, the question of so called competition with private sector does not arise. [Level playing field! The private sector has a huge number of flaws and frequently has the latitude to play dirty, but let's not kid ourselves about a level playing field. That's the ONLY thing they don't have!]

5. Private sector, would be mostly in collaboration with foreign firms under the cover of Indian private sector. Defence MNCs would be given a straight forward entry in the most strategic area of the country. This will jeopardise country’s security. With spectre of terrorism looming large, a free access to private sector both Indian and foreign in arms and ammunition manufacturing would be a serious security hazard for the country. [I think a smart government will know where to allow foreigners in and where not to. What's wrong with foreign cooperation, or with Indian firms tying up with foreign ones. The stuff will still be built by our OFBs, as that's a singular competence yet, with some notable exceptions of course!]

6. Private industries have been allowed to develop and produce defence products as long back as in May 2001 and a number of captains of industry were given industrial license. However, till date response from these industries is not encouraging. Private industries do not want to undertake development and production of defence goods which is capital intensive where there is no assurance for getting sustained order for the products developed. Private industries therefore want the government to fund development expenditure and ensure quantity sufficient to keep their business interests alive. Such government funding of private entities under any nomenclature RUR etc is unprecedented and totally uncalled for. This will encourage some ‘fly-by-night’ operators in the defence industry to earn quick money through trading. [Let's get real here. The private sector is in it for the business. They're definitely not in it for "desh ka seva". Second, a private firm cannot work on open ended assurances. This doesn't happen, even if it can in a PSU, which anyway has the government as a safety net. Let's not kid ourselves about something else as well. This memorandum hasn't been submitted because the people who've submitted it want a great and strong India, or are fearful of sinister foreigner in our corridors of power. They've submitted it because they're terrified of losing their jobs, which is, in the event a slightly near-sighted fear. In the event, the Kelkar committe (a little outside its purview) recommends that all cooperation between the public and private sectors be streamlined so that there is no attrition or downsizing.

7. Private sector industries, who do not have the expertise in manufacture of defence goods, will collaborate with overseas firms for participating in the tender process and demonstrate their capabilities. Even today for procurement of items categorised as “Make”, they are fielding equipment mostly taken from overseas defence industries. Once private industry bags such an order against RFP, it may continue to import the complete product or major assemblies from the collaborators for supply to defence forces and in the process earn profit through trading. This method neither generates employment nor promotes self-reliance. The threat of disruption in supply will certainly loom large if the overseas country decides to hold back product support. This phenomenon of stoppage of supply by overseas industries has been experienced a number of times in the past, especially at the time of crisis. This goes totally against the concept of self-reliance as it would erode indigenous sustainability of our defence sector. With spectre of terrorism looming large, a free access to private sector, both Indian and foreign, in arms and ammunition manufacturing would be a serious security hazard for the country. [A load of nonsense. How would this account for companies like L&T, Ashok Leyland, Astra Microwave, Tata and M&M?]

8. Serious lack of investment in fundamental R&D has been main reason to achieve the envisaged vision of reaching self-reliance index of 70 - 75 per cent through DRDO which is at present hovering around 30 – 35 per cent. Kelkar Committee has not reviewed this aspect at all. [Wrong again. The Kelkar Committee quotes the Parliamentary Standing Committee's 11th report about fundamental R&D.]

9. In the case of defence public sector units (DPSUs), the main issue is availability of the state-of-the-art technology, which matters in such a sophisticated sector. To achieve the same DPSUs need sufficient resources/funds to take up modernisation. If only a part of amount spent on imports is utilised for upgradation of technology of these well established PSUs with their expertise and infrastructure, the same can boost the self-reliance index. [Self-contradictory, so I won't waste a line.]

10. Kelkar Committee talks about Mini Ratna and Navaratna status with an eye on joint ventures and independent directors. The idea is only to give entry to private sector in the Boards of DPSUs. For strategic sector like defence PSUs, when given status of Mini Ratna or Navaratna, they should not follow the present criteria of independent directors. It has to be ensured that in the name of independent directors, private competitors are not allowed in the Boards through FICCI or CII. DPSUs should not be forced to go for joint venture as a part of creeping privatisation, which is actually aimed in Kelkar report. [What's with the distrust of the private sector? Are they not Indian as well? If they do well, aren't they going to pay more taxes? What is this absolute shit about not allowing private sector directors on PSU boards?]

And now, for what Antony said the next day at the OFB conference:

The Defence Minister Shri A K Antony has called upon Ordnance Factories to maintain quality and delivery schedule so as to keep its customer base intact. Stressing the need to give a fresh momentum to country’s indigenization efforts so that the country can achieve self reliance in the field of defence production, the Minister said a major part of the responsibility to achieve this goal lies with the ordnance factories. Inaugurating the Conference of General Managers of Ordnance Factories in New Delhi today, Shri Antony expressed the hope that the conference will chart out a futuristic roadmap for ordnance factories. He said, ‘there is an urgent need to thoroughly review the fixation of targets, placement of indents and authorization for expenditure’. The Defence Minister said that the procurement procedure of OFB too needs to be streamlined to avoid time and cost overruns.

Referring to the complaints regarding quality of the products as well as feedback from the customers that the products are not delivered on time, Shri Antony said, customer satisfaction is and should be guiding force of any enterprise. He said OFB has so far been functioning only as a departmental production agency without any commercial orientation. He said ‘in fact, the OFB should strive to become commercially proactive’. He also called upon the Defence Production agencies to shed old mindsets and excessive secrecy. The Defence Minister said ordnance factories must equip themselves to face competition and re-orient themselves as proactive and viable commercial organizations. He called upon the ordnance factories to work in close tandem with the end user, i.e. Armed Forces so that production and supplies are planned and executed in a scientific manner. ‘Our objective should be long-term planning for target fixation and production’ Shri Antony said.

Underlining the need for a high-level consumer satisfaction, the Minister asked ordnance factories to seek feedback reports from the consumers on a regular basis and carry out time-bound re-appraisal based on the feedback and rectify the defects in the products. Referring to the defence procurement procedure, the Defence Minister asked ordnance factories to strive to maximize transparency in their financial dealing and management as procurement is done on a large-scale and from various sources.

In his key note address the Secretary Defence Production Shri K P Singh complimented ordnance factories for having played a very crucial role in achieving self-reliance in defence production. However, he said, self-reliance in defence not only means self reliance in production but also self-reliance in developing new products so that our armed forces are fully equipped to meet all kinds of threat that the nation faces today. He regretted that the performance of the ordnance factories in this sphere was not encouraging. Shri Singh said, ‘ordnance factories have not shown the ambition of developing major products and have been content with the role of a technology recipient’.

In this connection, he asked ordnance factories to emulate the example of HAL which has developed world class products like ALH and IJT. Shri Singh said OFB is in the armament business where major customers are armed forces and the paramilitary forces. He said, ‘OFB does not have the luxury to choose its customers and therefore has to earn the respect from the customers for product quality, timely deliveries and cheaper products to earn the good will. Unfortunately, Indian army does not perceive OFB as a manufacturer of defence equipment of global quality standards.’ He further added that huge manufacturing infrastructure available with the factories will always play a crucial role in the national defence and the time has come for the efficient utilization of these productive resources.

Winner of MiG Competition Takes the 35 Up

Got this e-mail release from RAC-MiG yesterday. Nice little snippet.

On 29th May 2007, Wing Commander Sharad 'Pasha' Pasricha, Suryakiran aerobatic team member flew a sortie in the front cockpit of the new-generation MiG-35 fighter as crew with RAC-MiG test pilot Mikhail Belyaev (both in pre-flight photo on right). The flight took place at the RAC 'MiG' flight test centre in Zhukovsky (Moscowregion).

The MiG-35 is the latest groundbreaking design from RAC 'MiG' and its first demonstration to the public at the Aero India-2007 in Bangalore has been a huge success. The aircraft features enhanced combat effectiveness and survivability, expandable A-A andA-G weapon suite, improved operational performance. It sports cutting-edge active phased-array radar and state-of-the-art optoelectronic systems of detection, sighting, navigation and reconnaissance based on space technologies.

In the course of a 30-minute flight, Sharad Pasricha experienced high angle of attack aerobatics including cobra and tail-slide at up to 9 Gs. All the high-class manoeuvres were first demonstrated by Mikhail Belyaevand then performed by Sharad Pasricha on his own. The Indian pilot having clocked many flying hours on the MiG-29s in the IAF was extremely thrilled to be among the first to test the state-of-the art MiG-35 multi-functional fighter's capabilities. The sortie was a part of the prize won by the Indian pilot in a competition organised by RAC 'MiG' at AeroIndia-2007. The competitors had to suggest new namesfor the gravity-defying MiG-29M OVT manoeuvres that no other aircraft in the world yet performs. The MiG-29MOVT is able to make spatial rotations around three axes and reach an angle of attack from 0 to 360 degrees thanks to its advanced airframe aerodynamics, fly-by-wire and all-aspect thrust vectoring engine.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Su-30MKMs Fly, India's Little Victory

This may be a touch parochial, but the delivery of the first two Su-30MKM fighters to the Royal Malaysian Air Force on May 24 at Irkutsk, Russia, is an important milestone for DRDO, and particularly the Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE), Bangalore. In 2003, shortly after Malaysia entered the $900 million deal to buy 18 Su-30MKM fighters from Moscow, the former chose Indian radar computers developed by DARE for the fleet as part of the mission avionics suite, which includes other systems from France and South Africa. The deal with the Indian government, worth Rs 21.15 crore, happens to be DRDO's largest single export to date, and should therefore be the source of some satifaction and encouragement towards more business abroad. The Indian radar computers will control the NIIP N011M phased array radars that will come fitted on the MKMs when deliveries are complete by mid-2008.

Also decided on at the time the order was placed in 2003 was that HAL would supply certain aft-fuselage sub assemblies, canard foreplanes, and horizontal/vertical stabilisers. It was also agree upon in principle at the time that a small team of Malaysian weapons systems operators and pilots would be trained by the Indian Air Force Lohegaon -- this is almost certain to now be the case, as a report quoted the RMAF's Su-30MKM team leader Col Syed Salim Syed Abu Bakar.India's experience with the Su-30 in the late 1990s until 2003 contributed in a big way to Malaysia's decision.

Between 2002-02, at least three RMAF teams (these were the ones reported on -- there may have been more) visited Bareilly and a couple of pilots were even given demo sorties on the Ks. What helped the Malaysian decision even more was an unacceptably conditional proposal that the US made in its pitch of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet as a rival to the deal. The Americans inexplicably withheld export licensing clearances for weapons and targeting sensors, virtually sealing the deal for the Russians -- the latter engineered a tacit understanding with India to give the Malaysians demonstrations of the fighters (incidentally, these demos were offered to the Malaysians, they did not ask to see the fighters in India), which had obvious sub-contracted export opportunities for India (the canards and radar computers).

What was peculiar about the American decision to withhold missiles and weapons export licenses indefinitely was that a good part of the RMAF's fighter inventory is American -- including eight F/A-18 Hornets purchased in the 1990s. In fact, the 18 new fighters it was in the market for in 2003 were specifically to replace 14 Northrop F-5s, the ageing component of its fleet. Either way, the bulk of its air superiority fleet is dominated by a squadron of 16 Fulcrum-Ns. Singapore, on the other hand, went on to choose a dozen Boeing F-15 Strike Eagle in 2005, trouncing contenders, the Rafale and Typhoon.

Two years before Singapore's decision -- and what went on to actually influence the Singaporeans -- was the South Korean decision in 2002 to buy 40 F-15s, trouncing similar rivals from Europe and France. Malaysia plainly adds to an already Flanker-rich region -- Indonesia, Vietnam and India, quite apart from China and Russia. With HAL quite simply the largest manufacturer now of Su-30s, more users will automatically mean more business. Until that time, here's godspeed to the MKMs, which will soon be flown to Malaysia.