Friday, May 30, 2008

MiG's new General Director answers India questions

RAC-MiG's new General Director Anatoly Belov, who comes in at a troubled time for the legendary corporation, gave an interesting interview to Kommersant's Alexandra Gritskova and Konstantin Lantratov yesterday. These General Director types rarely give long candid interviews to their papers, so I'm putting the India-specific excerpts here. Interesting stuff:

Q. How is the Indian tender for the purchase of 126 fighter jets that MiG is participating in? India has already extended it.

Belov:
Only the deadline for filing the technical-commercial proposals was extended. By one month. We turned in all materials with Rosoboronexport within the deadline. The next stage is a demonstration of the equipment for the customer.

Q. Considering India’s leisurely pace, do you expect the results of the tender soon?

Belov: India may change its plans, if necessary. But so far the process is coming along within the deadlines Delhi set at the very beginning.

Q. Rosoboronexport is conducting negotiations with India on changing the price and deadlines on the contract to deliver the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov. The contract for the delivery of the 16 MiG-29K/KUB planes includes an option to buy an additional lot of MiG’s for the ship. Can the delay with the Gorshkov interfere with those plans?

Belov:
We discussed that question with the Indian side at a high level, and we were promised that the situation with the aircraft carrier would not affect our contract. In June, we will begin to train Indian pilots. In the next few months, we will hand over the first four planes to the Indian customer. They will be used for technical training for the flight and technical personnel. The other eight will be delivered by June 2009. We are waiting for information on contract deadlines from the Indian side.

Q. Do the Indians plan to build a test range like Nitki in the Crimea to imitate the decks of an aircraft carrier?

Belov:
They have such plans, and we will help the Indian Navy with it. In the nearest future, plans are to train Indian pilots to fly from regular airfields. In the long term, we will train pilots on an imitation aircraft carrier. Negotiations are underway with Ukraine about that.

Q. There was an announcement in the press with references to the Indian Navy that, if the F-18 wins the tender for the 126 jet fighters, they will be delivered onto two aircraft carriers now being built alongside MiG-29K/KUB’s. How do you see that possibility?

Belov: Yes, I saw that the Indian Navy allegedly put forward such an initiative. We doubt that information. It’s not the first disinformation about the tender. As a rule, the Indian side disavows such reports.

Q. MiG Corp. has signed a contract for the modernization of 63 MiG-29 jet fighters delivered to India earlier. What are the parameters of that contract?

Belov:
The total cost is about $1 billion. The first planes should arrive in Russia in the coming months so that their future technical characteristics can be worked out. Then MiG will transfer the technology for their modernization to India. Our specialists will be sent to India to assist them and MiG will provide the Indian side with all necessary equipment. All the Indian Air Force MiG-29’s will be modernized, six of them in Russia and the rest in India.

Q. Could the [Russian] Air Force declare a tender for the development of light and medium fighters of the fifth generation soon?

Belov:
I assume the one heavy fighter (now being developed by Sukhoi,) will not fulfill all the tasks now before the Air Force [the PAK-FA, which India is to be a partner on]. A plane of a lighter class is objectively necessary, so we continue to work in that area.

Q. You came to MiG Corp. at a difficult moment connected with the Algerian contract. Why did you leave the prosperous Irkut Corp. for the problematic MiG?

Belov:
I don’t consider MiG problematic. The situation at MiG reflected what has happened in all of the Russian aviation industry. They are the same problems, to greater or lesser degree. The most important of them had been solved through the efforts of the previous management: production reform had been begun, we participated in the Indian tender with planes from the new product line and the MiG-29K project had been brought to a successful end. I have no doubt that we will restore the authority of the MiG brand.

To read the full interview, go here.
Kommersant Photo of Belov by Sergey Mikheev

Thursday, May 29, 2008

INS Nirdeshak's hydrographic survey of Maldives

I don't know why the Ministry of Defence doesn't share pictures like these in a timely manner. Just look at these beauties. This is part of a set taken when Sandgayak-class survey vessel INS Nirdeshak conducted a hydrographic survey of Maldives in November 2007 -- six months ago! Didn't get a whiff of these pix at the time, and now found them unpublicised and buried on the rarely-visited Navy Hydrography site. The last one is from the aerial survey that the team undertook before embarking on the task. Anyway, hopefully more people will see these photos now that they're up here.

DRDO's "approach to technology"

I'm really looking forward to my friend and colleague Ajai Shukla's multipart series on DRDO's approach to technology, which began today in Business Standard. DRDO reveals to Ajai in his first interaction with the chief controllers that the most significant change being made in the workings of DRDO is the introduction of an institutionalised forum titled "Services Interaction Group" (or SIG, which it will inevitably become).

Did I miss something here? Are the folks at DRDO telling us that after a half-century of existence, it's suddenly occured to them that they don't have an institutionalised forum to talk with their principal customers?!! Wait, there's more. Here's what DRDO says the SIG will actually do: "DRDO will work hand-in-hand with the military to identify the technologies, and weapons systems, which the DRDO laboratories must develop." (Wait, let me get this clear, did you say "hand-in-hand"? Amazing!)

I don't know why -- and it's partly a matter of cynicism really -- but every time DRDO tries to slip in these earnest declarations, nobody ever asks the tough questions. Apologists for mediocrity (there are whole communities of those right here on the internet) will reluctantly accept that this is a positive renaissance for the organisation. But what irks the living cr!p out of me is how DRDO makes it sound like they're doing something somehow noble, or pro-active by making these decisions 50 years too late.

Think about it for a second -- a forum for the organisation to interact with the armed forces. Even a cretin would imagine that would have been a priority when the organisation was set up, or at least a priority somewhere along the line. To realise a half-century later that you're somehow not speaking the same language as the guy who you work for, is somehow beyond the surreal. It's downright criminal.

With its recent successes -- and they are welcome, indeed -- DRDO somehow imagines it can erase accountability for its past goofs, mismanagement and incompetence, by somehow projecting a cosmetically new face, a new corporate approach to things, a well-polished publicity machinery and a friendly face. Tough. There's a long way yet. And a good start would be a measure of sincerity about the P Rama Rao committee's recommendations. Last heard, the level of opposition and lobbying by DRDO honchos in the MoD against the committee's observations, has reached hysterical proportions. That's precisely what I mean: Don't deal with the problem. Kill the fellows telling you how to solve them.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

First journalists to fly the P-8A Poseidon!

That's me (right) and Ajit Dubey (FORCE magazine) -- the first journalists ever to fly the P-8A Poseidon full-ops simulator. This is the trailer simulator which the Indian Navy team used to evaluate the inside of the P-8, and what teams from other countries are using as well, since the first P-8 hasn't yet rolled off its production line at Renton not far from where these pictures are taken. The last photo includes Rahul Singh, defence correspondent of Hindustan Times on the right along with me and Ajit. Sidenote: We very nearly took the damn thing down into downtown San Diego, but managed to right her at the screaming last minute. Man these airliners are a whole new ball-game.

"Era of procurement, over", Antony says. Good one!

Here's a press release from the Ministry of Defence, following the Defence Minister AK Antony's visit to Berlin:

The five-day long International Aerospace Exhibition and Conferences- ILA 2008 Berlin Air Show witnessed a grand opening at the Berlin-Schonefeld Airport today with the Defence Minister Shri AK Antony representing 'India as a Partner Country', for the first time, in the 99-year old history of this event. The German Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel declared the Air Show open in the presence of Shri Antony.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Shri Antony, said the Berlin Air Show provides an excellent opportunity to explore innovative cooperation options and arrangements, particularly in the areas of aviation, aerospace and defence. He called upon the international aviation and defence majors to take advantage of the country's expanding market by proactively seeking out industry partners in India. 'The commitments made by some partners to establish production facilities in India or transfer of technology, point towards the opportunities that lie in horizon', he said.

Shri Antony said there is vast potential for cooperation between the defence industry in India and the industries in Germany, Europe and other nations, which would be mutually beneficial. "We need to identify this potential and enhance the levels of cooperation and I hope that our participation in ILA will act as a catalyst in this process."

Giving a brief overview of India's successful 'development model' (!!), Shri Antony said, India's presence at the Berlin Air Show "signifies the progress the country has made in the six decades since Independence." Our steady growth, a buoyant economy and the national strengths which flow from our pluralistic democratic framework have given us a distinct place in today's world. A strong industrial base, sophisticated research and development institutions, backed by a business environment which is conducive to trade and growth, provides vast opportunities for alliances and cooperation between our domestic industry and international partners,' he said.

Referring to the defence production and procurement policies, Shri Antony said, these have been designed not only to further develop our capabilities, promote participation by Indian private sector companies but also encourage co-development and co-production with international manufacturers.

Shri Antony took a walk around the exhibition ground with the German Chancellor and also opened the India Pavillion. A large number of Indian companies – both public and private and Defence Organisations have showcased their defence related capabilities and products at the Show. The composite India Pavilion covering 1200 sq meters has witnessed the participation of five Defence Public Sector Undertakings namely Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML), Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL), Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and Mishra Dhatu Nigam Limited (MIDHANI); the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and five private defence industries – TATA, L&T, CADES, ACCORD, Saraswati Dynamics. The SARANG team of Indian Air Force enthralled the large number of visitors with a scintillating display of aerobatics with their helicopters. The Air Warriors Symphony Orchestra also performed at Berlin Air Show.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Prithvi-II achieves "near perfect" accuracy

Here's the press release that the Defence Ministry issued this afternoon: The surface-to-surface ballistic missile Prithvi-II was successfully launched from ITR, Chandipur, Balasore off Orissa coast at 10:26 this morning. Prithvi–II has a range of 350 Kms with a flight duration of 483 seconds reaching a peak altitude of 43.5 kms. Prithvi-II is inducted into Army and today's launch was carried out as part of Army training.

Taken from a routine production lot, the missile was launched with an improved "Aided Inertial Navigation" and achieved single digit accuracy reaching close to zero circular error probability (CEP). The missile has the features to deceive any anti ballistic missiles. Top Army officials and top DRDO ccientists witnessed the launch. Dr V.K. Saraswat, Chief Controller R & D oversaw all the operations of the missile launch. Shri SP Dash, Director, ITR, Shri DS Reddy, Project Director and other scientists led the team of Scientists. The Defence Minister Shri AK Antony congratulated all the scientists of DRDO on the successful launch of Prithvi-II. Shri M Natarajan, Scientific Advisor to Raksha Mantri has also congratulated the scientists and wished them many more glorious achievements.

Pritvi-2 test-fired

The indigenous Prithvi-2 tactical ballistic missile underwent a successful user trial this morning from the Integrated Test Range (ITR) in Orissa. More details when they come in.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

FIRE ON GORSHKOV QUARTERDECK!!

A minor electrical fire on the quarterdeck of the INS Vikramaditya broke out last week, and has apparently gutted some electrical wire assemblies, welding equipment and metal panels. The Navy hasn't said anything officially about it, but sources confirm that there was a "fire incident" that has caused some minor damage which is being rectified. The cause of the fire is being investigated. Sources also said that at least one entire wire assembly may need replacement as a simple repair will not be acceptable to the Indian team. As Mail Today's headline yesterday put, this is just another woe to a project that's already woefully adrift. The jury is still out on who will be held accountable for the unforgiveable underestimation of the programme's cost. It's a mystery why there hasn't been any witchhunt so far -- I mean the Gorshkov deal was signed by the NDA!

Anyway, for the record while we're on a Vikramaditya yahtzee, here's what CNS Admiral Sureesh Mehta said when visited the Sevmash yards in March (sic, Sevmash's shoddy grammar, the poor guys!):

"I am satisfied with quality of works and cooperation between my observation group and enterprise. It is good for final result. We work on this project for a long time. We have prepared detailed working sheets where it is calculated how long time and how much money are required for cruiser repair. Unfortunately due to some reasons we could not follow initial terms. Now Sevmash has new Director and he began active measures on updating this question. Today I have seen works on cruiser and I hope that soon we can see cruiser afloat. Now we carry out complex negotiations between our countries regarding financial problem: your delegation works in India, where we shall take decisions which will be realized here. To sign this contract we needed four years and we need time to discuss new conditions. I want to emphasize that relations between India and Russia, between Indian Naval Forces and your enterprise shall be at a higher level. They shall not be based only on economical mutually profitable conditions. We trust that we have strategic cooperation. In due time cruiser became present which made mutual profit. Now we shall do our best to achieve final result."

In November last year, Sevmash director Nikolay Kalistratov met his workers for the first time with the wonderful news that the main problems of the enterprise were financial miscalculations in evaluating repair works on aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov and a personnel crisis, where the enterprise is short of main production workers. Feels warm and fuzzy that India's next aircraft carrier is coming from a place in such phenomenal health.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

First four MiG-29K/KUBs arrive September

The aircraft in the photographs is the first MiG-29KUB at the MAKS 2007 air show that I covered in August last year. As you've probably read in reports, the first four fighters are to be delivered in September. Obviously since the INS Vikramaditya itself will only be delivered in 2012 (hopefully!), the MiG-29Ks will see shore-based service for a good three years before seeing operations they were built for. The Goa Shipyards people are constructing a shore-based mock carrier deck at INS Hansa for practice and training on the Ks that should be up and running soon.

Here are some excerpts from MiG's press in March when Admiral Sureesh Mehta visited Russia:

On 18th March 2008, during the visit of India’s Chief of Naval Staff Sureesh Mehta the first serially produced MiG-29KUB (tail number 113) performed its maiden flight at the RAC «MiG» test airfield in Lukhovitsy near Moscow. The aircraft was flown by Pavel Vlasov, RAC «MiG» Chief test pilot, Hero of Russia, and Alexander Pelikh, honored test-pilot, Hero of Russia.

The ship borne fighter traditionally practiced a few taxing and take-off runs before taking to the skies for a 42-minute sortie. In the course of the sortie all aircraft design performances as per the technical requirement were validated. RAC «MiG» contract package for the delivery of the multifunctional carrier-based fighters to the Indian Navy was signed on January, 20, 2004. It envisages the delivery of 12 MiG-29К and 4 MiG-29КUB along with the training of the customer’s flight and technical crew’s, the delivery of simulators and spare parts and the setup of aircraft service support.

The contract also provides for another 30 aircraft option to be delivered by 2015. RAC «MiG» is manufacturing all the 16 series MiG-29K/KUB aircraft to be delivered to the Customer. While in Russia, Naval Chief Sureesh Mehta visited the RAC «MiG» production facilities in Lukhovitsy. He examined the aircraft manufacturing line and commented, “We are now facing the MiG-29K delivery stage.” According to the admiral, the Indian pilots are due in Russia shortly to train both on MiG-29K simulators and actual aircraft.

Single-seat MiG-29K and twin-stick MiG-29KUB are multifunctional ship borne fighters designed for the Navy units’ air defense missions, gaining air superiority, destroying ground and sea targets with the high-precision guided and unguided armament round-the-clock in any weather. The MiG-29К/КUB fighters differ from earlier produced MiG-29 aircraft by improved operational performance, increased reliability of aggregates, systems and assemblies, service life extended by over 2 times, improved fuel system capacity and increased combat load.

While creating MiG-29K/KUB airframe, power plant and avionics the most advanced technologies were employed. The share of composites within the airframe equals almost 15%. The aircraft are equipped with the updated RD-33MK engines featuring increased thrust and extended service life. The fighters’ avionics suite open architecture allows integration of the new Russian and foreign-made equipment and armament onboard the aircraft. The MiG-29К/КUB are fitted with the modern multifunctional multimode pulse-Doppler onboard radar "Zhuk-МE" and state-of-the-art optronic systems.

The representatives of the Indian MoD and Navy actively participated in finalizing the MiG-29K/KUB technical configuration. In some areas they have set up the requirements exceeding world standards. The MiG-29К/КUB aircraft are at the core of the new unificated fighters’ family, which also includes MiG-29M/M2 and MiG-35/MiG-35D. The fighters are designed by the Engineering center of the Mikoyan Design Bureau headed by Vladimir Barkovskiy, Dy Director General – General Designer of RAC «MiG».Chief designer of the MiG-29K/KUB is Nickolay Buntin

All photos by Shiv Aroor

Tejas LSP-1 photos

Not sure if anyone's seen these photos before. Just came across them posted on the ADA site -- yes the notoriously slow one that takes ages and ages to open! Hadn't seen these photos before myself, so I'm putting them here. Last one's a beaut!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Indian Navy's Hornet Query

In response to Ankur's last comment, yes I am familiar with the story you're talking about. It was actually reported by Rahul Singh in Hindustan Times, and picked up by the website you've sent the link for. Either way, Rahul and I were at the same place when we got this story, and his version is accurate. Let me qualify a few facts though. (Photos by Shiv Aroor at the Lemoore Naval Air Station, Califiornia).

We were being driven between the two flanks of the US Navy's Lemoore Naval Air Station in California last to last week, when Boeing's Mike Reitz (programme manager for the Boeing's MMRCA bid) told us about the Navy's query. Interestingly, the query apparently came in quite recently about whether the Super Hornet could operate seamlessly off the INS Vikramaditya as well. What's important to note here is that the Navy isn't interested in buying the Super Hornet. It was a query that was possible initiated by the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) which sustains the somewhat ignored responsibility to engineer acquisitions in such a way as to benefit all three services if possible. Reports coming seem to suggest that the Navy wants to buy a few Super Hornets for itself, but this is untrue, though Boeing's response certainly creates more options.

Once the query was received, Boeing procured general parameters of the Gorshkov from the Indian Navy -- including length, ski-jump angle, angled deck characteristics -- in short everything required for a simulation. Fed into a system, the simulation suggested, supposedly in no uncertain terms, that the Super Hornet -- which so far was dogmatically associated with a steam-catapult launcher -- could indeed take off from a conventional carrier deck like that of the Gorshkov, Virat or the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (which, in all likelihood, is set to be the second INS Vikrant). Boeing added as an adjunct in its response to the Navy, that the Super Hornet could not only take-off and land reliably on such carriers, but that it could do so with a respectable weapons load, which is the whole point. The simulated aircraft took off with a six-pylon config with close-combat, intermediate air-to-air and anti-ship munitions.

Now we can debate endlessly about what the Navy's query is all about!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

INS Vikramaditya overkill!

A Naval team is currently in Russia for the next phase of negotiations on the Admiral Gorshkov price. Thought it's a good time to post some photos that probably haven't been seen before -- at least some of them. I don't know if anyone's already seen them -- I certainly haven't -- so I'm posting them here. This was Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sureesh Mehta's visit to the Sevmash shipyard to inspect the INS Vikramaditya between March 13-19. The important looking Russian gentleman he's with is Sevmash Director General N Kalistratov.

The third photo shows the Indian delegation led by Defence Secretary Vijay Singh to Sevmash a month earlier, right after Russia dropped the bomb about a new price for the Gorshkov. The last few photos have probably been seen, but thought I'd post them anyway -- these are of the Vikramaditya after it was dry-docked. They're all by in-house photographers at the Sevmash yard.