Monday, November 30, 2009

Full-time Blogging From End December

Was sorry to hear about another Sukhoi crash today near Jaisalmer. I'm away from work for the next three weeks (I just got married). Promise to try posting when I can, but like I said before, it won't be anywhere near as regular as normal. Back in India late December, at which time, I'll be back to hectic blogging as before. Take care, everybody, and stay tuned.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Remember 26/11

Photo by Shiv Aroor, November 2008, Outside The Oberoi, Mumbai

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Countdown To First Flight Of India's Light Combat Helicopter

The stage is set for the first prototype (LCH TD-1) flight of the Indian Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), scheduled to take place next month. The TD-1 will be an unweaponised platform, and the test-flight schedule for this prototype will only be towards validating principle airframe, aerodynamics, maneoverability and airworthiness parameters. Weapons integration tests will only take place with the second prototype, TD-2, that is scheduled for a first flight sometime later in 2010. Updates on the LCH follow.

Helicopter PhotoArt ©Shiv Aroor

Indian Navy Contemplating Brit Carrier?

You couldn't have missed the buzz in the British press about the UK receiving a firm "expression of interest" from India to purchase the UK's second (still under construction) super-carrier, the HMS Prince Of Wales, the second of the Queen Elizabeth-class 65,000-ton carriers. More on this soon, stay tuned.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Another Beauty Of The Dhruv At Leh

PHOTOS: The Indian Navy's First Women Aviators

Sub Lieutenant Seema Rani Sharma and Sub Lieutenant Ambica Hooda, the Indian Navy's first female aviators, with their Dornier-228, and receiving their wings from Rear Adm Sudhir Pillai, Flag Officer Naval Aviation. Here's to many more. Congratulations and Fairwinds!

Almost 3 Years After Invitation, Private Industry Still Not Part of Rustom UAV Programme

More than 2.5 years after the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE) first put out an invitation for Expression of Interest (EOI) by private industries to be the production agency cum development partner (PADP) in the Rustom medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV programme, the project is still commandeered by ADE alone. The last date for submission of the EOI letters was March 5, 2007. Sources say the Ministry of Defence is still evaluating the proposals, sent in by the Tatas, Godrej & Boyce, Larsen & Toubro Defence and a HAL-BEL consortium. What this basically means is that all the reasons for getting on board a PADP have been undermined already. First, here's a look at what ADE wanted a PADP for: to (a) reduce development time frame without sacrificing quality, (b) reduce TOT efforts and time, (c) start production immediately after development is complete, (d) start tooling and production-planning well in advance, (e) share development work with the PADP, and (f) PADP will be the nodal agency responsible for production and delivery of UAVs and related systems to the armed forces and provide product support during its life cycle.

Now here's a broad look at the PADP's official tasks once chosen: (a) production and delivery of UAVs, Spares, Ground Systems and Integrated Logistic Support (ILS) (all related support, handling and maintenance equipment), (b) initial integration and flight demonstration to users and operation support, (c) training of users on the product, (d) user documentation and related tasks, (e) PADP may also be tasked with Product Support, maintenance and servicing of the UAVs.

More importantly, sample this from the official EOI document: "In order to be prepared for the above, the PADP is required to participate throughout the development phase as the major Development Partner, take a major role in fabrication, assembly, integration and operation aspects and get to know on-line all the aspects of the UAV so that at the end of development, the agency is right away ready to launch production. Table 1 gives in brief, details of the proposed participation of PADP in development."

Let me now list out the "headers" under which the PADP was to have been involved before the flight-testing phase. I'll bullet these:
  • There should a few system engineers from the PADP who will participate as members of the Team throughout the development cycle of the project and also act as coordinators between ADE and PADP for all activities.
  • Sub-systems design
  • Mechanical engineering design of LRUs
  • Engineering Drawings, Electrical / Electronic Circuits & PCB Layouts
  • Fabrication & Testing of Airframe and mechanical Assemblies and Electronic LRUs
  • Carrying out ATP & Environmental Tests (SOF, ESS, QUAL & EMI / EMC)
  • System Integration and flight operations
  • Testing & Acceptance
  • Fabrication, Stage Inspections, Coupon Testing etc.
  • Procurement of Engines, materials, components, fasteners etc.

The programme doesn't have a moment to waste. According to the invitation for EOI document, the ADE is bound by a timeframe -- the production of the basic Rustom UAV with electro-optic and SIGINT payloads by July 2010, and full-scale delivery to commence by January 2012, followed by Mk-2 variants with a SAR capability.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

PHOTOS: Indian Aviation Contingent For Congo

PHOTOS: India's Corps of Engineers On Its 229th Anniversary

'Dhruvs Best In Their Class, No Question Of Returning Them' - Ecuador's Defence Minister

While providing testimony to an Assembly Committee on International Affairs analysing the Dhruv helicopter crash of October 27, Ecuador's Defence Minister Javier Ponce yesterday called the Dhruv the best choice for the country's air force, and ruled out returning the remaining helicopters to India as a consequence of the accident.

"There is no reason to return the machines. There was a very clear decision that this was the best choice and the best offer. The helicopters will be back to full operational status after Accident Investigation Board delivers its report on November 26," he said.

DHRUV CRASH UPDATE #9: Blackbox To Be Analysed By US Govt Dept

The blackbox of the Ecuadorian Dhruv helicopter that crashed on October 27 will be shipped to the US, where it will analysed by the Department for Aviation Safety, a part of the National Transportation Safety Board. The data will then be sent to HAL for a second analysis. The Accident Investigation Board has submitted a preliminary report to Ecuador's Defence Ministry, and will submit its final report by Jan-Feb 2010. Ecuador's government has apparently come under pressure to send the blackbox to a "neutral" agency in the US (ha!), instead of having it analysed first off by HAL, which in their view would constitute a conflict of interest.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

India's Rustom UAV Crashes During First Flight

Bad news. The first technology demonstrator of India's RUSTOM medium altitude long endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) programme crashed during its first test flight on Tuesday, November 16, at the Taneja Aerospace airfield near Hosur in Karnataka. Sources present at the test have told LiveFist that the Rustom took off and flew for a bit. One its return path, it crashed into a grove of coconut trees. The RUSTOM-1 was almost completely destroyed in the mishap. The DRDO statement issued today smacks of a muff-up. "The taxing and take-off was exactly as planned. Due to misjudgment of altitude of the flight, the on-board engine was switched off through ground command which made the on-board thrust developed to go to zero. There are a lot of gains from the flight," the DRDO statement says. Whenever anyone says there have been "gains", and even if it's true, you can bet your last buck that it's been a bad accident (see photo on the left ©The New Indian Express)

It goes on to add, "The flight proved the functioning of a number of systems such as aerodynamics, redundant flight control, engine, redundant data link etc which go a long way towards development of complex UAVs. A lot of planning and care have been taken and notification through relevant authorities were done in order to cater for safety aspects in addition to taking a third party insurance for the flights. It is the first flight of its kind using a 700 kg airframe & sophisticated controls & hence prone to development hazards." The photo to the left shows the late Professor Rustom Behram Damania (after whom the UAV programme is named) demonstrating the Light Canard Research Aircraft (LCRA) to then President KR Narayanan. Prof Damania pioneered the LCRA upon which the Rustom UAV is based, though he is better known for his work on the Hansa light composite trainer.

The crash is an undeniable blow to the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), which was in the midst of pioneering the Rustom, first displayed to the public at Aero India 2009 (see photo at top). Here's hoping the ADE team quickly finds out what went wrong and moves forward. This is a Rs 1,000-crore programme that we cannot afford to have delayed, as it indubitably now will be. Stay tuned for updates.

Photo ©Shiv Aroor

Monday, November 16, 2009

PHOTOS: Dhruv Flights Resume In Ecuador

These are the latest photos of Dhruv flights resuming in Ecuador. More shortly. Wanted to also let everyone know that I'm taking a vacation/break from work for a month starting November 18th, and will only have the time to update LiveFist occasionally during that period, though I will try to post as often as I possibly can. Just a heads up to let you know that I may not have access to a comp to blog as regularly as normal! Do bear with me. See you soon, though updates do continue here on LiveFist.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Artist's Impression Of Turkey's ALH Dhruv Air Ambulance

DRDO Develops New 84mm Lightweight Anti-Tank System

Developed by the Armament Research & Development Establishment (ARDE), Pune, new 84mm Lightweight Lancher (LWL) is a new recoilless manportable, shoulder-fired weapon for the infantry anti-armour profile. According to DRDO, the barrel of the weapon built using indigenously developed hybrid composites.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

AoA: Wake Up, HAL

In case you haven't noticed -- or haven't been keeping track of the Ecuadorian press (even if it's through Google's woefully ungrammatical translation tool) -- Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) has been made skillfully into a public opinion whipping boy representing everything that is supposedly wrong with Ecuador's controversial year-old policy changes that effectively made defence spending less transparent. With HAL maintaining a ridiculous silence, the ALH Dhruv helicopter crash of October 27 has inevitably become representative of issues that are intrinsically Ecuadorian and only may have anything to do with the purchase of Indian helicopters. The press in Ecuador isn't stupid. But like many parts of the press here in India, it doesn't have a highly nuanced approach to information either. And boy, if there's the tiniest inkling that there's resistance to either supply information, or more importantly, a complete apathy towards correcting falsehood, then even stuff that's iffy/motivated when it goes into print, becomes accepted as accurate/fair.

Sadly, that's precisely what has happened over the last two weeks in Ecuador. Disturbingly for HAL, a few points made early on in the Ecuadorian press, have come to be largely espoused in public view. Blogs, newspapers, opinion columns are all unanimously -- yes, without exception -- of the view that the government erred grievously by choosing a helicopter that was almost 30 per cent cheaper than its competitors from the US, Russia and Israel. The largely held view, now, is that the government shouldn't have been looking to save money in safety-critical equipment like military helicopters, implying that buying one of the more expensive contenders would have ensured a greater degree of technical product safety. The logic is sound, even though Ecuadorian journalists have meticulously chosen to ignore multiple inputs from the country's air force chief and other senior-ranking officials that the accident was most likely caused by an unfortunate combination of circumstance (height of the helicopter AGL) and pilot error. So what you have now is an overwhelming sense that the Ecuadorian government either paid less for a helicopter that did not meet critical requirements, and ended up demonstrating that -- a patent falsehood -- by diving into the ground on October 27. Like I said, things are frequently perceived to be black and white in such matters. A combination of journalistic laziness, fed indefatigably by vested interests and a deep inclination for non-nuanced stories causes this. And if you add to that a deafeningly silent "target" (in this case, HAL), you've got publicity hell on a platter.

As a result of HAL's inexplicable refusal to engage the press and at least demonstrate an intention to be open with information, problems that are indubitably Ecuador's own, are now manifested conveniently in an otherwise world-class helicopter. That's why the newspaper cartoon depicting Shiva with a Dhruv head is such a perfect representation of what people think. Worse still, for an incident that was almost definitely not linked to a technical failure, there is an over-arching linkage by the press that wholly unconnected perceived contractual slippages -- for example, the non-supply of certain oxygen equipment, though this was justified pre-signing by HAL and accepted by the Ecuadorian government -- somehow sent FAE-604 into that uncontrolled port-roll into the tarmac. You see what I mean. It's ridiculous, but then if the guys you're slinging irrational mud at just refuse to take your calls, or say their boss back home has issued a stringent gag order on all things Dhruv, alarm bells would go off in even the fairest journalist's mind. And it's not like the Ecuadorian government is helping. In the larger scheme of things, it looks like the Dhruv as a scapegoat serves them just fine, just as long as all the ire is on the helicopter, and not on the people who chose it.

And while the bloodbath continues in Ecuador, HAL's three-member expert team has returned to India. They don't have the CVR/FDR with them. So what happens now, nobody knows.

But the thing that really makes me want to pick up an axe and take a flight to Bangalore, is HAL's genuine belief that such matters are not suitable for public discussion. What else could explain continuing with shutting down a robust communications department right in the middle of the company's first truly international disaster. I spoke to a member of HAL's management -- he's an idiot, and I can't name him -- who was furious about the stuff I've been posting here on LiveFist regarding the Dhruv crash. His words: "Why are you interfering? These matters will be resolved. There is no problem."

Yeah. No problem at all, Sir. None whatsoever.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

HAL Spokesperson's Farewell Letter to HAL Employees

HAL spokesperson M Anantha Krishnan is out of the organisation after four years on the job. HAL employees received this farewell letter from him today:

Dear All,

Greetings to YOU.

They say all good things come to an end. Truly so, I am sitting down to write the final mail as the Chief of Media Communications and Official Spokesperson of HAL. I am sure, for many of YOU this mail will be a big surprise, for some it could be on the expected lines, and for others it will be just another mail.

November 10, 2009 is my last working day with HAL. I joined HAL on August 8, 2005 and would be completing four years and three months and three days, when I finally bid goodbye. Not many would know that I was on an annual contract and I was given a three months notice by HAL. My colleague in Delhi, Mr. Ashwin Raj, Media Affairs Co-ordinator, is signing-off today, November 9, 2009. Rest of the team members had left us last year after completing their contractual obligations and took up permanent jobs in newspapers.

Ashwin and I are getting out of HAL at a time when the job scenario outside is extremely bleak following recession and its fall-out. But then we didn’t have any choice. Ashwin & I had joined HAL from The Times of India, Bangalore. The one-to-one rapport I built with thousands of employees and officers across HAL and the love and support I received over the years for all our initiatives, especially Minsk Square Matters (MSM), is something that I will cherish for a lifetime. Sitting in one room in HAL Corporate Office, I could feel ‘Your’ pulse and aspirations and we tried our best to make the world know that here’s an HAL that’s propelled by people power and not just machine might.

I will miss your constant phone calls, emails, letters, SMSes – something that triggered my passion constantly. Like YOU, I will miss MSM. With ‘Your’ support, we brought up MSM like a child, and today when it has started walking and running, it’s creator in me has to bid goodbye. As Dr. Kalam wished, MSM found a special place in the heart and soul of YOU all. And despite all this, if YOU are still wondering why I have to leave, I request YOU to treat it as yet another unanswered mystery of our times. Be honest, straightforward and always speak out, if YOU are confident that YOU are right.

Thank YOU for a patient reading. Thank YOU for investing faith in Corporate Communications. Thank YOU for giving me an opportunity to serve YOU. I will miss YOU.
Best Wishes.
Anantha Krishnan M.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Photo: Defence Minister Antony In Japan

Ecuador's Dhruvs Cleared For Flight!

The Ecuadorian Air Force has cleared the Dhruv for resumption of flying operations. However, there will be no flying of the helicopter today, as there are some routine maintenance cycles to be gone through, but the chopper the grounding has been vacated, sources have confirmed to LiveFist. More shortly. The photograph is a new photo of the Dhruvs in their hangar awaiting their first flight since the October 27 crash.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Manu Bakshi, R.I.P.

It was with terrible, injuring sorrow that I received the news of the passing this morning of my colleague and dear friend, Manu Bakshi. A senior cameraperson with TV Today Network, the highlight of my time with Manu was when we were a team covering the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai last year. Deeply talented, disarmingly humble, industrious to the core and with a roaring sense of humour, it was my privilege to have worked with him on what was unquestionably any journalist's most challenging reporting assignment. In the nine days we spent sharing a hotel room and virtually every waking hour together at the Oberoi, Taj, Nariman House, I was lucky enough to forge an enduring and deep friendship with Manu. A friendship that only such circumstances could have made possible.

A week into our assignment in Mumbai, Manu and I were beating back days without rest with some drinks with friends in our hotel room. At the time, he said something that would have been a cliche if anyone else had said it. "Live each day like it's your last," he said. The next day, Manu was called upon by his boss to depart from the hotel the next morning and assist in the shoot of a talk-show with some celebrities in Mumbai, leaving me, effectively, without a partner cameraperson. At 6AM, he woke me up, hugged me and said, "Yaar, tereko miss karunga." And he was gone.

Manu will be missed more than I can possible express. He was ill, and didn't keep well towards the end. Today, Manu had a fatal brain haemorrhage. May whatever, or whoever it is he believed in, grant him peace for his onward journey. RIP.

I took the photo above of Manu on November 29, 2008 in a boat off the Macchlimarnagar area, where the terrorists had landed. We spent two hours shooting a simulated version of how the terrorists entered. He'd been reminding me ever since to mail him copies of this and a whole lot of other photographs I took of him during our assignment in Mumbai. To my now eternal regret, I never got round to doing so.

Rafale In Bangalore In September

Photos of the Rafale in September when it was conducting the initial leg of its field evaluation trials for the MMRCA FET phase. Nobody else got a look at pair of aircraft when they arrived. Valuably snapped by talented planespotter/photographer, Debarka.

Photos ©Copyright & Courtesy Debarka Banik

Friday, November 06, 2009

BAE Completes Indian Hawk AJT Deliveries

BAE Systems Statement: After completing a flight development contract for the Indian Air Force (IAF), BAE Systems has delivered the 24th and final UK built Indian Hawk. Following a 3,000 mile journey across Europe, Africa and the Middle East, the aircraft, flown by BAE Systems test pilots, arrived safely at Air Force Station Bidar to join the rest of the Hawk fleet in delivering fast jet training to the IAF.

The aircraft, HT001, which was actually the first IAF Hawk to be built, has, for nearly three years served as a flight test platform and proving ground for the integration of new systems and capabilities onto the IAF Hawk fleet . As well as development and acceptance flights, HT001 was also a key component in the programme which saw Indian Air Force flying instructors training to teach student pilots on the Hawk. This programme took place prior to the delivery of Hawks to India allowing the Indian training programme to start at the earliest opportunity.

Michael Christie, Senior Vice President, India for BAE Systems Military Air Solutions, said: “Hawk has brought a step change in pilot training capabilities for the IAF and this aircraft, which was the first India Hawk to be built, has been a key part of developing further capabilities for the Indian Air Force. “During its time here at BAE Systems, HT001 has proven to be extremely reliable, delivering excellent service from its time as a training platform for Indian Air Force instructors, through to the on-time and to budget completion of the recent flight development programme.

“The first Hawk was delivered to the IAF in November 2007 and other than this final development aircraft, deliveries were completed in 2008. Whilst this marks the completion of aircraft deliveries by BAE Systems to the Indian Air Force, we continue to provide support services to the IAF, and work closely with our industrial partners, HAL, in meeting the fast jet training needs of the Indian Air Force.” In arriving at Air Force Station Bidar, the home of the Indian Hawk fleet, HT001 the 860th Hawk delivered across the globe.

HAL In A Banana Boat

The photo on the left shows the HAL Ecuador team taking a ride on a banana boat at the Salinas Beach. This was taken about five months ago. The men were enjoying a well-deserved break from gruelling weeks overseeing the smooth induction of the ALH Dhruvs into Ecuadorian Air Force service. Little could they have known that HAL's management, sitting pretty in Bangalore, has now left them with little much else to do now. This photograph struck me as so typical of the situation right now. The men in the photograph, especially team leader R Narayanan (second from left) are the guys facing all the heat now.

Incidentally, it has emerged that a powerful "anti-Dhruv" lobby within HAL (yes, you read that correctly) is busy smacking its lips. Details shortly.

US Deputy Defence Secretary In India

I attended an evening press-briefing by this guy, Bill Lynn, yesterday. He's supposedly No.2 to Bob Gates. Pathetic waste of time. He had a ramrod US Colonel next to him, who wouldn't let him say a word.

Indian Paper On The Dhruv Cartoon

The New Indian Express has picked up the Ecuadorian newspaper Hoy's Dhruv cartoon I posted here two days ago.

©Copyright The New Indian Express

Thursday, November 05, 2009

DHRUV CRASH UPDATE #8: Ecuador Govt Meets Press, HAL Twiddles Thumbs

Ecuador's Defence Minister Javier Ponce and senior military authorities meet the press to discuss the Dhruv purchase. Juan Cortez, President of Sumila, which represents HAL in Ecuador, has announced legal action against entities casting aspersions on the Dhruv deal.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

DHRUV CRASH UPDATE #7: Indian Embassy Implores HAL To Counter Ecuador Press Reports, HAL Chairman Busy Shutting Down Communications Department

It doesn't get more ironic than this. The HAL team in Ecuador and India's Ambassador to Ecuador, have sent urgent word to HAL Headquarters in Bangalore that there needs to be an urgent and committed effort to engage the press in Ecuador and supply them with information and/or rejoinders regarding the free-for-all and sometimes inaccurate coverage that is sweeping the country's newspapers and television news stations over the October 27 ALH Dhruv crash. But here's the thumping and ironic clincher. Defence Ministry sources have revealed to LiveFist that HAL's full-fledged communications and press relations department in Bangalore, which was set up in 2006 as part of HAL's "opening up" effort, is being shut down. Poof. By the middle of this month, HAL will have no spokesperson, or any public relations staff whatsoever. HAL's fortnightly in-house newspaper Minsk Square Matters which is currently in its 85th issue, which debuted under former chairman Ashok Baweja, will no longer be produced, and nor will the organisation's magazine The Plane. So this explains why HAL has been constrained from issuing any statements about the crash, apart from the vague corporate statement three days after the crash.

A reminder communique sent by the Indian Embassy in Ecuador to its Headquarters in Bangalore today has pointed out that without clearance to release information/rejoinders, they cannot possibly engage the local press (as they are being constantly urged to do by Ambassador Bhojwani). With inquiries pouring in from local journalists to the HAL team in Ecuador for interviews and access to authentic information, and with their hands tied, the press has -- not unreasonably -- drawn the conclusion that HAL has something to hide. A worse situation, as far as perceptions are concerned, cannot be imagined.

DHRUV CRASH UPDATE #6: New Inquiry Team Ordered, CVR/FDR To Be Shipped To Bangalore

The Ecuadorian government has decided to formally constitute a new investigation board into the October 23 Dhruv crash. The new board will officially include the three-member expert team from HAL that landed in the country on October 31 -- up until now, they were providing outside consultancy and analysis to the first Board that was comprised only of Ecuadorian personnel. In the next one week, one or two Board members from the Ecuadorian side and one of the Board members from HAL will bring the Dhruv's flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder to Bangalore, where the data will be downloaded and analysed jointly. HAL has already made preparations to receive and analyse the data at Bangalore. An officer from the IAF's Aircraft & Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE) will also be roped in for the analysis.

Incidentally, according to the latest update I recieved today from my sources in Ecuador today, the HAL team had an opportunity to visit the crash site yesterday (November 1) and were also taken to inspect the crashed Dhruv. Apart from this, video footage and still photographs of the crash and the Dhruv were shared with the team.

The prima facie overview conducted by the HAL team over the last two days, incidentally, has virtually confirmed the Cyclic Saturation theory that I reported here two days ago. The three Dhruv were flying at 60-metres in a line-astern formation directly above the runway on October 27 during the military day parade. It had planned that the three-Dhruv formation would break to the left, with a three-second gap between them, after passing the parade to starboard. FAE-604, the ill-fated chopper, was in the middle position. After the lead helicopter had executed its turn, FAE-604 began its turn after the agreed gap of three seconds. During the turn, according to my sources, the middle Dhruv entered the wake of the lead helicopter, thereby effectively forcing it out of the turn. When the pilot of FAE-604 attempted to get his Dhruv back into position, he appears to have exerted excessive bank to left, rolling in at a very high rate. This is precisely what, in all likelihood, caused the right cyclic saturation. And the 60-metre flying height gave the pilots no time to recover.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS Part 3: How The Dhruvs Were Transported To Ecuador

The second photo shows pilots of the EscuadrĂ³n de Combate 2212 (2211th Combat Squadron), which operates the Dhruv at Guayaquil. The unit emblem is the Cobra, which is why the Dhruvs have cobras painted on their noses, with "Cobra" written in Devnagri script just above, as was first noticed during Aero India 2009. In the middle photo, the man on extreme right is Luis Armas, the pilot of the ill-fated Dhruv (thanks one of our anon commenters for pointing this out!).