Friday, October 31, 2008

Will they, won't they?

The Defence Minister and Navy Chief were both surprisingly non-committal on whether a final decision had been taken on the Pay Commission core demands. Hopefully this means the Prime Minister will make some sort of announcement tomorrow at the Combined Commanders Conference. A lot of hopes riding on that speech. Symoblically also the last chance for the government.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

EXCLUSIVE Photos: India's first "new mould" tailhook fighter pilot

Here are some nice pictures of Captain Surendra Ahuja, the officer I referred to in my last post on Indian Navy pilots being trained in conventional carrier ops at the US Navy. Captain Ahuja, a seasoned Sea Harrier fighter pilot, is the first Indian pilot in the "new mould" to be carrier qualified to fly CTOL jets. He got his wings of gold in May last year. He flawlessly trapped his jet ten times on the USS Enterprise to achieve that. May his tribe increase!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Photos: Antony reviews HAL

Defence Minister AK Antony was recently in Bangalore for his formal review of HAL programmes. Don't miss that seriously groovy photo of the Dhruv-WSI! Also seen, the NAL Saras and the first HAL-built Hawk AJT. The LCA didn't fly at this show for some reason.

Photos Courtesy DPR Defence

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Special Army Instruction issued on October 11

The Group of Ministers (GoM) has until tomorrow to make its recommendations on the core demands of the armed forces on the 6th Pay Commission. In the meanwhile, here are two pages showing the Revised Pay Packages for officers from the Special Army Instruction (SAI) issued on October 11 by the Defence Ministry. As it stands, this SAI will be amended or replaced with a fresh SAI once the GoM makes its recommendations. Sorry for the poor photo quality (taken from my useless phone!).

Have already described the circumstances of this SAI a few posts ago. Click here.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Photos: Indian Navy pilots carrier training in the US

The above photos show Indian Navy pilots being trained in conventional take-off carrier operations at the US Navy’s Naval Air Training Command at Naval Air Station Kingsville, and other institutes, part of an elite Indian Navy strike-pilot programme that commenced in 2006 to train 32 Indian Navy pilots in batches of four every six months over a period of four years.

The Indian pilots follow an identical training trajectory followed by counterpart pilot cadets in the US Navy. The course begins with six weeks of hardcore aviation preflight indoctrination at the Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. This includes four weeks of theory, swimming instruction and practice, plus two weeks of flight physiology and survival training.

From Pensacola, the Indian pilots move to Naval Air Station Whiting Field, also in Florida, for 18 weeks of flying Beechcraft T-34 Mentor single turboprop trainers. After this, the pilots move to Naval Air Station Kingsville in Texas to begin the real stuff -- flying jets. But first, there's three months at Kingsville just for classroom and simulator preparation. After weeks of flying the glass-cockpit simulator, the pilots finally strap into a T-45 Goshawk. But for the first two weeks, they're made to fly blind -- called "flying under a blanket" or instrument hood. Learn to trust your instruments more than anything else, that's the point. This completes Phase 1 of the six months course.

Phase 2 will be the real juice they're there for. Weeks upon weeks of tactical combat formation, air combat manoeuvering and air-to-ground weapons delivery. Finally, the real meatball! Training finally ends with a trial by fire -- flight qualification on board an American aircraft carrier. But he's got to perform consistently and deliver immaculate landings on a regular basis to finally get carrier qualified to fly MiG-29Ks and LCA Navy off the INS Vikramaditya and Indigenous Aircraft Carrier.

The first Indian Navy pilot to be carrier qualified (CQ) was Captain Surendra Ahuja, who trapped his T-45C ten times successfully on the USS Enterprise in May 2007. Thus began the Indian Navy's tryst, with tailhook aviation after a lengthy hiatus, and one that will continue long into the future.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Special Instructions on 6thPC issued to forces, Rank Pay speedbump

Special instructions have been issued by the MoD to all three services notifying the 6th Pay Commission. The Army instruction (see snapshot) was issued on October 11, the Navy and IAF instructions a few days later. These instructions initially caused a bit if a furore because they incorporate the recommendations that the three service Chiefs were up in arms against. In reality, it had been agreed at the time the three-member Group of Ministers was set up last month, that the instructions notifying the 6th Pay Commission as-is would be issued so as to remove the perception that the chiefs had been "defiant". It was agreed that the GoM's recommendations (which are to be announced a day or two before Diwali) would be incorporated either as a corrigendum to the special instructions already issued, an amendment to the instruction, or fresh special instructions that will supersede the ones issued this month.

The only snag, and one that has already seriously irked everyone in uniform all over again is the fact that the Ministry has attempted to define Rank Pay once again, and in that effort, effectively classified it as exclusive from Basic Pay (which, as per, previous definitions, is very much a part of Basic Pay). This has seriously aroused suspicions of more shocks for defence officers just lurking around the corner.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi personally asked the GoM to ensure the issue is resolved amicably before Diwali. But by all accounts only two of the four core demands (Lt Cols in PB-4 and reinstatement of pensionary benefits for PBORs) are by most accounts likely to me acceded to for now. So has a compromise of some sort been struck between the GoM and the three chiefs? Has the GoM decided to recommend just these two, since they're perceivably more emotive than the other two. That's unclear so far. But there's talk that the three Chiefs are pretty much unwilling to accept anything other than all four core demands met. What then? Will they quit? Will they quietly accept, after what has surely been a gruelling and tense time for their leadership? The way things have gone so far, it's hard to say at this point.

In the meanwhile, the ex-servicemen (ESM) community shot off a letter today to President Pratibha Patil appealing to her to intervene and get one-rank-one-pension and other veteran demands implemented through the Prime Minister immediately. From what I've heard, the demands of ex-servicemen are unlikely to be met at this time. Hopefully I'm wrong. Watch this space.

Antony: Offsets big for future trade

Defence Minister AK Antony's speech at a seminar on defence offsets this morning:

Offsets are today a common feature of international arms trade. It is estimated that offsets and related forms of counter-trade constitute five to thirty per cent of global trade. More than 100 countries use the mode of offsets in their arms contracts. Business and trade analysts put the exact volume of defence offsets at the global level at over five billion dollars each year. The United States, the biggest arms exporter in recent times, is obviously one of the largest providers of offsets. In 2006 alone, it signed nearly $3.5 billion worth of offset contracts with more than 20 companies located in 12 different countries. At the global level, the threshold of defence offsets, that is the minimum value of the contract at which offsets apply, is as low as 0.5 million dollars, where as offsets as a percentage of the value of arms contract is more than 100 for some countries.

India's defence offset policy has been promulgated as part of Defence Procurement Procedure. The offset policy has undergone two revisions since it was first promulgated in 2005. The latest revision was carried out recently and has been in vogue since September 1, 2008. India's offset provision applies to all Capital Acquisitions categorised as "buy (Global)" or "Buy and Make with Transfer of Technology", where the estimated cost of the acquisition proposal is Rs. 300 crore or more. A minimum offset of 30 per cent of the indicative cost is required in such acquisitions. The offset obligations of the foreign vendors can be met either through investment in our domestic defence industrial infrastructure, including defence R&D, leading to Joint Ventures, co-development and co-production of defence items, or through purchase or execution of export orders for defence goods and services produced by Indian defence enterprises, both in public and private sector.

The Ministry of Defence has set up a dedicated single window agency called DOFA or Defence Offset Facilitation Agency to facilitate offset related work. DOFA's mandate is to interact with various stakeholders, assist in implementation of the policy and suggest improvements in the offset policy.

Our offset policy has been revised a couple of times in a short duration. This reflects our commitment to take into account the genuine demands of our stakeholders into our offset policy. The policy has been designed to enable our domestic defence industry to participate actively in the complex job of defence production, and forge partnerships with international defence majors to bring in latest technologies and manufacturing efficiencies. We welcome any suggestions to further this objective.

In this context, I would like to mention some of the salient features of our revised offset policy under Defence Procurement Procedure 2008. Some of the improvements include introduction of offset banking, listing of defence products and relaxation of industrial licensing requirements. The revised policy has rationalised the industrial licensing process. The mandatory requirement of an industrial license for a domestic firm to participate in offset programmes has been relaxed. The private sector will henceforth require industrial license "only if so stipulated under the licensing requirements for defence industry issued by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion". It is hoped that this will save valuable time and effort of the applicants and expedite their cases.

The new offset policy provides a list of 13 categories of defence products. The product list has been added to help foreign as well as Indian companies in devising their offset strategies.

Under the new banking provisions, foreign vendors are now allowed to create prior offsets and bank the same to discharge their future offset obligations. This will benefit both the foreign as well as Indian companies to forge a long-term partnership, which would enhance India's defence industrial capability. The new banking guidelines allow vendors to discharge the banked credits within two financial years of the date of approval of the banked offset credits. If a foreign company generates more offsets than their stipulated obligations under the terms of the existing contract, the surplus credits can be banked and would remain valid for a period of two financial years after the conclusion of the said contract.

The Ministry of Defence fully recognises the importance of the Indian private sector in defence production. We have allowed participation of Indian private sector in defence production and also opened up our defence industry to foreign direct investment. At present, FDI is permitted up to 26 per cent. I am sure that today's seminar to have a comprehensive debate on the issues of licensing and FDI and come up with practical suggestions.

At this point, I wish to emphasise that we would give due consideration to all pragmatic suggestions arising out of today's deliberations. Our offset policy is forward looking and dynamic. We will continue to strive to strengthen the policy and procedural framework for rapid transformation of defence capabilities and infrastructure based on offset investment inflows.

Photo: Boeing T-45 Goshawks on which Indian Navy pilots train

Thursday, October 23, 2008

EXCLUSIVE Photos: From onboard USS Ronald Reagan!

My friend and colleague Rahul Singh, defence correspondent with Hindustan Times, was on board US Navy supercarrier USS Ronald Reagan during the Malabar 08 exercise. He has generously shared these pictures with LiveFist. Thanks, Rahul!

Photos ©Copyright and Courtesy Rahul Singh

More Photos from Exercise Malabar 08

Photo 1& 2: Indian Navy and US Navy VBSS (Visit Board Search and Seizure) Teams training together during Exercise MALABAR 2008

Photo 3: Friendly basketball match being played between IN and USN at Goa during MALABAR 08

Photo 4: Indian Navy and US Navy aviators exchanging notes prior to flying operations during Exercise MALABAR 2008

Photo 5: Rear Admiral Anil Chopra, Flag Officer Commanding Western Fleet on board INS Mumbai prior embarking USN Ship – Exercise MALABAR 2008

Photos Courtesy Indian Navy

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Photos: Exercise Malabar 08

Photo 1 & 2: A US Navy chopper approaches for landing on Indian Navy Delhi-class guided missile destroyer INS Mumbai
Photo 3 & 4: US commandos performing anti-piracy drill on board an Indian Navy warship

Photos Courtesy Indian Navy