Thursday, September 30, 2010

Eurojet Reacts To Defeat, Says Decision Means Tejas Won't Get Best Engine [UPDATED]

Eurojet Gmbh has accepted defeat in the Tejas Mk-II engine competition. Just received this statement from the company:

"We respect the decision taken by the Price Negotiating Committee. However, we regret that the Committee has decided against the most capable & latest generation engine on offer for the LCA-Tejas. Together with our consortium partner companies and their respective governments we will carefully study the decision and its implications. We expect further details from Indian authorities and more information about the process leading to the announced selection. This decision does not affect our strong commitment to India. We will continue to explore true and trusted partnerships here which will support the development of a strong Indian aerospace and defence industry."

[UPDATE@22.25 IST] The GE F414 turbofan is understood to have been found more price competitive when several other costs were added to the fixed commercial proposals put forward by GE and Eurojet. The other costs included custom modification of the engine, ground and flight-testing and certification of the modified engine and, crucially, technology transfer elements such as jigs, assemblies etc. The deal, worth approximately $800-million, is for 99 engines, with options for 100 more. GE hasn't reacted to the news just yet, but are likely to make a statement shortly. No official word from Boeing or Gripen, though folks at the Indian offices of both firms are appropriately delighted.

THIS IS HUGE: GE F414 Engine Lowest Bidder To Power Tejas MK-II [UPDATED]

Huge news, and it's official. The DRDO/ADA announced earlier today in a statement that the GE F414 engine has been identified as the lowest bidder in the race against the Eurojet EJ200, to power the LCA Tejas Mk-II. This turns things completely around. In recent weeks, there had been a spate of source-based reports suggesting that the EJ200 had the more competitive tender, though there had been no confirmation.

But now, a formal statement from DRDO! Here it is in full:

The Price Negotiating Committee for the Alternate Engine for LCA Mk-2 has finalised the Comparative Statement of Tenders. The committee had its representations from Ministry of Defence, Defence Finance, ADA, DRDO, HAL, Indian Air Force, and Indian Navy. After evaluation and acceptance of the Technical offer provided by both Eurojet and GE Aviation, the commercial quotes were compared in detail and GE Aviation was declared as the lowest bidder. Further price negotiations and contract finalization will follow.

This is huge. The Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) says it will now proceed with price negotiations. Several questions. The general buzz about Eurojet putting forward a more competitive commercial offer was pretty much an open secret. Even the figures that had been quoted in some reports (first in this one by Ajai Shukla) appeared to be accurate, at least according to a couple of reliable sources. Either way, I was also informed by the same sources that nothing was final, both engines seemed equally compliant in every respect, and that the evaluations of the tender proposals were still very much on. So what happened then?

MMRCA implications shouting loud: a body blow to Eurofighter. And a resounding boost for the Boeing F/A-18 and Saab Gripen IN! Eurojet is expected to make an official statement shortly. Stay tuned for details.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Livefist QUIZ #4 | What's this?

Easy one! Promise to to try some much tougher ones ahead. Meanwhile, coming up tomorrow, a post on the MMRCA discussions in Washington during Indian Defence Minister AK Antony's visit.

Livefist QUIZ #3 | Name what's circled and the aircraft

More Junk For The Indian Navy, To Get 2 Used American Minehunters [UPDATED]

Looks like the Indian government can't get enough of treating its Navy like a junkyard for defunct American vessels. Wire reports say the the US Senate has cleared the transfer of two decommissioned Osprey-class minehunters to the Indian Navy, both decommissioned from service in the US Navy in 2007. Oh well, so we'll see another audit report a couple of years from now about how we paid too much for scrap.

[CORRECTION/UPDATE]: The Indian Navy just got in touch to say that the wire reports yesterday were not fully accurate. The US Senate has cleared the sale of the two minehunters to a list of countries that include India. What follows will be a bidding process, and the Indian Navy may or may not bid -- it is still to make an assessment.

Photo of the Osprey-class Minehunter Pelican

Livefist QUIZ #2 | Name the item circled and the aircraft

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Livefist QUIZ #1 | What is this?

Inspired by Ajai Shukla's very interesting quiz posts on his blog, I'll be periodically posting photos here on Livefist and inviting readers to identify what they are. Starting the series with this pretty easy one. Promise to make it tougher as we go along!

What Are They Telling Antony In America?

Monday, September 27, 2010

PHOTOS: Indian Navy Warships Off Good Hope

From Top: Delhi-class destroyer INS Mysore, Talwar-class frigate INS Tabar, Godavari-class frigate INS Ganga and fleet replenishment tanker INS Aditya.

Photos Courtesy SA Navy

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Former IAF Western Commander Wins US Environment Award

Air Marshal Avdesh Kumar Singh, former C-in-C of the Indian Air Force's sword arm Western Air Command has been awarded the prestigious US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Montreal Protocol Award "in recognition of outstanding contributions to ozone layer, climate and human health protection". The ceremony was on September 23 in Washington.

Air Marshal Singh is a UNEP Special Resource Person on Environment, Director of Environment and the Armed Forces Project at the Centre for Air Power Studies in New-Delhi. He does pioneering work in ozone layer protection and has been one of the IAF's most accomplished Jaguar pilots as well.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Contract Signed For IAF HPT-32 Parachute Recovery System, First Mil Deal For US Firm

I'd reported here in March about HAL's plans to give the Indian Air Force's fleet of HPT-32 basic trainer aircraft parachute recovery systems. The fast-track tender was contracted today to BRS Aerospace, possibly the only company that bid. Excerpts from what the American firm put out today:

BRS Aerospace of South St. Paul, manufacturer of whole-airplane parachutes, announced it has been contracted to integrate and help certify its parachute recovery systems for the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) HPT-32 basic training aircraft used by the Indian Air Force.

Frank Hoffmann, BRS Aerospace VP of Engineering, will travel to India immediately with a team of engineers to begin the process of adding the ballistic recovery system to the HPT-32 aircraft. "I anticipate being able to have a design ready this Fall," he says. Once BRS has completed their installation design, Hoffmann will work closely with HAL, the aircraft's manufacturer, and the Indian Air Force, to test and certify the customized whole-airframe parachute system. "The whole program is expected to be completed in a very short period of time," Hoffmann adds.

BRS Aerospace claims that its recovery systems have saved the lives of more than 255 people.

"This is a very significant milestone for not only BRS but for aviation safety as well," said Boris Popov, BRS founder and current VP of Public Affairs. "While BRS products have been successfully introduced into the civilian aviation markets for years, this is the first usage of the BRS system for the military trainer aircraft market..."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

PHOTOS: IAF Super Herc Begins Engine Runs, First Flight Next Month

The first C-130J for India ran engines for the first time yesterday, with its maiden flight scheduled for early next month. That's the aircraft's distinctive air-to-air refueling probe over the left side of the cockpit.

Photos Courtesy Lockheed-Martin

BOOK: 'The Eye Of The Predator' Released

Congratulations to my friend and colleague Abhisar Sharma of Aaj Tak on the release of his first book The Eye Of The Predator, a fictionalised account of how American Predator drones finally managed to kill Tehreek-e-Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud. All the very best to Abhisar, who is already working on his next book. A tiny sidenote: Abhisar has been kind enough to acknowledge me in his book for "explaining in simple terms how a drone works". :) Here's the video promo of his book:

The book can be ordered online here.

Monday, September 20, 2010

BUZZ: Eurojet Throttles Up For Tejas? [And Therefore, MMRCA?]

There's a lot of buzz over the Tejas Mk-II engine competition, with a flurry of reports suggesting that the Eurojet EJ200 is positioned to win the deal, and not close competitor General Electric with its F-414-400. The connection between the Tejas Mk-2 engine and the MMRCA is inevitable, so first, let's get a couple of things out of the way as far as the Mk-2 question is concerned.

Both the F-414 and EJ200 were equally compliant with the qualitative requirements of the Indian Air Force. Second, despite what either of the companies has said, there's a good deal of modification that both engines will require for integration with the Tejas -- both engines are dimensionally different too, with one short and stubby and the other longer and more slender.

Both engine makers promise that they can modify their engines for the Tejas and complete certification in two years or less from the time of contract signing. For example, when I visited Eurojet headquarters near Munich in January, the company's managing director Hartmut Tenter said, "There will be some changes to the mounting assembly, a different hydraulic pump and an additional generator pack. In addition, engine interfaces might' need changes depending on how the LCA is configured. But we are confident of having a fully certified engine ready in less than two years."

Both engine houses have been known to claim that the Tejas airframe will require no airframe changes for the new engine. Untrue. The Indian Air Force and HAL have both confirmed that the selection of either of the two engines will mean minor -- but not negligible -- changes to intake architecture, aft fuselage and engine interface structures on the Tejas airframe. How long that will take is a good question.

According to sources, GE's pitch -- technology and offsets aside -- has been underscored by the experience of the F-404, variants of which currently power the Tejas Mk-1. The company has also thought of the F-414 for the Tejas well before it was officially decided that a new engine would power the Mk-2. Eurojet, on the other hand, has pitched the EJ200 with the very tempting notion of a dedicated EJ200 global production line in India, along with true qualitative technology transfer, that will include single crystal technology to HAL and GTRE.

But none of this may actually matter now, since both engines have performed well and met all or at least most requirements, and have an approximately equal level of compliance.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Comic Book On Rafale's Afghanistan Deployment

I don't read French and was hoping for an English facsimile version, but I've still ordered this comic-book on the Dassault Rafale in Afghanistan.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Luftwaffe Grounds Eurofighter

The German Air Force has grounded its entire fleet of Eurofighter Typhoon fighters following the detection of glitches in the ejection seat, which, it turns out, cannot guarantee safe operation under certain conditions. Flying operations were suspended on September 15. Among the grounded aircraft will be the ones I photographed conducting training flights (see above) at the Luftwaffe's 73 Fighter Wing at Rostock-Laage airfield near Germany's Baltic coast in February. The grounding is reportedly connected with the August crash in which a Saudi pilot was killed in Spain.

The grounding comes just hours before EADS, the company that owns a controlling stake in the Eurofighter consortium, rebranded its defence business (EADS Defence & Security) as CASSIDIAN.

Photo by Shiv Aroor

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

PHOTOS: Exercise IBSAMAR 2010

From top: South African Naval Lynx landing on INS Mysore | Exchange of VBSS best pracices - South African Sailors onboard IN Ship | INS Aditya alongwith SAS Amatola and BNS Niteroi

Photos Courtesy Indian Navy

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

AFSPA Or Nothing, Says Chairman Chiefs Of Staff

Indian Air Force chief & Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee PV Naik laid it pretty plain on the churning issue of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Met him today at the IAF's AFNET inuguration event, where he said, "If a soldier is to be potent and effective in a counter-insurgency theatre, he must have have all the legal protection he can get." The government is expected to take a call on a controversial dilution of the AFSPA for parts of Jammu & Kashmir. The armed forces are deeply troubled, once again, about the possibility of an operational facilitator, albeit a contentious one, being sacrificed at the altar of political considerations.

In the newsroom, we're constantly bombarded with opinion about the subject. Be great to know what everyone thinks -- should the AFSPA be withdrawn or diluted in parts of Jammu & Kashmir?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

PTI: India's Joint Nuclear Command Wants 40 Nuclear Strike Jets

A befuddling report on the wires. The Press Trust of India, reports that India's joint nuclear command -- the Strategic Forces Command -- is looking to procure 40 fighters for two dedicated strategic strike squadrons. The report indicates that while the Indian Air Force's Mirage-2000s, Jaguars and Su-30MKIs have so far been earmarked for the nuclear strike profile, the SFC wants two squadrons of its own. The report says nothing more. The Ministry of Defence has not commented on the report.

If this report is accurate -- and there are no official indications so far that it is -- the obvious questions would be: (a) Why does the SFC need its own fighters -- why can't it continue to depend on available IAF assets? (b) Why the need to ramp up the air-delivered leg of the nuclear triad when Indian doctrine points to more substantive deterrence from strategic land-based missiles and an SSBN fleet, and far less on air-delivered deterrence? (c) Why does a nuclear strike fleet need as many as 40 aircraft? (d) Does India have the kind of stand-off nuclear weapon capability to justify such a fresh induction of assets? (e) If the SFC were to get its own "mini air force", would these still be operated by the IAF? (f) In which case, what difference would it make?

A totally separate but tantalizing coincidence -- in June, Dassault offered the IAF a fast-track sale of 40 Rafales to shore up squadron strength ahead of the MMRCA induction. The Rafale is also the only aircraft explicitly described in its bid document as a nuclear capable strike fighter. Answers to those questions above and more details later this evening.

Jaguar Photo Courtesy IAF

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Russian Air Force Chief Inquires About MiG-35 Biting Dust In MMRCA

Russian Air Force chief Colonel-General Alexander Zelin, who was in India last week on a five day official visit, is understood to have asked his Indian counterpart, Air Chief Marshal PV Naik, on a personal level about reports, many of these in Russia, that the MiG-35 was out of contention in India's MMRCA fighter competition. Air Chief Naik is said to have assured the Russian general that there had been no eliminations in the competition so far, and that there was no question of the MiG-35 being "eliminated" at this stage. The Russian general is understood to have conveyed that he was concerned about the reports since it showed that there was a concerted negative campaign to oust the MiG-35 from the competition. The general was assured that the trial team from RAC-MiG had been given an extensive brief on their aircraft's performance in the field evaluation trials, and that there was no question of opacity in the matter.

The visiting General made stops at Jodhpur, Begumpet and Bidar.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Indian Regional Transport Aircraft, Turbofan Variant Gets A Makeover

India's National Civil Aircraft Development (NCAD) design bureau, under the National Aerospace Laboratory, had initially projected two variants of its Regional Transport Aircraft (RTA) with massive (95%) commonality in fuselage, empennage and wing design -- something that befuddled many. The new picture above shows the base turboprop concept as it always has been, but the turbofan variant is all-new -- low wing, no T-tail for starters. There goes NAL's ludicrously optimistic dream of 95% commonality of airframe and non-engine systems between both variants. Compare with the variants here.

Finally, The Indo-Russian Multirole Transport Aircraft JV

India and Russia have finally agreed on the workshare and shareholders agreement for a joint venture company that will develop and build the Multirole Transport Aircraft, based on the Ilyushin-214 concept. The Joint Venture Company (JVC) is being established with its headquarters at Bangalore, India to execute the MTA project in which HAL and Russian participants will have equal shareholding.

A Defence Ministry statement this morning said, "A Joint Venture will now be formed between Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and the Russian Partners namely United Aircraft Corporation & Rosoboronexport to co-develop and co-produce Multirole Transport Aircraft (MTA)."

The MTA is to be a 15-20 tonne payload capacity aircraft for the Indian and Russian air forces. The main features of MTA are: maximum take-off weight 65 tonnes, payload capacity 15-20-tons, cruise speed 800-km/h, range 2500-2700-km, service ceiling 12-km. The aircraft will have two engines, state of the art features such as fly-by-wire, full authority digital engine control, modern avionics and glass cockpit.

The total development cost is expected to be approximately $600.70-million (approx Rs 2,900-crore) to be equally shared by both the sides. The initial plan is to manufacture 205 aircraft.

MTA Photo By Shiv Aroor, More here

Thursday, September 09, 2010

EXCLUSIVE: Inside The IAI-HAL Naval Rotory UAV

Just got this nifty little see-through picture that provides a vague sort of glimpse into what's been done to the Chetak/Alouette-III by IAI Malat to convert it into an unmanned platform for the Indian Navy. There are two prototypes known to be flying in Israel now.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

IAF's AFNET NCW Backbone Goes Live Next Week

Just received this statement from the Indian Air Force: Next week, the Indian Air Force (IAF) ushers in a modern, state-of-the-art digital information grid by dedicating the Air Force Network (AFNET), a fully secure and reliable network to the nation, making it a true net-centric combat force. The AFNET replaces the IAF’s old communication network set-up using the tropo-scatter technology of the 1950s.

The IAF project is part of the overall mission to network all three services. The mission comes in the backdrop of an IT Roadmap document of the Defence Ministry stipulating automation, simulated training and mandatory computer proficiency in the services.

The IAF has taken up a mandate to create and maintain an assured, dedicated, secure and inter-operable communication network along with associated services to provide real time, instantaneous transfer of information between Sensors, Command and Control (C2) centres and Shooters. In addition, IAF aspires to use communication network and IT-enabled infrastructure for all other operational, techno-logistics and administrative functions to leverage development in this field to enhance efficiency, cost-effectiveness and ease of administration.

While all three services are engaged in large scale automation and computer-based networking, the IAF is the first among the three to complete the project of interlinking major installations throughout the country on a high bandwidth network.

All major formations and static establishments have been linked through a secure Wide Area Network (WAN) and are accessible through data communication lines. The nationwide programme was launched by the IAF in collaboration with the private industry to accelerate the use of Information Technology (IT) as well as to link all field units using a dedicated satellite.

AFNET incorporates the latest traffic transportation technology in form of IP (Internet Protocol) packets over the network using Multi Protocol Label Switching (MPLS). A large VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) layer with stringent quality of service enforcement will facilitate robust, high quality voice, video and conferencing solutions.
Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS), an automated command and control system for Air Defence (AD) operations will ride the AFNET backbone integrating all ground-based and airborne sensors, AD weapon systems and C2 nodes. Subsequent integration with other services networks and civil radars will provide an integrated Air Situation Picture to operators to carry out AD role.
AFNET will prove to be an effective force multiplier for intelligence analysis, mission planning and control, post-mission feedback and related activities like maintenance, logistics and administration. A comprehensive design with multi-layer security precautions for “Defence in Depth” have been planned by incorporating encryption technologies, Intrusion Prevention Systems to ensure the resistance of the IT system against information manipulation and eavesdropping.

Indian Navy Floats Tender For Six New Conventional Attack Submarines

The Indian Navy has floated a tender to acquire six new conventional attack submarines as part of Project 75(I), the submarine line that will run parallel to the Scorpene line in Mumbai. The RFI (see below) has been sent to shipbuilders that are believed to include Russia's Rubin for the Amur 1650, Fincantieri for the S1000, Navantia for the S-80 and HDW for the Class-214.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Indian Navy Destroyer In Anti-Piracy Action On Sept 5

Indian Navy Statement: On 05 Sept, while on anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden, Indian Navy destroyer INS Delhi successfully neutralised a pirate boat while escorting merchant vessels. INS Delhi deployed in the Gulf of Aden since mid-July 2010 was escorting 12 merchant vessels including Jag Ratan, an Indian Flag merchant vessel. At about 1215h on 05 Sept in a position 180-km north of the Somali Coast, in the International Recommended Transit Corridor, a boat was detected approaching the formation at high speed. INS Delhi immediately and repeatedly called the boat on Mercantile Marine Radio but the boat failed to respond to these calls. Sensing that the boat may pose a risk to ships being escorted, INS Delhi safely maneuvered the formation of merchant ships away and intercepted the boat. A helicopter was launched to provide aerial cover to the merchant vessels and the boat "Bareeda" was successfully intercepted, forced to stop and boarded by a team of Marine Commandos from INS Delhi. On investigation a cache of arms and several fuel drums and ship boarding equipment were found. There were 07 Somali and 01 Yemeni national as part of the crew. The men were disarmed and excess fuel on the boat was disposed off by the boarding team.

Since the Indian Navy started it's anti-piracy operations in Oct 2008, over 1,200 ships have been escorted. This is the 16th piracy attack that has been prevented and not a single ship under escort of Indian Navy has fallen prey to pirates.

Photos Courtesy Indian Navy

FIRST LOOK: India's Long-Range Cruise Missile Programme

The image above is the first impression of India's little known Long-Range Cruise Missile (LRCM). The question now arises -- is this the same as the Nirbhay, India's sub-sonic long-range cruise missile programme? This is still tantalizingly unclear. Why? Well, the Nirbhay has been confirmed by the DRDO on several occasions to be based on a subsonic cruise vehicle. On the other hand, the LRCM depicted above is from a slide (see below) in a 2009 DRDO presentation. That particular slide deals specifically with liquid-fuel ramjet technology. Nowhere in the slide is the missile above referred to as Nirbhay, but as LRCM only.
Look at the slide. Here's where it gets interesting. Under the "missions" head on the slide, it says the LRCM is a "super-sonic cruise missile - long range", with surface-to-surface and air-to-surface applications. An illustration on the slide indicates that the missile is being developed with a range of at least 600-km at 3.2 Mach.

Even more interestingly, the slide provides scehamatics that indicates the development plan of the LRCM in a fair amount of detail. According to the schematics, under India's 11th Five-Year Plan (2007-2012), DRDO will complete the development of airframe integrated air intakes (see image) and controllers. These will be completed before 2012. The schematics also indicate that the engine development and engine test facilities are well underway under the 11th Plan, but will be complete under the 12th Plan, i.e, between 2012-2017. The schematics indicate that the DRDO aims for a first test firing of the Indian LRCM by 2013-14.

Apart from the airframe integrated intakes, critical technologies currently under development for the weapon system include variable nozzle system, air cooled combustor and fuel flow control system, all earmarked for the 11th Plan.

I asked a senior DRDO missile scientist on Sunday if the LRCM was the same as the Nirbhay, which sports an unofficial range of 1,000-km. He said the Nirbhay was definitely subsonic, and that the only long-range cruise missile programme in India currently was the Nirbhay.

The only supersonic cruise missile officially acknowledged to be under development right now by India is the BrahMos-2 hypersonic cruise missile, which has a stated range of 300-km. If the LRCM and Nirbhay are two separate, distinct programmes, then the former now stands revealed for the first time here on Livefist.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

PHOTO: Today's BrahMos Missile Test

PHOTOS: Indian Defence Minister Visits Korean Aerospace, Gets Into KT-1 Trainer Cockpit

PHOTO 1, 2: Antony in the cockpit of a KT-1 basic trainer aircraft (a contender in India's basic trainer competition) at KAI complex. PHOTO 3: Antony at a static display of KAI aircraft. PHOTO 4-8: Aerobatic display for the visiting Indian minister by the Black Eagles Team of the Korean Air Force, flying eight T-50 Golden Eagle aircraft. Love the Phantom in Photo 5.

Photos Courtesy & By Sitanshu Kar