Monday, April 30, 2007

Arjun To Star At Exercise Ashwamedh!

A piece by Sandeep Dikshit in The Hindu today:

The Army is fielding the indigenous Arjun tanks for the first time in simulated war games in the deserts of Rajasthan beginning on Sunday. A ``sub-unit'' of about a dozen Arjun tanks has been fielded along with Russian-origin tanks for the exercise codenamed `Ashwamedha' to test new equipment and concepts in searing heat, said anonymous Army sources.

The Army has kept the news under wraps due to the controversy surrounding the tanks' development and its designer, Defence Research & Development Organisation's (DRDO), and sensitivity to the criticism about their inability to function optimally in high temperatures.

This would be the first recent major non-missile project by the DRDO to undertake the heat tests in a major war exercise in which the ``reactions would not be doctored or controlled,'' according to Brigadier Amarjeet, commanding a tank brigade in the exercise.

The war games in the deserts will begin on Sunday and last till May 3 but preparations for this period of ``intense activity'' have been on for two months. This is the first time the exercises are being held in the operations area of the newly created South Western Command.

The Arjun tank became a major issue of discord between the Army and the DRDO after the former periodically complained about the shortcomings in various components, especially the fire control system in temperatures above 40 degrees centigrade.

Though development of the tank began in 1974, the Army was recently forced to make massive purchases of Russian tanks after it failed to perform to Army's expectations even after 30 years.

However, in mid-2004, the Army was told to set aside its reservations about its weight, profile and malfunctioning systems and place an order for 124 tanks. The same year, five tanks rolled out of the production lines and the remaining might take about five years to manufacture. These tanks would equip two regiments.

In defence, the DRDO points out that the Army wants a tank comparable to Russian, American and German standards but India entered the R&D phase several decades later. In case the tanks pass the test of desert heat and terrain, the DRDO and the Heavy Vehicles Factory would begin planning for other variants such as bridge layers and recovery vehicles.

Besides the Arjun, the assets that will be used for the first time in a major war game are unmanned aerial vehicles, BMP-II (armour plated vehicles for carrying soldiers) and T-90 tanks. In temperatures that would hover around 45 degrees centigrade, Special Forces would try out various methods to move behind enemy lines for surveillance and destruction of logistical dumps.

The exercise would involve fighter planes and helicopters besides tanks, mechanised infantry, medium and field artillery, air defence and elements of signals and engineering units. However, there would be no downsizing of infantry troops despite the involvement of so much of hardware. ``On the ground when closing in on the enemy, the requirement of troops is the same,'' said Major-General Raj Sujlana.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Slow Death Of American Air Power

Saw this piece on the Lexington Institute site. It's by Loren B. Thompson, one of the institute's most prolific researchers. This is an excerpt from a "popular" piece written in January this year along with a presentation, and tells us a thing or two about why considering American planes could be folly, and why it would be a big bonus for the IAF if the LCA was operational soon:

After 20 years of neglect, the Air Force's fleet of combat aircraft is older than the Navy's fleet of warships.

During his four-year stint as defense secretary, Dick Cheney killed the service's cold-war fighter programs, terminated the next-generation B-2 bomber at a mere 20 planes, slashed the future C-17 cargo plane program, and decimated every other facet of U.S. air power. Clinton's defense secretaries added back some planes that Cheney had cut, but delayed and decreased the next-generation F-22 fighter that was the centerpiece of plans for future air dominance.

Then Donald Rumsfeld launched the entire department on a leap-ahead trajectory to military transformation that ignored air power for another six years.

The end result is that the Air Force now flies 45-year-old aerial refueling tankers using a plane retired by commercial airlines a quarter-century ago; its F-22 fighter program has been cut 75% even though the aging fighters it would replace are so old they operate under flight restriction; its production lines for C-130 and C-17 transport planes are scheduled for closure despite lack of adequate airlift; and the service has canceled its planned family of aircraft for replacing cold-war radar and reconnaissance planes.

The only bright spot on the horizon is the tri-service F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, but Navy efforts to slash funding for JSF suggest the Air Force can't even count on that program coming to fruition.

Air Force pilots have a favorite story they tell that captures the meltdown of American air power over the past 20 years. Brigadier General David Deptula [incidentally this was the officer who was in Kalaikunda during Cope India 2005 with the USAF team] was flying his F-15 over northern Iraq in 1999 when cockpit gauges went haywire and the fuel reading plummeted to zero. It turned out insulation on the plane's wiring had rotted away with age, shorting out the electrical system. The punch-line of the story was that Gen. Deptula was flying the same F-15 he had flown 20 years earlier as a young captain. But most of the people who tell the story don't know it has a new punch-line: Gen. Deptula's son, a first lieutenant, is now flying the same plane in the Pacific -- nearly 30 years after it was built.

Back in 1999, when President Bush made that campaign speech about skipping a generation of military technology, he titled his remarks, "A Period of Consequences." Well, after 20 years of neglect by both political parties, a period of consequences has arrived for American air power.

The Air Force that prevented any American soldier from being killed by enemy aircraft for half a century may not be up to the task in the years ahead due to lack of adequate investment.
Other countries have begun to field tactical aircraft that match the performance of our existing fighters, and they are deploying sophisticated surface-to-air missiles that few non-stealthy aircraft can escape.

We got an indication of what lay ahead in 1999 when Serbia -- a country that spends less on defense in a year than NATO spends in a day -- managed to shoot down a first-generation stealth fighter and drive European fighters from its air space. NATO commanders were so concerned about Serbian air defenses that they flew B-2 bomber strikes all the way from the United States to avoid putting non-stealthy planes over the country.

We got another indication of what lay ahead in 2004, when pilots from the Indian Air Force repeatedly defeated American F-15s in joint exercises using a combination of new technology and new tactics. The Indians benefited from superior numbers in the exercises, but that's the sort of edge you would expect defenders to have in a real war -- we can't count on outnumbering enemy air forces in their own air space.

One other harbinger of things to come can be seen in the growing number of Air Force planes grounded or restricted due to age-related cracking, corrosion and parts obsolescence. As we speak, structural concerns have forced flight restrictions of one sort or another on all of the Air Force's F-15 fighters, all of its B-1 bombers, dozens of airlifters and dozens of tankers. These problems are likely to grow worse in future years, because a fleet built mainly in the Reagan era and earlier is beginning to wear out.

If we do not accelerate current plans to replace cold-war aircraft, we are risking a catastrophic loss of global air power in the near future. I estimated in my chapter that an increase in annual procurement outlays of $10 billion for the Air Force would be necessary to address the most critical problems, concentrated mainly in four areas:

-- First, continued production of the F-22 Raptor fighter at the rate of 20 planes per year through the next decade.
-- Second, continued production of the C-17 and C-130 transports to support ground forces through the next decade.
-- Third, expedited production of next-generation aerial-refueling tankers to replace Eisenhower-era airframes as soon as possible.
-- Fourth, expedited development of a new long-range bomber that can provide speed, persistence and survivability missing in the current force.

I should note in closing that my chapter also deals in some considerable detail with problems in the military space program, but there I think the real challenge has been mismanagement rather than money. When we get to the core of our global air power, the planes that support global knowledge and mobility and strike capability, the challenge is a simple lack of money. We either spend more, or in the very near future we lose our most important war-fighting advantage.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The DRDO Debate Deserves Further Debate

Hopefully it's not too late to post this here. Following the Delayed Research Derailed Organisation series in The Indian Express last year, I received this piece from Cmde Ranjit B Rai on the need to take the debate further. I'm not sure if it was used in the paper finally, but I found it in my inbox and thought it would make sense to put it up here (wish I'd seen it earlier!). It occured to me that the views of a person who was with the Navy (with its famously healthy rapport with DRDO, unlike the IAF and Army) would be welcome. Here it is unedited, followed by Hindustan Times report today on the Akash "dud":

By Cmde Ranjit B Rai (Retd)

Commencing 13th Nov 2006, Amitav Ranjan and Shiv Aroor opened a can of worms, in The Indian Express by reporting on India’s DRDO, which subject has got raised in Parliament. The duo have tabled progress cards of DRDO’s military projects for your readers, who in the final analysis bear the financial burden for defence and should demand accountability, and a modicum of transparency.

In his key note address at MOD’s Defence Economics Seminar held on November 15, India’s Controller And Auditor General, V N Kaul who has fiduciary responsibility for DRDO’s spending, spoke up front and indicated that India’s DRDO is not subject to transparent external audits. Speakers suggested that DRDO should no longer hide behind veils of secrecy for its projects, and should devise methods with CAG to maintain confidentiality when such is essential. Regrettably it is a fact that many large projects that DRDO has under taken have not fructified and have witnessed questionable time and cost over runs. Nine years ago Navy Chief Vishnu Bhagwat demanded an audit of India’s hugely expensive Advanced Technology ATV nuclear submarine project, but he was sacked for fear of exposing details of the still classified project. This has deterred others from raising the issue of audit, and DRDO’s projects have become holy cows, but it is a fact scientists are not known to be good project managers.

Hence DRDO’s somewhat over critical assessment by The Indian Express is opportune for debate. The country’s manufacturing sector is maturing with capable capacities and investment in foreign factories, and so there is scope for them to take on some DRDO tasks. With slight change in practices and collaboration with local and foreign industry, and insertion of technology, the concatenation of production facilities, talents and well-equipped laboratories that DRDO has built up, can now deliver better.

If the recently instituted mandatory 30% MOD off set policy in imports of over Rs 300 crores is extended to include high end defence technology, another wide window of opportunity can emerge. India is an attractive and leading defence importer of $ 5 bill per year. MOD has sorely missed the bus, by not including off sets in the massive $ 4 bill Scorpene deal. Such a step would have been in India’s national interests, though some over runs and failures in research projects will have to be accepted, as it is a worldwide phenomenon. There exists another serious lacuna in India’s higher defence set up.

There is no accountable Commander In Chief, and it is the diffused Cabinet control method of responsibility, scripted in to article 52 of the Constitution that ensues. Hence not much attention is paid to this vital subject by the busy Prime Minister, who leaves it to the MOD and invariably a junior Minister is placed in charge of DRDO. Even in Japan, which is a bi cameral democracy like ours, the Prime Minister is constitutionally made accountable as the C in C for all defence matters. In India only the ATV and nuclear projects are under the PMO. In UK, which does not have a written constitution, the PM is accountable. To exacerbate the situation the three Armed Force Chiefs are autonomous, and the Government has not even specified the core competencies of each service leading to duplication in many defence spheres like UAVs, missiles, special forces, anti air defence and EW which has proved challenging and expensive for DRDO to manage individual needs. The QRs setting methodology for common equipment and doctrines are also varied.

It was therefore interesting to read young America returned Member of Parliament Milind Deora’s views in an edit page piece on 21st Nov on DRDO. His piece began with a laudable recommendation to emulate the US DARPA model, which is a purely R and D and design agency, unlike DRDO which took upon itself to become a manufacturing agency, for which it was not qualified. That set Parkinson’s Law of expansion in to motion, so we have a high tail to scientist ratio. This was fait accompli in 1958 as Indian industry could not have taken up the challenge of production like USA’s huge industry did, and our needs in number of systems were limited. FFE was short and policies of indigenization and import substitution were the credo. Changes are now possible as Indian defence industry led by Larsen and Tubro, Tatas and Kirloskars as examples have matured but it will also require the India’s Officials Secrets Act of 1923 to be revised to make civilians privy and accountable for classified data. DRDO needs to stop re inventing the wheel and farm projects to industry in the food, IT and communication sectors and shed laboratories that are no longer functional. The services also need to monitor the projects from an ab initio stage. All this is very easily said but it was Ernest Hemmingway who insisted that journalism is the end of a good cause. This requires political will.

Yet in defence of DRDO, much has been achieved in India’s nuclear arena, ships, avionics and sub systems and some strategic fields, so all is not lost. In many ways the DRDO of India is a reflection of most of India’s government organizations and loss making PSU’s of days gone by. Many DRDO labs became unwieldy structures, were poorly managed with no checks or balances and with political influences, not to mention the arms dealers lobbies that operate in India and offer sops to politicians and encourage imports and decry indigenous projects. The decision to make Prithvi a liquid fuelled missile, which is now being corrected in Prithvi-111, was taken to ensure employability for the many scientists and workers employed in the field at Hyderabad. It is no wonder the DRDO failed to deliver on many of the projects except those that were closely monitored especially by the Navy. The improvements and resurrection of the SU-30MKI from an old SU-27 is an example. In the Navy a unique Weapons Electronics and Engineering Establishment WEESE at Delhi which it is a mini DRDO in itself, silently audits and assists DRDO projects and shipyards, while Navy’s design bureau with 50 years of experience and 300 naval constructors has contributed. The Navy also insisted that production after design should not be entrusted to DRDO or Ordnance factories, as that combination could be very difficult to professionally manage for a project.

Some DRDO heads have also behaved like satraps under the veil of secrecy, and built a slew of 39 lavish laboratories all across India along with laudable infrastructure and now possess a most imposing HQ in New Delhi, that we can be proud of. The DRDO has recruited a bevy of scientists who are exposed to modern technologies and some of them have done remarkable work in the guided missile, sonars and electronics field, while others including dead wood passed on from the services have whiled away their time, as promotions are mainly time bound. Earlier western technology was consciously denied to DRDO because of sanctions, but these are lifting. The services must admit they failed to constantly monitor, guide and spoon feed projects like the Arjun MBT, the 7.62mm INSAS rifle and LCA but came in at the preliminary trial stages, with criticism. This lesson seems to have been learnt.

Finally, the temples the DRDO has built can now be restructured for projects to come alive. If the LCA which already has the GE-404 engine gets the MIG 29 multi mode radar and weapon suites amalgamated from the foreign supplier of the 126 fighter contract, like Sweden’s SAAB did for Gripen with BAE, the LCA may still meet its target. Singapore had seen LCA’s potential and seriously offered investment and joint design and production in 1990, but DRDO was insistent the production would be only in India and we missed an opportunity. Such overtures can be revived, as the LCA has a good level of flying technology with many unique features. Only fresh management can bring the escalating costs down. The wheels that DRDO has invented can certainly be re polished and made to revolve easily. It’s the will that is needed and India is no longer the pygmy it was, when DRDO was formed in 1958.

(Cmde Retd Ranjit B Rai is former Director of Naval Operations and Intelligence and holds an MSc degree in Defence Economics)

The Hindustan Times had this report plastered on today's front page. That the missile hasn't passed muster is old, but the WAC meeting part is new. Here it is in full:

Indian missile a ‘dud’, air force doesn’t want it
Nagender Sharma

NEW DELHI, April 4: Serious doubts have been raised by air force officers about the effectiveness of the Akash missile system, according to confidential documents of the Indian Air Force (IAF) seen by HT. The surface-to-air missile system, developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), consistently failed during trials, the papers show.

The DRDO says all doubts have been cleared and the missile system is a success. But the IAF is yet to buy and deploy the missile system. Doubts about the medium-range Akash missile system, developed at a cost of Rs 800 crore after more than two decades of research and trials, emerged at a meeting called by the Western Air Command in Delhi last year. Sixty middle-level and senior IAF officers attended the meeting.

A presentation, based on the report of an IAF expert who had witnessed the trials, contained several startling revelations. “The IAF expert witnessed repeated cases of missile parts falling off during many trials. He recommended that the Akash missile system was not fit to be deployed,” a senior officer, who attended the presentation, told HT.

Pointing out major flaws in this missile system, developed as a part of the country’s Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme, the report presented to the IAF officers says, “The expert noticed it took 25 minutes to load a single missile on the launcher, which rendered this missile system unfit for use in war-like situations. The night loading time would therefore automatically be twice more than daytime.”

Describing the Akash missile trials as a “disaster”, the presentation report says, “Out of 20 test trials seen by the IAF expert, the majority of them ended in a failure.”

"It was not capable of picking up low-level targets over any sea, due to multi-path reflection. The missile warhead was also not capable of engaging present-generation targets, due to repeated failures," the report says. However, the DRDO has strongly defended the missile system. In a written response to queries by HT, the DRDO said it was "fully satisfied with the current status of trials of Akash. Currently all doubts have been cleared and resolved".

"The missile system is now complete after successful trials and the organisation is confident about its success," the DRDO added.

The IAF report criticised the DRDO and senior officials from the Ministry of Defence, saying, "There was deliberate data suppression and the IAF was pressured to either change or withdraw the report." The report indicates that desperate moves were made during the trials to prove that the system was a success. "A radar was placed on a 13-metre-high platform for all trials, to increase the efficiency of the missile system artificially, which would not be the case in hostile conditions of war," it says.

Cautioning the IAF on the limitations of the Akash missile system, the report says, "In its present status, Project Akash cannot meet the operational requirements of the IAF, due to major design flaws, and if the IAF wanted to use this particular missile system, then it would have to lower its acceptability standards."

The DRDO, however, said the Akash missile system had an edge over other systems due to its multi-target handling capacity, being a fully automatic system. It said since the system was completely indigenous, it could be quickly upgraded within the country.

Admiral Arun Prakash on the future of NAVAIR

And, our final installment from Admiral Arun Prakash. My final question to him was: As a Naval aviator, your tenure has finally seen a big push to NAVAIR assets with procurements initiated etc. What new elements do we need, considering our areas of responsibility, new profiles and how would a future chief seek to use them? Also, I'm sure you have an insightful perspective on the highly topical IAF MRCA contract, which currently has contenders from all the weight categories of fighters. We'd love to know what you think about the whole deal.

Admiral Prakash:
Let me start by saying that my being an aviator has had nothing whatsoever to do with the Navy’s acquisition plans one way or the other; we successfully pursued cases for ships, submarines and aircraft as dictated by our force level requirements. In fact we were able to obtain MoD approval for a 17-year Maritime Capabilities Perspective Plan (MCPP) which can be used as an acquisition roadmap.

As far as naval aviation is concerned, we found that capability shortfalls had arisen in areas of maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine (MRASW), strike and fighter air defence, and heli-borne ASW due to obsolescence, attrition and bureaucratic stalling of cases.

An aviation perspective plan (an integral part of the MCPP) was drawn up, which seeks to redress these lacunae through a combination of mid-life upgrades (IL-38, Sea Harrier, Seaking), as well as acquisitions from India and abroad (MiG-29, LCA (Navy), long and medium range MRASW aircraft, multi-role helicopters). We have been extremely pleased with the performance of our UAV assets at sea, and new UAVs, including ship-borne versions will also be sought.

Selection and acquisition of aircraft is a time consuming process (for example the next generation MRASW aircraft is still on the drawing board), and it may take 10-15 years before we can reach our desired aviation force levels.

As far as the IAF MRCA contract is concerned, it would not be appropriate for me to speak about it. However, as a general comment I would like to point out a lacuna in our acquisition procedures. The DPP 06 does not make adequate provision for the fresh induction of hardware already held in the inventory, and requires the Service to start the process “ab initio” when replacements or additional inductions are due.

For example if a Service already has 100 aircraft of Type X, one can be sure that an investment of a few hundred crores has been made in training (of pilots and technicians), in special workshops, test equipment and inventory of spare parts (for the next 5-10 years). Having gained valuable experience in operating and maintaining the aircraft for a few years (and consequently suffering attrition), when the Service needs replacements (or even additionalities), logic would demand that it buys another batch of Type X aircraft. However, the procedures currently demand that a fresh QR be drawn up, RFPs issued and tenders floated.

Once tenders are floated the long drawn out evaluation process starts, and eventually (all else being equal), the lowest bidder will get the order. Should this not be Type X, the Service will have to invest all over again in training, workshops, test equipment and spares; perhaps for just 20-30 aircraft. Apart from everything else, the Service has not only suffered a long delay, but also aggravated its logistic problems by being adding YET one more type to its inventory.

Photo ©Copyright 2002 Hindustan Times sourced from Bharat Rakshak

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A3 and Credible N-Deterrence

A nice piece by Wilson John in The Pioneer today.

Credible N-Deterrence
Wilson John

Wilson JohnThe Agni III success will pave the way for a submarine-launched IRBM, which is what will make the theory of credible nuclear deterrence in India's 'No First Use' doctrine that requires a multitude of retaliatory weapon systems, a reality.

In simpler words, without the capability to deliver nuclear weapons beyond a range of 3000 km, India's nuclear weapons capability would have remained a paper tiger. Thus, on April 12 in 15 minutes India swept aside years of diffidence and anxiety to, finally, signal that it is willing to play the big boys' game. Power projection is one such game and Agni III is the perfect bat to play the game with.

Technically, the successful launch of the Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile, Agni III, broke several new grounds and ushered in new hope and ambitious ventures for future. First, the doubts. Indians are by nature doubters and failures only strengthen this trait. When the first launch of Agni III on July 9, 2006, failed miserably - an over-heated shield causing the missile to crash into the Bay of Bengal several hundred kilometres off its intended impact site - there were many pundits who sniggered at defence scientists, particularly the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), an umbrella organisation of small but highly technical cluster of laboratories and institutes, valiantly attempting to prevent India from becoming a global arms dump. It took only nine months for the same group of scientists, working under pressure and incessant criticism, to correct the technical faults and relaunch the missile, with great success.

Second, the missile, its delivery vehicle and tracking system, besides a spectrum of logistical accessories, are primarily indigenous, developed in a unique partnership between public and private entities. In statistical terms, 85 per cent of Agni III is Indian; research and development is in progress to whittle down the balance 15 per cent imported component by the next launch which should take place within the next one year.

Agni III was conceived and developed by 258 private-public enterprises, 28 DRDO laboratories and innumerable academic institutions over the last several years. This is a very critical development for India. It clearly underlines India's growing strength to develop high-calibre missile technologies like re-entry, guidance and control, mission sequencing, all-carbon composite re-entry heat shield, mobile launch systems and modern launch complex without foreign assistance and create a synergy between private and public entities - both with its own set of strategic implications in the years to come.

Third, the launch has successfully proved many small but critical technological innovations developed by Indian scientists. An important one is the flex nozzle control of rocket motors. Agni III uses flex nozzle control in the second stage, a step forward from Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles where it is used in the third stage. This nozzle can be manipulated through a closed loop guidance and control system to make small changes in the flight course of the missile, thus achieving a more accurate trajectory.

Another important achievement is the use of specially developed composite propellant with high specific impulse for the rocket. A propellant is the fuel used in the rockets and the high specific impulse is the amount of thrust generated per unit mass of the propellant used. Agni III uses two-stage solid-fuelled rockets, which is a natural progress from the critical change in rocket technology adopted for Agni II which was first launched in April 1999.

Agni II was fired by two solid-fuelled motors unlike Agni I which ran on a solid-fuel first stage and a liquid-fuel second stage. Although the type of fuel to be used has been a matter of intense debate, Agni III has clearly underscored the decision to go the solid-fuel way. This could mean that the planners have preferred to achieve a ready-to-fire mode (15 minutes to launch) rather than to have control over its trajectory by controlling propulsion (feasible in liquid fuel).

Quite a few conclusions can be drawn from the above developments, all of which have strategic imports. The choice of solid-fuel (apart from the enormous valuable experience gained in the space programme) to fire the rockets makes Agni III and its future variants mobile and flexible, besides battle-ready. Agni III can be launched from rail-based missile launcher which means the missile can remain camouflaged to a great extent and in times of crisis can be dispersed to a safer environment.

The launcher as well as the mobile launch control centre can be easily camouflaged as an ordinary bogey of a freight train, enabling its mobility and safety. Since a silo-based missile system could be highly vulnerable to even stray bombing, the rail/road mobility ensures safety and flexibility. Rail mobility will enable the missiles to be launched from anywhere in the country.

An added advantage is that the rail-launch capability will make it possible for the missile to be launched from as close to the borders as possible. For the past several years, India has been laying new lines and upgrading existing ones in the border areas. The most notable and recent one is the rail connection between Jammu and Srinagar via Udhampur.

The successful validation of various technical parameters during the Agni II and Agni III tests (it will require at least two more tests before becoming operational) has renewed hopes and ambitions about launching a still more advance version, Agni IV, with a range of 5,000 km. This has become possible with the success of Agni III's bigger rockets- a diameter of two metres which helps the missile vehicle to get a higher thrust for a longer range and higher payload capability. This is an important requirement for a long-range surface-to-surface missile positioned as a key nuclear deterrent. Scientists believe that India could test launch a Limited Range Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (LRICBM) in three years with an additional third stage engine (some say liquid-fuelled) to the present Agni III system. In all likelihood, this missile could become a stepping stone for an Indian ICBM with 8,000 km-range, popularly known as Surya.

Copyright 2007 The Pioneer

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sagarika, the Secret New Missile

India Today assistant editor Sandeep Unnithan has written an excellent box item on the hush-hush Sagarika missile programme (part of a very readable larger piece on the Agni-3 by Managing Editor Raj Chengappa) in the April 30, 2007 issue of the magazine. Unnithan refers to comments made by DRDO chief M Natarajan after the Agni-3 launch, an interaction which I attended as well. I reproduce here excerpts of the text (the full version is sourced here) of the box item:

The Secret New Missile
Revelations indicate that India is quietly building an SLCM to complete its nuclear triad

Indias strategists have for long regarded nuclear-tipped Submarine-Launched Cruise Missiles (SLCMs) essentially, it requires arming a submarine prowling undetected under the oceans, the survivable platform most suited to the nations second-strike doctrine. Recent revelations about a secret cruise missile programme, aptly titled Sagarika (Oceanic), give the first indications of the elusive third sea-based leg becoming a reality.

Hours after the Agni 3 splashed into the Indian Ocean on April 12, an elated M. Natarajan had obliquely hinted at the possibility. We have had three successful tests in the last few daysthe Dhanush (a ship-launched version of the Prithvi ballistic missile test fired on March 30), the Agni 3 and, in between, a strategic system I cannot talk about, the DRDO chief had said. That, say insiders, was the confirmation of a test of the Sagarika from a submersible pontoon launcher. Indigenously-built, with a range of nearly 1,000 km and a 500-kg warhead, the cruise missile has two variants capable of being launched from aircraft and submarines. Still under development, the vertically-launched missile is at least five years away from induction. One of the key challenges in fielding a nuclear-tipped variant of the Sagarika would be to miniaturise a nuclear warhead to fit the around 6-metre-long missile.

Cruise missiles are low-flying, intelligent, pilotless aircraft. Powered by turbo-jet engines, and guided by onboard computer and pre-fed terrain maps, like the US Tomahawk, they can hit targets with pinpoint accuracy. Such missiles can be fitted with a tactical nuclear warhead or a conventional payload. Fitted on nuclear submarines capable of traversing the globe, they become lethal force multipliers. While Sagarika is the primary armament for the long-delayed indigenous nuclear submarine, the Advanced Technology Vessel, the IAF is believed to be considering equipping a medium transport aircraft with the stand-off missile in the interim.

Cruise missiles are more difficult to detect and, hence, less vulnerable to anti-missile defences which can track and destroy ballistic missiles. Pakistans Babur cruise missile, that can carry a 500-kg warhead across 500 km, is seen as a response to Indias proposed missile shield. Strategic cruise missiles with their high survivability will add to the flexibility of Indias minimum credible deterrent, says K. Santhanam, coordinator for the Pokhran-II tests.

Yet, what is it about the Sagarika that inspires the cloak of secrecy? Senior DRDO scientists wax eloquent about the Agni 3 but maintain a studied silence about the Sagarika.

Two years ago, then defence minister Pranab Mukherjee had confirmed the programme: This is a DRDO project but we would not like to make a premature advertisement. Later, in Parliament, he denied the project even existed. One reason for the secrecy is the possible adverse impact on the Indo-US nuclear deal. The secrecy is understandable. It would be unwise to talk of fielding a new strategic capability when we are developing partnerships with the US, says Air Marshal (retired) Kapil Kak of the Centre for Strategic Studies.

Started in the early 1990s as a 350-km, short-ranged submarine-launched ballistic missile, Sagarika was initially designed as a solid-fuelled version of the Prithvi. But the idea was shelved after the navy indicated its preference for a cruise missile. Sagarika will not be the only strategic cruise missile. The Indo-Russian BrahMos Aerospace plans to field Brahmos 2 by 2010: a hypersonic cruise missile that can cover more than 1,000 km at Mach 8, or nearly eight times the speed of sound.

Copyright 2007 India Today

Admiral Arun Prakash on the Need For Nuclear Submarines

Here's Part IV of our ongoing interaction with Admiral Arun Prakash. In this, he tells us about his perceptions of deterrence and the need for a steady nuclear submarine programme:

Admiral Prakash:
Before jumping into this arcane region, let us get a couple of terms clear.

Firstly, “Deterrence” essentially means, conveying to the enemy, a clear message of assured retaliation of such devastating and horrendous proportions that it would make even the thought of a first strike meaningless. Secondly, when you speak of the “credibility” of a nuclear deterrent, it comprises of a number of further factors: Reliability -- This includes fail-safe early warning, and command, control and communication systems, as well as the reliability and accuracy (CEP) of the launch vector. Lethality -- The warhead should have adequate yield to completely destroy the intended target; be it enemy population, troop/armour concentrations or nuclear weapons. The lethality factor should cater for inaccuracy of vector as well as the steel/concrete/earth protection that the target may have. Survivability -- In the case of a declared no first use (NFU) nuclear power like India, the deterrent is meant ONLY for a devastating retaliatory riposte, after absorbing the enemy’s first strike. The primary targets of the enemy strike will certainly include as many of our nuclear weapons/vectors whose location he knows about. Therefore, for our nuclear arsenal to deter an adversary, a substantial component must be able to survive anything that the enemy can throw at us.

Now I must convey with all the emphasis at my command that in India’s case nuclear weapons are NOT meant for war-fighting. In fact they must not even be thought of as “weapons”, but as “political instruments” of state policy to be used to deter an enemy from contemplating a nuclear attack, and if required for persuasion, coercion, or compellence.

Having said that, it must be borne in mind that for deterrence to function, it must be seen to be credible, and should therefore possess the three attributes I have listed above.

Currently, we have two types of land vectors; missiles and strike aircraft (essentially ground-attack fighters), and a ship-borne missile vector. Aircraft operate out of large, static airbases, and missile sites are marked by a large paraphernalia including TELs and other specialist vehicles which makes them easy to spot from space. Therefore, with the technical means (of surveillance) and the intelligence resources available to our adversaries, it must be assumed that the location of many of our weapons/vectors is known to them, and that they figure on their first strike target list. Only some of our road/rail mobile launchers may be able to escape destruction.

Coming back to the original proposition, if a major part of your deterrent is going to be wiped out in an enemy first strike, then it is no longer credible, and your deterrence may have failed. In such a scenario, if the enemy has not launched a first strike at you all these days, it is not because your deterrence has worked but possibly for a hundred other reasons.

Under these conditions, one alternative to retain some credibility is to ensure that your warheads (and vectors) outnumber the enemy’s. However, if deterrence fails, and we are subjected to a first strike, it must be remembered that we will lose a substantive part of our political and military leadership, and much of our command & control systems will suffer from the after effects of EMP (electro-magnetic pulse). There will be hundreds of thousands of casualties, and a general breakdown of all services, countrywide. In such an environment of panic, chaos and entropy, it is difficult to envisage the launch of a retaliatory strike in any meaningful timeframe.

The moral of the above doomsday tale is: national security demands that your deterrent must always remain credible. The best way of providing invulnerability to your deterrent is to put it underwater, on a nuclear submarine (SSBN) and let it sail away into the deep blue waters of the Indian Ocean where no one can find it. Unseen and unheard, the SSBN can remain for months in its patrol area, with its sub-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) ready at a few minute’s notice.

That is why it is urgent for us, as a NFU nuclear power to have a small fleet of SSBNs, carrying nuclear tipped missiles, so that we can always pose a credible deterrent threat to the enemy from the sea, regardless of what happens on land.

Our Nuclear Doctrine clearly envisages a “triad” of nuclear vectors, and the only missing component is an SSBN. As you say, there are only two ways of acquiring an SSBN: a temporary solution would be to take it on lease from the same source as we got INS Chakra. The high political and fiscal costs for such a deal would need to be carefully weighed against the security benefits that accrue.

The real answer, of course, lies in marshalling our available scientific, technical and submarine construction skills to build a SSBN force in India. In either case the nuclear weapons on board will have to be of swadeshi origin.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Admiral Arun Prakash on DRDO, Obsolesence and Self-Reliance

I reproduce here excerpts from Adm Arun Prakash's article Planning For Tomorrow's Navy: The Challenges in Retrospect, written for the December 2006 issue of FORCE magazine on the unique DRDO-Navy symbiosis, DRDO's shorsightedness, it's obsession with technology demonstration rather than the urgent needs of the armed forces, and the dangers of standing off self-reliance:

The Challenge of Obsolescence

We were fortunate that the seeds of a self-reliant blue water Navy were sown by our farsighted predecessors when they embarked on the brave venture of undertaking warship construction in India four decades ago. Since then, our shipyards have done very well to have delivered more than 85 ships and submarines, many of Indian design, to the IN.

While the hull and even the propulsion machinery of a warship is meant to last for 2-3 decades, what naval planners dread most is the onset of obsolescence of weapon systems as soon as the ship is launched. This is a very real challenge because a ship may take anything between 6-8 years to construct (in Indian conditions), and since the imported weapons/sensors when nominated for fitment were already in service, they would be 10-15 years (or more) old by the time the ship becomes operational. Thus when the ship completes just half her life, the on-board systems are already over 25 years old and rapidly losing efficacy against contemporary threats.

The latest warship delivered to the navy, INS Beas, is stated to be 85% indigenous in content and this is indeed heartening news. But we must face the stark reality that the remaining 15% consists of weapons, sensors and combat management systems, which define the fighting potential of the ship. These systems not only constitute the most expensive component of a warship, but are also most susceptible to obsolescence and have so far remained beyond the capability of DRDO as well as the Defence PSUs to design or produce.

It is in a desperate effort to beat obsolescence that the Staff Qualitative Requirements (SQRs) are often pitched at levels considered ‘unrealistic’, and then not frozen till as late as possible. This has been termed as the classic struggle between what is termed the ‘good enough’ and the ‘best’.

Dependent as we have been, to a very large extent, on various constituents of the former USSR, our shipbuilding endeavours have remained hostage to their opaque, unresponsive and sluggish system of negotiations, contract and supply. This reliance introduces an element of grave uncertainty into the construction schedules and is the single most common cause for cascading time and cost overruns that we have faced in our recent shipbuilding programmes. While the MoF may well heap scorn on NHQ and MoD for what it considers ‘poor programme management’, they completely overlook the courageous leap of faith that the navy has taken by shunning the easier import option and going down the thorny road of indigenous warship design and construction.

Alleviation of this problem has been engaging the attention of the navy for a considerable period, and certain measures have been evolved to reduce its impact. For one, a hard decision had to be taken that the SQRs should be made more realistic, so as to accept current systems, which are ‘good enough’ to counter extant threats. As a corollary, on the day a unit (ship, submarine or aircraft) enters service, it would be assigned a date for a mid-life update or MLU a decade or more down the road. This period would permit adequate time for the ‘best’ contemporary systems to be developed and made available for the MLU.

The ultimate and the only acceptable solution is, of course, to become self-reliant and design our own systems, and that constitutes the next challenge.

The Hurdles to Self-reliance

If there is one lesson that the Indian armed forces should have learnt during the past few decades, it is about the hazards and pitfalls of depending on foreign sources for defence hardware (which invariably comes with embedded software). The days of ‘friendship prices’ are now well behind us, and no matter what the source, we are paying top dollar for everything that we buy in the ruthless international arms bazaar. We must remain acutely conscious of the fact that every time we contract a weapon system or platform of foreign origin, we compromise a little bit of our security because:
  • We become dependant on a foreign power for yet one more combat system/platform for its complete life cycle.
  • The equipment manufacturer will progressively keep hiking the price of spare parts and overhauls without any rationale or explanation.
  • The availability of product support (including spares) will keep declining, till it begins to affect our combat readiness.
  • Unless adroitly negotiated in advance, the software source codes will be kept out of our reach to hamper in-house repairs.

Apart from all these we have now repeatedly been witness to the disheartening spectacle of overseas defence purchases being used as political boomerangs and bringing the acquisition process to a grinding halt; thereby affecting the combat capability of the armed forces.

The obvious panacea for this serious challenge is to encourage our indigenous R&D as well as industry and to become self-reliant as soon as we can. The navy’s recently established Directorate of Indigenisation has made a good start by focusing on the local production of systems and sub-systems of the Scorpene and the aircraft carrier projects and the response from the industry has been most encouraging. But the path of self-reliance is neither easy nor free of pitfalls, as we have learnt from experience.

Over the years, our DPSUs have been manufacturing many systems under so called ‘technology transfer’ agreements with foreign firms, but these have resulted only in transfer of ‘screwdriver technology’ and the assembly of CKD or SKD kits, with little or no value addition. That is the reason one has rarely heard of a DPSU producing an improved version of a product after paying huge sums for transfer of technology.

At the other end of the spectrum, the DRDO has often struggled for years at great expense to ‘reinvent the wheel’ when technology could have been acquired quickly and more economically from other sources. Time overruns and performance shortfalls in many of our indigenous programmes have led to upsets in our force planning process and created operational voids.

In a recent path-breaking initiative the navy and DRDO have signed a tripartite agreement with Israeli industry for the joint development by Indian and Israeli scientists, and subsequent co-production of a futuristic weapon system for our destroyers of Project-15A. The development cycle of the systems and delivery schedule of the system is planned to coincide so that these front-line ships would be commissioned with a weapon system, which is contemporary, and state-of-the-art worldwide.

An inherent conflict of interest arises from the fact that the DRDO tends to devote much greater resources to technology development and demonstration than to the urgent operational needs of the armed forces. This has often resulted in a mismatch between our critical needs and the priorities of DRDO; driving us towards the import option. There is obviously a need for much better alignment between the aims and objectives of DRDO and the operational missions of the armed forces. In 2004, the navy had drawn up, mainly for the benefit of DRDO, a 20-year Roadmap attempting to forecast the technology requirements that its operational commitments would demand in all three dimensions of maritime warfare. It would be appropriate for the DRDO to take such requirements into account and plan its budget outlay in consultation with the Service HQs.

While the media has recently had a field day lambasting the DRDO (using an equal mix of hyperbole and facts), the navy has traditionally maintained a symbiotic relationship with this organization through the three dedicated ‘Naval’ laboratories to immense mutual benefit. The fact that today the navy deploys DRDO designed sonars, radars, torpedoes, mines, ESM, ECM and communication systems, is ample proof of this. We are also funding and supporting the development of the LCA (Navy). However, we have only scratched the surface of the problem and have considerable ground to cover in the arena of self-reliance.

In this context we need to clearly understand that India’s claim to being a great power or an industrialized nation one day, will ring hollow unless we can acquire the competence to design and build our own ships, submarines, fighters, tanks, missiles and satellites etc. We also need to accept the likelihood that the first attempt at each of these undertakings may be flawed or even a failure. But had we never attempted to produce a fourth generation fly-by-wire fighter, an advanced light helicopter, a main battle tank or an intermediate range ballistic missile (or had we abandoned the projects half-way) it is unlikely that we could have bridged the huge resulting technology gap ever thereafter.

Therefore, a sensible and pragmatic option for the Service HQs today may be to accept the Tejas, Dhruv, Arjun and Agni in their present versions (with certain shortcomings) and dub them ‘Mark I’. Then the Services should demand that the DRDO produces “Mark II” versions of each of these systems and insist that those meet or exceed the SQRs in every respect.

LiveFist EXCLUSIVE: Admiral Arun Prakash on What Platforms The Future Indian Navy Needs

Admiral Arun Prakash: Navies have, for centuries, been accepted and used as instruments of diplomacy and state policy. Therefore, unlike the other Services, they derive their raison d’etre not merely from a nation’s maritime security, but from its larger economic interests and geo-political aspirations.

Our economy is as dependant on the seas for trade, energy and commodity requirements as that of any island nation This makes a powerful maritime force the sine qua non of India’s economic resurgence. Our navy of 2020, must therefore be a force commensurate with the stature, responsibilities and commitments of the nation, and be capable of safeguarding India’s vital maritime interests at that point in time.

Having carried out a detailed examination of the evolving security, economic and geo-political scenario, the Navy’s planning staff have identified the maritime capabilities that the IN would need in all three dimensions to meet its various roles and missions. These capabilities are then translated into staff requirements and eventually into numbers of units.

As a “arm-chair” strategist, I can only attempt to paint a broad picture of tomorrow’s navy which may well be different from the NHQ vision.

Essentially, the mainstay of the navy’s Eastern and Western Fleets would be an aircraft-carrier task force each, whose composition and strength can be varied according to the mission in hand. One of these carriers will be the Vikramaditya, and the other, the first indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC) built by Cochin Shipyard. If ordered and funded in time, it is to be hoped that by 2020, a second IAC would also be available as a maintenance reserve to keep two ships operationally available.

A substantial force of destroyers and frigates (in the region of 30-40) would be required to form part of the carrier task forces as well as convoy escort, surface action and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) groups for independent tasking. A number of logistic support ships and auxiliaries would be needed to ensure that all our task forces are kept supplied with fuel, ammunition, victuals, stores and repair facilities wherever they may operate in the farthest reaches of the IOR.

This surface force would be backed by a strong aviation element consisting of helicopters (ASW and airborne early warning) integral to all major warships, shore based maritime reconnaissance ASW (MRASW) aircraft, and carrier-borne fighters. While the navy is currently in the process of identifying suitable MRASW aircraft, the fighters on board our carriers will be the MiG-29 K (or subsequent variants), and hopefully, the LCA (Navy). Should the Americans offer the STO/VL joint strike fighter (JSF), it would form a potent addition to the fleets.

By this time, our resuscitated submarine building industry should have entered into series production, and reversed the decline in force levels. Should a second production line be commissioned, we could hope for submarines of indigenous design to start emerging from it. These boats could well be equipped with air-independent propulsion and armed with vertically launched Brahmos.

In addition to major combatants, we would need a substantial mine counter-measures (MCM) force to ensure that our major naval harbours do not get choked by mine casualties. A number of smaller missile armed craft would be required for offshore and local naval defence.

If we are going to orient our operations (in support of the land battle) towards littoral warfare, our carrier task forces could be invested with the flexibility to switch between the roles of a “strike group” and an “expeditionary strike group”, by changing the ship and aircraft composition. This would also imply the acquisition of more amphibious ships and heavy-lift helicopters, as well as the creation of a small Marine Force.

" This powerful maritime force will be able to exploit its full potential only if networked in all three dimensions, through a dedicated communications satellite which will enable instant data transfer right across the IOR"

If what one hears of the Royal Navy’s impending decline/demise is true, a navy such as the one I have described, if in place by 2020, would rank amongst the top 3 or 4 in the world, and would be a maritime force to reckon with. Committed funding, transparent and streamlined acquisition procedures and a rejuvenated warship building industry are the three essential pre-requisites for this to happen.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

LiveFist EXCLUSIVE (Part 2): Admiral Arun Prakash On The New Indo-US Strategic Partnership

LiveFist: The Navy was at the forefront of the new strategic Indo-US complexion with exercises and exchanges at the topmost levels. How did you personally see this evolving equation, and what are the risks India needs to keep in mind with such a resolute foreign policy initiative on the military front?

Admiral Prakash:
In international relations you cannot go wrong if you proceed on the basis of two premises: It is not altruism but self-interest that invariably motivates nations. There are no free lunches, and a price will one day have to be paid for everything. And, when you negotiate in the big league, you should be prepared to play “hard ball”.

Great powers obviously have fewer scruples in international relations and are far more conscious of “realpolitik” than novices like India. We have to get used to the idea that everything is negotiable if the supreme national interest is at stake. Therefore clarity of vision and maintenance of aim are vital principles in geo-politics.

This has come out quite clearly in the Indo-US Nuclear Cooperation negotiations. The actual US goal right through has been to get India to “cap and roll back” its nuclear weapon programme, and every attempt has been made to push this agenda through. When faced with determined opposition by Indian negotiators, they have slowly stepped back, but still done their best to extract the maximum out of India.

As far as the IN-USN paradigm is concerned, in 2004 it was obvious that we had been sparring around for over a decade (since the Kicklighter Proposals) and while joint exercises and Op Sagittarius (the Malacca Strait patrol), did signify considerable progress, the US industry was chafing at not getting its teeth into the lucrative pie which they saw the Indian market as. It was obvious that a “hardware transfer” at this stage would enable the US industry to put a foot in the door and make an opening in the Indian market.

As far as the IN was concerned, we had managed without US origin hardware (except some components of our German origin HDW submarines) for over 50 years, and having established multiple other (more reliable) sources, were quite content to do without it. On the other hand, it was obvious that cutting edge technology in many warfare areas was to be had only in the USA, and an entry into the US arms market could have great operational benefits for us. It would also create a badly needed alternate source of supply for us.

However, there were numerous roadblocks. Wherever the US industry representatives went, the first question they had to answer was: “What happens if your government imposes sanctions again?” They really did not have an answer for this, so after some time people stopped asking. Moreover, we found that not only is the US system full of internal tensions and contradictions, but that their bureaucracy is as strong and obtuse as ours.

On a number of occasions, because they could not obtain complete alignment between the Pentagon, the Department of State, and Department of Defence, many well-intentioned acquisition plans fell through. The transfer of USS Trenton thus became a test case and a prestige issue for both navies. A determined push was applied at multiple points (NHQ, MoD, MoF and their counterparts in the USA) at the highest levels to ensure that the deal fructified at the eleventh hour.

(Tomorrow - Part III, What The Future Indian Navy Needs)

Friday, April 20, 2007

LiveFist EXCLUSIVE: Admiral Arun Prakash on the China Threat

In an ongoing interview with former Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Admiral Arun Prakash, LiveFist brings you the views of one of the most articulate and admired military chiefs of our time. What follows is Part One in a series of interactions, where Admiral Prakash questions Left perceptions of China, Beijing's military intentions in the Indian Ocean Region, and how he advised the government before retiring in October 2006.

Q. Admiral, you've said before that India is unsure of China's long-term intentions in the maritime sphere given it's unbridled force expansion. Give us a perspective on how and what you advised the government about China when you were Chief of Naval Staff. Some of the finer nuances.

Admiral Prakash:
Our dilemma vis-à-vis China is two-fold. On the one hand, we need to moderate the school of thought within the political establishment (encouraged no doubt by exhortations from the Left), which focuses exclusively on China's declarations about her "peaceful rise" . Indulging in a great deal of naive self-delusion, this school points to the ongoing dialogue and the dramatic increase in bilateral Sino-Indian trade, which is pushing the US$20 billion mark, as proof of China's good intentions.

On the other hand, our strategic establishment has to make a hard headed assessment and find answers to three straight questions before we decide on the future course of Sino-Indian relations: What is the rationale behind China's "string of pearls" strategy through which she has assiduously and neatly encircled India with states which are either her clients or beholden to her for economic and weapons related assistance?

Why did China (in collusion with North Korea) evolve a sinister plan to supply Pakistan with not just the plans and technology for nuclear weapons and a family of missiles but also the hardware related to these? Such a transaction is unprecedented in international relations. The Americans denied the transfer of atomic weapon technology to their Anglo-Saxon cousins the British (who had rendered valuable scientific assistance in Project Manhattan) through the instrumentality of the 1946 McMahon Act.

Of China's 15 neighbours, why has she has settled boundary disputes with all but India, and loses no opportunity to remind us about it? The most recent and perplexing instance of this was when the Chinese Ambassador in Delhi reiterated, publicly, their claim to Arunachal Pradesh just a fortnight before President Hu Jintao's visit to India.

To the armed forces, three things are obvious:

Firstly, no matter how intense our political engagement or trade, India and China will be competing for the same strategic space in the Indian Ocean Region, extending to the shores of Africa. When such a competition between two powers is in the offing, the use of coercive force and possibility of conflict can never be ruled out.

Secondly, the Chinese have a long racial memory, and if they are convinced that Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh actually "belong" to them, they will sooner or later regurgitate their claims, and once again a show of coercive force (backed by a powerful nuclear arsenal) cannot be ruled out.

And thirdly, that the PLA Navy has every intention of moving into the Indian Ocean and flexing its muscle in their perceived national interests. However, they will do this when they are good and ready: with a reliable force of SSBNs and SSNs as well as a carrier based naval aviation arm. In the meantime, the ground is being well prepared, in Gwadar, and possibly in Hambantota , Chittagong and Sittwe.

The Navy's advice to the GoI was that, notwithstanding a late start, the only way to counter the Chinese strategy was to initiate an urgent programme of extending maritime assistance and cooperation to all our Bay of Bengal and IOR neighbours. And the good news here is that they are all eager and ready to meet us more than half way. It was also suggested that greater caution and circumspection may be necessary in making assessments about long term Chinese intentions.

(emphasis added)

(Tomorrow: Part II -- Admiral Arun Prakash on implications of the new Indo-US strategic evolution)

Almost as a coincidence, on the same day that Admiral Prakash has spoken out about Chine, the Navy today held its first ever exercise (Exercise Rajdoot) with the PLA Navy off the Chinese coast. Here's is the official statement from the Navy today:

Indian Navy Calls on Qingdao, China

IN Ships Rana and Ranjit under the command of Capt LV Sarat Babu and Captain DM Sudan respectively, visited Qingdao from 12 to 15 Apr 07 during the course of the ships Overseas Deployment (RAJDOOT 01/07) to the North Pacific Region. The ships visit to Qingdao, China coincided with the concurrent visit of INS Mysore, Jyoti and Kuthar under the operational command of Rear Admiral Ravinder Kumar Dhowan, AVSM, YSM to Yokosuka, Japan.

On arrival at Qingdao harbour the ships were welcomed by Her Excellency Mrs Nirupama Rao, Ambassadress of India to China, Vice Admiral R P Suthan, Deputy Chief of Naval Staff and Rear Admiral Su Shiliang, Commander North Sea Fleet (NSF) of PLA Navy. A first day postal cover commemorating the first visit of Indian Naval ships to Qingdao was also released on this occasion.

During the welcome address Rear Admiral Su Shiliang, Commander North Sea Fleet and H.E. Mrs Nirupama Rao, Ambassadress of India highlighted the strategic significance of Indo-China relations. These views were echoed during the formal interaction between Vice Admiral RP Suthan, Rear Admiral Shu Shiliang and the Commanding Officers of the Indian Naval ships. The Navys' role in the expanding military / diplomatic ties as well as 'Building Bridges of Freindship' between India and China was clearly evident during the ships stay in Qingdao. A reception was hosted for the PLA Navy officers and Defence Attaches of Australia, South Korea, Germany, Brazil, Japan, France and the US on board Rana on 13 Apr.

Concurrently the ships were opened for visitors. Prominent amongst those who visited the ship included the small, fledgling yet proud and reassured members of the Indian business community in Qingdao. Additionally, the response of the local populace was overwhelming. The enthusiasm and genuine happiness of these people helped breach the strong language barrier. Further consolidating on the 'Bridges of Friendship' construct, a band concert by the Indian Naval Band was conducted at 'May 4th Square'. The Naval band enthralled the audience, of more than over 2000, in a programme that lasted over two hours. Adulation was readily apparent in enthusiastic crowd participation and requests for encores.

The ships departed Qingdao at 0830 hrs on 16 Apr 07 and were led out of harbour by PLAN ship Qingdao. During the passage the ships undertook basic communication and maneuvering exercises. The PASSEX concluded with a steampast by the IN ships wherein IN – PLAN personnel manned respective ship sides.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Army's Pay Commission Demands!

The slide to the right is from the 82-slide presentation made by Army General J.J. Singh to the Defence Ministry today (click to enlarge). The slide shows what the Army demands from the Sixth Pay Commission, one of the most discussed topics on military forums now. It was part of a special show we did on Headlines Today tonight with guests Maroof Raza, former Cabinet Secretary TSR Subramaniam and former IAS officer Harsh Mander. What follows is my script of the special report:

By Shiv Aroor

Embrace austerity, serve with simplicity. This was the seemingly odd-timed advice from Defence Minister AK Antony to the Army this week. What he probably hadn't bargained for was the inspired presentation the Army chief made to the Defence Ministry this morning demanding never-before pay hikes for Army officers and soldiers as part of the upcoming 6th Pay Commission.

A copy of the General Singh's comprehensive 82-page presentation, made available to Headlines Today, is in one sense a desperate one. Ignored for decades by successive pay commissions that have tipped the balance in favour of the civil services, and labouring on with a shortage of a staggering 5,200 officers, the Army has finally had enough and decided to pull out all the stops this time.

For example, while the starting pay in the Army is currently a quite uncompetitive 8,250 Rupees in the Lieutenant rank, the Army now wants its boys to start off on a decidedly plush 43,650 rupees per month under the new system, a good deal better than start-up packages even in the IT industry. A Colonel, who takes home a modest 17,000 rupees today should rake in 90,550 rupees a month, the Army demands, and a three-star General a cool 1.2 lakh rupees a month, instead of 22,400 rupees he earns today.

Even those in the Army admit that their demands for a five-time increase in pay is indulgently wishful thinking. And yet, after being shortchanged by successive pay commissions for years coupled with booming salaries in the private sector, it's probably reasonable that the Army is aiming so high.

The attractiveness of the armed forces as a career has steadily waned, and shows no signs of letting up. Officers still leave in droves. And yet, no one will reasonably doubt the honour and nobility of volunteering to guard the country with your life.

Apart from a the Army's recommendations to the government today that all personnel get a five-fold jump in pay, they have also for the first time put into focus that unidentifiable something that makes military life so completely different from anything else. The Army wants special risk-related allowances, a separate military incentive pay and, interestingly, what it actually calls X-Factor pay. This of course has a huge number of dimensions.

Personnel deployed in field formations, especially in the North East and Jammu & Kashmir are constantly in danger of bodily harm. Those who patrol the unforgivingly cold and hostile heights on the Saltoro ridge and Sikkim have other enemies to plough through. Helicopter pilots, like the two who were killed last week, have to brave blizzards in tiny metal machines. The element of risk and the X-Factor of walking a thin line for most of your life, is something the Army now wants quantified, and rewarded well.

Armed forces personnel always complain in private that bureaucrats in the civil services persistently flush down hopes of salaries that would put the military on par with not just the private sector, but other services within the government itself... like the IAS or the police.

This time around, the IAS has demanded a pay scale revision of just over three times from the sixth pay commission, which is probably why the armed forces have aimed at a five-fold increase in compensation to bring in at least some semblance of parity. So if junior to middle rung officers of the IAS are hoping for revised salaries of between 35,000-57,000 rupees, defence officers of corresponding seniority are looking at adjustments that will allow them to take home between 43,000 and 90,000 rupees. Cynics in uniform will always affirm however, that the past seldom passes.

The armed forces history with pay commissions is a dismal one. For the third pay commission in the 1970s, the services were barred from making recommendations by a government that was afraid it would affect discipline. To the astonishment of everyone in uniform at the time, the commission actually decided that advantages of a military career outweighed the downside. In the fourth pay commission, another rude shock was to follow. The promising rank pay introduced for officers uptil the rank of Brigadier was quietly deducted from their basic pay, a decades old goof that has hoardes of retired officers now thronging the civilian courts for redressal.

They won't admit it out loud, but most in the Army feel they've been shortchanged all along by apathetic governments and the civil services lobby eager to keep inflated revenue expenditures all for itself. There's no reason to believe this time will be any different, but there's little left to do for those in uniform but hope for a sympathetic ear. And as they're saying in the forces these days, no matter how much the economy booms, peanuts will only attract monkeys.

©Copyright 2007 TV Today

Monday, April 16, 2007

Forces on Review -- Why is DRDO Stagnating?

An interesting and balanced piece in The Telegraph today by former AOC-in-C South-Western Air Command, Air Marshal BD Jayal. Best of all, the element of the MoD as equally or more blameworthy for the mess.

Forces on Review -- Why is DRDO Stagnating?
by Air Marshal Brijesh D. Jayal (Retd)

For far too long, there has virtually been no accountability within the defence management system to ensure that our fighting forces are equipped with the proper weapons and systems to handle the complex security challenges facing the country. The resultant state of modernization of our armed forces today is therefore cause for alarm. Many major weapons system projects under the Defence Research and Development Organization of the ministry of defence have been stagnating for over a decade or more. Not surprisingly, a recent report by the parliamentary standing committee on defence has been highly critical of the functioning and performance of the DRDO.

Based on its recommendations, the government has now formed a committee to carry out an independent review of the DRDO. The unfortunate fact is that the laudable aims of self-reliance and indigenization have been so misused that, for years, the DRDO and defence public sector units have always had the first call on any operational requirement that the services may project. As numerous examples have shown, these organizations have readily accepted the commitments but rarely delivered. While the armed forces continue to face the adverse operational consequences, no one has been held to account. With 5,000 scientists, 25,000 other scientific, technical and support personnel, 51 laboratories and an annual budget of around Rs 5,000 crore, the DRDO's vision — as spelt out on its website, of "making India prosperous by establishing world class science and technology base and providing the defence services decisive edge by equipping them with internationally competitive systems and solutions" — has remained an elusive vision.

The genesis of the parliamentary committee's ire has been the DRDO's inability to deliver on the many vital projects that are at hand and the absence of any accountability for gross time and cost overruns. While the composition of the review committee has been announced, one is not aware of the terms of reference. In all fairness, while there is much that the DRDO needs to answer for, both to the armed forces and the tax-payer, it would be unfair to limit the committee's charter to just reviewing the DRDO. If indeed the spirit of the exercise is to inject efficiency and accountability into the entire system of modernizing the armed forces, then every organization that plays a part in the process needs to be reviewed for its contribution to this sorry state of affairs.

It is understood that both the MoD and the DRDO were firmly opposed to the concept of an independent audit and review. That the alternative view has prevailed indicates that, in keeping with the prevailing spirit of transparent and merit-oriented decision-making, the government is not willing to treat the DRDO as a holy cow. In furtherance of this spirit, one hopes that the terms of reference of the proposed committee will not be limited to the DRDO alone but will extend to the other holy cows that must also share the burden of this state of blissful neglect of national security.

We need to ask ourselves why we have allowed the DRDO to become an omnibus organization, which is involved in activities as diverse as basic research, at one end of the spectrum, to designing and developing complex weapons systems like main battle tanks and light combat aircraft, and on occasion even indulging in pre-production activities. This, when there exist large defence production units with integrated design and development departments, whose primary task is precisely to undertake these latter activities. In the event, the DRDO falls between two stools and has been unable to fulfil, through research and development, what should have been its primary function. That of ensuring that the Indian armed forces are technologically prepared and operationally relevant in the ever-evolving technological and security environment. While the former would be a function of the research being carried out and the advice provided to the MoD and the armed forces, the latter would be through applied research where technology can be developed, commercialized and transferred to the defence industry, which would then apply it to weapons system development.

This brings us to the defence industry, which consists of both defence public sector units and the ordnance factories. Here one must differentiate, between the navy and the other two services, because the former has been far more successful in indigenous design and production; possibly because it still runs its own design department, and shipyards have largely been headed by serving or retired naval officers. The rest of the defence industry has been more interested in keeping its production lines going rather than aggressively contributing to design and development of futuristic weapons systems with applied technology inputs from the DRDO. The industry is far more comfortable with licensed production, with no risks and assured production orders. With the services as captive customers and prices of products artificially fixed, the system is not conducive to a competitive and dynamic culture, where providing the armed forces with technologically current weapons systems at competitive prices carries a premium. This culture has several negative fallouts. It leads to the stagnation of the industry's own design and development capability, thus making it reliant on further licensed programmes. There is no backwards push to the DRDO to come up with technologies, which can be commercially applied, to future weapons system designs or for weapons system upgrades. And finally, such an industry becomes lethargic and is incapable of competitiveness in the international arms market.

At the end of the day, it is the armed forces that are the ultimate users of the final products of indigenous research, development and production. In any healthy commercial organization, the customer is king. It is only in the existing defence management system that the customer is actually the slave. He is made to feel apologetic about futuristic requirements to meet his operational needs and is often accused of aping foreign sales brochures. He is dubbed as pro-import when he is not convinced that indigenous claims are realistic. The ministry of defence sits in judgment over technical and operational issues, for which it lacks professional expertise. Often it rules in favour of claims made by the DRDO or the defence PSUs, driven by the lofty ideals of self-reliance and indigenization, but, one suspects, also to take the easy route, as the alternative involves imports and the bogey of arms dealers, et al.

The armed forces have only themselves to blame for this pitiable plight. Service leadership, possibly because of a false sense of patriotism, has found it politically correct not to openly criticize these fatal systemic flaws. The few that have voiced concern have done so either in a muted fashion or on the eve of shedding their uniform. In this age of rapidly advancing technology and equally rapid obsolescence of weapons systems, the need is for integrated teamwork across the spectrum of research, applied research, development, testing, operationalizing and productionizing. With so much at stake, the services have also not shown any enthusiasm to establish functional technology and systems commands with delegated authority to work alongside the DRDO and the industry. Part of the existing problem is precisely the absence of such a mechanism.

This brings us to the holiest of holy cows, the MoD. It commands all the authority with no attendant accountability. It stands as arbiter of disputes between the services and the DRDO or the defence industry, without possessing the requisite technical or operational expertise. No incremental delay or cost overrun can be permitted without the sanction of the MoD, yet no questions are asked of it. If indeed the nation aspires to take its place in the forefront of defence technologies, to become a force to reckon with in producing weapons systems to equip its defence forces and to compete in the international market, then it is the entire defence management system that must come under scrutiny, not just the DRDO. Scrutiny not only of performance, but the charter, organization, decision-making hierarchy, authority and accountability within each of the organizations is vital.

Unless we are willing to broaden the charter of the proposed committee to encompass the above weaknesses, the spirit and purpose of our review will not be served. A valuable starting point would be to task the College of Defence Management to produce classified management case studies on the main battle tank, the light combat aircraft and the Trishul missile projects. These studies can form the basis of the 'terms of reference' for the proposed committee. The committee will then have its work cut out.

Friday, April 13, 2007

M Natarajan on Agni-III

I spoke to M Natarajan on camera yesterday for Headlines Today. Here's the transcript of what he said last evening on the Agni-III launch. He offers excellent insights into last year's disastrous debut launch and the success of this year's test:

More than me the credit should go the entire DRDO and especially to the Programme Director Dr. Avinash Chander and his team and also many private and public sector companies who have contributed various parts. It is entirely indigenously designed, produced and configured.

It is approximately 9 months ago in July last year, we had the first test of Agni-III and it was in the words of the then Defence Minister – A partial Success. The reason was that the mission was not fully accomplished, it took off well and it tumbled down after some time.

We had put extensive telemetry even at that time. So we could get sufficient data and we appointed experts committee to analyse those data and study all the issues so that we don’t miss out at any front. We had a number of issues relating to aerodynamics, telemetry, command control system. We went through the analysis and we were very clear that the primary problem was at the supersonic speed at the height of 35 to 40 kms height there was a re-circulation of hot gas and the external costream mix and lot of which got sucked into a cavity between the flux nozzle.

At that time the temperature shot up to 700 , 800 and more and it burnt some cables of the control and which controls the nozzle actuation and that’s why the problem occurred. Because that kind of a device quite adequate in A1, A2 missiles But this is a much larger 2 mtr diameter so obviously that was not adequate. So we knew that now we have to bring in thermal barriers. But is not easy because this barrier has to be flexible to allow the nozzle to flex so it cannot be solid so we spent a quite a lot of time and now we have developed new silica based materials which are actually stitched like a skirt or umbrella, it moves along with the nozzle and at the same time insulates and that is the significant thing and also some other parts were moved out to other locations so they are away from heat.

The entire mission has been accomplished on the dot. All I wish to say is that it such efforts as you know in the last couple of months we had the interceptor missile done well, we have Dhanush launched recently, in between we had the strategic system and now this. All this have happened not due to luck factor, but it has happened because of the years of toiling and hard work put up by our young scientists. I am sure the next generation people, the younger scientists will carry this nation forward drawing the strength from this technology and the country can definitely trust them with the challenges and opportunities of these kinds of tasks. Strength is necessary for democracy and peace.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Look who's talking!

I reproduce here R Prasannan's fine piece in The Week -- the other side of the DRDO story. Some of our commenters have referred to this piece from the April 8 edition of the magazine, so I've posted it here.

DRDO gets a bad name because of Army and Air Force
by R Prasannan

Finally, the much-maligned and underpaid defence scientists feel vindicated. Having been rubbished by the media and the defence services for long-delayed and aborted defence technology projects, they feel that someone has heard their side of the story, though this story is not that flattering to the Army and the Air Force.

The 14th report of the Balasaheb Vikhe Patil-headed parliamentary standing committee on defence has vindicated THE WEEK's reports (Feb. 19, 2006 and February 18, 2007) that the services are as much to blame for Defence Research and Development Organisation's project delay. The committee has noted that many of DRDO's difficulties are caused by the changing of the qualitative requirements (QR) by the services midstream, and the long and extended trials by them. Said a DRDO scientist to THE WEEK: "When it comes to imported systems, the services are willing to dilute their QR if the supplier can bring down the price. Why can't they extend the same concession to systems developed by our own scientists?"

The committee, too, has criticised the services' phoren craze. "...indigenously developed product is subjected to prolonged and exhaustive trial and evaluation, whereas imported products are not subjected to the same evaluation, but are readily accepted...," it noted.

The committee has listed several instances of the services' changing QR midstream, leading to delay in projects. The Army asked DRDO in September 2000 to develop an air-defence gun system for Rs 17.7 crore. Four months later, the vice-chief reported that the existing L-70 and ZU guns could be upgraded to a level superior to what the Army had asked it to develop. The new QR, issued in May 2001, was so different from the earlier one that DRDO had to short-close the programme after spending Rs 14.5 lakh.

In 1994, the IAF asked DRDO to develop an emergency floatation system for Mi-8 helicopters for Rs 75 lakh, when IAF was negotiating with FPT of the UK. As FPT could not meet the air-worthiness requirement, the system was imported from Kazan in Russia, and the indigenous development programme foreclosed after spending Rs 48 lakh. To DRDO's credit, instead of throwing away the already-developed technologies, it employed them in the indigenous Advanced Light Helicopter.

In 1993, the IAF asked DRDO to develop a mobile balloon barrage system for Rs 45.99 lakh. By March 1998, DRDO was ready with the system. One and a half years later, the IAF reported that it no longer needed the system, as it was based on the 1980s operational philosophy.

The maximum flak on DRDO has been over the delay in the light combat aircraft (LCA) programme. The IAF, too, has to share the blame. It asked DRDO to redesign the composite wings "to cater for weapon definition changes" in January 2004, by which time the prototypes had flown for more than a few hundred hours.

The most intriguing case has been the cargo ammunition development project, sanctioned in January 1998 at Rs 16.35 crore. Initially, DRDO thought it could modify the bomblet developed for Prithvi for the cargo system. When this failed, DRDO attempted to design the bomblet and fuze afresh. That threw up certain technological constraints. Finally, all the "constraints were overcome and the design of 130mm cargo shell, bomblet, bomblet fuze..., packing system and ejection system were worked out."

Hardly had DRDO opened champagne bottles when, according to the committee, "the project was shortclosed [as] the government did not grant an extension of time after spending Rs 2.78 crore." The committee has recorded that it is "not fully convinced with the reply... that due to technological constraints, change in design and development and GSQR, the projects sanctioned were abandoned...."

The services' argument has been that changes in technology and threat perception are making them amend the QRs. (THE WEEK reported in February that the Nag anti-tank missile programme was delayed partly because the Army and IAF suddenly wanted longer ranges than what they had originally asked for.) The committee has observed that several projects "were shortclosed due to change in General Staff Qualitative Requirements by the user, or due to technological obsolescence."

The problem appears to be mainly with the Army and Air Force. The Navy, which has its own design capability, has fewer problems with DRDO. As the committee observes, "Only the Navy has design capability, and... is far ahead of the Army and Air Force in R&D and outsourcing."

Thus, naval engineers and designers seem to have a better working relationship with DRDO. For instance, the Samyukta electronics warfare programme for the Army was launched in May 1994, but is yet to be completed and handed over to the Army. On the other hand, the similar Sangraha programme for the Navy, which was launched a year after the Army programme was launched, has already been completed, and is being happily used by the Navy. This was after the cabinet committee took seven months to sanction the Army project and 13 months for the Navy one.

Similarly, other naval projects like high-speed torpedo Varunastra and anti-torpedo decoy system Mareech, though delayed by two years, are expected to be completed with no cost overrun. A non-official expert put it pointblank to the committee: "The Navy has the best example. So why don't we follow that? All major developments take place as part of the service, under their care and accountability."
The Navy's higher satisfaction level with DRDO is reflected in the naval representative's statement before the committee: "With the help of DRDO..., we have made considerable progress on the electronic warfare systems." According to him, the Navy has stopped buying sonars from abroad for the last five to 10 years; DRDO-developed sonars have been retrofitted even in Russian-built ships; DRDO's electronic warfare systems are being inserted in foreign-built naval aircraft; and systems are being sent to Russia for retrofitting on aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, which is being refurbished in Russia.

Similarly, Garden Reach Shipbuilders of Kolkata has no problem with the special steel developed by DRDO and produced by Steel Authority of India for anti-submarine corvettes. As the Garden Reach representative proudly told the committee, "We are now the first major user of this indigenous steel.... The entire electronics, weapons and sensors in that ship are going to be... indigenous." The only problem, as noted by the committee, is that the Navy is often unable to provide enough ships for trials of warheads.

There are problems within DRDO, too. As many as 1,404 scientists have left it in the last 10 years. As the ministry pointed out to the committee, many of the multinationals' R&D centres are located in cities where DRDO has a cluster of laboratories and establishments. "Some of the scientists selected in DRDO through proper selection process, after training and R&D experience in the organisation, are offered lucrative salary by MNCs and private companies," it said.

Not that the report is a clean chit to DRDO. The organisation has been criticised for its lack of project management culture, reluctance to involve the users in project management and review, lack of trust in the capabilities of private industry, and lack of technological follow-up with public sector manufacturers. But the committee has refrained from blaming DRDO even for US sanctions which delayed the Kaveri engine.

As a DRDO scientist told THE WEEK, many of these technologies are being developed for the first time in the country, and there would be teething problems. "This would happen in any country where strategic technology has progressed far ahead of civilian industrial base. We have been developing extremely complex technologies for fighter planes and warships and electronic warfare, whereas our civilian industry produced the first indigenous car only recently," he said.

The problem, according to him, is not in the development of technologies, but in integrating them into products and weapon systems, which is the job of design engineers. As DRDO chief Dr M. Natarajan has been saying, "We don't have enough design engineers in the country. India needs at least one lakh of them."

©The Week 2007

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Pakistan’s JF-17 Thunder – An Analysis

By Mihir Shah
for LiveFist

On March 23 2007, two JF-17 “Thunder” fighters took to the skies for the first time in Pakistan as a part of the Pakistan Day celebrations. Touted to be Pakistan's first home made fighter, the JF-17 is expected to be the Pakistan Air Force's frontline fighter well into the future. With this article, I’ve made an attempt to examine the JF-17 in the Indo-Pak context. But first, some background information on the program.

The program began in 1986 as the Super-7, when China signed a $550 million deal with Grumman to modernise its fleet of J-7 (MiG-21s manufactured in China under license) fighters. The United States ceased technical assistance following the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, and the project almost ground to a halt. However, Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation (CAC) managed to keep the program alive with its own resources, as the FC-1. The project got a new lease of life in 1999, when Pakistan and China signed an agreement to “jointly” develop and produce the FC-1 with both countries contributing 50% of the funds. Russia’s Mikoyan Aero-Science Production Group provided technical assistance. The FC-1 (Designated JF-17 “Thunder” by Pakistan) was supposed to be a lightweight all-weather multi-role fighter, which would replace Pakistan’s fleet of Mirage-III, F-7, and A-5 aircraft, whose safety record is going downhill by the day. The Pakistani version would sport a Western avionics suite, which included the Italian Galileo Avionica Grifo S7 radar, a variant of which is already in service with the Pakistan Air Force on its F-7 fighters. It would be powered by one Russian Klimov RD-93 turbofan. The “Aviation Week & Space Technology” magazine reported in November 2006 that “Pakistani officials expect the first contract for 16 aircraft (split equally with China) to be awarded next year, with deliveries as early as 2007. A full-rate production contract would follow around 2009. Initially, Pakistan will provide 58% of the parts, but that is supposed to increase gradually to 100%.” The overall Pakistani requirement is expected to be around 150 fighters.

Although the Pakistanis tried to demonstrate with the Pakistan Day flypast that everything was tickety-boo, this is far from the truth. The Western avionics are nowhere to be seen, and supplier decisions do not appear to have been made. Radar integration, a challenging job under the best of circumstances, seems to have run into problems. The task is complicated in no small part by the lack of space available in the JF-17’s radome. It is now widely claimed that the first batch of Pakistani JF-17s will be equipped with Chinese avionics and radar. The weapons package is yet to be finalised. While China is expected to push its PL-9 dogfight missile and the yet untested SD-10 beyond visual range air to air missile, the South Africans have reportedly offered their A-Darter and T-Darter missiles. In January 2007, the head of the Russian Defence Ministry's International Cooperation Department, Colonel-General Anatoly Mazurkevich, announced that Russia had “denied China the right to supply its JF-17 fighter aircraft powered by Russian RD-93 engines to third countries, asking it to sign an end-user certificate for the engines”. In Indian circles, this was taken to be a total Russian denial., a Chinese military website reports that while five RD-93s have been purchased to power the prototypes, an agreement on the further purchase and re-export of the engine is still pending. To make things worse, the Chinese have yet to make any firm commitments, and appear to have lost interest in inducting the FC-1, preferring the more capable J-10 instead.

Given development time-frame and mission profile, comparisons between the JF-17 and India’s “Tejas” light combat aircraft are inevitable. But similarities, if any, are merely superficial. The Tejas, meant to replace India’s massive fleet of MiG-21s, is a wholly different project as far as technology is concerned. Its airframe, made of advanced carbon fibre composites, is light years ahead of the Thunder’s all-metal airframe. The ADA, HAL, and NAL invested considerable time, effort, and resources in its development, and came up with what is arguably one of the finest airframes in the world. The same goes for the Tejas’ aerodynamics which, because of the compound delta-wing, extensive wing-body blending, and low wing loading are superior to those of the Thunder, which has a more conventional layout along the lines of the F-16 and a rejected Soviet light fighter design. As far as flight dynamics and control go, the Tejas, with its relaxed static stability and quadruplex, full authority fly-by-wire digital flight control system, is far more advanced than the Thunder, which still features conventional controls (fly-by-wire exists only for pitch control). The Tejas then, is a state of the art combat aircraft which will be India’s first step towards self-reliance. Program wise, it is more comparable to the Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale, considering not just the technology involved, but also the scope of the project. In the light of this argument, its longer timeline is hardly surprising. But the Thunder, despite Pakistan’s best efforts to package it as “indigenous”, is anything but. Pakistan’s contribution to the design and development of the project is close to nothing. Even today, it does not sport any Pakistani systems. It is at best a cheap and low-tech Chinese aircraft that Pakistan can mass produce. As Siva, a contributor on Bharat Rakshak points out, the JF-17 is more comparable to the HJT-36 Sitara intermediate jet trainer – since both have an all-metal airframe, conventional controls, and an externally sourced engine. And the Sitara was developed even faster than the Thunder.

This is not to say that the JF-17 is a bad aircraft. It will serve a very important purpose by giving Pakistan valuable experience in fighter aircraft manufacturing. It will help Pakistan rid itself of dependence on American weapons. It will give the Pakistan Air Force a shot in the arm by beefing up numbers and providing it with decent beyond visual range combat capability. Dismissing it as “worthless” would be nothing short of stupid. My friend and aviation enthusiast Kartik sums it up beautifully: “If the Pakistanis integrate even a medium performance radar and use the SD-10 with it, it is a big threat to the Indian Air Force – just look at the MiG-21 Bison to see what an underestimated fighter can turn out to be. The Sukhoi Su-30K was also found to be a poor aircraft when the IAF first evaluated it, and then after all sweat and toil put into getting its avionics in place and the thrust vector controls, the Su-30MKI is a completely different beast! I somehow fear that the JF-17 shouldn’t prove to be a fighter that makes the Fulcrums, Mirages, Bisons almost on-par or just a little superior. Which is why the IAF needs a true fourth generation fighter to stay ahead – both airframe wise as well as avionics wise."

(Mihir Shah is at