Friday, June 27, 2008

R.I.P


The first time I met Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw was at a Cavalry function held on the Army parade grounds in late 2004, a function I reported for the Express. Bent and frail, but still supremely regal, Sam inspected a guard of honour and the formation. His famous humour was intact. When one television journalist asked Sam what he would have liked to be if not an Army officer, he looked her up and down rakishly and said, "Why, my dear, a gynecologist!" That was my first encounter with the Field Marshal.

In early May 2005, after Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora passed away, I got my first one-on-one with the Field Marshal. My boss at the time insisted that I begin Aurora's obituary piece with a quote from Manekshaw. His daughter Maja was kind enough to allow me to meet them -- they were staying with a friend in the Cantonment area. Gracious and still a formidable presence despite how age had enfeebled him, Manekshaw spoke about Aurora and the war. He did not wait for my questions. He said, "Jaggi was a first class officer, a first class soldier and a first class gentleman. He won the war for India, and I sent him to accept the surrender. He did all the work, and they made me a field marshal instead." My one regret is that I took not photographs of and with the man during this privileged interaction.

Only a month later, I would speak to him again, this time over the phone. Gauhar Ayub Khan had spoken out about the "sold out war plans" by an MO directorate Brigadier. I was asked to scrutinise in great detail the 1965 war official history to see if any allusions had been made to possible treachery of any kind. A few days after Gauhar opened his mouth, journalistic and military circles had pretty much begun to assume that the man meant Sam Manekshaw, and meant more to defile him while he languished almost bed-ridden at Stavka, his house in Wellington.

"My dear boy, I do not even remember when I was part of the Military Operations directorate. You are asking too much, asking me to remember something that happened so long ago. And I do not know the person who is making these claims. I am hearing them from you for the first time. What else did he say?" There was an earnestness to Manekshaw that nobody could miss.

In late 2005, Manekshaw's health began to slip on regular intervals. By 2006, he was pretty much based out of the Military Hospital in Wellington. I was in touch with one doctor who was part of the team that treated him, and through him, kept a regular bulletin of sorts in the Express, reporting Manekshaw's health. In early 2006, I spoke to his daughter Maja again over the phone -- she was in Wellington, and Sam had been in the hospital for over three weeks, suffering an acute shortness of breath. This developed over the next many months into acute bronchiopneumonia that finally finished him off.

Colleagues who've covered Manekshaw's health with me said he was made of hardy stuff, and this would be just another false alarm. I guess this time, he really did need to go. R.I.P.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

*FLASH* Seven ALH Dhruvs for Ecuador Air Force!

Reported yesterday on the agencies, but here's the official press release from the government. A big congratulations to HAL for a significant win. Truly fantastic news: The Defence Public Sector Undertaking, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has secured an order for supply of 7 Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters to Ecuadorian Air Force. HAL has bagged this order amidst strong competition from M/s. Elbit, M/s. Eurocopter and M/s. Kazan. HAL's offer of $ 50.7 million for 7 helicopters was about 32% lower than the second lowest bid from M/s. Elbit. The first helicopter would be delivered by HAL in 6 month's time. The contract for the supply of helicopters is likely to be signed within a few weeks. This order signifies Ecuador's confidence in Indian technology and can lead the way for further collaboration. This contract, which will establish HAL internationally, has been extremely significant and hard fought

HAL has already supplied 76 helicopters to the defence services with excellent serviceability records. The company is presently executing orders for 159 more helicopters for Army and Air Force.

Sam Bahadur comatose, critical

Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw is in critical condition, under treatment at the Military Hospital at Wellington, Tamil Nadu. Manekshaw has been permanently based at the hospital for almost three years now. I spoke with his daughter Maya Daruwala in mid-2006, at which time she said he wasn't suffering from pneumonia as had been reported frequently before, but an acute shortness of breath and general age-related degenerative ailments. Well, all I know is the man is made of the stuff they make football helmets from. Hard as nails. A real survivor. Over the last four years, he's been "critical" at least four times, and he's pick-axed his way back from the brink like the real fighter he is. Prayers.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Indo-French Maitri Programme: Don't repeat BrahMos botch-ups

The Indo-French missile programme Maitri, basically a face-saving bailout of the completely botched Trishul (Dr Prahalada was candid about this when he spoke to me at DefExpo this year), is a good idea. It's fully in line with DRDO's new policy of prudent project management, inviting foreign technology where Indian technology -- or time constraints for the armed forces -- is restrictive. This week, a group of Indian journalists visiting Paris were told by MBDA, the French partner to DRDL in the programme, that the two agencies would "co-produce surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) on the lines of the Indo-Russian Brahmos missile". I posted the Maitri news here in May last year.

I'm just a little iffy about this whole comparison with the BrahMos business model. Because, to be fair, no matter how much everyone thinks the BrahMos model embodies all that is robust and prudent about military co-development, it has come to also be a manifestation of manipulation, diplomatic treachery, fundamental oversight and bold arrogance by the Russians. The BrahMos goofs have emboldened Russia in many ways to cock a snook at India in multiple programmes now -- the Gorshkov aircraft carrier , the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) and, as recently reported by Ajai Shukla, the engine NPO-Saturn has built for HAL's intermediate jet trainer (IJT Sitara) as well.

So here's a prescription of sorts, of what the governors of the Maitri programme should ensure so that they don't have to wring their hands five years from now, and bereave stepping into all-too-familiar BrahMos-style landmines, lacunae, fine-print and pitfalls.

For starters, let's not pretend the French are doing us any favours. They've got this juicy pie because Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) is stupendously corrupt, and the government has only begun to recognise that (it's anyone's guess, however, about who's raking it in on the follow on Phalcon deal!). So a testament to this should be confirmation from the French about how many of the Maitri systems they themselves will induct. The Russians were clever to hide -- and the Indians were stupid to miss -- this crucial point out in the BrahMos agreement. As a result, now Russia throws constitutional restrictions against inducting non-Russian equipment in India's face, while BrahMos Aerospace licks its wounds not quite knowing what to do.

Second, get a clear-cut export policy during the programme, so that when the missile is ready, it isn't tangled up in ridiculous red-tape about who we can and cannot export arms to. The BrahMos is still tethered to the ground because the MoD hasn't issued clear directives on who it can or cannot export to.

Third, ensure that unlike the BrahMos programme, the Maitri does not allow the French to shortchange us on technology. India needs the French for seeker and guidance systems, since the Trishul's three-beam guidance system simply could not be perfected. So make sure right from the start that they don't throw up their hands mid-stream. Creating infrastructure for ramjet technology (in the BrahMos) I admit would take a lot of doing -- but India has the infrastructure to absorb electronics and missile software development infrastructure.

The Hindu quotes MBDA CEO Antoine Bouvier, as saying, "The decision to field the MBDL-BDL-DRDO Maitri missile was not easy. We could have responded with products here. But want to give priority to our long-term vision. The intention is to offer systems produced entirely in India rather than those that are partly made.” -- that's sweet, noble, hogwash our DRDO folks shouldn't get sentimental about, as they routinely do.

The short-point. The BrahMos programme was a partial success. We've got to take all the bitter lessons we've learnt from BrahMos, and ensure that Maitri is a true success.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Photos: Army chief General Deepak Kapoor in Russia + Russia, India agree to share mountain warfare training experience

An article in today's RIA Novosti: MOSCOW, June 24 (RIA Novosti) - Russia and India have agreed to exchange knowledge in the training of mountain troops as part of an extensive military cooperation program, an aide to Russia's Ground Forces commander said on Tuesday.

India's Chief of Army Staff, General Deepak Kapoor, arrived in Moscow on Monday on a five-day visit to Russia. He met Tuesday with Russia's Ground Forces commander, Gen. Alexei Maslov, to discuss prospects for bilateral military cooperation.

"Generals Maslov and Kapoor agreed to establish a regular exchange of experience in training mountain troops," Col. Igor Konashenkov said. "This year 10 Russian officers from mountain brigades [deployed in the North Caucasus] will visit an Indian military training center located in the mountain ridges of [India's northernmost states] Jammu and Kashmir," he added.

Mountain warfare is one of the most dangerous types of combat, as it involves fighting not only the enemy but also extreme cold and inaccessible terrain. As part of his current tour, the Indian army chief will visit the North Caucasus military district.

Russia began deploying two mountain brigades in the North Caucasus last year, near the mountainous border with Georgia. The two brigades are made up of contract soldiers, totaling about 4,500 personnel. The Indian Army has 10 divisions dedicated to mountain warfare and another infantry division earmarked for high altitude operations. They are deployed in strategically important areas along the borders with its traditional rivals, Pakistan and China. India and Russia have a long history of military cooperation, which goes back almost half a century. The existing Russian-Indian military-technical cooperation program, which lasts until 2010, includes up to 200 projects worth about $18 billion in all, according to Russia's Defense Ministry.

Photos: Two more images of the LCA Tejas LSP2

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Photos: Air Chief visits J&K forward air bases

Press Release and photos from the IAF today: The Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal FH Major PVSM AVSM SC VM ADC Visited AF Stn Leh, AF Stn Thoise and Base Camp in Ladakh sector from 20 Jun 08 to 21 Jun 08. His tour of AF Stn Leh and the Base camp was accompanied by Air Cmde KS Gill YSM, VM Air Officer Commanding AF Stn Leh.

He flew over the glacier and very high altitude posts himself to asses the situation. He met and interacted with air warriors at the Base Camp in Siachen Glacier.

One of the highlights during the visit to AF Stn Leh was the trial landing by the CAS on training pillar helipad constructed at AF Stn Leh. This helipad has been specially made for training of helicopter pilots to land at very small size table top helipads in the Glacier region.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Photos: Nishant UAV flight tested today

Just got this press release from DRDO: Nishant, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) developed by DRDO for Indian Army was successfully flight tested near Kolar in Karnataka, today. The state-of-the-art UAV is developed by Aeronautical Development Establishment, Bangalore jointly with Defence Electronics Application Laboratory, Dehradun, Research and Development (Engineers), Pune and Aerial Delivery Research & Development Establishment, Agra.

Nishant is one of the few UAVs in the World in its weight class capable of being catapult launch and recovered by using parachute thus eliminating need for runway as in the case of conventional take off and landing with wheels.

Nishant has completed development Phase and User trials. The present flight tests are Pre Confirmatory Trials before induction into Services. The flight test was witnessed by user representatives, in the presence of Senior Scientists of DRDO.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

More Photos: Defence Minister's visit to J&K forward areas

Photos: Defence Minister visits J&K forward areas

*FLASH* Hawk crash caused by pilot error, Thrust malfunction

News just broke on Headlines Today: the team investigating the April 29 crash of a brand new Indian Air Force Hawk advanced jet trainer has apparently attributed the crash 90 per cent to pilot error. The remaining ten per cent has been attributed to questionable performance of the Hawk AJT's "regulated take-off" thrust setting. According to the investigation, the pilots were not supposed to have engaged regulated take-off for the training sortie (something the people at BAE Systems have also apparently testified to the inquiry team). At the same time, the report says that under no circumstances should the regulated take-off setting have resulted in an accident. A miscommunication over radio between the two pilots and between the pilots and ATC have also been suggested as a possible contributor to the accident.

So is BAE Systems vindicated by the report? Unlikely. According to sources, the report also slams BAE Systems on three counts: performance of the pilot-machine interface during take-off and survivability of the aircraft such as it is. It was not in the purview of the investigative team to go into the details of spares, though it is still open to investigation if there were technical faults involved as well. Also, according to some reports, BAE Systems has been mounting a highly unsavoury unofficial campaign by painting the IAF as a bunch of incompetent chaps who don't know how to handle new aircraft, or how frequently to use them.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The beautiful Light Combat Helicopter!

Thanks to an anonymous commenter for posting the links to these two photos in the comments section to the LSP2 post! The LCH looks marvellous -- these are from the HAL display pavilion at the Berlin Air Show 2008! Now, for some more stuff on it. Thanks anon, for posting the URLs. More on the LCH this week.

Photo: LCA Tejas LSP-2!

DRDO has only released this one picture of the LSP-2 on pre-flight checks yesterday in Bangalore. Hopefully they'll release some mid-air photos soon. Meanwhile, here's the press release they sent out this morning: The much-awaited maiden flight of Tejas LSP-2 took place 16 June at HAL airport Bangalore. Even though the aircraft was ready for its maiden flight last week itself, the flight could not take place because of the pre-monsoon weather prevailing over Bangalore. The flight was conducted by National Flight Test Centre (NFTC) of Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA). The aircraft was flown by NFTC test pilot Wg Cdr N Tiwari.

As has been the practice, the maiden flight of this aircraft was chased by another Tejas aircraft PV3, piloted by Wg Cdr RR Tyagi. The test was conducted from NFTC's telemetry station, with Wg Cdr M Prabhu, flight test engineer, as the test director. Today's maiden flight of LSP2 was significant on several accounts. This is the second limited series production aircraft that rolled out of the LSP hangar of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. This is also the first aircraft powered by the new GE404-IN20 engine and also has a new ejection seat version, the Martin Baker Mk 16LG.

The IN20 engine has several improved features over the GE404-F2J3 engines that have been powering the previous Tejas prototypes, like the Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC), increased thrust and life. The aircraft to be delivered to the IAF and Indian Navy will have this engine and hence, this is an important step towards achieving Initial Operational Capability (IOC) and further induction of the aircraft into the IAF and Indian Navy. The flight lasted 43 minutes wherein it covered an altitude of 9.5 km and a speed of 1.1 Mach. This is the second time that a Tejas aircraft has flown supersonic in its very first flight. The tests for the specific flight covered engine handling and check out of aircraft systems within the envelope flown. All the aircraft systems performed well and all the test objectives were fully achieved.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Photos: Tejas hot weather trials + LCA Tejas LSP-2 maiden flight!!!

Had completely forgotten to post these photographs last month. Anyway, for what they're worth! Here's the bunch of photos that the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) released after the hot-weather trials of the Light Combat Aircraft Tejas in Nagpur in May. A nice set.

Tejas LSP-2 Takes OFF!

The second Tejas limited series production (LSP-2) fighter took to the skies today from the HAL airport in Bangalore. There hasn't been a press release from HAL or the MoD yet, though there were a scattering of agency reports on the flight. The successful half-hour flight was piloted by NFTC test pilot Wg Cdr N Tiwari, who is reported to have flown the LSP-2 at Mach 1.1. The third Tejas prototype vehicle (PV-3) was on chase duty, and flown by Wg Cdr RR Tyagi.

According to a local HAL press release, "This is the second limited series production aircraft that rolled out of the LSP hangar of HAL. It is the first aircraft powered by the new GE404-IN20 engine and also had a new ejection seat version, the Martin Baker Mk 16LG."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Antony warns against overdependence on foreign suppliers while inaugurating new DARE Complex in Bangalore

Press Release from the MoD today: Defence Minister AK Antony today cautioned defence scientists and the Armed Forces to reduce their over-dependence on foreign countries and suppliers for 'cutting edge technologies'. Inaugurating the new complex of the Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE) in Bangalore, he said, 'such a tendency may land the country and the Armed Forces in deep trouble in crucial times in the form of import restrictions, technology denial or even undue and unjustified delay in the delivery of already contracted systems or components.' Antony said the government will give all support to the scientists to achieve self-reliance in cutting edge technologies for the Armed Forces.

DARE, formerly known as Advanced System Integration and Evaluation Organisation(ASIEO) was formed in 1986 under the leadership of Dr KG Narayanan with a team of four scientists drawn from LRDE and DRDL and a couple of officers from Indian Air Force. It has achieved many milestones in the last two decades including equipping several squadrons of various types of IAF aircraft with Electronic Protection and Jamming System.

The Defence Minister asked DRDO scientists to 'devise ways and means to utilise modern technology to further reduce the stress on our troops'. while the government will not allow resources to be a constraint, it must be ensured that the various resources – human, financial, technological are not frittered away.

Shri Antony complimented the scientists, engineers, technicians and other DRDO personnel for putting in hard work in developing critical and state-of-the-art technology systems, platforms and equipment in the last fifty years against heavy odds. However, he asked them to minimize time and cost over runs and satisfy the expectations of the Armed Forces.

'Despite technology denials and restrictive exports regime, DRDO has been able to develop strategic systems and advanced missiles. The programmes and projects designed by DRDO have significantly enhanced the combat readiness of our Armed Forces. At the same time, the organisation needs to improve its track record on minimising the time and cost overruns and satisfaction levels of the end-user – that is, our Armed Forces', Shri Antony said.

The Defence Minister said the nature and scope of the potential threats are changing constantly and the need of the hour is to develop innovative and indigenous defence systems' to counter these challenges. He said, it is imperative that we achieve the goal of modernising and equipping our Defence Forces with cutting-edge technologies but with least dependence on foreign assistance.

Shri Antony said DARE has been entrusted with the task of delivering high precision systems to the Indian Air Force. DARE has developed numerous Electronic Warfare (EW) and avionics systems for airborne application for the Indian Air Force. However, he said, it must be borne in mind that 'high-tech products need to be futuristic, as technology can never be static'.

The Defence Minister said all efforts must be made to retain our 'precious wealth' of human resources and to nourish them by suitably tailoring our work environment. 'We must transform the work culture in such a way that working not only becomes more productive in professional terms, but is also relaxing and enjoyable,' he said.

Speaking on the occasion, the DRDO Chief Shri M Natarajan said the shortcomings of certain products made by DRDO can be significantly improved to the total satisfaction of the user agencies with productionisation.

The Director of DARE Shri RP Ramalingam said the organization will be field testing fourth generation Electronic Warfare System for the MiG-27 and LCA in the next 18 months.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Indian attack chopper deal: the 6 contenders

The Indian government has initiated the process to procure 22 attack helicopters for the Indian Air Force. Requests for Proposals were sent out earlier this month to five contenders. From top: Bell AH-1 Super Cobra; the Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow; AgustaWestland AW129 Mangusta; Eurocopter Tiger; Kamov Ka-50 Black Shark and; Mil Mi-28 Havoc.

The Denel AH-2 Rooivalk would have been a contender for the deal, had Denel not been on the blacklist for that anti-material rifle fracas.