Friday, December 28, 2007

MoD Year End Review 2007

The Defence Ministry has sent in its traditional year-end review. It's usually enormously entertaining for how over the top it is. Well, for its worth, here's this year's year-ender. Basically one last whack of publicity for the MoD before the year is out!:

The successful launch of Interceptor Missile (AAD) towards developing a ballistic missile defence system, test flight of Agni-III (A3-02), user trial of Akash Missile by Army and Air Force, Handing over of first batch of land version of BrahMos missile systems to Army and successful conduct of 4th Military World Games were some of the significant events in the Ministry of Defence during the current year. The issue of Request for Proposal (RFP) for the purchase of 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft for Indian Air Force, the arrival of first batch of two Hawk Advanced Jet Trainers from UK, Signing of the Agreement with Russia on the Joint Development of 5th Generation Fighter Aircraft, First meeting of Indo-German High Defence Committee, Meeting of the Indo-French High Committee Meeting and approval of Parliament to the Armed Forces Tribunal Bill were some other major events during the year.


The country took a significant step towards Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) and joined the elite club of USA, Russia and Israel when an interceptor missile successfully targeted the ‘hostile’ missile off the Orissa coast twice in early December. The Endo-Atmospheric AAD Interceptor missile test fired from Wheeler Island intercepted the target missile at an altitude of 15 km from launch surface at supersonic speed.


The Agni – III was successfully launched on April 12, 2007 from the Wheeler Island, off the coast of Orissa. The 16 meter long missile weighing 48 tonnes, lifted off successfully from its Rail Mobile Launcher System leaving a trail of orange and yellow smoke. The missile which has a range of more than 3000 kms is capable of carrying a pay load of 1.5 Tonnes.


Mobility trials as part of user’s trial for Army were conducted at Pokharan during 11 to 29 Jun, 2007 followed by Flyover Trials of Akash Weapon system as part of Air Force User Trials at Pokharan during 15 to 17 Nov 2007. The User’s Trials were also successfully conducted by ITR, Chandipur during 13 to 19 Dec 2007.


First batch of land version of BrahMos missile systems was handed over to the Army. Installation of multi-missile vertical launcher was also completed on board naval ship INS Ranvir. The missile, capable of firing from underwater, is ready for evaluation test so that future submarines will have BrahMos missiles. Development of air version and its interface with different types of aircraft is in progress.


Till Dec 2007 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) has completed 785 flights. The program achieved the most significant milestone, when it successfully test fired the Close Combat Missile R-73. This historic event marked the beginning of weaponisation of Tejas. In September, LCA Tejas PV-1 created another milestone as it made a successful first flight with two 800 Ltrs drop tanks under the wing stations. On December 10, the Tejas LCA programme received yet another major fillip with the first successful flight test on PV-2 using Lightening Laser ranging and Laser spot seeking Pod, which can provide the pilot with day and night picture of terrain.


The 4th CISM Military World Games was successfully organized from October 14 to 21, 07 at Hyderabad and Mumbai wherein over 5000 soldier-athletes from 101 countries participated. The Games held outside Europe for the first time had 13 disciplines. Three new world records were set up during the games in swimming, parachuting and sailing. Out of 101 participating countries, 49 countries won medals in one event or the other. India’s performance in the Games was the all time best as it secured 10 medals (2-Gold, 1-Silver and 7-Bronze)


Landing Platform Dock INS JALASHWA was commissioned in the Navy in June this year. This is the first ever procurement of a ship by the Indian Navy from the United States Navy under the Excess Defence Article Programme and through the Foreign Military Sales route of the US Defence Forces. It is capable of carrying over 900 fully armed troops along with thirty vehicles, four landing craft and six helicopters.


Indian Army held joint exercises with the Armies of China, UK, Maldives, Russia and Singapore. It was for the first time when the Armies of India and China held joint exercise at Kunming in Yunan province of China. 80 soldiers each from India and China attended this five-day long joint exercise on anti-terrorist operations. The Indian Air Force carried out Joint exercises with the Air Forces of France and Russia. Indian Navy carried out joint exercises with the Navies of USA, Russia, Japan, Oman, Australia, France, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore


The first batch of Two Hawk Mk 132 Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) aircraft from UK reached India on 12 Nov 07. The Hawk trainers will impart stage-III training to the newly commissioned fighter pilots of the IAF at Bidar in Karnataka from June, next.


A contract for the acquisition of three follow-on stealth frigates of P1135.6 class has been concluded with Russia on Jul 14, 2006, with the planned delivery of the first ship scheduled in Apr 2011. All three ships are being built at Yantar Shipyard, Kaliningrad. The three follow-on frigates would be fitted with indigenous BrahMos missile system instead of the earlier Club-N missile system.


Indian Army conducted expeditions to Mount Everest, Cycle rally from Leh to Kanyakumari, Motorcycle rally from Imphal to Siachen and Car rally from India to Myanmar. The Indian Air Force’s microlight aircraft flown by Wg Cdr Rahul Monga and Wg Cdr Anil Kumar arrived at Air Force Station Hindon on 19 Aug 07 creating a ‘New World Record’ of fastest round the world trip. Indian Sail training ship INS Tarangini had set sail on Jan 10, 2007, for a ten-month odyssey, named ‘Lokayan 07’. The voyage took the ship to 23 ports spread over 16 countries. The ship entered Kochi on completion of the voyage on Oct 29, 2007.


Cargo aircraft of Indian Air Force and 4 Amphibious ships of Indian Navy carried food and relief materials for the cyclone affected people of Bangladesh during November and December 2007.


India and Russia signed a landmark Intergovernmental Agreement for the joint development and joint production of the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), marking the beginning of cooperation in the development of state of the art new technology major weapon systems. The agreement was signed by the Secretary Defence Production Mr KP Singh and Deputy Director of the Federal Service for Foreign Military Cooperation Mr. Vyacheslav Dzirkaln in the presence of the Defence Minister Mr. AK Antony and his Russian counterpart Mr. Anatoly Serdyukov in Moscow. The watershed agreement was signed at the conclusion of the Seventh Meeting of the India- Russia Intergovernmental Commission for Military and Technical Cooperation.


India and Germany have agreed to increase defence cooperation in a number of areas including exchange of expertise in peace-keeping operations, disaster management, etc. In the first Indo-German High Defence Committee meeting held in New Delhi, the Federal State Secretary for Defence of Germany Dr. Peter Eickenboom assured India to provide transfer of technology in armament procurement and joint development of armament platforms wherever possible. Germany has also assured India that it will be an open and reliable partner in all areas of defence cooperation.


The 10th Meeting of Indo – French High Committee on Defence Cooperation (HCC) was held in New Delhi. The Defence Secretary Shri Vijay Singh and Mr. Thierry Borja de Mozota, Ministerial Representative of the French Defence Minister, headed the respective delegations at the two-day talks. Three sub-committees also met on the sidelines of the HCC. The Sub-Committee on Military Cooperation charted a plan for service to service cooperation activities during the forthcoming year while the Sub-Committee on Strategic Issues discussed matters of mutual strategic interests. The Sub- Committee on Defence Industry Procurement and Research & Technology discussed matters of Transfer of Technology, joint development, production and research.


The Request for Proposal (RFP) for the procurement of 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) at an estimated cost of Rs. 42,000 crores for the Indian Air Force was issued to six vendors – Russia’s MIG-35(RAC MiG); Swedish JAS-39 (Gripen);Dassault Rafale (France); American F-16 Falcon (Lockheed Martin); Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet and Eurofighter Typhoon (Made by a consortium of British, German, Spanish and Italian firms). The 211-page document deals with various issues relating to initial purchase, transfer of technology, licensed production and life-time maintenance support for the aircraft.


Both Houses of Parliament passed the Armed Forces Tribunal Bill. It had taken long years’ of painstaking efforts to get legislative approval for this Bill. The establishment of Armed Forces Tribunal will go a long way in providing speedy justice to thousands of serving and retired Armed Forces personnel.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Akash Squadron Ready!!

Ok, while everyone's still fuming about what Praful Bidwai had to say about DRDO, some shining news for the organisation itself! Chief of Air Staff Fali Major said last afternoon that the IAF now on course to induct its first ever squadron of the Akash surface-to-air missile. According to the couple of reports that appeared today, the air defence exercise report will be reviewed once, after which the squadron will be raised somewhere in either Rajasthan or Punjab. Each squadron will have sixteen launcher batteries.

But everything else aside, and counting the still lumbering tracks of the Trishul and Nag, a big, big congratulations to the Akash team. I don't know if the extra heat of the last two years helped push them to the finish line -- some people argue that it is certainly a factor in things looking up so suddenly and in unanimously. Let's not carried away though -- there's much work ahead for the rest of the IGMDP, and it would be a waste if DRDO just rested on its Akash laurels and danced the afternoon away -- something it has done in the past, with disastrous effects. It should now quickly rescue the Nag and Trishul (the latter is already on the path to being bailed out with foreign help) from oblivion.

In the course of the DRDO series which I did for the Express almost exactly a year ago, I remember how ferociously people in the IAF would react when they were asked about the Akash. This programme's delay was singularly responsible for huge planning delays, massive imports, and critical gaps in air defence cover as a result of inadequate sanction for imports. I spoke to those same people this morning, to ask them how things had changed so suddenly for the programme. They said that both sides decided to cut their losses and focus on trouble-shooting the system, instead of playing the blame game. They took a lot of stuff back to the drawing board, and came back with a clear mind. The problems that they finally sorted out were pretty darn fundamental in the event, which is why solving those with a clean mind helped speed the programme along immeasurably.

There will be teething troubles, but I think the worst is over. Again, a big congratulations! Now for the Akash's first export!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Photos of Conclusion of India-China military exercise

Praful Bidwai on DRDO....

Surfed in onto a column on ballistic missile defence by the usually redoubtable Praful Bidwai in Khaleej Times. Here's an excerpt where he talks about DRDO:

"On December 6, India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) fired an interceptor to destroy a Prithvi missile launched five minutes earlier. In November 2006, the DRDO had used a modified Prithvi to intercept another Prithvi. It boasts that it can develop a fully indigenous BMD shield in three years.

These claims must be taken with a pinch of salt — and not just because Israeli radars were used in the latest test. The DRDO's record inspires no confidence. All its major projects, including the Main Battle Tank, Light Combat Aircraft, and Advanced Technology Vessel (nuclear-powered submarine) have failed in some measure or other — sinking thousands of crores. Its missile programme too has run into serious difficulties.

Hoo boy!

Monday, December 24, 2007

4th Day of India-China Mlitary exercise

Three MORE Russkie Frigates????

Article in Domain-B about an order about to be placed for three more Krivack-class frigates from Russia for the Navy. Which means three more, over and above the three ordered as a follow-on to the original three (Talwar, Trishul and Tabar). That's a total of nine stealth frigates. Are we stark raving crazy to get our fingers into even more, after the charming year we've had with the Russkies? A longer post on this as soon as I've found out some more. Unbelievable.

3rd Day of India-China Military exercise.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Photos from the 1st Sino-Indian joint exercise

The Hindu: Missile composites breakthrough

HYDERABAD: In a major technological breakthrough that will drastically reduce the weight of missiles and enable them to reach longer ranges with heavier payloads, DRDO scientists have developed composite rocket motor casings... Read full article here.

Friday, December 21, 2007

What's The Deal, Mr Antony?

I've been speaking to a lot of officers and soldiers over the last one year -- I mean, it's part of the job, and all defence reporters do it. One thing that's stood out in the last six months has struck me as particularly disturbing. And that's the perception of defence minister AK Antony in the eyes of the armed forces. So I did a story on Headlines Today on Thursday, and named it "Saint Antony?". It wasn't an easy story to do -- after all, Antony is a man who's credentials for honesty are popularly beyond reproach, and that's why the tentative question-mark in the story's title.

Two major deals -- deals for weapons and equipment that are critical to specific functions in the Army -- have fallen through under Antony's leadership. Just a coincidence? Possibly. But probably not. Now this is criticism that is really really difficult to give. How do you criticise an honest man absolutely obsessed with transparency and being above board. Well, maybe that's just it.

There's a perception -- and this isn't mine, but that of a large number of people in uniform -- that Antony is more obsessed with his own image self-image of being incorruptible, and not the greater good, in general. He will walk away from something if he thinks it's dirty, but it won't be because it's bad for the country, but because he does not want to be seen to have been associated with any such thing. That's the clincher. It's a fine line maybe, and possibly fine enough to have enough justification. But defence procurement is an inordinately complex process, protracted and intricate. But the trigger-happy cancellation of deals under Antony's leadership misses the main point -- equipping soldiers in harsh conditions with stuff that will stand them in better stead to not just guard the country's territorial integrity better, but their very lives as well. That's part of the point isn't it? I mean, our borders aren't (yet) guarded by robots.

It occured to me the other day that Antony is possibly even a little embarassed that he has to associate (as a job) with the whole rigmarole of weapons purchases, dirty and underhanded as it is reputed to be. Therefore, he possibly feels the need to stress transparency even more. And then, if a few deals have to be scapegoated to prove a point, so be it. I'm not for one second saying that the deals that were cancelled were not tainted or incomplete -- maybe they were -- but there's a larger point missing the Defence Ministry's thought process, and one no doubt being perpetuated by the man who currently leads it. There's a "hands-off" policy on everything that stinks even a little. Instead of engaging with the company and penalising them copiously for their faults and using their violations as a leverage towards extracting the best out of the deal for our armed forces, we blackball them (I admit, it isn't Antony who began the trend, but he's sure happy to continue it -- it certainly matches his personality).

We had a guest on yesterday on the show who said that the government's duty is to make sure that soldiers and officers are not put in harms way unnecessarily. But pushing artillery procurements back another unforgivable three years, and forcing our pilots in Ladakh to continue using rickety Cheetahs and Chetaks (both crying for replacement), the government -- and Antony -- are shortchanging men on the ground. The possibility of even one soldier having to lay down his life because he didn't have better gear makes this a dangerous and supremely tragic game.

The fact remains, however, that Antony is a good man. We need more men like him not less. I mean what would the world come to if we began scalping the few good men. But that honesty, that probity has to find a firm friend in efficiency, agility, intelligence and speed. Why can't that be? Being clean doesn't have to mean being painfully laborious and terrified of weapons procurement. Like I've said two posts ago, let's begin by showing foreign weapons companies who's really boss, and tell them that if they screw up, they pay. They don't get let off and blacklisted only to return a decade later with a clean chit. They pay. That simple.

If Antony would seriously consider morphing the procurement process to stop letter foreign firms violate norms and get away without a rap on the knuckle (despite the little talked about fact that the very process of evaluation is at huge expense even to the Indian government in the form of foreign visits, etc), he would go a long way to leave his little circle in the history of South Block. If he doesn't -- and there's a greater likelihood of this, of course -- then it's just sad. Antony is a man held in immensely high regard not just by his colleagues, but the party and Opposition too. He is non-controversial, and a genuine believer in rules. What better person to make that change? I can't think of one.

Photo ©Copyright BBC

Akash Production-Ready!?

The ten day Akash air defence exercise has been completed at the ITR in Orissa, with a string of five successful tests that began on December 11. Here's an MoD press release which indicates that with the end of this exercise, the Akash programme is complete, and the missile is ready for serial production!

Press Release:
The Akash Missile has successfully hit the bull's eye for the fifth time in a row in the last ten days at test range in Balasore. The fifth and last trial successfully took place at 2.15 pm today at Chandipur- on- sea. The missile destroyed an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), which was flying simulating the air attack. The target vanished from the radar screen when the missile was guided precisely in close proximity and the warhead blast occurred, much to the delight of users present in the flight campaign. This is the grand finale of the ten days users campaign meticulously planned by the Indian Air Force.

Akash is a mobile, mulitiple target handling, medium range Air Defence missile developed under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP). The missile system has been configured to be part of futuristic network centric operations, most of the operations having been made automated. The entire weapon system has gone through functional evaluation in Kolar near Bangalore followed by operation and mobility trials in Pokharan ranges. The ECCM (Elctronic Counter Counter Measure) evaluation was carried out at Gwalior by Air Force against various types of electronic target and counter measures. The final phase of user evaluation as part of user trials was done in Chandipur. ITR, Balasore provides world's best instrumentation facilities. The flight was conducted under the leadership of Dr Panyam, Project Director. Dr Prahlada, who conceptualised Akash and now Chief Controller at DRDO HQ was present during campaign.

About 300 strong team was present for ten days campaign. Representatives from public sector BDL, BEL etc were also present.

Indian Air Force officials witnessed users trial. With the conclusion of Akash evaluation, the is now available for indigenous production in the country. The missile system is uniquely configured and customised for Indian Army and Air Force.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sh!t hits the rotor...

The Indian government has become so good at artifice and so bad at telling it like it is, that there is hardly any space left for robust defence acquisition any more. Down goes the 197 Army choppers deal, just like the artillery and a whole handful of other deals in recent years. I just had a couple of thoughts, over and above the stuff we've been reading in the papers and magazines in the last couple of weeks (the latest -- a seriously ruffled Eurocopter flew in its senior Vice President for a press conference this morning at The Imperial, Delhi).

First, let's not get taken in like fools by Eurocopter's bittersweet sincerity about having followed all the rules and not had middlemen. The foregone conclusion of all defence contracts is that middlemen swing deals, and all laws against it have only made them more a part of the chain of sleaze that coats all contracts -- ask anyone, any goverment officer at South Block who you trust. The potential American firm which would have lost out in the deal, Bell, also in all likelihood has middlemen. But that hardly means anything, really! Because, heck, everyone does. The Israelis do (this one's an upcoming story, folks), the goddashed Brazilians do, the Russians have them coming out of everyone's ears, the Swedes do for sure, and the Americans who'll try persuading you with copies of how draconian their own laws are against corruption in defence contracts, probably have the most middlemen of all -- they probably just double as diplomats, but that's a different story. Short point -- the next time an arms contractor says it doesn't have middlemen in India, stick a finger in your throat and barf liberally all over their soft-focus press briefing.

Anyway, getting back to the point, the basic premise for the cancellation of all negotiations with Eurocopter (as reported in a Mail Today cover story) is this: Eurocopter fielded the civilian AS 350 Ecruiel for trials with the Army, even through it proposed to supply the AS 550 Fennec, an identical airframe, but configured with stem shoulders to mount rocket pods, missiles and other munitions. Here's what Eurocopter had to say when the lid was blown: that the two helicopters are identical in every way, and that the military configuration was in the Army's hands. Rich. And sure, the Army will now find out who from the trial team allowed Eurocopter this glaring and coherently prohibited luxury. But it's important to note here that Eurocopter's claim of innocence is ridiculous. How dare the company field a civilian aircraft -- and how, especially, dare it claim that the two helicopters are identical? Shoulders with ammunition pods are serious differences in every possible way. Ask any helicopter pilot who flies Cheetahs and Chetaks. So if the government now nails some greedy fool(s) in the Army, it should equally penalise Eurocopter for assuming that the Army had the right to approve a contravention of the government's Defence Procurement Procedure 2006. So if we're going to go after our own villain, for god's sake don't spare the partners in attempted crime.

Indefatigable US pressure will almost definitely have played a part in the whole "reconsideration" process, but that doesn't allow the French to throw up their arms and shout foul of bad play. If political pressure from Washington has -- and it's definitely a factor -- managed to derail a deal that was ready to be signed with the French, then it has also served to highlight something that only a thief or a fool would call a minor contravention. Also, both the Eurocopter and the Bell choppers fielded for trials reportedly had hard-landing "incidents" during trials in Ladakh -- what's the truth about these? Were our boys pushing them too hard? Or is there muck there too? Let's find out.

But why -- and I can't emphasize this enough -- does the government "scrap" deals. What the f*** is the integrity clause meant for? Doesn't the DPP 2006 specify probity, cards on the table, that sort of thing? If a company doesn't follow the rules, why scrap the deal? The only loser in scrapping a deal is the Army jawan shiveringly waiting for his supplies on the darn Saltoro Ridge. It's the pilot who'll have to make do with limitedly upgraded Cheetahs, because the fricking government doesn't have the cajones to bitchslap a foreign firm and slap it with a penalty, in addition to the unhindered supply of the helicopters agreed upon. Why the hell not? Why scrap the deal entirely and push acquisition back by three bloody years? Get them to give us the helicopters, work out a penalty amount and make the damn company cough it up. THEN, if they don't cooperate, blacklist them indefintiely and push them out of the country by their hair -- go postal on them. But don't scrap the damn deal.

As journalists, we collectively treat the cancellation of a deal as big, great news. It's awful, and tragic and a demonic waste for the very folks we're getting these things for -- our soldiers and pilots.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Nouveau Shield

A nice piece on the PAD-AAD system by Raj Chengappa in the current issue of India Today. Here it is:

In the summer of 2012, the rollercoaster relations between India and Pakistan suddenly go steeply downhill. Terrorists had launched a successful attack on the Indian Parliament, killing two Union cabinet ministers and 12 MPs. Pakistan’s hand is clearly proven and, after a month, India goes to war. Pakistan threatens to use nuclear weapons if India doesn’t stop the invasion. As Indian troops close in on Lahore, Pakistan launches a barrage of nuclear-tipped Ghauris to strike Delhi.

In the past, such an attack would have meant certain death and destruction for Delhi. But by that year, India is equipped with a sophisticated ground-based anti-ballistic missile system (ABM). The ABM system’s long-range radar detects the barrage of Ghauri missiles within 30 seconds of lift-off. Five minutes later and 80 km above Delhi, the ABM batteries launch a set of interceptor missiles to strike them down. Four of Pakistan’s Ghauri missiles are blown up and their fragments fall harmlessly. But two of them evade detection and head for the capital... (Click to read full article)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sky's the limit...

The third successive test firing of the Akash medium range surface to air missile system in as many days, took place this afternoon from the Integrated Test Range (ITR) off Orissa's coast. The firing, at near ceiling range from a mobile launcher against a para-barrel target, was successful -- the third successful test in three days with no major deviations on any account. For those who aren't yet clued in, these are critical tests -- the first with the full involvement of the IAF. The test team will take a breather and complete another three test-firings in the coming week to complete the user trial, which has doubled as an impromptu air defence exercise as well.

Photo ©Copyright The Hindu

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Rafale to Open Account With Libya!

The worthy Rafale has had a suspiciously jinxed export career. It almost makes you feel sorry for the darn jet. After screwing up the sale of ONE jet to Morocco, the Frenchies are now hoping to uncork the champagne over the sale of 14 jets to Good ol' Gaddafi! Check out this Associated Press report from yesterday!

: France announced measures to boost its annual €6 billion (US$8.8 billion) arms sales Thursday, spurred by the prospect of the first foreign sale of its Rafale jet fighter.

Defense Minister Herve Morin, flanked by Dassault SA and Thales SA defense chiefs, said in a Paris news conference he plans to bolster France's defense industry by reducing approval times in vetting arms deals and cutting red tape. France lags behind the United States, Britain and Russia in arm sales, according to the Defense Ministry.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi opened exclusive negotiations with France over the sale of 14 Rafale jets, 35 helicopters and other military equipment during an ongoing visit to Paris.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has faced criticism for the warm welcome provided to the Libyan leader, enjoying French hospitality since Monday. Sarkozy says the visit is a reward for Gadhafi because he renounced state sponsorship of terrorism and his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Gadhafi's trip has clinched contracts worth billions of dollars for French business.

Dassault chief executive Charles Edelstenne said France has six months to agree on terms. Negotiations with Libya will be handled by Sarkozy's office. The deal would be the first foreign sale of a Rafale, currently operational with the French navy and the French Air Force. Produced as both a single and two-seater jet, the Rafale is designed to perform missions previously requiring dedicated types of aircraft including air defense, ground attack and aerial reconnaissance.

Edelstenne rejected criticism of the arms sale to Libya. "If we start to enter into this kind of debate there won't be any international trade because should we also sell other goods, should we also sell food to a country under a dictator?" he said.

"The arms we sell are arms whose principal vocation, and that's why they are sophisticated, is to avoid killing, to kill the minimum of people and to destroy material and not people," he said.
France is bidding against competitors including Lockheed Martin Corp. and Russian Aircraft Corp. to sell the Rafale to countries such as India, which is seeking bids to supply 126 multi-role combat jets in a deal potentially worth about US$10 billion.

French pride took a blow in October, when Sarkozy returned from an official visit to Morocco empty-handed after the North African nation snubbed the French combat fighter. French media said Morocco decided to buy an F-16 from Lockheed Martin instead of a Rafale after the government bungled negotiations lacking a single dedicated coordinator handling talks with Rabat.

"I don't want to go back over what was seen by us as a failure," Morin said Thursday. Morin said the new measures announced Thursday are geared to helping French firms be competitive. He denied they would lead to the sale of arms to undesirable regimes, saying there are sufficient controls even under the new streamlined procedures.

The Frenchies are obviously mighty cheesed with India right now. Under obvious US pressure, the almost concluded deal for 197 light utility helicopters, which was to go to the Eurocopter Fennec, was scrapped, with a new tender to be floated in a matter of weeks. Between 17-20 here in Delhi, there's the tenth meeting of the Indo-French High Committee on Defence Cooperation, at which French Defence Ministry representative Thierry Borja de Mozota is certain to cry blue murder in a baritone.

Also up for discussion is a bail-out package for GTRE's Kaveri jet engine, the Maitri-Trishul programme in collaboration with MBDA, the upgrade and repair package for the IAF's Mirage-2000Hs, VL-MICA air combat missiles, and Thales Master-A 3D multifunction radars for license production here. Also on the table is an offer for Mistral-class amphibious assault vessels. I still can't get former Ambassador Dominique Girard's smarmy self-satisfied smile at the signing of the Scorpene deal in the cupola room of South Block. It's still unknown who got all the fat kickbacks. I hope someone's gonna investigate. Someone's gotten seriously rich on the six boats, and one name seems to do the rounds more than most.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"Prachi" Looks Up

It is almost official. India's integrated ballistic missile defence ensemble will be called either Prachi or Pratchi -- it is learnt that both these names are on the shortlist prepared by DRDO Bhawan. The names, as is the custom, will shortly be forwarded by DRDO to the Defence Ministry, which will then possibly get the shortlist vetted by Rashtrapati Bhavan (somehow, I'm not keen to know what President Patil's opinion on ballistic missile shields is).

There was a press conference this afternoon held by DRDO's Dr VK Saraswat, Chief Controller R&D (Missiles & Strategic Systems) at which he announced that India would have a two-layered fully integrated ballistic missile defence system in place three years from now. This would arise from the full integration of the PAD and AAD systems through integrated trials that will begin this year of the endo and exo-atmospheric variants. Two tests (one simulated and the other with a live target) of the endo-atmospheric AAD happened recently and successfully. The first fully integrated test of the missiles and their subsystems will take place in June 2008, though this has already been reported before. About four trials each of the PAD and AAD will take place before the entire system is declared operational, hopefully by 2010.

Interestingly, Saraswat has revealed that the system has already been configured to intercept cruise missiles as well, though there is still a large amount of calibration work to be done before a credible test can be carried out towards demonstrating any interception of a cruise missile.

It was revealed today that the PAD/AAD interceptor is an independent surface-to-air missile programme that began in 1998. Significant scientific talent from the Akash, Prithvi and Trishul programmes were diverted towards the BMD system, and it has been a closely guarded system since then.
So what happens to ongoing discussions on the Patriot-III? Saraswat said that the Indian BMD would be qualitatively a far superior missile to the PAC-III, considering the former's larger range and greater flexibility of deployment, though this remains to be actually seen. The recent days saw the AAD system being tested for the second time -- none of the handful of tests has failed so far. Meanwhile, all breaths held for the "make or break" Akash user trials that should begin any moment (or have they already begun? Will check.)

Post Script: More Agni-III tests in 2008, plus an interceptor against IC-range ballistic missiles, plus an Agni-IV test in 2009 (~ICBM range).

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

IAF Completes Exercise Dakshik Prahar

Will write more in detail about this exercise later. But for now, here's the IAF's official press release on the just concluded exercise. And take a gander at these delicious photos of MKIs and a pair of Jags over Trivandrum:

In what could be described as a growing importance of the Southern Air Command (SAC) with headquarters located at Thiruvananthapuram, the Indian Air Force (IAF) held a week-long multi-role exercise named ‘DAKSHIN PRAHAR’ that concluded yesterday. The entire exercise, conducted in two phases at Thiruvananthapuram and Hyderabad, was envisioned at SAC.

A very significant and contemporary concept of ‘Flexi Airspace’ was the foundation of this exercise. The IAF and the Airport Authority of India (AAI) jointly shared the airspace by means of close coordination so that a smooth flow of traffic was maintained without causing disruption to scheduled flights. This was the first time that coordination of civil-military traffic for simultaneous air activity took place at such large scale.

During the exercise, state of the art aircraft such as Mirage-2000 that took off from Thiruvananthapuram and Dundigal, Su-30s from some forward bases in Gujarat and Northwestern Rajasthan and Jaguars from Arakkonam, simulated friendly and hostile forces over long aerial ranges covering the length and breadth of the country using Air to Air Refuelling facilities and off-base operations. Operational tactics were formulated to cater to contemporary threat scenario involving Beyond Visual Range (BVR) weaponry, state of the art avionics laden combat aircraft and far reaching Air Defence Weapons. Other aircraft that took part in the associated logistical support were the mammoth IL-76, the workhorse AN-32 and ubiquitous Mi-8 helicopters. Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs) were also used in the exercise.

An important aspect of integration during this exercise was the role of Indian Navy and Coast Guard in pooling in its resources and infrastructure at various places like Vizag, Goa, Mangalore, Arakkonam and Kochi to smoothen the process of ‘Inter-operability’ that led to better conduct of joint operations. Navy and Coast Guard provided search and rescue ships right up to Lakshadweep & Minicoy area. Airfields and support services were thrown open to use by the Airport Authority of India that regulated the incessant airline traffic across the southern skies. Indian Army facilitated communication networking and troops for exercise apart from utilising Air Defence Artillery guarding a high value target against air raids. Air Force troops also took part in this action with their MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defence Systems).

In addition to this, a satellite was manoeuvred to cover the specified targets on ground and send high resolution imagery for analysis before and after the attack. It was supplemented by the UAV that took photographs and sent it to SAC Ops Room.

DAKSHIN PRAHAR thus proved to be the trail blazer as an ‘Integrated Civil-Military’ operational exercise that has now operationalised the so far militarily dormant southern peninsular airspace. The synergetic effort of tri-service cooperation with integration of AAI vindicated the theory of achieving grand success of pursuing a common objective through teamwork and combined effort. With the success of DAKSHIN PRAHAR, a new chapter of joint civil-military sharing of airspace, airfields, radars and professional expertise has begun.

Tejas Flies with Litening

Another update from ADA today (quoted): The Tejas LCA programme received a major fillip with the first successful flight test using the Litening pod which can provide the pilot with day and night pictures of terrain, laser ranging and laser spot seeking (LDP). In a flawless flight on 10 Dec 07, Prototype Vehicle-2 took off with the LDP at around 1630 hrs and completed a landmark flight in which all test objectives were achieved. Wg Cdr N Tiwari of the National Flight Test centre flew the flight. Wg Cdr M Prabhu as the Test Director, Mr RS Rao, Project Direct (Systems) and Mr JJ Jhadhav, Deputy Project Director were present at the telemetry station to monitor the performance. The performance is as per the design.

The LCA Team consisting members from IAF, HAL-ARDC ADA, CEMILAC and DG-AQA have together worked for several months to make this success in the first attempt. Carriage of the LDP confers a significant precision strike capability to the Tejas in conjunction with laser guided bombs or what are commonly referred to as "smart bombs".

Monday, December 10, 2007

Admiral Prakash's 2005 Resignation Letter!

I'm posting these documents because I bet there's a measure of curiosity and interest in the whole War Room Leak case and the investigation that followed. Even two years after the whole thing broke, things are still not quite watertight. Cases continue, certain questions remain unanswered. Well, they'll take their own course I suppose. For the time being, here's the famous resignation letter that Admiral Arun Prakash wrote to then Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee in August 2005. You can click on the scans to the right to see blow-ups of the letter, so I'm not going to transcribe it. Everyone was told about this letter, but few have ever really seen it. I sure hadn't seen it before a few days ago, though I was sent (unsolicited) a transcription of the text in October 2005.

Admiral Overboard?

Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sureesh Mehta is not known to be a forthright officer who "tells it like it is", and is usually supremely in contrast to his predecessor. Yet, it was Mehta who now has the distinction of being the first Naval chief to legitimise the open secret ATV programme, without being axed from office as a fallout. The rumour mill began almost immediately after the December 3 press conference at Kota House (which I did not, in the event, attend) at which he answered a reporter's question about the ATV by announcing that the "DRDO project" would hit water in two years, and that it was a "technology demonstrator".

Many of us are familiar with how the grittily candid Admiral Arun Prakash used to say, "No comment" with a touch of embarassment when asked about the indigenous nuclear submarine programme. But by speaking of the ATV, and indicating in no uncertain terms that the first boat will hit water in two years, Admiral Mehta has stuck his neck out, and that should be to his credit. There is no doubt at all that Admiral Mehta would have sought the permission of the Ministry of Defence to speak about the secret project. Yet, when asked later on about his surprising "coming on record" about the ATV, he said, with a hefty measure of disingenuity, "I have said what I have read about it on the internet".

Surely an officer of the Admiral's seniority should know how silly such a statement sounds. For a moment let's assume the internet really is his source. For starters, it's a little alarming that a service chief would find it fit to regurgitate obviously unverifiable information from the internet at the service's largest public interaction without clarifying so. Second, it's hilarious that he would admit it. But it's obviously harder to admit that permissions were taken for the subject to be broached. Maybe it's a sign that the ATV project is actually near completion. Or at least, near hitting water.

Hindustan Times reported that Admiral Mehta received a rap on his knuckles for his comments on Russia, and how the Gorshkov deal shouldn't be renegotiated. It's complicated. It's possible that the comments were planted by the Ministry itself as a possible offset to the stubborn Russian position. Or it could have been an exasperated Chief (an aviator of the old mould, incidentally), who was chuffed that the darn Admiral wouldn't be inducted in his tenure after all! Either way, I personally thought Admiral Mehta's opinion deserved our cheers. For what it's worth anyway.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Arun Prakash Protests Award for Outlook

Some of us defence correspondents received a very aggrieved e-mail from former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Arun Prakash a few days ago. Few would be unfamiliar with the expansive and sustained investigative campaign in Outlook over 2005-06 on the Naval war room leak and its alleged links to the Scorpene submarine deal. Admiral Prakash, then the chief in office was at the core of the Outlook series. The e-mail I received had attached Admiral Prakash's letter registering his protest to the International Press Institute against the recent IPI Award for journalism excellence awarded to Outlook for the investigative series. With permission from the Admiral, I reproduce that e-mail here for LiveFist readers:

The letter is addressed to MK Razdan, Editor-in-Chief of the Press Trust of India (PTI) and member of the jury that selected the award. The letter reads is produced verbatim below:

Dear Shri Razdan,

1. I am writing to you in your capacity as a member of the Jury which awarded the IPI Award for journalism to the Outlook magazine last week.

2. Whatever merits the jury may have seen in the kind of journalism practised by this magazine, it has either erred grievously, or been misled into ignoring the scurrilous campaign of vilification that it mounted against me when I was Chief of Naval Staff. There is no doubt in my mind that the magazine used half-truths, as well as concocted and fabricated material in its so-called "investigation". The main purpose of this unprecedented campaign was to mount a vicious personal attack on me; and one can only wonder at the motivationand interests that prompted this unprovoked assault.

3. I enclose a self-explanatory letter which I had addressed to the Editor of Outlook in January 2007, in a feeble attempt to fend off the sustained campaign of character assassination that he had mounted against me for over a year, and revived after my retirement. I was not surprised when the letter remained unpublished because it conformed to the magazine's established policy of resolutely denying a helpless individual's right to defend himself, while using the immense power of the media to destroy his good name, reputation and peace of mind with impunity. The magazine has been questioned repeatedly by courts, but has failed to substantiate any of the wild allegations that it has passed off as "investigative journalism" , and which appear to have now won it "fame".

4. I also enclose a copy of the complaint that I filed, in this context, with the Press Council of India, earlier this year. May I request that even at this late stage, the award jury may kindly read the text of the complaint, and reflect whether their decision to reward journalism of this nature will enhance or erode the credibility of the IPI. I have not been able to obtain the addresses of Justice AS Anand and other members of the jury, but would be happy to provide this material on-line for circulation to them.

Yours sincerely,

Arun Prakash

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Final Trial for Akash

Sorry for the absence. Back today with a special report from the new newspaper of the India Today group, Mail Today. Here's an interesting report by their defence correspondent Suman Sharma:

It's Testing Times for Akash Ahead

IT IS do or die time for a prestigious missile endeavour. In December, the country’s fully indigenous Akash missile system will be put through trials that will decide the programme’s future.After a quarter century in development and Rs 493 crore in costs, the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) is under pressure to prove and deliver the vital missile system.

Between November 3 and 18, Akash, a medium-range surface-to-air missile (SAM), went through a series of low-key simulated tests with the Indian Air Force (IAF), its primary customer, at the Pokhran range in Rajasthan. Starting next month, the missile will undergo six firing tests from the Inner Wheeler island off the coast of Orissa’s Balasore district. If Akash fails to impress the IAF this time, the government is likely to invite foreign missile contractors to supply a technology bail-out to save the missile from total oblivion — a slap in the face of indigenous development.

The tests in Pokhran saw no actual firing of the missile. Real aircraft and helicopters were used to test target engagement, radar, fire control, target lock-on, command homing, overall system integrity, ground-air interface integrity and response time. Next month’s trials will test all parameters of the missile system, including launch, accuracy, impact, sensitivity, flight path and radar guidance.

An IAF officer who did not want to be named said, “This is definitely a make or break for Akash as far as the IAF is concerned. The wait has been too long. It has completely altered our planning processes for air defence. So if the missile does not perform now, and is not ready for flight service by late next year, then some drastic decisions will be required at the highest levels.”

The DRDO said the Pokhran tests went “smoothly”, but a review of the trial report is currently pending with the IAF leadership, which will be briefed by the test team before its observations are handed back to DRDO. This reading of the trials will be the final technical word on the Akash programme. Akash, with a range of 27 km, was first tested in 1990, with development flight tests up to March 1997. Operational tests and evaluations of the supersonic missile were completed in 2006 and it was expected to be inducted by the end of 2006.

It can attain a speed of 2.5 Mach during its flight and an altitude of 18 km. The missile is primarily being developed for the theatre defence role, in which missile batteries will be deployed to protect sensitive military or other establishments from an air threat, including aircraft, helicopters and unmanned craft. With its depleting fleet of obsolete Russian SA-3 Pechora and OSA-AK missile systems —which were inducted in the 1980s — the IAF pushed in for an indigenous ground equipment modification (GEM) a year ago. After the government refused to entertain Polish and Russian upgrade offers, the IAF is in desperate need of missile squadrons to plug holes in the air defence cover in the western sector. Of the 60 Pechoras bought between 1974 and 1990, only 24 are operational now. Last year, citing the delay in Project Akash and its sister programme Trishul as primary factors, the IAF placed a Rs 2,000 crore order for 18 Israeli Spyder surface-to-air missile systems.

Despite the Akash programme’s patchy record, DRDO chief M. Natarajan says, “The Akash missile system has been successful.” According to official testimony from the DRDO and the defence ministry, the Akash programme has been slowed down by the time taken to realise ramjet propulsion, the development of phased array target acquisition radar with command guidance, the development of a suitable platform for launch and American sanctions and embargoes which led to a crippling technology pull-out from the West.If Akash succeeds in the upcoming trials, it could be fully inducted into the IAF by early 2009.