Tuesday, June 30, 2009

MMRCA Part 3 - The Future Fulcrum










The way the Russians have been behaving over a multiplicity of ongoing defence contracts, it would seem as though they had no real interest in the MMRCA deal. The complexion in ties has changed so deeply since the 1980s, that there is a very palpable degree of acrimony in pretty much every dealing with the Russians these days. They'll release photos of smiling Indian MoD bureaucrafts with their bureau officials, but behind the scenes, things are almost always ugly. Yet, Russia has gargantuan leverage with India, based entirely of course on the huge number of deals yet to be completed. The MiG-35 comes across as not convincing enough, and Russia has still to prove that it is a reliable after-sales supplier. The one thing that the Russians have managed to pull off, is to convince the IAF that the MiG-35 isn't just any old Fulcrum. It's the Fulcrum.

STRENGTHS

One of the principal draws of the MiG-35 is commonality of inventory type. Alongside the Indian Navy's MiG-29Ks and the IAF's upgraded MiG-29s, a lot of senior MoD officials believe the MiG-35 would be a sensible choice that would translate into real savings in infrastructure and trainign costs. The IAF holds its MiG-29s in high esteem. In fact, the MiG-29M/M2 and subsequently the MiG-35, were developed based in part on informal but organised feedback from IAF pilots on what was required to make the MiG-29 a truly multipurpose airplane. The IAF says it is eagerly awaiting more information and a demonstration of the FGA-35 variant of the Phazotron Zhuk-AE AESA radar, yet untested. In demonstration flights, IAF pilots have also been given an expansive look at the MiG-35's highly unique optronic locator system (OLS), which one IAF pilot (who flew the MiG-35 at Aero India 2007) said surpassed similar gear on some of the other aircraft. The OLS consists of an infrared search and track sensor in on the nose of the aircraft, and a ground attack sensor fitted next to one of the intakes. The IAF has been given demonstrations of the RD-33MK turbofan, and is very pleased with what Klimov has managed to achieve with it, against some fairly difficult deadline and legacy odds, though the IAF and MoD were terribly irked and continue to be so with Russia's decision to sell jet engines to Pakistan for the JF programme -- something that could spell real trouble in the final decision (Remember, other countries sell to Pakistan as well, but India reserves great expectations from Russia, especially since Moscow has articulated these loyalties more than once). Rosoboronexport has managed to convince the IAF quite effectively that the MiG-35 is indeed a quantum technological leap from the legacy Fulcrum. Politically, India continues to have enormous strategic ties with Russia, notwithstanding a certain fraying in recent times. Russia has always supported India politically during operations, and has never dared to question India's use of its equipment. Finally, the Russians have the most well-entrenched and experienced lobby within the IAF and government. And extravagant acts of politico-strategic altruism are not unprecedented when it comes to Indo-Russian defence ties.

WEAKNESSES

The MiG-35 programme has a single prototype (the ubiquitous No. 154 -- I flew in this at MAKS 07) and that too one without a full complement of the avionics/sensor package listed in the offered configuration. As a result, the IAF is of the view that a lot of the MiG-35's capabilities, as articulated by its engineers and pilots, are still theoretical, even though they may be perfectly real once the full package is integrated and available. With field evaluations to begin anytime now, there's a sense of apprehension about just how MiG will demonstrate the aircraft without testbed platforms -- which obviously throws up the question, will the IAF consider technological parameters on testbeds rather than on a fully integrated fighter plane? The MiG-35 is rigged with the MIL-STD-1553 electrical data bus, which could prove a serious downer, considering that some rival contenders come with the MIL-STD-1773 optical fibre based data bus, which the IAF is seriously interested in. A factor that almost needs no mentioning is that Russia has carelessly squandered any time it was given to prove its reliability, but persisting with its putrid reputation for being fickle, even heartlessly apathetic, when it came to after-sales support. Even the IAF's existing MiG-29s suffer from serviceability issues as a result of Russia's refusal to cooperate quickly on spares and aggregates support. Something that could go majorly against the MiG-35 is also the fact that the Russian Air Force has no immediate plans to place orders for the aircraft, and is instead going the Super Flanker way with greater gusto. Politically, the government feels there is little that can be politically gained from Russia, considering that strategic ties are already mature, even at a saturation level. Secondly, Russia's position in international politics has plummetted relentlessly since the 1990s, and the country offers no strategic advantages anymore. Third, buying from Russia would be a full-frontal on the US, which -- like it or not -- is India's principal foreign policy holy grail.

Top Photo Copyright Stefan Gawlista
Photo of Shiv Aroor with MiG-35 test pilot Stanislav Gorbunov
Photo of MiG-35 cockpit by Shiv Aroor
Radar and in-flight photo Copyright RAC-MiG

Tomorrow: Part 4 - A Squall from France

See Also:
Part I - The Super Viper
Part II - The Swedish Underdog

MMRCA Part 2 - The Swedish Underdog








Saab's tagline for the Gripen India campaign ("The Independent Choice") tells you a great deal about the depth of recognition by the company that the competition will most definitely be decided on political lines. Politically, the Gripen is squarely the odds-on underdog in the competition. The fact that it is an "independent choice" hasn't impressed an establishment that refuses to budge from the perception that the purchase of 126 fighters is as much a definitive politico-strategic investment as it is the topping up of depleting squadron strength of the IAF. This is not unreasonable, and even IAF pilots believe that the MMRCA contract is a chance to change a lot of things. Some view the Gripen's marketing as defensive, almost yielding too much to the overwhelming perception that India will buy American. But the aircraft itself has a great deal going for it.

STRENGTHS

Apart from the fact that is undoubtedly an excellent airplane, ironically, the Gripen's biggest play is the fact that it is a relatively independent choice. Within the government, many believe the Gripen is a safe bet at a good price, and one that (like the F-16), fits in with what the IAF had originally asked for. There also exists a belief within the government that the people at Saab have pioneered and fast-tracked the Demo NG programme principally for the MMRCA programme, and taken this to mean a level of commitment. The IAF has also received and been impressed by independent testimonials from the air forces of Hungary and Czech Republic about turnaround and ownership costs of the Gripen C/D. The IAF is also quite impressed with the Gripen's permutation configuration of systems, sensors and avionics, not to mention a quantum leap in the computer/bus (including Link 16), GCAS, satellite comms, payload capacity and EWS between the Gripen C/D and the Gripen NG. The IAF also likes the very nifty Cobra helmet mounted display system. The Gripen's pitch that it can be turned around on the ground (engine, systems) the fastest among all contenders makes it perfect for the IAF. The Gripen team has also squarely pitched the airplane as the a perfect complement to the "big-hitter" Su-30MKIs, implying that India's growing Flanker fleet could be inadvertently rendered superfluous if the heavy contenders in the MMRCA -- the F/A-18, the Typhoon or the Rafale -- were chosen for induction.

WEAKNESSES

Unfortunately, the Gripen's weaknesses are many. The biggest, I've outlined in the intro. The fact that is provides no strategic fruits is a big downer. The fact that Sweden promises not to interfere, but rather provide full autonomy to the Gripen India programme is simply too little in the Indian context. In fact, there are senior officers in the IAF who believe that Saab flatters itself in the belief that Sweden is powerful enough to fiddle with the strategic/military autonomy of a country like India, especially since the MMRCA provides for a total transfer of technology that very nearly precludes the possibility of any meaningful interference post-contract. Another weakness is the aircraft's country of origin itself. Provided that the Saab proves to be the best aircraft in the field evaluation tests (FETs) -- which it well might -- will any Indian government, let alone the Congress -- have the guts to buy Swedish ever again? If anyone has any doubts about the Bofors ghost, cast a glance at the farcical joke being played in the Indian Army's efforts to purchase 400 towed 155-mm artillery guns. It's been on since 2003, with an unprecedented four trial rounds. The final results laid out that the SWS Bofors gun was on top throughout. At the last moment, then Army chief General JJ Singh gave in to a firm political warning and called for a re-tender of the entire competition. It probably speaks volumes that he's now the politically-appointed Governor of Arunachal Pradesh. A stunned Bofors still hasn't recovered from the shock. Saab, which close links with the Bofors company, knows just what a liability being from Sweden is forever more in India. Worse, there's no sidestepping it. Worse still, even the IAF recognises that. The tragedy is, of course, that the Gripen has absolutely nothing to do with Bofors.

Tomorrow: Part III - The Future Fulcrum

See also:
Part 1 - The Super Viper

Monday, June 29, 2009

IAF Mountaineers trace crashed An-32's blackbox

Four ace mountaineers from IAF’s adventure cell were recently summoned for a special mission -- to locate and retrieve the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and flight data recorder (FDR), of the ill-fated AN-32 that crashed on June 9, near Menchuka in Arunachal Pradesh.

The IAF used the expertise of its adventure-loving air warriors to retrieve the most vital element sought after any air crash -- the FDR, to help provide clues to the air crash. Led by Squadron Leader Namit Rawat, a mountaineer for the last 12 years, together with other experienced mountaineers Warrant Officer Nizammuddin, Junior Warrant Officers Narendra Kumar and NR Choudhry, also a former Everest conqueror, formed the quartet that successfully accomplished the mission on June 16.

“For the first time, adventure was used in an operational field. It just proves that adventure is not only fun but can also be used in other productive fields, especially when life of IAF personnel and assets are involved that will help find facts to help reduce future accidents,” said Squadron Leader Rawat, of their mission.

It may be recalled that the debris of the aircraft was located on June 10, a day after the crash by a team comprising Army, ITBP and Arunachal Pradesh police personnel guided by a local eye-witness in the hilly tracts of Tato, near Menchuka. The team however, lacked knowledge of identifying the FDR/CVR and its retrieval. It was then decided by IAF to send its own mountaineers to accomplish the task.

The team equipped with mountaineering equipment reached Jorhat, the parent base of the ill-fated aircraft, on June 14. After a thorough briefing to help identify the CVR and FDR and a hands-on demonstration on how to extract it from the aircraft body, the team after studying the images of the crash site were flown to Tato, in a Mi-17 helicopter, the following day. The trek to the base camp where the earlier search party was camping began early on the morning of June 16.

“After reaching the end of the road by a vehicle, we trekked down with all our equipment including the special tools given at Jorhat, crossing a river over an existing bridge and climbed up again to reach the campsite by 1330 hrs," said Squadron Leader Rawat. The campsite was at a height of 7,900 feet, about 500 feet below the scattered debris site.

“After pitching our tents we set course immediately for our search even as the weather remained cloudy," he added. The team was also joined by four other IAF members -- two Technical Officers, a Court of Inquiry Pilot member and an Instrument Fitter technician. The team located the tail section of the aircraft amongst the scattered debris hanging precariously over few trees and inverted in an awkward 75-degree angle that could have easily dropped below to the depths, hundreds of feet below without any likely possibility of recovery later. The CVR and FDR are normally housed in the tail section of the aircraft. The extraction was not an easy task and the courage and spirit of adventure was going to be tested beyond the normal call of duty. For the mountaineer air warriors, who in the past have been at the precipice of life and death in many a mountainous sojourn of adventure, approached the task in the same manner as they would normally do in a life-or-death situation during any expedition.

After securing themselves with mountaineering gadgets and ropes ensuring safety, it was left to Choudhry to unscrew the panels painstakingly. The CVR and FDR were finally retrieved by the team after nearly an hour-and-half operation successfully. The team also looked for more panels that could help the accident investigation team. The recorders have since been sent to Jorhat where investigators are now studying it.

Text abridged from IAF statement
Photo: Shiv Aroor

Death Knell for Kaveri Jet Engine?

See this piece by Ravi Sharma in The Hindu today.

MMRCA Part 1 - The F-16IN Super Viper












The handful of IAF pilots who got a chance to fly one of the UAE Block 60 Desert Falcons at Yelahanka in February had fantastic things to say about the aircraft. They were sold on everything from the sidestick to the the phenomenally well-designed bubble canopy, and from the gorgeous low altitude handling characteristics to the add-on IR pod. And this is quite separate from their experience of the aircraft's cockpit avionics. That's something that can scarcely be overstated. Based on my personal discussions with pilots, Defence Ministry officials and others familiar with the aircraft, here's a run down of the F-16's strengths and weaknesses in the current MMRCA competition. Remember, this is an overview of the opinion in establishment circles on the aircraft, and not merely a reiteration of facts already in the public domain.

STRENGTHS

There is simply no denying the F-16's operational record, a statistic completely unmatched by any other fighter plane flying today. The figures speak for themselves: 13 million flight hours, out of which 400,000 hours have been spent in combat. The type has flown over 100,000 combat missions and has been proven to be a true multirole fighter. The type has scored 72 air-to-air kills in the combat missions it has been flown on. This is an aspect that enjoys very serious credence within decision-making circles. The fact that the fighter is owned and operated by 24 nations is another source of reassurance. The air force also views this as a de-risking aspect of any potential purchase. The aircraft comes equipped with an AESA radar (the Northrop Grumman AN/APG-80) that the IAF absolutely adores. The IAF also feels the MIL-STD-1773 data bus on the fighter will be an enormous and valuable legacy leap, and this has been a point of some discussion during internal presentations made on the MMRCA contenders. The aircraft's cockpit ergonomics has the IAF in raptures, including former chief S Krishnaswami, who flew an F-16I during a visit to Israel in 2004, and could barely stop talking about what an amazing cockpit it had. One of the F-16's principal strengths is also its unit price. At under $30-million a piece, the IAF views the F-16 as a highly capable fighter at a highly competitive purchase price. The fact that there have been 52 follow-on buys of the type are considered an indicator to the IAF that ownership/lifecycle costs are also competitive. The IAF doesn't miss the fact that the F-16 is one of only two aircraft in the sweepstakes that fits the original weight specs laid out in the original qualitiative requirement -- QRs which were substantially altered later to allow in heavy fighters. Finally, (and probably most importantly!), the F-16 has the backing of the United States government, the target of India's most ambitious current foreign policy initiatives. Needless to say, anyone who downplays that aspect, is doing so at their peril.

WEAKNESSES

Let's get straight to what the IAF and Defence Ministry don't like at all about the F-16. The fact that there is a steady phase-out/replacement programme underway in the US, despite Lockheed-Martin's repeated insistence that there are four large busy production lines. The fact that the US isn't buying anymore Falcons is enough to put serious doubts into India's mind. Picking up early on this, Lockheed has managed to convincingly drive home the point that the F-16 is the logical bridge to the F-35 Lightning II, though this is viewed by the IAF as too crafty. It's almost a fake pledge, considering the gargantual clearances and procedures that would be necessary for India to be considered a buyer of a fifth generation fighter plane. Lockheed's pitch about the F-35 has therefore backfired in parts. A senior IAF officer, recently retired, says "While we were initially only doubtful, the F-35 pitch proved beyond doubt that Lockheed is trying to squeeze the last few drops out of its F-16 production lines, and the Indian requirement is too mouth-watering for them to ignore." The fact that the aircraft is operated by a lot of other countries, ironically, has a minor backlash effect as well on the IAF -- some of the top brass feel that an ambitious new purchase like the MMRCA contract, should be for a unique and exclusive aircraft, not one that is owned and operated by a huge number of other countries (including Pakistan -- the radar signature debate holds credence, incidentally), even though they do reluctantly agree that under the bonnet, the F-16IN is hardly comparable to previous variants of the same type. Finally, relations with the Obama administration have cooled considerably compared to the phonecall-a-minute diplomacy with Bush Jr, and this itself has somewhat blunted the throbbing needle pointing to Washington, even though the President has made it clear that he plans to keep up the evolving strategic dialogue with India.

Lead Photo by Lockheed-Martin / Other Photos: Shiv Aroor

Tomorrow: Part II - The Swedish Underdog

EXCLUSIVE: Colombia interested in MBT Arjun!

LiveFist has confirmed that the Latin American country Colombia has expressed interest in purchasing India's indigenous Main Battle Tank (MBT) Arjun. The National Army of Colombia (Ejército Nacional de Colombia) operates armoured personnel carriers and infantry combat vehicles of Brazilian and American origin, but does not have any main armoured strength. As part of its modernisation drive, the country is interested in inducting regiments of main battle tanks. The country has sent the DRDO a request for information (RFI) on MBT Arjun. This is the first ever expression of interest from abroad in the MBT Arjun.

The Colombian Army apparently wants tank regiments to bolster defences on its border with Venezuela where the Chavez government is going on a relentless arms buying spree. In 2004, in fact, Spain pulled out of a deal to supply 46 AMX-30 battle tanks to Colombia amid fears that it would spark off an arms race with Venezuela -- which is precisely what has happened anyway. Remember, Colombia is a country embroiled in low intensity armed civil war, one that has been on since the 1960s.

Coming up...

Ahead of the field evaluation tests (FETs) that kick off shortly, LiveFist brings you a six-part series that breaks down the six contenders in the IAF's $12 billion medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA) competition. Each aircraft's weaknesses and strengths, the political muscle of the governments that back them, an overview of their chances in the sweepstakes. Tomorrow: Part I - The F-16 Super Viper. Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

How important is Supercruise in the MMRCA competition?

Supercruise is not a qualitative requirement in the Indian Air Force's Medium Multirole Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition, but that doesn't mean it won't play a role. It should be noted that while the Request for Proposal (RfP) document was being drawn up (it took nearly three years), supercruise was listed in the original draft as a mandatory requirement that the IAF was looking for. Dockets of research on the physics of supercruise, including numerous unclassified presentations on the F-22 and Eurojet GmbH did their rounds around Vayu Bhawan for a while in 2004-05. An example of just what a catchword supercruise was for the MMRCA, is documented here.

To quote the text of that portion of the original RfP draft, the IAF put it down that supercruise was required for "game-changing tactical advantages in offensive and defensive spectrum" and also "lowered IR signature, rapid theater presence, evolutionary sensor/weapon kinematics and denial of enemy reaction time". Interestingly, the IAF refrained from putting down any additional parameters for the supercruise regime it was looking for.

Obviously, the IAF has never operated supercruising aircraft before. Its Hunters routinely went briefly supersonic in steep dives, but never has it operated aircraft that could travel faster than sound in sustained level flight with a meaningful military payload without engine reheat. For all the criticism that the Indian armed forces usually cut and paste from brochures to draw up their qualitative requirements, the IAF did some homework in earnest on supercruise. As a matter of fact, during one meeting of the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) in 2007, at which the Tejas' propulsion problems were being deliberated upon, then Chief of Air Staff FH Major apparently said that the agencies involved needed to ensure that the next-generation engine that would ultimately power the Medium Combat Aircraft (MCA) and the final integrated airframe, had supercruise capabilities.

Between 2004-07, the IAF had done some serious reading on supercruise, and formulated an opinion on the subject, apparently still a contentious one in military aviation research. However, the IAF finally decided not to push its case for supercruise in the final RfP document, which is why it does not exist in the final tender that was sent out to Saab, MiG, Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, EADS and Dassault. In the event, that was a wise decision. Because it would probably have sliced away most or all of the contenders any way.

In January this year, a Gripen demonstrator aircraft -- of the type on offer to India -- achieved supercruise. Pilot Magnus Ljungdahl said, "The flight was conducted over the Baltic Sea, my altitude was 28,000 feet and the speed achieved was above Mach 1.2. Without using afterburner I maintained the same speed until I ran out of test area and had to head back to the Saab Test Flight Centre in Linköping."

Does one test flight prove that the Gripen IN can supercruise? Does that go onto the aircraft's CV then? Possibly. The Eurofighter can also apparently supercruise according to EADS. But Saab and EADS don't talk about what fuel/weapons loads the aircraft can carry when supercruising. The other four jets in the competition make no bones about not being able to supercruise, though there's plenty of hypocritical rhetoric that still comes the IAF's way from Boeing/Lockheed about how supercruise is not as economic, useful or tactically dramatic as it's made out to be in a modern military scenario, and therefore shouldn't seriously figure among the "x-factor" parameters that will be tested during the trial evaluations. A little rich, coming from the companies that tom-tom the F-22's supercruise capability as though the aircraft has little else to offer.

I imagine the IAF has sunk its teeth meaningfully into the supercruise debate -- because it is a debate. There are a huge number of considerations that go into the ability to supercruise, and it's the total package that counts. An officer at the IAF's top gun school TACDE rattled off a few of these considerations: fuel fraction, flow efficiency, air intake design that won't shatter the turbofan compressor during the transonic flight spectrum, and dozens of other considerations.

These are, of course, entirely separate from operational envelope considerations, which would need to develop through doctrinal evolution, if and when the IAF does operate aircraft with a no-nonsense capability to supercruise in the real sense.

Photo ©Copyright Eurofighter

Is the Adour MK 821 a natural progression for the IAF Jaguar?

Earlier this month, Rolls Royce Turbomeca installed and demonstrated the performance of the Adour MK 821 turbofan engine on a Royal Air Force Jaguar at the RAF Station, DCAE Cosford. This was a ground-test. The Air Attache of the Indian High Commission in London was invited to witness the demonstration. Rolls Royce is pitching the MK 821 as a natural evoluation from the MK 811 that currently powers the IAF Jaguar. The company is also pitching from the angle that the new engine has a high degree of commonality with the Adour MK 871 which powers the Hawk trainer now in use with the IAF.

Two Jaguar pilots I spoke to say it seems natural for the aircraft to be souped up with new engines of the same make, since integration and maintenance would be made more seamless that way. However, American firm Honeywell, which has pitched the F125IN turbofan for the competition says integration will not be a problem, and that the upgrade will be possible with no modifications to the airframe. Sources also say the weight of the F125IN goes in its favour against competition. The engine was demonstrated to the IAF in 2007. An official who was present for the demonstration says the American engine has far superior tolerance to debris damage and bird hits than the Adour MK 821.

Book: A personal war memoir of the Azad Hind

This post is a little late, but here it is. Lancer Publishers has recently brought out Burma to Japan with Azad Hind: A War Memoir by Air Commodore Ramesh S Benegal, a war decorated IAF Canberra pilot who, in a previous avatar, was one of a handful of boys that was dispatched to Japan by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose for military training for the Indian National Army. My father helped get the book published earlier this year through Lancer Publishers in Delhi. I happen to have read all the drafts of this rare insider military account of the Azad Hind movement. A fantastic read. Air Commodore Benegal passed away before he could add chapters on his subsequent years in the IAF, though there is an excellent afterword by Air Marshal GCS Rajwar, his partner and friend, who flew war missions with Benegal.

The book can be ordered online here.
Jagan Pillarisetti's review of the book is here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Field evaluations of Six Fighters begins July

The stage is finally set for the long-awaited field evaluations of India's Medium Multirole Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition. In July, it all begins, as LiveFist reported in February. The six fighters taking part, for the sake of record, are the Russian UAC MiG-35, the Swedish Saab JAS-39 Gripen NG/IN, the French Dassault Aviation Rafale, the multi-nation EADS Eurofighter Typhoon, the American Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the American F-16IN Block 60 Super Viper/Desert Falcon.

The Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal PV Naik, has been quoted by India Strategic as saying that the no-cost-no-commitment Field Evaluation Test (FET) period will begin with visits by an IAF/ASTE team to each country of origin to inspect the manufacturing and testing facilities. This will be followed by the crucial flight evaluations in India. Each contender is expected to fly in three aircraft for this phase of the trials, which involves test evaluations in Bangalore, Jaisalmer and Leh. According to the Chief, this involves "Bangalore for performance, systems and humidity trials, to Jaisalmer for hot weather and weapon trials, and to Leh for high altitude and cold weather trials".

In India, the aircraft will undergo handling and aerodynamic performance trials, "takeoff and landing characteristics, aircraft maneuvering, and checks of critical systems in the air, an evaluation of its maintainability, mission support equipment, operations at high altitude and in specific environments will also be conducted". Following the India phase of the FET, evaluation teams from the IAF will visit the country of origin of each competing fighter for systems trials, which includes demonstration and testing of radar, EW suites, avionics, cockpit gear, countermeasures, weapons and weapon systems (at designated firing ranges) and communication integration.

IAF An-32 Avionics Upgrade Detailed

As part of the $402-million deal to upgrade 105 Aviant/Antonov An-32 of the Indian Air Force will involve a comprehensive engine and integrated avionics updation that will push the workhorse fleet for at least another two decades.

The upgrade will be undertaken by Antonov/Aviant and IAI jointly. The qualitative requirements as formally listed by the IAF for the upgrade are "extending service life, enhancing operational capabilities, easing workloads on crew and reducing maintenance costs".

LiveFist has learnt that the avionics of the An-32 will be replaced with an IAI-LAHAV-ELTA developed package, including a full glass cockpit with standard multi-function displays (MFDs) and a control display unit (CDU).

The LAHAV-ELTA avionics package that will go into each IAF An-32 includes a digital moving map, full NVG capability, in-flight mission rehearsal options, head-up display for both pilots (the IAF is still to communicate the the consortium if it wants HUDs for both pilots, one pilot, or none at all) and a significantly new advanced electronic warfare system (EWS), which will feature radar warning receiver, the fourth generation EL/M-2160 missile approach warning system, laser warning receiver and conventional countermeasures. Flight safety features being incorporated into the upgrade will include an advanced Terrain Avoidance Warning System (TAWS) and an Enhanced Traffic Collision Avoidance System (ETCAS), with options for a specialised weather radar.

Photo of Lahav-upgraded C-130 cockpit
©Copyright IAI

Airbus A400 quenching Mirages

Artist's impression of an Airbus A400M refuelling two French Air Force Mirages.

Image ©Copyright Airbus

New Video: Saab Erieye AEW&C

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cabinet to clear A330 Tanker contract shortly

A proposed deal with EADS/Airbus Military for six A330 multirole tanker transport (MRTT) will shortly be cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), following which a formal contract will be signed. The contract, worth approximately $1.3 billion may be processed through the government-to-government route considering that the IAF had decided in advance that it did not want the Ilyushin-78M to be part of the competition.

The IAF has chosen the same Israeli-built pod-probe-drogue that was fitted on the Ilyushin-78s. The A330 MRTT will be used to refuel almost all current IAF aircraft types: Mirage-2000, Jaguar, Sukhoi-30MKI and MiG-29 (which will get probes as part of their upgrade), the A-50I Phalcon AWACS and the C-130J Super Hercules, as also the Navy's Sea Harriers (or what's left of them), the new MiG-29Ks and the P-8I LRMRs.

Infantry modernization brainstorming results

A seminar on modernisation of India's infantry was held on May 25 by the Centre for Land Warfare Studies in Delhi. Here's a brief list of some of the immediate recommendations that were drawn up after the seminar:
  • An infantry battalion or individual should preferably be rotated between two different or three near congruous terrain profiles only.
  • A project to reduce weight of the present medium machine gun, automatic grenade launcher, and anti-material rifle by at least 6-8 kgs should be undertaken.
  • Replacement of the existing Hand Grenade No 36 should be expedited with the introduction of a variety of grenades to meet all requirements.
  • 81 mm Mortars should be made lighter and possibly based on tracked carriers and their range should be not less than 7,000 metres.
  • A man-portable unmanned aerial vehicle troop (four-six aerial vehicles) should be authorised to the intelligence and surveillance platoon of infantry battalion. This would enhance the infantry battalion’s area of influence.
  • The ‘bayonet strength’ of a rifle section should be preserved. In a single section, there should at least be 6-7 persons available for launching an assault on the enemy.
  • Custom-built obstacle crossing expedients should be made available to infantry for negotiating water obstacles as well as mine fields.
  • Infantry company ‘F’ echelon should be based on two 1.5 ton capacity low silhouette vehicles.
  • Ghatak platoons should be trained for helicopter-borne operations and provided with light strike vehicles.

Open for discussion!

Antony asks DRDO to buck up

At a time when the DRDO continues to resist -- at all levels -- the P Rama Rao Committee's recommendations on reform, the Defence Minister AK Antony today asked top scientists of DRDO to desist from taking up too many projects and thereby lose focus; instead, concentrate on high technology and critical areas to help the country achieve self reliance in strategic fields.

Addressing the DRDO Research Council here, Antony asked the scientists to set a goal of achieving indigenisation of 70 per cent from the current level of 30 per cent in ten years in the manufacture of defence products. According to a statement, he said "Over dependence on foreign suppliers is not conducive to national security in critical times". It went on to add that the Defence Minister favoured involvement of Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) and the private sector for the transformation and paradigmatic change of Defence industry in the country.

He asked the country's defence scientists to have continuous interaction and build synergy with the services for greater success and acceptance of the products by the forces. He also asked the top brass to decentralize and delegate decision making to the numerous laboratories across the country, as far as possible. Antony asked the scientists to give special attention to the quality of products and their timely delivery.

The DRDO Research Council consists of the Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister, eight Chief Controllers (R&D), Additional Financial Advisor and three distinguished Scientists. The body is responsible for providing directions and guidance for executing Research and Technology projects in different disciplines by over 50 laboratories of DRDO.

What I'm still foxed about is just why DRDO continues to resist the P Rama Rao Committee's report.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A beauty of the LCA Tejas

Photo ©Copyright Kedar Karmarkar

Photos: Cowboys at the Paris Air Show 2009

Photos of F-16 Block 52 Fighting Falcon and F/A-18F Super Hornet Copyright Jerome K

Photos: Rafale at the Paris Air Show 2009

Photos Copyright Jerome K (1,3,4), Herve Kabla (2) and Laurent Cluzel (5)

EXCLUSIVE: The Indo-Israeli Barak-8

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The Barak-8, the next generation long-range surface-to-air missile that India and Israel are currently developing as part of a co-development contract signed in 2007. Not that it matters, but I broke the story about India and Israel signing up to co-develop the next-generation Barak in early 2007 when I was with the Express. IAI has published very little about the missile in the past, and continues to keep its specs under wraps. Here's some stuff, hot of the IAI press:

The new generation Barak-8 Air and Missile Defense weapon system currently provides a complete solution to every type of airborne threat, whether that threat be from aircraft, tactical missiles, helicopters, or unmanned aerial vehicles. The system has two versions - maritime and land-based - each relying on an advanced, phased-array radar integrated with an advanced launch system containing “smart” missile interceptors, and a state-of-the-art command and control (C2) system, altogether providing full 360° coverage.

Barak-8 is unique in that it has a built-in ‘intelligence’ within the missile battery’s C2 system. The C2 system can ‘talk’ with other missile batteries, with external radars, and with air traffic control systems, creating an optimized scenario for detecting, engaging, and destroying the target. It is manifested by the threat being automatically neutralized through the most appropriate missile battery launching the missile. Especially impressive is that a radar connected to a given missile battery that may have detected the threat may not necessarily be part of the same battery that will respond to the threat. This allows us to maximize the system’s capabilities and create the most optimal interception scenario. It should be noted that the advanced, digital, phased-array radar was specifically developed by IAI Elta Systems, Ltd.

The system is designed from the start to intercept planes and tactical missiles such as air-to-ground missiles and naval anti-ship missiles. The Barak-8 is based on advanced concepts of defense system architecture, including advanced seekers, warheads, high performance maneuvering capabilities, and the ability to be optimally controlled. The missile can receive and process continuous updates on the position and flight trajectory of the target, and use these updates to adjust its own flight to best intercept and destroy the target. The unique missile propulsion system allows the missile to maintain energy, even after it has been airborne for an extended time, and reserve sufficient energy for the end-game or the target’s final engagement and hit. It must be remembered that the enemy missile is also trying to maneuver and evade the Barak-8.

The battlefield does not only have one or two threats that the Barak-8 must neutralize; in fact, there are a wide range of threats, coming from all directions and creating a number of potential targets, including our own forces’ airplanes.

Everything that was mentioned up until this point applies to any number of threats. Of course, no one battery, no matter how sophisticated, will be able to deal with dozens of missiles simultaneously. Integration and network coordination of resources creates synergy among the batteries and helps to successfully deal with a battlefield saturated with targets. For instance, within a given formation or fleet of naval ships, each equipped with a Barak-8, they communicate with one another through the secure communication channels and data link within the integrated system. In an automated manner, the system knows how to optimally allocate targets throughout various batteries of the naval formation, and among the various batteries of the network; and eliminate every threat, be it missiles, planes, or helicopters.

Similarly, land-based versions of the Barak-8 system can be easily and quickly deployed across tens of kilometers between the individually deployed batteries, and provide 360° coverage over the widest possible protected area against cruise missiles, airborne munitions launched from planes or ships, and other threats.

The system has the ability to interconnect with other systems and can thereby receive information on the threat from a wide variety of sources. It’s in its final stages of development, to be completed in 2010-2011. IAI already has customers for both the maritime and the land-based defense systems (Read India!).

Photos Copyright IAI

Saturday, June 20, 2009

* FLASH *

It has been confirmed that the US-chartered An-124 which was intercepted and grounded in Mumbai last night has on board the following items: Two Stryker armoured combat vehicles, an uncomfirmed number of BGM-71 TOW anti-tank munitions, M242 gun ammunition, a consignment of explosive reactive armour tiles for US armoured vehicles and a large consignment of helicopter/aircraft spares, ancillaries and aggregates.