Saturday, October 31, 2009

DHRUV CRASH UPDATE #5: The Cyclic Limit Theory

The three member HAL-team of experts, which includes company official KM Bhat, along with Chief Test Pilot Wg Cdr (Retd) Unnikrishna Pillai (who trained the Ecuadorian pilots in 2008) and HAL's Chief Designer of the Rotary Wing R&D Centre, Prasad Sampath, have started work alongside the Accident Investigation Board inquiring into Tuesday's Dhruv crash. Incidentally, the two pilots who miraculously survived the accident, were discharged from hospital yesterday and on the same day, also provided testimony to the Board.

Ok here's the very latest. According to my sources in Ecuador, the ill-fated helicopter is likely to have come under the air forced downward by the rotors (rotorwash) of one of the other Dhruv's flying in the formation. At this point, complications may have started when the pilots Luis Armas and Ivan Abril made an attempt to recover from the ensuing sharp left bank (this is visible in the video). In technical terms, the pilot encountered a cyclic limit to the right (saturation of cyclic - the stick for lateral movement of the helicopter), as a result of which they found they had no further cyclic available at their disposal to stabilise or roll back out of the left turn. In well-documented helicopter flight dynamics, when cyclic saturation is reached, there is an abrupt loss of available lift to counter the turn.

It is understood that the Dhruv flight manual and training programme contains a specific module on recovering from a cyclic limit situation, and the Ecuadorian pilots underwent this process as part of their training in 2008. The training however, taught them how to recover from this situation when the chopper's altitude was at least 1,000 feet. Therefore, considering that the Dhruvs were flying at just 70-meters above the ground -- and if this theory holds -- then the pilots would not have had a chance to recover either way.

Friday, October 30, 2009

DHRUV CRASH UPDATE #4: The Engine Quandary

A day after the crash, there were certain media reports in Ecuador about the date when the Dhruv's Turbomeca engine was manufactured and delivered to HAL -- the engine was made in 2007, and the helicopter integrated in 2008 for delivery in 2009. The reports have harped on the fact that the engine was manufactured a year earlier than final integration with the helicopter.

In response to these view, here's an expert view from my sources in the investigation. For any assembly line to run the parts have to be ordered in advance. The time taken to manufacture the helicopter can be upto six months. The vendor also needs advance notice to supply the required systems and sub-systems. The "Just in Time" concept of inventory mangement is used by HAL, but such cases will always be there -- they are commonplace with system integration of helicopters and aircraft the world over. In aviation, the loss of one calendar year in the life of an engine is totally acceptable, since it is expected that the operator will use up the engine hours at a much greater rate. For example, if the life between overhaul of the engine is 1,200 hours, then at the rate of usage of 30 hours per month (a very conservative estimate) the engine life would be used up in 4 years while the calendar life is 15 years.

DHRUV CRASH UPDATE #3: HAL's Statement, Finally

HAL Statement on Dhruv Crash: As a matter of principle, HAL would not like to speculate on the causes of the incident based on the media reports available in public domain. The HAL team, which was already in Ecuador providing maintenance support, is assisting the Ecuadorian Air Force in its investigations. In addition, a three member team of senior specialists including HAL’s Chief Test Pilot is reaching Ecuador to provide all necessary assistance in the investigation. Dhruv helicopter has been designed for excellent handling qualities and crash worthiness and manufactured with advanced technologies. The helicopter has several safety features such as twin engines, dual flight control, redundancy in critical systems, self sealing fuel tanks, modern fire protection devices and a structure designed to ensure crashworthiness. These features ensure safety of crew and occupants.

Dhruv has been extensively flight tested throughout its flight envelope by highly experienced HAL test pilots & has been evaluated by Customer pilots from IAF/Army prior to certification by Military & civil regulatory authorities. After certification, Dhruv has flown nearly 39,000 Hrs as a fleet, with more than 80 Dhruvs flown by various users. These flights were all flown carrying out difficult missions such as high altitude operations in Siachen glacier in extremely inhospitable weather conditions, Search & Rescue in all terrains, flood relief and casualty evacuation. As many as seven lead helicopters have flown close to 1000 Hrs each safely in similar missions.

DHRUV’s capability has been amply demonstrated in several challenging terrains and missions. The role of DHRUV in the relief missions in post Tsunami operations and during Gujarat floods and the high altitude rescue at Pin Parbati Pass stand testimony to DHRUV’s versatility of operations. “Sarang” – the Aerobatic Display team of Indian Air Force has displayed DHRUV’s capabilities in several international air shows.

Ecuadorian pilots have undergone extensive flying training on DHRUV at HAL’s facilities and had expressed happiness with the handling qualities , advanced avionics and safety features of Dhruv during interactions with HAL instructors who flew training missions with them in India and Ecuador, Ecuadorian Air Force has successfully carried out several missions in their DHRUVs in their difficult terrains and has logged 860 hours. It appears from the reported statements attributed to the top officials of the Ecuadorian Air force that the helicopter may have been maneuvered excessively. The built in safety features have ensured that both the pilots walked away to safety without any major injuries. HAL is committed to provide products of high quality & value to its customers backed up by professional and dedicated service.

Exercise Eastern Bridge Concludes

PHOTOS: India-Maldives Joint Exercise EKUVERIN 09 Concludes


According to the latest information coming in from my sources in Ecuador, there was absolutely no fire that broke out in the tail of the ALH Dhruv that crashed in the country on Tuesday. A careful study by experts, involving both visual analysis of footage as well as prima facie analysis of the wreckage, has unequivocally ruled out that there was any fire as suggested by certain eye-witness accounts. As a matter of fact, there was no post-crash fire either.

LiveFist has learnt from sources concerned with the investigation that on impact, the Dhruv's engines surged, and hence the visible flame emerging from the exhaust (see the part between the 3rd and 4th second in this video). Soon thereafter, the engines shut down due to fuel starvation. Indeed, according to experts, the fact that there was no fire post-impact once again demonstrates and establishes the crashworthiness of the Dhruv platform, where the fuel tanks have maintained their integrity and the fuel has been shut off automatically.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Indian Army Looks For 300 Advanced Light Tanks

The Indian Army has put out a request for information (RFI) for 200 wheeled and 100 tracked advanced light armoured vehicles for use in semi-mountainous and mountainous regions in the North and North East, developed and semi-developed terrain in the Western borders and in the island territories.

The Army has stipulated that it wants the wheeled light tanks configured 8x8 with a maximum weight not exceeding 22-tons (for the tracked version as well).

[Vishnu Som] Update On Boeing Super Hornet Pitch

Boeing and its F/A-18 industry partners Raytheon, GE and Northrop-Grumman held a press conference in Delhi on Wednesday. Friend and NDTV associate editor VISHNU SOM was there and has been kind enough to send LiveFist this update on what happened:

As far as the transfer of source codes for AESA is concerned, Boeing is still at the "can't discuss in an open forum, lets see how this plays out" mode. At the same time, the fact that India has agreed to the US end user agreement during Hillary Clinton's visit here means that the full-up Super Hornet IN, inclusive of the upgraded GE F414 engine, the APG-79 AESA and other key systems are cleared for transfer. So it's quite possible that the version of the AESA offered will be full-spec. In fact, I am sure, India would not accept anything less than that.

Secondly, February 2010 is the big date for the IAF and the next phase of the Hornet There will be an evaluation of the following: 1. Mission systems flight evaluation 2. AESA 3. FLIR 4. EW 5. Weapon delivery 6. Maintenance evaluation 7. Technical evaluation.

All this will be done at the Naval Air Station Lemoore in California, the same base from where I flew the second of my Super Hornet sorties. Boeing reps repeatedly state that the AESA will be evaluated in conjunction with other systems, ie, the data link, FLIR etc to showcase the full package.

As far as AESA is concerned, the Boeing-Raytheon team seemed to take on their European rivals who are still developing/integrating their product. They explained how it took eight years for the APG-79 to move from low rate initial production to first operational deployment. The dates are as follows: June 2003 Low rate initial production / December 2006 Operational evaluation completed / December 2007 Initial Operational clearance & Full scale production approval and May 2008 First operational deployment.

The APG-79 has 1,000-hours mean time between failures (MTBF), more than 75,000 operational flight hours, it's been approved for sale to India and will be sustained in US service beyond 2035. The proposed GE F414 EPE (Enhanced Performance Engine) for India offers a 20 per cent increase in thrust and a 1 per cent reduction in fuel burn. The F414 is itself in the 22,000-lb thrust class, 170 lb/second airflow. Engine change is done in under 30 minutes, interchangeable left and right engine installation. No need for a functional check flight after engine change. No throttle restrictions while in operation (I have personally witnessed this, it's amazing -- you can pretty much do what you want with the throttle, slam it to burner and take it back as much as you want ... nothing happens).

Boeing says it WILL offer the Indian Air Force an out and out 9G fighter -- this has been a promise made by the Boeing team. I was led to believe this involves changes in the flight control system, though the airframe itself is OK for 9G.

The pitch -- this is a rugged, proven, operational platform, which is now available to India at a cost NOT too much over its single engine competitors in the MMRCA race. As far as their performance in the trials in Bangalore are concerned, they say that they are satisfied with what they were able to demonstrate to the Indian Air Force but reiterate that its the IAF which has to be satisfied. Thats it for the moment folks.

DHRUV CRASH UPDATE #1: Three-Member HAL Team To Reach Ecuador

Notwithstanding HAL chairman Ashok Naik's ill-advised claim to the press yesterday that he has received no formal communication about the Dhruv crash in Ecuador, a three-member expert team from HAL will fly to Ecuador this weekend to join the Accident Investigation Board. HAL currently has a ten-member team in Ecuador that is already assisting with the investigation. Things are at a very delicate stage right now.

The local Spanish daily El Universo has run a story with a headline suggesting that the country's Dhruvs could be returned to India. It appears that in the face of a torrent of media reports questioning the transparency of the Dhruv purchase, Ecuador's air force chief General Rodrigo Bohorquez held a press conference where he stated that if any problems were discovered in the helicopters, then HAL would have to either replace the equipment or refund the nation. The newspapers are also picking up on the fact that the Turbomeca engines were manufactured in 2007, whereas the choppers were made in 2008.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What Happened To The Dhruv In Ecuador?

The two Ecuadorian helicopter pilots Luis Armas and Ivan Abril who walked away almost unscathed from the dramatic crash of their Dhruv helicopter have been treated for minor injuries, and are to be discharged in a few days from a military hospital in Quito. They had a closer call than most do in helicopter accidents of this kind. While a very serious inquiry now stares HAL uncomfortably in the face, one fact is undeniable. The accident, like a previous one in November 2005 in which all six on board survived, establishes once again the remarkable crashworthiness of the ALH Dhruv. But that's not the point here. What's important is what went wrong at Quito's Mariscal Sucre airport. The facts as we know them right now are bare, notwithstanding the ready affirmation by Ecuadorian air force chief General Rodrigo Bohorquez, that the crash had taken place as a result of pilot error. Strangely, even Ecuador's defence minister Javier Ponce said in an interview to a local newspaper that all prima facie indications were that the pilot had "excessively manoeuvered" the chopper, leading to the accident. For starters, the helicopter is not serviceable -- it is beyond repair. It was the one of three Dhruvs flying in an arrow-head formation. Here's what we know so far, for the record:
  • Eyewitnesses, including some journalists, have testified to the Board of Inquiry that they saw a fire break out near the Dhruv's tail stem, after which the helicopter rolled abruptly to port 60-degrees and began losing altitude. At this point, the helicopter was about 300-metres from the airport's hangar area.
  • Ecuador's air chief General Rodrigo Bohorquez has been quoted as saying that the accident occured "because the turn was very long" and that the pilot "oversteered" the helicopter.
  • The pilot Luis Armas, who has 197 hours logged on the Dhruv, was trained in India in December 2008. Co-pilot Ivan Abril has logged 107 hours on the Dhruv so far.
  • According to an HAL official in Ecuador who spoke to me off the record, a few Ecuadorian newspapers have begun running opinion pieces questioning the Dhruv purchase from India. Some report that HAL was initially disqualified for not meeting certain technical requirements of Ecuador's air force. However, when General Rodrigo Bohorquez took charge of the service shortly thereafter, the decision was reportedly reversed despite the fact that the country's audit regulator had reportedly ordered the competition to be declared void and re-tendered, as the Dhruv had not met technical and financial requirements. They same reports suggest that the Indian government, through the Indian Ambassador in Quito, struck a deal with the country to be the launch customer in Latin America for the helicopter. The implicit suggestion in these reports appears to be that the Dhruv was unfairly chosen, and under the use of influence.
  • Both the air chief and defence minister of the country have said on record that the helicopters have been observed to have no technical faults.
  • The ten-member HAL team in Quito is assisting the Accident Investigation Board. HAL may send more engineers from its Rotory Wing Complex in Bangalore to Quito to assist the investigation.
Stay tuned for updates on the crash. I'm expecting more details shortly.

PHOTOS: IAF & Omani Jaguars Tango At Exercise Eastern Bridge

More Photos Of Crashed Dhruv, Ecuador's Air Chief Says Pilot Error

ALH Dhruv Crashes At Ecuador Military Parade

HAL spokesperson M Anantha Krishnan just provided a phone-in to Headlines Today, where, in answer to three questions, said, "It is too premature, I cannot provide any details at this moment." And to think the Ecuadorian President uses a Dhruv for VIP transport. Nightmare scenario. Eyewitness accounts suggest a fire broke out in the tail area. A ten-member HAL team stationed in Quito has reached the spot and is in possession of the CVR/FDR. Stay tuned for a detailed report.

PHOTOS: Indian T-90s At Yudh Abhyas

All Photos ©Shiv Aroor

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

AoA: The Dollars And Cents Of Yudh Abhyas

There's suddenly silence over the spectator's pavilion at the Camp Bundela range in Babina. All eyes trained on two US soldiers 50 feet away, the shape of a portable launcher unmistakable at this proximity. Then with a dull whoosh, a Javelin anti-tank missile not so much blasts as pops out of the launcher. For the most fleeting of moments, the missile falls -- at this moment, the missile is perfectly distinct. You can make out the fins, the shape, everything. Then, before you know it, the missile's motor kicks in and converts the up-until-then discernible missile shape, into a blinding point of light that careens in a flat arc towards its target, a retired Indian tank two kilometers away. About halfway through its trajectory, the missile pops up into a steeper flightpath and comes smashing down on its target. It's always fun waiting for the dull smack of the explosion that reaches you a couple of seconds in waves after you see the blast. It's an impressive demonstration. And just so you never forget the sight, the soldiers fire two more Javelins. Both bang on. No mistakes. A lot of work goes into stuff like this.

Moments after the launch, a US officer, Major Bhatti, starts handing out CDs with photographs and B-roll footage of Javelin launches conducted over the week gone by at Babina. While there's a mad rush for sound-bytes from the US soldiers, I notice two fellows skulking about with the US contingent, who don't look like soldiers from any stretch of imagination. I mean one of them has an enormous belly, and is finding it killing hauling himself up and down the pavilion hillock in the blazing Central Indian sun. He's a guy from Raytheon. There are two others. A guy from Lockheed-Martin, and a third -- who appears to be bossing these two around -- is a senior chap from the Pentagon's Close Combat Project Office, a department that contains, among other things, the Javelin Product Office. As the three executives assist a pair of US soldiers to assemble a Javelin photo-op mount, a young Indian officer asks the Raytheon guy if he has any literature on the missile. Out of his black knapsack comes a stack of custom folders with brochures, a DVD, the stuff you get a expos. If that's not getting into the heart of a sales pitch, I don't know what is. I'd heard that this sort of thing happens, but had never seen it for myself. Come to think of it, I don't remember seeing a Boeing person in Agra at Cope India, but then again, when you've got Ambassador Tim Roemer making an embarrassingly unabashed pitch (in a ceremonial speech no less), you've pretty much got it covered.

Are Indo-US exercises simply about selling weapons? Not entirely, but here's what I suspect. If Washington had to choose between achieving such lofty ideals as "perfect interoperability" with the Indian military on the one hand, and getting the Indians impressed enough to sign on the dotted lines for a gazillion tank-killing missiles on the other, they'd choose the latter any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Ironically, that's precisely what they're probably going to get as far as the C-17 and Javelin are concerned.

As my friend Vishal Thapar of CNN-IBN said in his camera stand-up, "I hate to be the spoilsport, but the possibility of India and the US conducting joint operations under a UN mandate is too remote to consider." That's darn true. So what was Yudh Abhyas all about then? A message to the Chinese maybe? Anything else? Something to think about for sure. The one thing that isn't ambiguous in the slightest is the wheeling-dealing part of it.

I'll end with something that has stuck with me. It's what one Indian Army major, who seemed surprisingly aloof to the general euphoria at Babina on Monday, said to me while the Javelins were being fired. "They are seducing us with their weapons," he said, his eyes carefully following the missile as it whooshed perfectly towards its quarry.

EXCLUSIVE: US Soldiers Get Acquainted With The Dhruv Helicopter

Tomorrow: EXCLUSIVE video of Indian Army soldiers firing Javelin ATGM + Photos of the T-90 in action at Babina

Ex Servicemen Write To PM, Demand Pension Justice

New Indian Defence Procurement Procedure To Supposedly "Revolutionize" Weapons Buying

MoD Statement: In a move that has the potential to revolutionize the Indian Defence Industry, the Ministry of Defence is adding a new provision in its procurement procedure which will allow issue of Request For Proposal (RFP) to Indian industries having requisite financial and technical capabilities to absorb technology and undertake indigenous manufacture under a new category ‘Buy and Make (Indian)’. Under the current procedure in ‘Buy and Make’ cases RFP is issued only to foreign vendors, who are required to transfer technology to Indian Defence Industry, called Production Agency. This does not promote setting up of Joint Ventures or Co-production arrangements in India by big foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).

The new procedure, to be effective from November 01, 2009 will be akin to the existing ‘Make Procedure’ with a vital difference that the production and development by Indian industry will be through transfer of technology and not through Research and Development. Announcing this at a National Seminar on Defence Acquisition, organized by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, here today, Defence Minister AK Antony said the move is primarily aimed at encouraging pro-active participation by the Indian industry who could establish JV/Production arrangements with any foreign manufacturer. The needs of the Services will be shared with capable Indian firms who in turn would submit a roadmap for development and production of a particular item over its life-cycle.

Antony said the twin objectives of DPP-2009 aim at promoting and facilitating wide participation of Defence Industry, while enabling transparency and integrity in all acquisitions.

The Defence Minister said to ensure transparency and enhanced awareness in the Indian industry, the Government will prepare a public version of the fifteen years Long Term Acquisition Plan of the Armed Forces. This will be placed on the MoD website and shared with industry associations to create requisite awareness amongst them.

“This would help Indian Industry to work out the technological requirements and build in-house capabilities in order to meet the future defence requirements. I am sure that the industry will respond positively to this proposal”, he said.

Another important feature of DPP-2009 would be mandatory issue of Request for Information (RFI) on the MoD website in all acquisition cases. To enable participation of industry in Defence Acquisition Planning, the Ministry will henceforth invite their representatives for consultations and presentations in high-level procurement meetings before a decision is taken on the source and methodology for procurement of Defence weapons and equipment.

Further, to enhance probity in Defence procurement deals, DPP-2009 proposes to enhance the role of Independent Monitors, to scrutinize complaints with regard to violations of Integrity Pact which prohibits corruption in Defence deals.

In order to facilitate discharge of Offset obligations, an enabling clause has also been incorporated to permit change of offset partners in exceptional cases. The Offset provisions for the option clause has been amplified to state that the Offsets will not be applicable in cases where the same was not included in the original contract. Shri Antony expressed the hope that these changes will bring in greater degree of probity in the procedure and also encourage domestic defence industry to develop.

Shri Antony asked Defence personnel to ensure that the Qualitative Requirements (QRs) formulation is done in a manner that fulfils the end user’s basic requirements while at the same time it should encourage the widest possible competition. “It is only through competition that we can ensure the maximum value for our money. It is important to have broad-based and realistic QRs that would lead to multivendor competition”, he said. Noting that the occasional changes in QRs by the Services also led to delays in Defence Acquisitions, Shri Antony said that acquisitions once approved by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), changes to RFP and QRs should be avoided and exercised only exceptionally.

Referring to the technical and commercial aspects of evaluation, Shri Antony said we need to ensure these vital stages are completed not only in a fair, objective and transparent manner, but within the stipulated time frame.

PHOTOS: The Beautiful ALH Dhruv At Exercise Yudh Abhyas

All Photos ©Shiv Aroor