Monday, November 19, 2007

Govt admits to Gorshkov nonsense

The government has finally come on the record about the INS Vikramaditya (formerly Admiral Gorshkov) refurbishment programme at the Sevmash shipyard in North-Western Russia. A short, terse statement was provided by the Defence Minister to Parliament today. Here it is:

"The overall progress of repair and re-equipping of the ship, ex-Admiral Gorshkov, in Russia is slow. The Russian side has submitted a revised Master Schedule indicating a delay in the project. The Russian side has attributed the delays to "Growth of Work". In order to supervise the project for repair and re-equipping of the aircraft carrier Vikramaditya (earlier called Admiral Gorshkov), an apex level committee under Defence Secretary and a Steering Committee under a Vice Admiral have been set up. A team has also been stationed at the shipyard where the repair and re-equipping work is going on. From time to time, teams comprising senior officers are also sent to monitor progress of the project. The matters are also taken up between the two countries at appropriate level."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

From Nandigram with blood..

Not that I'm trying to bring Nandigram onto this blog, but Mail Today, the new newspaper from the Indian Today Group was launched yesterday, and the first edition had a report by me from Nandigram. This is it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Back from Nandigram

Sorry for no posts for a few days. I'm in Kolkata -- spent the last few days covering the stuff happening in Nandigram. Back in Delhi in a day or two, so posts continue then. It's been a life-changing few days in rural Bengal, I'll tell you that. Peace.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Exclusive Photos of Hawk Taking Off

Here are a few exclusive photos of the Hawk taking off for India. Here's the official route that the first pair will be taking: Warton (UK) - Toulouse (France) - Malta (Mediterranean) - Iraklion (Crete, Greece) - Sharm El Sheikh (Egypt) - Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) - Jamnagar - Bidar.

Hawks Head Home

Just received this press release and awesome photo from BAe Systems:

The first two Hawk advanced jet trainers destined to train the next generation of Indian Air Force (IAF) fast jet pilots have departed from the UK to their new home at AFS Bidar in India.

The two jets are the first of 66 Hawk aircraft to be delivered to the IAF as of part of a total training package required to meet their fast jet pilot training needs. The programme includes 24 aircraft being built in the UK by BAE Systems and 42 aircraft being manufactured under licence in India by Bangalore's Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

A senior Indian Air Force official said: "The induction of the Hawk aircraft marks the fulfilment of a long pending requirement in the Indian Air Force for an Advanced Jet Trainer. The Hawk aircraft, with a proven design and advanced avionics, would bridge the gap between the performance spectrum of the Intermediate trainer and front line fighter aircraft which trainee pilots would finally fly in operational squadrons. As a dedicated trainer, the aircraft would greatly enhance flight safety and have a beneficial impact on the quality of training being imparted to fighter pilots."

Mark Parkinson, Managing Director Training Solutions at BAE Systems said: "This is a proud day for everyone involved on the Indian Hawk programme. Delivering the first Indian Hawks, on time and budget, marks a significant milestone on the project. We are also particularly pleased to be delivering these exciting new aircraft to the IAF in their 75th Anniversary Year."

Since the contract was signed in March 2004, the Indian Hawk programme has moved at a tremendous pace. Over the past three years, in addition to manufacturing the IAF Hawks, BAE Systems, in partnership with the RAF, has delivered a training programme that will see on its completion, over 75 IAF pilots trained on the current RAF Hawk fleet at RAF Valley. Many of those who have completed the course have returned to India and gone directly onto the IAF's most sophisticated frontline aircraft – a testament to the skill of the pilots and the training they received during their time at RAF Valley.

In addition, a number of the Hawks that will be supplied to the IAF have also been used to train around 100 IAF engineering officers and technicians in BAE Systems' Technical Training Academy at Warton who will support the aircraft when it enters service.

Mark Parkinson continued: "We have also completed conversion training of experienced IAF Flying Instructors to become instructor pilots on the Indian Hawk – these instructors are returning to India to train the Indian Air Force's next generation of frontline pilots.

"The delivery of these first aircraft is a major milestone on this contract which sees BAE Systems deliver a total training solution geared to the specific requirements of the Indian Air Force. The successful delivery of this programme, on schedule, is a prime example of BAE Systems' capabilities in developing and managing major programmes. "

The two IAF Hawks will arrive in India after a number of days and refuelling stops. The process of ferrying the aircraft will continue over the coming months until all UK built aircraft are delivered.

[END OF PRESS RELEASE]

I hear the Hawks will touch down in Bidar on Monday morning, weather permitting.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Crashed IJT to fly again in 2-3 months

Well this actually started off with something that was posted on BR a few days ago, and pointed to here by PVS Jagan Mohan. That something -- the IJT Sitara (designated HJT)that crash landed on 7 February this year at the Aero India show in Yelahanka had been relegated to the HAL Aerospace Museum in Bangalore. I quickly checked with HAL spokesperson, who has said this isn't correct. Imagine if it was! Anyway, HAL's official position is that the damaged aircraft is still being repaired -- a major part of its starboard wing, fuselage and landing gear assembly was damaged in the unfortunate incident. The other prototype is currently continuing with its testing schedule. What was witnessed at the museum, it is thought, could be a mock-up.

Incidentally, the inquiry into the February accident has also apparently been completed and concluded officially that pilot Sqn Ldr Baldev Singh forgot to secure his canopy before taking-off, causing it to fly open seconds into his climb-out, bringing the jet shuddering back to the tarmac, and then off it (See previous posts on the accident here and here). Anyway, the fallen bird should be up again hopefully by January-February 2008.

What HAL's silent about however -- what the crash will do to the certification and introduction promise of the IJT by early 2008! In 2006, during the hot weather trials in Nagpur, HAL chairman Ashok Baweja said, "One more milestone achieved towards certification and introduction of a world-class trainer in 2008."

So that's gone for a toss, then. The Hawks will begin arriving this month. But the Kirans definitely need to leave.

Photo ©Copyright Vijay Simha Reddy/BR

Homegrown Tank Engine Project Begins

"It is proposed to take up a project on Development of 1500 HP Engine in the XI Five Year Plan. Preliminary Design Work has already commenced."

This was the testimony provided by the Defence Ministry on behalf of DRDO to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence for its fourteenth report, tabled in March this year and was in response to questions on the MBT Arjun programme. And, according to this piece in DefenseNews, work has begun.

The 1400 HP engine manufactured by MTU Friedrichshafen GmbH (photo ©Copyright MTU) will power the first 124 Arjun tanks, though the Combat Vehicles R&D Establishment has, according to the DefenseNews report, floated a "domestic and global expression of interest (EoI)" on October 31 for the co-development of a "1,500-horsepower Compact High Specific Power Output Diesel Engine". Officials at the laboratory had alluded to this when I was at Avadi for the Arjun MBT special report a few weeks ago, so it's finally now in motion.

This is good news. The MTU powerpack, coupled with the gunner's main sight (GMS) and tracks account for 58 per cent of the cost of a single Arjun tank. It seems reasonable to assume that MTU itself will offer to build the 1,500HP engine with DRDO, though there will of course be other, possibly more efficient, competitors.

Here's what the MoD had to say in March to the House Panel on Defence about manufacturing tank powerpacks in India: "Suitable indigenous power Packs are not available for application in MBT. Indigenous production of power pack through license production is feasible with enhanced production order for MBT Arjun considering the economy of scale. A project for developmentof indigenous power pack is planned in XI Five Year Plan."

Not much headway has been made on an indigenous GMS -- an indigenous laser range finder, day sight, thermal imager and fire control computer won't be part of the Arjun until beyond the hopeful second batch order. Here's what the MoD had to say about it: "There are few vendors in the world who can manufacture gunner’s main sight. DRDO is developing indigenous gunner’s main sight. It is likely to mature and be available beyond 124 tanks."

And finally, the tracks -- when I was at Avadi, I got the picture about why we're still importing tracks: the indigenously made rubber-coated metal pins that hold the indigenous track links together couldn't withstand the friction. The rubber would fray quickly allowing the pin's metal to come into contact with the track's metal, thereby quickly distorting it and resulting in a mobility breakdown. Since DRDO is still developing resistant rubber for those pins, we're importing the entire track assembly. Shouldn't take long though -- the CVRDE has apparently asked for this technology as well from some specialist agencies abroad. And this is what the MoD said in March: "Indigenoustrack is in advanced stage of development. It will be available for Arjun production tanks beyond 124 Nos."

Will post here in detail shortly on the Army's GSQR 2020, on its requirement of a supertank already expressed to the CVRDE. Oh, and have a chilled out Diwali if you're into that sort of thing.

What's in the C-130Js we're getting?

Sorry to bore you all with another post on the C-130J! Word just in that the final FMS contract for six C-130J Super Hercules aircraft (to be signed very shortly) will carry the full configuration that India initially demanded, a configuration that was listed on paper when the Pentagon made its first notification to US Congress on May 25 this year with a predictive cost of $1.059 billion. Anyway, I'm posting that original demand list here for the record:

* 6 Lockheed Martin C-130J United States Air Force (USAF) baseline aircraft including USAF baseline equipment
* 4 Rolls Royce AE 2100D3 spare engines
* 8 AAR-47 Missile Warning Systems (two of them spares)
* 8 AN/ALR-56M Advanced Radar Warning Receivers (two of them spares)
* 8 AN/ALE-47 Counter-Measures Dispensing Systems (two of them spares)
* 8 AAQ-22 Star SAFIRE III Special Operations Suites (two of them spares)
* 8 ALQ-211 Suite of Integrated Radio Frequency Countermeasures (two of them spares)
* 2 spare AN/ARC-210 Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio Systems (SINCGARS)
* 8 spare Secure Voice Very High Frequency/Ultra High Frequency Radios
* 4 spare Secure Voice High Frequency Radios
* 3 spare AN/AAR-222 SINCGARS and Key Gen (KV-10) Systems
* 1 KIV-119 Non-standard Communication/COMSEC equipment
* 2 ARC-210 Non-standard Communication/COMSEC equipment

Monday, November 05, 2007

Secrets of the Super Hercules

A nice piece about the C-130J from the Lexington Institute. Thought I'd post it here since the exhorbitant deal for six C-130Js will soon be signed with Washington:

By LOREN B. THOMPSON ARLINGTON, Va., Oct. 9 (UPI) -- By the time the Cold War ended, the U.S. Air Force’s C-130 fleet was beginning to show signs of age.

The service had bought nearly 400 Vietnam-era “E” variants of the Hercules for use by the active-duty force, the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard. Many of these planes were approaching the end of their design lives and could only be kept in a high state of readiness with increased inspections and maintenance. Based on a projected requirement for at least 168 new C-130s, Lockheed Martin expended its own funds to develop an improved version of the plane that became known as the C-130J Super Hercules.

Although superficially similar to earlier versions of the C-130, Super Hercules is a fundamentally different plane. It can fly higher, longer and faster with more payload. It can take off and land on shorter runways. It requires less manpower to operate and maintain. It is more reliable and survivable. And it makes more efficient use of ground infrastructure.

More than 150 “J” variants have been delivered to domestic and foreign customers in two configurations: a baseline variant that roughly matches the outline of earlier versions, and a stretched variant that extends the cargo compartment by 15 feet. The stretched version is expected to replace most of the aging C-130Es in the Air Force inventory, and a brief review of its features explains why the service plans to continue production of the newest Hercules for the foreseeable future.Compared with legacy “E” and “H” variants in the Air Force inventory, Super Hercules offers major gains in virtually every measure of operational performance.

Legacy planes can carry a standard 18-ton load about 1,200 miles before they need to be refueled, whereas the C-130J can carry the same load 2,000 miles. Alternatively, the stretch version of the C-130J can carry 31 percent more paratroopers, 33 percent more pallets of equipment or supplies, 39 percent more combat troops and 44 percent more aeromedical evacuation litters. It can accommodate heavier loads with larger dimensions, such as helicopters and combat vehicles, while still taking off in shorter distances than the older planes, and then climb faster to cruising altitude once it is airborne.

In addition to being able to carry larger loads further, Super Hercules can also carry them faster, because its cruising speed of 400 miles per hour is about 20 percent greater than that of the C-130E. The enhanced capacity of the “J” variant is especially noteworthy in the extreme heat of desert operations, where the new plane can deliver 40 percent better payload/range performance than earlier versions.

The interior of the C-130J has been completely redesigned to take advantage of new technology and assimilate lessons learned from recent military operations. Every feature of on-board operations has been simplified and, where feasible, automated. The redesign was so successful that the crew size has been cut in half, from four personnel to two -- a pilot and copilot. Perhaps the most important facet of interior redesign, though, has been the way in which cargo space has been organized for rapid reconfigurability. By using innovations such as flip-over rollers, it is now possible to reconfigure the cargo area for different loads in about five minutes rather than the traditional 25. This has big advantages in supporting forward-deployed troops, because the planes can get in and out of small airstrips more quickly, affording maximum efficiency in the utilization of scarce ground infrastructure.

Other improvements bolstering operational flexibility include an aerial refueling system that can offload fuel faster and an automated airdrop system that delivers parachute loads more precisely.The same performance features that make Super Hercules more flexible and productive also make it more survivable. Greater speed, higher cruising altitude, longer range, less time on the ground and faster climb-out all reduce the plane’s vulnerability to attack. Those performance gains have been achieved while still reducing the aircraft’s noise and heat emissions.

In addition, the C-130J has been equipped with an integrated defensive system that allows it to cope with threats across the electromagnetic spectrum. The system includes an advanced radar warning receiver to alert the crew when it is being tracked, similar devices to detect approaching missiles and laser target-illuminators, and countermeasures such as flares, chaff and decoys that confuse homing warheads.When these defensive capabilities are combined with the situational awareness afforded by improved night vision and terrain avoidance systems, the options that the pilot and co-pilot have for protecting themselves from hostile action are greatly expanded.

Photo: Copyright USAF

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Hawk Down

The first two of 24 British-built Hawk advanced jet trainers will fly into air force station Bidar later this month (the remaining 42 will be built by HAL). The ludicrously overdue procurement, signed after 19 years, in March 2004 is a manifestation of all that is wrong with our system of requirement and fulfillment. But forget all that – it’s been written about for too long. The cliché of “India’s longest drawn deal” is just that – a cliché. The deal was signed during the final days of the NDA government, just weeks before it was bundled out of office by the UPA.

The thing is, since then, makers of the Hawk AJT, BAe Systems have had their controversial dealings in the Middle East dragged squarely into public focus. Now, anyone will tell you that no defence deal is completely clean, not even follow-on upgrades or warranty extension contracts. But the Hawk deal almost certainly involved pay-offs of a pretty darn high caliber. The deal was over-priced, and the Indian government was coerced into buying a trainer that was in the final arc of its variant cycle -- a new export version of the Hawk was unveiled just months after the deal with India was signed, making us look a trifle idiotic in the end.

The IAF will likely take journalists to Bidar to watch the Hawks fly in, and make a show of it. The fact is, there’s very little to be proud of (just like there’s precious little to be proud of on our Republic Days in recent times as we hail in patriotic zeal the Il-78 refuelling two Sukhoi-30s, while a T-90 tank and Heron UAV rumble by on Rajpath below).

So while we celebrate the arrival of the Hawks at Bidar this month, let’s keep a few things in perspective, for what they’re worth. First, the positives – the Hawks will be a long-overdue invaluable lead-in platform for pilots, making redundant the Tezpur op-flight training school (which will soon be an MKI base), and make an unqualifiably large contribution to confidence and safety. On the downside – and here’s what we should be reflecting on even more – first, the Hawk isn’t Indian and we’re buying at a huge cost. Second, the Hawk contributes #$%-all to Indian industry, despite all the bullsh!t that HAL periodically throws at you about how proud they are to be in a position to hammer together 42 Hawks and paint them Tippy grey for their “valued customer”. Third, the acquisition contributes nothing to HAL’s own AJT programme – obviously not – especially since the indigenous AJT, whenever that comes, will likely be a twin tandem-engined IJT Sitara, but they’ll need to get IJT up and fully op cleared soon for any meaningful plan in that direction. Fourth, this is one deal that even government circles are sure involved the payment of commissions, though twenty years gave all parties concerned enough gritty experience to know how to sidestep the known landmines at South Block.

Mourn the Hawk? Certainly not. These are fine aircraft that will make an untold difference to flying, flight safety and flight training. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop to think.