Saturday, September 29, 2007

Update on Bhim 155mm SP Howitzer

Requests for proposal (RfPs) sent out for a replacement gun for the now turret-less Bhim have resulted in a single vendor situation -- only one country has responded to the RfP: South Korea. The gun that has been put on the table is almost definitely the K9, manfuactured by Samsung Techwin.

In early 2005, just about two weeks before the Bhim deal was to be signed by DRDO with South Africa (the Bhim was finalised as an MBT Arjun chassis with the South African Denel T6 turret), the corruption controversy blew Denel out of the water and onto the Indian government's official do-not-touch list. There went that deal. The Bhim was virtually put into the cold storage after that. It was a deep shock for everyone at the Combat Vehicle Research & Development Establishment (CVRDE) at Avadi, for whom the deal meant not just prestige, but also a fire that would keep the Arjun line humming. So much for that. The Army wanted 200 tracked SP howitzers and 200 wheeled ones, which were to be integrated separately. Both divebombed after the Denel fiasco.

With a single-vendor situation now arising and pushing the entire Bhim deal back by at least three years, the MoD will shortly issue another RfP in the hope that more and other companies will respond. While the government is not quite sure why more companies haven't come forward, they're sure that this time around firms like Giat (now called Nexter), SWS Bofors, Samsung Techwin, Soltam and possibly a few others will come forward with turret propositions.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Update on Arjun MBT

The Army's Director General Mechanised Forces (DGMF) Lt Gen Daulat Singh Shekhawat was at Avadi today to firm up dates for user trials of nine production series tanks incorporating the corrections effected after the Ashwamedh exercise in Rajasthan.

The last official statement by the government on the Arjun, on August 29 after the exercises was as follows: "Government has detected some major defects in the Main Battle Tank 'Arjun' during the course of its field trial.   The main defects noticed during trials by Army were related to failure of piston rods of hydro pneumatic Suspension Unit, Gunner Main Sight & Gun Control System.   These defects were noticed during the trials in 2005 and 2006.  The cause of defects have been analysed and corrective action has been taken to eliminate the defect.   Defect related to premature warning of Air filter of the engine fitted in MBT Arjun was noticed during the trial in 2005. The cause of the defect was analysed and rectified in consultation with the specialists from Germany, Belgium and France. The remedial measures have been implemented at the production stage. "

I will be doing a special half-hour report on the Arjun MBT from CVRDE and HVF, Avadi, which I am visiting between September 28-29. The show will be on Headlines Today next week (will post the schedule her once it's confirmed).

Monday, September 17, 2007

Picture from Exercise INDRA 07

Indian and Russian troopers with an IAF Ilyushin-76 in the background during the ongoing Indo-Russian Exercise INDRA-07 at Pskov in Russia (Indian Air Force Photo).

Gun Politics

BOFORS SHELLSHOCK, breaking new revelations in the Bofors gun trials, the Army's trial report and how it totally debunks what the government and Army chief have said. What do the Army and government have to hide? Tonight at 9.30PM on Headlines Today.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

INS Jalashwa sails in...

Navy press release today on the induction of USS Trenton:

INS Jalashwa
, the latest induction into the Indian Navy, arrived at Visakhapatnam on PM 12 Sep 07 after being commissioned at Norfolk, USA on 22 Jun 07. 'Jalashwa', (a Sanskrit name of the Hippopotamus), with its Motto 'The Fearless Pioneers', is an amphibious assault ship that can embark, transport and land various elements of an amphibious force to support operations ashore. This is the 1st ship to be transferred from the US besides being the 1st Landing Platform Dock (LPD) to be acquired by the Navy.

The second largest ship in the Navy's inventory, INS Jalashwa is equipped with a Landing Craft Mechanized (LCM-8) along with Seaking helicopters, Radars and rapid firing guns to undertake amphibious operations, Maritime surveillance, Special operations, Search and Rescue, Medical support and also Humanitarian relief.

The specialty of this ship is the 'Well Deck' housing the LCM-8 which can be launched by flooding the 'Well deck' and operating the hinged gate at the rear end of the ship. The ship's cargo space enhances the equipment carrying capability.

Unlike regular warships, this ship has a flight deck for helicopter operations from which four medium helicopters can operate simultaneously. This deck can also be used to operate vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft like the Sea Harrier, in special circumstances.

Since the ship is capable of embarking over 1000 troops, she is fully equipped with extensive medical facilities including four Operation Theatres, 12-bed ward, Laboratory and a Dental centre to ensure the health care of the embarked personnel.

INS Jalashwa is commanded by Captain BS Ahluwalia, a helicopter pilot and manned by a crew of about 27 Officers and 380 sailors. With a length of about 175 metres and width of 32 metres, the ship is capable of doing speeds of 20 Knots.

On arrival at Visakhapatnam, the ship was accorded a warm reception by senior officers of the Command and families of the crew. The Navy Band was in attendance. INS Jalashwa will now form part of the Eastern Fleet under the Eastern Naval Command.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Official Shopping List from Israel!

I did a half-hour special report on Headlines Today on August 16 based on a Defence Ministry document that I happened to get my hands on. It's a briefing note prepared by the MoD for the Ministry of External Affairs listing all the major military cooperation programmes and contracts currently on with Israel, and -- probably more importantly -- the ones currently on the table. It's a fascinating little document. Not least because the Defence Ministry and the Israeli embassy have a pronounced "no-comment" policy on all defence cooperation, despite common knowledge that it has expanded to astounding proportions in just the handful of years that the two countries have done open military business post-Kargil.

We've all known about the Phalcons and the Tavors and the Greenpines for years. But here's those and a lot more, in writing. Submerged launch vehicles. Gabriel anti-ship missiles. The F-INSAS advisory package. Desert Eagle handguns. The works. Here's formal confirmation (not "sources said") too that Israel is working in an official advisory role on the indigenous AEW&C and F-INSAS programmes. The most important part however -- this is a list of only the large and major contracts and programmes. The source who shared this with me says it highlights only a fraction of what is an intricate and enormous cooperation of either deals in negotiation, or very near conclusion -- and they span every conceivable area of military hardware and co-development, from anti-terror tracked robots to tritium sights.

Anyway, here's the list in full:





So there it is -- still only a partial list, but official. There's a new Israeli ambassador coming shortly, and he's going to have this massive legacy of cooperation to continue.

Navy's Sea Dragoned Ilyushin-38s Nosedive

I took the photo to the right on August 21 this year while at the Zhukovsky air base outside Moscow for the MAKS 07 air show. In case you're squinting at the bad photo quality (or haven't clicked on the photo), that's the third of five Indian Navy Ilyushin-38 maritime patrol/anti-sub warfare aircraft that are in Russia for the Sea Dragon maritime avionics and sensors suite upgrade -- and it's just sitting there. It was sitting across the runway closer to the maintenance hangars, flanked by an American F-15C (which was participating in the flight and an Antonov-148.

Kommersant reported on September 7, "The Indians claim Sea Dragon failed to correspond to the technical design assignment during the test operations in the Barents Sea. The system allegedly failed to discover a submarine that was at the target distance from it. According to Russia’s participants of the tests, Sea Dragon operated up to the weather conditions in the North."

The Navy, on its part, has said that there are serious technical glitches in the integration that don't match up to requirement standards. The Navy has therefore suspended payments on the upgrade of the third, and the fourth, fifth if Russia does not aquiesce and agree to work on the three, to bring them up to the required performance configuration.

The Kommersant report says, "India hasn’t accepted Russia’s Il-38 jets with the Sea Dragon navigation system and suspended the payments under the contract sealed by Rosoboronexport and executed by Ilyushin Aircraft Construction Company. The result of delay could be the failure of Rosoboronexport in the tender that India holds to choose eight new antisubmarine jets."

Damn straight. As it stands, the Navy is extremely keen on the American Boeing P-8 Poseidon, a 737-based long-range MPA, for which a mock-demonstration was given to a Navy team at Seattle in July, not to mention the A-319-derived MPA in Spain. So if the Russians are going to stick with this habit of springing nasty surprises on ongoing contracts, they're only gnawing away at their chances of a) getting any new deals, and b) working on reliability issues that so desperately need to be ironed out for any new deals to be discussed in the first place. This whole business of springing rude commercial surprises is really pissing people off.

Worst of all, if the Russians are refusing to accept feedback from the Navy on the SD-upgrade, they’re messing with a capability that the Navy needs possibly more immediately than any other. With only a limited upgrade of the Tu-142s and the Il-38s stalled at Zhukovsky, there’s precious little to watch over whole swathes of sea without blinking. The hits just keep on coming. It’s time the government took a seriously strong stand with the Russians. The past may be the past. But the future better be on terms that suit both countries.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

LiveFist EXCLUSIVE: BrahMos on Su-30MKI Not Happening for Now

The photograph you see to the right is one that is printed with BrahMos advertisements in magazines and has been one of the most visible images from the company in the last two years. A single underslung BrahMos on the belly pylon of Su-30MKI. Well, this is, for now, only image, because you aren't going to see it any time soon.

Sources at BrahMos have revealed to LiveFist Integration of the BrahMos on the Su-30MKI platform is out of the question for the moment. Instead, the Navy’s Ilyushin-38 MPA/ASW aircraft will be the first platform for the air-launched version of the missile. Structural modifications to a Sukhoi-30MKI are currently being conducted by HAL with Russian help but, according to inside sources, everything is still very preliminary. A first test won’t happen before 2010-11, despite affirmations of a first test flight in late 2007, early 2008. In terms of configuration, the air-launched BrahMos integrated with the Il-38 will be identical to the land/sea-launched versions.

The Ilyushin-38 has been selected by BrahMos as the first integration platform because the missile be integrated to the aircraft without any changes, but just minus the solid booster. No structural modifications on the BrahMos are necessary for this particular integration. A test launch from an Il-38 is apparently possible quite soon, though it definitely won’t be this year, say BrahMos sources.

The Sukhoi-30 integration is out of the question for the near-term since such launch warrants extensive structural modifications to the BrahMos missile. A feasibility study has shown that the BrahMos would require reduction in diameter as well as length, implying that the missile will have to return to the drawing board if it wants to be carried by a Flanker.

Here’s what I was told: If BrahMos Corporation proceeds with reducing the bore diameter of the missile platform, it will start to influence not only the aerodynamic stability, but also the air flow through the pipe (air flow in a ramjet needs to be strictly regulated in order to sustain flame because in a ramjet, the airflow takes place in a transonic which is synonymous with turbulence where sustaining flame is a huge issue). Therefore, addressing aerodynamic stability and flame sustenance together is a huge task for BrahMos currently in this particular integration. It literally means having to go back to the laboratory and reworking the whole thing, all over again. Of course, this is going to take more than just a few months.

Another little nugget from BrahMos. The BrahMos Mark-2 is currently under development. DRDO and NPO-Mash (JV partners in BrahMos) are working on a sustained flight scramjet, which will be the core element in the Mark-2 version of BrahMos.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

DRDO for "Reputation Management"

I’m sure everyone saw Amitav Ranjan’s report in The Indian Express a few days ago about how DRDO has hired the services of the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER) to compile a study of the organisation’s contributions to the military sector, civil sector, industry, economy and beyond.

Ranjan, with whom I reported the eight-part series on DRDO in November last year, points out in his current report that the NCAER misadventure is simply for DRDO to “showcase some of its successes in failed defence projects that have found application in the corporate world.”

The Express followed with a stinging editorial in today’s edition that I couldn’t possibly agree with more. The edit said, “Cosmetic exercises at managing reputation can delay change, an outcome that will incidentally be welcomed by the DRDO brass.” Too, too, true. Why is it that DRDO Bhavan will subject itself to absolutely everything – including a study (with financial implications) about its contribution to society – when it should be making deep introspections about how best to manage its future? “Reputation management”. I couldn’t have put it better.

Ever since the DRDO series in the Express last year, the organization has embarked on an inspired – and in some ways, constructive – public relations exercise to try and understand why perceptions of it are the way they are in the media, and why they are so resoundingly consistent. That hasn’t of course stopped stubborn opinion about wet-behind-the-ears reporters who don’t understand technology. Honestly, that’s cowardice. You definitely don’t need to understand too much technology to understand what straightforwardly prudent, and what makes for simple pseudo-nationalistic – and ultimately retrograde – hubris. Getting an economic research body to compile what will ultimately be used as a shield against criticism for eternity is not just juvenile, but it actually serves no real purpose. I speak strictly for myself, but am pretty sure the government and the people (at least those who are interested) would much rather see an Akash or an Arjun delivered on time, rather than a statistics-infested advert for an astonishingly wasteful organization that predicates its only defences on a handful of (definitely) successful programmes.

Emerging from the screen of opacity and engaging journalists with credible, formal information is an excellent step towards building bridges – has anyone noticed how many “positive” stories there’ve been in the press over the last six-seven months on the life sciences wing, the radars, the avionics etc? Interview by missile scientists who were otherwise never seen or heard. These are not coincidences. To its credit, DRDO is serious about opening up and speaking out, and this must never once be looked at as a small step towards greater rewards. Public perceptions of an institution are increasingly potent.

The P Rama Rao committee currently auditing and reviewing DRDO has a few months left to deliver its hopefully authoritative and actionable report on revamping DRDO and the millions of little procedures that collectively make it such a sarkari experience for all stakeholders involved – the armed forces, the government and last, and far from least – young scientists at DRDO who would love to see the organization transform and reflect their own young creativity, dynamism and determination. Everything else, in most part, will follow. The exercise of commissioning studies on your reputation will only bring in that much more paper into an already bureaucratic labyrinth that is our system.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Indo-Russian G5 Fighter Agreement in Sight

In an interview to us (the Indian media delegation at the MAKS 07 air show) on August 23, MiG chief and designated chairman of the UAC Alexey Fedorov, said that the formal bilateral agreement in which India joins the Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA fifth generation fighter programme will be signed "very soon". And no, this isn't another RfP-style chimera. In fact, the draft will be finalised when Defence Minister AK Antony visits Moscow in October and is almost certain to be concluded by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he follows with a visit shortly thereafter.

Russia's Pravda says that reports that construction of a pre-production model (prototype?) will begin shortly, after the design bureau has completed and attested its design phase. That means the design phase is through without any Indian involvement. Was it shown to India before the State Arms Programme in Moscow approved movement off the drawing board? Then there's the other side -- what kind of design inputs would the IAF have anyway, considering the utter mismatch as far as design experience goes when comparing Russia and India. A Group Captain who was at the MAKS 07 air show along with the Vice Chief (Air Marshal BN "Bingo" Gokhale") told me that the IAF hadn't been called upon to participate at any point in the design phase, but was not particularly disturbed about that.

Russia's first Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov also announced (once again) while we were in Moscow that the PAK-FA would take to the skies for the first time in summer of 2008. So all those moaning about the inexorable thrust towards sending our money bounding out in all directions for stuff we're going to have absolutely no contribution in, weep. The money we're going to be pouring into the PAK-FA programme is going to be seriously tidy, unless of course the Americans/Swadeshis manage to derail it in favour of non-security cooperation partnerships on the F-35 (read, shut up and buy), or the Medium Combat Aircraft (MCA). With the LCA's recent sea-level horror off Arrakonam, we should be seriously worried about what the MCA will bring us, if ever the government gets around to approving it. Either way, at that time, we'll still be paying tidy little instalments towards this nice big clutch of 4+Gen fighters we'll soon be ordering.

Sometimes I just wish things would happen really fast so I could see what happens next. Everything's just numbing now. By the way, those artist's impression pix of the PAK-FA are embarassing. One of them looks like a Tomcat with fat intakes, and the more popular one looks like an inflated Raptor with a berkut nose. Let's hope the PAK-FA looks like neither.