Saturday, October 27, 2007

LCA Weaponisation? Duh!

It just occured to me that the Ministry of Defence may be going slightly overboard with publicity for its defence development programmes. It took me only a second to copy and paste the day before's press release on the LCA Tejas successfully firing its first air-to-air missile (see previous post below). Read the press release carefully. It's positively shouting from the roof about something that should be routine for fighter development -- and not some impossibly glorious moment. If anything, it's a quietly supreme moment for its makers and creators. But to project this on the outside just makes us look stupid.

It's definitely significant, but making such a big deal about the "beginning of weaponisation" is a little rich -- it should have happened at least three years ago for starters. Second, the thing had darn well fire missiles by now if it's going to be scrubbed up for squadron service in a handful of years (with LSP units to be handed over by late 2008 or early 2009)! On the journey to self-reliance, let's get a little real about image while we're about it.

I bumped into HAL chairman Ashok Baweja at the CII Indian Aerospace Industry and was chatting with him round about the time that the Tejas in question was probably firing off its glorious R-60 off Goa. It was a very "LCA" day, because after lunch, I was accosted by Vice Admiral (retd) Raman Puri and given a twenty-minute tongue-lashing on the Tejas and how the wrong people were being blamed for its messy, prolonged incubation journey.

But there are hard questions about the Tejas that nobody asks -- the sort that make Admiral Puri scoff. Those who do ask such questions are national traitors without a shred of respect. Those who don't are happy allowing both HAL and DRDO to blame the air force, assuming no measure of the blame. This is something that must end. Sure, sanctions, mid-stream changes, and all the rest of it -- but are we positively sure that all the money we've spent on the Tejas will deliver a first-rate fighter at the end of it. More importantly, when will the IAF be in a position to judge? HAL has had an embarassing run with the radar now to be virtually outsourced to Israel for the first twenty fighters. The less said about that blackhole of cash called Kaveri, the better. The patriotism of patience wears thin.

So talk of the Tejas being considered for the MRCA contract (this was a real debate at the MoD level) are not only half-baked, but positively idiotic.

After the recent Arjun MBT special report I did recently, I received an SMS from a senior DRDO scientist which said, "Celebrate successes. Our country will become strong." I couldn't agree more with this statement. But let's get real about the Tejas. Let's cut out the hogwash, and get real. We're spending way too much cold cash on imported fighters for us to no longer have our own production line of our own fighter.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Tejas Fires Air-to-Air Missile

Just received this from the MoD: The Light Combat Aircraft ‘TEJAS’ program achieved the most significant milestone yet when it successfully test fired the Close Combat Missile R-73 today at the air to air range off Goa coast. The historic event marks the beginning of weaponisation, which is the focus of the current initial operational clearance (IOC) phase of the program. Air to Air missile integration and testing especially on a fly by wire aircraft is a very complex task involving interfaces with aerodynamics, engine air intake, control laws, flight control system, avionics system, electrical and other general system of aircraft. Today’s successful test firing is the culmination of preparatory work under the guidance of Mr. JJ Jadhav, DPD (Weapon Systems) and Mr. Balasubramanyam, AGM (HAL). Accordingly the main objectives of test firing were to validate:

* Safe separation of the missile from the parent aircraft
* Effect of missile plume on engine air-intake
* Functionality of store management system (SMS) including safety interlocks
* Effect of missile plume on composites structures
* Handling quality assessment during missile launch

The historic flight was done on Tejas prototype vehicle PV-1, piloted by the Chief Test Pilot of the National Flight Test Centre ADA, Gp Capt. N. Harish. The test firing was done at 7 km altitude and 0.6 Mach. The flight test was conducted from the mobile telemetry vehicle where all the aircraft, systems and weapon data were closely monitored. Quick analysis of the data revealed that it was a ‘text book’ launch where the systems performance matched the predictions well. The event has proven the capability of the composite team comprising of designers, production agency, certification agency and Flight Test and the user agency (IAF) to integrate and flight test an advanced missile on an advanced fighter aircraft Tejas.

INS Hansa of Indian Navy provided all support for this important flight trial. Photo chase aircraft Sea Harrier was flown by Capt. Yatish Saxena and Cdr. Dalip Singh. The successful missile firing was witnessed by Chief Controller (R&D) Dr. D. Banerjee, Programme Director ADA Mr. P. S. Subramaniam and Director LCA (IAF) AVM B. C. Nanjapa.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Farce Generation Fighter Aircraft

It's been known for a long while now that the PAK-FA, Russia's fifth generation fighter programme, is well off the drawing board. In fact, I was in Moscow when United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) chief Alexey Fedorov announced that the programme's design phase had been passed and approved, and that certain fabrication would shortly begin. This in itself should have set the alarm bells ringing. Reason – the Indian government and air force have been vigorously insistent – reasonably so – that they be part of the design phase. As it happens, this was not to be. It emerges that a dossier of baseline QRs was forwarded to the Russians in late 2006, but these were returned as the design phase was already frozen.

And now, there are statements from the Russians – forget for a minute the rhetoric emerging from the Indian Defence Minister about "new heights in defence relations" – that the PAK-FA will be "jointly modified" for the Indian Air Force. Cool. Really simple question in that case – isn't "joint modification" precisely what happens when India "buys" fighters. Isn't modification what happened with the Sukhoi-30s? Isn't modification what will happen with 126 MMRCAs? What in hell place does "joint modification" have in a joint venture programme that's likely to cost India $5 billion? Zip. Zero. Nada. As usual, we're being had.

This takes nothing from the fact that the PAK-FA (if it's ready by 2015 as promised), could be a fantastic machine. Let's not forget that IAF alterations – even if they're under the "joint modification" plan – will mean an excellent plane by any means. We've been through the technology and all the rest of it that should ostensibly under the FGFA's hood, but what about the money, the credibility.

Ironically, instead of re-emphasising trust and credibility while India ponders about Washington's word of assurance, Russia has categorically reneged on contracts, accentuated its reputation for non-reliability and put itself across not just as a newly capitalist nation, but a ferociously unfeeling state dismissive of the past. The recent past does not augur well – our Ilyushin-38 upgrade programme is stuck in Russia. There are problems with the three follow-on Talwar class frigates regarding weapons configuration and price escalation. The Gorshkov mess we're all aware of. And most recently, India bowing to Russia's demand for a 5 per cent cost escalation on the enormous Flanker deal signed in the late 1990s. This last deal was one built on political good faith – India didn't need these fighters at the time. It was a political favour to Moscow, still reeling from the aftershock of shutting down Red Russia. The vicious commercialization of relations has caught India off guard – New Delhi remains in a dream world of the past. Hilariously, Russia has voiced problems about investing India's debt to Moscow as India's share of the FGFA investment. Sorry, but I can't think of a single reason why this should be so. A political leash for the future?

Russia has changed. Big time. And it's time the country sat up and took notice. While India was sitting in a corner wondering about whether to engage the US – was it trustworthy enough? – Russia sulked, instead of seizing the day and re-establishing trust, faith and credibility. Now, it's just like another Washington. How ironic is that. And what of the MCA?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Indo-Russian 5th Generation Fighter Agreement Signed

Just received this press release from the Indian delegation in Russia (unaltered): India and Russia today signed a landmark Intergovernmental Agreement for the joint development and joint production of the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) marking the beginning of cooperation in the development of state of the art new technology major weapon systems. The agreement was signed by the Secretary Defence Production Mr KP Singh and Deputy Director of the Federal Service for Foreign Military Cooperation Mr. Vyacheslav Dzirkaln in the presence of the Defence Minister Mr. AK Antony and his Russian counterpart Mr. Anatoly Serdyukov here today. The watershed agreement was signed at the conclusion of the Seventh Meeting of the India- Russia Intergovernmental Commission for Military and Technical Cooperation. Mr Antony and Mr Serdyukov also signed a Protocol, which envisages a 'new strategic relationship' based on greater interaction at various operational levels.

Speaking to reporters shortly after the signing ceremony, Mr Antony said the two countries have agreed to strengthen and expand relations in all areas especially in the areas of joint exercises and greater cooperation in the field of Research and Development. 'Now the frequency and level of exercises will be higher', Mr. Antony said. He said talks   ith Russia have started to extend the Military Cooperation Agreement beyond 2010.
 
The Defence Minister described the Agreement on FGFA as a 'major landmark' and said that the Indo-Russian Relationship is on a trajectory to reach new heights. He hoped that the two countries will soon sign an Intergovernmental Agreement on co-development and co-production of Multi-Role Transport Aircraft. Mr. Antony expressed satisfaction at the outcome of discussions on other important projects e.g., supply and licensed production of T-90 tanks, SU-30 MKI aircraft and other strategic issues. He admitted that there has been a delay in the delivery of the repair and refurbishment of aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov alongwith supply of deck-based fighter aircraft MiG-29-K and said it was decided that some more studies by technical groups would be done to go through the details. He appreciated the efforts made by the Russian side to resolve issues relating to life cycle support of equipment of Russian origin.

On the question of Integrity Pact, he said, 'the objective is neither to create problems for anybody nor to favour anybody. What India wants is transparency in all defence purchases. In the past, there have been a lot of controversies. We want to avoid it. We want speedy modernisation but with transparency. Integrity Pact is one of the safeguards for transparency'.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

ALH Naval variant in trouble?

Is the Navy having problems with the ALH Dhruv? Well, I bumped into a senior serving Naval officer recently at a party, and he assured me that the Navy had "cut" its order for the Dhruv by a "sizeable" number because "HAL had failed to adequately address vibration issues". He said that while the Army and IAF variants had proved extremely satisfactory, the Naval version was still afflicted by vibration problems especially since the choppers were flown at a much lower altitude.

As it stands, the current order book for the ALH looks like this: 159 new Dhruvs on order, out of which 104 are for the Army and 55 for the IAF. I sent a brief questionnaire to HAL asking them about what the Commodore had suggested. The replies don't answer all of my questions, but here's what I asked them, and what they had to say. Inputs on this from readers or those in the know would be very welcome. It would be very sad if something like this actually hampered the ALH programme – it's had its fair share of bad luck with the hard-landings and the crash earlier this year.

Q. How many ALHs have been manufactured so far? Give me the break-up of how many have gone to Army/Air Force/Navy/CG. The current order for 159 choppers is 104 for Army and 55 for IAF. Is that correct? Does this mean that the Navy's order is complete? What was/is the Navy's total order for ALH Naval variant? Has this been reduced in any way?

HAL's answer: As of end March 2007, HAL has produced around 70 ALH for the Indian defence services. More number of ALH for the Indian defence services are in the pipeline. The exact number of aircraft delivered to the Defence Customers is a classified document. Hence, it is not advisable to mention the number of helicopters on order and the delivery status. Supply of ALH utility variant to Navy with conventional cockpit has been completed. Supply of helicopters in glass cockpit configuration will be taken up in 2008-09.

Q. Give us specific details about the vibration issues of the ALH Navy variant, which have apparently been sorted out.

HAL's answer:
Vibration reduction on ALH was initially proposed to be achieved by passive ARIS (Anti-Resonance Isolation System). The ARIS units interposed between the rotor and the fuselage isolate vibrations arising from the rotor. ARIS is a passive system which can be tuned for a desired speed band. HAL has carried out extensive tests and analysis to carry out fine tuning of ARIS to achieve optimum reduction in vibrations.

Stiffening of fuselage has been carried out to reduce vibrations and to remove visual cues in the cockpit. Retro-modification for stiffening of fuselage has been completed on all the helicopters delivered. New production has been taken up with the stiffened fuselage in the series production. Acceptable level of vibration has been achieved for Ops roles with fine-tuned ARIS and fuselage stiffening.

Further reduction in vibration is planned through Frahm dampers (mechanical spring-mass system tuned to a dominant excitation frequency) are mounted at specific areas where vibration reduction is required. These are effective over a wider speed range. Frahm dampers will be introduced based on the specific requirement of the customers.

Active Vibration Control System is also being introduced in the transmission deck area to achieve further reduction in vibration.

Copyright Arun Vishwakarma via Bharat Rakshak

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Back in a bit..

Hey, everyone... Been down with a nasty throat/lung infection. Back here soon. Meanwhile, I just received mail tat someone's uploaded my Arjun MBT show on youtube! So if you've missed it on TV and are inclined in any way to watch it, here's your chance. See you all soon.

Friday, October 05, 2007

What Now, Arjun?

The one thing I took away from my visit to the Combat Vehicles R&D Establishment (CVRDE) and the Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) is that there is a deep recognition of the past. Not an overt effort to correct perceptions – correct and wrong – but definitely one to persuade that the past is just that – the past.

While I was at Avadi, nine production series Arjun tanks were being modified to withstand medium fording without a drop of water ingress – the global acceptability standard is 2L of water ingress, I’m told. The nine tanks were being repainted and will soon be road-transported to Bikaner where they will join the other five tanks. These fifteen tanks will be put through “accelerated usage cum reliability trials” by the 43rd Armoured Regiment at the Mahajan Field Firing Range (MFFR) later this month or early next month.

For the CVRDE and HVF, these trials – which come after comparitive trials against T-90 and T-72 were axed at the last minute – are being seen as do or die for the programme beyond the 124 unit indent that the Army has placed. I can tell you – considering the luck that the Arjun has had thus far as far as performance during trials is concerned (a lethal mix of ill-timed technical glitches and a healthy dose of bad luck), sleepless nights best describes the atmosphere at Avadi. The MBT Arjun complex, a very impressive production facility with no expense spared, hinges on the continuity of orders that the Army will only begin thinking about after 124 tanks are inducted and in use.

As Ajai Shukla rightly said after his visit to facility recently, for all that the past has thrown up – truly enough – the present is a different picture. If all accounts are to be believed, the Arjun has well and truly turned the corner. But here’s the clincher – will the Army feel the same? Surely the Army can’t be called upon to induct something that doesn’t suit its requirements just because it’s an indigenous effort. But that’s precisely the point – scientists at Avadi are sure – absolutely positive as a matter of fact – that all problems with MBT Arjun have been, finally, ironed out. Whether it was temperature settings or leakages in the hydro-pneumatic suspension assemblies, or glitches in the laser range finder or the tracks: they’ve all, apparently, been sorted out. I say “apparently” only because no matter how well the Arjun performs within the confines of a controlled test facility, what finally matters is whether things will go smoothly during the very rigorous upcoming set of trials outside Bikaner. Will the Arjun be blessed like it never has before?I drove the Arjun (No.24) for a little under two hours at the little test range near the HVF. To be honest, I don’t know very much about tanks – and therefore learnt a great deal during the two days that I was there. The driving part was purely a joy ride, I have to admit, though it was a supreme experience. I couldn’t deny the passion that everyone associated with the programme now has on hold while the trials begin.

The one comfort in all of this – if the Arjun’s time has come, we will know very, very soon.

Arjun Re-Loaded!

Watch Arjun Re-loaded today (Friday) at 8.00PM, on Headlines Today on my visit to the CVRDE and HVF Arjun complex, including a two hour drive in the tank.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Ex-Tank to formally offered to Army soon

The CVRDE's Experimental Tank (Ex-Tank) is undergoing some final touch-ups and will be formally offered to the Army in the next two months. Featuring the automotive system of the Combat-improved T-72 mated with the MBT Arjun gun turret, the CVRDE will be hoping that the Army is convinced by a proposition that suggests matching the "typical advantages of small size, low weight and affordability with performance matching the leading MBTs of the world".

Ex-Tank, the brainchild of DRDO chief M Natarajan, is well-known to the Army, though the latter has stopped short of making any serious "take-note" noises or commitments to the programme. The CVRDE therefore wants to be absolutely sure about the product before it's offered to the Army. Officials at CVRDE told me that the Ex-Tank was likely to be an immediate success because DRDO had learnt what not to do from the Arjun programme, and how to move things along quicker. The stringence of the Army's armour GSQRs have apparently helped the lab immensely they say with the Ex-Tank. On the flip-side, there are those even within CVRDE who do not believe that the Ex-Tank is a viable proposition, and that DRDO leadership is being "stubborn" by pushing it through as a possible replacement to the T-72s. And then of course, there's the Army's GSQR 2020, which envisages an almost ethereally capable tank, though the CVRDE is sure of itself.

According to the brochure I was given at CVRDE, here's what the Ex-Tank's salient features are:
  • Improved light weight KANCHAN armour with optimised thickness to give better protection to the frontal arc
  • 120mm Arjun rifled gun firing FSAPDS and HESH ammo
  • Fixed type semi-combustible cartridge case ammo
  • Integrated FCS based on stabilised sighting system to engage moving targets from moving tank
  • Reduced reaction time and increasing first round hit probability
  • TI integrated GMS for NF capability
  • Fully stabilised independent Commander's Panoramic Sight for surveillance, acquisition and target engagement
  • Standby Gunner's articulated sight as backup for GMS
  • Ergonomically designed crew station for better fighting capability
  • Double pin steel track with detachable rubber pad for enhanced tractive effort
  • Ordnance design allows replacement of gun barrel without dismantling the turret
  • 18 ready rounds located in turret
  • Fully integrated collective NBC system to offer freedom of operation in contaminated environment
  • 4.5 kW auxiliary power unit fo silent watch mode and battery charging
  • Global Positioning System for accurate navigation

Specifications:

Crew
: 4 Combat weight: 47 tons Power to Weight ratio: 15.65 kW/ton Ground pressure: 0.09 N/sq mm Suspension type: Torsion bar with hydro-gas struts Length: 9.19m Width: 3.37m Height: 2.24m Ground clearance: 0.47m Max speed: On road: 60 km/h Cross country: 40 km/h Gradability: 30° Trench crossing: 2.6m Vertical Obstacle Climbing: 0.85m Shallow fording: 1.2m Gun: 120mm rifled Depression and Elevation: -10° to + 17.5° Ammunition: 32 rounds (FSAPDS & HESH) Rate of Fire: 6-8 rounds per minute Co-Axial Machine Gun: 7.62mm Anti-aircraft Machine Gun: 12.7mm FCS: Director type Gun Control System: Electro-Hydraulic Ballistic Computer: Digital

Photograph ©Bharat Rakshak

Flankers over Bareilly

Photos just in from the air force. Su-30 aircraft practising for the 75th anniversary celebrations at Air Force Station Bareilly on Septemeber 29.