Friday, July 31, 2009

S1000 SSK back in the reckoning for Indian Navy?

A combination of factors is understood to be leading to the Indian Navy positively leaning back towards seriously considering the Russo-Italian S1000 submarine for its (Project-75A) second line of diesel-electric attack submarines to be built under technology transfer within the country. The S1000, a joint design and development initiative between Russia's Central Design Bureau for Marine Engineering "Rubin" and Italy's Fincantieri, is apparently being considered with as much seriousness now as the larger Amur 1650, currently assumed to be the frontrunner for the highly lucrative deal (a good chunk of the Navy favours the Amur). A presentation on the S1000 was made to the Indian Navy in late 2006 and then in early 2008, though the Indian Navy had observed at the time, that the S1000 may be too small for its needs (the fact that anti-surface warfare was a stated secondary profile did not go down well either at the time). The photograph (Figure 4) of the U212's combat centre was used in the presentation made to the Navy on the S1000.

Note, however, that Rosoboronexport is pushing only the Amur 1650, it's only the Italian Ministry of Defence that is pushing the S1000, even though Rosobornexport is a partner.

Unlike the DCNS Scorpene line (Project 75), the second line of submarines will look to purchase submarines with air independent propulsion (AIP) systems as standard. And unlike Rubin's proposed AIP system on the Amur, the Indian Navy is understood to be very keen on the S1000's AIP system, particularly because its based on the Siemens SiNavyCIS BZM-120 PEM hydrogen fuel cell (Figure 3).

The S1000 also features specialised non-magnetic hull fabrication, a feature that the Navy wants in its next line. The HDW U-214 is almost definitely out of the reckoning -- Pakistan is in line to order three from Germany. Also, the Indian Navy is simply not convinced that the Type 214 takes any meaningful advanced technologies from the Type 212/212A of which it is an export derivative.

Harpreet's Impressions of the Arihant

Illustration Courtesy Harpreet

Low-Calorie Sub!

At the Foxtrot submarine museum on Ramakrishna Beach, Visakhapatnam on the day Arihant was launched. Yes, it was a warm day.

Photo by Shiv Aroor

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Minister Scopes Out The ALH

Photo Courtesy HAL

Navy Chief Keeps Gorshkov Afloat

"If you can find me a warship of this kind for under $2-billion, I will write you a cheque." That's Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sureesh Mehta on the freshly contentious acquisition of the Admiral Gorshkov/INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier. At a seminar this morning on self-reliance for the Navy, the Admiral also stoutly defended against the CAG's indictment that the Navy had not worked out a proper risk analysis as far as the acquisition of the Gorshkov was concerned. He said, "That is simply out of the question. We had been looking at this acquisition since the early 1990s. One of our officers [former Deputy Chief Vice Admiral SV Gopalachari], as you know, died in harness working on this acquisition."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The IAF An-32 That Filmed The Eclipse

The An-32 that flew us to Visakhapatnam for the Arihant-launch was, coincidentally, the same one that flew scientists on July 22 to film the total solar eclipse. From No.12 Squadron, Agra.

Photos by Shiv Aroor

Now that Arihant is out in the open, here's that presentation made last year...

Was a trifle hesitant to post this earlier, even though we did a special report on this on Headlines Today. But considering that the information is very general (all of it already known), and the Arihant launch was a public function, here's that presentation for the record.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rough On-Site Sketches of Arihant

While most of us gawked at Arihant, on Sunday, India Today's Sandeep Unnithan was busy sketching away in his notebook. Here are a few rough sketches he made while we stood about 10 feet from the submarine in the Matsya Dock in Visakhapatnam's Ship Building Centre (SBC).

I notice a lot of folks out there are at it making speculative illustrations of the Arihant. Well, good luck! I wish I had a more photographic memory. But when you're done making whatever you're making, do send them to me. I'll be happy to post them here.

Courtesy Sandeep Unnithan

Headlines Today's Pre-Launch Special on Arihant

Some good soul has uploaded Headlines Today's July 25 pre-launch special on the Arihant on Youtube in five parts. This is the one with Vice Admiral Raman Puri and Brahma Chellaney in the studio, and with the soundbytes of Admirals Arun Prakash Vishnu Bhagwat and Vice Admirals AK Singh and Madanjit Singh. and The above clip is the first part. View in Youtube to get the other parts on the sidebar.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

First on LiveFist: INS Arihant Launch, Blackout on Photography

The MoD/PMO has decided not to release any photographs of the submarine, and no filming or photography by the media was permitted inside the Matsya Dock, even though we were just ten metres from it and watched the entire show simply awestruck. But that thing you see behind Dr Singh in the second photo is INS Arihant! If and until any photos are released officially, I will shortly post an illustration of the real thing.

VISAKHAPATNAM, JULY 26: Have had a truly spectacular day here in Vizag, one among the first group of journalists ever to lay eyes on India's advanced technology vessel, the nuclear submarine INS Arihant. First things first -- the submarine is visible based on the Russian Borei-class SSBN (moments before we saw the real sub in its dock, we noticed the official invitation had a silhouette of the submarine indicating that it's almost definitely based on the Borei). The submarine has a launch crew commanded by Captain Anshuman Dutt. A phenomenal sight in the Matsya Dock of the Shipbuilding Center (SBC), the submarine was slowly towed out, as we I and other journalists sat ten metres from it, pretty much just in absolute amazement, and simply overwhelmed by the moment. The advanced technology vessel!

A dark matted olive shade, its anechoic tiles clearly demarcated (or a bad weld job?) The boat, bearing all the obvious signs of Russian influence, will undergo harbour acceptance trials (HATs) and full systems trials over the next one year, followed by sea trials and then weapon systems trials. The boat does not have a towed array sonar pod, and has a gradual gradiented hump. According to the official figures released today, the submarine is 110-meters long, 11-metres wide and has a submerged displacement of 6,000-tons.

Just back from a very tiring flight, but a supreme day with the INS Arihant. More tomorrow.

Off to Visakhapatnam...

I'm travelling to Visakhapatnam today to cover the launch ceremony of India's first nuclear-powered submarine, INS Arihant. A full report later in the day. I did a half-hour special show on the submarine on Saturday evening, with studio guests Vice Admiral Raman Puri and Brahma Chellaney. This will be up on the Headlines Today website tomorrow. Meanwhile, the videos of some of the stories we ran on the channel are here, including an on-cam chat with India Today Associate Editor, Sandeep Unnithan.

It's funny how I -- and, no doubt, every other Indian defence journalist -- have spent much of my (short) career writing semi-speculative reports about the shadowy ATV. And now all of us watch as it creeps out, not just from its dry-dock, but from a blanket of studied and meticulous secrecy. A few years ago, a day such as today promises to be, was not near imaginable. And it's happened progressively. First the tacit official admissions that the programme exists. Then the soundbytes about how it's a technology demonstrator. Then the unbridled use of the word ATV. And now this. I don't know what I'll get to see in Vizag later today, but I can tell you it's still somewhat unbelievable. I can only imagine what it must be like for folks who've written about it for the better part of 20 years!

Here's wishing everyone a safe Vijay Diwas. Do take a moment out, if you can, for those who died for this country. Nabha Sparsham Deeptam. Shano Varun. Jai Hind.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

IAF Gets Its First Cheetal Choppers From HAL

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) on Saturday handed over the first batch of four Cheetal helicopters to the Indian Air Force. NC Agarwal, Director (Design and Development) handed over the helicopters to Air Vice Marshal M. Bahadur. Assistant Chief of Air Staff.

"The IAF had placed an order for 10 Cheetals, of which the first batch of four has been delivered. The remaining six are expected to be handed over by September. We expect the IAF's order to be followed up by the Army and also the Government of India which is looking at procuring helicopters for various roles, especially for internal security,'' said R Srinivasan, MD (Helicopter Complex), HAL.AVM Bahadur who received the helicopters said; "The re-engined Cheetals will increase our operational capabilities, especially for high altitude operations. We have faith in HAL and hope it will continue to deliver and provide product support.''

The Cheetal is the re-engined Cheetah helicopter, with replacement of Artouste IIIB with the TM333-2M2 engine. The reduced weight of the TM 333-2M2 engine with better specific fuel consumption has resulted in increased range, endurance and payload. This makes the helicopter more versatile in various roles including search & rescue and missions in high altitude. The Cheetal has been designed to incorporate upgraded features such as light weight modern technology cockpit instruments like electrically driven Artificial Horizon, Directional Gyro, and light weight modern avionics - accurate navigation and homing through GPS, VHF HOMER, Flight Monitoring System (FMS), Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and Emergency Locator Transmitter.

LiveFist Note: When I visited the 666 Siachen Falcons Cheetah squadron in Leh in 2006, pilots there said that the re-engineed Cheetal was not sufficient to fulfil the IAF's needs -- they mentioned that the entire transmission system and gearbox needed to be changed as well, and if that didn't happen, the upgraded chopper wouldn't be a meaningfully more capable platform than the existing Cheetah.

Text & Photos Copyright HAL

Mini-Scam in BAE Hawk Spares Contract

The Indian government's financial audit watchdog, the CAG, has found that pricing anomalies in the spares contract for 66 Hawk advanced jet trainers.

According to the latest CAG audit report, first, BAE Systems was to provide a list of spares five months after contract signing in March 2004. This did not happen until May 2006, and the spares contract was signed in November 2007. A mini scam here though. The audit watchdog has observed that "Scrutiny of prices charged by M/s 'A' [BAE Systems] for these spares revealed that firm had charged excess amount of UKP 837,108 (Rs 6.44 crore) for the fixed spares, as the pricing was done for each line item based on unit price and contracted rates were not implemented. Ministry stated in 2008 that M/s ‘A’ [BAE Systems] was allowed to amortise the administrative cost of spares estimation using Proprietary Reliability and Maintainability data in the cost of spares. The reply is not tenable as the provision of such amortisation is neither included in the contracts finalised with M/s ‘A’ [BAE Systems] in 2004 nor was such a fact brought to the notice of the CFA."

"Undue Favours" to Armaris in Scorpene Deal

The table above, published in the latest audit report of the Comptroller & Auditor General (the Indian government's audit body) lists out what it calls "undue favours" provided to Armaris, the consortium that was contracted for six Scorpene submarines in 2005 at a cost of Rs 18,798 crore. The report finds that a minimum of Euro 58.20 million (Rs 349 crore) besides other unquantifiable benefits, were allowed as advantages to Armaris in the contract. The conclusion: "To sum up, over nine years were taken to finalise the contract. Apart from theprice escalation, it is also likely to adversely impact the operational capabilityof the Navy. The Ministry / Naval HQ scaled down the original technicalspecifications and extended undue financial benefit to the vendor."

Coming up: The India audit watchdog slams HAL

Friday, July 24, 2009

India Today EXCLUSIVE: The INS Arihant Surfaces

India Today Associate Editor Sandeep Unnithan has a four-page piece in the new edition of the magazine on INS Arihant, India's first nuclear submarine that launches on July 26. This here, a graphic illustration by India Today graphic artist Prashant Chaudhary, is apparently the closest depiction of what INS Arihant looks like. Apparently the first submarine will not have a aft-dorsal towed-array sonar pod, though this will be part of the second and third boats.

Copyright India Today

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Photos: Indian Army Chief in the US

Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor, during his five day visit to the US, met Gen David H Petraeus, Commander, US Central Command. He was given a guard of honour at Whipple Field. The visiting General also laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. General Kapoor held discussions on various bilateral and military issues with his counterpart General George W Casey Jr, and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen.

Photos Courtesy DPR Defence

Photo: IAF Western Commander Visits Leh

Photo Courtesy Western Air Command

Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi: The Government Remains Unconcerned on Kargil

This year’s Kargil Diwas, on 26 July, is special as it is the 10th anniversary of the day when the last of the Pakistani intruders were killed or chased out of the Kargil Sector, by the doughty brave hearts of the Indian Army and Air Force. The Kargil Sector is actually a swathe of real estate along the Line of Control (LC) in J&K, stretching north east from the steep glaciated heights north of Drass and extending to the general area of Turtok, just short of the Siachin Glacier.

I do not intend to cover the factual details of the various battles fought in the sector, but will highlight some nuances. Kargil had caught the imagination of every citizen of our country during those tumultuous summer months of 1999, from the time the intrusion was first discovered in early May, till the last of the Pakistani soldiers were neutralized and the entire area on our side of the LC was sanitized by 26 July.

The various battles fought in the sector were a series of tactical level offensive operations, conducted at battalion and brigade levels. These were essentially marked by two important features - the formidable nature of the terrain and the sheer bravery of the officers and men of the Indian Army, who scaled those formidable and razor sharp sheer heights, unmindful of their lives and limbs. They did so in many a hand to hand battle and won victories on the high peaks, where the defenders-the Pakistani troops, had all the advantages. The nation lost 527 valuable lives, all brave young men, who sacrificed themselves, with grit written large on their determined visages and a fierce fire burning strong in their bellies.

Why is such unparalleled bravery forgotten by our countrymen within a span of a mere 10 years? Have our nationalistic feelings atrophied that we have no time to remember the sacrifices of our brave soldiers and airmen, who fought so valiantly to restore the sanctity of the motherland? Is it the government, which needs to be reminded to take the lead, or the military or the people?

I recall, with a great deal of nostalgia, the Vijay Diwas of 2000, one year after the Kargil operations. It was an event to remember. I was then commanding the Western Army at Chandimandir. At my instance, an extremely well attended remembrance cum homage function was organized by the army at Chandigarh. Governors and Chief Ministers of both Punjab and Haryana had led the people in paying tributes to the Kargil warriors. The inhabitants of Chandigarh, Panchkula and Mohali came in their thousands to pay homage and to remember the warriors, who had fought and conquered both the hazardous terrain and the well-entrenched enemy. As the ceremony ended, thousands of candles lit the entire ground; it was a sight that set the adrenalin pumping. Sadly, in the years that followed, Kargil disappeared from the radar screens of the government, the people and sadly even the media. Only the military remembered their comrades and held ceremonies and commemoration events, but only within the confines of their cantonments!

The media and the ex-servicemen (ESM) have taken a lead this time in generating enthusiasm for the 10th anniversary of the Kargil Diwas, but alas there is not even a squeak from the government so far. On 26 July, a ritual and token ceremony will no doubt be held at the India Gate, with the Raksha Mantri and the three service chiefs laying wreaths and only a few media cameras in attendance. In our democratic country, the ‘Aam Aadmi’, whose paeans we sing these days, is not even permitted to come within 100 metres of such ceremonies. At best, they can view them on TV, but only fleetingly as the electronic media is stingy in airing such bytes! This must change, not only in the case of the Kargil Diwas, but on the few commemorative military events we still observe, even perfunctorily.

Ours must be the only country in the world where decisions to commemorate military events are based on which political party is in power! One national political party celebrates Kargil Diwas because that military victory took place when theirs was the ruling party. The other does not, but celebrates Vijay Diwas instead, as it was their party which was in power when the Indian Military did the country proud by their resounding victory over Pakistan in 1971. A third category popular with the government is when no event is celebrated on the specious plea that it may adversely affect the peace process with a particular country! The end result of such a lackadaisical attitude on the part of the government is that the military, which is proud of its brave military heritage, is forced to have such celebrations and remembrances in the confines of their military stations and cantonments, with no participation by the civil populace, the political leaders or the government. What a dismal and farcical situation?

The present government, in accordance with their party’s election pledge, had carved out the Department of Ex-servicemen Welfare from within the Ministry of Defence in 2004. It is this Department that should take a lead in celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Kargil victory in a befitting manner, but it seems to be wallowing in indecision, waiting for a cue from the political leaders. Despite its existence for almost five years now, no worthwhile welfare measures have been instituted by this organization. The reason is simple. This organization, from its inception, should have been manned by military officers who understand the problems of serving personnel and ESM, as well as their ethos and culture. The result of such pusillanimous behaviour by this organization is further disillusionment of the military.

The government would do well to keep in mind what the famous military strategist, Carl von Clausewitz, had expounded on the remarkable ‘trinity’ of the government, the military and the people, that is essential for victory for a nation. It is equally applicable to the nation even in non-war situations. Will the government take a lead and bring them together?

(Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi is a former Vice Chief of the Indian Army. This piece, sent to me by the General, appears in the forthcoming issue of Salute magazine)

Photos: The LCA Trainer

Found these photos on a Korean blog, that a commenter has pointed to. No mention of Copyright. Please let me know, so I can attribute appropriately or remove!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Air Mshl Sumit Mukerji: The Man Who Chased an Eclipse in a Foxbat

Tail-chasing an enemy jet and shooting it down from the sky remains the ultimate dream of every fighter pilot. Seldom do pilots in such aerial chases go beyond the supersonic regime, let alone beyond that.

Now imagine chasing a target at Mach 2.5, more than twice the speed of sound and yet not manage to catch up, a chase that can only be fathomed out of a scene from a star trek kind of sci-fi film. Incredible it may sound but it is just what IAF pilots did when chasing the umbra shadow during the total solar eclipse on October 24, 1995. It also heralded IAF’s participation in scientific study of total solar eclipse that continues till date.

After the total solar eclipse of 1898 over India, the next occurrence took place only in 1980. Not until the subsequent total solar eclipse in 1995, did the IAF assist the Department of Science and Technology (DST) in their quest to film this celestial alignment. With aviation speeds streaking past the supersonic barrier, the scientific experiment of photographing the images from the air was now made possible.

Air Marshal S Mukerji, Air Officer-in-charge Personnel (AOP) at Air Headquarters was the then Commanding Officer of IAF’s only Mig-25 Squadron, christened – Trisonics, based at Bareilly. Then a Group Captain, Air Marshal Mukerji had this rare opportunity to fly the Mig-25 on that day to film the Sun’s corona from an astounding altitude of 80,000 feet, straight from the Stratosphere.

“We flew at Mach 2.5 in the path of the eclipse at 80,000 feet along the planned central axis of the eclipse over Neemkathana, near Agra”, recalls Air Marshal Mukerji of his historic sortie that finds a mention in his flying log book plainly as - ‘Supersonic Profile’. Weather and other visibility were not any constraints, he says, as clarity at stratospheric levels is far better than that nearer ground.

With a manual Hasselblad camera mounted above the instrument panel, a special lead and button provided to the second pilot, Wing Commander YS Babu seated in the front cockpit, the duo with special solar filters on their visors flew straight towards the Sun for a minute and twenty-four seconds, clicking never-before images of the spectacle, during the total solar eclipse.

“A lot of preparation went in ahead of the sortie. The sortie route had to be charted, axis programmed on the inertial navigation system and briefings by scientists with NASA charts were done. The aircraft were put on jacks, the angle-of-attack or ‘alpha’ simulated on ground to harmonize the camera along the axis. In addition, the aircraft belly camera could capture the shadow beneath that was 85 kms in width”, recounts Air Marshal Mukerji of the preparations.

Photo & Text Courtesy Wg Cdr Tarun Singha/IAF

(In early 2006, I became the first journalist to report exclusively from within Air Force Station Bareilly on the MiG-25 Foxbat Squadron, a fortnight before they were phased out. I had also interviewed Air Marshal Mukerji -- then an Air Vice Marshal -- for the special report I wrote for the Indian Express

FIRST on LiveFist: IAF Wolfpack Sqn Mirage-2000 Captures the Eclipse

The Indian Air Force today successfully undertook aerial sorties to help Indian scientists undertake study of the total solar eclipse that took place today. Two separate missions from Agra and Gwalior were flown towards the endeavour that was deemed hugely successful by scientists associated with the experiment.

While one AN-32 transport aircraft carrying scientific equipment, cameras and scientists that took off from Agra landed back after a three-hour flight, a Mirage-2000 trainer from 9 Squadron "Wolfpack", Gwalior took spectacular images of the celestial spectacle from 40,000 feet. With weather being clear at the altitudes and coordinates planned by the IAF pilots, both AN-32 and Mirage-2000 pilots were able to accomplish the mission successfully.

"The mission was a huge success. We got excellent footage of the eclipse. This was made possible by the perfect planning and execution by the IAF pilots", said Dr.Vinay B. Kamble, Director, Vigyan Prasar while addressing media persons at Agra airbase after the flight.

The AN-32 mission was flown at 25,000 feet. The aircraft flew a south-westerly course from abeam Khajuraho, descending and aligning along the central axis of the eclipse. The Mirage-2000 fighter flew at an altitude of 42,000 feet bisecting the central axis in a north-south direction to film the eclipse.

"Since flying with the ramp open involves depressurisation, inhaling of oxygen separately becomes absolutely necessary at that altitude. We flew a practise mission to train everyone for the sortie", explained Wing Commander D Singh, Captain of the historic flight. "Ensuring the Sun at six-o-clock position at the correct angle for cameras to be able to catch the phenomenon demanded a high degree of accuracy in flying", he added, satisfied with the results.

As the eclipse progressed towards the totality phase, darkness descended across the morning sky metamorphosing rapidly from bright daylight to the twilight zone, transiting to dark phase. The pilots switched on rheostats illuminating their instrument panel for a brief phase of night flying before resuming daylight flying after the total solar eclipse. For those who witnessed the rare spectacle in air, the experience was truly ethereal.

Photos & Text by IAF

FIRST on LiveFist: The Eclipse from IAF An-32

Photos by Guru Dutt Mehra / Courtesy DPR Defence