From top: An IN Sea Harrier for upgrade; one of the Ilyushin-76s that is to be upgraded next month; Jaguar Darin-II; an LCA prototype vehicle at the Jaguar handover ceremony; IJT Sitara landing; IAF Mi-17 chopper at Rangiya, Assam; Upgraded Antonov-32 at Srinagar airfield (All photos by Shiv Aroor)
Monday, March 31, 2008
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Not much to blog on weekends, so here's another bunch of random photos. From top: MiG-27 at Kalaikunda; MiG-21 at Kalaikunda; Jaguar at Car Nicobar; Flankers at Car Nicobar; A Mi-35 sitting near the tarmac (I took this from the MiG-35 cockpit, while we were taxiing for take-off); French Air Force Mirage being wheeled across the Zhukovsky tarmac; Su-34 Platypus at Zhukovsky. (All Photos by Shiv Aroor)
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Random photos I took at the MAKS 2007 air show last year. Saw them lying around, so thought I'd put them up. From top: MiG-29K (for the Indian Navy), MiG-29K cockpit, MiG-35 cockpit MFDs, Russia's Su-27 formation squadron in the air, Soviet/Russian munitions with a MiG-31 Foxhound interceptor in the background, a Kamov Alligator
Thursday, March 27, 2008
The shells that are used in the 120mm mortars go through an elaborate purchase and quality certification by the DG Quality Assurance, at least that's what the DG is there for. But who will take the fall for this tragic mishap? Will we see the right guy take the fall or will it be some poor JCO/NCO who didnt know any better? We need to keep a close watch on who takes the hit. Someone always does, and it's always someone who had little or nothing to do with it.
The other aspect to the issue is the Army exercise itself. Have you ever heard of a one day Army exercise, that too being conducted in front of DAs and the media without a rehearsal? Here are the bitter, undisputed facts: Exercise Dakshin Shakti was going on for a month and Exercise Brazen Chariots was just the show piece. So when Brazen Chariots needed to rehearse, they just took the assets of the ongoing Dakshin Shakti, thus harming a major army exercise. According to highly reliable sources, Army chief General Deepak Kapoor wrote to Southern Army Commander Lt Gen Nobel Thamburaj ordering the transfer of assets for the "showcase" Brazen Chariots. He is understood to have protested the rude interruption to his exercise, but of course had to go with what his chief wanted.
The result, as we all saw, was the deaths of three soldiers, which was quickly brushed under the carpet.
Worse, few questions about the DGQA will ever be answered. A few years ago the purchase of a few thousand faulty tank rounds lead a lot of questions being asked but no action taken. This results in our troops being put at great risk. And now, Army exercises have been reduced to mere showpieces rather than a professional preoccupation. A bloody shame.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
THE SECRET UNDERSEA WEAPON
by Sandeep Unnithan
Located up the winding shipping channel in Visakhapatnam harbour is a secret, completely enclosed facility known only as the Shipbuilding Centre (SBC). Inside this dry dock, nearly 50m below ground level, is a cylindrical black shape, which is as tall as a two-storey building and at 104 m in length, is longer than the Qutub Minar lying on its side. Technicians working on it confess to a surge of national pride: India’s first nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine or SSBN is arguably its greatest engineering project.
For over a quarter of a century, the Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV), smaller than the USS Alabama from Crimson Tide, has been among the most highly-classified government programmes, if not the most delayed. Officials still refuse to confirm the existence of the project or the sea-based ballistic missile. A decade after India came out of the nuclear closet in the sands of Pokhran, it has moved some tantalising steps closer to realising the third and possibly the toughest of the three legs of the triad enunciated in its nuclear doctrine: a sea-based deterrent
or a secure underwater platform for launching nuclear weapons.
“Things are developing as per schedule,” Defence Minister A.K. Antony recently said of ATV. Early last month, Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Sureesh Mehta was the first government official to not only confirm its existence but also lay down a timeframe: “It is a DRDO project and a technology demonstrator. It is somewhere near completion and will be in the water in two years.” The admiral had reason to feel confident about the project. Just last month, an 80MW nuclear reactor, smaller than a bus, was pushed into the hull of the submarine and successfully
integrated—a milestone in the project approved by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1970.
By April 2009, the submarine will be launched and will begin sea trials before it is inducted into
the navy. The goal is to field a fleet of three SSBNs by 2015, one in reserve and two on patrol, each carrying 12 nucleartipped ballistic missiles. Possibly the last “gift” to India from the now-extinct Soviet Union, it was designed with Russian assistance in the late ’80s. Based on an entirely new design, the 6,000 tonne submarine (not the elderly Charlie class N-sub as thought earlier) will make India the world’s sixth nation to operate a “boomer”.
Part of the acceleration in the programme has to do with the rapid buildup of Chinese nuclear forces. China operates 10 nuclear submarines, and in the past year, has fielded as many as three new Jin-class SSBNs, each carrying 12 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM). “Given the growing military asymmetry with China, India’s need for a reliable nuclear deterrent that can survive a first strike has never been greater,” says strategic expert Brahma Chellaney.
ATV is in line with India’s nuclear doctrine enunciated in 1999, which calls for its nuclear forces to be effective, enduring, diverse, flexible and responsive to the requirements in accordance with the concept of credible minimum deterrence. The doctrine calls for high survivability against surprise attacks and for a rapid punitive response. A nuclear submarine that can remain submerged almost indefinitely and cannot be detected underwater, therefore, meets all these criteria and offers an almost invulnerable launch platform for nuclear weapons. For a country like India with a no-first use policy, it is vital because it prevents a potential adversary from launching a crippling first strike that can knock out all nuclear weapons. It also allows India to inflict considerable damage to the aggressor.
“One submarine carries at least 12 missiles with Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicles, which could mean as many as 96 warheads. When such a submarine goes out to the sea, that many missiles are removed from our own territory. The enemy’s targeting of that many sites gets neutralised,” says Rear Admiral (retired) Raja Menon.
ATV, with its suitably muted acronym, was a euphemism for a longdelayed project. Shrouded in obsessive secrecy for decades, it has been under the direct supervision of the prime minister, who also chairs ATV’s apex committee. Nearly 200 naval officers and technicians are directly involved in the project that is managed by a vice-admiral who functions out of ATV headquarters in Delhi Cantonment. Funding was never a problem, even during the lean days of defence spending, like in the pre-1990s. An estimated Rs 2,000 crore was spent even before work on the submarine was started.
The excessive secrecy, say experts, was based on a misinterpretation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)—that building a nuclear submarine would be a violation. There was, therefore, a lack of accountability, which harmed the project. Project officials in Vizag are now sealing the reactor with a special shield and plugging in the control systems, turbines and piping. The next few months are critical. After the reactor compartment is sealed, the tail sector— which includes the propeller and the shaft—will be welded in and the submarine will be ready.
By April next year, the dry dock will be flooded andthe vessel will be officially launched. After it hits the water, the nuclear reactor will be jump-started and the submarine’s propellers — seven highlyskewed brass blades—will be tested. After the reactor and all its associated control systems are successively proven, the submarine will be towed out of the harbour for extensive sea trials lasting over a year before it is inducted into the navy around 2010. While the impending launch of ATV is reason for cheer, the actual fielding of a secure second-strike capability is still three years away. This is the time it will take to integrate and successfully test fire the missile from the submarine. Without its nuclear missiles, the submarine is just a platform.
The missile is being concurrently developed under an equally-classified programme. Announcing its successful test in April last year, DRDO chief M. Natarajan called it “a strategic system which I cannot talk about”. The enigmatic two-stage missile—dubbed K-15 under the Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO) Sagarika (oceanic) project — is a technological breakthrough. Rapidly ejected from the submarine’s launcher by igniting an underwater gas booster, it rises nearly 5 km above the ocean. When it reaches a pre-determined
height, it ignites a solid booster and travels to a range of nearly 750 km. Tested three times from a specially-designed submersible pontoon, the yet to-be-named “naval missile” is another feather in India’s cap. The 100-member crew, which will man the submarine, is being trained at
an indigenously-developed simulator in the School for Advanced Underwater Warfare (SAUW) at the naval base in Vizag. Hands-on training will be done on the INS Chakra, a 12,000-tonne
Akula-II class nuclear-powered attack submarine being taken on a 10-year lease from Russia next year.
SBC in Vizag is to become the assembly line for three ATVs, costing a little over Rs 3,000 crore each or the cost of a 37,000 tonne indigenous aircraft carrier built at the Cochin Shipyard. Larsen and Toubro (L&T) has begun building the hull of the second ATV at its facility in Hazira, to be inducted into the navy by 2012. The SSBN fleet will be housed on the east coast at a new naval base in Rambilli, a few kilometres south of Visakhapatnam, where nearly 3,000 acre of land has been acquired for India’s first strategic base, to be manned entirely by military personnel. Unlike the narrow single channel in Visakhapatnam, it will offer the nuclear fleet direct access into the sea. The first phase of the project, costing approximately Rs 1,500 crore, will be ready by 2011.
Why has the project taken so long? For a country that built only two conventional submarines of the Germandesigned HDW Type 1500 class in the early ’90s, building a nuclear submarine was the ultimate challenge: a DRDO official sees the learning curve to be the equivalent of a scooter mechanic building a Mercedes. The key challenge, however, was not in designing or fabricating the hull, but the reactor and containment vessel, which consumes one-tenth (nearly 600 tonne) of the vessel’s total displacement. The hydrodynamics of a vessel with one-tenth of its weight concentrated in one place is a formidable naval engineering challenge, but miniaturising a nuclear reactor the size of a football field to fit inside an 8m enclosure is an even bigger hurdle. This was among the reasons for the decade-long delay in the project. The nuclear reactor in a submarine
generates heat to convert water into saturated steam to turn the submarine’s turbines. Unlike an oilfired boiler, it does not require air to operate. All other parts of the submarine are the same as any steam-powered turbine plant’s. The reactor operates on uranium enriched to nearly 45 per cent (uranium used in civilian nuclear reactors is less than 5 per cent and bombs use uranium enriched to over 90 per cent).
In 1998, L&T began fabricating the hull of ATV but the struggle with the reactor continued. After BARC designs failed, India bought reactor designs from Russia. By 2004 the reactor had been built, tested on land at the IGCAR and had gone critical. Its modest size, around 6,000 tonne (the Ohio class SSBN in the movie Crimson Tide weighs over 14,000 tonne), has led experts to call it a “baby boomer”.
While the present project ends at three units, defence officials have not ruled out building larger submarines on the basis of national strategic imperatives. These have changed since the conception of the project. The plan, until late ’80s, was to build an SSN—a fast-moving deep-diving nuclear-powered attack submarine, which would hunt surface ships. Around the time India leased a Charlie-I class nuclear-powered attack submarine from the Soviet Union, it had
already veered towards building a submarine carrying ballistic missiles. The hull design was lengthened and the SSN quietly transformed into an SSBN. There are, however, some key challenges to be overcome. ATV’s SLBMs have a range of only 750 km, a big leap from its start of 250 km a decade ago, but still smaller than the SLBMs deployed by the Big Five, which boast ranges in excess of 5,000 km. DRDO is working on fielding a submarine launched variant of the 5,000-km Agni III missile, which will give the submarine true striking power and flexibility.
cientists believe the submarine’s present reactor output of around 80 MW is limited because it imposes operational restrictions on the submarine’s speed and will mean that the reactor will have to function near peak power at most times. The reactor would also need constant refuelling — a fairly expensive process where the hull is cut open and the nuclear cores replaced every decade.
For the moment, however, the immediate challenge lies in successfully sending the submarine out to the sea.
Monday, March 24, 2008
Wasn't near a computer to post this yesterday. Here goes the press release: Agni 1 missile, a Strategic Surface to Surface missile, with a range capability of 700 km was successfully launched today (March 23) at 10.15 hrs from Island Launch Complex off Dhamra, Orissa by Army unit. The missile had a textbook performance in terms of range, accuracy and lethality. A1 was developed by ASL, the premier missile development Laboratory of Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) in collaboration with Defence Research and Development Laboratory, Hyderabad and Research Center Imarat, Hyderabad and integrated by defence Public Sector Undertaking, Bharat Dynamics Limited, Hyderabad. This has been an effort of consortium of DRDO labs viz. Vehicle Research & Development Establishment, Ahmednagar and Research & Development (Establishment), Interim Test Range, Chandipur and major public and private industries.
Friday, March 21, 2008
THE JUSTICE B. N. Srikrishna Committee Report on the Sixth Central Pay Commission recommendations, promising a 40 per cent hike for all central government employees, was handed over to the Finance Ministry on Thursday. (Click the table to see what the pay recommendations are, rankwise).
The report is especially generous to the armed forces. If the recommendations are approved, the service chiefs will draw more than the Cabinet Secretary, with their salary at Rs 1 lakh per month as compared to the Cabinet Secretary, whose salary has been ' fixed' at Rs 80,000 per month. As far as central government employees are concerned, the scales have been reduced from 38 to 16, starting with a group D peon and going up to Cabinet Secretary.
The recommendations envisage a running scale up to the rank of director, but from the rank of Joint Secretary up, the pay scales have been fixed. This was earlier true only for secretaries and the cabinet secretary. The pay commission has recommended fixed scales from the level of joint secretary ( Rs 60,000) to the cabinet secretary ( Rs 80,000).
A senior bureaucrat said, “ Even with a difference of five years in service, personnel in the bureaucracy will get the same amount.” But given that the recommendations virtually amount to a threefold increase in basic pay, the bureaucracy has very little reason to complain. The generous hike for the armed forces incorporates an additional bonanza in the form of Military Service Pay ( MSP). The MSP is in the nature of a hardship allowance and has been recommended at 10 percent of the emoluments. However, the service chiefs, army commanders and their equivalents in other services will not be entitled to the MSP.
The emoluments for armed forces personnel are: if approved, an army Major will draw Rs 32,000 per month, a full Colonel Rs 45,000 per month, a Brigadier Rs 65,000 per month, a Major General Rs 78,000 per month and a Lieutenant- General a whopping Rs 90,000 per month. Their equivalents in the Navy and Air Force will also be at the same pay scales. The pay commission recommendations have been made against the backdrop of a serious shortage of defence officers in all wings. This shortfall is 11,153; 1,430 and 1,368 for the Army, Navy and Air Force respectively.
The recommendations are likely to put an additional burden of Rs 20,000 crore on the central exchequer annually, mainly due to the bloated central bureaucracy which is consistently ranked amongst the most inefficient in the world. If past experience is anything to go by, it is the states which have the most to fear. Some were driven to the point of bankruptcy by the Fifth Pay Commission because they had to give similar hikes to their employees.
In 2005, some states sought a mechanism that would prevent a pay revision unless they were consulted. Among the Fifth Pay Commission’s important recommendations were slashing the government workforce by 30 per cent; abolishing 3,50,000 vacant posts and reducing the number of pay scales from 51 to 34. Not one of these was implemented. The last pay commission suggested that salary hikes should be linked to downsizing government staff, efficiency and administrative reforms. The government only implemented the monetary benefits.
Given the political signals since the budget was presented, the Sixth Pay Commission’s recommendations are in keeping with the Congress’s run up to the polls. Once again, then, there is little likelihood of the bureaucracy being scaled back even while salary hikes across the board are likely to be approved.
The B. N. Srikrishna Committee report will be put up in Parliament for approval next week. The four- member Sixth Pay Commission headed by Justice Srikrishna was set up in October 2006 to review the wages of nearly 33 lakh central government employees. Sitanshu Kar, the defence ministry’s additional director general for media and communication told MAIL TODAY, “We are waiting for the (pay commission) report after the review from the finance ministry. We are hoping for a good deal.”
The story is Copyright MAIL TODAY.
But instead of informing the press at least that the incident had taken place, the Army systematically covered up the incident. It is a gross violation of professional conduct to hide such an incident. Yet, what the Army's well-oiled publicity machinery did was just oversee bullsh!t, obtuse reports on an exercise nobody really understood. As one correspondent who I spoke to said, the Army had the duty to inform people about the incident. "They insulted the honour of those jawans who were killed by not making an announcement about the incident to the public," he said.
What makes my blood boil even more are the Army's reasons for concealing facts. There were too many foreign dignitaries, and the Army did not want to "rock the boat" of an otherwise well-executed exercise. They thought it was better to let it slide for now. Let all these journalists write about the exercise. They'll get to know about our three dead jawans in the next few days. Why screw up coverage of the exercise by revealing something like this. That was the thought process behind what happened.
The news, incidentally, flashed first on Headlines Today only last evening -- over 24 hours after the incident first took place. I provided a brief phone-in after speaking to Maj Gen Vijay Narula, the ADG Public Information at Army HQ. After the flash of course, everyone else called in to get the facts. All of us had it a day too late. There wasn't even a customary press release informing the country that three of its honourable Army soldiers had died in a dreadful accident in the name of better defence preparedness. They just had a regular crap press release about the stupid exercise. Not one goddamned line about the deceased or the accident. No names. They were de-humanised by the infuriating off-the-record Army version that "they were all Personnel Below Officer Rank (PBORs)".
Army PRO Colonel SK Sakhuja, who was on the trip to Pokhran was contacted yesterday. He had this to say. "I am no longer the Army PRO, as I have relinquished my position. So I do not have any information." When I apprised him that Maj Gen Narula had confirmed the facts to me, this was his response: "Ok, so he has told you. Then it's alright."
I can imagine constraints stopping the Army from announcing deaths in operations, or in sensitive areas. But an exercise in peacetime? Truly, truly shameful. The Army chief should find out how this happened and severely reprimand those who decided on such deceit. According to one journalist, who did a report on his paper's front page today, it was the Army chief himself who ordered that the news be suppressed. What a shame, if that's true.
Rest in peace, Havildar SK Bagh, Havildar Mangu Singh and Gunner Ram Mehar.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Sunday, March 16, 2008
The Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has issued the following statement:
On Purchase of USS Trenton
The Comptroller and Auditor General's report on the purchase of the US naval ship the USS Trenton, (now named as INS Jalashwa) is a damning indictment which puts into question why the ship was bought at all. The CAG report has raised various disturbing issues:
(a) Why was the ship of 1971 vintage bought when the US Navy itself had concluded in 2003 that the ship was not suitable for modernisation and should be decommissioned in 2006. (b) Why was the $50 million deal finalised after only a visual inspection. (c) Why were "restrictions on offensive deployment" accepted and permission given to the US to "conduct an inspection and inventory of all articles transferred under the end-use monitoring clause". (d) In the light of six Indian sailors dying abroad this ship due to a gas leak, were the authorities not aware that ships of this class had suffered similar problems in the past and three US sailors had lost their lives?
The country would like to know why the government is going in for such defence deals with the United States? Is it due to the pressure of the Bush administration to buy US arms and defence equipment?
The government should order an enquiry and come out with a statement in parliament. It should assure the country that such dubious defence purchases will not be resorted to in the future.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
New Delhi, March 14: India bought its second-largest warship, the INS Jalashva, from the US after signing away the authority to use the vessel in the event of a war. It has also granted an unprecedented right to the US to board and take an inventory of the ship’s capabilities whenever it wants to.
The acceptance of a “restrictive clause” in the contract for the ship — it cost about $50 million (around Rs 202 crore) — is political dynamite in India. The Left has been suspecting that India is bending, if not breaking, convention to accommodate US interests as it pursues closer military relations with the Pentagon.
By the navy’s definition, a warship is a “sovereign piece of territory in the seas”. But the US has been granted the right to embark the ship even after selling it to the Indian Navy.
In accepting the Pentagon’s condition that the ship should not be used for “offensive deployment” but only for relief — such as after the Tsunami of December 2004 — the Indian Navy has given up its right to use the vessel for the purpose for which it was built by the US Navy itself.
This damning capitulation of the Indian Navy to conditions imposed by the Pentagon was revealed in a close reading of a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CA 5 of 2008) tabled in Parliament today. The report does not name the ship, identifying it only as ship ‘X’ before its induction into the Indian Navy and ship ‘Z’ after it joined the fleet.
It, however, describes it as a “landing platform dock commissioned in a foreign navy in 1971”. The Jalashva — called the USS Trenton when it was in service with the US Navy — is the only vessel that fits the description. It joined India’s eastern fleet in September 2007 and is based in Visakhapatnam, the headquarters of the Eastern Naval Command.
“These issues are all valid and have been raised before,” Admiral (retired) Arun Prakash, who was the Chief of Naval Staff when the Jalashva was contracted, told The Telegraph this evening.
A landing platform dock is used for evacuation — like the Trenton did during the Israeli-Hezbollah war of 2006 in the Mediterranean — and for offensive action like landing Marines from the sea to attack an enemy and capture hostile territory. The ship is a troops-carrier and is capable of taking within its hold armoured vehicles and tanks.
The Jalashva’s six embarked SH-60 helicopters are capable of being used both for surveillance and attack. The Indian Navy intends using its small landing craft to transport its marine commandos (Marcos) in stealthy offensive and sabotage missions.
The CAG report is explicit on India’s acceptance of the restrictive clause, however.
“Restrictive clauses raise doubts about the real advantages from this deal. For example, restrictions on the offensive deployment of the ship and permission to the foreign government to conduct an inspection and inventory of all articles transferred under the End-Use monitoring clause of the Letter of Agreement (LOA). Given that the ship is of old vintage, Indian Navy would remain dependent upon foreign-based support,” the auditors wrote.
The Indian Navy also bought the ship without physically verifying its state even though it had run its life and was being de-commissioned by the US Navy that found no further use for it, the CAG report has highlighted. The Indian Navy’s biggest ship is the Viraat.
The CAG report’s focus is on the irregularities in the purchase of the Jalashva. The CAG’s remit does not include an examination of the political circumstances of a defence deal.
Last month, six of the Jalashva’s crew died after a gas leak on board the vessel during a drill in the Bay of Bengal. A naval board of inquiry is investigating the cause of the leak but prima facie reports have pointed to a defect inherited by the Indian Navy.
The US offered the ship to India in September 2004 under its Excess Defense Article (EDA) programme through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route. The USS Trenton was due to be de-commissioned in September 2006. The Indian Navy was convinced “on the basis of a joint visual inspection with the foreign navy (September 2005) that the LPD would meet its requirements for the next 12 to 15 years”, the CAG report noted.
But it pointed out that the non-negotiable offer of the US was accepted without a rigorous technical evaluation.