Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Su-30MKI versus Typhoon: Some lessons...

Saw this interesting article on Defense Industry Daily on the Su-30MKI going head to head against RAF Eurofighter Typhoons at the recently concluded Exercise Indra Dhanush. Here it is:

India's Ministry of Defense, had this to say about the initial RAF-IAF clashes, and adds some words of wisdom:

"The operational part of the 'Exercise Indradhanush-2007' began with a series of 1 vs 1 air combat sorties… The RAF pilots were candid in their admission of the Su-30 MKI's observed superior manouevring in the air, just as they had studied, prepared and anticipated. [emphasis DID's] The IAF pilots on their part were also visibly impressed by the Typhoon's agility in the air. While it does not imply to say that the 1 vs 1 air combat sorties were meant for backslapping each other, it may be understood that in today's aerial combat scenarios of 'beyond visual range' (BVR) capabilities of air platforms, it is highly unlikely that any of the modern-day fighters will ever get into a situation that warrants extreme close air combat, as in the situation simulated in the 1 vs 1 sorties. With a 'kill' criterion of front-gun ranges being mostly under 1000 metres and a visual tracking envelope behind the target for only up to a 60-degree cone mostly for most fighter aircraft of the world, the unlikely scenario gets more exemplified. But the irony also lies in the fact that while there is a number of counter and counter-counter measures to make the modern missiles with claims of inescapable parameters redundant by using 'chaff' and other active/passive measures, a 'gun kill' is invariably a most certain kill. The pilots invariably begin honing their tracking and combat skills under such close combat situations."

This is true. Even in the modern missile age, most air-to-air kills have remained within visual range. As such, performance within the parameters of this initial matchup still matters. At short missile ranges, both aircraft are equipped with canards for fast "slew and point" maneuvers, infared search & track systems, helmet-mounted sights, and ultra-maneuverable short-range infared missiles (ASRAAM, AA-11/R-73) with wide boresight seeker cones. This creates more forgiving parameters for a kill than the front gun range requirements; the SU-30MKI's superior maneuverability would have to contend with UK Typhoon flight profiles enabled by ASRAAM's longer range and lock-on after launch capability.

In longer-range combat situations, however, issues of detection and reach would also come into play. The Eurofighter is smaller, and is generally agreed to have more "shaping" than the SU-30 to reduce its radar profile (though neither aircraft is in the same class as the F-22A Raptor or even the less-stealthy F-35 Lightning II); and its Meteor ramjet BVRAAM missile is explicitly designed to kill from longer range than the Russian AA-12/R-77. Speed can compensate to some degree by reducing detection time and extending missile range, especially in "HVA busting" missions against tankers, AWACS aircraft, et. al. Unlike the American F-22A, however, the Typhoon's supercruise capability for sustained speed above Mach 1 apparently relies on the aircraft being "clean" (no external stores), while the SU-30 currently lacks that capability until and unless plans for an uprated engine come to fruition.

Exercise Indra Dhanush 2007 came to an end on July 12/07, reaching its crescendo with a 6 vs. 6 aerial combat involving 4 Indian Su-30 MKIs, 4 British F3 Tornado air defence variants, 2 British Typhoons, and 2 of the Royal Navy's GR9 Harriers. An Indian IL-78 MKI aerial tanker and a British E-3D Sentry AWACS aircraft were also in the air. No details were released regarding the results, but we're sure they made for very interesting debriefs.

Meanwhile, amidst the excitement of the aerial battles, the successful deployment of India's aircraft using IAF aerial refueling and logistics personnel might go unnoticed. From India's point of view, however, these developments may be even more important than the results of the fighter match-ups in the air. An MoD release notes that:

"When the Indian Air Force (IAF) Jaguars flew to Alaska during their first overseas joint air exercise "Cope Thunder" in July '04, the newly inducted Ilyushin-78 MKI 'air-to-air' refuellers of the IAF heralded their acquired strategic reach capability. This year, the six Su-30 MKIs that flew from Pune airbase in India to Royal Air Force (RAF) airbase at Waddington (UK), were also accompanied by two IL-78 MKIs of the 'Valorous MARS' (No. 78 Mid-Air-Refuelling Squadron) from Agra through their long ferry route. Despite the din and the excitement of the first-ever arrival of the formidable Su-30 MKIs at UK, the significant aspect of IAF's continued enhanced strategic reach capability, did not however go unnoticed.

The IL-78 MKIs [DID: a variant of Russia's IL-76 heavy transport aircraft] have been employed in five overseas assignment so far. These include Alaska, South Africa, France, Singapore and now UK," informed Group Captain K Raghavendra, Commanding Officer of the MARS. "We would have loved the experience of tanking RAF fighters during the exercise that would have made inter-operability possible. We look forward to such an experience in the future," he added on RAF Tornadoes not having tanked with them during the exercise.

The six IAF Su-30 MKI fighters will have flown nearly 19,000 kms each, tanked eight times and transferred nearly 225 tonnes of fuel mid-air in all, spread over 28 flying hours with stopovers enroute at Doha (Qatar) and Tanagra (Greece), both ways."

Once India receives its IL-76 derivative Russian-Israeli Phalcon AWACS aircraft, its ability to project power abroad will grow significantly; and the INS Vikramaditya carrier project will provide a further boost. Exercises like Indra Dhanush 2007 are valuable for the insights they provide – but they are also valuable for the trends they presage. The logistics and interoperability lessons learned by the IAF during this exercise are and indicator of, and a contributor to, some trends worth watching.

Monday, July 30, 2007

*FLASH* MoD Recommends Extention for BrahMos' Pillai

Good news for Dr A Sivathanu Pillai, CEO & MD of BrahMos Aerospace (also CC R&AD ACE & NS at DRDO HQ). After a meeting with DRDO chief M Natarajan at 11.30AM today, Defence Secretary Shekhar Dutt has overruled the DRDO's peer review committee which met on July 17 (see War at DRDO Bhavan ), which had unanimously recommended that Dr Pillai should not be given an extention. The Ministry's recommendation is that Dr Pillai stay on in both his current capacities and has sent its recommendation to the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC). Ministry sources say the duration of the extention will be decided by the ACC, which includes the Prime Minister, Defence Minister and Home Minister.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Su-30s Escort Air India's New 777-200

Just received these photographs of Air India's new Boeing 777-200 being escorted by IAF's SU-30 fighters at IGI Airport to mark IAF's & Air India's Platinum Jublee Year.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Fearless Tomahawk-type missile on radar

I had mentioned Project Nirbhay a couple of times before, but didn't get around to actually doing a post on it here, but Sujan Dutta, my colleague on the defence beat (The Telegraph) had this front-pager yesterday. The Nirbhay programme, incidentally was conceived initially as an Indo-Israeli drawing board experiment to demonstrate an intermediate-range cruise vehicle, but Israeli help, it was subsequently decided, would be dropped entirely. Now, Nirbhay is a fully Indian programme, with Israel playing a much smaller technical advisory role. The photo to the right is taken from a DRDO Project Nirbhay powerpoint presentation, though the missile in the picture definitely looks like a Tomahawk (the Nirbhay will of course be physically similar). Anyway, here's Project Nirbhay for you, and the article in full:

Fearless Tomahawk-type missile on radar


New Delhi, July 19: Indian defence scientists have taken up a new cruise missile development programme. The missile named Nirbhay (The Fearless) is in the same class as the US’s Tomahawk and will have a range that is 300km longer than Pakistan’s Babur.

Nirbhay is India’s seventh missile development project after the Agni series, the Prithvi series, Brahmos (in a joint venture with Russia), Akash, Trishul and Nag. The last three were part of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme founded by A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. Nirbhay is being developed alongside Astra, an air-to-air missile designed to hit targets beyond visual range.

A cruise missile can be guided to a target. A ballistic missile is fired at a pre-determined target. Nirbhay will carry onboard a terrain-identification system that will map its course and relay the information to its guidance and propulsion systems.

“Every modern military needs to have missile options. The requirement for Nirbhay was projected by all three armed forces to fill a gap in our missile programme,” Avinash Chander, the director of the Advanced Systems Laboratory, Hyderabad, who is in charge of the project, told The Telegraph in Delhi today. Nirbhay will be a terrain-hugging missile capable of avoiding detection by ground-based radar. It would have a range of 1,000km.

“We have Brahmos, which is a supersonic cruise missile and the need was felt for a subsonic cruise missile that will be capable of being launched from multiple platforms in land, air and sea,” Chander said.

In the schedule drawn up for Nirbhay, a technology demonstrator is slotted for early 2009. Chander said the design for the system is complete and “hardware preparations are on”. He said Nirbhay would weigh around 1,000kg and travel at 0.7 mach (nearly 840kmph) and would be capable of delivering 24 different types of warheads. The Pakistani subsonic cruise missile Babur (also called Hatf VII) has ranges of 500 to 700km. The US’s Tomahawk has many versions, the latest of which has ranges in excess of 1,500km.

India's Base at Ayni, Tajikistan

I did a half-hour show on the Ayni air base in West Tajikistan for Headlines Today last Sunday. The base will be declared ready for operations next month under a trilateral agreement between Tajikistan, Russia and India. Incidentally, the use of the base is classified, which is why both the Tajik and Indian governments deny that India's role is anything more than a developer of the base's runway. The slides you see here are taken from a classified presentation that the IAF was given late 2006, shortly before the base was completed. Here's the shortened text of the special report I did for the channel:

Once called the white elephant of Asia, India's strategic aspirations have now finally come of age. The country's first military base in a foreign country will be declared ready for use next month. Welcome to Ayni, Tajikistan, India's first military outpost in a foreign land. Bare minutes from Tajikistan's border with war-torn Afghanistan, the base gives India a footprint for the first time ever in the region's troubled history. But why here in alien and landlocked Tajikistan has India chosen to inaugurate the foreign military base it will have access to?

On the face of it, India's entry into Tajikistan is a diplomatic move to help develop the country and the region. But then again, no foreign policy venture is guided by selflessness. Over the years, the Ayni air base will allow India to respond rapidly to the entire spectrum of conventional and unconventional threats from the typically unstable Afghanistan-Pakistan arc, including events like the hijacking of flight IC-814. Even more significantly, it gives India a restricted but crucial ability to deliver special air and ground forces into conflict zones any time they are required. That apart, India definitely wants a piece of Central Asia's promising gas and energy reserves.

The government has asked for a formal and binding mandate from the Cabinet Committee on Security to conclude the agreement with Tajikistan next month. Once that happens, the Indian Army and Air Force will begin moving limited quanities of trainer aircraft and equipment to Tajikistan. The base is a legacy of the former NDA government, but will shortly be open to Indian use. And that may be a reason to feel patriotic, sure, because this is India emphatically saying that its interests lie well beyond its borders.

The Ayni base had an Indian Army hospital that was used extensively during the Afghanistan operations in 2002. Subsequently, Indian military engineers from the Border Roads Organisation have extended and relaid the runway and made it fighting fit for combat logistics and war-fighting operations, if ever the need arises.

The Russians have given India the option of sending a squadron of Mi-17 helicopters to Ayni, with a detachment of pilots and support personnel. With Russia and Uzbekistan just next door, logistics support has been assured. Russia has also offered to uild fighter maintenance infrastructure at Ayni with India. The option will be made available to India to base a squadron of MiG-29 fighters at the base, but this will not be in the near future, though the implications of this are huge -- Indian fighters can be scrambled at a moment's notice for operations anywhere in the area. With mid-air refuelling support promised by the Russians, their reach will be immense.

Copyright 2007 Headlines Today

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

F-35 Lightning II Presentation to IAF

After a first-level-of-detail presentation to the Navy in 2005 on the F-35C Lightning II, a top team from Lockheed-Martin gave the Indian Air Force a classified presentation on the F-35A Lightning II on Tuesday at Vayu Bhawan. The team, led by Tom Green (VP, Business Development), gave the IAF a preliminary introductory presentation on the capabilities, economics and opportunities for own systems integration on the F-35. A more detailed presentation is likely to be made later this year. The plug is of course something Lockheed-Martin has been pushing for a while now. If the Indian government chooses to buy 126 F-16s, it would lead them logically toward switching to the fifth generation F-35 in two decades (a little rich, if you ask me).

Either way, India will only be a buyer of the aircraft, with no participatory opportunities left. The only Level I partner in the $40 billion programme (other than, of course, the US) is the UK. Italy and Holland are Level II partners. Canada, Turkey, Australia, Norway and Denmark are Level III partners and Israel and Singapore are on board as security cooperative participants, where they commit in-principle to a certain purchase but make no investment in the development. The levels simply reflect the level of financial exposure each government has in the programme.

Either way, it makes little sense in terms of where the IAF is, and where it's headed. It looks like everyone's throwing something at the government and expecting it to make decision rapidly -- big mistake, because that just isn't the way the government works. And in this case, rightly so. Speaking of 5G, the government has the PAK-FA negotiations on with the Russians, the MCA with HAL/DRDO and, in time, a Mk-II of the LCA. Where in hell does the F-35 fit into all of that? Or does it.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Photos from Royal International Air Tattoo

IAF Team with "Spirit of Tattoo" Trophy

IAF Hawk on display

USAF F-117A Nighthawk on static display

Sunday, July 15, 2007

After Trenton, Navy's Eyes Now On USS Nashville

After procuring the USS Trenton (now INS Jalashva) The Indian Navy has expressed its interest in the USS Nashville as its second large amphibious warfare vessel. Director of the Pentagon's Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) Lt Gen Jeffrey B Kohler, said yesterday in Delhi, "The Indian Navy has expressed interest in the USS Nashville. Congress has not yet approved the ship for transfer (sale). That is likely to happen next year and we can then begin negotiations."

The Nashville (LPD-13), like its sister vessel the Trenton, is an Austin-class amphibious transport dock. The ship was commissioned into the US Navy on Valentines Day, 1970. The Indian Navy took charge of the Trenton on June 23, at Norfolk, Virginia.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Army Can Forget About New Towed Artillery

The government's decision to re-tender the towed artillery competition (450 guns) has come as a deep shock to the Army, notwithstanding indications from the government that it was the Army that had found the trials unsatisfactory and unsuccessful and recommended a re-tender. The Army has never asked for a re-tendered competition ever for any weapon system. Fresh rounds of trials have always been the recourse, but not a completely fresh competition. With the government's decision to re-tender, the purchase procedure for 400 guns to arm about five regiments gets pushed back by another three-four years. To put that in perspective, this competition began in February 2002.

Anyway, the Army's broad parameters for the guns were that they should be fully automated, easy and quick to deploy and re-deploy (gun-and-run capability), easy and quick to fire, armed with a fully automated sight and with an onboard ballistic computer for system accuracy and consistency.

After two rounds of trials in 2002 and 2003, the blackballing of South African firm Denel and the elimination of two other firms, the Soltam 155-mm ATHOS 2052 towed gun and the Bofors FH77 B05 L52 were downselected for the third round of trials in late 2004. The parameters that the two guns were tested under included mobility, firing range, firing accuracy and consistency, sustained fire and burst fire, maintenance tests and environmental tests. They were called back for an unprecedented fourth round of trials in 2006, this time the trials took place in November in Mahajan Field Firing Range (MFFR) and Leh.

I have personally seen the 2006 trial report (the MFFR part) and the 2004 trial report, and in both, the Bofors gun notched up better scores. The propaganda ran thick. What would happen if Bofors got the deal? Would a Congress-led government really be stupid enough to think that it can hand a defence deal to Bofors again? Who cares whether the selection process was fair or not? So what if the Bofors gun is technologically superior to the other competitors? These were questions that were doing the busy rounds last year.

Army chief General JJ Singh assured some of us reporters on the sidelines of a press conference about seven months ago that the artillery deal would shortly be concluded and that the last round of trials had been "conclusive". He didn't however say if there would be another round of trials. He was echoing what the Army's Directorate of Weapons & Equipment (DW&E) had reasonably concluded after four rounds of trials -- that while both guns had certain problems, the Bofors one was much simpler to iron out and came closest to set down staff requirements. The Army chief was apprised of this and was therefore clear that the Army's decision would be taken up by the government.

Obviously the government cannot now say that it has decided to call of the deal because of any other reason except the Army's dissatisfaction. Did the Army change its mind at the last minute? Possible, but highly unlikely. Maybe it's really not that complicated at all. Maybe it's just a sound government well aware that the Bofors scam of 1980s will never lose its vitality. Why give anyone another? Maybe the government simply told the Army that its findings were "unacceptable" and that things needed to be reworked.

What about the Israel factor? It's all a bit neat. Soltam has much to gain from the re-tendering, as it does the new healthy India-Israel dynamic. Will the new deal really be fair? Maybe the UPA government will be bundled out of office by the time the new tender is concluded. Maybe by that time it'll have to explain the the huge waste of the Army's time for nothing. Meanwhile, the Army can neatly fold the artillery rationalisation plan and put it away for "future reference".

Exercise Indradhanush Ends at Waddington

An IAF release just in: Curtains were finally drawn on the second bilateral Indo-UK air exercise - Indradhanush 2007, which concluded on a high note here at Royal Air Force (RAF) Waddington on Thursday.

The exercise that began with a series of 1vs1 sorties, reached its crescendo with a highly complex conceivable scenario - a 6vs6 aerial combat involving 4 x Su-30 MKIs, 4 x F3 Tornadoes, 2 x Typhoons and 2 x GR9 Sea Harriers of the Royal Navy. Also airborne were an IL-78 MKI air-to-air refueller and an E3D Sentry AWACS aircraft in the vicinity of the exercise.

Air Chief Marshal FH Major, Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Indian Air Force (IAF) who is on an official tour to UK currently, was present at RAF Waddington to see the exercise culminate and meet the participating IAF team members. Air Chief Marshal Sir Clive Loader, Commander-in-Chief (CinC) Air Command, RAF accompanied the CAS during the visit.

This was the first time that the IAF carried out an exercise anywhere in UK. It was also an exercise where the IAF Su-30 MKI's maiden arrival over the European sky was keenly awaited by thousands of aviation aficionados and spotters, who thronged the perimeter of the airbase unfailingly on a daily basis, all through the exercise duration. This was also an opportunity that provided social and cultural interaction between the two countries.

The visit by the IAF team also coincided with the Waddington International Air Show and the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at Fairford, within a span of two weeks. IAF participation at the two events were a coup of sorts for the organisers. Having been adjudged the 'best static display' at Waddington air show, expectations are already soaring high at the RIAT, the world's biggest air show.

The exercise wasn't about winners or losers, yet both sides ended on a winning note. "It was an excellent learning curve for our pilots who will go back with a lot of experience" said the Indian Air Chief. He also thanked the Government and the RAF in England for hosting the IAF. The RAF C-in-C termed the exercise as an 'outstanding success'.

Earlier, Station Commander RAF Leeming, Group Captain E Stringer while briefing the visiting CAS stated that the RAF had adopted a 'building-block' approach to meet future IAF training and coalition aspirations. "The exercise achieved all its aims and objectives" - he further stated. Summing up on the RAF experience he said that a major outcome of the exercise was the appreciation of the fact that the two Air Forces actually "see the world through similar eyes", and that there were many "commonalities" in the tactical procedures of the two air forces, thereby laying a foundation for further RAF-IAF interactions.

Photos Copyright Indian Air Force

Monday, July 09, 2007

"Goodbye Canberra!" by Anandeep Pannu

It is my privilege that Anandeep Pannu has made his first exclusive contribution to LiveFist. Pannu and BR's PVS Jaganmohan are currently writing a full book on the English Electric Canberra. I asked Anandeep if he'd send me a piece taking from what he's researching. Here it is:

The English Electric Canberra is Gone
by Anandeep Pannu

The B.Ae/English Electric Canberra is now out of service with the Indian Air Force. The Indian Air Force was the last Air Force in the world to fly the Canberra. The IAF was also the largest operator of the EE Canberra with close to a 100 aircraft (not counting the license built Martin Canberra of the USA) aside from the Royal Air Force.

The RAF only saw action with Canberra in one major conflict, the 1956 Suez crisis and in one minor one, the Malayan "Emergency". The IAF saw service in 2 major conflicts (the 1965 and 1971 Indo Pak war) and in three relatively minor conflicts the 1961 Goan conflict, the 1962 Chinese war and the 1999 Kargil conflict.

That of course is an undeniable record on paper - but in my opinion the Canberra had an impact on the "psyche" of the IAF that was larger even than the paper record. I will try to explain what that impact was in the next few paragraphs.

It was the first aircraft that symbolized the new approach that India as a nation took. Getting an offensive weapon, especially a jet bomber in the 1950s signified that India was going on the offensive and not just defending itself. The Liberator squadrons served as the initial backbone of the "bomber" force - but they were rendered quickly obsolete by the advent of jet fighters. The Canberra remained a real threat to our enemies, notwithstanding improved air defenses, for a couple of decades after it was acquired.

The Canberra also allowed some of the senior pilots of the IAF who were too senior to transition to the new swept wing jets (Mystere, Hunter and Gnat) a chance to bring their vast straight wing Spitfire, Tempest, Vampire and Toofani experience to Canberra units. These pilots included people like Nath and Walter Marshall who got gallantry awards and participated in two wars. They were able to be effective combat pilots for an extra tour of duty or two. They retained their edge to the benefit of the IAF and were able to pass their skill and attitude on to younger aircrew in a squadron setting.

However I think that the most important role that the Canberra was able to play was as an aircraft that allowed "social mobility" to aircrew. There is a very definite caste system in the IAF, the fighter or "combat" pilots ruling the roost. Serving on the Canberra allowed multi-engine pilots and navigators to be "combatants". Instead of being just in support roles, these people found themselves on equal footing with the\nmore glamorous fighter pilots in combat. For instance, Air Marshal PP Singh won the Maha Vir Chakra for Canberra combat operations in 1965. It must have been a sweet victory since he acted as a target for fighter pilots flying the slow and plodding Dakota, before being assigned as a Canberra pilot.

Flying at night was not something routinely practiced by fighter or fighter-bomber aircrew before the Canberra was introduced. The Vampires, Toofani - even the Toofanis and Hunters were not equipped for effective night combat. The Canberra's primary operations were at night, leading the IAF to gain experience in operating at night. The Canberra had a large role in making the IAF a truly "all weather" combat force.

The Canberra was the only multi-crew combat aircraft from the time it was introduced to the time the SU-30 was introduced in the 21st century. The IAF had started on the Wapiti and had operated the Hart and Vengeance with "gunners" and later with "observers" . The Canberra had a navigator who in most IAF Canberra marks also doubled as the bomb aimer. The navigator had a large, some say the primary, role in making the Canberra combat effective. This was not something that the fighter dominated culture of the IAF had experience with! Despite this experience with navigators as weapon systems operators - the SU-30 initially had two pilots operating it. I am not sure whether this has worked , but most Air Forces have not succeeded in having two fighter pilots function effectively in the same aircraft together. That is probably the reason why WSO's are being used in the Su-30 recently. Canberra aircrew would say, "I told you so".

I will close with Wg Cdr Walter Marshall's words, because I don't think I can even come close!
"With a fighter aircraft canopy & left hand throttles, she was really a big,big Fighter Bomber. With 4x 20mm Cannon & a rock steady dive, you could tear a target to pieces with one burst. The Canberra was fun in all its roles which I had the good fortune to experience. High Altitude Blue Study Bombing 'a la' Cat & Mouse", Level Bombing Stick & Salvo 1000lbs. Flare Dropping Live, Dive Bombing & Front Gun, and last but not the least Mine laying 2x4000 mines both day & night. The only thing missing perhaps was R/P's though later I believe this was also added to it role or capability."

Photo Copyright 2007 Shiv Aroor

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The War at DRDO Bhavan

Considering the requests that emerged in the comments section of the teaser post to this one, I'm going to keep this one really short. Wasn't planning on a long editorial (I'll save that for the comments section!) so here are the facts. The phrase "bullet points" would be most appropriate in the circumstances, but I think I'll just go with it like I normally do.

Dr A Sivathanu Pillai (in photo on right), the very visible CEO/MD of BrahMos Aerospace, also Distinguished Scientist and Chief Controller R&D at DRDO Headquarters, retires on July 31. As a Distinguished Scientist in the middle of important programme(s), Pillai would in normal course be given the traditional two year extension before he retires. For the record, Pillai turns 60 on July 15.

The procedure is fairly straightforward and has reasonably been passed on to leagues of Distinguished Scientists at DRDO over the years. The procedure begins with DRDO chief and the Defence Minister's Scientific Advisor, Manthiram Natarajan, who initiates a file with a recommendation and forwards it with comments to the Defence Minister's office. The file hasn't been moved. Multiple senior colleagues of both within DRDO confirm in private that Natarajan has long been known to be vehemently against recommending Pillai's name for a two-year extension, something that was considered a virtual given considering the very real achievements that Pillai and his team were perceived to have delivered by the government.

In an unprecedented move, the Defence Minister's office recently raised a question. In a noting sent by AK Antony himself (with inputs by the Defence Secretary), Natarajan has been asked why Pillai has not been recommended for an extension, as would be the normal practice in the circumstances. Caught on the wrong foot, Natarajan has called for a peer review committee to convene on July 17 to look into the matter. In what supporters of Pillai within DRDO think is preposterous, Natarajan has invited his predecessor Dr Vasudev K Aatre to be part of the peer review as a special member. Pillai's supporters insist that this is a very considered move considering that Aatre, like Natarajan is known to deeply dislike "Kalam's missile boys".

Speak to anyone at DRDO Bhavan now, and there's a palpable sense of embarassment. Those who support Natarajan's move insist that tenure extensions would discourage growth and freshness in leadership, though this doesn't explain recommendations for two-year extensions for other Distinguished Scientists. BrahMos officials reveal that their boss has spent a very tense few months shuttling between getting things going for the air and submarine-launched versions of the weapon system, and thinking about the possible end of his own career at DRDO this month.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

IAF-RAF Exercise Indradhanush 2007 Kicks Off (UPDATED!)

Just received this release from Waddington (check out the superb photo of an Rhino sqn Su-30MKI with an RAF Tornado and Typhoon!): The second bilateral Indo-UK air exercise - 'Indradhanush-2007', involving the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Royal Air Force (RAF), got underway here at the Royal Air Force (RAF) base, Waddington, on Monday.

The inaugural day, primarily for familiarization of the participating IAF Su-30 MKI aircrew with the flying environment in UK, saw them flying alongside RAF F3 Tornadoes of the XXV Squadron that are based at RAF Leeming, but are operating from Waddington alongside IAF Su-30 MKIs for the duration of the exercise. Also airborne were a Eurofighter Typhoon from No. 17 Squadron from RAF Conningsby, and a Hawk aircraft.

"It will be a mutual learning experience for both", said Wing Commander AK Bharti, talking of the learning values in terms of inter-operability between the two air forces after returning from a sortie, of a four-aircraft formation comprising a Su-30 MKI, F3 Tornado, Typhoon and a Hawk.

The 'airborne warning and control' (AWAC) system experience, a veritable electronic 'eye-in-the-sky' platform was also observed by few IAF personnel onboard an E3-D Sentry AWAC aircraft belonging to RAF's No. 8 Fighter Squadron, based here in Waddington. The E3-D Sentry and the F3 Tornadoes also participated in the first series of Exercise Indradhanush-2006, held at Gwalior in India, last year.

The exercise between two simulated air elements, the "Red Air" (aggressors) and the "Blue Air" (defenders) forces will have the training element for the latter. Missions comprising multiple aircraft will form some of the intrinsic training missions, some of them highly advanced and complex missions. Mediating between the two will be the "White" force, who remain neutral and whose decisions will be the last word, to mitigate differences, if any. They comprise 'observers' from both sides, and include members from the IAF's 'Tactics and Combat Development Establishment' (TACDE) and the RAF's 'Air Warfare Centre' (AWC), the premiere institutions of the two air forces, constituting the 'best-amongst-the-best' aircrew and personnel on both sides.

7 July 2007
RAF Eurofighter Typhoons and IAF Su-30MKIs match up in the air for the first time!

Much was at stake of its reputation, when for the first-time-ever, the Royal Air Force's (RAF) Eurofighter Typhoon, developed by a consortium of European manufacturers and recently inducted into the RAF, was to engage in any kind of an aerial combat with any non-RAF/NATO fighter. The Indian Air Force's (IAF) Sukhoi-30 MKI 'air superiority fighter', which are at Waddington, UK for the bilateral air 'Exercise Indradhanush-2007', had an opponent for the befitting duel.

The operational part of the 'Exercise Indradhanush-2007' began with a series of 1 vs 1 air combat sorties. Both variants landed with their much-touted reputations intact as each side tested their potentials with their adversary in the air to their limits. These sorties were premised not entirely on having winners or losers – but more for their evaluator and training values as encapsulated in the objectives. Both sides ended-up sharing an enhanced respect for each other's capabilities – both in terms of training values, and combat potentials of the diverse aerial platforms.

While the RAF fielded some of their most-experienced and highly-qualified pilots, some of them being very senior performance evaluators in active service, the IAF pilots were a mix of 'young to middle-level pilots' from the 'Rhinos' squadron. The RAF pilots were candid in their admission of the Su-30 MKI's observed superior manouevring in the air, just as they had studied, prepared and anticipated. The IAF pilots on their part were also visibly impressed by the Typhoon's agility in the air.

While it does not imply to say that the 1 vs 1 air combat sorties were meant for backslapping each other, it may be understood that in today's aerial combat scenarios of 'beyond visual range' (BVR) capabilities of air platforms, it is highly unlikely that any of the modern-day fighters will ever get into a situation that warrants extreme close air combat, as in the situation simulated in the 1 vs 1 sorties. With a 'kill' criterion of front-gun ranges being mostly under 1000 metres and a visual tracking envelope behind the target for only up to a 60-degree cone mostly for most fighter aircraft of the world, the unlikely scenario gets more exemplified.

But the irony also lies in the fact that while there is a number of counter and counter-counter measures to make the modern missiles with claims of inescapable parameters redundant by using 'chaff' and other active/passive measures, a 'gun kill' is invariably a most certain kill. The pilots invariably begin honing their tracking and combat skills under such close combat situations.

The exercise that nearly runs into midway by the weekend constitutes mostly mixed missions where RAF F3 Tornados, Hawks and Typhoons are packed together with IAF Su-30 MKIs. The sorties include combat situations of 2 vs 1, 2 vs 2 and upward combinations. The raiders are tasked 'High Value Asset' (HVA) busting on the ground and 'High Value Airborne Asset' (HVAA) busting in the air with the defensive elements designated to counter their ambitions.

Photos Copyright Indian Air Force

Tomorrow: Fight At The Top

Tomorrow, an exclusive LiveFist report on the ugly battle of professional egos at the top echelons of DRDO.

Monday, July 02, 2007

*FLASH* Army to Take All 14 MBT Arjun Tanks for Trial By September End

An official announcement from the Defence Ministry: The Indian Army today agreed to take all the 14 Main Battle Tanks (MBT) Arjun for trial by September 30, 2007. The decision was taken after successful demonstration of all modifications including medium fording ( i.e. going underwater) to the Defence Minister Shri AK Antony and other senior officials from the Ministry of Defence including the Secretary Defence Production Shri KP Singh and senior Army officials. Shri Antony who was on a day's visit to the Combat Vehicle Research and Development Establishment (CVRDE) and the Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) at Avadi, was apprised of the various capabilities of MBT Arjun Tank. He was shown the various production capabilities at HVF. The Defence Minister congratulated all the stake holders for jointly solving the problems relating to the tank to the satisfaction of the Armed Forces.