Tuesday, March 30, 2010

FIRST PHOTOS! The Light Combat Helicopter In Flight!

Photos Courtesy Anantha Krishnan. M.

LCH First Flight: What It Must Have Been Like, Sort Of

While HAL clamps down on publicising the Light Combat Helicopter's first flight, I think we'll have to be satisfied with this for a while, until we get some real photos! Stay tuned.

Artist's Impression by Shiv Aroor

LCH's Hover-Cyclic Flight At 20-metres Successful

The first Technology Demonstrator (TD-1) of India's Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) conducted an extended hover and slow-speed cyclic manoeuver routine yesterday at a height of a little over 20 metres. Everything went beautifully. TD-1 is not weaponised, and will be put through its full flight routines without a single weapon on board. Yesterday's flight was a confidence-building one in the run up to a formal first flight. Sources say there will be several such "confidence building" flights in the run up to the inaugural first flight in April. Wing Commander Unni Pillai piloted the LCH flight yesterday.

Sources confirmed to LiveFist, "Everything went beautifully. It was not a rigorous test, just to get the platform airborne and see how she held up in the air. Everything went fine. A degree of weight issues have been sorted out, but there is still some work to be done. That will be sorted out with TD-2 and TD-3. Now the focus is to validate the design and ensure it is a perfectly capable flying machine, which we of course know it is."

HAL has decided not to put out photos of videos of the flight, though it was , of course, photographed and videographed. Let's see what can be done!

Monday, March 29, 2010

FLASH! India's Light Combat Helicopter Takes Off!

Just heard that HAL's Light Combat Helicopter flew today. No details, no photos just yet. All I've been told is that she flew today -- the information is confirmed. Let's hope some information flows out from HAL. They're keeping it darn quiet. My source says he knows nothing except that TD-1 flew today in Bangalore, and that the flight went well.

Helicopter PhotoArt ©Shiv Aroor

Project 15A Destroyer INS Chennai To Be Launched Thursday

INS Chennai, the third of the Project 15A Indian-designed and built guided missile destroyers will be launched this Thursday at the Mazagon docks in Mumbai. The Chennai follows the Kolkata and the Kochi, which was launched last year. I was born and went to school in good old Madras (I still haven't gotten round to calling it Chennai) -- it's still home in many ways. Nice to see they've named a big mean hunk of metal out of my city.

India's first indigenous purpose-built stealth frigate, INS Shivalik gets commissioned next month. That's going to be something major to watch out for.

Three Fast Attack Craft To Be Launched Today

Saw this ad today in the Express. Launch of FACs INS Kabra, Koswari and Karuva by GRSE today.

Sent using a Sony Ericsson mobile phone

First Five Super Hornets For Australia Delivered

The first five Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornets for Australia landed at Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Amberley on March 26. Australia is the Super Hornet's first international customer. The Super Hornets, piloted by RAAF aircrews, departed US Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, on March 18 and made scheduled stops in Hawaii, Pago Pago and New Zealand on the way to Amberley. Australia announced its intent to acquire 24 Super Hornets in March 2007. The remaining 19 aircraft will arrive in Australia throughout 2010 and 2011.

Photo ©Boeing

LiveFist Readers Want F-16 Out First!

Emotions? Specs? The PAF angle? Whatever. In the poll I had here, out of 845 votes polled, a whopping 59% thought the F-16IN Super Viper should be the first bird kicked from the MMRCA competition. Interesting. Only 41 voters wanted the Gripen yanked, making it the most popular craft in the competition on the blog. Of course, in an earlier poll, LiveFist readers decided that the Rafale should win the competition.

Photo: Me and Lockheed-Martin pilot Billy Flynn after our 9G sortie in a UAE Air Force F-16 Desert Falcon, Feb 2009, Yelahanka

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Prithvi-II, Dhanush Tested Successfully Today

Salvo mode firings of theatre ballisic missiles Prithvi-II and a ship-launched variant, Dhanush, were tested successfully at dawn today at India's missile testing site off the country's South-East coast. The Dhanush was fired first from INS Subadhra, followed a few minutes later by the Prithvi-II. The tests were conducted by the Strategic Forces Command. This was a totally user-conducted test, though DRDO chief VK Saraswat is understood to have been in attendance -- he is of course best known for his work with the Prithvi programme. The Agni-I is scheduled to be tested tomorrow.

See here for the previous Dhanush firing.

EXCLUSIVE: IAF Floats Tender For Six Amphibious Aircraft

I used to wonder why companies like Beriev were so regular at Indian air and defence shows, with bold displays of their Be-200. Obviously they were expecting this one. The Indian Air Force has floated a brand new tender this month for six amphibious aircraft for "search and rescue missions, inter-island communication, rapid response duties and reconnaissance of islands". The IAF has set down a preference for a twin turboprop craft with a range of at least 800-nm. The IAF has also said it wants an aircraft with a short take-off capability, a cruising speed of about 200 knots and state-of-the-art avionics and EW kit, including RWR/MAWS. The Bombardier 415 (photo) and the Be-200 appear to be among the very few purpose-built amphibians still being built.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Four MMRCA Contenders Fail Leh Trials!

It's the latest tidbit on India's $12-billion Medium Multirole Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition that's doing the rounds (and it was first reported by The Hindu on Tuesday). Four of the contenders that underwent cold-weather evaluation trials at Leh didn't meet performance requirements. OK, major understatement. Four of the contenders bit dust in Leh. Read that again: four aircraft. That's huge. It's still unclear which part of the Leh test the four aircraft types failed at, though it is quite clear that it was either the switch off/on after landing, or the take-off with meaningful combat load at that altitude. The only thing that appears true is that four aircraft failed the trial -- it is totally anyone's guess which these are. Any want to hazard a try?

Photo by Shiv Aroor at Laage AFB, Germany (Illustrative purposes only!)

Indian Scientists To Feature At First Israel Multinational BMD Conference

Scientists from India's ballistic missile defence (BMD) programme -- probably the youngest programme of its kind in the world -- will feature and present papers at the first ever Israel Multinational Ballistic Missile Defence Conference, organised by the Israel Missile Defense Association (IMDA) at Tel Aviv from May 5-6. The three papers to be presented are Non-Linear Sub-optimal Midcourse Guidance With Desired Alignment Using MPQC by Programme AD deputy project director Dr Abhijit Battacharyya, Strategy for Missile Weapon System Flight Test, Evaluation and Demonstration Planning by Parveen Kumar from DRDO's Directorate of Missiles and Integrated Estimation Guidance and Control for Engaging Ballistic Targets by Prasiddha Nath Dwivedi a missile scientist with DRDO's Research Centre-Imarat (RCI). The conference, the first of its kind, will feature speakers from the American BMD programme as well.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Arjun In Present Form Can Never Be Our MBT, 2 More Regiments Possible"

I don't think any results of trials have been as closely guarded as the ones of the Arjun tank in the Thar desert straddling this month and the last, and which ended a little over a week ago. And while the trial team's report will only be submitted in the first week of next month, I had a candid chat with an Army officer who was part of one of the trial teams, and I have to admit he's the first Army tankman I've spoken to so far who's admitted that the Army is as much to blame for the Arjun's "situation" (his word) as DRDO. I can't go into everything he said, because he's requested me not to get into the details until the trial report is in, but here's a gist of what he thinks. Remember, these's aren't facts, but a considered assessment of an officer who was part of the latest trial exercise. A lot of what he said was obvious -- stuff that's been guessed at for years, so I'll put what he said on the table -- make what you will of it. Here's a list of some of the things he shared with me:
  • "The Arjun performed all its objectives to the full satisfaction of the trial team. I should point out that there was little doubt in our minds at this stage that any major issues would crop up in the platform. The Arjun has reached a level of maturity after several trial rounds, so we were quite confident that we would not encounter any developmental or serious technological issues."
  • "In its current form and configuration, I think the Army has already made it very clear that the Arjun cannot be the mainstay of the armoured corps. There are several reasons for this, including some intangibles which everyone is aware of, but to be fair to the Army, there is logic to the argument that the Arjun belongs to a certain design and configuration philosophy that the Army does not want in its future tank. These trials have given deep perspective into where the Arjun fits in our battle order."
  • "Although it is not definite at this stage, and may change in the course of the days ahead, several key decision-makers in the Army have in-principle agreed to the suggestion that the Arjun in its present form can occupy four tank regiments. But there is resistance to this idea from the field. The just concluded trials could support the possibility of a total of four Arjun regiments focused on desert operations."
  • "The Army should share the blame also for not expediting its requirements for a future main battle tank (FMBT). There have been internal studies for years, but to this day, there is no definite picture of what our FMBT should have, look like or be capable of. So when the people at DRDO blame us for indecision and mid-stream QR changes, they do seem to have a case. As they did with Arjun."
  • "The Army is quite clear. We need to close one chapter and begin another. Call it Mark-2, call it something else. But things need to move forward. It is unhealthy how things have progressed, though I can say in the last three years there appears to be a much greater empathy between the Army and DRDO about how to take things forward. Let's hope it continues."
  • "Admittedly, the trials may not go a long way in resurrecting Arjun as some quarters have been led to believe, but it has been a healthy exercise and the Army is in a strong position now to use the Arjun to the best of its abilities. The tank has been given its due."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Indian Coastguard Vessel Rammed, Sinks

Absolute and utter disaster. An Indian CoastGuard vessel, ICGS Vivek sank like a stone this afternoon minutes after being rammed by a Panamanian merchant vessel, MV Global Purity. The Vivek, a 1220-ton offshore patrol vessel that performed brilliantly with her crew during tsunami relief operations in 2004-05, had been docked at the Mumbai Port Trust's Indira dock for a major refit by private firm Krasny Marine Services. While entering the dock, possibly as a result of navigational error, the merchant vessel tore into the patrol craft, ripping a huge gash in its hull. The ingress of water quickly pulled the ship down as hapless harbour personnel watched in horror. The ship is a little over 20 years old and this was its first major refit. Investigations are on. Wait for heads to seriously roll.

The Vivek was a tough boat, that had almost consistent deployment on rescue and relief work and received a unit commendation in 2004. Following the tsunami in December 2004, the ship acquitted itself with distinction, earning its crew multiple decorations for meritorious service.

Photos from CoastGuard Archives

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Naval BrahMos Fired With Supersonic Manoeuver, Bang On Target

Just got off the phone with BrahMos CEO Dr A Sivathanu Pillai, delighted with the 11.30AM test of the Naval BrahMos supersonic cruise missile in a vertical launch from the Indian Navy destroyer INS Ranvir. Dr Pillai reveals the test was specifically aimed at testing the missile's accuracy when its flight path was infused with "diversionary manoueuvers" to mask the general direction of the launcher warship. The missile, vertically launched from a Vertical Launcher built for the BrahMos, was rolled in all directions successfully before before it smashed into the hull of INS Meen a decommissioned target vessel. Photos of actual launch will be posted shortly. Stay tuned.

Archival Photo of BrahMos Launch From Naval Warship

EXCLUSIVE: India's Deepak Basic Trainers To Get Ballistic Recovery System

Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) wants to give its troubled HPT-32 Deepak basic propeller trainer aircraft a ballistic recovery system (BRS) -- a capability that principally involves a heavy-duty parachute that deploys during an emergency (spins, stalls, etc) and lowers the entire aircraft to the ground with the intention of saving the lives of the crew and limiting mechanical damage to the plane. HAL has received clearance from the Indian Air Force to fit approximately 120 HPT-32s in service -- but grounded since August 2009 after a fatal crash -- with a BRS developed specifically for the aircraft type. HAL has floated a tender for the system, and is understood to have already begun discussions with American firm BRS Aerospace, which appears to have pioneered the technology for several light aircraft including the Cirrus series and the light Cessnas.

HAL's tender stipulates that the BRS should be able to recover the HPT-32 in an emergency situation during any phase of its flight envelope including aerobatics. And on deploying, the system should be capable of lowering the aircraft with a rate of descent at touch down not exceeding 8.5 m/sec, and of course, without causing any injury to the crew. The minimum height of deployment for safe recovery of the aircraft has been put at 100-metres AGL or less.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Diagrams Of The Light Combat Helicopter Cockpit

Indian Army Scouts For New Heavy Machine Gun

Along with active tenders for virtually the entire gamut of infantry weapons, here's the latest. The Indian Army has just sent out requests for information (RFIs) on a potential new Heavy Machine Gun (HMG) for its forces -- 12.7mm x 99mm with a minimum effective range of not less than 2,000-metres. According to the RFI, the weapon should have the capability to be used from a Light Strike Vehicle/Infantry Fighting Vehicle and in a ground role while mounted on vehicle and tripod respectively. It continues: The weapon should be easy to carry by the three men crew in dismantled condition and be assembled with ease while being used in the ground role. The weapon should be robust enough to withstand rough usage and simple to maintain in operational conditions normally encountered in India including high altitude areas, jungles and desert. The gun should of course be capable of firing High Explosive Incendiary (HEI), Armour Piercing High Explosive (APHE), Armour Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS), Target Practice (TP) and corresponding tracer ammo.

The specs put out are in fact almost identical to the superb Browning M2HB HMG already in service with the Indian Army, and which the new guns will replace. The other 12.7mm vehicle-mounted HMG in service with India is the Russian NSV 12.7mm HMG. RFIs for a new HMG have been sent to agencies that include Rosoboronexport for the Degtyarev Kord 12.7mm HMG, General Dynamics for the still in-development M806 HMG and also the Browning M2E50 (a modernised variant of the venerable M2).

Photo by Shiv Aroor (Off the coast of Mullaitivu, Sri Lanka)

After Failure, AAD Interceptor Re-Test In June

India's endo-atmospheric interceptor missile, the Advanced Air Defence (AAD) weapon will be tested in a week-long window in the first half of June, according to sources. Data from the Integrated Test Range (ITR) is still being analysed by scientists from the programme. A serious malfunction of onboard flight control systems is likely to have caused the modified Prithvi to dive out of the sky and smash into the Bay of Bengal without attaining its programmed altitude before curving back for an interception. Scientists say they've figured out what went wrong and have corrected it. Let's hope so.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Indian Navy Deploys INS Nirdeshak To Mauritius For Hydrographic Survey

Photo Courtesy Indian Navy

EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS: Gripen Demo Continues Testing In Sweden

Photos taken during a March 12 test-flight of the Gripen NG demo airplane. Since there's been so much interest about why the Demo hasn't been able to come to India for the MMRCA flight evaluation trials (FETs), here's why -- it's stuck with its own schedule in Sweden.

Photos by Stefan Kalm (Saab)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Arjun Meets Performance Objectives", Team Waits For Army's Report

The indigenous Arjun main battle tank (MBT) has "met all performance objectives" at the recent month-long trials in Rajasthan, according to sources who witnessed them. The Army's trial is expected to submit its report and findings latest by the end of this month. Despite what the Defence Ministry seems to be putting out, DRDO is confident that the game isn't over -- that the Army may still be prevailed upon to place an order for at least 176 more tanks. Watch this space.

Photo ©Sandeep Unnithan

Monday, March 15, 2010

"Enemy" Prithvi Failed, Interceptor Smartly Self-Aborted, Says DRDO

Here's the statement from DRDO about today's abortive AAD test: The flight test under Programme AD was planned to be conducted on 15 Mar 2010 to demonstrate the interception of Tactical Ballistic Missile in endo-atmospheric region. As part of the mission, a target missile mimicking the incoming ballistic missile in terms of altitude and speed, was launched from ITR, Chandipur on 15 Mar 2010 at around 1010 hrs.

The target missile took off in normal way; at T+20 sec (approx) the target deviated due to some onboard system malfunction and could not maintain the intended trajectory, failing to attain the desired altitude profile. The Mission Control Centre computer found that the interception is not warranted as the deviated target did not present the incoming missile threat scenario and accordingly the system intelligently did not allow take-off of the interceptor missile for engaging the target. The cause of the target malfunction is being investigated by analysis of tele-metered data.

BEAUTIES: 3D Art Of The LCA Tejas

3D Art By, Courtesy & ©Pavel Romsy

AAD Test Aborted, Could Happen On/Before Wednesday

A scheduled test of India's Advanced Air Defence (AAD) endo-atmospheric ballistic missile interceptor was aborted today following what sources have called "coordination and launch sequence issues". The test has a window between March 10-17 to complete the test -- the third for the endo-atmospheric interceptor. The system -- demonstrated twice already with a remarkable degree of accuracy -- is part of India's two-tier ballistic missile defence (BMD) system, coupled with the Pradyumna Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) exo-atmospheric interceptor missile. Will post another update when I hear more about the AAD test. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Indian Army Scouts For Medium Range Loitering Missile

The Indian Army has said it is interested in procuring unspecified numbers of a new medium range Loitering Missile (LM) system, and has sent out Requests for Information to firms in Israel (IAI Malat), France (MBDA) and the US (Raytheon). A glance through the RFI shows the Army is interested in a system with capabilities that include top-attack and the ability to abort an attack after target lock (and re-designate). The Army wants a system where the launcher can be mounted on a Tatra truck. More soon.

Photo of MBDA's Fire Shadow LM demonstrator

PHOTOS: Indian Veterans Continue To Bleed

At the One-Rank One-Pension veterans protest rally in Delhi today. A memorandum in the blood of our retired soldiers. Shame.

Here's What India's New VVIP Choppers Will Look Like

Image ©AgustaWestland