Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sickness!

Down with the flu. Back on Saturday.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Me with the Galil 7.62 and Tavor TAR-21

Photos 1-3: IWI Galil 7.62mm sniper rifle
Photos 4-10: IWI Tavor TAR-21 5.56mm assault rifle

All Photos ©Copyright Shiv Aroor

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Last bunch of photos from Def Expo 2008



From top: Harpoon; NRUAV (IAI Chetak UAV); MBDA Exocet; Nexter Caesar; MBDA Vertical Launch MICA; L&T's AAD Launcher; Army officers with Tavor rifles; P-8 Poseidon

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Indian paras get seasoned on the Tavor

A team from Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) has just finished training India's Special Forces (Para) in the use of the Tavor TAR-21 5.56mm assault rifle. About 3,000 rifles were supplied to the Paras about six months ago to replace the American M-16A2s that they previously used. (That's a photograph of me holding the Tavor at at the IWI stall at Def Expo). Obviously the company is now trying to get the Army to pull up for the other Tavor 5.56 variants and replace the AK-47 used by the Rashtriya Rifles and the Insas used by regular Army infantry units -- that'll take some doing though. The company is also trying to get the Army to buy more Galil 7.62mm sniper rifles, micro Uzis and Jericho 9mm semi-automatics. But there's already talk of a patch of dirt on who represents IWI in India right now. More on that when I've got a fix on it.

Even more images from Def Expo 2008

From top: Rafael Derby air-to-air missile; C-130J Super Hercules in IAF colours; Saab JAS-39 Gripen wall mount; OFB Upgraded 155mm Howitzer; Lockheed-Martin F-35 Lightning-II; DRDO AAD interceptor missile; DRDO Nag anti-tank guided missile; Lockheed-Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon in IAF livery; AH-64 Apache Longbow; Boeing Harpoon anti-ship missile; BAE Systems M777 ultra-light Howitzer.

All photographs ©Copyright & by Shiv Aroor

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

More images from Def Expo 2008

From top: DRDO Nag anti-tank guided missile; IAI Phalcon AWACS; Finnemecanica stand; Eurocopter Fennec; Eurofighter Typhoon; Nexter (Giat) Caesar towed 155mm gun; Schiebel Cam Copter; DRDO Pinaka MBRL; Akash SAM; DRDO autonomous ground vehicle

Photographs Copyright & by Shiv Aroor

Monday, February 18, 2008

LCA Navy Update

Bumped into Commodore (retd) C.D. Balaji, project director LCA (Navy) this morning at Def Expo's DRDO pavilion. He says that while the fore and aft duselage assemblies of the Naval LCA are almost complete, the mid section of the aircraft will take at least till the the beginning of 2008. Final integration and fly-out of the first prototype won't happen before late 2009 at an optimistic estimate. Cmde Balaji says there is a huge amount of work ahead on structural reinforcement of the undercarriage, the tail-hook assembly and the landing gear assembly itself.

The programme team is currently waiting for Navy and Cochin Shipyards to freeze the deck design and coordinates of the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC). Once that happens, Goa Shipyards will execute its contract to build a shore-based ski-jump and arrester wire landing platform at Dabolim airport in Goa, where flight tests and pilot training will be conducted. Construction of the landing platform is likely to begin only sometime next year.

Photo Copyright Flight

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Images from Def Expo 2008

From top: Akash SAM; BrahMos air-launched variant; DRDO AAD interceptor missile; NAMICA (Nag missile carrier); Pinaka MBRL

Photographs Copyright & by Shiv Aroor

Friday, February 15, 2008

LiveFist EXCLUSIVE: The Truth About BrahMos - Part V

Part V
The Lowdown On BrahMos-2

BrahMos Aerospace is currently in the process of formalising a techno-commercial proposal for the BrahMos-2 hypersonic cruise missile. Unlike the BrahMos, the BrahMos-2 will be an all new missile built from scratch.

BrahMos CEO Dr A Sivathanu Pillai told LiveFist, "The missile will require a new engine. We will be sharing work from the beginning. We will start work from scratch." It is Dr Pillai's personal estimate that the total project cost of BrahMos-2 will be $1 billion.

The programme team has conceptualised an aviation kerosene-based cruise vehicle capable of speeds ranging from Mach 5 to 8. The range of the missile is yet to be decided, and will be only hinted at in the techno-commercial proposal likely to be submitted to the government later this year.

A Joint Committee on BrahMos-2 which includes representatives from DRDO and NPOM, has been formed to chart out the programme's course. It had its first marathon meeting in Hyderabad four months ago. Their preliminary report, which was submitted to Dr Pillai, had in turn been forwarded for Defence Minister AK Antony's inspection. At the Inter-Governmental meeting in Moscow late last year, both sides took up the Joint Committee report, ratified it, and decided in principle to continue with the BrahMos-2 programme.

Scientists and project managers identified by both sides are now in the process of finalising their techno-commercial proposal document. The business model for BrahMos-2 will be identical to BrahMos and will function under the already incorporated BrahMos Aerospace Pvt Ltd. Basically, this means that all the capital for the project will be solely from New Delhi's coffers -- in the sense that like in BrahMos, Russia's investment in BrahMos-2 will be in the form diverted loan repayments from India.

Photo ©Copyright WeaponsBlog

Thursday, February 14, 2008

MoD Asks Indian Embassy to Probe Phalcon Dirt

Headlines Today Exclusive: Three days ago, the Ministry of Defence ordered its Defence Attache in Israel to investigate allegations that kickbacks to the tune of $25 million (Rs 100-odd crore) were paid to the NDA government as part of the $1.1 billion Phalcon AWACS deal signed in March 2004. The Indian Embassy has responded that there is prima facie evidence that the information is correct. The man you see in the photograph is Aharon Frankel -- the man being investigated by Israel for playing middleman in the Phalcon deal with India and channelising the kickbacks into India. Headlines Today broke the story of his involvement this evening (the stories should run through Friday as well). The MoD has asked for a full report on the man and his dealings, and sources say the Indian Embassy will formally approach the Israeli government for a report any time now.

Cases involving former IAI CEO Moshe Keret were prematurely closed by Israel's Attorney General, and a public cry has ensued to reopen the file -- billions of dollars of Israeli taxpayers money could possibly have been radiated out of the country as crooked kickbacks. More tomorrow.

LiveFist EXCLUSIVE: The Truth About BrahMos - Part IV

Part IV
What's Really Holding Up The Sub-launched & Air-launched Variants?


There's so much in the press about the air-launched and submarine-launched variants of BrahMos, that one would imagine it's all laid out on the table for everyone to see. Far from it. There are real predicaments that the programme team is grappling with to get these two critical variants into operational service. As of now, both are far from it. First, what's dogging the air-launched variant.

The first air-launched BrahMos will be integrated on a Naval Tu-142 strat-recon aircraft. BrahMos CEO Dr A Sivathanu Pillai told LiveFist, "We are working towards development trials on the Tu-142. The people at Tupolev are being very helpful. It is a fantastic aircraft. It is a perfect platform for payload capacity and to carry the telemetry systems we will require for the development trials, planned in two years."

I wrote here a few weeks ago that the Su-30 integration of the BrahMos was on the backburner for now. Now, Dr Pillai has confirmed this to be the case. The facts: the Sukhoi Design Bureau is steeped in the PAK-FA fifth generation fighter programme, and has accorded low priority to providing consultation to BrahMos on the structural changes required to the Su-30MKI airframe fuselage and wings for integration of the air-launched missile. A thought process transpired briefly in 2006 that the structural changes could be carried out by HAL, considering that it was license manufacturing the Su-30s at Nashik. However, the Russian partners in BrahMos (NPOM) are understood to have put their foot down, and said that any changes to the Su-30MKI airframe would need to in consultation with the Sukhoi Design Bureau. So now, with a finned reduced-booster missile ready for tests, the Su-30MKI configuration waits for the design bureau to deign its time (as an aside, HAL doesn't have a single page of design details of the Su-30MKI -- as usual, it's just cookie-cutting Flankers at Nashik without a damn clue about the intricacies of its design, and the Russians are of course too happy not to share any -- food for thought).

And finally, the Navy's Ilyushin-38 is officially off the table as a potential carrier of the BrahMos. Three months ago, the Navy asked BrahMos not to proceed on design integration of the missile with the Il-38 platform. The reasons: after integration of the BrahMos on an Il-38's belly hardpoint, ground clearance became dangerously low -- a potential threat during landing. Secondly -- and this is probably more of a reason! -- the Navy said it already had its hands full warring with Russia over the disastrous Sea Dragon avionics upgrade of the Il-38s, and that it didn't want integration questions to "add to the mess". And that's how the Tu-142 was identified as the platform of choice. Now, an update about the submarine-launched variant.

This is the more interesting of the two, really. First, Dr Pillai says the submarine-launched BrahMos is "ready in every way" and that the only requiremet now is a platform to test it. Now, for the facts. The submarine-launched BrahMos is indeed ready for platform tests. Last year, the Navy offered one of its Kilo-class submarines to BrahMos for a test. After deliberations with the Navy, BrahMos finally decided that testing on a Kilo-class boat was not a viable option -- the platforms are not new, and are a good way into their operational life. The Navy accepted this, and came up with another idea: that BrahMos should plan for integration tests on the fifth and sixth Scorpene submarines being built by Mazagon Docks. This was almost immediately turned down obviously -- first, the fifth and sixth Scorpene's would be delivered well into the next decade, and two, the Russians don't want to install the BrahMos on French platforms to kick off the sub-launched version. Obviously the Russians have their own ulterior motives...

Next week, a large team from Russia will land in India for their first extensive bilateral discussions on the Amur-class submarine as the Indian Navy's possible choice of boat for its second line of submarines at Mazagon Docks (a line that will run parallel to the Scorpene line). The Russian component of BrahMos (NPOM) is extremely keen that the BrahMos be integrated tested on an Amur boat before any other -- it has offered BrahMos an Amur for tests already. Who said the Russians don't play hardball!

(Tomorrow: The Lowdown on BrahMos-2)

Photo ©Copyright B Harry taken from DefenceTalk

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

LiveFist EXCLUSIVE: The Truth About BrahMos - Part III

Part III
The Export Quagmire for BrahMos

One of the interesting things about BrahMos is just how gung-ho its CEO Dr A Sivathanu Pillai is about the programme's success. I spoke at length to Dr Pillai on Tuesday evening to get a full fix on the programme's export worries. But before I lay out the facts, let me quote Dr Pillai on what he told me last evening.

"I will see that BrahMos is exported before long. That is my challenge. And we will accomplish it," he said.

Ok, now first let me clear up some stuff that the press has been reporting with impunity for years now. Malaysia is not going to be the first international buyer of BrahMos. In fact, apart from preliminary inquiries and a visit by the country's Deputy PM to the BrahMos facility, nothing further has taken place. The country's warships are currently on the verge of a large-scale upgrade programme in the hands of BAE Systems. BrahMos is yet to receive clearance to talk directly to BAE about possible integration of BrahMos as part of the comprehensive upgrade programme. Secondly, the Malaysians are actually more interested in the air-launched BrahMos for their Su-30MKMs (a separate element of these series will focus on where the air-launched version currently stands).

Dr Pillai told me that two countries (he did not reveal their names, but I'm guessing Chile and Brazil -- I'm sure at least one of these is right!) were "waiting for us to clear the decks for supply of the missile system". You heard right: the MoD still hasn't fully approved the export of the BrahMos system to these two countries.

"I am clear which country we will supply first, how many numbers, when etc. I am just waiting for the clearance and a clear-cut instruction to proceed with the final discussions. My opinion is, if we are not smart to export now, we will lose the market. The world will not wait for India. Competitors are already looking to make products that match ours," Dr Pillai told LiveFist.

Now here's where the roadblock is: a Supervisory Council comprised of members from both governments jointly created a document listing out the countries that could be tapped as possible customers. The Indian component of the council comprises DRDO chief M Natarajan, Secretary Defence (Finance) and a Joint Secretary from the Ministry for External Affairs. The document basically drew out four categories of countries:

Category I listed the principal customers, i.e. India and Russia. Category II listed Egypt, Chile, South Africa and Brazil -- basically the "friendly countries" identified by both countries jointly. Category III included Indonesia, Malaysia and the Middle East -- basically the brief here was to start discussions, but don't commit. And Category IV were shipbuilding nations, where BrahMos could discuss weapon integration packages for final warship products. This document was presented to the Cabinet Committee on Security almost two years ago. Till now, there has been no response. There is nothing official on which countries the BrahMos can be sold to. Which begs the question -- why the hell hasn't the Cabinet approved the export of BrahMos? Who in the CCS is impeding a final endorsement?

Defence Minister AK Antony has now ordered Dr Pillai to give him a fresh paper through DRDO on the countries plan -- basically a proposal on the original proposal submitted to the CCS! Dr Pillai is still working on this document and will submit it shortly. So there you have it -- despite a clear-cut plan from BrahMos on countries just waiting to buy BrahMos from India.

Dr Pillai said, "Buyers don't care if Russia inducts the missile or not. They are convinced that the Indian armed forces are inducting it. Some chiefs want to see live firings. Some want to see the missile integration on warships. We are processing these requests."

But the fact remains that countries have made inquiries about why Russia hasn't inducted BrahMos (more about Russia and BrahMos later in the series). And this has made it that much harder for Dr Pillai and his team to push their product abroad.

When I asked Dr Pillai about the embarrassing run-in when Russia tried to sell the Yakhont to Indonesia, he said, "When there's a joint venture, both countries should abide by it. But we have full faith now in each other. No playing around."

The systemic roadblocks to exporting BrahMos are now plain for you to see. What's holding up the clearances from the government. If BrahMos is so convinced that it has two orders in the bag, why is the government dragging its feet? Has DRDO played spoilsport in the CCS? Or is the government being overly sensitive about exporting its first ever weapon. Answers to some of these questions will be touched upon through the rest of the series.

(Tomorrow: Part IV - Hitches in the Air and Submarine Variants of BrahMos)